My Suzuki had seen better days, the chain was still not right and had eaten it’s was through the chain guard which I had to remove. The welds on my panniers were rusting away and my indicator still flapped in the wind ever since the crash. I owned a motorcycle that was 85% Suzuki and 15% duct tape but all I had to do was get to Bogota, that was all that mattered.

Safely out of bandit country all that remained was twisting mountain roads leading all the way to Bogota as the Andes finally came to an end in the north of the continent, twisty as it may be, we were on the home straight. It looked so close on the map, the kind of distance that we could have covered in a day back on the desert roads of Peru or Chile but we knew that the last few days wouldn’t be easy and given that the bikes were misbehaving, we knew that it was going to be a challenge.

The road north of Pasto carved through thick mountain forest, breaking to reveal the epic valley below us, rippled mountains that surrounded us and the baking sun that thankfully beat down upon us. Small swarms of butterflies injected colour to our world of green and black, floating in the breeze across the road between the two of us. The road itself was pretty rough, at one point I narrowly missed a motorcycle sized hole in the tarmac which simply dropped off to the valley below, it was hard to believe that we were on the Pan American.

Cali was our first major city in Colombia, home of salsa and surgically enhanced beauty, and we breezed right through it, looking for a place to stay on the northern outskirts.  Unbeknownst to us however, this was the realm of the sex motel, “Cupid’s rest” and “Love station” were all that had vacancy and trying not to look one another in the eye, we checked into “love station”. It seemed fitting to end the journey like it had began, in one of these awful places.

Somewhat jaded after a night in the most sordid establishment either of us had ever seen, we once again hit the road, into the rain. The road had flattened out and we were making good time but my bike, knowing that she would soon be laid to rest on a driveway in Bogota, like the final act of a petulant teenager, had other ideas. I was cruising along quite happily and suddenly the back wheel locked up and I began to fishtail along the slippery road surface, out of control. Managing to wrangle her back I drifted to the side of the road and inspected the damage of which there was none. Whatever it was, it was beyond our mechanical knowhow and with Bogota a mere 200km’s away, we pressed on, limping home.

Weird zip-line guy drops in to say hello and nab a lift back up the road.

The road swung east and we found ourselves once again climbing mountains, this time with an endless line of trucks for company. We filtered through the slow moving pack like mice under elephant’s feet, nipping through every available gap determined to find a way through. We beat the traffic but it had taken time and we were forced to stop in the town of Ibague, so near yet so far.

It was Bogota or bust, if we couldn’t make it today, we couldn’t make it and I already had visions of my bike and I rolling into Bogota on the back of a pick up truck. Even Frank’s blind American optimism was not 100% but one way or another, we were determined to make it that day.

Just outside of Bogota my milage turns over to 30,000 (I bought it at 20,000)

Thankfully the road was flat and took us all the way into the city, we were actually amazed as to how close we had been and what little of our journey we had left. All that was left was to negotiate a capitol of nine million inhabitants and over a million vehicles… we were set. Frank and I parted ways as he followed the road into the central backpacker district and I swung North towards my girlfriends neighbourhood, somewhere in amongst the sprawl. I continued northwards until I began to recognise parts of the city, certain buildings and even particular holes in the road. I had been here before, before the journey had begun, to visit Jennifer and here I was, turning down a familiar road.

Ten thousand Kilometres, Six thousand Miles, all built up to these final one hundred metres down my girlfriend’s road, the end of a chapter. The sun was shining as I pulled up onto the driveway, dropped the kickstand and rang the bell. I was beginning a new chapter. I was home.

Frank getting heated at the after party game of king's cup

Jennifer & Pej (I think the may be singing)

Jennifer and I mildly amused by something in Frank's direction

Re-uniting with our friend Pej, the three of us checked into a hostel and after getting the feeling back in our hands, proceeded to roll a celebratory joint to mark the occasion. Swapping stories and smoking away we almost didn’t hear the Hostel owner knocking at the door, he was not happy. Apparently not a fan of Pink Floyd he swiftly ejected us before we even had a chance to change our socks and under a stern shaken fist we rode away and ducked into The Secret Garden hostel.

Though, in my opinion, not the best city we had visited, we took a few days to kick back and relax in Quito. If anything we needed some time to build up the bother to head back out into the rain, a daunting prospect given the regular downpours. It gave us a chance to check out the Cities nightlife and visit the equator, a yellow painted line marking the centre of the earth actually a good 200m in the wrong place. These times were fun and we always enjoyed shunning responsibility for a few days but truthfully it never took us long to grow restless and in spite of the rain we were happy to be back on the road and headed for Colombia.

Our aim was to reach the border town of Tulcan before nightfall but my bike had other ideas. Ever since the crash it had not been riding so well and as we approached a tollbooth my clutch cable snapped and I drifted to a clunky stop. Such an easy job would have taken us just minutes to fix but as Frank had been carrying our spare parts, they had of course been lost in the great Mancora tent robbery. We tried our best at bodging it but our expertise in maintenance did not extend beyond oil changes and chain tightening, we were left with no other option.

Damage from the crash

The town of Ibarra was thirty minutes back the other way and it didn’t take long for us to flag down a passing pick up truck. The drivers charity seemed so matter of fact as he helped us haul my crippled Suzuki onto the back of his truck, I had always loved hitch hiking as the truly kind people of the road are always the ones who stop. Sat in the back I held on tight to my bike as our new friend flew around the corners, watching as Frank disappeared into the distance. It was a bumpy ride but we got there fast and I was even dropped off at a mechanics who fixed the clutch in almost seconds flat. Now only one problem remained, where was Frank?

A chance reunion in an Internet café brought us back together and following a few beers and a night in Ibarra we once again hit the road, determined to make Colombia. The border was a particularly busy one but we eventually nudged our way through and out the other side. Finally we were in Colombia, land of Escobar and south America’s most beautiful women, a country we had been looking forward to for weeks, last stop and my girlfriends home.

We made a slight detour to Las Lajas, a cathedral spectacularly built into a canyon over Guaitara River. Already we could feel the good vibe of the Colombian people as we joined the crowds to marvel at the architectural masterpiece, beautifully out of place amongst the green foliage.

Leaving Las Lajas we followed the twisting potholed road ever north but under blue skies we were in good spirits. Colombia however brought new challenges and the heavily armed soldiers manning checkpoints were constant reminders, we were in guerrilla territory. We had been told to avoid the area south of Pasto after dark due to bandits and the local guerrillas, the FARC. We had time before the sun set but we would be cutting it fine and at times like that, a problem is inevitable.

Frank Crosses a bridge in southern Colombia

One firm jolt from my back wheel and all my power was gone, drifting once again to the side of the road I turned to see my chain, severed, lying on the tarmac. We had no tools or expertise for this and with time against us we again set out to flag down a ride. Before anyone had the chance to stop however, a petrol pump attendant came to our rescue. Armed with nothing more than a hammer and a small screwdriver he removed the damaged link and repaired the chain. Appreciative and somewhat emasculated we escaped bandit country but it was now clear that both bikes were in dire need of some tender loving care.

Still rather stoned following a “wake ‘n bake” session with the Canadian girls in Loci del Mar, we wobbled our way to the Ecuador border and crossed over without a hitch. Since leaving Mancora, the desert had rejoined us and the stifling dry heat with it, that was all about to change however as we turned off the Highway and began following the plantation roads that lead to the city of Cuenca.

An emotional hand over ceremony for Franks lucky Mascot, Larry the dead Llama fetus. Rumor has it that he went on to learn to surf and later traveled south into Argentina where he started a folk band.

"Franklin, servicing women since 1988"

We were once again climbing into the Andes where we would follow the mountains all the way to Bogota. Crops of Banana trees enveloped the road like a suffocating wall of green, near ripened banana bunches already wrapped in plastic weighing them down. Fallen bananas scattered the road, I dodged every one for fear of sliding off, well, until the stone wore off and I realized that I wasn’t actually in Mario Kart. With the harvest in full swing, vendors occupied the roadside with mountains of bananas to sell at rock bottom prices, the ride was becoming pleasant and even having to stop for minor repairs did not seem a burden.

The road was quiet, twisty & turny, a green mountain pass that we shared with few. Deserted as it was, food was plentiful and bananas were not the only thing on the roadside menu, just about everything from Pig to Guinea pig roasted by the tarmac and we were not short of lunch options.

Fluffy, Snuggles & Squeak. (Fluffy was delicious)

Our day that had started on such a high in the lowlands was, however, about to end on something of a low in the highlands. In the afternoon, after climbing firmly back into the mountains, amongst the jungles and plantations, clouds that had wisped through the surrounding trees were now engulfing us and bringing the rain with them. A week of sunny Mancora had spoiled us and we resented the new challenges that faced us, we resented having to get wet.

Almost squashed this guy trying to cross the road, luckily he made it to the other side

Ill prepared as always, without a map or even a watch between us, it was not until we noticed the dwindling sunlight that we realized how little time we had left and not before asking around that we found out that the next town was an hour away. What our roadside tour guide neglected to mention was that a huge landslide had blocked the way to the next town. It was as if half the mountain had collapsed and rather spectacularly taken the road with it, miles down to the valley below leaving nothing remotely recognizable as a way past.

Backtracking, Luck and the last glimmer of light from the setting sun found us a diversion around the devastated highway. A dirt track led high up into the hills, skirting close to sheer drops and precarious looking overhangs. Darkness soon cloaked the danger and, out of sight out of mind, we plodded onwards. The landslide was even bigger than we had imagined as an hour passed before we re-joined the asphalt and hunkered down in Santa Isabella.

The next day brought much of the same freezing precipitation. We were back on solid road and with plenty of daylight to kill but that all seemed overshadowed by the pool of ice cold water that had gathered in my crotch and was proceeding to seep its way through my fake North Face water proofs like they were made of tea bags. Frank was in a similar situation and the pair of us ducked into a small town café for shelter. Shivering over our “something soup” we were told that the road ahead was closed due to the rain and risk of landslide. This was enough for us and before midday had barely struck, we had thrown in the towel and called it a day.

"Attention! Road sliced up beyond all recognition"

We awoke to a third day of rain yet miraculously the road was open. At this point, nothing was dry, we were both saturated to the bone as we fought with the freezing winds, counting every painful kilometre. Passing ominous landslides and over turned trucks we soon sought shelter in a restaurant just outside of Riobamba, huddling around hot coffee’s and soup. Frank was feeling it the worst, I had never seen him so broken, his inherent American optimism had all but washed away in the morning’s painful ride and we were both about ready to give up. Thankfully, a merciful afternoon brought sunshine to the California boy and I, giving us the strength we needed to press on to Quito which appeared below us like a desert oasis.

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.

North of Huarez we followed an ever degrading potholed road until we reached the charming little town of Carez, it would be here that we would search for the last of our adventure rides, the Cañon del Plato. Etched into the Canyon wall using what must have been enough explosives to make that scene out of independence day, The road was originally built to service the several mines and hydroelectric facilities that operated within the mountains. Since the first intrepid travel motorcyclist had curiously wandered down it, news had spread and it had become a Bikers “must see” in Peru.

The first challenge however was finding the place. Several roads led West, back to the coast but none were clearly sign posted “obscure niche motorcycle scenic route”. With thanks to the never ending help of random passers by and the reliability of the SAG NAV (Stop, Ask, Go) System, we found it and began our slow bumpy descent.

Our diversion instantly became worthwhile as we shimmied past a sheer drop to our right hand side within tight canyon walls and spectacular scenery. The road itself was an engineering marvel, carved almost impossibly into the mountainside. We passed through somewhere in the region of 40 tunnels, some simply rough blasts into the protruding rock, others over 100m’s long giving a harsh reminder that my headlight was, in fact, a piece of shit. There was almost no traffic on the road apart from the occasional miners 4×4 packed with workers all on their way to facilities actually burrowed into the mountainside like a bond bad guy’s evil lair.

(Just about the only video we shot, through the tunnels of the Canyon)

It was slow going along the rocky path, any exploration beyond 30km’s/ph resulted in a few slips and slides, after all, our 125’s were never build for this. We had been so used to burning down the Pan-Am at 90 with our hair on fire that we had not accounted for quite how long the day would become. Unlike other times when we had become stuck out after dark, there was no beach or field with which to pitch a tent, we would be forced to negotiate the road in darkness, and that was a whole other ball game.

Blissfully un-prepared as always we simply ploughed on, pushing the speed as fast as we could go without skidding off the edge, something that Frank and his flagrant disregard for self preservation was a lot better at. Personally, for me, every turn conjured up scenes from Indiana Jones’ Temple of doom and I could envisage crocodiles chewing on my suzuki’s tyres as I sunk to a watery grave. Fortunately no imaginary crocodiles had either of us for supper and before dusk we reached a tarmac road, never before has Asphalt been a more welcomed sight.

After a night in what we now know to be one of the roughest towns in Peru, Chimbote, we once again re-joined the highway north. The surf town of Mancora was our next notable destination but between us and there lay around 500 miles of desert with nothing really appealing to see. That in mind we split the distance in two and aimed to be surfing after 2 days riding, packing in 250 miles each day.
Lunchtime brought us to Trujillo and a quick stop for the usual unidentifiable soup & fried something preceded what would be a long afternoon slog. Trujillo was busy with slow moving trucks and the ever awkward looking Tuc Tuc taxi’s, Frank leading the way we passed them all, right up until it happened.
I could still see Frank just a couple of cars in front, he always took some stupidly risky chances but by now I was never far behind, begging the question, who is the bigger fool, the fool or the fool that follows him? He had passed a slow Tuctuc laden with palm leaves and was eying up his next overtake while I pulled out to follow. However, as I did so, without warning, the Tuctuc turned left, cutting across my path and it was too late. I’m not sure at what point that surprise and evasive reactions are replaced with acceptance and clenching but for me that was a split second before I smashed into the back of the Tuctuc. A faint memory of my bike silhouetted against the sky as it cart wheeled over me is all that remains before I came to, laid out in the middle of the road, Stabbing pain in my gut and a warm current of blood trickling down my leg and onto my boots. A woman’s screams filled the air, the Tuctuc’s passenger. She was unhurt but having an Englishman career into the back of her taxi must have come as quite a shock. It took me a few seconds to fully appreciate my predicament as oncoming trucks came back into focus and I turned to see my beloved bike on her side, crying tears of petrol onto the dusty road.
Aside from the pain I was ok and still had the strength to haul the bike up and wheel her to the roadside before collapsing once more. It didn’t take long for the cops to arrive and when I took another look around a small crowd had gathered. My Spanish, which had become quite proficient upto this point, had all but stopped working and all I could get from the police was something about hospital. Some gears began to turn in my brain, something told me that I didn’t want this hassle and using my best mumbled Spanish I insisted that I was fine, much to the surprise of the now handcuffed Tuctuc driver. With that, he and I were both free to go.
Gazing up the road into the distance I saw no sign of Frank but hoping that he was waiting for me at the roadside as he often did, I dusted myself off and threw my leg over my crippled bike. My Suzuki’s wounds were worse than my own, the panniers had snapped and the forks were slightly bent making for an uneasy start to my limp onwards. The front wheel had hit the Tuctuc and sent the left handlebar into my stomach, inches from my balls, for which I was thankful. This had also bent the handlebars but with a few yanks it was back to a recognizable shape and some duct tape on my panniers made me South American standard roadworthy again and I set off in search of Frank.
At this point I was not pissed at Frank for continuing on, it was not unusual for us to separate every now and again on such a long ride. But after the miles added up and still no Frank, the anger grew, he had not just left, he had buggered off. Each cop that stopped me along the way told me of another gringo on a black Honda who had passed through over an hour before but trying to catch up soon became futile. I stopped to inspect my duct tape repair only to see that it had fallen off miles back, I needed a welder if I was going to continue.
In a stroke of Disney-like luck, I just happened to have stopped right outside the house of the local motorcycle welder and his young sons came rushing out, insisting I followed them. The entire family gathered round me and my bike and all hands truly were on deck. The father and his eldest son set to work on my twisted panniers while his wife and the young kids quizzed me on where I was from, my journey and just about everything else that came to mind. Their kindness was heart warming and all the rage that had been building up in my helmet, thinking of ways to kick Frank’s ass, fizzled away with their presence. What’s more, after all the work was done, this family of many who lived out here in the country with very little even insisted that I pay nothing for the work. Insisting right back I gave them $20 and my sunglasses if only for the good mood that they had put me back in.

The family who fixed my bike and thoroughly cheered me up

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