Thursday, January 3, 2013

Peru..landslides, getting lost, Cusco, Machu Picchu

A Very Happy New Year to friends near and far.

I have to confess to awful naivete when it comes to many geographical matters. I'm ashamed to say that I did not know that the Amazon rose in Peru, or even that is where Machu Picchu was there. But I did know that the Andes went down through it and that I was going to have a lot of adventures on   Peru's roads....

 Almost immediately one crosses the border into Peru from Ecuador on the Pan-American Highway, desert is all around you and can monotonously be one's companion for thousands of miles down to Chile if one so wishes.
My initial planned route to Cusco
  I had a vague plan to try and turn off the main road into the mountains as early as possible. There is, according to Mr Google, a route through that I thought would be fabulous to do.  My aim was to reach Cusco for Christmas, where I knew there would be few likely lads to meet up with. Cusco on the map looks relatively straightforward and even going the mountain roads rather than the faster coast route should be more than doable in the 10 days or so that I had.

 So off I set. Preparing oneself for natural beauty is a folly, either it exceeds it or you are disappointed. I suppose the Himalayas had always taken the crown as far as my gauge was concerned but I have to say that what I've seen so far in Peru, the Andes are breathtakingly beautiful as well. Along with the natural beauty, the people you meet high up and along the roads are the same hardy folk that altitudes above 3000 m seem to generate. Generous to a fault and delighted  to share what they and countless  generations before them have had as their home.

  The roads are only partially paved. Batty took hundreds of miles of bashing and bumping  along gravel and mud tracks at speeds between 5 miles an hour and 20 miles an hour. Slow progress but not a moment  of tedium as one was always surrounded by breathtaking views.
 A couple of guys who insisted I joined them for beer after a long day.

  It was just around the corner from this shot, that I came across some road workers who told me that the landslip had blocked the road and there was no way to get around it. It was slightly depressing news as it was going to take me another day to backtrack on to the Pan-American Road. I was fairly philosophical given the beauty of my surroundings, and it was just a way of seeing the same treasures again.
 A local mechanic enjoying sorting out Batty's rear brake lever and the foot peg, both of whom had failed on the rough roads

 Ceviche, lunch doesn't come much better than this.

 I was pretty confident that having spent a day driving on good roads by the coast and then pretty good roads heading inland I was going to make up time. And all was going well until my Spanish seem to confuse the people I was asking clarifications on.  Apparently Huanuco sounds just like a  small village five hours north of it. The GPS was no use on these roads and had no knowledge of them, a Google map I had saved only told me limited information. I eventually ended up in a very humble village and set off at 7 o'clock the next morning to do the first of four days of between 10 and 14 hours to get to Cusco for Christmas.

 The distance weren't all that great, but the roads only allowed a pretty gentle pace, everywhere was fantastically beautiful, and in spite of the rain that had me soaks most days, they were some of the  funnest and most exciting days of the trip.

 I find it rather emotional when I see a mountain being systematically chopped down/mined. Peru is going through the economic expansion, much of which is being fueled by many Chinese companies buying mineral rights. Of course there are many who benefit from the revenues, and I am sure there are many educational and health benefits provided locally. It's just the idea that it will never be seen again and the thousands of years of history that a mountain has, just goes.

 I drove Batty into a flood, thinking that it was not too deep, but this picture doesn't show is the 2 foot gully to the right of her that I drove straight into. I was kindly helped out by a local hero and after two hours the engine eventually started again. Wet boots

Sean Dillon,  riding his C 90 Honda,, from the Arctic Circle in Alaska to possibly Antarctica. He is travelling with his brothers Gavin and various others, such as Ben who I met at the border, Gordon and Taka.  All great fun and have contributed greatly to my enjoyment of Cusco
The day before I arrived in Cusco, I received two emails. One was from Aaron and Serafina saying that they had arrived and where they were staying, also that there was a guy called Glen who was interested in my trip. The second email was from Glen, saying that he had come across the blog and was interested in meeting up. This turned out to be very fortuitous as Glen is grt company and he has a phenomenal knowledge of Cusco and South America in general, having been a regular for the last 20 years.

We met up and he introduced to me or showed me all that I needed. This included the best places to drink and eat in the city and it has really made my 9 days here all the more enjoyable. The other bonus whilst I've been here has been staying at the Wild Rover hostel, which is extremely high octane and a great melting pot for travelers. They had a great Christmas lunch and a wicked New Year's Eve party that will live on in my memory for a long time.
 Richard was recommended to me by Jeff who has a famous bar called Norton Rat. All bikers who are doing long-distance journeys in Cusco meet up there. Batty needed some new front disc pads and adjustments to the gearbox, and a new battery. All of which Richard swiftly dealt with.

 This is Glen taking one of his extraordinary panoramic photographs at a site called Sacsayhuaman which is one of many sites we saw around Cusco on a tour. Although Glen had been to many of these sites before, his appetite for all things Inca has no bounds, so I was the beneficiary of all his extra knowledge that our guide did not cover.


We took a bus and a train to the Aqua Calientes, the small town that services all the tourists (1000 a day plus) that go to Machu Picchu. There was an option to ride but I'm afraid my ass had not yet recovered from the drive to Cusco. There was also the slight disincentive that poor Taka had been knocked off his bike crossing a dangerously flooded ford on his way back from Machu Picchu the day before. Although he was fine, his bike has taken a lot of hassle to put right.

Aqua Calientes

Glen and H

  I guess that the day at Machu Picchu will be one of my most treasured on the trip.  It is an extraordinary place in an extraordinary setting. The idea that 700 people lived on this mountain edge for the dual purpose of providing the King of the Incas a summer palace, and providing a perfect spot to get excited about when the sun is in solstice twice a year.
The walking up option is 1 1/2 hours up these steps...starting at 6am...or you can take the shuttle buses. I really enjoyed walking down them at the end of the day....
Cusco on New Years eve....the central square was still buzzing at 7am the next day
 I am now off on a few days journey to the Amazon. I will leave Batty here and take public transport, before a boat becomes essential. The trip has been organised by John, another South American old-timer and friend of Glen's. Great company the two of them, and Paddy's bar a fine hostelry in the middle of South America, to host us. Today Glen made a short video/interview of me. He is making a documentary of his own journey through South America on a motorcycle and interviewing those he comes across as are doing interesting things (in his opinion). His Blog of all his travels, interviews and book reviews is:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Friends and Family,

Love from Batty and Harry 

in Peru

Friday, December 14, 2012

Galapagos, Guinea Pig dinner and Radio Stardom,

So the Galapagos…… Just as a bit of a background, it is pretty difficult to go to the islands independently and see the vast variation of animal and fauna life by just turning up and taking day trips. So it means one has to sign up for a tour on a boat. There are probably about 100 different boats, all offering different lengths of tour and varying comfort. Carlos had put me onto his travel agent and they got a last-minute deal for me on a ship called the Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz, with landing parties
 This shot required no zoom. All the animals here treat humans as if they were just another animal. The only risk of predators is from sharks and hawks, and if you don't look like one of them, you are basically ignored.
  This catapulted me from being the lone traveller into the company of 70 other trippers, all excited about this unique place. Most of my fellow passengers were on their annual holiday although there were a few other long-term travellers such as myself.  The age group ranged from 80s to early 20s, and from aid professionals to scientists. It meant putting on different perspective hats to talk to all the different people, and that was something I enjoyed a great deal.

Back in London, Galapagos was a weekly word  used, as it is the name of one of my favourite restaurants in Battersea, and Steve, the co-proprietor, is Ecuadorian. Whilst the delicious food may not be from the region, the warmth and friendliness of the experience certainly is.

 I had hoped to do some diving there, and in fact had been promised it is part of the cruise. Alas there had been a miscommunication as what constituted scuba diving and snorkeling, so snorkeling it was. Whilst of course different from being 50 foot under, the sheer abundance of marine life has to make it the best you can get, and I did not feel too hard done by.

 This is Vicky, our lovely and brilliant guide.

 From 7 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock at night this very well oiled machine had us in groups of 12 and disembarking from the ship on rubber boats to see new and wonderful different places as we spent five days going around the Western islands.
A hammerhead shark
The guys...alas not many people photos, just 300 beastie ones.
Lisa joining an Iguana for a lie on the sand
I'm going to have a slight moan about the Santa Cruz (owner by ETICA / Metropolitan Touring), because in spite of its extremely well-run operation, it's comfort, delicious food and a great team of naturalists educating us….I twice saw them pumping sewage into the sea when we were anchored by different islands. The rule is that they have to be 6 miles offshore to do this, and anything less is a breach of the law and far worse, a serious compromise on the survival of local wildlife,  not to mention the fact that we were snorkeling nearby. Every day we were reminded not to step off the path,  touch the animals, let alone feed them, yet there they were hypocritically polluting the very place that sustains them. I did ask for skipper about it, and he rather brusquely told me that it should not happen before walking away without explanation or any hint of action. It happened the next day again, so I assume it must be commonplace.  They gave us evaluations forms at the end of the trip and it rather dominated my assessment.

Back in Quito, Batty had new forks (from a Yamaha), a new additional front light and lots of other needed bits serviced. It took a couple days more, but Carlos did a fine job finding parts from other vehicles to replace worn original parts, so Batty was fit for the next 10,000 miles that I probably have left.
Carlos on the right, with his Dad and colleague having just finished all their work on Batty
I moved to a different hostel that Julia and Chris from the ship had recommended. For a couple of nights, along with Cornelia, Yves and Ivo we hooked up for fun dinners and one night went off to find a rock concert in the main park.
Julia and Chris
Dr Carlos, as I now need to call him to differentiate, rode with me for a couple of hours on the way to Banos, a spa town five hours away, set in the lower Andes. It was great for me to have a companion, but I fear are little dull for him as Batty huffed and puffed her way up the steep roads to Chimborazo,  Ecuador's highest peak.
Chimborazo in the background
Banos...beautiful spa town, where I bumped into Jesper in the red tee shirt...a voyager from Panama
I love having my hair cut in new countries

By this stage I was beginning to get itchy feet, and the need to head on South was pressing.  But before Peru I had had an invitation to stay with Dr Carlos's mother in Cuenca. Normally it is a five-hour ride, but if you take the mountain route it takes two days. I haven't particularly planned  which way to go, but the GPS's plan was one of mountains and rough roads. Although this made me a day late, I did see some beautiful Ecuador, and my first roasted  guinea pig.
2 days of fun on these sorts of roads...reaching 9000ft

Batty's sporting her smart new day light

Forget the 'what a sweet thing' nonsense...this chap is for the chop
A national delicacy
 For the first time in now 35,000 miles, something was up with Batty's gearbox. I was able to change down gear, but not up. Fortunately Royal Enfield have a secondary gear selector, to help find neutral, and with a bit of practice one could use the full gear range albeit in a rather clunky way. This happened about an hour from Cuenca.

Dr Carlos was visiting his mother that weekend and I was welcomed   most sincerely by Bina, his mother, and by Susannah and Gustavo, his sister and brother-in-law. They all live in a beautiful apartment building that they designed and built a few years ago which takes up the whole side of a piazza right beside the river. Everyone has their own apartment, and I was given a bedroom in one which acts as an office for their architectural practice.
Lovely Bina at her easel, she was a friend and pupil of Oswaldo Guayasamìn. This lady was the finest of hostesses, treating me to culinary delights and just all round warmth.
Carlos treated me to my first Guinea Pig (known as Cui here) dinner. Very delicious
Carlos called a friend of his, Estefan, and he knew the guys who ran the new Royal Enfield showroom that had opened there only a year or so ago. So early on the Monday morning we were there, and quickly taken to Pedro who did the servicing for them. He quickly found the problem...a broken spring, which was not a spare they kept. Estefan jumped on his bike and after several hours returned saying that he could not find a replacement, but had found a welder who was going to fix it.

Estefan and Sebastian
Sebastian, who runs the Royal Enfield business had, in the meantime, been busy on the phone to his local media is a small city in these terms. So whilst Batty was awaiting her renewed spring, her rider was off doing a couple of magazine and newspaper interviews, followed by a live radio interview with German Peidre, the owner and producer of super949, a local rock radio station. 

Here is a link to a small piece in Amateur magazine
In mid interview Estefan, Sebastian and German...broadcasting straight from the iPhone to the airwaves. This website had a spike of traffic that day, so I hope it sells a few bikes for them
I am awaiting a podcast link to it, although a little in English, mostly it was in rapid fire Spanish. I get that the general line was about how the time to do something different in life is always is never the right time, and it was good to witness someone living their dream. Before the interview started, German had asked about girlfriends in the 30 odd countries I had listed...jockingly I replied, "everyone of them"....then the brute asked the same again live! I muttered something about not wanting to compromise anyone's virtue.....not the radio I think he wanted....

The next day Batty was quickly back together and the plan was to ride with Sebastian and Estefan towards the Peruvian border. However we were joined by three others, and six Royal Enfield's headed off. Batty was at last speaking her own language, having had to put up with Japanese and German  companions since Australia and before that India.

Crossing over the border to Peru was pretty straightforward, and I met Ben there who was on a bike heading the same way. We plan to meet for a drink at lunchtime in a town called Mancora, about 100 miles down the coast. Ben had to be in Cusco for his birthday on Friday,  which meant about 2000 km in two days. One drink led to another and four hours later he set off. I found a hotel. I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of his tale if I catch up with him.