Friday, September 23, 2011

More Peruvian desert, but the mysterious, Nasca lines kind

Entering the town made famous by the Nasca lines, we first found evidence of the Nasca Lions. Hi Granddad!
Between Lima and Nasca was another six hours of desert, so I'll spare you the pictures of the roadside memorials. I think I first heard of the "Nasca Lines" when I was a kid watching Unsolved Mysteries, an old TV show about missing persons, yetis and aliens.

"Perhaps YOU can help solve a mystery."
The Nasca Lines are a group of lines and geoglyphs believed to have been created by the Nasca culture between 400-650AD. They were created by removing the top layer of sun-reddened rocks on the surface of the desert and revealing the lighter rocks beneath. The area receives so little rainfall that the lines have remained intact and visible for around 1500 years. There are many theories regarding their purpose, but all of the best ones involve ALIENS! Straight lines? Obviously landing strips for ancient alien ships. Humanoid forms with large eyes? ALIENS! Triangles? Obviously, ALIENS. It is strange that ancient people would create huge images visible only from the air...and look at this guy:

"The Astronaut"
As I mentioned, the only way to see the lines is from the air, where I took this photo. A five year old guide book will tell you that you can take to the skies for $30 per person. Ask around at the airport, and you'll find out that a few years back a few shoddy planes went down and things got regulated. Today you can't get on board for less than $100 US. This was the first Jill had heard of the lines, and out of respect for our budget and her clogged sinuses she opted to sit the flight out.

Aviating in Aviators, the only way to fly
The flight was not for the faint of heart, and these guys pushed their Cessna 210 to the limit. Here was our route:
There were two pilots and four passengers, so over the course of our half hour tour we passed each image twice, once pitched to the left, and once pitched to the right, so everyone could get pictures. I took as many as I could, here are a few of the better ones:

(Alien?) Hummingbird
(Alien?) "Hands" on the left, (Alien?) "Tree" on the right, and (Alien?) viewing tower, semi truck, and Panamerica Highway 1 in the center.
More (Alien?) lines all over the place!
A huge triangle. For aliens.
 All joking aside, the lines were huge, mysterious and very intriguing, and viewing them at 140mph in a tiny, wildly veering plane only added to the unnerving aspect of it all. Though a few are famous, there are over 1,800 total, and they literally cover the desert north of Nasca. I have no real idea what the creators were up to, it seems no one does, but seeing them in person fulfilled a dream I've had since I was a child. Thanks to Jill for letting me blow money buzzing around, and thanks to my pilots for getting me up and back down in one piece.

After the 30 minute ride I was as dizzy as I can remember being, and more than ready to get back on solid ground. We landed without incident, and Jill had a cold Coke and a big bag of chips waiting for me. It was another 30 minutes before I felt good enough to get on the bike, and once I did we hit the road once again; starting a two day, 15,000+ foot altitude ride to Cusco and Machu Picchu, one of the seven modern wonders of the world. It just keeps getting better.
We finally spotted some aliens in the flesh outside of Nasca. Mystery solved, you're welcome, Robert Stack.

Oye, Maestro! or Tuning up in Lima

Motorcycles inside? Not weird anymore.
Disclaimer: This post is long, and mostly about looking for motorcycle parts!

After three long days in the desert we arrived in Lima, and found our way to the Flying Dog Hostel at Parque Kennedy. McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut line the streets around the park, and provided us with the (guilty) pleasures of home during our week of parts chasing. Internet rumors alleged that the tires I had been looking for were available at the Lima KTM dealership, so we headed for the first one on the list. After a $6 cab ride to a shuttered building, I took a $6 cab ride back to the hostel. The next address was an importer who worked out of his home, and no longer sold tires. Three more hours, another $20 on cab fare. Jill did some more looking and came up with six more KTM dealerships in Lima. With limited Spanish the phone is a non-starter, so it was back to the cabs. I had already taken the wheels off of the bike, with the idea that they could mount the tires at the dealership, so I hailed a station wagon and threw my disembodied wheels in the hatch.

While I was jumping cabs, Jill was busy at the hostel:
For every light kitten, there is an equal, but opposite dark kitten.
 So, with Jill occupied for the next week, I headed to the next KTM dealership on the list...sort of. When you get into a cab here, you always ask how much it will cost BEFORE the car even moves. Why? There are no meters, so once you've taken the ride you have to pay whatever the driver comes up with - and it can be crazy. So we settled on 25 soles, about $10. It turned out to be a good deal for me, as the ride took an hour and a half. The driver had a general idea where the dealership was, but he was only sure after we stopped and asked for directions no fewer than NINE TIMES.

 "Oye, Maestro!" was my driver's flattering call to passers by, and after we had asked every street corner "maestro" in the barrio, and been directed every way possible, we arrived at the dealership -which was six miles from where we started. At 5:00 sharp. KTMs are expensive motorcycles, and the security at this place was unbelievable. I stood outside the 12 foot tall fence, and noticed a small, bulletproof window next to a steel door. I approached the window, told them I was looking for tires, and they buzzed the door open. Inside the door was a fence, and after I closed the door they buzzed the fence open. I went in and saw stacks and stacks of TKC 80's (the tires I needed), and breathed a sigh of relief. Upon closer inspection, all of the tires were almost what I needed - they were for 18 inch rims, and ours are 17s. An inch off, and as useful to me as...a tire that won't fit our bike. But they did have a front tire, and they had the tires that Tom and Charlie asked me to buy for their bikes. I picked up the front, four tires for the guys, and some high quality coolant and brake fluid. $1500 soles later I "checked out" of the dealership. I took my cart of tires to the fence, a security guard checked my paperwork against the tires and parts on the cart, and signaled the guy in the box to buzz the gate open. I walked out to the street, accompanied by an armed security guard, who waited there with me for ten minutes it took for a cabbie to stop for a guy with a huge stack of motorcycle tires. Parque Kennedy was an easier request, and only cost me 15 soles because the Peruvian guard set it up for me, gringo tax free!

The next day was a Saturday, so Tom, Charlie and I set out for an enduro race 40 kilometers south of Lima, to do some research on tire availability. I didn't have my camera, but Charlie did. Here's what we ended up with:
These...representatives...were very friendly, and gave us beers. But they didn't have any information on tires. Oh well.
We did run into a few BMW riders at the track, and they led us to a KTM rep, who assured us that HIS branch did have the rear tire I needed. For sure. Come in first thing Monday. No hay problemas.

First thing on Monday, Andy and I showed up at his branch, only to find stacks and stacks of 18 inch tires. We spoke to the buyer for the company, and he told me that our tire was out of stock, had been for a month, and would be for at least another two. Every BMW rider in Peru was waiting for them to come in. They did have one that would work, but was much narrower than the original. It was not what I wanted, but was better than what I had, so I bought it and we continued our search for other parts. After a few more shops I had collected the parts I needed, and did this to our unsuspecting bike:
20,000 mile maintenance is serious business!
Two new tires, new rear brakes, new coolant, new brake fluid, new clutch fluid, new spark plugs, valve clearance check, and a much needed air filter cleaning. After a week in Lima I had seen nothing but cabs, motorcycle shops and fast food, but the bike was ready for another 20,000 miles, and Jill had gotten a good kitten fix. Tom and Charlie were headed north for some off-roading, and Andy and Cass had already headed for Cusco, in a time crunch. We packed up and hit the road, headed for Nazca on a bike that felt better than new.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Three days in the lush, tropical Peruvian...desert?!

So, maybe I'm just hopelessly uninformed, but when we entered Peru, I did not expect 1000 straight miles of windy, arid, lifeless desert. Just south of Mancora that's exactly what we found...
 We rode for about five hours at a...moderate pace, and found ourselves in a strange room, in Chiclayo...
 We headed out the next day, eager to find an end to the desert. We didn't.

The aftermath of another extremely windy day in the desert. I guess it wasn't THAT combustible.

 I feel the desert is best represented by a few stark images and even fewer words; at one point our communication radio batteries went out and we later discussed the very troubling, lonely two hours we spent without talking.

Out of the clouds and into Peru

Under some clouds and above others near Zhud, Ecuador
As we left Banos we had two potential routes: highway 60, which heads down 9,000 feet and runs along the coast, or highway 35, which runs through Cuenca along an Andean ridge and reaches 15,000 feet. We had been enjoying the scenery since Latacunga, so we decided to try the high road. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, and as we started ascending toward Cuenca we hit the higher clouds at about 11,000 feet(above) and visibility went down to about 10 yards. Every inch we went forward the wind became stronger and the temperature dropped, so we reluctantly decided to head west and catch highway 60. The descent was rapid, and the photo above was taken at around 10,000 feet, with the entire landscape to the west, where we were headed, completely obscured by a lower level of clouds. Riding along between the clouds was a surreal experience; looking off into the distance was exactly like being in a plane, and as we descended we were soaked in cloud.

We made it into La Troncal at dusk, and with the help of a local man, found a hotel with a nice garage for the bike. The next day we hit highways 60 and 25, where the 50 degree highs and curvy mountain roads were replaced by 80 degree heat and straight highway through miles and miles of sugar cane plantations. After a few long days riding in the mountains it was nice to watch the miles fly by and cruise at 60mph again. Somewhere between La Troncal and the Peru border we crossed the 10,000 mile mark, another big milestone for our trip. We were shocked to find ourselves at the border by noon, as the 200 miles we covered that morning would have taken a full day in the mountains. The Ecuador side of the border was time consuming, but luckily there were no "helpers" there to make things more diffucult. We got through the border in about 3 hours, but it was nowhere near as tense as the dusty, crowded borders in central America, and the worst thing we encountered were a couple of feeble pick up attempts by Peruvian border officials while Jill was sitting with the bike and I was in the office doing paperwork...

A few more hours of beachside riding and we were here...

The Loki Hostel in Mancora, Peru is more of a resort than a hostel, and was a welcome sight after so many roadside hotels in the middle of nowhere. Our private room, with the balcony from which this photo was taken, was a whopping $30 a night! Alex, Kristi, Anna and Kim were already there, so we spent the next four days lounging around and eating at the in-house restaurant. On the the third day we felt like we should do something, so Jill arranged surfing lessons for our group. For $20 per person we each had our own instructor for an hour and a half lesson, and a board for the whole day. The waves were perfect, and in no time we were all standing up and riding waves like we had a clue...thanks mostly to our talented instructors picking waves for us, and stabilizing our boards while we shakily stood up. Surfing is very, very hard work, and paddling and breathing while lying on your chest is a pretty good workout. After about an hour we had all worked ourselves to the edge of passing out, so we tipped our guides and headed in. No one had a waterproof camera, so here's the only evidence of our adventure:
On our fourth day in Mancora the rest of the crew rolled in- Tom, Charile, Andy, and a new addition, Andy's girlfriend Cass, who had joined the group in Quito.
Cass, Andy, Tom Charlie and I...who knows where everyone else was
After spending four days almost entirely inside the walls of the Loki Hostel, I was getting a bit claustrophobic and ready to hit the road. Jill, however, would have been happy to live there. After reassuring her that there would be other beaches we bit the crew farewell and hit Panamerica 1 south, bound for Lima, which was rumored to be a paradise of motorcycle parts.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

El Mono En El Amor

Ty giving a few oil changing tips to some curious onlookers
On the way out of Latacunga, we stopped for a "quick" oil change.  A few hours later, we pulled into Banos, a mountain town famous for its hot baths and outdoor adventure activities.  We checked into a nice hotel in the center of town and even though I was still pretty worn out from being sick I finally had my appetite back.  Luckily, Banos was full of delicious restaurants to choose from (certainly a change from the last several weeks) so we had a wonderful dinner and went to bed. 

The next morning, we planned on making a day trip to Puyo, a town located down out of the mountains into the Amazon Basin.  We had heard the drive from Banos to Puyo was very beautiful and, more importantly, Ty had heard from a friend that there was a monkey refuge near there.  We have both been wanting to get a chance to get a closer look at monkeys since the beginning of the trip, so it was very exciting.  What we didn't expect was that we would actually get to interact with them!  We pulled down the driveway where we were met by two volunteers and three or four monkeys that were playing with the two guys.  They led us down to where the rest of the monkeys were, which was a big, beautiful piece of jungle where they all hang out together.  They told us when we were walking in that it usually takes a while for the monkeys to warm up to people; however, that was definitely not the case with Ty.  Martina, a tiny wooly monkey immediately grabbed Ty's hand and pulled herself up onto his shoulders.  She laid her head on top of his, closed her eyes and stroked his hair with her little hands.  It was pretty much the cutest thing I have ever seen and we both laughed about how Martina had fallen in love with Ty.  He tried to give me a turn with her, but there was no way she would leave her newfound love.

Ty's new best bud, Martina

Martina "protecting" her new baby :)
I quickly became buddies with Dora, another tiny wooly monkey who made my shoulders her spot for the remainder of the day. 
I made a buddy too!

Ty and I hanging out with our new friends
We walked around the refuge with Martina and Dora in tow and learned about the different kinds of monkeys that lived at the refuge.  Some of them were disabled, the most typical problem being ricketts (where the monkeys arms are deformed from improper care in a cage.)  The refuge rescued these animals and they would live out the rest of their lives there.  The healthy monkeys were put into groups; once the groups are strong and capable enough they are released back into the wild where they will continue to stay in their packs.  Along with the monkeys there were also several animals including cocker spaniels, anteaters and a river otter, among others.

One of the monkeys preening one of the dogs...he seemed to like it!
Even though it was VERY hard to leave, the refuge was closing down to visitors for the night and it was time for us to head back.  We said goodbye to everyone and made the beautiful ride back to Banos for the night.

Making our way out of the jungle and back into the mountains

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hot Tub in the Mountains, Volcanic Crater Lakes, and an Unfortunate Turn of Events

Our view of beautiful Cotopaxi Volcano
As we turned off of the Panamerica Highway headed for Cotopaxi, the road quickly turned to cobblestone for the next 20 km, which unfortunately is not the best case scenario for the motorcycle.  We came across another couple from Germany who had just started a motorcycle trip on a new BMW.  Their bike had broken down on the side of the road so we stopped to see if we could help.  They were really nice but the bike seemed to have problems beyond a road-side fix, so they got the bike running well enough to get them back to Quito.  We headed onward to the Secret Garden, an eco-hostel located at 3,500 meters and right next to Cotopaxi Volcano.  We drove down a long strip of difficult dirt road to find llamas, horses and dogs running up to the fence to greet us.

One of the dogs "playing" with the llamas
Lacey, a volunteer that had lived at the hostel with her boyfriend Luis for three months, got us all settled in to our home for the next few nights: our tent down set up down by the main house.

Campsite with a view!
We started talking to Lacey and Luis over lunch (the food was definitely one of the more unfortunate aspects of the eco-hostel experience) and discovered that they had been driving the land cruiser parked outside through Central and South America for over two years.  It was really fun getting to talk with a couple taking a similar trip (albeit on a larger scale) and we quickly made friends with them.  We didn't accomplish too much in Cotopaxi but we did manage to take a hike to a beautiful waterfall with a couple of new friends, a dalmation and a weiner dog that lived at the hostel.  It was pretty hilarious watching his short, tiny legs make it up and down some of the terrain we were climbing over.

The waterfall we climbed up to...the water was pretty chilly!

The dogs warming up by the fire after the hike...Mash found a way to dry off a little faster :)
 We drove to the National Park where we were told that motorcycles weren't allowed in so we drove around the surrounding area and took in the sights.

No matter which direction you looked in, there was a beautiful view to take in...

A panoramic view of the volcanoes in front of the hostel

They also had a hot tub with glass windows with a picturesque view of the volcano which we spent some time in too.

Having a nightcap in the first hot tub of the trip!
The most fun we had though was sitting around the fire with a glass of wine and getting to know the other travelers staying at the hostel. 

Ty chopping wood for the fire with the volcano in the background
After a few days, we decided we would drive the Quilatoa loop and see Lago Verde Quilotoa, a beautiful high altitude lake located in the crater of a volcano.  We said goodbye to our new friends and headed off on a ride that would turn out to be one of the most beautiful (and also one of the more difficult) rides of the trip.  The views were spectacular at every turn.  We didn't get to spend very much time at the lake although we were glad we made the trip and were able to see it. 
The road leading to Lago Verde Quilotoa

A panoramic of the Quilotoa Loop

The beautiful Lago Verde Quilotoa
That evening we made it to Latacunga not knowing that things were about to take a turn for the worse.  We checked into a hotel thinking we would stay there for the night and that we would leave for Banos the next day.  Unfortunately, I woke up that morning as sick as I can remember being in recent memory.  We ended up staying in Latacunga (not the most exciting town, not that I knew the difference, but no fun for Ty) for almost a week.  I was so lucky to have Ty there to take care of me...not sure what I would've done without him!

Being sick is no fun!
Once I was finally feeling somewhat back to normal, we decided to make our way to Banos, which was only a few hours away.  It would have been nice to get sick there instead as it was a much nicer town!