Our last few weeks of riding from Ecuador into Peru has been plenty exciting: bike break-downs, running over pigs, landslide crossings, mud wipe outs, cold, rainy mountain passes contrasted with hot valley descents up and down very steep roads and large distances between ‘towns.’
Northern Peru is exceptional in its dramatic beauty. Its many towns mostly lack any sort of charm, however, and can be depressing and dirty. We’ve been told many travel tours don’t include Northern Peru for this reason. It’s too bad, really, as the scenery is outstanding. The locals can be a little moody though; some very helpful and smiling, others scowling and avoiding eye contact.
We’ve spent the last week riding on and off with three other adventure riders: Jonathon from Maryland and CJ and John from Vancouver, B.C. Not only has it been fun meeting and camping with other riders, CJ and John have helped us out considerably already. The roads are gorgeous and fun for the most part but there have been some nasty sections, like a huge landslide we had to cross complete with streams running through it. Somewhere along the way, my bike got tired. On a flat but very bumpy dirt road, it began overheating. It was getting late in the day and we still had a long way to go to get anywhere near a place with a hotel. Dave had my bike taken apart along the side of the road. Many people stopped to ask if they could help us but there wasn’t much they could do.
While Dave tried to find the problem with the radiator, I scanned the area thinking we’d have to set up camp. It’s never ideal to set up a tent on the side of the road in South America but it looked as though we’d have no choice. Suddenly we heard a familiar deep rumble ascending from down the valley. In the dusk, CJ and John appeared on their two Yamaha WR250R’s. We’d thought they were well ahead of us as they’d left an hour before us that morning but they’d taken a dirt road that took longer. It was perfect timing. A local man with a truck had stopped earlier to tell us he’d go clear out the back of his truck at his friend’s house three km’s up the road and return in 30 mins to put my bike in the back but he never came back, so the arrival of CJ and John was good. We felt better camping along the road as a foursome. We actually had a great spot along a river in flood though its iced-cappuccino colour prevented us from being able to use it as any sort of drinking water unfortunately, even with our water pump. Don’t expect to extract the water from mud with a water filter, by the way. The area was otherwise desolate and dry, a big contrast to the day before when we’d all frozen our asses off riding a very high, wet, lush pass on the other side of the range. Peru is full of extreme contrasts, which keep us constantly entertained.
In the morning, the guys worked on my bike. We found a small rock had wedged itself between the frame and my rad and had worn a hole in it, leaking coolant. They pulled the rad out, poured boiling water over it to clean it off, then stuck a piece of Epoxy over the hole for a temporary fix until I could get the bike to Lima, still over 500 km away. We’d spent the last few days and roughly 300 km on mostly dirt. We had no idea what the next long stretch would be like and with a bike not working at its prime, we were a bit nervous to set off the next morning at a slow pace and watch CJ and John cruise off at their own speed. All was good for a while until about 30 mins into the morning, the bike started overheating again. I shut it off and waited for Dave to notice I wasn’t behind him and to come back. The morning was already very hot. I waited along the dry, desert road sweating in all my gear. As we’d camped unexpectedly, Dave and I had no water. CJ and John generously shared some of theirs the night before but it was gone. Dave and I hadn’t had much hydration since the night before. The next place to buy water could be minutes or hours away, we didn’t know.
When Dave found me the engine had cooled and so we started it again. The theory was to ride faster so the air flow would help cool the engine better and to keep the RPM’s low. This actually worked and I cruised along for many miles salivating like a dog left in a sunny car in my full face helmet, praying the next corner would have a kiosk selling water. We found nothing for ages and were both very dehydrated by this point though the road was amazing, with 42 one-way tunnels along about a 80 km stretch. This made things interesting when meeting another car or bus coming in the opposite direction.
A place we would normally never even think of stopping at materialized along the roadside. From under ripped-tarp shacks flapping in the wind and a strong stench of chicken and human urine, we saw vendors selling water, fruit and various packaged snacks. We ran to them with tongues hanging out of our mouths and purchased a four litre bottle of cold water, two bottles of Gatorade, a bottle of Inca Cola and a bag of oranges from a non-smiling old woman who walked with a limp and who overcharged the crap out of us but we didn’t care. She obviously needed the money.
My bike had been behaving so we felt comfortable hanging out in the shade in Piss Town on a bench for over an hour. This extra time would have come in handy down the road when my bike all of a sudden lost its rear brakes. Stopped again, Dave sighed and got to work looking at details. It was nothing we could solve on the road so we decided to keep going. These were low speed roads anyway. Shortly after that it started to feel like I’d lost my rear shock. Again I pulled over. Again Dave sighed, more heavily this time and let out a few obscenities. He and my bike do not get along. Dave does everything in his knowledge to fix it but the Black Stallion has a mind of her own (much like its rider, Dave has said on occasion…). All we could do at this point was keep riding to get closer to Huaraz. This large city might have had what we needed to fix everything that was going wrong on my beast.
Fortunately, I only had to abuse it on the bumpy dirt road for about another 30 km as the road turned into 109 km of pavement to Huaraz. The bike much happier now, we cruised on and made it into Huaraz in a rain storm just as dusk was falling.
In Huaraz we found Jonathon again along with CJ and John. The guys spent an evening fixing my brakes. Or so we thought. En route to Lima, I noticed a burning smell right around the time I heard the sound of metal squealing while I came to a stop. Looking down, I noticed smoke. Off the bike again, check the problem. My rear rotor was red hot, glowing even. The brakes nothing but a smoky mess of metal. Dave had adjusted my brake pedal so it was easier to access with my big boots the night before. This just goes to show how muscle memory is powerful stuff. Although I knew the brake pedal was in a different spot ever so slightly, my foot managed to find itself back to its usual resting place, which now with the adjustment meant I’d been riding the brakes for the last several kilometres. The rear brakes were completely obliterated, which made things plenty interesting for coming into Lima at rush hour—a tremendous experience you can read about here.