The Mountain Route to Ecuador


You know those moments that while they're happening you are absolutely sure that you'll remember for the rest of your life? Well, the entirety of today was one of those moments...

After a cold night in Huanuco (and an hour in the morning of us being lost in town while trying to find our way out), we made our attack on a stretch of road that we knew would be a bit trying. We had been warned that the route from Huanuco to Huallanca was beautiful but equally dangerous and would require time above all else. 

Today was one of those days that we just totally downplay to our folks at home...

It took all of 30 minutes to understand why we had been warned about the road.

Never in my life could I have imagined that any route could be so curve-ridden. More importantly, however, was the fact that the entire road was barely wide enough for one car. The required driving style was made clear to me very early on when we came around a sharp bend to find a bus flying towards us from the other direction. I swerved off the road (away from the cliff) and into a steep ditch on the right side, dragging the bottom of the sidecar along and creating a considerable crack in the floor. The bus driver saddled up beside us as, smiled, and yelled, "Cuidado Gringo!" ("Careful buddy - ok, not buddy but you get it). From that moment on, I only left 2nd gear a handful of times and honked at nearly every curve to warn oncoming traffic.

It was a white-knuckled few days of riding, but so worth it.

Along with the constant oncoming traffic of trucks and buses obviously too large for the road, animals and people made the ride even more interesting. Honestly, when I dreamed about riding through South America, THIS is what I imagined...

I mean, it was perfect. Tiny communities were tucked away throughout the curves and it felt like we were seeing the "real" Peru. Also, I really wanted to stop at this "RestauRAT" but Kris wouldn't let me.

Seeing as our GPS just started laughing at us when we headed into the mountains, navigating became a new game.

At some point, I looked over to see Kristen slapping a piglet out of the way and I knew that life was good. So good.

I mean, we even had loads of applause as we passed. What is this magic place!?!

We’ve spoken before of the large street dog population here in South America. We’ve also hinted at the daily occurrence of dogs coming after Kristen in the sidecar. Along this road, Kristen finally was able to snap a picture of this buddy who I'm sure just wanted a pet...

All in all, these days in the mountains of Peru proved to be some of the most memorable motorcycling we've ever experienced.

After La Union, the road opened up into two lanes again...

After a night of rest in Huaraz...

...we headed back to the coast and to the town of Trujillo. As we were riding around the plaza, we were followed by two suspicious looking guys (joking of course, kind of) on BMW bikes. Enter our new friends:

They kindly offered to lead us to a beach town outside of Trujillo called Huanchaco which we eagerly accepted. We ended up going out to dinner with Leandro and Fernanda, two Argentinians who were riding their bike from Miami back to their home in Mendoza. It was great to swap stories and advice (mainly coming from the exuberant Leandro) plus we ate amazingly well at an outdoor BBQ.

After another day at the beach, we jetted North towards Ecuador.

Below: a common pothole. BigBoi and Kristen dislike these very much...

Also, kudos to this guy for the packing job of a lifetime...

After a few more days of riding, we came to the border. It turned out to be our longest experience yet - I’m assuming that they were looking for a bribe, but the Aduana (Customs) couldn’t find our bike in the computer system. We had all the right paperwork, but they did not want to let us go. After an hour and a half full of phone calls and questions, we were finally released to Ecuador!

Goodbye Peru...

...hello Ecuador!

Sampling the Variety of Peru


During our time in Peru, we experienced essentially three categories of roads: 
- the coastal route: the straight, flat, boring Pan American Highway
(for making good time)
- the mountain route: a mind-blowingly curvy maze on questionable road surfaces
(for causing anxiety)
- the OTHER mountain route: as twisted as above but without the pavement
(for the adventure)
After dabbling for several weeks, we came away with varying reactions of joy, boredom, awe and horror.


Our first stop after the sand dunes was at the beach town of Punta Hermosa. Without a doubt, it was the swankiest community we saw during our entire time in Peru. Thankfully, it was nearly empty of people as it was off-season and our room overlooking the bay was only $17.00. 

After lounging in the sand for a day, we headed into Lima and then East into the mountains. A word about driving in Lima: we had heard from multiple sources that it was going to be a bit chaotic, a bit frustrating and a bit downright dangerous. I can honestly say that we were mainly annoyed at the amount of traffic but I do see how it has a reputation. We encountered several huge intersections (I’m talking 6-7 lanes of traffic) with no traffic lights. It was essentially a free-for-all as buses, horse-drawn carts, motorbikes and cars fought for position. I learned long ago to forget my concept of “lanes” and if I do say so myself; I think I can now hang with Peruvian drivers...

By heading straight East from Lima, we found ourselves in the mountains once again. Lots of passing slower traffic on curvy roads, spectacular scenery, and an infuriating amount of speed bumps. A word about speed bumps in South America: I don’t know why, but the Minister for Speed Bump Application (I’m sure this is a real position or at least it is in my head) is out of control in Peru. There are an amazing amount of misplaced humps of varying size and quality, all without proper signage. I’m convinced the Minister for SBA (as he’s undoubtable known around the office) hates the Peruvian people and maniacally laughs every time he orders another bump to be put in. 
Rant complete.

During our 10 hour ride East, it got a bit nippy...

After hopping over the pass, we dropped down into the muggy Amazon and the town of La Merced.

Kristen was not exactly thrilled to be in a Malaria zone - one time is enough! 
We decided to pass on stopping for lunch at a place called Moskitoo...

While down in the jungle, we ate like kings. Fried fish, plantains, rice and a side of mosquitos. But who cares man?! We were in jungle! 

After a few days in the Amazon, we headed North again and into the Peruvian Cordilleras.






The variety in Peru is astounding...

Aside from a few little headaches, Peru is really growing on us. So, so much to offer...

The Sand Dunes of Huacachina


“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
In a dry and parched land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”

Psalm 63: 1-3
There is something powerful about being wrapped in the silence of the desert.        
Perhaps it’s that sand simply absorbs sound like a sponge. Or maybe it’s because if you wait just long enough, the shifting sand will dance noiselessly and tirelessly before your eyes . As we trudged along through the sand dunes of Huacachina, some as tall as 350 feet, two images continually came to mind: 
- the figure of Jesus seeking the solitude of the desert to pray
- the shadowed outline of a dying man stumbling across the sand in search of water
It wasn’t until afterwards that I understood that these visions were more alike than they were different. 
Walking through deep sand was way more difficult than I imagined. As we summited our first couple of dunes, a heavy sweat drenched us both and our shoes suddenly became three or four times as heavy. The sand began to cling to our bodies - our legs, arms and face became lined with grit as the wind swept against us. But without discussion, we continued further and further into the isolation of the desert. Hours later, we sat silent at the peak of a huge dune watching the sun set as clouds of sand played across the landscape. And as I looked over to see the dune beginning to claim Kristen as its own, I recognized a look on her face that I knew must be present on mine as well: pure gratitude.

After making our way down from Arequipa and the mountains (whew, we can breathe again) we headed up the coast and into the desert. 

We made a failed attempt to see a cemetery where many bodies are buried above ground... Kristen wasn’t too keen on the idea so I have suspicions that she may have “accidentally” not been able to find it.





We eventually made our way into Ica where I had a pretty serious clash with some mototaxi drivers. Kristen thinks they’re cute, I personally see them more as giant mosquitos...

Right outside of town, we spotted a community of woven shacks. Seeing as the wind was continually sweeping sand across the ground, I would imagine that it is a very difficult way to live. 

After rolling into Huacachina, we had a quick lunch and wandered around to find a place to stay. Huacachina is a bit of a tourist magnet. Lots of foreigners come to sand board and dune buggy so the majority of the town caters to out-of-towners. The first hostel I walked into reminded me of being on a college campus, but not in a good way. The guy taking me to see a room literally caught a frisbee, took a chug of a beer and told me that he was throwing a “420” party that night if we were interested - all on the way to the room. We quickly realized that we were out of our depth and headed directly after the nearest tourist bus full of senior citizens. 

After dropping our stuff off, we walked straight out of town and into the sand.





It is unbelievable to think how a magnitude of tiny particles can make up such enormous dunes.

As the temperature dropped significantly and the sky became colored, we sat and waited to watch the desert transform. 

With the last slits of sunlight breaching the horizon, we ran back to town from the chill of the night.

Our reward for the hike:

Colca Canyon and Arequipa


We’ve come to the point in the report where there is sure to be some finger pointing and name calling. We’re prepared for it and, look us in the eye when we say this, it’s really okay. We (almost) deserve it. 
...alright... goes nothing...
...we decided to skip Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world. 
I know, I know. It seems ridiculous but hear us out. 
Getting to Machu Picchu is a severe pain even when you have your own vehicle. There are essentially two choices: get fairly close with your own vehicle and walk or break the bank and take a train and bus. After finding that we legitimately could not buy train tickets for less than $250 a person (the cheaper seats were sold out) and getting rejected again and again by hotels and hostels in the area, we gave it up. We are just here at the wrong time - high season. Plus, seeing as my Mom is a major history buff, I have a feeling a trip to Peru is in our near future with my family. 
Instead of heading North from Puno to Cusco, we moved NorthEast towards  Colca Canyon. Because of the great height of the surrounding mountain peaks, Colca is legitimately TWICE as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA! It is 13,650 feet deep. Absolutely mind blowing. 


The winding, quality pavement made it a really pleasurable ride. What made it even more pleasant was knowing that we left the crowds behind at Machu...

Ah, the joys of riding a motorcycle in the mountains of Peru in winter. 

As we summited before dropping down into the canyon, the landscape became other-worldly and harsh. As we rode along in complete isolation, the nice pavement, looking as if it had been ripped to shreds by the elements, a certain excitement grew in my stomach and I realized that THIS was a big part of the reason that I love to travel: to see parts of the Earth that will never be tamed by man. 


Finally we came to our first glimpse of the canyon. It took nearly an hour to wind our way down to the humble town of Chivay. 

After paying a hefty fee to enter the park, we rode around Chivay for awhile before realizing that everything was severely overpriced. We instead rode to the tiny town of Achoma and found a spacious hostel for half the price of what we were seeing in Chivay. Plus, there was some serious action going on...

We walked into the square to find that a music video was being shot near the fountain. Bad lip syncing, frantic dance choreographer, mouthy director = good times. The town was exactly what we were looking for. Hardly any tourists, quiet streets, lots of locals milling about. 



Just really, really lovely.

After a seriously freezing night (even though the hostel provided 3 floor heaters, it was frigid!) we headed off for a failed shot to see the endangered Andean condor. With that behind us, we decided to move on towards the colonial town of Arequipa. 

It was on the way to Arequipa that my South American confidence got us into trouble. We were winding our way down a curvy mountain road, all the while passing a herd of big trucks, when the traffic stopped dead. A huge number of trucks lined the side of the road and I did what felt natural: I continued riding along. All of a sudden, a police car came round a bend from the opposite direction and began honking and flashing its lights. It stopped right in front of us with a skid and an officer jumped out and began screaming curses at us. He ran up to the sidecar and began pushing it backwards. Not wanting a fight, we jumped off too and pushed it to the side of the road. He gave me a bit more finger-wagging, jumped in his squad car and sped off. 15 minutes later, traffic began to move as usual and we went on our way. I’m still not sure what happened...

After a dusty, curvy ride in which Kristen literally got car-(bike)-sick, we arrived in Arequipa. After only going the wrong way on a one-way once, a serious accomplishment in this town, we found a decent hostel near a monastery and went out to explore. 

Arequipa is a cool place. Surrounded by 4 volcanoes (one active) and with the entire town center declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we really enjoyed the feel. It is definitely a bit touristy and a bit crammed with traffic but it does have quite a few things to do. 

Probably the biggest attraction in town is a highly preserved, 500 year old mummy affectionately known as Juanita the Ice Princess. This Incan girl was sacrificed on Ampato Mountain and was hidden until 1995 when nearby volcanic activity released her from her icy prison. She is kept in a museum in a glass case under freezing conditions to keep her preservation complete. Photographs are prohibited, although I tried to get some spy shots with my iPhone (too dark), so I’ll have to borrow a picture from the internet.

Disclaimer: not our photo!

The whole atmosphere of the viewing chamber is pretty creepy. Low lights, very quiet, dead body. It was here that we had a serious laugh. In our group was a couple of kids, maybe 10 or 12 years old. The boy was looking carefully into the case with his sister peering over his shoulder when a loud banging sound came from behind the curtain to their left. They literally ran away, screaming - we hope so badly that some of the staff play tricks every once in awhile...




All this talk of mummies is making me hungry. Food in Peru is CHEAP. Like really cheap. We paid $3 for the meal pictured to the left. In the bottom right of the frame is my love - caldo, a soup with a huge hunk of beef, potato, and veggies. Yum.

And spent dusk at Santa Catalina Convent which was stunning. I think Kristen may be contemplating becoming a nun if she can live there...

After having an altogether great experience in Arequipa, it was all topped off when this guy drove by:

As a child of the 90s, any fan of Transformers is a friend of mine. 
Next up: the sand dunes of Huacachina.

Puno, Peru


Very near the top of her “must see” list in South America, Kristen was ecstatic about finally arriving to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru. The Uros, a pre-Incan people, began living on islands made of bundled totora reeds for the purpose of distancing themselves from their more aggressive neighbors. Only a few hundred continue to live the traditional lifestyle (mainly for the purpose of tourism) as most have moved to the mainland. 

Also, this is admittedly a tourist trap. We know it. They know it. Everyone knows it. That doesn't stop it from being interesting though...

We hopped onto a boat with a small group of curious tourists, all armed with big cameras with equally big lenses. As soon as I saw the rest of our group, I immediately began to dread what easily could be a zoo-like atmosphere when we reached the islands. 

Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Not only was the rest of our group very respectful, but the island we visited was full of people that were genuinely interested in giving us a window into their lives. 



Our island, called Waca Wacani, was home to five families and 7 structures entirely made of reeds. Their way of life is primarily funded by visiting tourists, but it’s not a gimmick. They legitimately live out their lives floating on Lake Titicaca. The community of nearly forty islands share a school, courthouse, community center, and bathroom facilities all housed upon bundled reeds. 

I should say that there was definitely a little “push” to purchase some of their handicrafts but it was definitely not as bad as it could have been. Considering the insight that we gained into a people that live drastically different than how we do in USA, it wasn’t much a sacrifice. 

The President of Waca Wacani: (you got my vote bra...)

After experiencing the reed islands, I can definitely see how it could be an awkward and morally odd situation in different circumstances. Considering we were confined to a small space for several hours as guests in their home, we both found the Uros people to be gracious and had no problem going along with their desired flow of the tour. If you’re squeamish, however, in situations where something is financially expected of you, this may not be a good idea... 


Seeing as we had been staying in some pretty mediocre places for cheap over the past couple of weeks, we decided to splurge for one night on a really nice hotel right on the lake. That night we ate at the hotel’s fancy restaurant and found ourselves with food poisoning a couple of hours later. Considering the state of the places we have been eating throughout South America, it is amazingly ironic and I legitimately laughed as I huddled over the toilet. Being sick took it’s toll and we were urged to stay a few nights - not great for the wallet. 
At least the hotel had a herd of alpacas!