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…