Peru – Andean Motorcycle Adventure
Flavio rides to the edge of the plateau and with
a blip of the throttle is lost to view. It’s
my turn next and my heart leaps to my mouth as I commit
myself to the void. It’s something I just can’t
get used to, but each time it does become a little
easier as we learn how trustworthy our tour leader
is. We, that is Todd and Jim from America and myself
from the UK are on the second day of our adventure
trail riding holiday in Peru.
After the long flight from London, the holiday started
for real in Lima, that mist and smoke clouded capital
of one of the most fascinating countries on earth.
We flew in and met up with Flavio and his driver /
mechanic / cook / handyman Oscar for the three-hour
drive down the coast to Paracas.
lunch at our hotel we went into the yard to become
acquainted with our bikes, beautifully prepared and
equipped XR600s. If, like me, your usual mount is
an MTX125 then at first sight an XR600 is a bit daunting,
but once you have the knack they start just as easily
as a 125 and on the move the extra weight is so well
balanced that you just don’t know it’s
That afternoon we rode out onto the Paracas Peninsula
to familiarize ourselves with the bikes, the terrain
and one another. Todd and I already knew each other
from a previous trail riding holiday in Baja (this
had been organised by H-C Travel who organised this
great tour). Jim, a friend of Todd, and Flavio, our
trail boss, were both new to me but we soon welded
into a riding team who looked out for each other and
helped each other if ever help was needed.
After the initial trepidation wore off, our first
‘test’ ride was enormous fun, across a
vast area of hard packed sand dunes which we flew
up and over and down and round and across until we
really felt at home with the bikes, the terrain and
evenings were spent yarning over dinner in some little
cantina sussed out from many previous visits by Flavio
and sure to provide good local food, drink and atmosphere
at a very reasonable price.
It was not to be all fun in the sand though. The
next morning we were up early to take a boat out to
the Ballestas Islands, the "poor man’s
Galapagos". These islands are stuffed with sea
lions, penguins and more sea birds than you could
shake a stick at. The boat man would cut the motor
and let the boat drift in stern first amongst the
jagged rocks just to let us have a close-up of the
basking sea lions and their harems. A quick burst
on the engine would save us off the rocks just as
it seemed we must founder.
After lunch we kitted up and boarded the bikes through
the ride to the first part of the Great Ica Desert.
This area of Peru gets less than one inch of rain
a year, unless of course El Niño strikes, when
it may well get disastrous floods, which accounts
for its barren but at the same time deeply eroded
watercourses. It was on this part of the journey that
we were doing "follow my leader" over the
dunes. These dunes, which are anything up to 300 feet
high, are very rideable, but once up on the tops which
are flat, you can’t see the descent until you
actually drop over the edge. Ok, so Flavio had done
it a hundred times before, but for me, the first time,
boy was I scared.
evening we rested at our hotel in Ica and the following
day we journeyed on through the Great Ica Desert on
roads that varied from the tarred but busy Pan-American
Highway to a ten mile stretch of a deserted beach
where we lunched on beer and sandwiches that were
brought up to us in the Oscar driven support truck.
that day we stopped to look at a looted pre Inca cemetery.
It looked just like pictures I’ve seen of a
WW1 battlefield. An area about as big as four football
fields, covered with hundreds of craters where the
graves had been dug out and the whole lot covered
with human bones, skulls, fragments of cloth and broken
pottery. The huaqueros (looters) had only been interested
in the gold objects and fine pottery buried with the
bodies. These items find a ready market on the international
art market although, of course, the huaqueros get
only a fraction of their value.
That afternoon, after riding 150 miles, we arrived
in the town of Nazca, world famous for the enigmatic
We were woken at 7:45 the next morning to be told
to get ready immediately as the conditions were perfect
for our flight to see the Nazca Lines (I told you
it wasn’t all fun in the sand). The air field
was only about a mile away so we were soon up in the
air in a tiny four seater plane which, flying at about
a thousand feet, gave us all a breathtaking view of
these puzzling pre-historic markings. The area that
is marked is a plateau of about 500 square miles which
is covered with wind polished brown stones. Under
the stones is yellow sand and the marks were made
by collecting up the stones to expose the sand beneath.
The stones were then used to edge the marks made.
What is so intriguing is he scale of the "lines".
Some, which appear to be pathways, run as straight
as a ruler for anything up to 20 miles.
are rectangles or triangles, again many hundreds of
yards across. Still more are animals, birds, whales,
monkeys, etc. and finally spirals. Various theories
have bee put forward to account for them from Eric
Von Dannikens nutty notion that hey are landing sites
for extra-terrestrials, to more probable ideas that
they are in some way connected with soon or moon worship.
After our flight we once again set off on the bikes
to visit a very remote bay where we were told the
sea lions were so unused to human beings that it would
be possible to walk among them. To begin with the
trail was hard and rocky, but later it turned to sand
and sand that sloped steeply to the left with a drop
off to the sea at the bottom. I had great trouble
with that rail and found myself sliding down the slope
and getting nearer and nearer to the drop off. Just
as I was about to give up, the track leveled out and
we were soon down at the bay.
the sea lions were not at home that day so after a
rest and a stroll round we set off back. When I told
Flavio of my problems on the way out he just said
"Gain height, hit it hard and keep up momentum"
I did all those things and soared home in triumph.
Day four started early as we had a hard day's journeying
ahead of us. We breakfasted in the dark and after
stowing our overnight bags in the support truck jumped
on the bikes and sped away up towards the town of
Nazca. Just before the town we turned off onto a road
which would take us high into the Andes to Cuzco over
400 miles away. The road was well surfaced and we
quickly began to climb. It was certainly one of the
best mountain roads that I have ever ridden, well
surfaced with one hairpin after another with short
straights in between. We would blast up the straights,
change down and brake into the corners and then accelerate
hard up the next straight. This went on for mile after
mile and in the first three quarters of an hour we
have climbed 4,500 feet. The views were staggering.
the tar gave out and we were back to dirt, but hard
packed dirt on which we could easily keep up 50 to
60 mph. We went over a pass at around 14,000 feet
where the air began to feel decidedly thin. An answer
was then given to our question "do you have to
re-jet at high altitude?". The answer was "no".
The bikes may run a bit rich but they still pump out
the power and they ran as faultlessly at 14,000 feet
they had at sea level and as they did the whole journey.
We were now in Quechua country. These hardy mountain
people are descendants of, and still speak the language
of, the Incas and to great extent, in the remote areas,
live a life very little changed from the time the
Spanish occupation in Peru in the 16th century.
that day was again in a cantina, but a new item on
the menu was coca leaves. These are leaves from which
cocaine is extracted, but in the mountains are commonly
chewed as an antidote to altitude sickness. I tried
them and found that the taste was foul, but that after
a while one’s lips and gums began to go numb
just like the after effects of a cocaine injection
at the dentists. I can’t comment on their ability
to stave off the effects of altitude because, fortunately,
I never really suffered from it.
We soon began to see herds of Vicuña, those
strange, gentle, wild animals that look like a cross
between a sheep, a deer and a camel. We also saw herds
of Llama. These were domesticated animals with gaily
coloured ribbons in holes in their ears to denote
ownership. We began to meet with gangs of workmen,
busy improving the road. Some bits were easy where
were nearly finished, but other parts were a nightmare
of stalled trucks, bulldozers, boulders and milling
workmen. At one point we had to wait nearly an hour
while the rock blasters finished their work and the
bulldozers pushed enough of the boulders out of the
way to enable us to get through. Of course, we on
the bikes had an enormous advantage over everyone
else as we could work our way up to the front of the
queue and were always first away. Poor old Oscar in
the support truck was miles behind. That night we
camped for the first time, Oscar had finally caught
up, but it was dark before we found the spot we were
to camp at and it was a weary party that crashed out
on the air beds that night.
next day was to be another marathon, altogether nearly
ten hours in the saddle, but what riding, still at
over 12,000 feet, still plenty of road works but plenty
of good trail in between. So much trail in fact I
think we were all secretly a little that the last
three hours of riding brought us tarred roads once
again. At last the reds roofs of Cuzco came into sight,
lying in a valley below us and half an hour later
we were in our hotel sipping "mate de coca",
an infusion of coca leaves that the Quechua people
use for every kind of malady from altitude sickness
to hunger, hardly PG Tips but very welcome just the
the ancient capitol of the Inca Empire is a town one
could easily spend a month exploring. Inca ruins,
buildings and cathedrals of the Spanish "Conquistadores"
and present day Quechua homes and workshops. We had
one day, but as the Winter solstice was only a few
days away were lucky to see rehearsals for that great
event, for although the population is nominally Catholic
it is Catholicism that incorporates a large element
of the old Inca faith. Life size statues of saints
on massive litters are carried into the cathedral
from the surrounding countryside to be blessed and
carried in procession on the great day. Armies of
Inca warriors march and countermarch, bands play and
over all the great bells of the churches and cathedrals
tolled incessantly. It was pure paganism subtly modified
to satisfy the Christian church.
The next day required no motorcycles. Breakfast was
at six and soon after we were away to the railroad
station for the ride up the Urubamba valley to Machu
Picchu, that amazing stone built Inca city that was
lost for nearly four hundred years. It sits on top
of a ridge of rock in almost inaccessible jungle.
All around on the mountain slopes are terraces that
were cultivated to provide food for the population
and incredibly there is a spring of water just where
you least expect it, right in this town on the mountain.
My words can’t do justice to it. You must see
it for yourself. Our guided tour ended all too soon
and it was back on the train the three and a half-hour
ride back To Cuzco.
The last two days of our Inca Adventure were to take
us down to the other side of the Andes into the rain
forests of the Amazon basin. The track down was hairy
to say the least, a steep winding descent with a mountain
on one side and a sheer drop on the other. As Jim
said to me when we arrived at the bottom, "Man,
that was some ride. If you missed your braking point
you were one dead motorcyclist." Camp that night
was on a bamboo platform way off the ground with a
thatched roof over us. We were lulled to sleep by
the sound of a massive waterfall that crashed into
the jungle just across the way.
was a weary but exultant party that made its way back
to Cuzco the following day. When the bikes that had
carried us so effortlessly over so many miles were
loaded into the back of the support truck we felt
we were being parted from faithful old friends and
it was with great regret that we knew we would never
see them again.
The next day we flew back to Lima while Flavio and
Oscar started the long haul home by road. After one
more night in this fascinating country we all went
our separate ways. The adventure was over but the
memories will last long after the bruises have faded.
Bob Combley, Peru Andean Adventure 2000