January 03, 2003

Puerto Chicama Peru to 25 de Mayo Argentina

We spent two nights in the beach town of Puerto Chicama with Peter and Kay Forwood. During the full day we spent at the beach we all went for a ride on the beach. Unfortunately we decicided to head down wind of the fish processing plant and after only a few miles Todd and I decided that the stink was too much to put with so we headed back to the hotel to give our bikes some TLC. A few hours later the Forwood's Harley showed up being towed by a 125cc three wheeler which was quite a site to see. It tuns out that their much abused drive belt finally broke after 60k miles. While seeing that giant piece of iron being hauled by a 125cc bike was pretty funny you've got tip your hat to a bike with over 200k hard miles on it and I know for a fact that my chain and sprockets wouldn't last a 1/3rd as long as that drive belt as my chain was starting to stretch at an alarming rate.

The following day was the day that Todd and I had decided to split up and while riding out of Chicama into Trujillo we ran into the 3 French Amigos who left New York city only a few days after we left Virginia. So while Todd would be deprived of the company of half a Frenchman I felt confident leaving him in the company of three full blooded ones. After splitting with Todd I got into mile munching mode and rode close to 500 miles from Trujillo to someplace south of Lima. I had read many warnings about the cops around Lima and true to form I got waved over and was informed that I was breaking umpteen traffic laws (ok,ok, so I was breaking umpteen traffic laws you got a problem with that?!) after being informed that the book was about to be thrown at me it was suggested that I just buy the two fine upholders of law and order dinner and all would be forgotten. So for 20 Nuevo Soles (approx 5 dollars) I was on my way. I found the whole experience rather amusing and since it's the cheapest speeding ticket that I've ever gotten I didn't mind in the least.

Not having a map of Peru I  figured it was only another 500 miles to Cusco so I planned on making it there that night and headed out early in the morning with my sights on the horizon. Things went great until I got off the PanAmerican and starting heading into the mountains to Cusco. After 50 miles or so of non stop switchbacks climbing from sea level to 13k feet the clouds closed in and starting dumping some bone chilling rain upon me. So after only 300 miles half of which where on seriously twisty roads in less then ideal conditions my only thought was to find shelter for the evening so I could stop shivering. After spending the night in a tiny little town in a tiny little hostal I got an early start for the last a300+ miles to Cusco approx. 100 of which where dirt or construction. while the early part of the day had me riding across the Alto Plano (aka High Plain) at over 15k feet in near freezing temperatures I spent most of the day following a valley which ran most of the way to Cusco which provided me with some much welcome warmth as well as beautiful scenery. While I thought I had arrived in Cusco in good order it only took a few minutes for me to realize that I was sick as a dog. I had originally planned on spending two nights in Cusco so that I would have the chance to visit Machu Pichu but since I spent 24 hours of my 36 hours in Cusco sleeping I decided to skip the ruins and spend my few waking hours replacing my chain and sprockets and getting a new rear tire.

After some much needed rest and recuperation for both myself and my bike I headed out of Cusco under blue skies towards Lake Titicaca. The ride to Puno was wonderful and I spent the next morning visiting the floating reed islands on the lake before making my way to Copacabana Bolivia. Copacabana seemed like it would of been a nice place to spend a few days but I only had the time to get my bike blessed before heading down the road to the salt flats of Uyuni.

On my way to Uyuni I passed by La Paz and decided to ride down into the valley that it was tucked in to check it out. Bad idea. As far as I could tell there is only one way into and out of La Paz and I of course lost my way on the way out and spent numerous hours riding very steep dead end cobble stone streets while being chased by packs of dogs. After about 4 hours of this I finally made my way out of La Paz and immediatedly had a flat tire. Then it began to hail. So I made my way to the nearest hotel and when I asked how much a room was for the night it took about 30 seconds to get an answer so I figure the price at least doubled but I really didn't feel like I had much choice at the time so I spent the evening in my overpriced and very noisy (just above the disco) room wrestling with my rear wheel. The next morning I put the wheel back on the bike and continued on my way to the salt flats of Uyuni. I made great time on my way to Uyuni and spent about half of the day on various dirt roads, tracks and wherever I felt like pointing the bike and made Uyuni at dusk. A lot of the dirt roads however where rather harsh washboard which tried to rattle the fillings out of my teeth and when I reached Uyuni I found that the bracket for my tail light had snapped and that the light was hanging by only two of the three electrical wires as the ground wire had broken also.

That night I checked my map and guide book and realized I had ridden right past the Salar of Uyuni (The worlds largest salt flat) so I decided to take the road less travelled and instead of riding back and across the salar like everyone else does I would get completely lost in the trackless wilderness of Bolivia on my way to the Chilean border. Actually that's a bold faced lie as I got completely lost in the the track filled widerness of Bolivia. It took me over 10 hours to cover 160 miles and I dumped the bike 8 times. 6 times in deep lose sand. Once in foot deep mud and once amongst big rocks. I can't even began to recall how many times I was sure I was gonna crash but somehow managed to recover. I finally reached the border at nightfall. The border consisted of a train station on the Bolivian side with about a dozen building scattered about and on the Chilean side was a booming metropolis of about 3 dozen buildings. The immigration officer on the Bolivian side was a very nice guy and and gave me a very generous exchange rate and when I inquired about a hotel/hostal he offered to let me stay at his house for the night. I declined and made my way the couple of miles to Chile where I found some rooms in the back of a bar/restaurant. These rooms where about as bare and drafty as you could imagine but after the previous ten hours they seemed like heaven. When I signed the guest book I noticed that all of the other guests came from the 4 corners of the earth and where mostly bicyclists!

On Christmas Day I made my way to the northern Chilean town of Calama. Where according to my guide book it has never rained. While walking through the main plaza of the town they where playing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. Since it never rains and the temperature was in the hight 80s the only way these folks are gonna spend a white Christmas is to go sit in the middle of a salt flat.

I had hoped to make it all the way to Salta Argentina the following day but after stopping in San Pedro de Atacama for lunch I discovered that I had gotten another flat tire. So I found a cheap hostal in this very popular tourist town and took my rear wheel to the local tire shop to have the inner tube I repaired in La Paz put on the rear wheel.

The next day I left San Pedro around 7:30 in the morning but didn't make it to Salta until 11 in the evening. I discovered that there are no gas stations between Chile and Argentina and I felt very luck to be able to make it to the small town of San Antonio after travelling 278 miles on a tank of gas. This included about 3 miles of coasting down through the mountains in order to save gas.

I spent the morning in Salta buying new tubes and getting my Monster tube repaired and put back on the bike. I then wound my way through the northern wine country of Argentina and across some beautiful mountain passes to the city of Santiago. The next day was the 29th and the day I had originally planned on arriving in 25 de Mayo so I headed out early in an effort to make it their at a reasonable hour. I ended up riding 550 miles that day with the first two hundred being in constant rain. I thought I might still make it 25 but an hour after dark it started raining again so I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and headed back to a motel I had seen up the road. It turns out that this was an auto hotel also know as a love hotel. The price was listed as 15 pesos which I thought was pretty reasonable as the two other hotels I had stayed in in Argentina charged 20 pesos. However just as I was going to sleep the phone rang and I was informed that my time was up! I explained that I need to stay the whole night and so ended up paying another 22 pesos which made it the most expensive hotel I've stayed in Argentina. Oh well, the candies and condoms beside the bed are a nice touch.

The next day I made to 25 de Mayo to see my brothers family and inlaws. It was nice to see family again and meeting the wonderful people of 25 de Mayo. While I was in 25 I got the chance to see a my first polo game and ride a horse again for the first time in 20 years. I also spent a day washing off 13k miles of dirt and repairing most of the damage that the bike suffered while in Bolivia. While I was there the local newspaper came to interview me which was very cool. If you read spanish you can view the article here.

Off to Bueno Aires.