At Cornerspin School our contributor met up with moto journalist Neale Bayly, who provided valuable insight on touring through Peru.
The dirt road was a blur, just inches from my face as I was sliding on my side rather than riding on top of my motorcycle, and the realization that I had just crashed was quickly taking hold. The fact that I was still sliding made it clear that this crash was still in progress! It was only a few miles into my first real dual sport ride and I had managed to low side at over 40 mph while chasing my new riding buddies along a forest road in the mountains of Virginia. Once I came to a stop and had an opportunity pick up my bike and collect myself, all I could think of was that this had to be the most fun that I had ever had with my clothes on, but if I didn’t learn how to ride better I wasn’t going to survive long to enjoy it! Thus began my quest to become a better rider. Little did I suspect at that moment that this journey was about to take me from the forest floor to the heights of the Andes.
Motorcycling has long been an important part of my life. During lonely or difficult periods my motorcycle seemed to be the best relief available. I found comfort in the motion. I escaped the city to access beautiful surroundings. I visited friends and family miles away because I had an affordable mode of transportation . I met new friends and acquaintances simply by being on a bike and putting myself in situations that I otherwise wouldn’t have. During one such period of soul searching and introspection, I met a fellow traveler while waiting for a ferry. He rode a single cylinder Honda that was outfitted with huge metal panniers, a large dry bag as well as tank panniers. This was the summer of ‘92 and I had never seen such a set up. I was having imaginings of loading up my BMW and chasing distant horizons, but at that point had only succeeded in undertaking a series of two or three day trips.
I learned that the pilot of the Honda was Dutch, and that he had been on the road for a year at that time. So far he had shipped the bike from Europe to the U.S.A. and had ridden through Central America and later made his way to Tierra del Fuego and back. As I examined his sun-bleached riding gear I was fascinated by his stories. During our conversation I asked him what was the best part of the whole journey, and he answered without hesitation: “The Andes of Peru .” I also asked him if he had ever crashed during his trip and to that he answered: “Twice, both times in the Andes.” He went on to explain that while it was the best and most beautiful riding of the trip, it was also the most challenging. He said that he received no injuries and simply picked up the bike and continued on each time. At that moment I made the decision that I too was going to experience the Andes. I just had no idea it would take me so long.
My life was to take a number of twists and turns over the following years, but the desire to one day ride a motorcycle through Peru has always remained with me. In the spring of ‘07 I found myself thinking about Peru more and more, and it started occurring to me that it was time to do something about it. As I saw it, the first order of business was to improve my riding skills. My off-pavement experience was very limited. I had never done any motocross riding and I suspected that in order for me to make it through such vast and remote regions in one piece and actually enjoy it, I needed to learn how to ride better in dirt. I bought a dual sport bike and soon met new friends who invited me to come on excursions in the mountains of VA, riding forest roads and jeep trails. It was apparent right away that the doubts I harbored concerning my off road riding skills were well founded, but nonetheless I discovered that I really loved that type of riding and was more determined than ever to learn more and improve my skills.
In my quest to become a better rider I discovered Arron Stevenson’s Cornerspin School. I had a blast and learned a great deal about going around turns on a motorcycle that I had never known before. Now I look back and wonder how I survived for so long by riding with such poor technique! I highly recommend this type of training for anyone who rides a motorcycle. One of my classmates at Cornerspin was the motorcycle journalist, Neale Bayly. During a brief chat between sessions on the track, I learned that he had ridden in Peru. This certainly piqued my interest and I let him know that I wanted to know more about his travels.
It turned out that Neale is a seasoned world traveler and has ridden motorcycles in many different countries. He traveled extensively in Central and South America back in the 80s, and during that time he encountered people and circumstances that forever changed his life. Hogar Belen is an orphanage located in Moquegua, a desert town in the southern part of Peru. Their buildings were damaged beyond repair by an earthquake in 2001. It is a special place where Neale has been inspired to found a charity organization to raise funds to help them build new dwellings.
In addition to being a motorcycle journalist, Neale also has a good deal of experience in television (see links below), and Neale felt that a documentary about a motorcycle expedition through Peru, ending up at Hogar Belen, would make an engaging story and would serve as a valuable way to raise public awareness about the charity. He invited me to join him on a trip that would serve as a sort of “pre-run” for the documentary. My initial thoughts of “I wish I could afford to do this right now” quickly shifted to “I can’t afford not to do this!” When I mentioned it to my wife, her first comment was “That sounds perfect for you.” So it was decided!
When Neale first started telling me of his plans, he mentioned that he tentatively had someone in Peru lined up that could provide our motorcycles and a guide. As the time grew nearer to our departure, it became apparent that we were going to have to find our equipment elsewhere. I began by doing some looking around on the internet. I posted on ADVrider.com and was immediately answered by Flavio Salvetti of INCA MOTO Adventures. I explained to Flavio that we weren’t looking for a guided tour as we had our own agenda. He was agreeable and offered to accommodate us. I was also in touch with another company based in Cusco, but as we weighed our options, we decided to go with Flavio. As our journey unfolded, we were grateful for making that choice. We not only had a fantastic trip, but Flavio became our good friend along the way.
I once considered guided tours a rather “pedestrian” way to travel, but that view has changed. If you don’t speak the language, aren’t familiar with the customs and don’t have a clear sense of what sort of conditions you are likely to encounter, a local guide can be invaluable. Of course it helps to have the right guide. I was both relieved and excited to arrive at the hotel in Lima and see those Hondas lined up in the courtyard. After all the planning and discussion, it was show time! We’re really
The adventure through the Andes was made all the more better by having a knowledgeable tourguide. In our fan’s case it was INCA MOTO Adventures’ Flavio Salvetti showing him the ropes.
doing this! Our itinerary was a considerable departure from Flavio’s usual excursions. Neale’s plans were fairly ambitious and meant that we would have to cover a lot of distance. We were to depart from Lima and ride along the coast to Nazca the first day. This was relatively easy and gave us a chance to begin getting acclimated to the country. I believe that Flavio normally takes his tours along an off road route in the coastal desert to get to Nazca. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time for that as I’m sure that it would have been a blast. We did pull off the highway for a while for a little play time and a photo session. I found the desert to be beautiful and wished that I could have ridden there longer. I have limited experience with sand riding and know that it can be difficult, but the sand I rode that day didn’t seem too bad and, after a few minutes, started to be a lot of fun. We arrived in Nazca just after dusk and Flavio took us to a great motel. Again, having a guide can make all the difference.
The next morning, we began our assent of the Andes. This was to be one of our biggest days in the saddle and we were planning to make Abancay by nightfall. For me, this was one of the best days of riding in the whole trip. I had waited so many years to see the Andes and this was my chance. I was not to be disappointed. I was, however, a little surprised by how nice the road was. I had come expecting it to be on a lot of unpaved, rugged roads where we would be sharing sharp, blind corners with other vehicles, namely busses and trucks. What we encountered was a well-constructed, well-engineered paved highway through mile after mile of spectacular beauty. Because of road work, we lost some time and were unable to make Abancay that day. We ended up stopping in a town called Chalhuanca and getting a room for the night.
I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of this place. There was a beautiful river rushing along parallel to the highway. There was a quaint little restaurant downstairs in the hotel where we stayed. I dined on roasted chicken. I don’t know if it was something special about the chicken or if I was just hungry, but it was a memorable meal. Later, some local children were gathering near where we were. We encouraged them to sing us a song. They were precious. Early the next morning, I watched from the balcony as the town awoke to another day. Venders selling coca tea were across the street. They did a brisk trade as workers heading out for their day stopped by for their morning beverage.
After breakfast, we got underway for what was certainly some of the most scenic and enjoyable riding of the whole trip. We traveled on road through natural beauty as spectacular as any I can recall, crossing what must have been the same river countless times. For me days like this are something that I live for. I would have been perfectly content to have continued on like that for many more days, but I suppose part of what makes such moments so special is their rarity. As lunch time approached, we had become separated from the truck. I was feeling the need to stop and wait for them. I convinced the others that we should stop at what appeared to be a small store. The people were glad to see us and set a table for us on the front porch. Eventually we figured out that we were not at a store, let alone a restaurant, but rather a family-owned farm. Nonetheless, they served us coffee and kept bringing a variety of tasty things for us to sample. There were fruits that I had never seen before. All delicious. In time, the truck showed up and we were joined by Neale, Flavio and Brandon. We had a great time just basking in the magic of the moment as the farmer proudly showed us his operation. Local school children returning from their day joined us as well. It is only in remote communities like this that you will encounter such warm and genuinely hospitable people. At one point, I heard a single cylinder engine straining in the distance. As it neared I watched in amazement as a small motorcycle that had been converted into a three wheel pickup truck made its way up the long, winding hill, hauling what must have been eight or ten sheep in the back. Afterwards, we continued on our way to Cusco, through more beautiful country.