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
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.
At the pass
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.
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.
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.