A land of contrasts: extreme physical beauty standing against millenia of human hands doing their best to tame, exploit, endure, and understand it. The vast deserts, sprawled with pipelines feeding a never-ending hunger for the stuff that fuels food, cars, things, and that abstract concept of job-creation. Beautiful mountainscapes of glaciers tentatively licking a patchwork of ancient farms and invasive timber plantations, with ruined citadels perched on precarious saddles, catching the sacred winds that blow through valleys with not a splinter of native forest left. Magnificent and unimaginable Amazon jungle, to its advantage as well as detriment too large to garner perceptible damage until recently, now facing logging, oil development, highways, and missionary infringement on 'uncontacted' people. Coastal cities draped in garbage, their processing plants and fisheries spewing unimaginable amounts of untreated waste into the Pacific, turning bright blue barrels into tepid turd tunnels. Once abundant marine life struggles to provide for even the most subsistence of fishermen, once a highly regarded, almost revered profession in ancient Peruvian cities. Indigenous culture still thrives proudly, the communities still dependent on intricate environmental modification for survival in the unforgiving terrain. There, as in anywhere, the strength seems to live within bold spirituality, ritualizing a complex relationship between humanity and natural forces. Peru feels like a million different worlds in one place, showing us what has happened and what may happen, a stage in which people and nature collide over and over again, in disaster, triumph, horror, and love.
Much smoother at the border, although I still rode away wanting to punch someone, just another day at another border. Maybe it was the pesticides talking..
The day before, riding past endless banana plantations on the coastal humid plains of southern Ecuador, we'd noticed a plane flying peculiarly low in the sky. Suddenly it turned 90 degrees, swooping to 3 metres above the bananas, and started flying towards us, right above the row of bananas closest to the roadside (2 metres away). The instant the plane turned, a menacing green cloud began pouring from it, onto the way too perfect bananas with their fruit bunched in plastic bags, to keep pests away that somehow managed to survive the green holocaust. The cloud engulfed the road and the families walking along it, who simply turned and covered noses and mouths with their shirts and continued walking - obviously a daily routine. We barely had time to flip down our face masks, and were mostly blinded until we pulled over to wipe the noxious green slime from ourselves as best we could. It covered us in a fine yet viscous poison.
We haven't grown any extra limbs yet, but we'll keep you posted.. although since then I have noticed Matty’s been acting a little weirder, even more than usual. Poor guy…
Riding in Peru felt instantly different. Two lanes actually means three and a half; mototaxis, coined 'tricycles of death' by our German motorcycle friends, rule the freeway, and signals are actually just what Latinos send any woman walking alone on the street.
Riding into the first city, Tumbes, just an hour into this new chaotic vibe, we passed a car slowly drifting into our lane, sort of passing a mototaxi. You wouldn't dare (gasp) to occupy a full lane while passing, whatever would that do to the halting flow of vehicles in various states of forward motion?! I passed him on the left, noticing his indecisive veering into my lane, and continuing his encroachment into our lane, Matty who was behind me took a quick look back to make sure the guy wouldn’t hit his trailer. At this exact second, the pickup truck in front of me decided to come to a sudden full stop, without warning. I just stopped in time, only to hear a loud bang right behind me, and all of a sudden I was lying on the tarmac looking up at the pick-up's exhaust pipe.
Matty had run right into me.
People flocked onto the road to help us right the two heavy bikes, and we rode to the side of the road, a bit rattled but okay, thanks to our handy elbow pads and the added safety feature of the surfboards strapped to the side of the bikes.
Who would have known that it's actually safer to ride a bike with surfboards attached? They came out a bit worse for wear, but the bikes looked good as new, and they definitely saved us a few layers of skin! Such troopers those steeds.
Being late September, it was still early for solid northwest swells arriving, not the greatest news for our way-north Peru surfing hopes. However, we were desperate to get in the water again, it had been totally flat since an epic few days in the ‘Gos.
The ride along the north-facing coast was torture. Perfect mouse-sized peelers swinging along every deserty point, little fishing towns, offshore fish-boats, and billboards advocating condom-use to avoid HIV.
Arrived in Máncora on nightfall, firstly were offered some cheap drugs, then a cheap place to stay, then some barbecue. I was still grumpy after our crash.
We woke up with the sunrise to knee-high perfection on the point, if only we had a longboard!! It was still great fun…
Mancora wasn’t really our vibe so much, quite touristy and party orientated. Maybe just maybe, if we ride to Lobitos, it might be bigger and a magic swell will appear and we will score that fabled place, in the off-season, all to ourselves... ya never know if ya never go.
We were quite enchanted with the dilapidated town of Lobitos, and the ride there was beautiful, if not confusing. Sandy roads and rusty oil pipelines criss-cross the dunes like snakes and ladders, massive offshore rigs dot the horizon in their hundreds, while those workhorse iron mules bob their swinging pendulum-like heads up and down, feeding the pipelines.
Several checkpoints with men in hard hats and neon work-vests check our passports and bike papers, we wondered how this could possibly be the main road into an actual town where normal people live, and we continued.
The deep sand was gnarly on our excessively heavy bikes, but sort of fun. I dropped my bike about three times and actually laughed, unlike usually when I grumble to myself about how I even ended up in this stupid situation on this stupid bike that I can't even keep upright...
The surf was tiny when we got there, but we paddled out anyway, thankful to wash the sandy sweaty grime off our bodies from the long day of riding and wondering where we were. We were stoked to be there; the town is fascinating, it looked like it was built only to be abandoned, then repopulated, but never really recovered.
I guess that's sort of what happened, although there doesn't seem to be any reason that it crumbled the way it did. It was built by British Petroleum in the early 1900s, and there are buildings just falling down on themselves scattered throughout, beside functioning businesses, spruced up with murals, everywhere.
I'd never seen fishing boats like those we found there, they were all sailboats, with short little masts and squat hulls. Still in use out on the water, there were plenty of retirees, complete with poetry in English..
We never really got much swell there, mostly hip high peelers with the odd head high set. Unfortunately there wasn’t much swell on the horizon, and so it was the weird state of crumbliness of the town and the sunsets that captivated us more than anything…
After a week we took our chance to get some southbound miles in. We took the sealed road out (which we could have taken in and saved ourselves all the bike stacks in the sand), through a dirty town called Talare.
Unfortunately the road from Lobitos takes you first through Talare’s port, not usually the most beautiful face of a city to begin with, and here was no exception. It must be a leading contender for a poster child of terrible first-impressions of a city. Rode over a big dry canal filled with tonnes of plastic and garbage, 100 metres away from the ocean and the big bay filled with fishing boats, and pipelines running from shore, filling tankers with black gold.
Rode out of there, the smell of dead fish and rotten garbage lingering in our nostrils, which we would soon find out were typical Peruvian coastal delicacies.
Rode and rode and rode. Peru is big. Real big.
And windy. Strong, southwest winds, all day long. Even wearing earplugs all day, our ears rang in the tent each night, and our necks ached with the strain of keeping our heads upright against the onslaught.
Found some good camp spots though...
..and accidentally found ourselves hundreds of kms away from basically anything on the night of the super blood moon eclipse.
"Hey Matty, the moon looks pretty big tonight, looks weird." "Yeah, and it kinda looks like there's a dark spot on the corner of it, I wonder what that is..."
"Hey the spot is getting bigger! OMG is it an eclipse??"
I got the strangest feeling of being a really puny being, watching that spot on the corner of the moon grow bigger. I wondered how people a really long time ago, living in tiny tribes, wandering the lands and watching the stars, might have felt when they saw something as odd as an eclipse of the moon, this most consistent of objects connecting earthly cycles with celestial wonder, suddenly changing, darkening, its soft full light slowly swallowed by creeping shadow. It felt lonely, but awe inspiring at the same time…
But I think that's why we have myths and stories and religions, to help remind us that although we are small and puny and mostly forgettable, we are here for some reason, and there is life to live.
We rode onwards, pulled over at one point to snap a vulture drying his wings atop a cactus atop a hill.
Riding time was now measured in days, rather than hours. Several days later, we pulled up to this spot:
Except it didn't look like this yet. Pacasmayo. We parked ourselves here to wait for a swell for several days before it started to turn on...
Meanwhile I got some sort of mean food poisoning for the first time during the trip, taking advantage of my diminished appetite by running and really getting into yoga, because everyone knows that a good bout of food poisoning is the best way to tone up!
Whilst the swell was small we surfed Puémape, a fun long left, that had 4ft waves running down the point when everywhere else was flat.
Sure enough after 1 week of waiting, when the long-anticipated swell hit, she hit with more force than food poisoning.
The first day of filtering in…
After several weeks of inconsistent surfing, we were in shape quickly. The current there is like a river, and if you're not paddling you're moving swiftly down the point, away from the take-off zone. I watched Matty get a ton of rides over two and a half minutes long, turn after turn after turn, then sort of just standing there riding along because his legs must’ve been tired. He would come off, hands in the air, flopping over into the water, as if in disbelief, a tiny speck in the distance, perhaps 3 or 4 kilometres down the point?
It’s a pity they don’t make camera lenses wider, there’s no easy way to fit the whole wave in…
Here’s about 1/5 of it…
I got some of the biggest waves I've ever had, the take-off felt so easy and gliding, until it walled up in fun and fast sections. There was one section that my limited skills couldn't push me past, but still they were by far the longest waves I've ever ridden.
Even got the biggest barrel I've ever pulled into...
I've never been barreled. Well sort’ve once in Zicatela before being driven into the sand and requiring 13 stitches to my eye socket afterwards.. but that’s another story.
But Matty got a good tube, the only one who did on the big day from what I saw, not that it was crowded. It must have been triple overhead on the bigger sets that day, the longest rides weren't quite reaching the pier, but they ran at least to the edge of town, several kilomtres away!
Most days Matty was riding my little twin keel because the extra width helps to make it through the flatter sections. He lucked into a big one at the top, really deep, and with the insane speed of my 5’8 blue wonder board, was able to bottom turn into a solid, grey cavern and get spat, spat, spat out. Pretty sure I heard him hooting from where I was standing at the lighthouse…
On the last day before the swell started to back off, we surfed in the morning, packed up, and hit the road for about an hour, headed to that famously picturesque and supposedly ‘longest wave in the world’, Chicama.
Actually, according to the huge wall mural upon entering the town it's called the ‘longest perfect wave in the world’, excuse me.
It’s definitely nothing to scoff at…
It definitely looks a lot nicer than Pacasmayo, reeling down the sand like a math equation.
A math equation having the time of its life!!
It was much smaller there, and also just one of those waves that feels smaller, more refracted, picking up a lot less swell. It’s a lot mushier than Pacasmayo too, more suited to longboarders perhaps.
Fun though, but waaaay more crowded, people from all over the world jockeying for lineup space, and the richer ones paying for zodiac taxis to help them against the sweep. It was really fun to meet lots of other travellers though, especially after the general lack of them for the prior couple of weeks at Pacasmayo.
Maybe I shouldn’t be spilling the beans like this – Pacasmayo is clearly the more quality and consistent wave, and arguably much longer too – but I guess they’re so famous it doesn’t matter.
Chicama is a beautiful place to surf, more so than grey and urbanised Pacasmayo, with those pinky-brown sandy hills cradling the line-up.
It's just so cozy.
This section was fun, more powerful, but it must need a GIANT swell to really turn on..
The cool thing about having the bikes in a place like that, apart from taking bad-ass photos of them on clifftops is…
...the ability to ride them a bit further afield to explore.
We rode two-up that evening, behind that conical mountain in the distance, past strange-looking abandoned buildings, little fishing spots, and rough-looking roads that must have headed east, inland to various mines.
Arrived at a little beach right on sunset, so dreamy, riding two-up is so romantic. It's fun to be on the back feeling the same open feeling that you do while riding, moving with the bumps and leans, but able to look up and out at everything passing by. It's more like what I imagine riding a horse feels like, flowing with the movement but not having to watch every step of the way.
Anyway, romantic sentiments aside, the sun was setting and there were thousands of sea-birds catching an updraft beside a giant rock, trying to find some bare space among the hordes to roost for the night.
The swell kept going down, and it didn't have to go too far for the mathematical perfection to seem mathematically mushy. We went south.
Passed a massive protected bay with the biggest swarm of fishing boats we'd ever seen. Poor fishies. That darn productive Humboldt current..
Passed some nice buses..
Actually, they’re not nice buses – they’re the same ones that have little to no regard for safety, especially that of a motorcyclist. Maybe because they drive all day every day, they take more risks, like taxis in a city. Matty was forced onto the hard shoulder and over a stretch of sand on the panamericana going 100km/h one day because an oncoming bus like this decided to overtake a truck, and instead of just waiting for two of us to pass (having no one behind us for kilometres on the straightaway) he just pulled out and forced Matty off the road.
Even though we were on a desert straight with not a single car behind us for kilometers.
Peru drivers are easily the worst and most dangerous we’ve come across anywhere. Sorry Peru, we love you, you are amazing, but you drive terribly.
I got new tires. Matty put them on for me, he's so nice. I COULD HAVE DONE IT! If I wanted to, I could have. Sometimes a man just wants to feel like a man. I totally know how to do it though, like with my eyes closed.
He also put in a new chain, some sprockets and changed my brake fluid – we were riding into the mountains next! The second highest mountain range in the world actually – after the Himalayas.
From sea-level, it took us no more than 3 hours to ride up to 4200 metres elavation.
We were light-headed to say the least. The first pass looked a little like this...
Matty had to lie down for a quick moment at one point, because fainting isn’t exactly ideal on a motorcycle, especially on mountain sides.
Huaraz, the main town in this insane region, is 1000 metres lower than that first pass we came over, so we stayed there for a few days to acclimatize, stock up on cold weather clothing, and food for the next week of exploration.
Setting off into the mountains, we rode up, up, up, winding past tiny farming villages for hours, into a narrow canyon carved by ancient glaciers.
This led to a lake, which was just your average lake really...
We camped there for a few nights. Average views, and the stars were alright...
Even though having motorbikes in the Cordillera Blanca was probably the epitome of the motorcycle experience, being able to go and stop wherever we wanted on switchback after switchback…
…we still really wanted to do a couple of proper day hikes.
In view of our little campsite was the top of a glacier, up above a massive, steep hill covered in millions of years' worth of scree/talus/moraine/should have paid more attention in geology class.
We thought there was a chance we could make it up to the glacier, although it looked to be about 1000 metres of scrambly hiking to get there. We started out, and immediately began feeling the altitude. Our campsite was around 4200 metres, and the high peaks all around us were all well over 6000m.
To put it in perspective my home country’s (Canada) highest peak Mt Logan is 5959m, Europe’s highest is is Mt Elbrus 5642m, and Matty’s home country is Mt Koziousco at a super cute 2228m.
Super cute those strayans.
But whatever, it’s not a competition – we were higher than either of us had been before.
I find it hard to describe the feeling of altitude sickness. I'm not sure at what point it actually becomes a sickness? I just felt slightly ill and very low energy, wanting to lean over and use my hands as we were hiking up, which was pretty natural anyway because of the steep incline. At one point we passed a sweet waterfall with the peak we were aiming for in the background…
We had lots of breaks, and as soon as we ate some food I felt instantly better.
Note the greenish tint to my face. But as I started feeling better, Matty began the slow decline. Initially he was just a bit dizzy, and then kept checking on me to see if I was feeling ok to keep going.
It turns out the reason for his concern was because he was suddenly feeling terrible. And whilst I had started feeling better, he had a headache, was exceptionally dizzy, and when we stopped to eat, could barely swallow his food. Afterwards he told me at one point he couldn’t turn around and look at where we’d come from because the overwhelming sense of space and height added to the sickness. In the end he forced down some food, we picked the next little milestone on the mountain to aim towards, and we continued on, on all fours.
“Lets just get to that rock up there, see how we feel, and if we’ve got to turn around, that’s fine” we reasoned.
But each time we reached our little goal, we would make another one a little higher, and higher… and…
…eventually I could see the glacier above, we were going to make it!
4 long hours of continual uphill scrambling and minimal oxygen intake later, we reached the little lake at the top, and the glacier.
The view across the canyon to the mountains opposite completely opened up, and they must have felt the same elation that we did! We forgot the headaches and the sickness and were suddenly over the moon that we’d pushed through our own perceived limits and made it.
We’d made it to the glacier, the same one that was a little white dot above us when we looked at it from our tent this morning! We’d done it alone, without a guide or even another soul in sight…
It’s funny how little achievements like that can give you confidence in other directions in life. Matty told me afterwards that he’d never pushed himself like that before, past all the doubt in his mind and the physical symptoms (the altitude sickness hit him harder than me). Everything that was telling him that it might be better to turn around… and yet we didn’t.
I think in some little way it’s possible to take the metaphor out of these experiences and apply them in other difficult situations In life… to visualize that colourful little glacial lake at the end of the of the climb.
Descent brought back all the pain. Our knees creaked and ached, and our heads were seriously pounding by this stage – even though we’d drunk lots of water.
At the end of the day, upon reaching camp it was all we could do to boil pasta, drink some coca leaf tea, and flop into the tent, headaches mostly gone thanks to that brilliant little herb.
We slept lightly… at 4200m, the altitude preventing deep slumber, pulsating heads preventing sweet dreams, utterly physically exhausted.
Legs shaking, the next day we packed up and hit the dirt road, up into another spectacular canyon, arriving at another equally beautiful lake.
Really, it all just gets a bit tedious after a while... ha.
As we were setting up camp, two families came by, for a last ditch attempt at dinner-catching.
We drank some glacial lake tea together, then they vanished to who knows where; the nearest town is two hours of bumpy mountain road away?!?
That night we slept better - to that babbling brook a couple of metres from our resting heads.
Next day we rode on, up towards a pass that crossed the range at 4900 metres, a pass that would take us over the Andes mountain range, to the eastern side of it.
On the way up we shared our lunch in yet another beautiful glacial valley.
Absolutely massive landscapes..
Behind Matty in the shot below is Peru’s highest mountain, Huascaran Sur, at a rather large 6768m.
Peru has 33 peaks over 6000m!
Crazy weather, we were even hit with snow in the higher reaches..
We crossed the pass frozen to the bone, and camped at 4800 metres that night. Perhaps a little high for a campsite, but we couldn't resist the view...
We didn’t sleep that well, spent most of the nights with headaches, and were a bit foggy the next morning, but luckily the road descended to habitable fertile farmland dotted with tiny indigenous villages that clearly don't see many tourists.
The unpaved main road took us past women in poofy skirts and top hats leading large herds of sheep, pigs, goats, and cows, and the odd alpaca..
Little hamlets full of rosy-cheeked, curious inhabitants who would peek out to see what crazy vehicles were coming by, our bikes made so much racket in those tranquil villages. A little too loud.
Children with dirt-smeared faces paused their play to watch these strange, large, motorbike-ish things ramble by, and elders sitting in groups in front of doorways looked up from their weaving and spinning of wool to ponder our brief appearance in their day. Life is lived outside there, despite the bite of cold in the air; there are potatoes to hill and clean, sheep to be moved to new pastures, oxen to be reigned and earth to be plowed, neighbours to chat with and clothes to knit. It all seems so open, arduous to be sure, but I found something to be learned.
We stopped just in front of the last house in one of the villages, late afternoon, and thought about camping nearby, in the hopes of making some new friends.
A hesitant crowd stood watching, and one of the younger men shouted, "regalame!" Or, "give me something!" and in quick succession, the little kids started yelling for us to give them money.
We moved on, feeling slightly assaulted that our gringo appearance had betrayed us, and that even here we were perceived as rich fools on the eastern side of the Coridillera Blanca, a region that felt almost untouched by tourism.
It wasn't quite like the feeling we had in Colombia...
And then of course, in this very remote region, we had some mechanical issues and spent many hours laboured up on the side of a dirt road trying to fix the bikes… we watched the clouds roll in during sunset, worked on the bikes in the alpine air until midnight and eventually found a cheap guesthouse to crash in, exhausted.
To get back to the western side of the range, we went through the highest tunnel in the world.
After we shot out of the tunnel into the afternoon light on the other side, Matty noticed a tiny little dirt track defying all odds and weaving straight up to what looked like an opening in the rocky crag hundreds of metres above. We rode up towards it, I stopped halfway up because I value my life, and Matty wound his way up. There indeed was a pass, high above the tunnel, which is easily over 5000 metres. One section of the track was ready to drop away into the abyss thousands of metres below, it seemed that only a slippery foundation of mud held it in place – very sketchy. Matty later said he thought the track would collapse on the vertical cliff side in the next decent rain storm.
But he rode across it anyway (although didn’t take a camera) and made it to the top of the pass... I’m glad I didn’t.
More lakes and glaciers were waiting for us on the other side… the beauty of the Cordillera Blanca seems never-ending…
The way to Lima took us through some pretty insane landscapes, including an interesting road involving loose gravel and one-lane tunnels and signs demanding mad horn honking before entry (because that makes it much safer), and precipitous drop-offs leading to certain death in the tumultuous river below.
Reminded me a bit of Utah..
Enough of these boring mountainscapes! Give me some city! Ha… yeah right...
We rode into Peru’s capital, Lima, after a full day in the saddle, 8 hours non-stop except for a quick guinea pig for lunch.
Guinea pig on a plate is called ‘Cuy’ – it is Peru’s emblematic dish, and fat guinea pigs are a common site to see running about people’s homes or in restaurants, being further fattened up with alfalfa.
North of the city, the Panamerican Highway sweeps up onto mountains, or clifftops, or hills, I don't even know because I couldn't see more than a few metres. The Lima region is almost constantly shrouded in thick impenetrable fog. The fog moved in a downward motion, not quite drizzle, sort of misting. Huge trucks going 20 km/hour with their rear lights missing, or just forgotten, would loom up ahead, suddenly not so far away.
I couldn't decide whether it was better to endure the stinging drizzly mist slicing into my face, eyes squinted against it, or close my face mask, only for it to blind me with thousands of tiny droplets. I decided I could see about 10 metres without the mask, and 5 metres with it. The nervousness felt the same as my very first road ride in my 'how to ride a motorbike' course, 10 months ago…
Descending from the fog, we hit city traffic. The very peculiar Peruvian driving style coupled with typical city aggression was a nightmare, and we spent two hours negotiating the busy streets to make it to the other side. Didn't even make one wrong turn, Matty is a navigation whiz.
We got to Lima, had to do some administrative stuff, mail some harddrives, buy things, fix things, saving all the fun stuff for the city as usual. We couldn't really afford to eat out much, which seems like the main attraction of Lima, and we took two photos. Although we did eat a couple of ice creams and visited a few delicatessens.
With so much admin to try and finish, we didn't surf, even though the millions of gallons of raw sewage pouring into the ocean from the city every day (seriously) made it super enticing...
(Intense love sounds like the sea. - Pablo Guevara)
We did head down to Punta Hermosa for a few days a little further south and had some really fun waves, though unfortunately for Matty, Pico Alto wasn’t breaking... a deep-water wave he had been hoping to check out. At least the main point was fun and long each day…
We'd heard of a funky town on an oasis further south in wine country, and really, who needs more reasons than that to go somewhere, especially after a grimy city!
It actually just made us want to go snowboarding. The sand is really heavy and not much like its related winter activity.
Fun to give it a go though, and the hike up to the top of the highest dune was so worth it! Magical.
One sweet street dog was great to have around for the few days. We named her ‘Special Happiness’ due to her propensity for tail wagging, smiling and following us around all day all over the dunes, despite the fact she had suffered (most likely) a brain injury from a car accident or something. It added to her charm.
There was also a plethora of different birds that would flock to the oasis each morning to fish..
..but one day, we noticed a cormorant dive into the water and come up with a fat fish. Clever cormorant we thought. But after swallowing the fish it struggled to fly off with something tangled around its legs, dragging behind it as it flew off awkwardly.
It looked like fishing line.
We watched the same cormorant flap awkwardly over the oasis and land high in a tree. As it tried to fly away again the fishing line had become tangled in the branches, and he was now dangling and flapping upside down by his feet, unable to do anything.
We went over and tried to devise a plan to help him. Matty spent about two hours trying to climb the spindly, 20m tall tree, and even procured a ladder from the local council, trying the strap the ladder halfway up the tree so he could maneuver his way to the dicey top - but in the end it was too dangerous.
Frustrated after hours and hours of trying to free this damn bird, we didn’t know what to do, but we were also pretty determined. We brainstormed an idea…
How about we attach a length of rope to a rock? And if we throw it just right, 15 metres up, we might just…?
Meanwhile, the poor cormorant had basically given up his frantic struggles to extract himself, and hung upside down from the branch limply, occasionally omitting a sad and low squawk.
Matty started throwing the rock, trying to get it square between the line, branch and bird, in the hope of being able to pull on the rope and jerk the bird free. But being 15 metres up, it wasn’t looking good…
After many attempts, I was doubting the possibility of success and lamenting the fact that the poor cormorant would inevitably die an agonizing death of starvation after having his eyes pecked out by the local vultures, all because of some lazy fisherman couldn’t be bothered to clean up after himself. But all of a sudden the piffed rock crashed through the branch perfectly, and Matty was jumping around going “Yes yes yes… c’mon!!”
…and just like that the bird was free!! He squawked into flight over the lagoon and we saw that the rock had even pulled the line off his feet. We watched with big smiles and high fives as he flew off to the safety of the reeds, squawking loudly in appreciation (we imagine).
Such a joyous occasion, we celebrated the saved life with a lunchtime beer. After all we were thirsty – I think it took us almost 6 hours to free that bird.
We left victorious, and in a bit of a rush to get across the country to Cusco, where my parents had just booked a last minute flight to come meet us for a short time. We didn't make it in time. The google maps said it was a 10 hour ride – it took us 3 days through the altiplanos (high plains).
We camped out each night with no internet to tell them we were going to be a cool 3 days late.
My parents were left standing under a grand colonial eave in the torrential afternoon downpour, waiting for us to contact them to let them know the hotel we'd booked for them when we arrived a conservative 3 days earlier, neither of which we’d managed to achieve. We were flying along in said downpour, absolutely satched to the bone wondering why it was taking so long… Daughter fail 🙁
We had a lovely time together, managed to see some serious Peruvian treasures with them. I really loved the ruins nears Pisaq, my ma and I hiked up there to see the masterful work of the Inca before we went up to Machu Picchu.
Striking to see the perfect agricultural terraces, that they had filled with soil from all the way down in the valley below, next to military structures, spiritual centres, and homes for the rich.
(Rare couple photo. Double doorway, reserved for Inca royalty..)
Just being in the sacred valley felt spiritual, and not just because it's called that and because the Inca thought so too.
The clouds are somehow different, always moving and shapeshifting, revealing layers of sky that don’t seem to exist elsewhere. There are rainbows everywhere, sun rays creating sparkling explosions on fat raindrops, and the way the fresh afternoon breeze that sweeps down through the valley rustles the corn, gleaming in golden afternoon light, is magical.
It seems completely natural that a religion that holds the mountains, rainbows, wind, sun, and moon as their gods would choose that place to base their society.
The burial sites are placed strategically to capture maximum mountain updraft, to appease ‘Kon’ the god of wind and rain. Same goes for Machu Picchu. Crazy crowd, but the wind whooshing up through the windows feels like the mountain gods are talking to you.
Matty, when asked to surrender his tripod at the entrance of Machu Pichu, was then taken to the office, and the head security person pointed at the list of rules on their wall. Matty read them one by one, and enquired where the rule against tripods was.
Security man pointed proudly at the rule that said ‘Walking / Hiking sticks not permitted.”
Matty gestured confusingly to the (literally) hundreds of people carrying walking and hiking sticks through the turnstiles in front of the office. And patiently explained that his tripod was not a walking stick.
“…and that guy there has a tripod too, same as me, look!” said our rather confused Australian.
Head security logically replied, “but your tripod is bigger than normal, and besides we keep the paper with the rule about tripods in Cusco.”
Matty, being already slightly miffed with the whole circus and money oriented approach of Peru’s number one spiritual relic, was not about to take the 6 hour journey to visit the ‘tripod rule’ in Cusco, and instead walked out of the office with his tripod over his shoulder, to the ruins.
He started doing a timelapse of Machu Pichu. There were about 50 or more uniformed guards with whistles maintaining touristic order in the ruins. Halfway through the timelapse one of them blew his whistle furiously and pointed at Matty, saying that he had just heard from the office that he had a larger than normal tripod.
“How big is your camera?” The guard demanded, letting his whistle fall from his mouth.
“It’s very small, look. I’m just taking photos like everyone else, I’m just doing a timelapse of the clouds.” M reasoned.
The guard took one quick look at the camera, and then smiling to Matty, patted him on the back and apologized for the confusion, there was obviously a mix-up at the office.
Matty heard the guard radio the office and explain to them how even though the man’s tripod was slightly larger than normal, he actually had a very small camera, and so there was nothing to worry about.
Matty said thanks to the guard, who went back to blowing his whistle at the other tourists walking in the wrong places.
Matty sat there watching his camera do a timelapse of the hordes of colourful shirts climbing all over the ruins, their walking sticks clinking on the stone and glinting in the sun.
5 minutes later the police showed up. With truncheons instead of whistles. They told him that they had been informed that he had a larger than normal tripod, and that it was very dangerous. Not that it might damage the ruins, or that he might be profiting from his photography, but just that the tripod itself was very dangerously large. The fact that it packed down shorter than a hiking stick was of no interest to anyone.
By this stage, a small crowd of Peruvians and foreigners stood around Matty and defended his oversized tripod to the police, one of them wildly waving his hiking stick in the air in exclamation.
In the end, it was clear that nothing was clear, and so Matty sweet talked the police into allowing him 7 minutes more of timelapsing, before letting them take his tripod to the office.
I don’t think he liked Machu Picchu that much.
I on the other hand, was able to sneak up on English-speaking tour groups with my ever-curious mother, who is much more comfortable with breaking rules than I am, and learned in spotty detail at least a fraction of the history of such a grand structure. I had a few moments of complete awe when realizing the deliberate nature of every stone’s placement, the small pools of water to reflect the sky and commune with the gods, and oh, goodness, the wind flowing through those windows from the valleys below…
We also got to go to the Amazon with my parents. The road wound through the Andes mountains for hours and hours before descending into the cloud forest…
Then the hot and humid lowlands interspersed with little towns...
We then hopped on a boat for several hours (my favourite part as it was so relaxing after so long travelling on a motorbike), and watched a Tapir ford the river valiantly... (tapir not shown, we only got video)
Went on some beautiful hikes through the jungle, following the paths laid by giant colonies of army ants…
..and met many interesting crawling creatures, cool bugs such as this guy the Bullet Ant, which leaves you with body-racking pains and fevers for several days after a bite...
Also the national bird of Peru, the majestic Cock of the Rock. Teehee.
Seriously, that’s its name…
Some other cool looking bugs…
We also bonded with some funky butterflies…
The butterfly below is called an Owl Butterfly – guess why?!
We were lucky with the stars too… the nights came alive with the amazing sounds of the jungle…
And we found some jungle pineapples..
It was great to see my folks, they somehow renewed my sense of adventure all over again. Their curiosity and love and ever-present positivity is infectious - they must have gotten it from me.
Slightly surf-starved, Chile was calling us. We hit the road, southwest, across wide-open altiplano. I saw flamingos, but Matty didn't see them because he was tired. Did I say that I saw them and he didn't? Small victories. The ride took us twice as long as we thought it would, as the GPS led us along washboard gravel for 6 hours, which according to it, was a 'primary road.'
It was a long way… and through the highest altiplanos we’d experienced.
Stopped here, to put on as many layers as possible before entering the dark cloud in front of us…
…then continued on, up to over 5000 metres again, envying the trucks we passed with warm-looking cabins and nice music playing, probably eating chips or something delicious.
Meanwhile we were afraid to stop and even take a picture of the snowy hillsides or the snowflakes sticking to our faces, because lightning was striking all around us.
It was a certain type of madness. What were we doing up here on these tiny little machines? And our hands felt like they had frostbite.
Lightning bolts were going off every 10 seconds, all of them with thunder that almost broke our ears at the same moment the lightning struck. We started getting nailed by heavy hail as well as snow. It was hard to see, and the snow stuck to our visors so we had to leave them up, but the hail hurt our faces. Then we realized we were both running out of gas, and so switched over to reserve tank, all the while cursing our foolishness for not having filled up our jerry cans – we were so far from any sort of village, let alone a gas station.
And in the middle of the worst storm we’d ever ridden through.
Eventually, after hooting at storm gods in an exhilarated acknowledgement of their display of raw power, we crossed the pass, and made our way down, out of the electrical storm and down into a series of uninhabited valleys. Hoping we had enough gas to make it through…
It looks friendly in the photos, but it was freeeezzzing!!
The high plains were beautiful, remote as anywhere we had been, and a perfect way to let us ponder the vibrant indigenous life, devastating poverty, elaborate wealth, ancient spirituality, hip youngsters, trash-filled roadways, barren deserts, glacial peaks, and powerful oceanic rhythm that is Peru.
We were on our way to Chile and the vast Atacama Desert…