Lines in the sand.

Trip Start Jul 17, 2012
Trip End Nov 30, 2012

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

    We were so worn out and the surroundings and food so good we decided on an extra day in Otavalo. Saturday morning Frank kindly gave us a lift into town and showed us around the markets - animals, food and crafts - all in different parts of the town. The animal one had locals buying and selling everything from guinea pigs to cows including $1 puppies from boxes and fighting chickens as cock fighting is very popular here. As an animal lover it was tough to see. I can accept that animals are essential to peoples lives for their livelihood and for food and none of them appeared badly treated. I've probably got a soft westerner's view of it though and seeing a man whip a dog with a horse whip which ran off yelping and hitting puppies only 4 or 5 weeks old for trying to climb from their cardboard box where they were all crammed in on display for sale was hard to watch.  One little dog just sat obediently peering nervously out from his box watching the people walking by and slowly shaking seemed to be considering his fate. Again, he was a matter of weeks old - I was wishing I could buy him and take him home ! Some other tourists were about and seemed quite happy to wander round taking snaps of the dogs, kittens and guinea pigs all bundled together in the bottom of bags so probably just my usual sentimentality where animals are concerned.
    The town was really bustling as it was market day and you could buy anything from chicken feed to a motorcycle (from hifi shops for some reason). I took advantage of this to buy a stick on compass rather than the tons of local rugs, clothes and ornaments that were on display ! Spent the afternoon relaxing back at the lodge. Starting to feel human again now and a good feeding for 3 days - the food really has been great and lots of it - has done us the world of good. To be honest still not desperate to get riding again though but we have the matter of 10,000 miles we still need to cover so we've got no choice.

    Leaving Otavalo we refueled at 1 a gallon - 7 to fill my bike from nearly empty ! Heading south we crossed the equator which is a first for me as I've never been in the southern hemisphere before. Overnight stop was Riobamba and a hotel where when you sit down in the restaurant as the only guests and they just wheel out the 3 courses in quick succession. No menu, choice or drinks - you get what you're given ! Great ride the next day sweeping bends through the hills (mountains by UK standards) of Ecuador. Great views, little traffic, no police road checks and weather mostly cool and sunny. Next stop Loja then we dropped out of the hills, the temperature rose and we followed some great roads to the Peru border. At times they were perfect - dark black sticky smooth tarmac winding through the hills but being South America sometimes the road would turn to loose gravel, mud and bumps and potholes for 10 miles. Hard to believe we were on the Pan American - really light traffic. Easy border into Paddington bear country and instantly we had straight roads like we haven't seen since Mexico. Cruising along at 55 and able to take your mind off the road for a second or two was a real novelty. The Peruvians seem to like to discard all their rubbish by the side of the road and this part of the country at least seems very poor compared to Ecuador (and they're not exactly well off). 16% of Peruvians live on a dollar or less per day. All of a sudden we're riding through desert and a 120 mile stretch with no fuel, villages or much else and then eventually the PanAm starts to get closer to the pacific coast. Quite a few toll roads on the way but all the booths are unoccupied and no barrier so we just ride through. We'd been warned about the Peru police but so far the worst we've got from them is a cheery wave - hopefully it stays that way. Hotel secured overlooking the ocean and a quick wander into town.

    Huanchaco is a fishing town and has a familiar looking pier - it was designed by a Victorian Englishman. Massive pelicans relaxing in the sun and loads of Peruvian fishing kayaks lined up on the beach. Looks like a great spot for surfing with big waves rolling in off the pacific. Prices getting really low - 12 for a nice hotel and about 1 for a beer in a bar overlooking the sea. Next day we beat even that with our most budget accomodation yet - 6 each ! It did have secure parking and running water but the power only came on at 5pm - another personal ambition achieved by staying somewhere with part time electricity. Bizarrely they even had wifi once the power was on - but hot water was too much to ask. During the day we had ridden along the pacific coast with some superb views. At one point we came swooping down out of the hills to ride along at sea level with some dunes next to us and then crashing pacific waves beyond that. Felt like I was flying along at 60mph just above the dunes. Also saw some more pelicans and some other big birds but I don't know what sort - sorry ! Peru still appears very poor - possibly nearer Lima and the tourist trail beyond that some of the money might have filtered down.

    During the day we hit two obstacles blocking the whole PanAm which could have held us beyond the dreaded nightfall which still seems very early at 6-7pm. First an hour kept waiting whilst some explosions were going off to widen the road. Fortunately we barged to the front and got away first. It was mayhem though with people driving off on both sides of the road (forgetting that traffic would soon be coming the other way) and forcing their way past the barriers while the police officer was still there blowing his whistle furiously. Second was an overturned HGV - 3rd we've seen on the trip - the queues were massive and it would take hours to clear it but the police let us slowly bounce round the side off road and dodge the clear up crews so we could sneak through - that definitely wouldn't have happened at home - we've got health and safety to think about !

    Next day we had more encounters with the police. Three times we were stopped within an hour. First up a very pleasant officer - don't really know why he stopped us but ended up having my photo taken with him and then he gave me his velcroed on Peru shoulder badge. My first souvenir of the trip and a bit more meaningful than a tacky item from a shop ! Second we rode past two officers in the fog who were blowing their whistles. We pretended not to notice and kept going only to be flagged down from their Suzuki Vitara a few miles further on. Definitely good cop, bad cop. The older one was just asking about our trip, cameras etc. The younger one nabbed my V5, Insurance and Driving licence and was claiming that in fog you can't use the outside lane of a dual carriageway or go over 40kmh. This as numerous HGVS's thundered past in the outside lane overtaking slower traffic ! At one point he had his ticket book out then all of a sudden he took an interest in JB instead asking him to pay $120 so he could get new tyres for his police car. JB pointed out that the tyres were completely bald which surely is an 'infraction trafico'. Next thing we're being let on our way. A short time later approaching Lima JB gets pulled over - apparently motorcycles are only allowed to do 30Kph and we were doing 60 in a 90 limit. JB basically told him that he wasn't speeding and didn't have any money because he kept getting stopped so he just shook his hand and sent him on his way. Quite bizarre !

    Much like South / Central American road habits in general which are starting to get boring now. The head on overtakes into traffic I can deal with but all the minibuses (millions of them) have a little tweeting device that makes a really annoying twittering nosie like a wolf whistle. I have no idea what it is for but is a constant backdrop to any day/night along with constant horn beeping and car alarms going off. Every vehicle seems to have the same alarm tone which goes up and down in a crescendo and various other stupid noises the designer obviously took a shine too. They are driving me mad ! Driving habits also are consistant across the region - my favourite's include: driving along for miles and miles with your hazards on, lorries who try to indicate it's safe to pass by indicating left so you think they are about to turn across your path, permanently staying in the fast lane when the nearside one is empty, flashing their lights at you for no apparent reason, driving with children on the tank of motorbikes, 3 or 4 up on motorbikes or young babies laying across the dashboard in the cabs of lorries etc etc etc, all of which is rigourously ignored by the police. This sounds amusing but after 12,500 miles (as of Pisco) of it it's starting to annoy me now ! And these countries wonder why their casualty rates are so appauling !?

    Pressing on we arrive in Nazca, or Nasca, whichever you wish. First indication is Cessna 172's buzzing past doing extreme banking so people can photograph the lines. There is actually a warning about these planes on the FCO travel advice pages - maintenance is not what it should be and 4 poor Brits died in a crash a couple of years ago. If Peruvian lorries, taxis and police cars are anything to go by I'm not filled with confidence. Expedia has come to the rescue again and our home for 2 nights is an oasis in the desert - an old converted convent with pool, pool bar, restaurant, tranquil gardens and resident alpaca and vicuna. The former likes me so much I experience their charming habit of spitting in your face. His / her hobby seems to be hogging the sun loungers by sitting by the pool and giving an evil stare at anyone who gets too close ! the Vicuna is more sociable though and sometimes wanders in and sits down in the restaurant. Another bit of trivia for you -- Vicuna wool is the finest in the world and was so highly prized only Inca kings were allowed to wear Vicuna clothing. Today you'd have to be a king to afford it - a jumper could cost you 10,000. Great to relax and have a bit of luxury for a while. The hotel laundry service gets some use out of us too. The owner has a long chat and says he also gets grief from the police but has a get out of jail free card - basically a form which confirms that he 'donates' 20 per month to the police. He also said he has had people doing our route - but on foot ! That has got to be a 3-4yr trip. In Pisco we had asked for a Pisco sour and got a blank look - here the owner actually bought us one. It's made from egg whites, lime juice and Pisco which is a grape blend. Not my cup of tea but there you go. Talking of tea I have whiled away the time by the pool ordering every food treat I can think of via the Tesco website so I can have a proper binge when I get home. Bacon sandwiches with fresh white bread and brown sauce is top of the list but I have developed a craving for cheesy wotsits and cornflakes with cold fresh milk too !

    On a more serious note as I'm writing this I've heard about the kidnapped tourists taken from the Ecuador / Colombian border. Thinking life really is a lottery sometimes, believing we'll be fine from here on in, but mostly hoping they will be ok. Decided to go on the flight tomorrow and will upload photos when I get back. If we run out of air and over do the ground bit there might be a delay..
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Mark on

Ah yes, forgot to mention that Pisco sour, grim isn't it? Hows the diet of rice and beans (Gallo Pinto in CR) going by the way? Totally bored with it? Make sure you have guinea pig and llama whilst in Peru as well

cristina baker on

Pisco sours are AWESOME!!! Spent drinking them in Chile/Argentina every night for two weeks.

Glad neither you nor Jonathan has been kidnapped. Each day is a gift, not a given right.... according to a great philosopher. So make the most of it.

Mark on

Good to see you do a few touristy things! Looks like you're at Macchu Pichu now via Cuzco. Feeling light headed? Had the local cocoa brew to help?

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