After days, hours, miles riding toward Peru, I could only jump for joy at the beautiful panorama that greeted me on my South American adventure ride.
I was in Cartagena for a few days, the bike had an oil change and I took time to explore the city, though always remained mindful of the potential dangers that lay ahead in Colombia. I didn’t find any problems though, just happy, friendly, inquisitive people. One day I was riding the bike through the city and looking for an address where I could get motorcycle insurance to cover my trip across Colombia. At the traffic light I asked another motorcyclist for directions; I was stuck in four lanes of traffic and everyone seemed to hear our conversation. When the lights changed I set-off and took the wrong road at which point all the traffic came to a stop and everyone started shouting from their cars, horns beeping; they held up traffic and let me do a U-Turn so I could re-join the proper lane.
It made me smile – was this the Colombia I had to fear? It was a great start to my South American leg and completely restored my faith, trust and belief in people, as well as my excitement for the experiences that lay ahead for me on this dream trip.
I rode onto Medellin from Cartagena, taking some 14 hours through the craziest mountain roads with thick fog and a continuous stream of huge American-sized trucks carrying heavy loads. Overtaking wasn’t easy on the tight roads, so I was very thankful when I arrived in Medellin just a little after 11 p.m. that night. The city had a strange, cobbled layout across a deep valley, so after struggling to get my bearings I asked the local police how to get to the hostel I was searching for that evening. The officer liked the sound of my journey so much that he called for another police motorcycle and I followed the two bikes, blue lights flashing, laughing to myself as we jumped through red lights – it all seemed a little strange, but it was good fun!
Colombia was a real highlight of the trip with its fresh green country and beautiful mountain roads.
After a few days in Medellin, I pushed onto Cali and really enjoyed the beautiful rich green countryside which had descended from mountains to flat farmland. It was a turning point where I began to feel totally happy and energized. My fear of travelling alone across Colombia had vanished and I felt comfortable with what lay-ahead. The people and country were all so perfect that I phoned my father and told him that Colombia was the highlight of the trip so far. I imagine it was a dangerous country after the days of Pablo Escobar, though some 19 years have now passed and new generations are rising. The old troubled Colombia seems to be a thing of the past.
I crossed into Ecuador and down to Quito. It was a great ride with no problems at the border, beside having to listen to the old, long-winded administration and keeping my patience as they photocopied all of my documents. It seems clear that many Central American countries are going to take a long time to change since they remain stuck in administration and red tape. Countries like Colombia and Brazil are moving forward rapidly, eliminating the old way of doing business and embracing new ways that allow progress to happen much quicker. It made me think of what a guy told me in Guatemala, he said you have to look after yourself in this life, you can’t help everyone and in some cases (specifically Central America), remember – “you can’t teach stupid, stupid.”
I flew from Quito to the Galapagos Islands for an amazing four days of sailing and scuba diving. Horseback riding around volcanoes was truly amazing, and my horse was pretty cool because it kept biting everyone and had a serious case of gas (…you beauty). We saw large marine iguanas, turtles, giant tortoises, indigenous birds and white tip reef sharks. We visited the tortoise sanctuary and all you could hear were these giant tortoises going at it everywhere. Darwin would be pleased to know their extinction seems unlikely in the next thousand years. The Galapagos was the one destination I wanted to see and it exceeded all expectations, but the highlight was scuba diving with 20 large hammerhead sharks.
Hanging-out with fellow travelers, over-looking the Sierra Negra Volcano at the beautiful Galapagos Islands.
After a spill and eight stitches, it felt good to relax for a few days at the village of Chunchi, high in the Andes of Ecuador.
Back in Quito, I took my bike to a small motorcycle repair shop to have the carburetor cleaned since it was struggling to push gas through, which was probably due to altitude sickness. After a few hours of chain smoking, drinking beers and laughing with the boss, he then proceeded to offer me a hooker while l waited for my bike to be repaired. I laughed, wondering why my local BMW dealer had not thought of offering this service (beers, cigarettes and hookers while you wait?). l declined the hooker (…from a moral standpoint!), besides if she saw my saddle sores, she’d want her money back for sure.
My bike was ready, and I rode out of the shop to continue my journey with a smooth running bike that never again suffered altitude abuse. It seemed certain gas stations in Ecuador sold real gas and some seemed to have a 10% mix of water. The fuel is the cheapest ever, but you need to be sure you get the right station so you don’t blow-up the engine. If it does happen to you, I know a good motorcycle repair shop in Quito that understands how to deliver the best customer service in town.
I pushed on south from Quito, high-up through the Andes. After a pretty bad fall and somersault on a loose gravel bend, I ended-up staying in a small village called Chunchi to nurse my arm, eight stitches and bruised ego. As it happened I was singing ‘Born to be Wild’ (oh, the irony!). The bike was fine, though I did smash the mirror. After a few days I left Chunchi and the journey was perfect, riding above the clouds along the Andes, with a beautiful crisp freshness to the air along twisty mountain roads, before finally descending down to earth where I crossed the border into Peru.
Peru is a crazy country split by desert, mountains and the Amazon Rainforest, so I decided to push across the desert towards the Pacific coast. It was beautiful, though eerie on the desert highways because of the lack of traffic and bleak grey landscape. It was, however, new territory so the whole solo experience rocked. The highways stretched open like painted black strips into the distance; on my right was the ocean and on my left the desert that looked similar to my interpretation of Buzz Aldrin’s Moonscape. I was a happy man, some 11 countries down and overjoyed with the experiences I had been presented with each day of the ride. Every day just made the smile get wider.
The desert roads of Peru seemed rather lonely some days, but they were awesome to ride and, looking back, I would ride them all again without question.
I pushed south across Peru hugging the coast through Chiclayo, Trujillo, Chimbote and down through to Lima before stopping for a coffee and asking a Policeman the quickest route to Machu Picchu. He directed me to Pisco, which was just south, and then said to head east. I was clueless, without the map and GPS, but decided to follow his route, following the road signs through the mountains. That evening I pulled into a small town called Huaytara, totally tired and wondering how far my luck would stretch this time. I stood in the town square, drank beers with the locals outside a small store, and then asked the young female shop assistant where I could find food for the evening as all the restaurants had closed. I was scanning the shelves when the young girl shouted “fanny!”
I turned slowly wondering what she was going to show me, though much to my disappointment she was holding a tin of tuna. I realized two tins of fanny and a pack of dried crackers would seal the deal. Outside the store, I was laughing and explained to the local men what happened in the store and that fanny had a different meaning in both the US and UK; we all laughed pretty loudly when they got the meaning. I later felt sorry for the young girl as it seemed she adopted a new nickname for the rest of the evening and who knows, maybe life.
The air seemed thin and breathless the next morning as I refueled and set off to see some of the most amazing countryside and mountains I had ever seen. The roads, however, were super dangerous, with slippery gravel and sheer cliff-edge drop-offs, but it was great to feel the cooling mountain temperatures and to pass Llamas wandering across the road. I eventually pulled into a small town called Ocros after avoiding a number of near death experiences with crazy Peruvian drivers. That day I had my rabbit in the headlights moment when, just like in the films, the bike wouldn’t turnover at the crucial point, just before you get splattered. So, I lumbered into town, down the most dangerous road I had ever-ridden at night overlooked by the largest moon I had ever seen. It was a killer day and an amazing riding experience, though difficult on body and bike.
After a cold nights stay in Ocros, it felt good to be hot-footing my way to Cusco to see Machu-Picchu.
I wondered if the bike would hold together after the ride into Ocros, the roads were crazy. The bike and myself were physically shot!
Ocros was a small town that reminded me of something from the film Deliverance. I was pretty stressed and exhausted from my journey, so I asked locals for directions to Cusco thinking it might only be an extra two hours. The local priest told me it was around 30 hours and added I was a crazy man for taking this dangerous road. I could have cried in disbelief at 30 hours and so I bedded down for the night in a room without windows, eating crackers and fanny wrapped in a sleeping bag.
After an ice-cold sleep I was back on the bike, tank refueled (plus, I had managed to grab a make-shift spare fuel can) and out onto dangerous mountain edges. Back along bone-shaking roads and passing through Ayacucho, Andahuaylas and Abancay I met a group of policemen and decided to stop for 10 minutes to take a breather. We shared a few stories and grabbed photographs, when a small 50cc moped came past carrying chickens and the police asked if we were riding together from LA, which made us all laugh. They couldn’t believe I had just ridden from Pisco and it felt good that someone was impressed with the distance I had covered so far.
I was literally cooked after a bone-jarring 16-hour ride. I had over 200 miles clocked when I finally rode into Cusco past snow-capped mountains and a beautiful floodlit sky full of stars. I made the end goal, but felt beaten by the journey. I was covered from top-to-toe in thick powder dust with bleary eyes I could barely keep open, but I was also totally inspired by the distance I had covered off-road over the last few days. I rode into Cusco at 11 p.m., sank a cold beer, ate chicken and chips, found a hostel, rode through the door up a two-foot ramp the staff purpose built to get me in like Evil Knievel on a test-jump. I was delirious that night and Cusco was a place that could offer me that much needed rest and time-out, a place to restore my sanity and complete light maintenance to the bike.
I made it after years and years of dreaming – finally I got to ride my motorbike to Cusco and visit the stunning views of Machu-Picchu.
I was exhausted from the whole journey and took time out in Cusco, enjoying the local street parties and 100-year celebration commemorating the discovery of Machu Picchu with fellow German travelers. My goal was to get to Machu Picchu overland from LA, so it was fantastic when in the next few days I stood overlooking this amazing manmade wonder. It was a magical experience and felt all the more worthwhile knowing that I had ridden solo 9000 miles from LA. Peru is a fantastic country, I was really inspired by the kindness of the Peruvian people; they had a real spirit and zest for life. I am sure that I will be back, next time to hike my way along the Inca trail to Machu-Picchu.
I rode on from Cusco to Arequipa. Locals told me the roads were perfect. And they are if you think hard compact soil with a marble finish was enjoyable to ride? It was inevitable that, due to a lack of concentration or too much weight on the rear of the bike, I hit a section that was so slippery Torvill and Dean would have had a moment together. The sun was low as I hit skidsville – the bike went one way, I managed to pull her back and then the other-way and then slam dunk, I was sliding at 30 mph alongside the bike watching in super slow-motion as both mirrors shattered. It was a bad fall, my wrist badly sprained after punching the ground, my thumb swelled-up quicker than a Tom & Jerry head-wound.
I did a strange dance with my thumb between my legs and shouted a few expletives into the mountains. I was 100% sure the thumb was broken. After paying some Peruvian kid £5 to come out of his house and help me fix the gear shift, which seemed to have bent around the foot-peg enough times it would have given Uri Geller a headache. I struggled to ride the last three hours as my hand was killing me and it was pitch black before I finally made it to Arequipa close to midnight. I rested for a few days to try and decrease the inflammation in my hand, restore the ego and source two new replacement mirrors.
After getting the bike sorted and being strapped up for a few days, I motored on across the Peruvian deserts. The heavy desert fog still gives me the jitters, when I think back. Finally, it was time for yet another border crossing, near Tacna, Southern Peru and into Northern Chile.
Check back for installment four of the ADV Americas Ride, when our British adventure rider roams through Chile to Brazil.