Archives for category: Travel Motorcycle

Frank and I re-united in the town of Chiclayo, almost 150 miles from where I had crashed. I accepted his apology and somewhat half baked excuse and tried to put the whole event behind me as we rode further North toward Mancora.

Flat desert once again surrounded us, sand dunes forming mere blips on the otherwise perfect horizon and a dry haze obscuring the road ahead. Condors circled above us, gracefully gliding on the thermals with their enormous wings outstretched, meticulously scanning this arid environment. I love the desert, something about that feeling of insignificance that it bestows upon you whether surrounded by miles and miles of dusty nothingness or basking below the millions of stars it unveils for you each night. This would be some of the last desert we would see on this journey and I would miss its elegance.

We were drawing ever closer to Ecuador and ever closer to the Equator. After crossing a large river flowing out into the Pacific, the desert was replaced with Palm trees, Banana plantations and fields of bright green crops. The humidity doubled and the once quiet highway quickly filled with trucks overloaded with freshly harvested fruit and crops. We were entering Peru’s tropical agricultural lands and everything was about to get a lot sweeter.

After swinging west towards the coast we finally reached the tiny surf town of Mancora and were soon surrounded by backpackers. It was a nice change of pace following so many days of “off the beaten track” exploring and even my bitterness towards Frank fizzled away in the calm beach vibe. Pedro, the friendly local sunglasses salesman/go-to guy/tour guide/drug dealer, greeted us and pointed us in the direction of the legendary Loci del Mar. We would go on to see him many times after that, walking the beach with his sandwich board of sunglasses, selling his various products.

Loci del Mar was everything we had heard and more, after several days staying in squalid hotels it was like an oasis of fun. Mostly resembling an Ibizan resort, the giant white washed hostel building overlooked a glistening pool and busy bar complete with plastic chairs and tables emblazoned with beer brands, the hallmark of every fun beach bar. The beach itself lay just beyond the hostel walls and met with the crashing waves of the ocean, the only good place to surf for 100’s of miles around.

Looking down on the Loki del Mar

Instantly drawn into its laid back charm we dropped all plans and forgot about the relative pressure of the journey and sunk into apathy. Looking around it seemed to be the main activity of Mancora as shipwrecked, dreadlocked gringo’s wandered the streets in a constant stoned haze that appeared to have been in effect for years. I often wonder how many of these people started out as gap year students with degrees under their belts, blowing off steam after a tough 4 years at university only to arrive at one of these places and discover cocaine cheaper than coca cola. The gringo trail is awash with them, each one an empty bed in a loving family home somewhere in the States or Europe. I guess they made their choice.

Frank having a snooze at the lighthouse after a few heavy nights

Frank and I spent our first couple of nights in the Loki, smoking and drinking our days away by the pool, on the beach or even locked up in our smoky dorm room with our Canadian roommates. That was until a Franklin brain wave took him out of the hostel and onto the beach where he pitched his tent for free in blissful ignorance. Such genius had propelled him many times and in the jumbled mind of Frank, it’s always a fool proof plan. On the day we came to leave however, frank was packing a lot lighter as the tent and all its contents had, of course, been stolen.

The scorching Nasca sun rose over a new chapter in our journey, we were out of the mountains and back in the deserts, back with the Ocean and back with the roaring Pan-American. We would soon re-join the highway North and aim to make good time through the flat roads but first we had to explore what Nasca was famous for.

Evidently put here by an ancient civilization to communicate with cartoon spacemen, my guess is George Jetson.

Baffling Scientists and scholars for decades the Nasca lines are enormous drawings in the sand, some of animals such as a spider and a monkey and others simply geometric shapes. Many different theories surround their existence from religious belief to alien communication. They were not discovered until the worldwide use of the aircraft in the 1930’s and so we took to the skies to see for ourselves.

The Hummingbird

The Spider

The Monkey

After hanging out in Nasca with Jeroan and Melanie for a couple of days we once again hit the road. Back down closer to sea level the bikes were performing much better, the road was far improved and the chill of altitude was long gone. The only thing that seemed to suffer was my ass, which after 400km’s of punishment longed for a slow going mountain road.

Not long before we reached the Peruvian capital of Lima, the welcoming sight of the ocean appeared off our left shoulders, crashing off the desert shoreline. We had not seen it since Chile when we had climbed out of Antofagasta and we had both missed it.

Surrendering to our own ignorance we once again followed a taxi into the heart of the city and the upscale district of Miraflores. The city instantly dispelled my pre-conception of it as a squalled ghetto, as we passed shiny new sky scrapers it became more reminiscent of Los Angeles than anywhere else. Unoriginally we checked into another Loki hostel and kicked back with Jeroan and Melanie for another couple of days.

On the morning we came to leave the Lima Loki, Franklin managed to get himself into a spot of bother. As I began ferrying our gear down to the bikes, taking on that daily routine of securely strapping everything into my panniers I couldn’t help but notice that Frank had disappeared. He had last been seen with a rather rotund Canadian girl and knowing Frank by now, I figured that he wouldn’t be long and so I continued packing. Just as I finished strapping the last bag onto Franks bike he appeared in the doorway, looking uncharacteristically shaken, and produced one of my favourite Frank quotes of all time… “Hey man, Let’s get out of this hostel, I just smashed the wash basin with that fat girls ass.”

With a little added urgency we left Lima and disappeared into the morning mist that had descended upon the desert coastline like a low budget horror movie. Happy that we weren’t being followed by angry hostel staff or disgruntled Canadians we crept through the blinding mist until the midday sun burned it off and we could once again crank the throttle.

These little guys were playing by the road side and were offered to us for free by their owners. It was tempting not to stuff just one little guy in my jacket but thats no life for a playful pup.

The Pan-American was not all perfect, it brought with it a gauntlet of cops, all expert gringo spotters and all hungry for bribes. Time and time again we were waved over and shaken down. Most accepted our feigned ignorance and apparent empty pockets but more than once passports were confiscated and even pistols suggestively tapped. This left no other solution than an “Otre solution” a backhand of 200 Soles (about £50) for the pair of us to go free, the obligatory blue eyed tax was becoming annoying. Frank even suggested slyly off’ing the next cop that shook us down, I never knew if he was joking or not.

This guy was sat at the road side just hangin' out with his shorts pulled down looking pretty depressed. Never one to pass up an opportunity to laugh at another's misfortune, Frank forced me to take this photo.

We turned off the Pan-American and headed for the city of Huarez, our destination. Located somewhat inland toward the mountains, it was the gateway to another highly acclaimed motorcycle ride, The Canyon Del Plato. Leaving sunny desert shoreline behind we climbed into rainy mountainous highland and were soon drenched but happy, as amidst the rain lay some stunning scenery. The evening closed in just as we pulled into Huarez, ignoring a cop at the roadside waving his arms, our new found tactic of gringo survival. It had been a tough haul to get there but if all went well, the next day would prove to be worth it.

At 3300m above sea level, Cusco was still way high up in the Andes. All that was about to change however, as we left the city headed west and towards the ocean once more. We had been promised an amazing ride between Cusco and coast, first descending from dizzy heights into low lying jungle before weaving our way to the Nasca desert. It was our route back to the warmth and we were looking forward to it.

Temperatures soon rose as we left the heights of Cusco behind, the jungle grew thicker and its insect inhabitants grew louder. In just a few hours we were in a totally different climate, shedding our alpaca sweaters and cruising along in t-shirts. Once again we were following a river that raged to our side, carving through the earth and blazing our trail, leading us to the ocean.

The route was littered with rock fall, mostly just small rocks requiring some quick reactions but more than once we were forced to a halt as clean up crews set about clearing boulders the size of Volkswagens off the road. Trying to catch up with Frank I rounded a corner to see him laid out on the ground, he had slipped on some loose stones, whipping his Honda’s wheels out from under him, luckily on an inside turn otherwise he would have been off a cliff edge. Characteristically unshaken, Frank dusted himself off and we were soon on our way again.

A rather large landslide holds us up for a while

We twisted through more Peruvian towns dodging rock fall, arbitrary floods and suicidal cows. One cow in particular we accidentally performed a sort of scissor move on, causing it to panic and dart right for me, missing me by inches. The blame fell on Frank for that one but was redeemed with one of my favourite Frank quotes coined later that night “Hey guess what I did today, I crashed my motorcycle and almost killed my friend with a cow!”

Holy Cow!

After a night in a swanky hotel way out of our budget we once again hit the road, excited to see the desert again. Noticing that the river beside us was actually flowing towards us made it apparent that in fact it was Amazon bound and ultimately a climb was on the cards. Sure enough we were soon weaving skywards. It eventually levelled out to another 5000m plateaux with long straight roads, high winds and Alpaca farms dotted around. We luckily found a petrol station in the form of a guy and his barrel after burning so much fuel on the climb, the plateaux had come as a surprise and we were now also burning daylight.

Market day in the small town

The confused stares of Alpacas accompanied us as we cruised the plateaux. Every water break we would try and sneak up on the animals for an obligatory photo but could never get close enough, that was until Frank spotted an Alpaca that wasn’t going anywhere. In the grounds of a small farmhouse one family had, moments before, killed one of the animals and were in the process of skinning it in preparation for market. In our broken Spanish we forged a conversation with the family, quite interested in life up here in this place. It was a surreal pit stop but we left with a richer understanding and a rather fetching wool hat.

It wasn't just the Alpacas that were confused

Frank negotiates a good price for some new headwear

Vegetation grew sparser as we travelled further west and it was not long until we were cruising along the rim of a canyon surrounded by cacti. Nasca was not far but we knew we had a serious descent before we could get there and sure enough, amidst the fading light, there it appeared way below us. Never wanting to miss a golden opportunity however, we stayed for a fantastic desert sunset.

Unfortunately, like any self-respecting sunset, it was followed by darkness and we were left to join what seemed like a convoy of late arriving trucks all towering over us as we slid in between them like mice under elephant’s feet. Tired and in desperate need of showers we pulled into a dusty Nasca, using the SAG nav system to find a hostel. We cracked some beers and celebrated our return to the coast and the un-escapable Pan-American highway.

Still on the banks of Lake Titicaca we spent the night in the muddy city of Puno and left early in the morning. We had a long ride in order to reach Cusco and the crappy fuel of Peru slowed us right down, lengthening the day even further. After the lake disappeared behind us the mountains drew in and we were soon joined, once again, by snowy peaks and sure enough, rain.

 

The road carved though the mountains along with a river down below us but soon enough the river and its natural pathway swung east towards the Amazon and we were faced with a steep climb over a mountain pass. Up into the clouds and snow we went, our bikes choking on the lousy fuel and struggling in second gear, to a pass over 4300m where the rain had subsided and all that was left was a downhill ride.

As we finally reached Cusco the heavens truly opened and we became soaked in seconds. Seeking feeble shelter under a tree at the roadside whilst pondering over a soaking wet map, a compromise was made. Knowing that we were not far from Cusco’s backpacker district we flagged down a cab and for roughly a dollar were taken right to the doors of yet another Loki hostel. It was a tactic we would soon adopt quite regularly. After cramming the bikes into the hostels foyer and dumping our bags in the dorm, in filthy, wet clothes we hit the bar and straight away ordered a frothy pint of Guinness and a Jameson’s. After all, it was Saint Patrick’s Day.

Rugby from 2007, awesome!

We spent some time just kicking back in Cusco, hanging out with everybody we had met back in La Paz, such is the backpacker trail. A beautiful city and Peru’s tourist hub, it is the launch point from which all travellers leave from in order to reach Machu Picchu, be it by foot on the Inca trail, By rail or by road. We were no different, yet we had our bikes.

Shep had been hit hard by the financial crisis and soon the pressure had gotten too much...

I found that The Sacred Valley from Cusco to Machu Picchu rated very highly on most travel motorcyclists top 10 rides and as we climbed out of the Cusco, bound for the lost city it was easy to see why. Ancient Inca ruins were dotted amongst picturesque green hills and occasional breaks in the trees provided spectacular views. Frank had a slight spill following the miscalculation of a speed bump but aside from a damaged ego, both he and his Honda were fine.

Pisaq, a small one road town marked the beginning of the actual Sacred Valley itself and the views were replaced with magnificent jungle draped mountains towering over us and a raging torrent joined us at our side as we followed the road through the valley. It certainly was a fantastic ride yet with such an abundance of tourist busses to share it with, an element of serenity was lost.

carving through the sacred valley

Beyond Ollantaitambo public access to the Sacred valley road was restricted and we were forced to leave the bikes with a friendly in-keeper and take the train up to Aguas Calientes, the closest settlement to the lost city and where we would spend the night.

I had always dreamt of seeing Machu Picchu and it certainly was no disappointment. Despite its enormous popularity, the sheer size of it meant that a little solitude could be found either within its crumbling walls or overlooking the city. The early hours saw low lying cloud shrouding the surrounding mountains but by afternoon its full glory was unfurled, Huayna Picchu stood like a classic back drop to the ruins, that cult image that had brought me around the world.

the morning mist blankets Machu Picchu

"Hey you guuuuys!"

After climbing Huayna Picchu we let the rest of the day pass by continuing a chess tournament overlooking the ruins far below us, a peace full end to our Incan adventure.

Frank looks down on Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Brian and Kyle opted to ride out of the city together with Frank and I, yet as we attempted to wheel the bikes out of the hostel, a parked police car blocked our way. We had since moved into the equally notorious Wild Rover, the manager of which did not take kindly to our predicament and a somewhat childish argument ensued between him and Brian. Frank and I squeezed our skinny bikes out with little problems but more of a team effort was required for Brian’s huge tour bike, yet eventually we were out and free from the clutches of La Paz.

With the city once again sprawling below us we parted ways with our new friends and left them to follow that wretched road South while we happily headed East towards lake Titicaca and the Peruvian border. A few uses of the SAG NAV system later (Stop, Ask, Go), plus some shrewd dealings at the petrol pumps where petrol is seldom actually available, and soon enough Lake Titicaca appeared below us. Fantastic winding roads led us around the edges of the lake providing stunning views of its tranquil waters and glistening surface.

Looking down on lake Titicaca

Eventually we came to a point where we had to cross the lake and with no other options apart from our bikes suddenly developing the ability to swim, we had to take the ferry. Really just a rickety wooden barge with a few planks to squeeze the bikes on and an unhealthy sounding outboard, the ferry got us across inexpensively and quickly. It was a great chance to spy Bolivia’s somewhat pointless Navy and Marine corps training on the lake, defending the land locked country from, well, Peru I s’pose.

Our ferry across the lake

Not long after that we were pulling into Copacabana. Unlike its Brazilian namesake Copacabana was a quiet, sleepy place on the banks of lake Titicaca where the restaurants served only Titicaca Trout and its population seemed to be in hiding. Sleepy though it was it became a great place to relax after a full on week in La Paz and the place was soothing to the soul. On a downside, after a sunset walk I returned to the room to find Frank breathing heavily on the floor beside his bed. What I had thought to be either a spontaneous press-up session or a furious wank turned out to be the tail end of an epileptic. Some water and a long rest got Frank back on his feet but it had certainly heightened my concerned for him.

a peaceful place to chill

With the Bolivia/Peru border just 8Km’s away we managed to beat the tourist busses and get to the front of the que. Something told us that the border crossing was not going to go as smoothly as the last, we were right. The lack of one item of paperwork that the fat guy back in San Pedro should have given us seriously confused a new fat guy who spent well over an hour looking through our documents until shrugging his shoulders and waving us on.

Frank and Larry, always in deep thought together

We weaved through some kind of festival taking place between the two border posts and pulled up outside the Peruvian immigration. Firstly with the transit authority, usually a simple step as our paperwork was all up to scratch. But as we watched this guy (also fat) shake his head and mutter “no, no, no” we knew what was in store for us. Some pointless exchanges preceded the suggestion of an inevitable “otre solution” from the official. The bribe ended up being just 50 soles (around £12) each and it certainly lifted his spirits, changing the man into our very own tour guide, suggesting sites to check out whilst we were in Peru.

Next up was the police, another mandatory stop to check in with them. The two cops faces lit up as they saw our gringo faces walk through the door and we could almost see the dollar signs in their eyes. This time, without a leg to stand on, me without motorcycle on my licence and Frank with no licence at all aside from what we could photoshop, a bribe was the easy way out. Bartered down another 50 soles each for our freedom and many a high five from our new bought and paid for friends. We rode on, lighter in pocket but richer in new chums, into Peru.

One hundred kilometres of glorious, appreciated tarmac took us to the outskirts of La Paz, the highest capitol on earth. We needed no signs to tell us that we were close, the thick traffic told us everything and with all the stop/starts that came with it, both bikes were suffering with the altitude.

Street Vendor cradles her baby at the side of the road

After passing a tollbooth the highest capital on earth ironically appeared below us, a sprawling mess that seemed to hug the mountains that created a bowl around it. One or two snow capped peaks towered over the mess of buildings and we could almost feel the buzz of energy that came from within.

The rollercoaster road that descended into the city took us straight to the central and from there, using our Lonely planet, it was surprisingly easy to track down the somewhat legendary Loki hostel, party central and the first of many we would visit along the way. This marked our half way to Bogota point and a well deserved week off.

Way up in the Andes, at over three thousand six hundred metres high, La Paz is surrounded by mountains, trapping pollution and making it one of the most polluted cities in the world. At such an altitude with oxygen quite scarce and everything seeming to be an uphill struggle, getting around on both the bikes and on foot is a challenge. A sprawling mess of buildings though it may be, its not without its charm and much like Uyuni, Oruru and every pueblito in between, locals wore traditional clothes and often sat around chewing coca leaves, culture seemed highly regarded and best of all, just about everything could be bought at a rock bottom price. La Paz also attracted a many different types of travellers, from the 18-year-old “gap yaaaar” kids to the hippy shoe string perma-backpackers. With its abundance of cocaine and cheap living, there where many there simply in search of the marching powder, the best of which was produced in the cities notorious San Pedro prison however in the well known bar, route 36, lines came free with the beer.

Frosty mountain tops overlook La Paz on a chilly Altiplano night

A favoured La Paz past time, Cholita wrestling

In the days that followed both bikes went in for a full service, coming back gleaming and purring like kittens, we shopped in La Paz’ fully stocked market where just about every llama or alpaca product could be found. We had tailor made leather jackets made and soon we were looking the far more easy rider. We ate good food and of course, we partied.

Dutch Chris and Dutch Loes were exploring the East of Bolivia but back in Uyuni we had been introduced to Jeroan and French Mel who had previously travelled with Loes. By the time we had reached them in La Paz they had already accumulated a small contingent with which to hit the cities bars and clubs, such was the hostel culture there, and so La Paz was ours.

Dan takes the prize as the gringo's crash the ring, La Paz was ours!

La Paz saw an addition made to our duo. Many strange things could be found for sale down at the witches market where locals bought ingredients for traditional potions or Bolivian rituals. The strangest being a semi formed, two foot tall llama foetus which, naturally, I had to buy, carefully place in Franks bed and wait for his arrival. Strangely enough, Frank saw the funny side and even fell in love with the eerie addition, naming it Larry and vowing to take it the rest of the way to Bogota.

Frank gets a new side kick

In our last days we had met Brian and Kyle, a pair of Americans headed south on Kawasaki’s. It was yet another great opportunity to grab some knowledge on the road North and Brian was more than happy to help us out. It put my mind in good stead for what lay ahead and it was a pleasure to meet both guys.

Gearing up to leave outside the Wild Rover

We stopped in Uyuni for carnival, spending a few days mostly dodging the kids who seized the opportunity to soak every gringo they came across, prompting a small rebellion to form within the walls of our hostel. It was good to see Dutch Chris and Loes again, their tour had made it safely across the Altiplano as had our stuff. Something we had missed along the way however, and the reason people stopped at Uyuni. The Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat and at this time, the wet season, it was topped with a shallow layer of water, turning the flat into an enormous mirror. We left the bikes to rest and took a tour of one of the most spectacular places in South America, partaking in the obligatory .

While the bikes rest, the jeeps take the strain

top loading

had to be done

The day to depart came all too quickly and soon we were weaving through Uyuni’s flooded streets headed North once more. We knew nothing of the road ahead, still not knowing what Bolivian tarmac looked like and with just a small lonely planet guidebook map showed that it existed and so we followed. Our high hopes were soon dashed and we were soon riding on just another sun baked patch of sand filled with ridges that rattled the life out of us. I had noticed that a nut from my rear suspension had rattled loose so I replaced it with one from my kick stand, continuing with added concern about my bikes nuts, as well as my own.

weird train graveyard just outside of Uyuni

Newtons scribblings

Unhappy with the tension of his chain, Frank stopped to make adjustments but problems soon arose shortly after as the tight chain ripped the sprocket from its mounting and Franks Honda was crippled. It took us both over an hour of roadside bodging (some of which we were quite proud of) to get us back on the road. We limped on but with our shadows getting longer and storm clouds on the horizon, we ducked into the first town we came to, Rio Mulatos where carnival was still in full swing, found its only hotel and grabbed a room for $2.

A night of unnecessarily loud distorted music from carnival revellers preceded our early rise and we set off, two grumpy men, in the drizzling rain. The road was still a painfully ridged surface except now, with the rain, parts of it had turned to sticky mud that made it hard to keep control on. More river crossings appeared, most were easy but a few required some prior planning to negotiate but now veterans at this obstacle we took it in our stride.

One River truly stumped us however, something that we couldn’t believe had presented itself. The track led directly into a torrent, easily thirty metres across with nothing but a railway bridge crossing it. As Frank and I stood on the bridge, staring through the space in the sleepers, considering some kind of Stand by me/Great escape type move, a passing truck informed us of an alternate crossing point just downstream. Sure enough, some three hundred metres down stream, there it was. I assumed that in dry season it was a solid concrete pathway of sorts but now, as we looked at it, it was simply a flooded dam with some markers sticking out each side. Without a choice however it was where we were going and Frank gallantly went first, uneasily wobbling to the other side yet surviving, meaning I simply had to follow.

Frank lines up to take on the river

Frank makes it across

By now we were cold, wet, tired and hungry but as we continued on, the rain turned to hail, pinging off our helmets and becoming tiny ambassadors of pain to any exposed skin. The road was difficult enough to ride on yet with this, the asteroid field of mud was too much and we sought shelter beside a farmhouse. It was a low time for the pair of us, even Frank who usually enforced his inherent American optimism was quiet and withdrawn. Our spirits were on the verge of breaking, though without the luxury of time we could only accept that we were soaked, try to waterproof our gear and continue on.

The road just goes on

Then, as if nature somehow knew that we had taken enough, the hail stopped, the greyness lifted and there it was, like some kind of angel before us…         …Tarmac! It felt great and we engaged fifth gear for the first time in almost a week, so thankful for the hard, flat, gray surface.

Finally it took us to Oruru where Carnival was finally over and the smell of festivities still hung in the air, though the locals may not have been aware as water balloon wielding kids still roamed the streets, soaking our already saturated bodies.

Clear skies in Oruru

The next day on the Altiplano was my turn for a few spills, whilst retracing our steps around the lagoon to the main track, in almost exactly the same spot that Frank had come off, my own wheel dug into the sand catapulting me off the bike and onto the ground. I was unhurt, as was the bike but an altogether unpleasant experience nonetheless I continued with a little extra caution.

Rocky roads back out on the trail

Morning turned into daytime and soon we would be above 5000m. Not that we had any GPS to tell us so, or that even our map was that accurate but the tell tale “chug chug chug” of our bikes as they climbed even the slightest angle gave it away. At some points even first gear failed to produce any power, leaving us no option but to take turns, one pushing, one riding to get each bike up hill, after hill, after hill. It was tough going and tested our bodies to the limit and leaving our heads pounding.

Heads pounding and engines gasping at 5000m

Thankfully, as afternoon rolled around, the flat plains of the plateaux appeared below us and we once again dipped below 5000m. Yet just as we bid farewell to the mountains, the rivers greeted us in abundance. First there were just shallow streams that required just a little negotiation but soon came more sizable crossings requiring a small plan of action. One larger river blessed us with a small rickety bridge that, after jumping up and down on a few times, we decided it was good and each inched our way across.

where the 125's prosper

The ultimate test however came less than a mile from where we intended to stop for the night, both exhausted and hungry. The trail led into a river that looked so ridiculously deep that it could swallow both our bikes and ourselves. We set to work searching for a better crossing point, wading in under the bewildered gaze of nearby flamingo’s. Frank eventually picked out a spot and I lined up to go first, the plan being that one man rides, the other runs behind and pushes should disaster strike and the back wheel bog in. One long run up and I was in, carving my way through the soft river bed until my front wheel hit the opposite bank and I catapulted out of the water, throwing in a few victory donuts for good measure. Frank followed suit and soon we were both safely across. Yet as we were patting each other on the backs and ringing out our socks, a local from the township we were headed for cruised past us on a motorcycle with his girlfriend in tow, took one look at the point where the track crossed the river and ploughed straight through, instantly nullifying our achievement.

nothing hard about this one

We spent a night at yet another township, Frank utilizing some fine negotiation skills to get us a bed for the night. The road that led North from there became far more flat and manageable, we managed to break free of the difficult terrain that had kept us below 20 kilometres per hour and things were looking up. It was the home straight to Uyuni where hostels and restaurants awaited us, we would be re-united with Dutch Chris and see our beloved possessions once more. All around us the land was full of Alpaca, all sporting brightly coloured flashes of wool in honour of carnival, the same carnival that awaited us in Uyuni.

everyones dressed up for carnival

The day took us closer and closer to civilization, we passed by farms and townships, villages and even a petrol station. We were both already in high spirits before Uyuni appeared on the horizon and we could almost taste that steak dinner we had each promised ourselves before our tyres even hit its streets.

"the fuck you lookin' at?"

All across Latin America Carnival was being celebrated, even in the relatively small town of Uyuni. As we hit the town centre, both covered in the dust of the Altiplano, looking like shit, we were greeted by the procession, dressed to the Bolivian nines and creating a colour explosion. We simply sat, our bikes between our legs, watching the precession and reflecting on the past 3 days. We had climbed way over 5000m, crossed countless rivers and after being told we were crazy we had taken on one of the worlds most difficult and deadliest motorcycle rides on cheap 125’s. We deserved our steak dinner.

pre water fight, the calm before the storm

The climb out of San Pedro was steep and unrelenting leaving me unable to surpass second gear. As we rose higher and higher into the mountains snow began to appear at the side of the road and the thin air left us breathless. We had gone from 2400m above sea level in San Pedro to around 4300m before we left the asphalt to wind its way to Argentina and rumbled towards the Bolivian border, which consisted of a shack with a fat official inside.

immigration

It took some convincing but we found a 4×4 driver to carry our spare fuel for us, lightening the load somewhat. We arranged a place to meet and watched his Land cruiser roar off into the distance, we would never see him again.

We were riding on a hardened mud surface that went from bad to worse then back to bad again until we reached Laguna Verde, our first major landmark. It was an ironic perfect blue and reflected the volcanoes and mountains that towered around us in its utterly still surface. Skirting around its northern edge we followed one of many tracks until it eventually took us to a dead end. So early on and we were already lost, our map seemed almost useless in such a mess of options and tempers were almost lost as we disagreed on which way to go, Franklin favouring the “make your own track” theory and me wanting to backtrack and search for more options. Our decision was made as a 4×4 rounded the corner just behind us, indicating the way, those vehicles would soon become our best ally and our worst enemy at the same time.

Snowcapped reflections

overlooking Laguna verda

Following another steep climb, with the bikes gasping for air as much as we were, we stopped for a break and admired the beauty that surrounded us. Moments later, as a roar of engines got louder, three BMW’s joined us on our lookout point. They were Lenny, Marshall and Megan all the way from the states and they greeted us with a warm “howdy”. Each swapping advice an what lay ahead, we found that our map was completely wrong but with a few corrections by Marshall we were back on track. They warned us of wet weather to come and a few river crossings before donating some spare fuel they didn’t need. It was almost a turning point, in my head at least, so many doubts were put at ease with that chance meeting and I continued on with Frank, a lot happier.

descending towards Laguna Colorada

We were headed for Laguna Colorada where a tiny collection of bunkhouses that serviced the 4×4 tours could be found and after a days rattling through the bumpy trail, with the sun almost disappearing behind snowy peaks, its rusty red waters appeared below us, tiny dots of pink that were wild flamingo’s grazing on its surface. So vast an environment we were in, it was the glimmer of tinned roofs that eventually led us to the bunkhouses, with the dust kicked up from distant vehicles confirming our suspicions. The sandy banks of the lagoon proved difficult to traverse, throwing Frank from his bike on more than one occasion but as sand turned to stone we arrived at the buildings, later wangling a bed for the night and even a hot meal.

the red waters of laguna Colorada

wildlife on Laguna Colorada

For a week we planned and prepared for the Lagoonas route, gathering information from the tour companies around town, most of which thought we were crazy. We eventually happened upon Andrez, a motorcycle tour guide who, at the price of a coffee, told us everything we needed to know. The route was frequented mostly by 4×4 tours that left from San Pedro and took 3 days through the route to Uyuni, our intended destination. The 4×4’s travelled at much greater speeds than it was possible for us and so going with them was out of the question however, Andrez advised that they would carry fuel for us for a small fee, something that would no doubt be invaluable out there. Going on more of Andrez’s advice we returned to Calama twice to arrange for spare parts and tools, I paid a visit to a welders yard to fabricate some new panniers and soon we were looking almost professional.

A welder hard at work fabricating my new paniers

Pimp my 125

Dutch Chris, A girl that Frank and I had met way back in Southern Argentina arrived in San Pedro while we were there and it was a pleasure to have a third person in our midst, it gave us an excuse to do some things non preparatory related and with an estranged Brazilian girl named Talita also joining us, we rode out to some nearby salt lagoons for a relaxing time floating around in the salty water. The off road route out to the lagoons was a real challenge, especially with a Brazilian clinging to the back of my bike and I quickly discovered that patches of soft sand would be our biggest foe, throwing the back wheel out as if I possessed no control over my motorcycle.

Chris and Frank on some more agreeable terrain

stopping for a dip

At the lagoons things took a surreal turn as Talita, the free spirit that she was, ditched her oppressive clothes and sought out the freedom of nudity before Chris, Frank and I, her surprised audience who happily permitted her freedom beneath hidden childish grins. It was a day not to forget.

In my defense, she asked us to take photos.

One of the two pools known as Los Ojos

We had convinced, some would say coerced, Dutch Chris into taking a 4×4 tour along the route we were following and subsequently carry a bag of non-essential items that belonged to us leaving us space for water, fuel and warm blankets for the chilly heights of the altiplano. It was a weight off our minds as well as our bikes and for that we would owe Chris a debt of gratitude.

Riding back from Calama

Our final night in San Pedro became our final chance to star gaze at the wealth of beauty that illuminated its skies each night. I had never seen the stars like this, in there millions and strung along the milky way from horizon to horizon like a highway in the sky. Far from the towns lights shooting stars streaked across the sky like fireflies. In that moment we felt truly tiny beneath such majesty, a feeling that would stick with us as we ventured into the vast unforgiving desert and high into the Andes.

The milky way seen from San Pedro

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