1,000 miles have methodically ticked by since Cotopaxi. They’ve been pretty easy, but I already feel sorry for Alex having to catch up.
The morning we left Secret Garden at Cotopaxi I walked out to my bike to find a flat front tire; the first since Mexico. I was mentally preparing to start the tire iron war when Charlie told me to check the valve before disassembling the front end. I spat a nice glob of mucus on my finger and applied it to the valve stem… and bubbles were blowing out. I’ll take this scenario over a flat any day. In two minutes I had the valve replaced with a spare and Charlie’s electronic pump was bringing me back to 35psi.
We made good time that day. I don’t know that we covered a remarkable distance, but we pulled into Cuenca, Ecuador past sunset after a lot of hard mountain riding. The picture below looking down the valley with Andy and Cass was taken that day. At our overpriced hostel that night Andy got ahold of Jill and we hatched a plan to meet up with her, Ty, Alex and Kristi in Peru the next day. We were out the door early in the morning and off the Panamerican for the first time since Cali. Instead of following the Panamerican inland we dropped down to the Pacific coast and cruised the beach until the Peruvian border around 2:00pm. As I mentioned in my last post, the crossing was as simple as they come… and free.
Two more hours of freeway cruising and we arrived at Loki Hostel in Mancora, Peru. Loki Hostel is a well-known name throughout Peru and Bolivia as they have several locations over the next two countries. They’re known to be party hostels where every night goes off. After hearing endless good reviews from everyone up ahead, I was excited. Upon arrival, Loki fit the bill. A big bar with a pool table on the left, a swimming pool in the middle, and three stories of dorm rooms on the right. It’s right on the beach and the perfect stage for a fiesta.
As it turned out, Loki failed to impress me. It was great to see everybody, but at the end of the day I was in adventure mode, not party boy. I had a good time our first night, but the entire environment seemed forced. The place was setup fine and had potential, but at the end of the night the magic wasn’t there. Back at Zephyrlodge drinking games would materialize out of nowhere and involve everyone at the table; at Loki I was shrugging off dread heads every ten minutes who were all begging for extra members to their power hour. Maybe I would have been more receptive back in Guatemala, but this is South America and my eyes are on mountain roads and Argentinean wine fields. The appeal of stumbling around on dirty overrated beaches wore off thousands of miles ago.
Our second night at Loki was real tame given our 6:00am wakeup plan. To absolutely cement my criticism, the Loki bar blasted music through our window until 2:30am. I woke up unsure whether I’d even slept and saddle up for a 600km day. Andy was feeling crook right at the onset, but he managed to suck down a Gatorade and compose himself. An hour into the trip I pulled over to make an adjustment and (my greatest fear…) the bike wouldn’t start back up. It was turning over, but it wouldn’t ignite. Good thing we’re experts at this now. While Charlie and I started tearing the bike to pieces Andy’s illness caught up with him and he decided to push ahead and find the next hotel for the night. He wished us luck and said he’s see us in Lima if not before. We haven’t seen him since.
Fearing the makeshift stator from Panama had failed, the first thing we did was check for spark. Charlie held the plug to the frame while I hit the starter; his yelp from the shockewas a good sign (we had spark). We replaced the plugs with new ones from Cali and the engine turned over immediately. The used ones looked alright and weren’t that old, so I’m not sure what happened. I didn’t really care, the bike was running. Charlie and I took off in pursuit of Andy and ended up riding until 7:00pm (well into the dark) to Trujillo without ever seeing him. The weather that Wednesday was generally overcast, very reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. All of Northern Peru has been very desolate. Charlie and I rode through a hundred mile stretch of nothing but flat desert in every direction. The entire way we fought a brutal wind and sand slapping our eyeballs. Every fifty miles or so we would pass a group of pedestrians draped in purple robes dragging a life sized cross along the desert. It’s obviously some Christian reference, but I still haven’t figured out the point.
That night we broke the golden rule: we rode at night. Neither of us really wanted to, but there was nothing between sundown and Trujillo so we had to keep going. It got real cold and visibility was limited on those rural desert roads. There was plenty of traffic to keep us from feeling vulnerable, but the physical toll was starting to weigh heavy on me when we pulled into Trujillo. Charlie’s GPS led us directly to a hotel and we crashed the second we hit the beds.
Thursday, today, was another long haul. Charlie and I hit the road well-rested at 10:00am and rode hard over hundreds of miles of dunes all the way to Barranca by 6:00pm with very few stops… except for two laughable police encounters. Around 5:00pm on the final stretch Charlie was flagged down for passing on a double yellow on a long straightaway. This was one of the most enjoyable police experiences I’ve had. The cop was so impressed with our bikes and our situation that he couldn’t keep a smile off his face the entire time he explained Charlie’s infraction and the resulting fine. The entire time we just smiled back and spoke only confusing English to him. He took Charlie’s license and explained that we would have to wait until the morning to get it back when we pay the traffic fine at the bank in Barranca. Playing along, we agreed that would be great; write the infraction please. He explained this several times waiting for us to offer a bribe, but Charlie wouldn’t budge. Finally the happy officer had a ‘solution’; he handed Charlie his license and then kindly asked for a small act of kindness so he could take his wife out on a date. Without blinking Charlie gave him three dollars and we were off.
Literally ten minutes later we were both pulled over for speeding. Same story, they took the licenses and told us they’ll be at the bank in the morning. We told them to write the tickets again. The whole time I spoke the most basic Spanish I could. Alex and I have slowly learned it’s better to play dumb than to try to defend yourself. When they know you can understand, they know you’re coercible. When you stand there and tell them it’s cold out with a big smile on your face, they get real tired real quick. The main guy wrote out two infractions and showed them to us. Charlie and I looked at them, smiled, and gave two thumbs up; the four of us stood there looking at each other for a moment. Then, out of nowhere, another ‘solution’! The cop handed our licenses back to us, recommended a nice hotel in Barranca, and told us to have a nice afternoon. We smiled for real this time.
Ten minutes later again we arrived in our fancy $20 hotel and I’ve been on my computer ever since. We’re three hours north of Lima, which means we’ll be seeing Ty and Jill tomorrow. Charlie and I intend to buy dirt tires and then head back this direction for some of the storied mountain roads up here near Huarez. Apparently there is a dirt loop with 40 tunnels along the way through a national park. Sounds like paradise. We’ve been cruising pretty fast the last week, but in truth we haven’t missed much. Just a 700 miles of dunes and desert. Peru is supposed to have a lot to offer, so I hope Huarez kicks it nicely with a fresh pair of Continental TKC-80’s.