Well-used:  Now Voyager and us.

Tell me it isn’t so! How can our trip be over so soon? Just 95 days, 9000 miles, six countries, ten border crossings, four tip-overs, two flat bed truck tows, 45 different hotels and a gazillion bad meals later and we’re on our way back to Los Angeles.   Along the way, there were no accidents of note, no broken bones or other serious injuries, and no robberies.   And we’ll always  remember the help we received from so many kind people who must have felt sorry for two gringos lost on a motorcycle.

OK, maybe the word “just” isn’t quite right.   I knew it was time to go home when minutes after crossing the Brazilian border for the second time Karen walked out of a mini-Mercado with a serious, quizzical look on her face and asked, “What country are we in?” We have been on the road for a long time I thought and re-doubled my effort to get us home as quick as possible.

Here’s the Stat Package of our trip:

Bumps and peaks

This trip is a perfect example of how the best laid plans go awry and you just have to deal with the results in the here and now.  Two years in the planning didn’t prevent everything going wrong from almost the first day in Buenos Aires.  Now Voyager was more than two weeks late in arriving.  Misplaced passports prevented us crossing into Chile when originally planned.  And, of course,  Now Voyager developed serious and multiple over-heating episodes that literally changed the course of the trip.  We found ourselves on the Shit Happens Express and had no choice but to ride it out.

KR and I will always remember “riding it out” as we coasted through a mile-long tunnel, watching the headlights of approaching trucks getting bigger and bigger in the rear-view mirror, knowing if we couldn’t get the silent Now Voyager to the tunnel’s exit, we were probably toast.   “Crouch down!” I shouted to Karen, hoping that we’d make a smaller aerodynamic footprint.  Well, the travel gods were with us that afternoon as we made it out of The Tunnel and two tow trucks later we rolled into Santiago.  After this, the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” had a new sense of realism for us.

Slowly, our luck started to turn. When NV sprouted its leaking water hose, a fellow Brazilian biker staying in the same hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, helped fashion a fix that would last for hundreds of miles through the Atacama desert.  Then we met the manager of the Hotel El Mirador in Calama who advised me not to try to fix it there, but to go to a BMW expert in Iquique.  It was both excellent advice and a trip-turning encounter with Jorge, Ruben, and Beto in Iquique.  Once Ruben ripped out the thermostat and replaced it with a red Coke bottle cap, he declared, “The Chile Way. Forever.”  We never had a problem with NV after that.  In addition to fixing our motorcycle, Jorge literally drew out our trip plan that suddenly brought my foggy vision into clear focus.

We were lucky with the weather as well.   Yes, for weeks on end we had rain at least part of every day, and it rained often when we were riding.  But it never rained when it would have been disastrous.  Coming into La Paz at night it suddenly stopped raining (a greater power knew we already had too much to handle) and all we had to deal with was traffic, hills, drunks and a city-wide party.  We crossed Bolivia just after the rainy season had left the country soaked to its red mud core.  Somehow we rode the 40 kilometers of dirt in the middle of Bolivia during a two-day dry spell.  Even one hour’s worth of rain would have doomed our crossing as the road would have turned into thick red mud.  And what about seeing Machu Picchu in the mist, just clear and bright enough to give us a mystical experience?

We were lucky with our crashes and near-crashes as well.  My two beach tip-overs provided entertainment for beach goers, but caused no damage.  When we fell over in the middle of making a turn in Arequipa’s traffic, three guys sprinted out in the street to stop traffic, help get NV righted, and push us onto the sidewalk.  Despite KR’s new found fear of skip-loaders, our river crash was tame in damage to us and NV.  Biggest loss was our two cameras and KR’s confidence in my tackling less-than-stellar road conditions.

One of the things I will always remember fondly is South American gas stations. Yes, I said gas stations.  I will never forget sitting in an Argentinean station way out in the Pampas talking with Sam and Ryan via Skype as we tried to analyze and then fix NV’s first overheating episode.  All gas stations and toll booth mini-Mercado’s have Wi-Fi!  I can’t pass a YPD or Shell station in Argentina without wanting to stop and hang around.

Sometimes simple maneuvers can make a big impression.  You’d be surprised at the challenge of getting into and around South American gas stations as ruts, rocks, trucks, cars, dogs, cattle, kids, and any manner of “thing” might be in your way.  In one station a couple days out of Santiago I pulled in and made a perfect arc to the right side of the pump. I remember thinking, “Hey Walti, you’re starting to ride this thing OK.” Two days later, when I brought this episode up as an example of getting into The Groove, KR said, “Yes, I remember that one too and thinking you were really smooth.” This of course begs the question of what I was doing in the other 200 gas station  visits, but let’s not go there.

Certain images leave a lasting impression as well. Talking with a Russian Mennonite, living in Bolivia was one of them.  Our conversation took place way out in the eastern part of Bolivia, at a gas station that was literally ringed with huge rocks and boards preventing any car from entering (remember, in Bolivia finding a gas station doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found gas as they’re often out of gas).  I swung NV between the rocks to see if there was gas because I saw this Mennonite farmer on a horse-driven flat bed wagon getting two 50 gallon drums filled with Bolivia’s finest.  Apparently, only Mennonites and motorcyclists get gas at that station!  It was good talking with him as he spoke perfect English and seemed to be as curious about us as we were about him.  Not surprisingly, his knowledge of road conditions on Ruta 4 turned out to be wrong, but  what was I thinking asking him in the first place. How far can you take a horse pulled wagon, anyway?

I could go on and on about my fondness for South American gas stations, but I’ll stop.  Full service. Wi-Fi.  Food.  Beer and wine.  Ice cream. And attendants eager to help a couple of lost motorcyclists will be missed.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

For those who would ask, “What would you do differently?  What did you learn?” I offer the Clint Eastwood version.

The Good

  • I would buy the same bike and configure it in the same way.  BMW has enough dealers that you can find someone to help.  Honda and Yamaha dealers are also plentiful enough.  But anything else, like a KTM, Kawasaki, Ducati, or  Suzuki and you better be able to repair it yourself with parts you’re carrying as there just aren’t that many dealers.   Now Voyager, a BMW F650GS,  is a good answer to our motorcycle challenges (height, weight, double-up, third-world travel destinations, etc.).  Those of you who want to talk more about this, just let me know.
  • I would run a knobby front tire and a on/off rear for a great combo of off-road directional help (the knobby) and highway endurance (the rear) again.
  • The spare gas tanks were heaven to have and to use.
  • We took the right stuff and had a pretty damn easy packing system.  For those who accused me of taking too much, I say: YOU travel with your wife for three months!  Parts and tools in the left pannier.  Electronics and admin stuff in the right.  Two Wolfman wet bags for our clothes and a top box as junk drawer.  Packing and unpacking was pretty much hassle-free even though we had to do it at least once a day.  KR bought a bunch of travel zip-up bags that we each used to organize our clothes and they made all the difference.  On reflection, I would probably get a bigger top box: )
  • My riding suit (Revitt) worked great.
  • The Starcom intercom worked flawlessly the whole trip.   I replaced two headsets and one connecting cord.  I would bring more spare parts for this next time.
  • The money strategy of ATM card, two credit cards, and a stash of cash is the only practical way of going.
  • Electronics were a go! A computer for each of us meant that KR used her computer to do travel research.  We started out with three cameras (a G12 for KR, a tiny Cannon for me, and a video camera for the bike).  Makes for some significant battery, charger and connector requirements, but it was worth it.
  • Footprint’s  South American Handbook was excellent.  Considering we only have one book for all of SA, it was terrific.
  • We were prepared paperwork wise:  copies of all necessary docs, fake wallets, fake registrations, etc., etc.  We never needed to make a photocopy or get a passport photo.
  • Finally, and definitely most importantly, we were connected to friends who helped us with all our problems along the way.  I had a Technical Team (Ryan, Bruce, Ron), a Map Team (Sam and Dan) and the All Around Figure Anything Out Man – Sam Hershfield.   Then there were the on-the-ground friends who helped locally: Jorge, Nacho, Fede, Jorge Hernandez, Edson too many more to mention.

The Bad

  • KR says she would do more pre-planning than we did.  Considering we did NONE, that wouldn’t be hard too do.  When you’re moving every day, it’s difficult to keep up with new destinations coming up in terms of hotels, what to see/do, etc.
  • Maps.   We needed more and better.  This goes 10X for the Garmin, which was actually useful when it had a map of the area.  Putting old maps into the GPS in South America is just inviting trouble as it made the Garmin a questionable resource for most of the trip.  Garmin’s MapSource software is one of the least intuitive applications that I’ve ever used, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given their website and product user interfaces.
  • Entering big cities (it’s relative again) at the end of a day is tough as we inevitably got to our hotel tired, stressed and cranky.  Our best strategy was to stop on the outskirts, grab a coke/beer, and plan our entrance.  When we did this, things turned out well.
  • Getting out of big cities is as challenging as figuring out how to get in, maybe even more so given that we needed to find our way to a certain highway.  Remember, no street signs, no highway numbers, dirt roads, etc.  The only solution we found was to ask local sources for directions prior to lift-off.
  • The Touratech panniers were both good and bad.  They may be ugly, but the things are sturdy after four tip-overs.  The locks and everything worked well enough.  Yet their mounting system is designed in such a way that the panniers tend to get loose and as a result one pannier fell off entirely because the system failed.  This forces a pannier check twice daily.  Also, they’re nowhere close to being water proof and necessitated wrapping everything in double plastic bags.
  • The concept of multilayered riding suits is hilarious.   Both our suits had inner layers designed to break the wind and keep the rain out.  Think about this for a moment, you’re riding along and you get hit by rain.  Quick – pull over, take your pants and jacket off (and boots), zip in the rain liner, and put them back on again!   All on the side of the road in the pouring rain?  Impractical.  We both tossed both inner layers (warmth and rain) and just layer our way to warmth/protection.
  • Rain suits generally don’t keep out the rain.  My two-piece BMW rain suit let rain in all the pockets and the crotch.  KR went through two suits (one by___ and the other by North Face) and still ended up wet at day’s end.
  • Nolan helmets.  Once again, great idea (flip up, built-in sun shade, comfortable) but poor execution.  My helmet was NOISY, pieces kept falling apart, and the mechanisms stopped working when sand got in via the wind.
  • I brought too much of the wrong clothes and not enough of the “right” stuff.  I basically wore one pair of shorts or one pair of pants the entire trip.  I had two shirts that I alternated.   But then I had way too many back-up shirts, t-shirts, long-underwear, etc.  We were close, but I’d rethink the specifics.
  • South American food was generally horrible.  Not in the sense of “be careful what you eat” (which you should) but in the taste and health sense.  Granted KR and I aren’t the most adventuresome people so it’s partly our fault we didn’t like the food.  But most of the food is from poor ingredients, with heavy use of fats, and either fried or grill-fried.  Now, before all our friends and hosts in South America email me with threats, there were lots of exceptions to the above generalization.  But the majority of the hundreds of meals we had were less than memorable.

The Ugly

  • The Spot Satellite locater is a piece of shit that never worked. Their support folks don’t understand that you might be calling in from a far-away place (“Mr. Walti, we’ll mail your warranty papers to you).  If life wasn’t too short, I would hassle this company no end.
  • BMW Service’s reliance on their computer diagnostic system.  While I understand its purpose and reason for being, ALL the BMW mechanics I encountered in South America relied exclusively on it to diagnose the problem. If the computer said “no problem,” then there was no problem.  Even if you’d just been towed 100 miles because of overheating.
  • BMW’s lack of a global, by-model knowledge base of technical issues that could be shared by BMW mechanics.  This is simply mind-blowing that ALL of BMW’s technical experience is held only in its local mechanic’s heads.   If you’re local mechanic happens to have experience with the same problem you’re having, you’re in luck.  If not, you’re out of luck.  Trying to get access to some of the technical brains within BMW corporate proved to be a joke.   And yes, I know there are a bunch of rider forums who do an excellent job of trading technical information, but try and search that info and get your local mechanic to act on it when his computer is saying “no problem” is just as much of a joke.  BMW should be ashamed.
  • I got educated on how to ship a motorcycle the hard way. I paid just about $4K all-in to ship my bike to BA and just under $1100 to ship it back.   What changed?  Just about everything, but the biggest difference was Federico Testa (email: normaduran@logistic-solution.com.ar) handled everything going back and therefore I wasn’t double charged by multiple forwarding agents.  We also used the roll-on, roll-off method which eliminates the need for crating (my crate cost $750 for the trip down).  As for timing, I would never, ever ship a m/c by sea if I needed to get it somewhere by a specific date (i.e. the Dakar) unless I targeted an arrival date  a FULL MONTH ahead of time.  Paying customs warehouse storage fees are a small price to pay to avoid the delays we experienced.  Finally, I opted for as little bike-prep as possible, which eliminated the air freight option (taking the front wheel and cases off, draining all fuels, etc.)  When NV finally arrived in BA and the crate was opened, all I had to do was stick the key in and start him up.

What’s Next?

Having not just fallen off the Turnip Truck, I haven’t broached the subject of our next trip to KR just yet.  I’ll be curious as to whether our “motorcycle around the world, one continent at a time” strategy is still operable given the soreness of KR’s butt and back.  I suspect she’ll try to modify it with a different vehicle or destination.    In the meantime, KR is anxious to get to PV to reunite with the love of her life (Lilly) and to prepare Corona and Little Big Sur for any of you folks who can find the time and means to get to Puerto Vallarta.  All are invited.

My immediate tasks include finding a more permanent place to stay in Los Angeles and getting back on the horse to help Neal at TPG.  There are some pretty exciting opportunities popping up and I have a feeling that TPG is about to reach a whole new level.

No matter where, when and how, I intend to chart our own course in life from now on.    I feel that we’re mid-stride in our Rewire Project to reconfigure our life for more control and fun, less restrictions and responsibilities.  I will let you know how the next step goes.

A Lesson from the Enterprise bus driver

Last night the driver of the  Enterprise Rental Car bus reinforced a message that we all know is true, but few of us really act on.  After chatting for a few minutes on the way to the lot, he said in response to our trip summary:  “You gotta enjoy your life! We only got one!” He said it with such conviction and enthusiasm that I thought he’d just come back from a 90 day m/c trip.   We then launched into a discussion of our favorite South American foods (few) and he responded by giving us a detailed blow-by-blow descriptions of his favorite Honduran dishes.  By the time we got to the Enterprise lot, all three of us were hungry!  I got off the bus and thought to myself, life is what each of us make it, whether we’re a bus driver or management consultant.

And so I resolved to enjoy whatever days we have left to the best of my ability.  Whether working or playing, I’m going to try and enjoy it.   I wish all of you the same.

Fred

If it’s a Fiat 600, we must be in Argentina. This has to be the world’s most tricked out Fiat

Quick, if a town has an impressive gate, what country are we in? Mail in your answers for a big prize

Technical innovations are the key to survival on the road. I bitched that KR bought a hair drier, but it was both a boot-drier and the primary therapy for my six weeks of hip problems.

Beef baby, and lots of it! If you want a great steak, Buenos Aires is your town.  Cows seems somewhat less than enthusiastic about participating, though.

How could you not love this woman? KR stuck it out for 9000 miles and countless “encounters.” Good looking glasses were a special present from me.

Devilish things seem to follow us no matter where we went. Here Jim Hyde goes with the flow in an all-out New Years street party in Palermo. We celebrated Carnival in both La Paz and Cochabamba on successive weekends. Then as soon as we cross the border into Brazil, we meet up with a bunch of guys celebrating their fishing accomplishments one night around the pool.

JH and FW await vehicle arrival news.

The Rented Iron Duke and KR outside our Buenos Aires apartment on the first day we get on a motorcycle. KR must be psychic as she's getting visions of what's ahead. We end up riding the RID for 1900 miles while we await Now Voyager's arrival.

Even the second time around, seeing the Dakar was breathtaking. I was thrilled that KR got to experience a couple of days of the race. She wasn't shy in getting close to the action to get her shot. She didn't believe me about the crowds until we were greeted by tens of thousands of people on our way to Purmamarca.

Famous Dakar racer signs autographs for fans

We met lots of nice people on this trip, none nicer than a group of Brazilians on a motorcycle vacation to Argentina and Chile. We tried to keep up, but NV wasn't up to the task (yet).

Argentina gas station: Wi Fi, a cold drink and a/c to get away from the 106 temperatures. I miss them already.

I quickly found my Inner Peruvian Self. KR refused to sit at the same table with me...

NV's overheating problems were a bummer in so many ways, but also a learning experience. I know more about cooling systems than I ever wanted. I feel much more confident in out-of-the-box road repairs having seen some pretty amazing fixes applied. And, of course, who's to say how often flatbed truck loading can come in handy.

Santiago was two-faced for us. One face was the fear, hassle and anxiety that goes with trying to figure out how to fix NV. Once we did that, we hit the reset button and spent a week exploring several alternative Santiago neighborhoods.

Valparaiso was drop-dead gorgeous during our couple of days there, though we never found our (its) groove. Physically, it was the most beautiful city we visited, yet we were never comfortable there as everyone we met warned us to be careful of getting robbed. Caution is a good thing, in moderation, and this place seemed to be too on edge.

Our spirits were on the upswing by the time we got to Lago Verde on the San Francisco Pass over the Andes. We spent an entire day exploring the Andes in a 4X4 and it was a wonderful experience. Lago Verde needs to be put on everyone's South American list.

Hey dude, nice hat. San Pedro de Atacama was like living in a time warp from the 60s. I felt right at home among the Reggae and dreadlocks. I could have warn a tank top too, but I didn't want to intimidate anyone...

Rescue crew. Beto, Jorge, and Ruben and fix NV "The Chile Way." It was indeed, forever. Thanks guys.

How can you not love the people of Peru? This lady was proud of her daily fish offerings, taken off the boat just behind that wall. Fresh, you want fresh?

We were repeatedly warned about protests and work stoppages in Peru and Bolivia. Didn't see any of that, but we did see a lot of street marches supporting candidates or complaining about some issue. Seemed to me that the people of Peru and Bolivia were really into their newly functional democracies. We all could learn something from this type of street level involvement in government.

The Atacama. We spent weeks riding through this ever-present, but constantly changing desert in Argentina, Chile and Peru. During much of this time we were unsure of NV's ability to withstand the heat, thus focusing my mind on "what if" rescue scenarios.

Yet we came across valleys like this one in the middle of the Atacama. Fed by a river carrying snow runoff, these valleys were a lush green that's hard to capture unless you're there.

On our way to Cusco in the Andes, Karen finds some new firends. It's hard not to have a good time among the people of Peru. Always quick to smile at two crazy motorclyists.

Dinner anyone? Guinea pigs are fattened in the kitchen of a restaurant high up in the Peruvian Andes. KR and I could not bring ourselves to sample the delicacy...

We spent two days exploring the Colca Valley in the Peruvian Andes just east of Arequipa. Valley is 70+ miles long and famous for its terraced fields that are a thousand years old. It was a great place to see, but two days in a bus is about 1 3/4 too many.

Real Men (and Women). We met a number of fellow bike adventurers along the way. None were more adventurous than Q & Shu who were on a nine month journey from the Middle East, through Europe, South America, Central America and North America. We met them in Cusco and had a great dinner and shared lots of tips. Their bike, a BMW F800GS, had just suffured a broken yoke and they were about to put it on a truck for the two day trip to the BMW dealer in Lima. They made it and continued north. Last we heard, they were thinking about extending their trip...

Why? Time and time again a complete stranger stepped in to save our bacon. This is the local Cusco family's VW bus that we followed to find our way out of Cusco. Sounds easy, does it? You try and find a particular road in a town of no stop signs and numerous road closures. Anyway, we were helped by the kindness of complete strangers in La Paz, Santa Cruz, a small town in Bolivia (whose name I forget) which is notorius for its bad traffic, Santiago, and Mendoza. See, there are advantages to appearing to be clueless.

There is simply nothing like it. Machu Picchu was BY FAR our most stunning excperience. Even in rain. With lots of other people around. It was worth the 20 year wait. GO!

Recycling. I was often surprised at how inventive South American's are in meeting their transportation needs. We American's are totally spoiled in this manner. This is a VW Bus reconfigured as a train repair/parts carrier.

This will not make CNN's headlines: we went into more than our fair share of bars and restaurants that might be classified as "Iffy". This was probably the most bizarre and coolest one. Located in Ollantaytambo, Peru, it was housed in a thousand year old Inca structure featuring Bob Marley motif and a pole for quick escape from the second floor. Oh, and how could I forget the fireplace coming out of the Mermaid's womb?

The Incas were unbelievable craftsman, especially when it comes to their stone work. It's no wonder that the Spaniards built their houses/churches/palaces on foundations created by the Incas whenever possible. Here's what's most amazing to me: their buildings were architectural, engineering and craftsmanship marvels that even today make us wonder, "How did they do that?" Yet, they had no written language and left behind a legacy of mystery and guesses about who they were and what they did. Strange.

One of the reasons we liked Peru so much was that many of their people dressed in traditional "costumes." It was nice being in a country in which of its citizens still valued a way of life their ancestors enjoyed. Bolivia was very similar. Not so Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

We spent almost a month in the Altiplano at elevations of 10,000 feet and above. It was beautiful, especially in Peru, as much of the Andes were in a Sound of Music green. It was difficult to adjust to the altitude despite having all the drugs and a lot of time to do so. We never got sick nor really encountered bad headaches. Rather, we had trouble sleeping, physically doing things, and most importantly -- it was COLD, especially on the bike when it rained. For a two weeks stretch KR and I never felt warm. We finally wimped out and beat a retreat to the tropics of Bolivia and Brazil.

KR found her styling groove on an island made of reeds in Lake Titicaca

The evening we spent with a family on an island in Lake Titicaca was by far our most memorable personal encounter with Peruvians. Our family seemed pretty damn happy to us despite not having what most American's would describe as basics.

Beautiful children. Even an old grouch like me was charmed by them.

Unknowlinglhy, we rode right into the middle of Carnival celebrations in La Paz on one Saturday night. What's more, we somehow found ourselves in THE neighborhood celebrating the hardest. I think Karen an I will always wonder how we survived that night without a crash. Next morning we awoke to this as the party just continued...

We encountered remarkably few dirt roads, but the ones we did were challenging for two-up riding. This stretch of dirt road lasted two hours and occurred in the middle of the Bolivian tropics.

The Iguacu Falls were scary powerful when viewed up close. The day after we visited two Americans were killed when their tourist boat capcized upon hitting some rocks.

There are some real advantages to riding a motorcycle versus a car. Motos were always allowed through toll stations for free. We were always ushered to the front of a border/inspection station line. And, in the case of long lines caused by a huge truck accident (above), we rode past miles and miles of waiting cars and trucks to the point of the accident. We quickly figrued a way around and were on our way while the rest of the four+ wheelers sat and waited in ignorance.

Blue on blue. 9000 miles later and we're back in Buenos Aires at La Casita de San Telmo. Two days later we're on the plane home.

The customs guy in BA rides Now Voyager onto the ship for the trip back to LA

They're not shiny new anymore, nor might I add are we. But we'll all be ready to go when the gun fires at the next start line.

Weirdly ancient meets wierdly modern. Basic house built of reeds on a reed island, harnessing the power of the sun. Welcome to the Los Uros life style.

We go island hopping in Lake Titicaca

Why do we travel? To see far away places? for sure.  To relax on a beach? not so much.  To get away from it all?  not really.  We travel to learn about how other people, in far away places, live.  To try to get a glimpse of walking in their shoes.  How we do this provides a natural tension between Karen and I, as we are the Ying and Yang of travel buddies.  My Ying is all about speed, distance, local bars, restaurants, and talking with people.  If I had my way, we’d have covered 12,000 miles by now, not the 6,000 we’ve done.  We’d have seen South America, an inch deep.  KR ‘s Yang is all about history, architecture, culture, crafts, local markets, and art.  KR would rather spend one day riding and six days exploring a town.  I would prefer the opposite.

Puno’s claim to fame is that sits on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.  Lake Titicaca is renowned for its many islands and the way that their isolation has minimized changes to their way of life.  Aside from being on the lake, Puno doesn’t have much going for it -nothing remotely associated with architecture, art, or culture.  To me, it looks like a party town where Peruvians who live in the surrounding Altiplano can come and let loose. So, it’s not surprising when we pulled into Puno (at dusk in a drizzling rain) after a tough 250 mile ride through the Sacred Valley, rising higher in the Altiplano, hitting rain, bad roads, and crazy traffic in Juliaca that I’m thinking we’ll take a rest, maybe a couple of hour boat ride to an island, and then push south toward Bolivia.

I can gauge KR’s interest by what she’s reading on the Internet or in our one guidebook.  I should have known that my quick in and out plan wouldn’t fly as Karen had been reading about the islands of Titicaca for days.  Quicker than you can say, “What do you want to do?”  we’re across the street to a travel agent and we’ve booked a two DAY (not hour) boat trip to three Titicaca islands.  Our excursion would take us to one of the 60 Los Uros islands, we’d spend the night with a local family on the island of Amantani, and finally take a walking tour of Taquili, which served as Peru’s Alcatraz for decades.

When was the last time you had a meal in an adobe walled kitchen,  lit only by one light bulb, with an open oven on one end, and a bench-like table on the other? This 7×15 foot room was family-central for Victoria, Raul and their three children .  It’s so cold at night, at least to gringos who aren’t use to the nightly temperature drops of the Altiplano’s 12000 ft, that the everyone knows that its best to huddle next to mom as she cooks in the open clay oven.  We’re at the other end of the kitchen and are warmed only by the friendliness of our hosts and Victoria’s wonderful soups.  Spending the night with Victoria and Raul’s family was the highlight of our island hopping and one of the singular most unique experiences of our trip.

I come away from our night with Victoria and Raul HAPPY to have met them.  To have learned (once again) that modern conveniences and material wealth have little to do with happiness. They live a very, very simple life organized around growing food and making tourists like ourselves feel welcome.   Their home is void of most of the things we would count as necessities (electricity, TV, refrigerator, heat, indoor toilet, microwaves)  but is cozy, clean, and has a wonderful view of the lake from high up on the island.  Who’s to say which of us live the richer life?

The people of the Los Uros islands make Victoria and Raul look like the Jetsons. The 80 Los Uros islands are built of reeds and float in the bay not far from downtown Puno.   Originally built as a way of protection centuries ago, they now thrive as a magnet for tourists.  The islands are constructed of three-foot thick blocks of reed roots with a two-foot mattress of reed placed on top.  Walking on them is like walking on a mattress.   Everything is tied together with an ingenious system of ropes and weights.   Each island contains about a dozen homes, corresponding kitchens, schools, observation platforms, workshops and mini docks.  We spent a couple of hours on one of them chatting with the families, buying some of their wares, and taking a “harbor” cruise in a reed paddle boat.  The people of Uros take living on the water to the extreme, making for a life style that is a “curiosity” to us, but seems pretty normal to them.

We were warned by many people that we’d be shocked by the poverty in Peru and Bolivia. In our four weeks in Peru, we haven’t seen shocking levels of poverty.   Not that there aren’t poor people living in the streets. There are.  It’s extremely sad to see Peruvian mothers and their young children sitting on the sidewalk in Cusco begging.  But, is this much different than the streets of downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco?  Rather, our impression is most of the people living in the Peruvian Andes and Altiplano are living much simpler lives closer to their ancestor’s than what we’d consider “modern” existences.  Many of us interpret this simpler life as poor and impoverished.  Perhaps, I don’t think  poor and a basic life equates with happiness.  We’ve never been greeted by more people with radiant smiles and a willingness to help than in Peru.

Here’s what a couple of days in Puno and the islands of Lake Tikitaca look like.

On the boat towards the Uros islands in Lake Titicaca

We approach one of the many islands made from reeds. This is a good shot showing the 3ft reed roots serving as foundation with the bed of reeds on top.

Locals ready to greet the tourists.

Peru is full of colorful mother/daughter combinations. These are from Uros.

KR gets into the local dress, literally.

Just like camping, but don't drop the match on the floor.

Each island competes with their neighbor for tourists' interest. Here a giant fish serves as the observation deck along with a sun god.

On our way out to Amantani, KR catches a nap in the back of our boat.

There can be a dozen changes in weather on any given day. Sunshine and bright clouds can turn to overcast and raining and back again in a matter of minutes/hours.

Amantani and a neighboring island

This is a shot coming down from the top of Amantani. We hiked the 1000 ft to the top of this island, in which the views were spectacular. Along the trail, locals would offer everything from cokes to hats to coca leaves to aid the traveler.

Looking through an arch on the top

View from the top, through an arch that serves as an entrance to an ancient temple

Our host's house, with significant garden. shed for the goats, upstairs bedrooms for guests and outhouse downwind.

Victoria, Raul and two of their three children -- oh and us.

Cooking dinner is a family affair. Victoria is standing in front of the open oven while Raul washes the dishes. Children run outside occasionally to get the gringos another bottle of warm beer.

Everyone has fun looking at pictures past visitors have sent to the kids.

It's nippy while we await Victoria's next dish. Afra, on the left is a fellow traveler, while our guide Angel and Raul await another glass of beer.

Victoria and her oldest girl sitting in front of stove.

Did I mention it was cold at night?

KR and I finally put two more blankets on to get warm.

There's a part to get ready for! Here KR gets her traditional dress(es) on in our room.

The neighborhood locals come to the "Mother House" to have an evening of song and dance.

KR couldn't resist getting into the swing with Victoria

A Peruvian couple if you've ever seen one...

Ahh, to be young, innocent and colorful

We explore the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley stretches roughly from Cusco on the east to Machu Picchu  on the western tip. The Urubamba river rushes down its center, careening over rocks and anything else in its way.  It  is one of the fiercest rivers I’ve ever seen.  Along side the Urubamba — and I mean feet not yards away —  runs the narrow gauge train track that brings the two essentials the Valley now needs –tourists and food/supplies.   The tracks are busy at all hours of day and night (when they’re not washed out of course, which happens frequently) bringing the aforementioned resources.  The train is the primary way of moving through the valley, unless you count trekking, horse, cows, and the occasional tractor.   The road stops about half way between Cusco and MP at a place called Ollantaytambo.  If you’re going to MP, there’s only two choices:  board the train at Ollantaytambo or start walking.

The mountains that jut up from the river aren’t just tall, they’re incredibly steep and jagged,  Most days we’ve been here you can’t see the tops as they disappear into the clouds.   To get to  MP, trekkers have to go up and over them numerous times among the more than 100 Incan trails discovered around Machu Picchu.  Treks  to MP take anywhere from five to 14 days and they’re not for the soft of foot.   There is a constant stream of young trekkers flooding into Ollantaytambo either on their way in or out.  Trekking to MP is a young man –and woman’s — endeavor.

Even in February, which is considered the low season with rain nearly every day, the colors of the place almost overwhelm one’s eyes.  The red-mud color of the Urubamba, the lush, dark green of the mountains, the brown of the rocks/mud that form walls and and buildings, the flowers that seem to grow everywhere, all surround and play in the fields that grow every imaginable crop you can think of from corn to onions to rice.  Add to this the bright, bright, BRIGHT colors of the traditional clothes people wear on a daily basis and the Sacred Valley is a continuous feast for the eyes.

The heart of the Incan empire was located in the Valley.  From Cusco the Inca’s ruled most of South America during their peak time (1250-1550).  Today it’s a beautiful city where Incan art and culture can be  seen and studied.   None of the palaces– or any other Incan building for that matter– are standing now as the Spanish and earthquakes destroyed them all.  Yet, the Incan ruins remain a prominent part of the city as many, many colonial building are built on top of Incan foundations.  It’s pretty apparent as the stone work during the Incan time was at a level difficult to fathom.  Huge stones, cut and placed together so precisely that no mortar was needed.  Stone after huge stone after huge stone.  There are large sections of Cusco that have mulltiple “styles” of stonework on top of each other representing different builders over the centuries.

At the other end of the valley lies Machu Picchu, high up in the jagged mountains.   No one knows what MP was (a fortress, a monstary, a resort for Incan emperors?) how it was built (it’s huge, beautiful  and is made of thousands of huge rocks), who lived there beyond royals and workers.  The Incan’s had no written language and the Spanish either never found it or if they did, didn’t describe it in any of their writings.  Yet there are a century’s worth of speculation on all things MP.  Hiram Bingham, a Yale scholar and archiaologist, “rediscovered” Machu Picchu in 1911 and led its formal uncovering (it had been lieing dormant under jungle growth for centuries).  He’s a controversial figure who is both admired and despised by Peruvians.   HB literally founded what would become the single biggest tourist attraction in South America.  His efforts led to its discovery by the rest of the world.  On the other hand, he took more than 10,000 items back with him to Yale.   Only this year have Yale and the Peruvian government come to an agreement to bring most of the artifacts back to Peru in time for Machu Picchu’s 100th anniversary of its rediscovery in June.

I can’t really explain the lure that Machu Picchu has had on me, but for as long as I can remember it’s been the No. 1 place I’ve wanted to visit.  It was my unstated target destination when KR and I  bought the 4WD Sportsmobile to wander South America in 2003 (only to end upside down on an East Texas interstate).  Every time one of its iconic pictures appeared on any magazine, I’d quickly buy it and then go to KR and say, “We got to go!”  Many of you reading this have been the recipient of one of my schemes to get you to accompany me to MP.  So, it was quite weird to be sitting on the Inca Rail train last weekend riding toward my dream destination.  It didn’t matter that it was lightly raining,  that there were sure to be hundreds of people with us, that we weren’t on the Hiram Bingham train, nor that we weren’t staying at the famous hotel at MP’s entrance.  None of that mattered because somehow, someway, we were going to Machu Picchu this day!

Here is the simple fact of our visit to Machu Picchu:  none of the hundreds of perfectly-shot photos I’ve seen of the site will ever do it justice. No written description will ever describe or  explain it.  It is simply stunning.  My own hypothesis why neither film nor word will ever do it justice is because they are at best two-dimensional and the place is three-dimensional.   Machu Picchu is at the top of one knife-edge peak surrounded by other peaks as far as you can see.   The clouds, mist, and cliffs all take your breadth away.  Then, right in the center of all of this, stands Machu Picchu, carved into and around one of these peaks.  It’s much larger than I expected and our guide said there were rooms for 1000’s of workers.   How do you explain an assault on one’s senses?  I can’t.  So, I leave you with this one simple, but very serious thought:

Go to Machu Picchu.  Any time of the year will do.  Get there any way you can.  You’ don’t have to be a vagabond and roam around.  Just take a week and go see it.  Do it.  There is nothing in the world like it.

The Logistics of Getting There

It’s taken twenty years of dreaming, two years of planning, and 60 days of motorcycle riding to arrive at the Valley’s doorstep. The logistics of getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu seemed complicated, especially given our high level of pre-planning (not), but we were given a basic road map on how best to do it by Jorge Hernandez from Iquique.  Here then is Fred’s Everything You Need to Know Guide on how to do Machu Picchu.  Print this and save it for your trip.  You’ll thank me later.

  • Step One – Figure out your general game plan: First, when should you go?  I’m told that June-July is the best time with the least rain.  Yet, February was suppose to be horrible and it was terrific and there were even a couple of days of sunshine.  Go when you can schedule it and expect to use a pancho.  The starting point for everything is Cusco, so you’ll have to get there anyway you can. It’s fairly high up so all the advice about hanging in Cusco for a couple of days to get use to the altitude is true.  Plus Cusco is a great place to explore.   We decided to ride NV to Ollantaytambo from Cusco on Saturday afternoon, stay overnight and catch the 6:30AM Sunday train to MP the next morning.  We left NV at the hotel.   We caught the 2:00PM train back to Ollantaytambo and were having dinner after a nap by 7:00PM.  Great day.
  • Step Two- Train Tickets:  We purchased train tickets from Ollantaytambo (not Cusco) to Machu Picchu at the Inca Rail office in Cusco.  Cost about $100 each round-trip.  Two things of import here:  Ollantaytambo was suppose to be a great place to spend some time (m0re on this later) and we decided to take the Inca Rail line versus the Peru Line for two reasons:  (1) It was a lot cheaper.  The famous Hiram Bingham train car is operated by Peru Lines and was hundreds of dollars more expensive.   (2) The service on the two hour ride was suppose to be much better on Inca Rail and it was.  It was a wonderful train trip.
  • Step Three- Purchase Machu Picchu entrance tickets: There are no “we were just driving by” type entrance tickets to MP.  Everything must be purchased in advance and for a specific date.  Tickets are purchased in Cusco at the Peruvian Culture Center.  Cost is about $35/each.
  • Step Four- Buy bus tickets in Aguas Caliente when you get there.  Aguas Caliente is the town at the base of Machu Picchu where the train stops and the bus ride up the switchbacks begins.  You can buy the bus tickets right where the buses are parked for about $15/each.  Some people stay overnight at AC in order to catch a very early bus up to MP.  There is a lot to be said about getting their early as you’re likely to encounter smaller crowds.  There are lots of hostals and hotels around.  But, AC is not a very appealing place, so we decided no-thanks.  You could stay at the Sanctuary Hotel at the doorstep of MP’s entrance, but that would cost you $1000/night.
  • Step Five – Hire a guide once at MP:   Our guide, Felix, gave us two hours of his time, knowledge and opinions for about $50.  I would not do MP alone.
  • Step Six – Have lunch at the MP snack bar, not MP restaurant: The restaurant is jam-packed with other tourists and is cafeteria style.  It would have taken 90 minutes to do. The snack bar was outside on picnic tables and was terrific.
  • Step Seven –  Get on the bus down to Aguas Caliente at least an hour before your train back leaves. That will give you about 20 minutes to shop at all the stands, catch a beer, and get on board.

It’s all your fault

Everyone wants more people, culture, video, pictures, words and (even) music on TRT.  The result?  Long (KR, my favorite fan, would say verbose) posts with lots of stuff.  This takes time which means that all posts are a studder-step late.   As usual, speed readers can look at the pictures below and call it a visit.  Always, always let me know what you like and don’t like.

Not sure how to fix this problem as posts take time and we keep moving.  As I write these words, I’m in our hotel room in Puno, Peru.  Puno is 275 miles south east of Ollantaytambo on Lake Titicaca.  We expect to hang here for a day or so before pushing on to Bolivia.  We had quite an “adventure” getting through Peru’s Mogadishu, but that’s for another post.

Here are the pictures…

Just another street in the hills of Cusco. New buildings built on old foundations are common.

Always up for a new type of refreshment. The museum was captivating.

Street guide explaining how Incan's cut stone to represent animals and gods. This is a wall of what use to be an Incan palace. Oscar says there are walls from three ages: (1) Pre-incan (2) Incan (3) The Incompetents (Spanish)

This is not fake. These stones fit together so well that not only do they not use mortar, there is absolutely no space between the stones to hold it.

What's your definition of adventure? We met Q and Shu ("Dos Chinos") at our hotel in Cusco. They had ridden their BMW F800GS from United Arab Emirates, through the Middle East, Europe, and were now criss-crossing South America. They have been on the road for 9 months. We had a terrific dinner with them at their favorite Korean restaurant in Cusco. The next day they put their bike on a truck and drove 1000kms to Lima's BMW to get the yoke replaced.

thereThis is how we got out of Cusco — by following the nice person in this VW bus.

Mountains between Cusco and Ollantaytambo were alive with flowers and crops. I expected to see Julie Andrews jump out of the bushes at any minute.

The village plaza of Ollantaytambo. The mountains that surround Ollantaytambo contain Incan ruins as well and are close enough to lure the casual trekker to take a look. Behind where this picture is taken is the Urubamba river and the train station.

Crafts market sits out front of the entrance to Incan "administrative" ruins

This is a typical street/walkway in Ollantaytambo. Walls are meticulously built and kept up, and everything is straight as an arrow. An irrigation stream runs down the center, part of a complex irrigation system to capture and distribute the runoff from the mountains.

It took us a while to figure out what this guy was doing. What the photo doesn't show is the elaborately precise grid that has been drawn on the wall's stones. Each stone is also numbered alphanumerically. What was he doing? He was pushing the ancient wall (don't know how old) in order to make it perfectly straight! Couldn't quite figure out why, but it was a significant endeavor.

No rest for the weary 🙂 Getting online in the Ollantaytambo's plaza.

Trains station at Ollantaytambo. Our hotel room is above the Cafe sign.

The train station is almost always busy. Here an empty passenger train has one box car in its que. Everyone on the platform is scrambling to put their various supplies in the box car. The primary method of toting stuff is wrapping them in a clothe sack called a Keperina.

Inside our train on the way to Machu Picchu. It was a terrific 2 hour ride.

Angry river. The Urubamba River at its angriest as it careens by Aguas Calientex, at the foot of Machu Picchu.

We took Jorge's advice and hired a personal guide for $50. Felix was certainly the best dressed guide we'd ever seen, looking as if he stepped out of a Columbia catalog. I didn't believe everything he said, but who's to say what the truth of Machu Picchu is?

We have dozens of MP pictures that we'd like to put up. Which to cho0se? I like this one of the "agricultural section" of MP because it gives a sense of how steep everything is. Each terrace has its own irrigation channel. We're told that 90% of the stone work is original, which is stunning given that MP has probably withstood a thousand earth quakes.

Picture taken high above the terraces in the above picture, looking down on most of MP. Down the center is the green courtyards, which might have served as military training grounds, community gathering place, and perhaps some kind of sports. Buildings to the right are commonly referred to as "worker" buildings as they are small and probably housed multiple families in each. Buildings to the upper left are for the ruling class and kings. Lots of alters, fountains, and bigger buildings.

This oddly shaped wall is part of MP's most important rooms -- an elaborate alter/tomb built into a cave. It's difficult to know what large stones were left in place and built around and which were moved. This one shows precise stone work around oddly shaped large stones.

Another shot from high above, this one showing the clouds and mist rolling in. A few minutes later and none of this was visible. During our visit, a constant drizzle kept us misty. I thought it added to the experience as it made it seem both more real (this is the "normal" weather here) and more unreal -- it really did feel mystical.

We head back to Ollantaytambo on the Inca Rail train line.

Back in Ollantaytambo, we encounter more unexplained things. This perfectly manicured old house has these two poles with red bags jutting out. KR thinks they carry herbs. The stake poles were a semi-permanent installation.

How about the coolest Reggae bar in all of Peru? Bob Marley's soul burns bright here. Pole in background is for those on the second floor can get down to the first very fast.

After taking all panniers and bags off, bell boy and I try muscling Now Voyager backwards out the small alley I rode through a couple of days before.

Some people won't be sorry we left.

We made it to Machu Picchu yesterday and it was spectacular. We’re staying in a town called Ollantaytambo (prize for the first correct pronunciation), which is a little village known for its Incan Ruins and architecture.  It’s also the place where we caught the train to MP.  Here are a couple of videos from yesterday.

Full report to follow.
We’re staying in a hostal located at the train station, which is a good thing since we had to catch the 6:00AM train to MP. This video starts at the entrance to the railroad tracks…
The Urubamba river stretches all the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu and beyond. For two hours the train follows the river to Aguas Calientie, a small town at the foot of MP. The Urubamba is the cause for much of the train stoppages due to water and mud slides. This video shows why.
We’ve spent a couple of nights in Ollantaytambo, just exploring its streets and old houses. One night we found a pathway that connected the train station to the main road about a 1/2 mile away. We walked up the pathway which is sided by stone walls. Since this is Inca territory, walls are a big topic of discussion here.

I know I’m no Charles Kuwalt on the video front, so bare with me. More importantly, keep telling me what you like and don’t like and we’ll try to adjust. This group of videos are dedicated to Gregg P. who wanted less motorcycling (huh? There’s no accounting for taste) and more culture and people. Hey, it’s a work in progress so don’t get your hopes up.

fred

Follow their trail using the Google Earth. You will need to have the Google Earth Plugin installed in your browser for this to work! See the system requirements below….

Here are some directions about using this map:

  1. Use your mouse to click and drag anywhere on the globe
  2. Drag to the middle of South America to start following them
  3. Zoom in, either by double clicking your mouse, using your mouse wheel if you have one or using the vertical slider on the screen’s top right
  4. Look at all the legs and places where they stayed each night
  5. Click on any leg to see date and length in Kms and Hrs
  6. Zoom in all the way in with the slider or holding down your wheel and moving your mouse forward or backward the angle will change so you can see altitude and terrain
  7. Use the  “compass” on top right to rotate around a place, city or route

Need the plugin? Go here
If you are having trouble with the plugin, uninstall the plugin completely. Return to this page and follow the directions that appear within the Google Earth View below.

More Information on Machu Picchu
3D Modeling of the site
Wiki

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This post is all video, all the time.

I don’t expect an Academy Award this Sunday for “Best Documentary on Motorcycling, ” which is premiering right here, right now. Never a quick learner,  I’ve finally figured out how to upload video and post it only 60 days into this trip.  What follows are videos — unedited, non-captioned, with no music or soundtracks –of riding Now Voyager in various parts of South America.   I apologize up front for their sameness, for their lack of editing, and all other things that make watching a video interesting.   I promise you we’ll get better.

For those of you brave enough to watch some of these, please let me know which ones you liked and which one’s you didn’t.  And the whys.

Video #1:  We ride along the Chalhuanga River about 100 miles south of Abancay, Peru.  This clip captures some of the road interruptions we encountered.

Video #2:  We’re riding in the Clouds, 13,000+ feet high in the Andes.

Video #3:  Route 26A in the Andes

Video #4:  We encounter cows and other obstacles in the Andes

Video #5:  We continue rising on Route 26 out of Nazca. Landscape reflects the desert that surrounds Nazca, not the alpine we’ll meet shortly

Video #6: We start riding on Highway 26 toward Cusco

Video #7  Down the Chilean side of the Andes Con’t.

Video #8:  Down the Chilean  side of the Andes. We cross the Andes from Argentina to Chile between Mendoza and Santiago.  This road is famous for its steep switchbacks.

The last photo: we dont' make this crossing rubber side down. Both cameras are lost to water damage

Read more

Chivay in Colca Valley. We spend two days visiting a part of Peru that is more reflective of the past than the future.

We hit the pause button on forward progress in order to go back in time

The hotel room that I’m writing this from has four foot thick walls of carved stone and a domed ceiling which is somehow appropriate for a hostal with the name of Casablanca.   We’ve spent six days in Arequipa, Peru, much of it in this wonderful room (with CNN World, Speed TV, a shower that works, pretty damn good coffee in the morning all for less than $40/night) which is emblematic of the Peru we’ve experienced in the last six days:  ancient culture being updated with new technology.

How and why are we here?  Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city (behind Lima) and many argue its most beautiful with a great representation of colonial architecture.  It’s big at one million people and its high up at 7,500 feet.   We arrived on Friday night and took two days to look around and attend to all the administrative/logistical things that need to get done to keep our little expedition rolling.  We then got on a bus and spent two days visiting the Colca Valley, the deepest, longest valley in the world and were exposed to a different Peru.  We were planning on leaving once we got back from the tour, but I got pretty sick and have been in bed for three days.   During that time, I’ve taken full advantage of our room’s bathroom infrastructure .

Our two days in the Colca Valley were wonderful as we got to see a part of Peru that is off the beaten path.  The valley is about a five hour drive north west of Arequipa high  into the Andes.  We cross a peak at 16,000 feet which breaks this trip’s record.  The Valley is famous for a number of things including it size (62 miles long and very deep), the terraces that were carved into the valley walls more than two thousand years ago, the fact that much of the area’s culture has been preserved for centuries and …. you can see condors if you go all the way down the valley (I’m renaming this trip the FW and KR Bird Chasing Expedition).

Here’s what the last couple of days have been like in pictures.

KIller bees. The first thing we experienced when hitting Areuqipa was the traffic -- 90% of which were Fiat 500-sized Renault taxis. Unlike Chile and Argentina, most Peruvians can't afford a car and these taxis serve as the main mode of transportation. Evidently people get married in them as well as this Taxi procession shows. Riding a large motorcycle in this swarm has its challenges as found out.

Sunday morning I awoke to a pretty elaborate ceremony in the main square. The town's politicans were out in full force as well as its miliary. We've now been to a lot of South American city plazas, and this one is the best so far

Santa Catalina Convent: a small colonial city within the city which was recently opened to the public. It was home to 200 cloistered nuns and their 200 servants for over four centuries.

Chivay is the gateway city to the Colca Valley. My guess is that its about 12000 feet up. We spent the night there in our worst yet hostal, but had a wonderful time that afternoon and evening.

Chivay viewed from the moutain road leading to it

Typical Chivay street

That afternoon we went to a natural mineral hot spring with 108 degree water temperature. It was great sitting in the pool with freezing rain coming down at the same time. Locals were puzzled when I suggested that it needed a swim up bar.

Chivay version of Indian Tuk Tuk has fully enclosed back and a motorcycle engine to serve as heater.

That evening we were treated to a really bad meal and a really good dinner show. The show included a traditional "band" as well as dancers dressed in various traditional clothes.

My favorite ceremony appeared to women dancers paying special homage to coca leaves.

Chivay is known as the village of love, but I"m not sure why. Appropriate, I guess that we were there on Valentine's day. This dance has the woman laying on the ground and the man swinging a rope and beating her around the legs. Then the roles are reversed and the guys hit hit in the balls with the rope. Sounds like love to me.

The show ended with everyone joining in to the Peruvian version of a conga dance.,

We then go back to our hotel room and yours truly breaks a cardinal rule: don't drink the water in a dump of a hotel. Result is three days of Montezuma's Revenge.

There are a half dozen little villages sprinkled along the valley. Each one has the required plaza and ...

Woman and her daughter, dressed in their local dress, along with a their small llama pose for a picture

Call of the wild.

Colca Valley is mainly known for the terraces carved into the canyon's walls. These Inca terraces were made two thousand years ago. Each is served by an elaborate system of irrigation canals and ditches. They obviously work as the valley seems to be a hothouse of food production.

Well at least one of us is getting closer to their Inner Peruvian Self

Karen as she walks down the street of Chivay after a happy couple of days exploring the past

TWO KINDS OF OVERLOAD. We walk around a corner in Ilo, Peru, take a turn down an alley that looks to go to the pier and we're blitzed with the chaos on the left. Whoa! Color, smell, noise assaults from every direction. Two hours later in the Southern Peruvian Atacama and we're engulfed by this -- a desert so barren and vast that this is one of the few structures we come across. Yet, it too overwhelms the senses. We've been in the Atacama for 17 days and have come to love its many, many faces. Mile after mile it changes in subtle and dramatic ways. Yet my reaction is the same: it's huge, void of most life, and strangely enticing.

From the sea to the deserts to the mountains, we bike on!

Let’s not kid a kidder.   I’m not a professional writer, nor a professional travel writer, and I’m really struggling with how to tell the story of our first two days in Peru.  There’s so much to tell that its overwhelming.  Where to start?  End?  It’s frustrating because I know that no matter how good it is, it won’t convey 10% of the experience and feeling that KR and I have gone through.  I can’t make sense of it and boil it down to the most crisp description as possible. This is not a well-tended short story.  Here’s what I want to say in no particular order or priority:

  • Seventeen days in the desert and we now think of it as colorful and as full of intrigue as a Picasso painting.  The Atacama is anything but bland, even though its always there. It’s so, so, so _________ big that you wonder how anyone ever got through it without motorized transportation.   I wonder if anyone would find us before we turned to shriveled prunes if we have trouble .  And just then, we see an old man who looks like he’s 90, walking up the road high in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.  What’s he doing?  How can he do that?  We’ll never know.
  • A lot of things have happened to us in the last couple of days. We’ve crossed our first border with no help from friends.  We’ve had two wonderful days in the saddle of NV and I’m finally getting in the groove.  We’ve seen a fishing village so full of color, chaos and activity that we just wanted to sit and watch for a day.  We’ve been so far out, up and away in the altiplano that we knew we were finally getting “out there!”  We pull into Peru’s finest colonial city, Arequipa,  last night to be engulfed in the Peruvian way of driving — a slightly calmer version of Nepal’s everyman for themselves (also known as The Small Die Young). And right in the middle of said city’s traffic, KR and I have our first double-occupancy tip over.  We fall off and the two of us and three Peruvian passersby right Now Voyager and we go on our way.  Two hours later we’re sipping wine from clay glasses in a restaurant that specializes in Pre-Incan cuisine.  Huh?  Oh, and we’re staying in  a converted colonial home made from blocks of volcanic ash 3 feet thick and 3 times the size of any room so far .
  • We’re just getting to know Peru. Everyone from Chile and Argentina tells us that Peru is a lot poorer, and it is.  Not a whole lot of fast, small cars on the highway.  There’s a lack of polish and infrastructure that Chile has.  It’s important to remember that Peruvians and Chileans have a history not getting along too well.  About a 100 years ago they fought at least one war over what is now Chile’s northern Atacama desert, the same spat of desert that produces 40% of Chile’s GNP today.   It seems that mother nature (and Chile’s superior navy) dealt Peru’s Atacama a severe blow — no minerals to mine.
  • We can’t wait for the Next 50. We’ve been on the road for 50 days and we’re now just starting to get in our groove.  Really.  Packing and unpacking?  No problem.  Finding a hotel?  A bit more of a problem, but no worry.  What to wear?  No choice.  Pre-flight routine is like riding a bicycle:  slide onto the saddle, wait for KR to get on, hook up the intercom, set the GPS, check the gas, look at the heat gauge, put it in gear, rock & roll.  Even though more muscles than I knew I had ache, this is getting easier.

The situation as of February 12 2011 in Arequipa, Peru. We got to this colonial city 7500 feet into the alto plano last night.  We’re staying here for a couple of days while we attend to things past, a bit of work, and see all the alleys and shops we can get in,( and, if FW ever gets off the computer some historic sites and maybe a museum or four (kr note). Next leg will be back west to the coast and then head north to the town of Nazca, Peru.

First unchaperoned border crossing. There are always two parts to crossing a border in SA. Exit from existing country (immigration and vehicle). Entrance into new country (Immigration and vehicle). This is a shot of the Chilean exit. The crossing took us 1 hr. 45 mins

We thought we had it made but were pulled over on the Peruvian coast by a Guard station. KR sits on NV while I waste 15 minutes while some guy gives us yet another stamp. Notice its getting dark and we still have 100 miles to go.

Look closely. Guy standing on the right as we crest a hill. This is representative of Peruvians on roads-- no lights on vehicles or pedestrians at night

Ilo's fish market in full swing. Place was amazingly clean.

Lots of fish, all served by women. One was more charming than the next

Come on, try some of my....? Fish was obviously fresh because right behind this lady's back was this...

The most "Lively" fishing port I've ever seen. Constant activity by man, boat, and creature.

I couldn't figure out what was totally going on as there was just too much of it happening in too tight a space.

But basically the Big Dogs steamed right in and muscled their way to the dock. All others had to unload/load via these guys...

Small skiffs would take the bait and empty trays to smaller boats and bring back loaded trays.

Everyone eats well in this harbor. Man-sized pelicans took part as well as lots of seals. Scraps thrown overboard makes for a happy ecosystem

Twenty minutes up and east, we start climbing into the altiplano desert.

Two hours in and there's nothing around. Since there's no place to stop and buy something, we pull over and chug our own water.

This is a trick picture to see who's reading and paying attention. What's wrong with this picture? Our Judging Committee is thinking up the prize for the right answer.

Just when you think nothing would ever grow, we descend into a valley like this. Major run off from melting snow creates rivers which create this.

Not Photo-Shopped. The greens we saw in these valleys were spectacular.

Back into the mountains we go. We went from 3000 to 6000 and back again five times.

This is not snow, but some kind of mineral deposit.

Up, up we go

At about 8000 feet it looked like we were going to get hit by rain, hail, snow or all three. We didn't.

As we descend toward Arequipa, we come across this patch of color in what looks like a man-made damn, but it could be natural.

We encounter all kinds of traffic as we arrive in Arequipa. We have no shots of the real dangerous beasts of Arequipa traffic-- Fiat 500-sized taxis -- as KR's eyes were either closed or glued to our city map. Suffice it to say that it took all our courage, skill and luck to only have one flop-over in finding our hotel. We finally found it and an hour and a half later we had everything put away nicely.

View of main plaza in Arequipa shot from our restaurant by our intrepid..

photographer.

The proprietor of our restaurant, either Jose or Walter depending on your nationality, showed us his "Pre-Incan" kitchen-grilling on volcanic stones, stewing in clay pots and no oil, butter, onions. The meat in front of the river shrimp is llama.

Karen became decidedly less enthusiastic when she saw the menu. Roasted Alpaca ribs anyone? Perhaps guinea pig roasted between hot stones? KR ordered potatoes and the "original" guacamole.

It's been a good couple of days.