I made the descent through the mountains from Loja to Macara with relative ease, and after eating lunch in the small border town, continued onto the crossing. Having had all sorts of ordeals at various border crossings in the past, I was surprised to find it almost deserted. Signs along the roadway told of a big, fancy station that would put Ecuadorian and Peruvian customs under one roof and promised to streamline the whole process, but for now, that station was a hole in the ground, and customs was a couple of shipping containers and EZ-Ups on either side of the short bridge connecting the two countries. The only people in line ahead of me were a French couple traveling with their van, and thus, Ecuador into Peru turned into the easiest border crossing I've had since Mexico; it took all of five minutes to hand in my TIP, get my exit stamp, and cross over into another new land. Things went similarly smooth on the Peruvian side, with only a short delay for the Aduana agent's computer to think about my TIP application before approving me. The agent who stamped my passport seemed very interested in my trip, and sent me onward with enthusiastic wishes of success. And so, border crossing #9 came and went with absolute ease. For anyone making an overland trek, I highly, highly recommend taking the inland route through Macara; I've heard horror stories of multi-hour delays and general chaos at the much more heavily trafficked crossing in Tumbes, and the difference in drive time is negligible, according to Google.
|I enjoyed the wall of stickers from previous overlanders who'd crossed over|
I was well and truly into the desert; my first impression of Peru was one of red sand, not entirely contained to the sides of the road, with sparse rock formations jutting out and only slight rolls in the terrain to remind drivers of the mountains only a few miles behind. The terrain flattened out almost entirely as I approached Piura, my destination for the night, and the red sands turned to a nearly white, flat landscape. My first impression of Piura was of two overwhelming features: dust and trash. Sand blew everywhere as I approached the city, and on either side of the road, huge mounds of trash rose higher than the guardrails, forming berms that could have doubled as guardrails. My poor impression wasn't helped by the drivers once I got into the city proper; I'd been warned many times prior to and during the trip about Peruvian drivers, but I was still totally unprepared for the chaos I rode into. Stoplights were more of a suggestion, lane lines might as well not have existed at all, and if there was even an inch of space between cars, motorcycles, or mototaxis, someone would try to push into it. Horns blared everywhere, all the time, for little or no reason; people seemed to honk purely because they could, and it started to drive me crazy almost immediately. I managed to make it off the main roads without getting run over, and found the hostel I'd booked for the night, only to find that they'd had a large group arrive that day and wouldn't honor my booking. I tried not to show it too much, but I was furious, though the volunteer running the desk helped me find a place just down the street for only slightly more. Crisis averted, and the place I ended up staying had friendly cats to boot.
Piura was only a stopover on my way to Chiclayo, so after exchanging my remaining dollars for Peruvian Soles, I set off into the desert once again. The only real route through this part of Peru was the Panamericana's mostly straight line through the desert, but I was happy to find more than just sand, with a number of interesting rock formations and mountains along the landscape, plus the occasional donkeys or herds of goats crossing the road. I was surprised to find that despite the desert environment, the temperature was nearly perfect; the proximity of the Pacific Ocean tends to keep things cooler than one might expect. Stopping in the town of Motupe for lunch, I happened to pull in just ahead of an ambulance from Peru's EsSalud hospital system, and struck up a conversation about our shared work after one of them noticed the National Registry Paramedic patch on the side of one of my bags. Their rig was an old (probably close to my age) Toyota Land Cruiser with an ancient stretcher, one IV setup, and far less equipment than I'd ever been used to in an ambulance. They worked out of the local hospital, covering an area of over 350 square miles, about 2/3 the size of Wilson County with our 11 ambulances; anything requiring advanced-level care would be a 3- to 5-hour transport. It really put the level of care we're used to providing and enjoying in the U.S. in perspective - and strengthened my resolve to stay out of trouble.
Arriving in Chiclayo, I found more of everything I'd seen in Piura; more trash, more dust clogging my nostrils, and even more cars clogging the streets, several of which turned out to be unpaved and rather lunar in nature. After dropping my things at my lodging for the night and parking the bike in the back of the restaurant next door, I took a short walk to the central plaza, ate a quick dinner, and went back to rearrange my luggage in order to open up the passenger seat. Satisfied that I'd be able to carry Ngaire without anything or anyone falling off, I attempted to turn in for the night. I say "attempted," because the walls of the hostel I stayed at were so thin that despite a room to myself, I could hear everything going on in every other room on every level, and finally had to resort to earplugs at 2 A.M. in order to sleep.
Needless to say, I was happy to get out of there when morning broke, and after a short wait in front of Chiclayo's small airport, Ngaire and I reunited once again, and after a bit of repacking and luggage tetris, found a comfortable position on the bike. I didn't want to spend any more time in Chiclayo than necessary, and we immediately jumped back on the Panamericana towards Trujillo. I'd been a little nervous about riding two-up and fully loaded, but after getting used to being a little more top-heavy than usual, we settled into a nice rhythm. There was little to note along the way, except for a couple of enormous fires from burning sugarcane fields, but upon our noontime arrival to Trujillo, we passed by a couple of ancient pyramids just outside of town, and found the center of Trujillo to be a large and lovely example of colonial architecture. We were both starving after the ride, so after a quick walk around the Plaza de Armas, we found a restaurant filled with locals (always a good sign) and a waitress who not-so-subtly quashed my first choice (arroz cubana) for a dish of beer-marinated chicken that turned out to be excellent, as was Ngaire's arroz negrito con pollo. Full and satisfied, we took stock of things to do in Trujillo, and decided on a ride out to the ruins of Chan Chan just outside the city. Chan Chan was the largest known pre-Colombian city in South America, forming the capital of the Chimu empire from around 900 A.D. until it was conquered by the Incas in 1470. Constructed almost entirely of adobe, we were impressed by the intricate lattice construction of many of the remaining walls, as well as the complex patterns carved into the adobe, some of which has been reconstructed, though many originals are still visible.
We finished up our tour of Chan-Chan with a few hours of daylight to spare, and decided to head a little further west to the beach town of Huanchaco for a sunset drink. We chose our venue poorly, but still had a great view over the ocean as the sun sank lower in the sky. Huanchaco is a world-famous surf spot, and we had fun watching the surfers and artisanal fishermen sitting astride traditional caballitos de totora reed boats riding the waves in and out; I later read that the caballitos we saw in the water and stood up on shore are a design attributed to the Moche culture, may have been the first known example of a craft designed for surfing, and have remained largely unchanged for around 3,000 years. With an unexpected history lesson in mind, a couple of pisco sours in our stomachs, and having had our fill of the gorgeous sunset views, we rode back to Trujillo for dinner and a little more exploring at night. We both wanted to sample as much of Peru's world-famous ceviche as possible, but weren't expecting the massive dinner portions; mine was purely fish, but Ngaire's was a mishmash of practically every kind of shellfish, with a clam and whole crab topping it off. Far more than we thought we were getting, but it was delicious.
Striking out early from Trujillo the next morning, our plan was to head a little ways south on the Panamericana, then turn inland towards the Cordillera Blanca, or front range of the Andes, ending up in the city of Huaraz for two nights. Our plans took a twist when the route branching off the Panamericana turned out to be almost entirely unpaved. Two-up, loaded, on gravel; this was definitely a first for me, and I was more than a little apprehensive about it, but after a bit of time to get used to the bumps, we figured it out. Having a partner along for the ride also meant that I could get some rare photos and video of myself on the bike, and in quite the adventurous setting.
After a little over an hour of bumping and sliding around through scenery that brought to mind shots of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, we made it back to pavement, and onto one of the single greatest and craziest roads I've ever had the pleasure to ride a motorcycle on. Our dirt trek joined us up with Ruta 3, the road that traverses the majority of the Andes through Peru, and this section took us from near sea-level through the Canyon del Pato, along a fast-flowing river all the way up to the mountains near Huaraz. The road, barely wide enough for a car and motorcycle to pass each other on, wound around the side of sheer cliffs, under huge rock outcroppings, through dozens of tunnels blasted into the rock, and past waterfalls cascading out of the cliff walls. Occasional rock slides and shallow water crossings made for small challenges, but what really kept us on our toes were the buses and trucks passing by at regular intervals; if we were lucky, I'd spot them coming with enough time to pull over on the few sections of shoulder and wait for them to pass by, but many times, the only warning we got was headlights on the wall of a tunnel we were about to enter, and we had one or two really close calls. Regardless of the danger, we got spectacular views the whole way; at some point, I'll update this post with a link to some GoPro footage of the road, but enjoy these for now.
|While I was busy with the camera, Ngaire tried my seat out for herself|
The following morning, we packed up and jumped on the bike towards Lima, the final destination of our time together in Peru. Having largely stayed out of major cities thus far, the utter chaos of driving in Lima was a bit of a shock, not least because the drivers as a whole seemed even more brazen and homicidal than in the places I'd ridden previously. I was glad to make it to our hostel in the neighborhood of Barranco, one of the more modern, supposedly "bohemian" parts of Lima. After changing and settling into our room (which had an abundance of shockingly pink linens and curtains), we hopped on a bus to try to get to the city center. I say "try" because we weren't quite sure of the route the bus was taking, and after nearly an hour and a half, much of it spent in stopped traffic, we got off and walked the remaining eight blocks or so to the Plaza de Armas.