Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome Home

August 25, 2011

We awoke early again and went back to the cemetery for the view. We sat in silence and just stared. Wow. Returning to the hostel we grabbed some coca tea and headed off for the 15,600 foot pass.

Church during the day, not so creepy

A few grave sites

View from cemetary

We saw more scenic views, and it was awesome to be back on top of the world after being in the jungle for the past two days. The drive down was a blast! The road was curvy, but you could see far enough ahead to make sure there was no traffic, so both lanes were available to dive down into each turn. We stopped and ate at the same lady’s place in the market at Tinke.

Headed back to 15,600

Panoramic at the pass. Sorry I didn´t find this option earlier.

Headed down to Tinke

Awesome grey river

Yes, that is gas being poured into my tank using a bucket

We continued on further into the valley until we were at the foot of the next pass. Instead of climbing, Alex and Gabe decided it would be way more fun to take a 4 hour detour behind the mountains by Cusco and go to Pisac instead. Why not?! So we hopped off the main road onto a one-lane dirt road that passed through remote villages and had spectacular views of the countryside below. Once again, we played the game “don’t look over the edge”. There were some pretty sharp corners and steep drops. But my motorcycle was designed for roads like this and it excelled. We climbed up another set of twistys, this time the elevation rose to about 14,000 feet. We stopped at the top and the wind was ripping through the pass, it almost knocked Gabe’s bike over.

Backroads to Pisac

The Sacred Valley

The last drop was into the Pisac valley. I have been to this city many times with Rustic students, but it was so fulfilling to show up in the plaza on a bike. After a quick bite to eat, Gabe headed to Cusco. Alex and I took off for Ollantaytambo, my destination for the next four months.

Final pass, 14,000 feet

As I pulled into the plaza and parked the motorcycle I knew that a major goal was finally completed. This was my new home. Once again, it was weird to not have students nearby while walking around. But it was not a bad feeling, just the paradoxical one of melancholy happiness as one story that has ended opens the way for the next story’s introduction.

So, thus ended 7 straight days of heavy riding. What an awesome adventure! I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off my time tutoring at the dorm.

Distance: 1400 miles

Location: West coast of Peru to the east border with Brazil back to the Sacred Valley

Total elevation changes: over 110,000 feet

Bike drops: 3

Total 180 degree turns: 645 (ok, estimated but there were so many)

Honestly, planning this trip I wasn’t sure if I could handle 8,000 miles home to Michigan from South America on a dirtbike alone. It is kind of a stretch for a suburban math teacher, and I might not even be here without Jeff telling me to man up. But now it seems very possible. My motorcycle has performed brilliantly, it is a tank. I know I can get on and ride for hours day after day through difficult terrain. We shall see. For now, it’s time to find a room and finally settle down after 2 months of living out of a backpack.

Best Ride Ever

August 24, 2011

(Remember, click on pictures to see the full size image)

Wednesday morning we set off reasonably early to head back up into the mountains. At the gas station in Puerto, a man came up to me to shake my hand. I immediately listed off the tank size and engine size since that is what everyone always asks me. But he said, “I am from Pallata”. No way!!! That is one of the small villages I worked in last year, two of the girls from the dorm live there. I couldn’t believe he recognized me, especially 9 hours away from the village while wearing motorcycle gear. I told him I would stop by after I moved to Ollanta.

Outside the city, we stopped at “motorcycle city for repairs on Alex’s bike. They adjusted and oiled his chain, replaced a few screws, and fixed a side cover for a cost of $1. Alright.

Repairs in motorcycle city

After that we started the hours of hairpin curves on our climb back up to Marcapata. I’m tired of trying to describe how scenic it was. Going up we could see all the waterfalls, rivers, landslides, cliffs, vegetation, wildlife, and river valleys about twice as well as on the way down. It was the best ride so far.

Just getting started

Don´t exactly have this in Michigan

Plenty more coming

Still in the jungle


Upper jungle, almost out

Cool waterfall


Almost back to 11,000 feet

Finally, we were able to see clouds obscuring the top of a mountain which was the home to Marcapata. The last 20 miles we climbed 3,000 feet into the town. We parked in front of a small hostel near the plaza in the city center, and there was a volleyball game going on right in the middle of the street!

We unpacked, ate dinner, and decided to check out the city. By now, darkness had fallen and the entire town was still inside the clouds we saw from the road. It looked like the best set ever for a horror movie. There was an eerie orange light that blanketed the town. Right in the main plaza was a huge church with a straw covered roof. It was beautiful but creepy looking all at the same time. We then walked up a side road to the top of the town. At the very top, we approached a half open metal gate with a cross on it. It was a cemetery. We walked in, and to our right was the embalming room. The graves were old and deteriorating. They were packed closely together, and we slowly continued to the far end. There, all the gravestones were facing the massive valley below. It was designed so each grave had a stunning view during the afterlife. The 3,000 feet that we climbed just before the city was visible all at once. We could only see the lights of vehicles on the road, but couldn’t wait until the following morning when it would all be lit by the sun.

Creepy/beautiful church

Streets of Macaparta at night

After thinking of writing a screen play for a horror movie (D. Miles Martin, you interested?) we headed back and were asleep by 8:00 pm.

Off the Map

August 23, 2011

Tuesday morning Alex and I walked to get gas for his motorcycle, it ran out just as he pulled in the previous night. We also stopped to look at buying one. They are cheaper there than anywhere else in Peru, and it would really help Alex get around to the dorm and all the villages the girls come from if he had his own transportation. After finding a few leads, we headed back to the hotel, picked up Gabe and took off to find this lake.

First, we had to cross the river on a ferry. Haha! They were just little barges big enough for two cars or a half dozen or so bikes. They were powered by weed-wackers with propellers instead of string. Awesome.

Loading on the ferry

Alex was put on a different ferry

On the other side we followed the paved road for 30 minutes until we saw a dirt road on our right, that was it. We stopped for drinks and chatted with the locals. They warned us that the road was out and we had to take a tiny trail through the jungle. They also told us it was about a 4 hour drive to the lake. We didn’t believe them (dumb) since it was only 29 miles. My GPS didn’t show the road, so I shut it off and we set off.

Probably should have listened to the locals

The first 20 minutes was a solid dirt road that was easy to navigate over small wooden bridges and through herds of cows. I saw a trail off to the left and stopped. I asked Gabe and Alex if they thought that was our turnoff. “Naw, it can’t be this soon, let’s keep going.” And thus began our decent into motorcycle hell. Massive semis carrying trees had used the road when it was wet and created 1 to 2 foot ruts filled with water. We had about 6 inches in between ruts to balance our heavy machines on the only solid ground available. Either shoulder was soft mud that would swallow a motorcycle. I have driven some tough trails in Michigan with Jeff, but nothing compared with this. Alex and Gabe both dumped their bikes in the mud, and we had to work together to get them out. Finally, after battling through a herd of cows that would not let us pass, we gave up. It was getting too probable that one of us would get stuck beyond saving. One the way back to the trail (yes, that was it) I got stuck in a rut too, but we got it out alright.

Road was okay at first, except all the cows

Waiting at the trail we did not take...

It got ugly

Stuck again

The passable jungle trail looked just like the MCCT trail that Jeff took me on in Michigan. It was fun at first, and if I didn’t look too close at the dense jungle plants, I almost felt like I was back home. But the road deteriorated again, and I dumped my bike in a huge rut. Exhausted, we stopped in an open field and turned around. It was getting late and we were traveling at less than 10 miles an hour. We headed back to the ferry station. But first we had to stop at a gas station for an hour to wash off the thick mud that covered all our motos.

Passable jungle trail

Time to turn around

Dinner was a huge portion of rice, fries, and grilled chicken for $1.40 from a roadside stand. We hopped back on a ferry just as the sun set over the river. Gorgeous. Then Gabe and I went to look for a new rearview mirror for his bike that had shattered on one of the crashes.

Sunset over the river while crossing back on the ferry

That evening we cleaned up and headed out. We spotted a karaoke bar, oh yeah, time to impress (or not) the locals with our talents. Honestly, it is the nicest karaoke bar I have ever seen in my life. They had little groups of soft couches with numbered tables in front of them to keep track of whose turn it was. There were many small screens and one big one in front. The microphones were nice, new, and sounded great when you sang into them. The song selection was ridiculous. There must have been 10,000 songs in Spanish, 5,000 in English, and 5,000 in Portuguese (we were only about 100 km from Brazil). Every song we wanted to sing was there, that doesn’t even happen in the states with only English songs! Alex and I definitely embarrassed ourselves, but we did throw down good versions of Under the Bridge and What I Got. It was fun. After that it was a short stop at the discotech and we headed home. What a day!

Bridge under construction at night. Why is it blurry?

Welcome to the Jungle

August 22, 2011

Monday morning we woke to heavy frost on our motorcycles. The remote village was at 14,200 feet. But we packed up early and got ready to leave, we had a long ride ahead to make it over the mountain pass and into the jungle. The owner of the hostel asked if we would give a few girls a ride to school since it was such a long walk. Of course!! The two girls hopped on Gabe and Alex’s bikes because they had passenger pegs. But five minutes into the ride, I saw another girl walking and I picked her up. We drove the three of them quite a ways down the mountain. We passed several boys on bicycles and walking, and a few other girls. I felt bad, and thought about just driving back and forth all morning until everyone was at school. The school was at about 12,600 feet, so every day they all had to hike back up 1,600 feet on that long winding road.

Two-wheeled school bus

Roadside breakfast

We grabbed a delicious breakfast in the Tinke market for $1.50. Then it was off to the pass. The long rolling hills kept climbing higher and higher. Eventually we turned a corner to a spectacular view of Ausangate. The entire right side of the road was a vast curtain of snow covered mountains, with the 20,000 foot peak towering over us. We climbed and climbed until finally we hit the pass at 15,560 feet. It is the highest elevation I have ever been outside of an airplane.

15,600 feet

At the pass

Pass again

We then began the long decent into the jungle. It was so beautiful dropping down thousands of feet every few miles while twisting and turning along the ridges and valleys. Eventually, around 11,000 feet, the side of the mountain erupted in green vegetation. We passed a city called Marcapata and dropped 4,000 feet in the space of 30 minutes. We began to notice waterfalls dotting the sides of the mountain, and the little stream in the valley became a raging river. Turn after turn we continued down, following the natural path of the river. I am not sure how this scenery compares to other famous rides, but for a Michigan boy it was incredible.

Huge drop from the pass

Still descending

Dropping into the valley

Finally at about 5,000 feet, the vegetation changed. We began to see the banana trees and I did not recognize any of the vegetation lining the road. Just before Quincemil, the entire valley opened up in front of us. By now the river was hundreds of feet wide, and we could see the jungle stretched out before us. Wow. The next hour we wound through more beautiful valleys with the outline of smaller, densely covered mountains always in the background. It looked like what I’ve seen in movies.

Open jungle river basin

More open jungle

The last hour into our destination, Puerto Maldonado, was pretty boring. It was long, straight, and the fields on either side had destroyed most of the interesting vegetation. One part, however, was interesting. For about a half mile there were motorcycles everywhere! Tiny little wood shacks lined the road selling parts, repairs, used bikes, and offering a wash. It was cool, but unexpected. It turns out there is a gold mine nearby. I called it “motorcycle city” in my head, but once again, little did I know what was ahead.

As we pulled into Puerto Maldonado, it was a sight I have never experienced. Nine out of ten vehicles were motorcycles!! Driving on the road is a crazy mess of motos everywhere. I felt like I was in a motocross race dodging in and out of the countless bikes. Traffic lights aren’t always in the same place, and I almost ran a red light. Some roads had no signs at all in either direction so you just kind of look and dodge as you pass through the intersection.

Motos everywhere!!!!

We stopped at a hotel. As Alex went in to negotiate a price, a group of girls approached me. They wanted pictures of my bike. They took a bunch of us together, then more as I got on and drove away. I’ll bet some kid’s facebook was blowing up with shots of the bike. Now, I usually am not “that guy” in the states. I have never driven a nice car or had cool things that people went out of their way to notice. My bike in the states is noticed for the huge gas tank, but not much else. But in this town of motorcycles, mine was by far the biggest and most badass. I didn’t see anyone on something bigger than a 250, and mine is a 650. It was kind of cool, but I also felt like a rich gringo showing off his money and power. I didn’t like that so much, but that’s exactly what I am.

We settled in to a hostel and parked our bikes down a tiny hallway in a small courtyard inside. We finished a day where we went from a 15,600 foot pass down to 500 feet of elevation in the jungle.

All the motos parked inside the hostel

Gabe and Alex have a friend Ramon who runs the lodge for the Rustic Amazon trips. We met him for drinks and talked for hours. He told us about a beautiful lake on the other side of the river down a small dirt road that only locals visit. It is located not far off from the road to Brazil; we weren’t too far away from the border. It sounded like a plan, so that became our goal for the next day. But we should have known that with Ramon, something easy sounding would end up being a huge adventure.

Mountain Top Hot Tub?

August 21

Sunday morning we packed up and set off on the trip into the jungle. Alex had to go to Urubamba to pick up the bike he rented, so Gabe and I headed to Urcos to meet him. Once again, I got pulled over going into town, but the officer was nice and wished me luck on the trip. Sunday means market day for most villages, so the plaza was packed. Alex showed up on his borrowed bike and we took off. It was nice to travel with other motorcycles for once, the last 2,000 miles Ive ridden alone.

Puerto Moldonado here we come

The first part of the ride was a climb up to a 13,500 pass with stunning views of the valley the whole way up. As we crossed over the top, we were able to see Ausangate. It is the 20,000 foot peak that can be partially seen from Cusco. We were headed right for it. I was able to put the bike in neutral and just coast down the steep descent. We rode on more roads that twisted and turned down the mountain and along the river. It was an absolute blast on the bike and the scenery continued to be amazing.

View above Urcos

We eventually reached the town of Tinke. We had trouble turning down the little side road in town because there were two weddings going on!! It was a massive party, but we couldn’t stay. Finally, the first time for me in Peru, we left pavement and starting traveling on a killer dirt road. One part had a very steep, rocky climb that was so fun to get up. The road continued directly toward Ausangate. Wow. Along the road we spotted a two-track, it was time to go exploring. We left the dirt road and took off on a barely visible track up the hill. It was pretty technical, but worth it for another view of the valley.

Alex battling up the steep incline

Headed to Pacchanta

Road that needed to be explored

Sweet bike

Almost to town

Eventually the road ended in a tiny little village of about 10 buildings. Pacchanta is very remote, known for its hot springs and is a usual ending spot for hikers circling Ausangate. We parked our bikes on a hill opposite the town and piled in a small room ($1.50) with four beds. We immediately went into the hot springs. Now they had mentioned it to me before the town, but I didn’t pay attention because every hot spring I have ever been to has been a total disappointment. Well, these were awesome!! The outdoor pool area had a direct view of the mountain, the water was clean, and the temperature was just hot enough so that you had to get out every 15 minutes to cool off. We stayed in for several hours. I don’t even get a chance to go in hot tubs at home and here I was in Peru enjoying the most scenic and comfortable hot tub I had been in for a long time.

View from above

Awesome hot springs

Alpaca photo bomb

We found a woman in town willing to make us dinner for $2. Gabe and Alex had a business meeting with a gentleman and then it was time for bed. I was so exhausted after three days of intense motorcycle riding.

$1.50 Room