Day 157 – Trujillo, PE to Caraz, PE

Day 157 – Trujillo, PE to Caraz, PE      01/26/11      Mileage: 157

Before hitting the road south, I rode over to see the archaeological ruins of Chan Chan just north of town. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I decided to also hire a guide to make the most of my time there.

Gustave spent an hour with me showing and explaining the ruins and his services were well worth the extra $$.

Chan Chan was and still is the largest adobe city in the world…

Restoration work in progress….

Gustave demonstrating the acoustic quality of the ceremonial chamber….

  For more info….

With that ticked off the to do list, I pointed the KLR south and bombed down the Peruvian coast on the Pan American Highway.

Along the Pan Am south….

My planned route took me through the Canyon del Pato which I had read about and seen pictures of many times when researching this trip…and it was one of the roads that I wanted to ride for sure. It also would lead me to the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes Mountains…the highest in Peru and second only in height to the range that divides Chile and Argentina further south….another must see. So after about 50 miles of high speed asphalt, I turned off onto the dirt and headed up into the mountains. I could have continued on the pavement, then took the paved road part way up the canyon, but where’s the fun in that, right?

So from near sea level the road steadily climbed higher into the mountains. The dirt road started out as smooth as pavement, but you know that wasn’t gonna’ last. Soon I was getting a steady diet of washboard mixed with parallel ruts from the last time it rained here 600 years ago. Did I mention it was dry and dusty? 😉 As bad as it gets sometimes, it still beats a vacation to Cancun with the masses…and it’s certainly better than work. So with a grin on my face and dust coating my teeth, I pressed ahead up the canyon. About a third of the way up, the dirt road crossed the river to join the paved road…and I’d be lying if said it wasn’t a nice little break from the constant pounding being dished out on the dirt washboard.

But alas, all good things…and pavement…must come to an end, so it was back on the dirt. This is where the Canyon del Pato really starts and what makes it famous with adventure riders.

Soon the road entered a canyon so narrow you’d think you could touch both sides of it with outstretched arms. The road crosses one lane bridges and tunnels one after another….some 40 in all.

The scenery is stunning and the air starts to get noticeably cooler…and thinner…as the road climbs farther up the canyon.

At the top of the canyon, the road mellows and I catch my first glimpse of the snow capped Cordillera Blanca. I’m in awe of the spectacle of mountains so high (over 22,000 ft!), they have a permanent snow cap despite their tropical latitude. Being a die hard skier, the sight of that luscious white snow makes me want to march right up there with my skis and ‘git some! The road turned back to pavement for a few miles and it’s always fun to let the bike run after hours of 2nd gear dirt and washboard. Like the aforementioned pavement, this ride too must end, and for me it ended in the town of Caraz where I found a nice room on the main square.

I quickly showered and did the obligatory walk around to see the town.

I had dinner and some beers at Cafe La Terraza (which was great!) before packing it in…another epic day on the bike.

Day 156 – Huamachuco, PE to Trujillo, PE

Day 156 – Huamachuco, PE to Trujillo, PE     01/24/11      Mileage: 144

After a quick bite at Doña Emilia Cafe, I was out the door at 8. My first stop was the archaeological site of Markawamachuco (or Marca Huamuchuco) only a few miles from town and according to my guide book…one of the most important pre-Inca sites in Peru. For being so close, I had a hell of a time finding it though.

The last mile up to the site was a narrow and rutted track as it is perched on a mountain top. The view alone from up there made it all worth it…and I was the only one there to boot! Luckily the information signs were in english too as my “archaeological spanish” is, umm, thin to say the least.

So after my one hour self guided private tour, I split for the coast and the town of Trujillo. The road out of Huamachuco climbed steadily and topped out at 13, 750 feet…the highest road yet on this trip.

The air was thin and cold…and well suited for…well, a llama! NOW I feel like I’m in South America! I sat there and watched him (or her?) for a good 10 minutes…and he didn’t seem bothered by me at all even though I was 15 feet away.

Well, it was all down hill from there…litteraly and figuratively. But, although the road was mostly down hill it was a horrid! There were more holes in the dirt then there was dirt road. It was a bone shaking, spine powdering 3 hour decent and I can’t believe the bike is still in one piece…though I did develop a squeak coming from the front fairing. The road did eventually turn to pavement and it was a nice roll down to the coast from there….

The temperature back down at sea level was balmy and warm and what you would expect in a tropical climate. Once in Trujillo I found a room, showered and hopped a taxi to the town center for a little look around. Like every Spanish colonial town, and almost every other town in Latin America, Trujillo has a central square…and a really nice one at that.

 There is also a nice pedestrian walk stretching several blocks from the southeast corner of the square. After dinner and some internet, I called it a night. Tomorrow it’s back up into the mountains via the Cañon del Pato…I highlight of this trip that I´ve been looking forward to.

Day 155 – Celendin, PE to Huamachuco, PE

Day 155 – Celendin, PE to Huamachuco, PE      01/23/11      Mileage: 169

I rolled out of town into the chilly mountain air at 7:45 this morning. The road immediately started climbing and the scenery was great, but not on the same scale as two days ago.

The road was dirt all the way up and over the pass but turned to fresh pavement shortly before the town of Banos del Inca where I stopped for a quick bite.

My first Inca Cola…tastes kind of like Red Bull I think…but I’m not a soda drinker.

Continuing south through the rolling hills on the fresh pavement was a nice reprieve from the dirt roads…but it wasn’t to last.

It wasn’t long before the new pavement gave way to a tar/gravel mixture that demands your full attention, but soon that was gone too and I was back on the dirt.

The last several miles into Huamachuco were the worst roads of the day and I was glad they were behind me when I pulled into town. I found a home for the night right on the central square which had secure parking in their center courtyard only feet from my room. I always sleep better when I know my girl is close by. 😉

I still had some daylight so I cleaned the air filter, topped up the oil and tightened the right side pannier. I also checked the brake pads and both the front and rear will need to be replaced soon…no problem though as I’m carrying 2 spare sets.

After a shower I went to an internet joint to work on the blog followed by dinner at the Cafe Dona Emilia on the main square, which the guide book says is biggest central square in Peru.

The main square is very big…and meticulously well kept.

Day 154 – Celendin, PE

Day 154 – Celendin, PE      01/22/11      Mileage: 0

I decided to stay put today to get some work done on the blog, catch up on my email and get some chores done. The internet was painfully slow here so it took forever. I also reorganized my gear and packed up so I’d be ready for an early start tomorrow.

Celendin town square…

So, what do dolphins, the Nike swoosh, Che Guevara and Looney Toons characters all have in common?

Answer: They are all popular motifs for 3 wheel motorcycle taxis in Celendin! Go figure….

Parting shot: A pic of the local footwear and machete shop….

Day 153 – Bagua Grande to Celendin, PE

Day 153 – Bagua Grande to Celendin, PE      01/21/11      Mileage: 219

I skipped breakfast this morning and just packed the bike and rolled out. The road flowed over rolling hills down the wide but scenic Rio Uteubamba valley.

Progress was slow as the road was under repair in many spots and the traffic piled up at each construction zone.

…and another…

…and another…

….you get the idea.

In the U.S., when the flag (wo)man gives the OK to go, the traffic proceeds in a nice orderly line through the construction zone. Not so here…it’s udder chaos like the flag dropping at the Le Mans Gran Prix. Cars and motorcycles all fighting to get ahead cramming into the work zone..and passing IN the work zone. My method was to scoot right to the front of all the stopped vehicles, then just get the hole shot as soon as the flag drops and just be well ahead of all the carnage. Anyway, the road then turned up into the mountains following alongside the river into a narrow picturesque canyon.

In spots they carved out room for the road right into the canyon rock wall…making what amounts to half a tunnel.

Oh, did I mention tolls are free for motorcycles in Peru as well…sweet!

 I took a small detour up to the town of Chachapoyas which is a pleasant town overlooking the river valley.


I stopped into the Ciomara Cafe & Art…which doesn’t look like much on the outside but is a really nice place.

After a quick look I continued south towards Celendin, my target stopping point for the day. The road turned to well graded dirt and continued to follow the upper reaches of the Rio Utcubamba…which was now gin clear and perfect for canoeing.

 After Leimebamba, the road turned sharply up hill through countless switchbacks, topping out at just under 12,000 feet.

 The view on the other side of the pass was breathtaking…along with the road…which was literally cut into the side of the mountains. The panorama and scale of the scenery before you is as impossible to put into words as it is to capture with a camera.

You had better ignore it when driving though, as there are absolutely no guard rails to help the complacent driver. Run one corner wide here, and you better have a parachute.

 It took hours to get up and over the pass, and once down in the town of Balsas I had a decision to make. Celendin, although only 7 linear miles away, was 34 road miles up and over another steep mountain pass that would take an 1:45 according to the policia. It was already 5:15, so that means I would be coming down off the pass in the dark. To boot, I was also low on gas, but including my reserve I should have just enough. Worst case is if I just made it to the top of the pass, I could always coast down into Celendin. With that I decided to go for it, and maybe I can trim that time to only 1:30 or even 1:15 on the bike.

The policia going to open the control gate for me…

I crossed the bridge and started up the pass, higher up on the pass I could see rain, but I pressed ahead.

Soon I was in the rain and the road turned slick as greased linoleum. My hopes of making it to Celendin in even 1:45 evaporated and I knew I would be riding in the dark if I continued. I also lost the backend and almost went down on a hairpin turn but managed to somehow keep the bike upright through sheer luck. I stopped to let more air out of the tires and to reevaluate continuing or to backtrack to Balsas. Very low on gas now, high on a narrow mountain pass with no guard rails, in the rain, at dusk, all points to backtracking down to Balsas. Did I mention I loath backtracking? So against my better judgment, I fired up the KLR and pointed the front wheel back up the pass. The lower tire pressure improved the grip and the bike felt more stable. Soon the rain gave way and the clouds began to let what was left of the light through. High up on the pass my perseverance (or stupidity) was rewarded with a brilliant twilight.

The passing rain made for nice twilight glow…

 After stopping for several pictures, it was back to the business of getting over the pass which I arrived at the top of just after sunset. Far below me I could see the lights of Celendin and the promised land, I was almost there.

Coming down off the pass in the dark was sketchy, but thankfully not as treacherous as the way up it. Pulling into Celendin, I breathed a big sigh of relief…life is good.

Day 152 – Zumba, EC to Bagua Grande, PE

Day 152 – Zumba, EC to Bagua Grande, PE      01/20/11      Mileage: 171

After a quick breakfast across the street from the hotel, I headed south for the border. It was only 15 road miles to the border down a 1 lane dirt road with nice views of the surrounding mountains.

I passed through the last military checkpoint in Ecuador, and this time I had the helmet cam going. Like all the other checkpoints I passed through, both police and military, they were polite and very professional. They asked questions about the bike and what I was doing and one of the soldiers almost fell over when I said I had ridden here from the U.S.

Checkpoint formalities complete, the pointed me in the direction of the border outpost of La Balsa a few miles away.

 There was nobody else crossing the border and the customs official was only busy with his morning paper, so he had bike processed out of Ecuador in just a few minutes.

 Next I got stamped out by the policia and I was done…..and with that it was goodbye Ecuador, and across the bridge to Peru.

 Like the Ecuador side of the border, I was the only one crossing, so it was nice and chill…just the way I like it and a far cry from many of the frenetic Central America borders.

 First stop was the immigration office, followed by checking in with the national policia.

This is the Peru immigration building…

 Next was customs for the bike which took around 45 minutes to complete all the import permit paperwork. I looked at his customs log and I was only the 4th vehicle to cross the border here this year!

….and the Peru customs building…

…and the Per customs officer, opening the gate for me!

 With that done, the customs official opened the gate and I was off into Peru…country number 13! The road continued to be scenic as it wound its way through the mountains towards the town of San Ignacio where I stopped for a quick lunch.

Pulling into the town of San Ignacio

Back on the bike I continued south along the Rio Chinchipe towards the town of Jaen.

 I still had some daylight left so I kept rolling until nightfall caught me in Bagua Grande…a hot and dusty roadside town. I did however find a nice room for the night with secure parking for around $10.

Tomorrow I plan to plunge right into the heart of mountains of northern Peru…one of the highlights I’ve been looking forward to on this trip…

Day 151 – Loja, EC to Zumba, EC

Day 151 – Loja, EC to Zumba, EC      01/19/11      Mileage: 109

This morning while I was out at an internet joint, the package that I’ve been waiting weeks for showed up! Now I was free to make a run for the border, so I quickly packed up the bike and rolled south towards Peru.

Looking back at Loja on the way out of town…

The road from Loja turned to dirt and stayed dirt all the way to Zumba…about 15 miles north of the Peru border.

Yep, another fresh land slide that I have to wait to be cleared…

Along the way I met 2 bicyclists from Scotland. They started out in Buenos Aires 5 months ago and plan to ride all the way to the U.S….and people think I’m crazy…ha! We chatted for a bit and exchanged maps…they gave me their Peru map and I gave them my maps of Ecuador and Central America.

I rolled into Zumba around 5 and found a hotel room for $6…no running water though.

The view of the Zumba town square from my hotel…

Not bad for $6…

No Egyptian cotton here, just alphabet sheets…

I had a bodega dinner…4 beers, crackers, and some spongy twinky like thingy. Tomorrow it’s on to Peru!