On route from Chachapoyas we took a few hours to ride out to Kuèlap, a mountain top fortress that outdates the Incas (who came in and booted the original owners and took it over themselves for a while, till they were conquered by the Spanish). My foot was a bit tender and bruised, so we took it easy up the rocky path and wandered through the circular stone spaces/houses where thousands of people once lived. The road up, or rather up, around, down, back and then up again (in other words truly the most in-direct route I´ve seen in a while) was beautiful, narrow and just plain fun. Clouds loomed as we headed back down and toward Leymebamba, which we now call Lame-Bamba and besides a quick night´s sleep wasn´t much to talk about. We had separate single beds, and I fell asleep at about 9pm.
We have truly been riding on some seriously out of the way roads, hardly shown on the map, rocky, dirty, muddy, bumpy, with views that take your breath away. The road has been so distracting that I have had a hard time recalling where we´ve stayed. Every evening we are wiped out from riding on what are basically narrow, one-lane tracks on the side of steep precipices. So far, we´ve stayed off the beaten track, well worth it for the photos. I´ve taken to keeping the camera up my jacket sleeve for easier access. You never know when you´re going to make a turn and have the perfect opportunity for a great shot of the mountains, a tunnel, waterfalls, or a small Peruvian woman in her full skirts and large straw hat. I´ve learned that your first chance is usually your best one, as you come around a corner. If you hesitate, you miss it. And that just sucks.
We visited Celendìn, and arrived in the pouring rain. We found a little pizzeria and watched the Champions League soccer finals while warming up with hot chocolate as mud and water pooled around our boots on their white floor. We stayed at Hostal Loyers, where we were able to park the motorcycle in their large, open courtyard under the eaves. Adam changed the front brakes and I cleaned the air filter. I also watched a little bit of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit show. Seriously.
Just down the street from the hotel we found a little comedor called Doña Danny, where a very kind family chatted with us a bit as we picked up some snacks, and where we returned for a tasty breakfast of cafè con leche and tamales the next morning.
From Celendìn we had a relatively short day riding to Cajamarca, a large colonial town with a nice lookout over the city. Adam was struggling with a little bit of a stomach bug, but we managed to hike to the top of the lookout, and then walk back to the hotel (slightly faster on the way back). We stayed at Las Lejas Hotel for a whopping $5 (15 Soles) in a room where someone had broken their presumably full glass bottle of perfume. Needless to say we didn´t walk around barefoot, and the room smelled awfully "nice." After a bit of a rest, Adam felt better and we headed out to dinner. I have to admit that Adam is definitely the more adventurous eater of the two of us, and he decided he was up for the famous Peru delicacy, Cuy. If you´re not familiar with this one, let me just describe it as cute and cuddly previous to its demise. It´s guinea pig. Although he tried to order the 1/4 serving they only had 1/2 servings available. No problem. Rice and saucy potatoes accompanied the little fried guy, who´s ribs, teeth, and claws were, well, still there. See our photos for an up close and personal look. I would like to add that it tasted delicious. Rather like duck confit...
Riding on, we headed toward the coastal town of Trujillo, the biggest city in Northern Peru. We had heard from other riders that the coastal Pan-American highway in Peru is not fun and generally something to avoid, but our pace had been a bit slow on the windy mountain roads and so we decided to make up a bit of time as well as see a bit of the coast. Although we did end up making good time South this way the roads were truly miserable and worth thinking twice about if you find yourself in a similar situation.
As we descended out of the green mountains along a busy and bone rattling road we entered endless sand dunes and straightaways that gave us the impression of riding at the bottom of a dry sea bed. Winds have created incredible undulating dunes that pile themselves at the foot of rocky mountains, their peaks lost in a haze from the whipped sand. It is an understatement to say that it was a bit different than the past three months of riding we´ve done. Not since Northern Mexico have we spent so much time riding through sand and cacti.
We found a simple, comfy room at Hostal Encanto in Trujillo, one block away from a classy, artistic place called Muséo Bar and Restaurant. There we enjoyed some rather pricey cocktails ($5 each, it´s what we spent on a hotel room!) and tasty treats surrounded with photos of music and artist greats, strange live piano music, and beautifully painted dark terra cotta walls.
On the way out of town we stopped at the Chan Chan ruins long enough to take a few photos of the massive walls of sand and mud that stretch out across the sand dunes. There were 35,000 people who lived in these huge complexes, some reserved for kings, others for peasants. The Incas eventually came and chased them out, not bothering to use the structures for themselves.
Yesterday, we headed out on what became a lonnnnnnnng day through spectacular canyons, tunnel after tunnel, tiny towns out in the middle of nothingness. We´ve lived on salty crackers for our lunches this past week, thank goodness for Salticas!
All I can say about the ride, is "wait till you see the photos!" I actually got sick of taking them, but the opportunities were endless and I couldn´t pass them up. We limped into Huallanca where the one hostal in town (Hostal Koki) let us park in the entry, served us a delicious dinner, and even let us watch my bootleg Ecuadorian version of Twilight! Adam was thrilled. Our bed was a bit more than uncomfortable, and there was only one pillow. Bloodsucker mosquitoes were stalking me in the night (I discovered a bloody smear on the sheet in the morning from where it got my hand), and our neighbors were up wrestling in the hallway at 3:36am. Ah, well. Life on the road.
We haven´t spent more than one night anywhere in a week, riding long days and trying to make tracks through this incredible area, Cordilleras Blanca and the base town of Huaraz. People come from all over the world to hike and camp, the peaks and canyons the steepest and highest in the world next to the Himalayas. We can see the white peaks from our hostel, where I managed to trip on a rogue shoe and drop my camera on the cement floor. The camera was on, the lense out, and I smashed one side into crookedness. Adam worked on fixing it, and at one point had all the little screws in separate piles, and pieces of this and that scattered across the bed. It now takes photos, the lense moves in and out; it is also held together with a zip-tie and the screen is fried. Really, the most important thing is that I can still take photos off the back of the motorcycle. I know I wouldn´t be able to handle the Nikon and the potholes at the same time!
Tonight we ate a great dinner downtown at Pachamama, (I had a vegetarian lasagna and a glass of red wine, Adam had chicken curry and a strawberry shake), then grabbed a bite of chocolate on the way back, and took some beautiful photos of the snow-capped mountains from our rooftop terrace.
Grace and Adam
click the image to see our latest photos