There to here and a few more to go….

Lima is a huge and inviting city.  We were only there for a day and the food poisoning we picked up in Trujillo was still working its magic so we left before we had a chance to really see much.  I know that both of us would jump at the chance to return. We stayed in a hotel on the quiet side of the neighborhood Miraflores and had an afternoon of lazy street wandering.  There was a Starbucks not too far away and we were sincerely excited, but my stomach just couldn’t handle it.  After two months of Nescafe and coffee “syrup”, Starbucks really fires up a sense of wonder.  We’ll have to wait for Santiago.  Just a 15 minute walk from the hotel was an incredible view of the ocean; we sat high up at a cafe and looked out at the expanse of sky.  It felt like a snapshot of easy living.  To finish off a quiet recuperation day we went and saw Alice in 3-D.  It was a strange thing to sit down in a dark room and do something so normal for a day in Chicago or Santa Fe.  When the lights came back up I was a little bewildered – my brain didn’t know what it would encounter when we walked outside.  A little magical realism of our own.

Every day that we ride I think I’ve seen something so beautiful, so different and singular that it must be the most beautiful thing that I will see this entire trip.  That somehow I can package it in my mind and store it in aisle 3 under the Most Beautiful where I will later retrieve it and hand it off when asked about what I’ve seen.  Peru has so many incredible landscapes.  We’ve ridden through broad deserts that match perfectly the stock photo in your brain when someone says “desert”.  And there have been deserts that resemble lunar landscapes with giant jagged mountains spearing up from the earth in solitary breaks of the horizon line.  The sands have been yellow, red, white, and beaches have stretched for mile after empty mile.  At times the wind would rise up and kick up a sandstorm: a million stinging points on your neck and swirling designs dancing on the road.  This is how we got to Nazca, home of the infamous Nazca lines which are seen from a small prop plane you can catch – except when the pilots are on strike (as they were during our stay).  Its a lovely town with a lively plaza that teems on a Saturday night.  By this point, the food poisoning had mostly ceded control of my stomach and I was able to get back to the business of touring food.  Hoo-ray!

We headed the next morning back into the mountains – we had a two day trip ahead of us to get to Cusco.  In retrospect, neither of us knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into on the drive, although I’m not sure we could’ve anticipated the weather we hit.  The first leg of the day was beautiful: climbing up red, dry sandy mountains, swinging like bells around the curving roads.  There were corners so tight and blind that there were signs posted saying “honk your horn” to advertise your presence to the other side.  Here we are on our motos – meep! meep meep meep! Incoming are enormous steel walled trucks.  Meep!  Fortunately, we made it through. 

Eventually, red smeared into green and still dry mountain roads and the temperature began to drop.  We looked out ahead and saw greenish grey skies and surges of lightning.  We put on our rain gear and pressed on and temperature just kept falling.  That afternoon we road through rain, hail, lightening and thunder, and on snowy, icy roads.  The temperature got down to 36 degrees and there was nothing for miles except bad weather.  Our hands were numb, my feet were numb, and all we could do was keep going.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been worried about frostbite really before, but in those hours I was shifting gears based on where i thought my hands and feet were rather than where I could feel them.  For both of us, getting through that day was an exercise in determination – we had no choice but to keep going.  We didn’t get to our destination until about 8 that evening- thankfully the last hour or so was significantly lower in elevation and warmer in temperature.

The next day we made our way to Cusco – another day of channeling through gorgeous mountains and valleys, rising up through red clay peaks.  The closer we came to Cusco, the more evidence of the recent havoc wrought by heavy rains: displaced people living in tents and clay piles creeping up on houses, roads, and everything in its path.  We swung down into town following a local rider who volunteered to lead us in to our hotel – and we never would’ve found it without him.  Cusco is another city that I will lament our fast passage through – beautiful, friendly, less polished then other colonial cities, but with its fair share of pricey boutique stores and restaurants.  A confluence of interests.  Time available is waning, though, and we’re on a tasting menu schedule.  So we took a day and walked the streets – narrow and winding cobblestones, hippies everywhere, llamas, alpacas, inca stone work that is unbelievable, and one of the grandest cathedrals we’ve seen.  We also sought out Norton Rats Pub – what a great spot.  We got to have a real honest-to-god cheeseburger and fries and sign the book of moto travelers passing through over the years.  Jeff, the owner and Norton Rat rider, introduced himself and gave us a great welcome to town.  This man knows everything there is to know about riding that entire area and is a generous resource in knowledge and spirit.  We were sad to go, as we always are these days, but countries are big down here and we had our sights set on Bolivia.

It seems like our parking spots are getting smaller and smaller and involve higher curbs every time. It took me a little longer than is respectable to get out of that last one, but whatever.  We always think we’ll zip out of town- but getting out of Cusco involved bypassing a pretty substantial protest- it was a strange moment to be a foreigner on an expensive motorcycle stopped next to a protest being waged by campesinos against the government.  What do they see when they look at us?  Some smiles and nods – we definitely draw attention.  Some stone faces.  It highlights your own privilege and certainly made me uneasy.  We found our way around eventually and headed to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Like a twelve year old, its really hard for me to name the lake with a straight face.  I just can’t do it.  The lake is beautiful, though.  Y’know, that lake.  hm.  We saw some gorgeous views of it on our way to the border- we were so high up (12,500) and the air was clear and sharp.

This was, to date, our easiest border crossing, albeit a pricey one.  There is a reciprocal visa cost for Americans entering Bolivia- we charge them $135, so they charge us the same.  The process felt a little shady – an immigration officer took us into a separate room and wiggled his fingers and with a broad grin said “money! money! dinero!”. It was a little surreal. After we paid the fee and got the visas, he walked us out and called out loudly: “Visa!” to which several other officers throughout the building yelled back in kind “Visa!”.   As we found out a few days later, we were lucky to get the visas as the strained relations between the US and Bolivia have both countries denying the others’ entry.  We cleared the aduana and lost an hour to time zone change, but made it in to La Paz around 6.  The city has grown immensely in the 13 years we’ve been gone.  We’re glad to be here though, and to see the internal structure that remains recognizable to us.      I’ll sign off now with the expectation that we have time and WIFI available these next few days to keep you updated.  There’s always so much more to say.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “There to here and a few more to go….

  1. What a miss not meeting you people. You have no idea how many times I was at that Starbucks cafe talking and zipping brown brew. I met some riders at that place usually staying at the flying dog hostel at that same corner street.
    Sad wasn’t the time. Back in Miami now after 4.5 months in working in Lima.

    Gaston

  2. Bob P.

    Mike, glad to hear that you found the Rat Norton Pub, Pam and I spent a few evenings there while staying in Cusco. You’re living the biker’s dream my friend. We also enjoyed a brief stay in Puno. If you get to Sucre and don’t come back I’ll understand! While in LaPaz we mountain biked “the World’s Deadliest Road”, I don’t know if I’d be up to it on your BMW – it is quite the adventure. Be Safe, God speed. Bob

    • Dude, I drove that road a bunch o’ years ago in an ’84 Mercedes. Bike? Not for me…we’re on to Chile, currently in Iquique. Very groovy town. Beautiful beaches, lots of sun. Como dicen los Ticos, “Pura Vida!”

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