Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cleaning up in Lima

Well, I didn't get the tire changed today, but I did "clean up my act" a little. This morning, I shaved off my beard, then went out into Miraflores to find a barber.

Found a salon instead (which is wasted on me!) Though the salon was fairly "upscale", the woman cutting my hair used only a comb, scissors and straight razor. I can't remember the last time I felt that cold, sharp blade on the back of my neck.

Next, walked over to the shoe shine stand and had my boots polished by the same fellow. Only about 80 cents this time.

***

Sometimes I try to force a time of reflection, but it doesn't quite work that way. One has to be present to the moment: aware of time, place, body and mind. Then the reflection appears.

I have been "my own boss" during this journey, and my day to day conduct is a pure reflection of inner discipline, or more commonly, lack thereof. It is inescapable. There is no one else to blame for my failures. (Yet, there is always someone else to thank for my successes!)

It's more freedom than I've ever experienced, and at the same time, perhaps more responsibility. The day's accomplishments are frequently underwhelming, but the opportunity continues and each day offers another chance to follow a higher path.

***

The songs that accompanied me throughout North America have faded; that voice grown silent. It's interesting to note, though I'm not sure what it means.

***

Stopped in at Café Café, taking an outside table. An elderly woman in a wheelchair was being rolled backward across street. It was symbolic to me: her (visible) life is behind her now, and the (visible) future doesn't exist.

***

Dinner in China Town tonight. Ibett and her two friends from Huaraz took Anne, Aki, Motsu, a New Zealander named Michael and I to one of her favorite restaurants in Central Lima. We shared a variety of very good dishes. The shops are filled with huge inventories of Christmas decorations. After dinner, they brought us back to "Flying Dog".

Walking back to my hotel, on the sidewalks in front of restaurants, hotels and apartment buildings, I passed security guards sitting in plastic chairs, bundled up against the cold. It appears they keep watch out there all night.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Personal Assistant


Boss from hell. As I worked on my computer at "El Carmelo", I watched for hours as this foreman supervised two workers building a brick wall. He watched their every move, constantly berating this hapless young man. Perhaps he was slow to catch on, but it's no wonder the worker was unable to accomplish anything.


At "Flying Dog" tonight, Anne arranged for us to meet Ivan Guerrero, the "Horizons Unlimited" Lima contact (who had offered me advice on tires) and Alejandro Benitez of Buenos Aires, who drove up on a spotless R1150GS Adventure, wearing a sharp business suit and tie! He works for Cisco Systems here in Lima.

Alejandro said he knows Larry Saenz at BMW of SF. He goes there to buy BMW stuff whenever he visits Cisco's Bay Area headquarters.

Returned to find my room cleaned and completely organized! I had dumped out all my bags (when going through another useless "lightweighting" exercise yesterday.) Now everything was neatly arranged in the closet, around the floor and on tables (the housekeeper even brought in an additional table to hold all the stuff!)

I didn't know whether to be shocked that someone had inventoried all my belongings, or be delighted. The latter prevailed.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Huanuco to Lima


North of Cerro de Pasco, water flows out of a cliff. Soon after taking this picture, a couple drove up in their van and unloaded their laundry. It's wash day!


Started the day in Huanuco at 6:30, and was on the road about 8:00. Motivated to get going this morning. There was nothing in this town to hold me. Two small chocolate bars for "breakfast".

A good asphalt highway and clear direction to my destination, Lima. Suddenly there is time to think about more than the next challenging stretch of gravel or obstacles. There is a little space to reflect on the past few days. At the same time, I crave "my" music, another way in which the mind likes to divert attention.

Cruising along at 60 and 70 mph for hours on end felt almost therapeutic! The stark high plains around Lago de Junin remind me a lot of those in Modoc County, California, Eastern Oregon or Northern Nevada. The strong, cold wind is merciless. Snow-covered pinnacles jut upward along the western horizon. It takes a hearty soul to live out here.

Descending the canyons into La Oroya, the geologic formations are striking, and ever-changing from one bend in the road to the next.



Near La Oroya




Near La Oroya, wildly-varied landscape



Riverside laundromat


Brad had warned me about the city of La Oroya being ugly, so I was curious how bad things could be there. The industrial city is dominated by the "Doe Run" smelting plant, its towering black smokestack belching a continuous cloud high overhead.




I snuck into Doe Run's grounds to take this picture of the bucket conveyor delivering slag to enormous piles. I very quickly found myself choking from the sulfur dioxide in the air. It attacks the mucous membranes in the nasal passages, throat and lungs.

In the background, behind the plant, is the old town of La Oroya. Though the SO2 may be the most obvious hazardous emission, lead poisoning is the primary concern for the community. Most children in La Oroya have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The CDC went to La Oroya this year and found no plan in place to address lead and other contaminants.

Doe Run is in the process of implementing CDC's recommendations. By Doe Run's own measurements though, the maximum allowable SO2 emissions are 195 tons per day, September's actuals - the last month on their chart - were 803 tons per day! (SO2 is produced when lead ore is sintered in ovens to remove the sulfur.)





This is the Doe Run metal smelting plant in La Oroya, Peru, owned by "American billionaire Ira Rennert, who has been called 'the biggest private polluter in America.'" (See Friends of the Earth story about this plant.)

It is unfortunate that in such a dramatic setting, one's attention is drawn to this eyesore. But this is what fuels the economy and provides the livelihoods here. It's difficult for me to reconcile the two (just as being an "environmentalist" and "First World" citizen seem irreconcilable.)

I was both appalled and fascinated by the plant: the human ingenuity required to extract ores on such a massive scale and with such efficiency, contrasted with the pollution and devastation such technology produces (locally and globally.)

Also see: "More on the Doe Run smelting plant"



Capitalism's Flawed Paradigm

As humans, we have supreme confidence in our ability to overcome challenges, and we have been conditioned to believe (through past successes) that application of more and more sophisticated technology is the answer. (Witness the proposed solutions to clean up "Doe Run" with elaborate environmental systems.)

At the core of this confidence is our instinctive belief (again, based on collective experience) that resources are inexhaustible, that the Earth is too great for individual humans to impact. We still tend to consider our actions as discreet, or individual, rather than collective and compounding.

"If I drive an SUV (or a BMW motorcycle), it's not going to destroy the planet! I should be allowed to choose."

Well, what if everyone drives an SUV (or R1200GS, if Germany could produce enough)? That's the way we must begin to view it.

"Well, it's impossible for everyone to live like those in the 'First World'."

Quite right. So why are we trying so hard to make that a reality? Why does my country, more than any other, market "First World" values throughout the World?

That brings me to the flawed paradigm underlying Capitalism: growth must be continuous. The flow of goods and services must be ever-increasing. The velocity of this flow determines the "health" of an economy, and its people. This is the fatal flaw in our lifestyle. It is unsustainable within the reality of a closed system (the Earth.)

("Heck, we'll just go to the moon for resources, if necessary!" Wrong.)

Outrage doesn't help much. We need to create a new paradigm, that teaches conservation of resources (minimization of flow: quite opposite to today's "disposable", "super-size me" mentality), while deriving maximum utilization and benefit from existing resources; that is the only survivable path.

Unfortunately, from what I see in Latin America, the American message of Consumption is being received loud and clear, and our lifestyle emulated to the extent possible. If everyone needs a lead cell battery, there will need to be many more "Doe Runs"!

So when will we actually understand this, and begin broadcasting the correct message?


***

Traveling west from La Oroya, the highway climbs steadily to the 4,843-meter pass (15,889 feet), Abra de Anticona. At highway speeds, the BMW showed no signs of lugging, or loss of power. Here one passes "the highest passenger station in the World"! (Check that one off: "been there, done that.")

Beyond the pass, dropping toward Lima, is an amazing, winding descent through immense canyons. The scenery is so dramatic, that it's easy to forget to slow approaching the many sharp curves. Here, when the sign says "Curva Peligrosa", it is no exaggeration. Numerous times, I hit the brakes hard. (And lately I have been trying to go gently on them, to stretch out their lifespan.) Reaching the foothills east of Lima, the temperature climbed and the atmosphere grew thick and hazy.

You need to be in the right frame of mind to drive in Lima. This is especially true on motorcycle. No special courtesies or considerations are forthcoming. "This is war!"

On one of the primary highways leading into the city, a woman darted through traffic in front of me. I was probably moving along at 50 mph, and could not have reacted in time. She abruptly froze in place and I missed her by perhaps a few feet. A momentary delay in her reflexes would have been disastrous.

Much to my relief, I reached "El Carmelo" unscathed, rolling up to their gate around 4:00 p.m.

Carolina ordered some dinner for me while I quickly unpacked, then showered. Back in the "lap of luxury"! Met J.D. in the lobby and he welcomed me back. He complained of the horns and sirens in Lima too. I was relieved to hear I'm not alone in thinking there's something basically insane about these drivers!

And, oh yes! Carolina said my new front tire had arrived from Vermont via DHL and was delivered to the hotel! There were no import duties, as the declared value was about $70, below the $100 duty threshold.

Many thanks to Sean and the rest of the crew at "Frank's Motorcycle Sales and Service" in Essex Junction, VT! Great customer service. And thanks also, to brothers Drew and Jeff for their research and support! Great sibling service.

I took the box up to my room and opened it. A new Metzler! It's a beautiful thing!!! I'll get it mounted at the Honda Shop in the next day or two.

(Update: the final cost for the tire was $486.45, including $323.26 in shipping charges!)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chavín de Huántar to Huanuco, Peru


The road to Huallanca (Huanuco). One of the best rides yet! Through pastoral highlands surrounded by incredible jagged peaks. Apart from the sheep, cattle, horses, shepherds and their dogs, I was the only one out here.


The start of the day

In the church belfry, at the far end of Chavín's Plaza de Armas, someone banging on the bell sounds like they're hammering on a 55-gallon steel drum. Hardly the musical echo one expects. I woke incredibly dry and parched, my lips actually swollen.

Following the church bell alarm, a truck drove all around the small village honking its annoying little horn. Was this to wake up the town in advance of the onslaught of tourists?

I was up earlier, around 3:30, to re-hydrate, then again at 5:00, this time awakened by a large truck or bus starting up. Suffering from another headache, took some aspirin with plenty of water. After the engine noise subsided, only roosters and dogs were heard.

Now they’re setting up the souvenir and snack carts around the square. Entire families pitch in to help.


The far end of the day, at "Hostal Huanuco", Huanuco, Peru

Nearly ten hours of riding today, virtually all on dirt; 150 miles of winding mountain roads. And some of the best riding to date!

Before leaving Chavín, I bought bottled water and a little bag of conchitas from a street vendor. No breakfast. I just wanted to get rolling.

The town of San Marcos, only a few miles from Chavín, was bustling and filled with a festive air. No tourists here. I stopped to ask directions to Antamina. After confirming I was on the right path, the men who had gathered around told me to come see their town.

I was really torn: the unknown passes lay ahead, and I didn't wan to run into the hail storms and mud Brad had experienced on this same road. The storms, if they were coming, would likely arrive in the afternoon. So, I apologized and said I had to keep going.

Climbing back out of the valley, villagers were streaming down the mountain to San Marcos. It certainly seemed I was going in the wrong direction - all the fun lay behind me!

Though very rough at lower elevations, the road broadened and smoothed out high above, until it felt I was riding U.S. Forest Service roads. And all the way up and over the pass, there are farmers and shepherds quietly at work.





Following a path recommended by Brad Houghton, in San Marcos, I took a dirt road that climbed out of the deep valley. As I was going up, it seemed like everyone was walking down out of the mountains, wearing their "Sunday Best". Many of them were walking miles, descending two or three thousand feet, to attend church, the marketplace or other festivities in town.


In the alpine valleys, I first came to a small mine, then the massive Antamina mine. It is an incredible mining operation 14,000 feet in the Cordillera Blanca: the tops of mountains are being taken down for their copper, zinc and molybdenum.





Over 14,000 feet in the Andes is the Antamina zinc and copper mine. (For my own notes: this mine is owned by Compaña Minera Antamina S.A, a partnership of four companies: Canada's Falconbridge with 33.75%; BHP Billiton PLC, a British-Australian joint venture (and the World's largest mining company), with 33.75%; Canada's Teck - Cominco Limited with 22.5% and Japan's Mitsubushi Corporation with 10%.) The mountain peaks are literally being dismantled, changing the Andean skyline. Though only in operation four years, the visual impact is already startling.

If you think this devastation has nothing to do with you and me, think again. We are the "consumers" who "demand" their product.



Antamina's mining camp in the Yanacancha Valley


Security is tight around the mine. I stopped to talk with one guard who spoke English (he said it’s required here.) “Mirochung (sp?)” explained that construction just began in 1998 and production began in 2001. At Antamina, 300 to 400,000 tons of ore are "moved" and 110,000 tons are "processed" every day.

He said 1,100 people are currently working at this site (they rotate between this and other mining sites.)

At another checkpoint, I asked if photos were allowed, and was a bit shocked to hear the reply: "no problem!"



Antamina's tailings dam. Over the 23-year life of the mine, the dam will be built to about twice its current height.



The concentrator plant (upper right) and tailings lake


On the opposite side of the mine, a wide new highway connects the mine with Conococha and serves as its supply line. I got to enjoy this road for a few miles, before my path once again took me off into the dirt.

Somewhere near the 15,500-foot Abra Yanashalla pass, I pulled over to take in a spectacular view of mountains, lakes and sky. Two shepherds, a man and woman, came and sat perhaps 100 feet away. What I assumed was their flock, was far below us. They were carrying nothing, no provisions, no water. And here I sat with a motorcycle piled high with "necessities"! What an odd picture.

I took out the bag of conchitas and a bottle of water and walked over to where they sat silently. I asked if they would like to share. "Si." The man held out his upper garment for me to pour some conchitas into, then took the bottle of water. I went back to the bike and we just looked out at the land.



Crossing a pass near Matará, just south of Antamina. I prefer this landscape.


A perfect afternoon for riding: blue skies with puffy clouds, fresh cool air and no sign of rain. I paused to watch a woman herd horses far below. She maneuvered through brush, arcing around the strays, talking to them, coaxing them in the desired direction. When one stubborn horse failed to respond, she picked up a large rock and throwing from more than fifty feet away, struck it squarely. It got the message and galloped off to join its mates.

The high country, though thoroughly-grazed, still felt fresh and pristine, very healthy. I know I could not live in these conditions, but the lifestyle here seems very pure.

Following a river canyon down toward Huallanca, gradually I began to pass through clusters of farms and then pueblitos.



Thatched-roof mud shepherds' huts on boulder-strewn slopes (lower left-center)



The strange visitor draws their attention








Couldn't make any sense of my map (International Travel Maps' "Peru South") for this region. First of all, it was too large a scale for off-roading, but even the so-called highways didn't coincide with the map. I was completely disoriented and relied totally on strangers to direct me. I knew where I wanted to end up; that was about all.

From Huallanco on, the path to Huanuco became fairly clear. Every few miles, a new town. Through each, the call “gringo!” could be heard. Usually it was children. Boys and men whistled and shouted (I assumed it was some sort of approval, but I might have been mistaken! I waved back.) The women just cast timid, and sometimes suspicious looks. Not many teeth in the smiles around here!

Predictably, in every town the dogs chased me, I think much to their owners’ amusement. As soon as one started barking, others came tearing across the landscape, aiming to "head me off at the pass." I finally realized that even if they came near enough, they would never get their teeth through my "armor", so why even concern myself? Later in the day, as the game was getting a little old, I intentionally tried to chase them, and maybe teach them to stay away from motorcycles!

Throughout the afternoon I crawled through numerous herds of sheep, pigs (the little ones quite cute) and cattle, standing in among them (and watching out for those horns!)

On one precipitous stretch, I saw the dust from a vehicle approaching a few bends ahead. But it surprised me when it suddenly came around a sharp bend sooner than expected. I dove for the hillside, coming to a quick stop, my handlebars stretching from the side of the minibus to the embankment, with maybe a few inches to spare. The driver barely missed a beat, rolling right on by. It's just a motorcycle.

I couldn't help but draw a connection between the thick powdery soil on the roads and the ubiquitous eucalyptus plantations. I've long heard that eucalyptus is destructive to topsoils. I was beginning to sense that this is true. In these groves, there appears very little other vegetation. Except for the eucalyptus, they seem quite dead.



Near Chupán, Huánuco, Peru, mountainsides sculpted by millennia of farming


At sunset, I passed through San Cristóbal, on an east-facing slope beneath the "Crown of the Inca," an incredible rock formation also known as "Lacsahuarina". What an idyllic setting for a town!

Arrived in Huanuco just after dark and paused by a popular lake on the edge of town. I was approached by a fellow who was having his car washed along the lakeshore. Soon he was my "amigo" (which, I've come to learn, means that some tip is expected.) I showed him in my "Lonely Planet" guide the hotel I was looking for. He said he would take me there.

He led me downtown to the Plaza de Armas and the adjacent "Hotel Huanuco". I gave him a modest tip. Inside, I was very impressed, until I asked the cost: 120 Soles, over $35.00! How could this be? The guide book said rooms with showers were $7.30! I returned to my bike and again looked at the guide. It was the "Hostal Huanuco", I was looking for.

I found it only two blocks from the Plaza. This was more what I expected: an old building, dimly-lighted, with a motley collection of old furniture and pictures on the walls. After rejecting several rooms, I took a second floor room with a tenuous connection to fresh air (through a screened transom above the door, and a 4" clay tile pipe through the back wall.) It was a strange, stuffy room, with barely enough space to walk around the two beds, and a tiny bathroom in which you had to carefully maneuver.

Off the Plaza, I found the "Shorton Grill", which specializes in spit-roasted chicken. For 5.50 Soles, I ordered the ¼ chicken with French fries and a soda. Very good. Plump chickens – you don’t usually see this in the platos tipicos. From my second floor seat, I could watch the kitchen staff, a study in efficiency.

After dinner, I strolled around the Plaza, taking a seat for a while, watching people pass by. The din of traffic, horns and sirens is always intrusive. It would be an immense improvement if they routed through-traffic a block away instead of directly around the square.

Security guards on the street sport tough-sounding emblems, such as "S.S." and "Commandos". Warranted or not, there is definitely a higher level of paranoia throughout Latin America.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Huaraz to Chavín de Huántar


Chavín's Plaza de Armas, from my hotel room. After all the tour buses had left, I think I was the only gringo in town. The power line was within easy reach of my balcony.


7:30 p.m.

In my second floor room at “El Canoso Hostal” in Chavín de Huántar. My balcony overlooks the Plaza de Armas (the name given to the central park or square in many towns and cities here.)

The only sounds are music, children playing in the park, conversations on the streets below. Not a vehicle to be heard.


11:00 p.m.

The children have stopped playing finally, and now I hear only distant music and adults conversing below.


***

Back in Huaraz this morning, I awoke at 4:00 a.m. with a powerful headache and dry mouth, dehydrated. Took some aspirin and plenty of water, and tried to sleep some more. I'm slow to adjust to this altitude (around 10,000 feet).

Later, at the breakfast table, a "cold-splash shower" was the subject of conversation with Rian. He joked about running in place before he plunged into the brisk shower. We made certain Ibett could hear our complaints. Anne laughed and said her shower was nice and hot. "I must have taken all the water!"

Ibett was surprised that I was leaving, but we all planned to meet in Lima Tuesday night. Aki and Motsu came out to see me off. They’re accompanying Ibett, Simon and Beatrice to a birthday party in Caraz. Aki urged me to come, but it was the wrong direction for me. On the road to Chavín about 10:45. Due to construction, the tunnel to Chavín is only open from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. (or 6:00 to 7:00 in the morning and the evening). Simon said it takes nearly two hours.



Waiting to enter the Tunel Kawish. This pass through the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz, Peru reaches 4,516 meters (14,816 feet). The tunnel is undergoing construction and is only open for three hours per day in the direction of Chavín: 6-7 a.m., 12-1 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Guess which one I went for?


Surprised at the good road conditions up the pass. The tunnel is at 4,516 meters (14,816 feet). Arrived at 11:55 and drove directly to the front of a long line of vehicles. Waiting for the tunnel to open, I met a Peruvian gentleman who had lived in New York.

“Where are you going to be on the 29th?” he asked.

“Lima, I think.”

“That should be okay.”

He told me that demonstrations, or a strike are planned by the local people, and it may not be safe for tourists out in the countryside.

I was still taking photos when the gates were moved and traffic began moving, horns honking for me to move my bike. I was almost run over, but managed to be the third vehicle into the tunnel. Cold, dark, muddy and eerie inside the mountain. Workers could be seen in the dim incandescent light. It was a bit tricky riding the muddy ruts in poor light. Slow cars in front of me made it more difficult ("momentum is my friend"). Someone taking flash pictures out the rear of the station wagon ahead didn't help my "night vision".



I was busy taking this photo when the barriers were removed. I was almost run over by the rush to the tunnel (center of this photo.) It's about 400 meters in length and kind of a dark muddy mess inside. I'm glad only two vehicles got ahead of me, because later in the procession, the exhaust fumes build up and the mud, I'm sure, only gets trickier. The whole time traffic is moving through, the workers are still inside.


On the other side, I passed the lead cars, then had the road to myself. I was caught off guard by the pavement ending just as the road went into hairpin curves, then farther down the pass, the road was primarily dirt. Fast-moving cars caught up to me and passed, so I was "eating their dust" for a long time.

Looking back up the pass, it was rather humorous to see the wave of traffic descending on Chavín.

I first explored town driving slowly through and orienting myself. Found the lone gas station and filled up. Asked the attendant for restaurant recommendations.

He said "Chavín Turistico" and "Don Justino" were the best spots in town, and provided directions. I only found the first one. Parked on the main street, sandwiched between "humongous" tour buses. Others were trying to maneuver on the narrow streets. The restaurant was crowded. It was clearly going to be a long wait. I ordered the "Pollo Supremo". A family of four came in and took the table next to me. The woman said they were in a hurry. I patiently waited while they were served first and silently dove into their food. When I paid my bill and was leaving, they still lingered, casually talking.

Decided to first take a hotel, then go to the Chavín ruins. This hotel is recommended by "Lonely Planet". Entering the courtyard, the smell of diesel permeated the air. They had just oiled the mezzanine with diesel. Delightful.

But I got a second floor room opening onto the square, so the air was fresh. 20 Soles. Carried my gear in as the maid prepared the room, then rode my bike up over the curb and a couple of good steps, and into the entry.

Camera in hand, walked several blocks to the ruins. 11 Soles entry fee. Sunny and warm. I had not brought sunscreen.



At las ruinas de Chavín de Huántar.



Cabeza clava on the outer wall of Chavín's Castillo



At the entrance to Chavín

No English tours today, so I wandered among different tour groups, picking up just bits of information about the ancient Chavín civilization which long preceded the Incas, "existing from about 1,000 to 300 B.C." according to "Lonely Planet". In 1945, this site was completely buried by a massive avalanche, and has since been only partially excavated.



A corner of Chavín's Castillo



At Chavín, an elaborate lighting and ventilation system delivered reflected sunlight and fresh air deep into the interior of the Castillo. The entire site was buried by a huge avalanche in 1945. Consequently, there's little fresh air and sunlight in these chambers.


Lingered until 5:30, re-exploring some of the subterranean chambers and returning to have a more leisurely look at the Lanzón de Chavín. (The chambers were now completely deserted.)



This carved figure in the Chavín catacombs is apparently the highlight of the tour. But there were no English-speaking tours when I was visiting. So I don't yet know the story. If Cathie is reading, maybe she will shed some light on it! I will also look into it on-line. (Update: According to my new Lonely Planet guide, "in the heart of the underground complex is an exquisitely carved rock known as the Lanzón de Chavín. It is a thrilling and distinctly mysterious experience to come upon this 4m-high, dagger-like rock stuck in the ground at the intersection of four narrow passageways deep within the Castillo.")


I was the last one wondering the grounds, well after closing, but when I straggled out to the gate, no one commented. So, I stayed even longer visiting some of the souvenir booths, their operators eating dinner while they slowly shut down for the night.



The grounds at Chavín.I waited until everyone had left and the llamas had moved in to take this photo.


Returned to the hotel, walking the now-quiet streets. At night, the locals take back their town. I felt a pretty chilly reception to my presence. "Gringo” comments muttered by passing townspeople, kids walking down the sidewalk four-abreast, forced me into the street. A colorfully-dressed local woman, knitting in a tienda doorway refused my request for a photograph. When I asked to buy something in her store, she simply said "no."



As I walked down this street, that was earlier crowded with buses and tourists, John Lennon's "Imagine" was playing in the upper apartment on the right. It was a very powerful moment.


Returned to the same restaurant for dinner: soup and a cheese sandwich. Talked with a gentleman from San Marcos, a few miles up the road. I will pass through there tomorrow.

Went to one of the two internet cafés in town, but the connection was very slow. But for a group of teens, this was clearly the most interesting place to be (versus hanging out at the Plaza de Armas.) Stayed until they closed at 9:00.

The environment in this 10,000-foot Andean valley is remarkably dry and dusty, very harsh. Rough on the body; my gringo skin is dry and chapped, nose "runny".

Looking over maps and my guide tonight, it's funny to see Peru's many "highest", "biggest" and "oldest" claims.

Compact fluorescents tubes are omni-present in Peru (and in other countries.) But they don't generally fit fixtures originally designed for incandescent bulbs. Consequently, you see these tubes protruding from globe-less fixtures everywhere, casting a stark bluish glow. An odd aesthetic.

Before retiring, I talked with the hotel owner’s daughter. She's studying English in Lima and asked some questions about her latest homework assignment.

Worked on my notes a bit (which have fallen way behind!)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Exploring the Huaraz area


One of the 35 tunnels in Cañon del Pato, north of Huaraz


Awoke at 5:00 and had to take aspirin again to subdue a dehydration headache.

This morning's shower was almost warm. Wrote notes, watched some news, then when it sounded like others were awake, joined Anne for breakfast.

Anne's bike is out of commission due to a bad oil pump. This morning's plan was to tow her bike downtown to the bus station. It will go on a cargo bus to Lima tomorrow, while Anne rides the overnight bus tonight.

After rolling her bike out onto the highway, we used my "CycoActive TowDown" tow straps to tie the bikes together, from my rear luggage rack to her engine guard tubing. I was a bit anxious: I've never towed a motorcycle! (Plenty of cars and trucks, but no bikes.) With Aki and Motsu riding escort, two-up on one of their Yamaha 225s, we proceeded very slowly, trying to maintain a steady 10-mph pace into Huaraz. All the while, cars, trucks, taxis, moto-taxis and pedestrians worked around us.

Anne's bike was surprisingly heavy to pull and there were a few anxious moments when we got our bikes a bit out of alignment and the the 1200 wanted to pull her obliquely. Reaching the station, she was clearly relieved. "I was nervous. I didn't have control!" she exclaimed.

We left Anne to arrange her transport. I wanted to visit Cañon del Pato today, and I was hoping there still would be enough time. The canyon is about 50 miles north of Huaraz.

As always, there was the anticipation and nervousness of venturing off into the (for me) unknown. But after yesterday's ride, this was a breeze. The narrows of Cañon del Pato are much shorter than I expected: maybe only ten miles in length, but the thin notch that it cuts and towering sheer walls are truly remarkable.



It's difficult to believe a river can cut such a narrow canyon. At this point, the canyon must be less than 100 feet wide, yet thousands of feet deep. (The water's flow has now been diverted to drive a power generation plant downstream.)


Along this stretch, down to the town of Huallanca (Ancash), there are 35 tunnels. I started to count them, then lost track. But further down the canyon, the tunnels are numbered, therefore I KNOW there are 35.



ALWAYS remember to toque your claxon!



I was out there snapping witty photos when a stone struck me on the left cheekbone. Had it beaned me, it would have really hurt! I realized it wasn't really a safe place. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration wasn't going to protect me out here. I scrambled back out to get my helmet and, after putting it on under this overhang, got the hell out. Riding back up the canyon, I could hear debris pinging off my helmet.


In the canyon, the Rio Santa has been diverted to reservoirs and through tunnels to drive a hydroelectric plant downstream. The Duke Energy power plant dominates the small town of Huallanca, it's fenced compound and modern corporate facilities contrasting starkly with the impoverished village.



You have to be impressed by the humans who built the tunnels and aqueducts through Cañon del Pato. It must have been an immense and very hazardous labor.


Stopped for lunch at a small café in Huallanca. Ordered a rice and beans dish, but couldn't stomach the curled piece of fatty pig skin on the plate. It still bore bristles. The owner assured me it was clean. She had cleaned it herself. She couldn't accept that I was refusing to eat it.

As I ate, I looked at the tiny napkin. Throughout Peru, they are about 1/4 the size of those in the U.S. And I can't recall the last time I saw a paper towel. Was it in Mexico? Paper products, which Americans consume in enormous quantities, are much more limited here.

Driving back to Yungay, I wanted to visit the memorial to the earthquake victims, but the only parking was along the highway, a few hundred yards from the memorial. I had left my panniers at the hospedaje and so had nowhere to lock up my riding gear. I decided to pass on the memorial.

Dinner at "Amma" tonight (Ibett tells us it means "Grandma".) We celebrated Anne's last night in town. (She has been in Huaraz over a week, and has met many new friends!) A friend of Ibett joined us. He is a public relations officer for a gold-mining company which has operations in the area. He was very careful to explain how environmentally-conscious the company is in caring for the site during and following mining activities. He said the cyanide solution used to extract gold from the ore is quite harmless in that form.

Enjoyed some very good steak and a 2002 Cabrini Cabernet Sauvignon from Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. We met Rian Fitzpatrick, seated at the next table with his Peruvian assistant. He's a Canadian chiropractor, now based in Lima, but working clinics throughout Peru. They're also staying at Hospedaje Retamas. Ibett talked everyone into going out to a bar to dance later. Except me. I took a taxi back to my room. Still needed to catch up on some rest.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Getting high in the Cordillera Blanca


The only person to conquer Portachuelo de Llanganuco at 3:00 p.m. on November 24, 2005, Timtraveler basks in the glory of his achievement. (But who was there to take this picture???) Minutes later, the site became a virtual parking lot as two westbound trucks and an eastbound truck, each carrying loads of passengers, converged here. The male members debarked to relieve themselves by the roadside. (I'm not certain what the female passengers did.)


Awoke at 4:00 this morning, feverish and head-achy, my mouth parched. As I lay there, I felt my heart was working too hard, beating too fast. I could easily work myself into a panic, I thought. I couldn't sleep. "It's the altitude, and in time I'll adjust." These Peruvian wool blankets are just too good. I was way too warm under the two provided.

In the early-morning sun, Anne, Aki, Motsu and I took group photos with our bikes. Anne and I then had breakfast (Aki and Motsu cook their own meals.) Into town to pick up a map of the region that Anne recommended. Decided to first go up Llanganuco pass today, then, if there were time, go on to Cañon del Pato.



Biker dudes and dudettes at the "Las Retamas Hospedaje": Anne "Anna Moto Diva", Timtraveler, Motsu and Aki. We were comparing budgets. During this journey, Anne and I both expected we would spend roughly $50 per day*. Aki and Motsu are operating on $20 per day - for the two of them! (*UPDATE: An analysis done in March 2011 showed my actual on-road expenses were about $103 per day!)


I drove north passing the boulder-strewn washes where the landslide had buried the town of Yungay in 1970. A memorial stands in the new town just north of the debris field.

In Yungay, I left the highway and picked up the dirt road that heads deep into a canyon. I was not accustomed to dirt, having not done much off-road riding since Alaska's Dalton Highway. But standing up on the pegs for maximum control, I soon acclimated to the rough road.

At the entrance to Parque Nacional Huascarán, I paid the 5-Sole entry fee and paused to have a soda, chatting and joking with the few folks selling souvenirs. It was very quiet and relaxing in the mild afternoon sun.

A bus arrived, and this was my cue to get back on the bike. I didn't want to be behind them, eating their dust. After a few miles, there were stretches of sand where the road passes along the shores of Llanganuco and Orconcocha Lakes. Another surface to reacquaint myself with.

Climbing the mountain in continuous hairpin loops, my confidence increased. Soft, powdery dirt and large stones were collected in each of the turns, but the bike crawled through with little difficulty (though as I got higher up, the engine "lugged" more than usual at low r.p.m.) The clutch grew spongey up around 13,000 feet until finally I was virtually shifting without it, just rolling on the throttle a bit and popping the transmission into gear. I guess air bubbles in the clutch hydraulic line grow larger at altitude, until they become big squishy "balloons" in the line, much more plastic than the hydraulic fluid that should be occupying those lines.



The Llanganuco pass road winds past 6,354-meter (20,846-foot) Chopicalqui and 6,768-meter (22,205-foot) Huascarán (Peru's tallest peak)



Huandoy's four peaks



The notch atop the 15,640-foot pass, Portachuelo de Llanganuco.



I believe this cluster of peaks is Yanapaqeha, on the eastern side of Portachuelo de Llanganuco


Atop the 4,767-meter summit, an amazing panorama surrounded me: snow-covered pinnacles in all directions. I felt dizzy and uncertain of myself. Climbing around on some boulders was surprisingly challenging. I couldn't trust my footing.



This photo just doesn't convey how precarious it can be driving these mountains. And then these crazy people ride on top of vehicles???



Trucks like the yellow one, can't make many of the turns in one sweep and must stop and back up to get through it. Those guys up top are (for those who remember early-Disneyland) getting a real "E-Ticket" ride!



Peru's tallest peak, Huascarán (south and north summits on the right), and standing at 15,640-feet, possibly Peru's highest motorcyclist (at this particular moment.) That's Chopicalqui on the left. It's past 3:00, and time to scurry back down the mountain. It will take two hours to reach the valley floor (at least in the preferred way.)



Memorials at one of the many treacherous hairpin turns on Llanganuco pass.


Simon said that when crossing passes, he always tries to reach the top by 3:00 p.m. Later in the day, the weather can turn. It was pretty warm today; nothing like coming over the pass last night. But the afternoon turned very hazy, a remarkable change from the crisp, clear morning.



Huascarán's south and north peaks


It looks like others follow the same advice Simon gave, as between 3:00 and 3:30 the summit became "congested" with vehicles. I paused to take photos, but didn't linger long. It was a good two hour drive back down to the 9,000-foot valley floor, and I didn't want to be riding off-road in the dark.

The return ride always seems easier than the ride out. But this one proved strenuous. After hours up on the pegs, my back and shoulders were knotted and the balls of me feet were aching. The steep descent didn't help matters. If I had planned properly for this ride, I would have first raised my handlebars slightly to allow an easier reach from the standing position. I was pretty fatigued by late afternoon.

Rolling back to Huaraz on luxuriously-smooth tarmac, I looked back to catch an amazing view of Huascarán, its snow-capped summit glowing in the sunset.



Driving back to Huaraz, I happened to glance over my shoulder and catch this awesome view. Imagine living in a valley surrounded by such magical peaks!


Joined Anne and David at Simon and Beatrice's "Chillie Heaven" restaurant tonight. Our hosts whipped up some excellent shrimp and chicken curry. But I excused myself early to go off to bed and rest my aching body.

The taxi to town cost 50 centimos (about 15 cents!), the return trip three Soles (about 90 cents). Taxis and mini-buses are vital transportation for most people outside the big cities. They have to be reasonably-priced.

A cold night. I went directly to bed.