9/18/2011- New Heights
The last three days have been absolutely draining, although full of adventure. Except for the worst food poisoning I’ve experienced in my life this morning, the Cordillera Blanca has continued to deliver. Charlie and I left The Way Inn late Friday morning after we both repacked our panniers. I culled a few small items, but more importantly packed all my heavy items toward the front of the boxes for a better ride. Down in Huaraz we made a stop at the city’s only trusted ‘big’ motorcycle mechanic. We needed Herbert to remove a nut holding Charlie’s front sprocket on since none of us had a 30mm socket. Herbert and his brother loved our bikes and gave us a lot of good advice. They sent us off around 1:00pm heading north for Huallanca.
Charlie and I had been debating for days where to go after Huaraz. We fantasized about going up and around the range then eventually meeting up with Ivan’s route. We also wanted to cross through the middle. Before any decisions, though, we had to go to Huallanca. Every motorcyclist I’ve met heading north has told me about the road from Huaraz to Huallanca. It’s well-renowned as one of the coolest roads in the world by experts.
After a gas stop in Yungay, we were ready to experience all the hype. Just north of Huaraz, Canyon del Pato starts. It’s a canyon at least 1,000 meters deep with nearly vertical walls. The road led in from the highlands winding down until it spat us on the West side of the canyon. With seventeen kilometers remaining before Huallanca, the road turned to dirt, barely clinging to the canyon wall. Then started a series of 36 different tunnels in those next 17 kilometers. The road was one lane with no guard rails to shield the 100 meter drop down to the river below. Throughout the descent I looked down the stretch and could see the next several tunnels up ahead. Some tunnels were 10 meters long, some 500. All of them were dark, narrow, and very bumpy. The road was built to support a hydroelectric plant in the canyon so there were gated paths leading deeper into the mountains inside the bigger tunnels. There were rope ladders hanging overhead and precarious rocks were tied into the wall in case they gave way. Charlie and I both agreed it was about as Indiana Jones as it gets rolling through these empty rock tunnels. All the other guys were spot on, coolest road in the world.
Finally we burst out of the thirty-sixth tunnel into Huallanca. We stopped for lunch and pulled out the map. The map showed the entire road around the range being more dirt; we talked to a construction worker and he confirmed it. After a little more deliberation we decided to head back to Yungay for the night, and then cross the mountains via Yanama on Saturday. I normally hate backtracking, but heading back through the tunnels only led to more bewilderment at the opposite angle. The pictures won’t do it justice, but I’ll get them up soon.
Saturday morning we were up early with our eyes on the pass. As soon as we left Yungay the road turned to dirt; it was the last pavement we’d see for the next hundred miles. The road for Yanama climbed up through a valley in which two lakes had formed at around 3,500 meters. The lakes were a beautiful bright blue, and fed by a glacial stream. Surrounding them were little clusters of local livestock feeding off the nearby vegetation.
From the lakes the road really got wild. It turned into a series of switchbacks that piled on each other in the tightest formation I’ve seen. Each switchback was about an eighth mile long and only a hundred feet above the previous. We kept running into some Peruvian tourists in a taxi the whole way up and they couldn’t get enough pictures with us. Finally at 11:30am we hit the pass at 15,300 feet. Right at the top was the snow line and there were flakes falling. It was cold, but more dramatic was the lack of oxygen. Charlie and I were both panting standing still. We took a lot of pictures, accepted some food from Peruvian tourists, and then kept going.
Around 1:00pm we arrived in Panama after a steep descent through thick fog and plenty of mud. We got a pretty bland lunch, and then kept pushing forward hoping to find a hotel in San Luis, where we would meet up with the mountain loop road. The road kept dropping past countless untouched Peruvian ranches that probably haven’t changed at all in the last couple centuries; the farmers were sewing their fields with oxen and wooden plows. We pulled into San Luis around 4:00pm; it had a paved main street and that was it. The place didn’t look too inviting, so Charlie and I decided to grind even harder to the next town Huari.
The road to Huari was more of the same: dirt, potholes, stream crossings, and no guard rails. It was about forty miles and we knocked it off pretty quick considering. After an entire day of dirt, I was getting pretty good at leaning a 500 pound dirt bike around hairpin curves. We finally got to Huari just as the sun was setting. We went to the best hotel in town, and put down $15 total for a room with three beds, cable TV, and hot water. They let us park the bikes in their garage for an extra buck each, and finally the ride was over. My back was completely knotted from fighting the handle bars all day; I haven’t been happier to take a break. I’m happy to say the bike did surprisingly well. The only mishap was a loose bolt on my luggage racks. I’ll have to tighten it up tomorrow morning.
That night we went out for a quick chicken and rice dinner in the little town center and then walked back to our hotel to pass out at 9:00pm. 3:00am I woke up uncomfortable with rumbling guts. I rolled over and slept until 5:00am. That’s when I woke up with a weak stomach and a run of diarrhea. I took an Imodium and went back to bed. 6:30am I was on my hands and knees puking into the toilet bowl. For the next three hours I couldn’t get out of the bathroom for more than ten minutes at a time. Several times I was taking turns on which way to face the toilet, lucky to get a flush in between. As soon as the city woke up Charlie went down to his first aid kit and came back with a drug cocktail for me. I started with an anti-nausea tablet and puked it up immediately. Then I took another and managed to keep it down long enough to kick in. Next I took two Tinidazol antibacterial pills and later two Norfloxacin to stop the leaking. That was six hours ago and everything seems to have calmed down a bit. I haven’t eaten anything but some Ritz crackers and a banana. I’ve kept down plenty of Gatorade, so I’m well hydrated. Tomorrow I expect to wake up weak, but functional. Then it’s off to Cusco; four more days of dirt and mountains. We me (and the bike) luck.
9/20/11- High Times
Charlie’s drugs worked perfectly and after one hollow day in bed I was ready to head off. We took off early in the morning from Huari destined for Huanuco, across another mountain range. The first sixty kilometers were painstakingly slow. It was a paved road, mostly. Around every corner was a patch of mud or gravel that made the whole ride slow and miserable. Every time the wind started to hit my face I had to slam on the brakes and dodge potholes. It was maddening too because I couldn’t fix my loose side rack in Huari so every bump I could hear my racks rattle just a little bit. What has happened is the steel racks have actually worn enough to rattle themselves free on the left side. I used Loctite to glue the bolt in last time; I tried to get it off but was afraid of breaking my wrench. I’m going to limp it to Cusco and deal with it then.
I’ve just done some research on Cusco and apparently there is a strong adventure rider stronghold built up. It makes sense; Macchu Pichu is the biggest attraction on the continent so everyone ends up there at some point. There is a place called Norton Rat’s Tavern and that will be my first stop. Even more pressing than my racks is my rear shock. The rear end has slowly sagged over the last 15,000 miles and six months, but in the last 500 miles there has been a dramatic depreciation. When I left home I could barely touch the ground over the bike with my tip toes. Now I can stand flat footed with the seat inches below my ass. Even worse is the riding performance. Normally when I hit a speed bump, I go over and the rear end bobs once and then settles. With a shot shock it bounces up and down several times after every bump. The worst is when I hit a bump coming into a curve. It’s not fun leaning at 60mph with my ass end floating up and down around the corner. It needs to be fixed and Cusco will be my ticket.
After we hit the pavement outside of Huari Charlie and I headed east into the mountains. The ride was cold and often wet. Back in Central America we’d feel out the rain before putting on our liners; not here. It’s too high to get wet, too cold. We had our rain gear on most of the day. We came over the big pass at 14,200 feet and then started a descent towards Huanuco as the sun was starting to dip. It wasn’t ideal, but there was no other option. Charlie and I navigated one of the worst roads I’ve seen for at least an hour in pitch black. It was another steep, windy, one-lane paved road with two-way traffic and no guard rails. On the downhill side were only steep cliffs. It was actually better in the dark because we could see the oncoming lights coming around the corners. We pulled into Huanuco tired and resolute at 7:30pm.
This morning, Tuesday, we covered another 250 miles, all of it over the mountains and arrived in Huancayo. We’re on Ivan’s route and he has written in two more days before arrival in Cusco. Except for the llamas and our ride across some arid high plains, the ride was nothing spectacular. Just another day riding a motorcycle around the world. I’m really excited for Cusco. We’ve been off the gringo trail for over a week now and I’m tired of feeling like an alien every time I pull into town. It will be nice to get back to a party scene too for a few days. After that, it’s off to them Amazon and then Lake Titicaca.