• Ecuador/Peru – A Carnival crossing

    Posted by Loren on March 18, 2011

    Being on an extra long holiday doesn’t diminish the special feeling of a Saturday ride. Impossibly colossal green mountains grasp at the sky, the road clinging wherever it can, the valley floor disappearing far below, appearing in the pit of your stomach around the next switchback. Blue sky and thoughts of a sunburnt nose are soon replaced with pellets of freezing rain pummelling your face as the clouds are reached and their contents are scattered across the road and in through any forgotten openings. Thoughts of stopping to extract proper winter gear from the most inconvenient of the four bags are quickly eradicated as the mountain is summited, the bikes rev with approval as they scream downhill and the sun returns from it’s brief sabbatical and starts the task of again drying our clothes strapped to the back, washed the prior night in a pint sized handbasin.

    It is not often we are off our bikes mid afternoon. Passing through the delightful town of Vilcabamba with our usual village average of eight seconds, didn’t seem right, and we were kicking back in a hammock by 4pm.  Vilcabamba is also called the Valley of Longevity, and we hoped some would rub off on us. The whole village was out throwing flour bombs, water balloons and any other object that would normally result in a punch in the nose, all in the name of Carnival. Le Rendez-Vous provided excellent accommodation, and as it turns out, a breakfast worth waking up for. We would need the energy as we pushed through to Peru.

    There are three border crossings between Peru and Ecuador, and we had chosen the furthest inland crossing at La Balsa. Pavement hadn’t made it’s way within 150km of either side of the border, meaning we would get to do some dirt work. Murray was in civil engineering heaven as the first 25km of the dirt road were a construction zone of earth moving equipment. I was less than overjoyed as my meticulously cleaned visor was soon replaced with a film of dust, which was soon replaced with the inability to see as the rain descended and turned the dust into dripping droplets of brown goop. This too passed, and yelps of glee crescendoed from the jungle as we made good use of the off-road abilities of our bikes.

    A large part of one pannier on each bike is taken up with tools and gear to fix our bikes should we be in exactly the scenario we are right now – many km’s away from anyone, down a dirt track, man vs wild. So it was that I pulled up beside Murray, who was off his bike and into his toolkit. What could possibly be wrong with the previously unstoppable F800? It was then that I saw a young man performing surgery on his totally unsuitable 125CC motorcycle. We would get to use our tools! Oil was spurting out of the bike running down to where the chain should have been. Turns out the oil was a design feature, and the only problem was his chain had bounced off on one of the many bumps. Murray handed over a couple screw drivers and I supplied WetOnes and plastic surgical gloves. Days spent stumbling around wildly in the jungle were averted, and the other rider bounced off on his way to tell his friends about these gringos who ride around with wet towels and plastic gloves.

    Happy with ourselves for having saved a local from sure death, we continued on our way ensuring the exit of each corner had a couple long motorbike tracks to mark our passing. The dust returned, so I left a good gap between Murray and I. It was then I heard a loud bang and quickly looked down at my tire pressure monitors which confirmed my tires were performing their correct function. Looking behind I saw a large black object in the middle of the road. Turning still further, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of one of my panniers. When doing some work the day before, I had neglected to tighten it sufficiently. Calls to Murray on the radio where met with nothing but the sound of nothing. Turning around, I pulled to the side of the track, put my bike on it’s kickstand, and proceeded to replace my strewn articles into the pannier, and reattach it to it’s rightful place. It was about at this stage that I put too much weight on the side of my bike, and it tumbled over. Now all the bags have to come off, as the bike is just too heavy to lift up at this angle. It was at this stage that Murray returned like a good riding partner, to find me with my bike pointed in the opposite direction, helmet, gloves, backpack and jacket discarded beside the road, the contents of one pannier splayed across the road, two more bags hewn to the side, and my bike sitting at a 90 degree angle from it’s normal position. A game of guess what happened followed, everything replaced, and the crash bars earned their stripes once again.

    We had chose this border crossing due to it’s remoteness and supposed casualness of crossing. But nobody had said this casual. After the nightmare that was Central American crossings still fresh in recent memory, it was with astonishment that we turned the corner to the border to find music blasting and a full on water fight in progress. The boom gate blocking the passage over a bridge confirmed that we indeed were at the border, and the soap water being dumped on those that dared pass confirmed this was Carnival celebrations. The ringleader was summoned, he half pulled a shirt over his semi naked body, produced the Polica Nationale stamp and officially stamped us out of the country. Headcams were mounted for what was sure to come next. Silence descended on the crowd as brains high on flour bombs and cervaza computed what to do to these two men on their motorbikes. A couple splashes of water were flicked my way, which was then followed by the rest of the bucket. I kicked my bike into first, revved the engine and dropped the clutch to produce a beautiful arc of mud in the generally direction of the water thrower, the joy of which was short lived, as a bucket of pink foaming who-knows-what made contact with my entire being. With pinky/white foam dripping from my visor, a few more mud arcs and Murray laughing like a crazy man, we left Ecuador and crossed the bridge into Peru.

    If we have learnt but one thing on this trip, it is how to cross borders. The entry to every border is the same; get stamped in for immigration, get stamped by police, go to the corner shop and get copies of stamped passports and documents, return to Customs, fill out some more documents, go back to immigration to get final stamps, hop on the bikes and ride off. The Peru border was no different, other then an extra stop at the soccer pitch between each activity to recruit the next official. When Peru Customs installed the new computer system, they failed to instruct that the manual documentation and completion of the ledger employed since 1954 were no longer required. In frustration, Murray moved the aging customs official aside, completed the online form himself, and then waited as the ledger was completed. Digital and analog versions completed all around and we were officially into Peru.

    The hoped for quick border crossing did not come to pass, and we were found a long way from anywhere, and darkness a not so short distance away. Dirt roads, huge drop-offs, and darkness are not good combinations. Slowing down and a good strong light are recommended methods of ensuring the night is spent in bed, and not with a motorbike sitting on top of you at the bottom of a mountain. These are methods that were used by both of us. These are not methods that were used by anyone else en-route. Descending down a hill, turning around a bend, we were often surprised to find a three wheeled motorbike/taxi directly in our path, as he has just turned on his light as you pass, and then turn it off again to redirect the 4 watts of power back to the wheels. One such taxi must have lost use of his headlight, using instead his left turn signal, the only light emitting device not yet shaken from his bike.

    There is one record that Murray seems intent on beating, and that is the cheapest accommodation. San Ignicia provided just the backdrop for such records. At $8.92 total, there are some things that must give and in this case it was the room and the bathroom, not leaving much on the plus side. Once our bags were in the room, we had to make use of our radios to coordinate entries and exits, as having two people in the room could only be accomplished when at least one person was in their bed. The toilet, down the hall, was conveniently in the same square meter room as the shower. Convenient only for the cleaner as it smelt like they thought the shower would do the cleaning (it didn’t), or convenient for the prisoner should they have a bad case of food poisoning. Murray got to think about his new record for most of the night, as he curled up in the foetal position to save his feet hitting the wall. The morning revealed wet toilet paper previously on the toilet floor, most recently on the bottom of Murray’s foot, stuck to the far wall, a sign of a tall man sleeping in a short bed, record officially broken.

    We were looking at the prospect of a long 380km ride in dirt to Chachapoyas. 50 km later, the gravel road along the river turned into pavement, the mountains turned into the tropics and we had a day of phenomenal riding. A good day of riding is even better when it is an early mark, bikes parked, hot shower taken, sitting in a cafe eating chocolate cake. Got to love this motorbike riding!

7 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. Vic & Joan on March 18, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Great writings – keep em coming! When/where do we attend the launching of the travel book of the moto-cyclists – must be coming out for Christmas??
    V&J

  2. Anthony McNab on March 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    ROTFL – Toilet paper from floor to foot to wall. Too much *wipes tears from eyes*

  3. Donna on March 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I love the story about providing the guy with the broken down bike hand wipes and plastic gloves… you do your sister proud!! Imagine them pulling a flour bomb/water bomb/mud burnout stunt crossing into the US from here! You’d be face down on the ground, hands and a foot behind your back before you had your next thought!

    • Loren on March 19, 2011 at 5:09 am

      glad I got to put the WetOnes to use, having carted 500gms of wet paper products from Canada

  4. Anna B on March 19, 2011 at 2:13 am

    Great blog entry – very amusing!

    • Loren on March 19, 2011 at 5:07 am

      amusing? We are deadly serious reporters here!

  5. Rodda & Cozza on March 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    G’day Fellas. What truly awinspiring country you are seeing. The usual high standard of photography is a great pleasure to view. A trip of MANY life times.