• Northern Peru – Chachapoyas to Carjamarca

    Posted by Murray on March 19, 2011

    After a few days of ripping up the gravel roads, creek crossings, muddy rutted uphill jungle tracks, ABS off to maintain to feel of the bike beneath you and a few tailout back brake locked moments as the rear of the bike slides sideways to avoid an errant vehicle in the other direction, it was great to roll into Chachapoyas early afternoon.

    Chachapoyas! A small colonial town of 23,000 people sitting at 2235m on the edge of the Amazonas department (state). After securing a great hostel overlooking the main plaza, a coffee shop with salubrious chocolate torte was smelt out and made use of. The entry method to hostels is becoming the norm – ride up the gutter, up the step into the lobby or reception and then into a courtyard. Bikes perfectly safe! Recently we felt momentarily bad as we watched a fellow patron squeeze his oversized body along the corridor passed two dust covered steel horses, as they absorbed 90% of the available space. However, the owner was more than happy to accommodate the bikes of which hits number 1 on our selection criteria of somewhere to sleep. Hot water at elevations above 2000m and internet access are a close 2nd.

    Hot water is a goody! After a long day in the saddle and choosing to pay for somewhere to sleep as opposed to camping, hot water is one of life’s pleasures. Particularly if we have ridden through rain, it is 4000m and 5 degrees and after 8 hours on talcum dust roads. Hence, on these nights, hot water is up there on the fantasy scale. Every hostel in Peru has hot water – we ask, the patron nods vigourously like a deranged puppet and we high five. However, the term “hot water” varies wildly from place to place. In fact, in some hostels we have bunked, I am sure they are referring to past tense when the water coming out of shower pipe chortles its icy contents onto one’s back, I think “Hmmm, yes, it is possible that this water was hot 5000 years ago when it gushed from the bowels of the earth to the surface in a nearby artesian basin, however at this point in time there is not a skerik of hotness to be felt”.

    Later that evening we decide to grab some pizza and eat it in the room overlooking the plaza while we catch up on some correspondence. “Won’t be long” I reported to Loren as I left in search of a good local pizzeria. 45 minutes later I returned with 4 plastic bags and 2 drinks. After awakening Loz out of his hunger imposed coma by slapping a slice of warm salami on his forehead and despite waiting more than twice the advised time to prepare the pizza, we partook of a very tasty family pizza…… conveniently slopped onto 4 paper plates and encased in 4 plastic bags because they had ran out of pizza boxes in 1976. In addition, the 3 cow udders worth of cheese slathered on top was an interesting concept.

    Money changing is a classic here. I had extracted some US dollars from an ATM in Ecuador as it is the currency there and the plan was to change it locally as required in Peru and Bolivia. Noone wanted it! Time and time again the change places would say they readily accept dollars but upon inspection, DNA analysis and carbon dating testing, they reject it on the grounds of one of the bills having a faint pen mark or a microscopic fly dung in one corner. This is mildly amusing as the condition of the Soles (Peru currency) bills around here indicate they have been through the washing machine countless times, sneezed on whilst eating lasagne, reversed over with a muddy tyred truck and chewed upon by the local furless hound in search of a decent feed.

    There is rarely a day goes by that the words either leave my lips or are heard over the radio “Riding through this scenery is incredible”. The ride from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca fitted the bill and these words were heard numerous times over the next few days. After 20kms of bitumen switchbacks to the river, 320kms of twisting gravel roads ensued complete with massive dropoffs far below to the pulsing river in the gorge, mountains soaring into misty rain and fog, innumerable waterfalls and scatterings of isolated villages and farming land on incredible slopes. One such moment is permanently imprinted in my mind as we weaved our way up through a mountain pass in the fog. The mist parted momentarily to reveal a breathtaking drop a few metres off to the right side and to the left a middle aged man in a poncho and his wife in traditional dress leading an aged cow on a rope. The threesome stopped and stood close together as the bikes rumbled passed, the man, woman and cow giving a brief head nod of acknowledgement after my raised hand wave whilst otherwise motionlessly witnessing the strange mechanical procession of two gringos on motorbikes. They quickly disappeared into the fog and yet the 4 second encounter holds memories that will not fade easily as I pondered on how different our lives are…..

    Our target of Cajamarca that day was fast becoming a non reality. In fact, as we rounded one of the many many tight switchbacks in late afternoon to see a line up of motley trucks, the odd brave taxi and crowds of people perched precariously on the edge of the narrow road ahead, the target became unrealistic. Evidently, maybe an hour or so before, a rock slide had occurred and had blocked the track with tonnes of earth and rubble. As we idled up cautiously passed the line of vehicles, an old truck closest to the landslide blocked our way as he consumed the width of the road. The locals had rounded up some shovels and were madly digging away at the slippage, lobbing the overburden over the edge and gradually clearing a small path. Other men were manhandling the larger boulders using planks of wood as levers with barely a glance as the big goollies plummeted over the edge and crashed through the foalage to the river far below. The only time they stopped was when further rocks fell from above and the cry went up to get out of the way. Whilst this highly technical and safe emergency work was happening, Loren and I managed to force our way passed the ancient truck by sticking to the mountain side and dropping into the self excavated gutter against the cliff. Suddenly a local road crew appeared, on their way home from other work in the mountains and they generally took control of the unruly situation. After about an hour, sufficient material had been moved to enable the 2 bikes to pass after much convincing of the head man to let us through. With shouts of glee and the odd cheer from the locals, we charged off with little hope or desire to make up lost time.

    Darkness found us in Celendin, an undelightful medium sized town, several hours from Cajamarca. With brown slop coursing down the streets from the evening rain storm and doing the standard weave duck dodge of chaotic taxis, trucks, wayward pedestrians, flocks of sheep and skinny men pedalling contraptions resembling 3 wheeled bikes piled high with green bananas and raggedly clothed grinning children, we found a hotel after 3 attempts.

    That night, Loren and I ordered completely different meals as my stomach was feeling the effects of Peruvian travel. 25 minutes later 2 identical meals arrive at our plastic table with one warped leg and I explain to the 12 year old waiter that I didnt order the bistek con verduras. After some discussion and confusion and egged on by the gnawing hunger pains, to save any further hassle I agreed to take the meal as it was prepared and hot. Within seconds of me promptly popping 2 potato chips into my mouth, the lady waiter came out and whipped the plate away, apologising profusely and then proceeded to royally deliver it to a large man chatting to his girlfriend on the opposite of the room. As he was hungrily tucking into his feast, I winked at him and mouthed “Nice chips mate”.

    That afternoon, after reaching Cajamarca mid morning, some tyre replacement was in order. Having lugged them from Colombia, it was a relief to get them off the back of the bike. Rather than break out the tyre gear on Mike’s lawn, I ended up at a repair shop that I think repaired tyres. The man was a genuine bloke, a perfectionist and a downright good guy. He rigged up a device to show my spoked wheels needing adjusting and proceeded to true the rims for 2 hours to get the 0.75mm warp out of them while I played around with the tyres. The fact that he had no tyres levers, no wheel balancing facilities and no workshop didn’t totally exclude him from being a tyre repair place. Not long after arriving, a fellow showed up and wanted to buy my old tyres, not entirely sure why. Unable to sell something that is 85% worn out, his eyes lit up and with a smile graciously accepted the rear tyre, when he realised it was gratis. All in all, it was a relaxing afternoon, hanging out with the locals and not riding.

8 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. Mumma Pamma on March 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Oh Murray some of those scenes certainly caused me to bring the tea-towel out.What magic photos though & memories!

  2. Merrilyn on March 19, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Love the road clearing team, Ron wonders if they were from KCE? your stories are very decriptive and the video of the mountain road kept us all on the edge of our seats xxxx

  3. Anthony McNab on March 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Great footage Muzz and Loren – loving those cliff edge moments. Heart in mouth stuff. Love the photo of the Steel Horse and the Donkey horse as well. At least the road crew were wearing their HV even if the other guys only had their thongs on. Do a few fishtails for me fella’s – feeling very much like a motorbike ride right now.

  4. Bec on March 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Yikes, that video is more freaky than the last one! Amazing to see the mend the road as you go type situation, and we complain about our roads!

    • Donna on March 21, 2011 at 8:41 am

      My palms were actually sweating when I watched this one. I was thinking, “Don’t go that way, don’t go that way.” But go that way he did… to the outside of the car, with nothing but a hope and a prayer between the edge of the road and the canyon below. At least I knew he was safe before I watched the video!

  5. Rodda & Cozza on March 20, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Mate the mind boggles at the grit of the blokes who put in the first cut for those roads !!! Probably with a pick and crowbar. Have a go at the rock they have cut through!!!

  6. Ash & Jules on March 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Very sweaty palms watching that one!!! Eeekss!!!

  7. Ted on April 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    WOW – with guts come glory! great story, great pictures! glad i knew you were both safe before watching the video!