Jan 27, 2009

Patience & Non-Permissable Passage

The "adventure" crossing the border from Peru into Bolivia truly tested my patience-not one of my stronger traits....
The test started at the Loka border crossing, probably more well known as Copacabana-thank you Barry Manilow. Taking my sweet time around Lake Titicaca ended up costing me precious minutes at the border. I had configured an average of five different times local Peruvians had told me that the borders closed, but forgot to take into consideration the one hour time difference from Bolivia to Peru, thus putting me there just fifteen minutes late. Sadly singing Copacabana to myself, I rested my head in the nearest Peruvian town that night.
The next day was the worst... After waiting in lines for 2 plus hours for my passport stamps, I found out at customs that I needed additional documents allowing my Peruvian motorcycle passage out of the country. After a bit of ranting and raving, I realized I could not talk my way accrossed. The customs officials kindly sent me on my way to the next border crossing 100km down the road to try my luck there. At Desaguadero it only took two, maybe three minutes for the officials to tell me I couldn´t pass without first obtaining the correct documents from "that building right there"-which happened to be closed for the next two days. At this point in the game frustration was taking over, I started entertaining thoughts of crossing the border illegally in true Butch Cassidy fashion. I decided I could wait it out, in hopes of legally entering Bolivia with my motorcycle. In the mean time.....reconnaissance.

Desaguadero is a border town on the southern shores of Lake Titicaca. I spent the next two days there waiting, perched atop the hostal, people watching and planning an escape from Peru. The border itself is a massively dirty, and fairly large river- dark at night, and only patrolled by one officer, at all hours. There are three bridges that gap the river. One for all foot traffic, foriegners and locals alike-heavily guarded by officers on both ends 24/7. Another, securly locked at all times-not possible with moto, and one for all big truck and trailer traffic-lit by streetlights and guarded by two officers on each end 24/7. Incredible thunderstorms swept through the town each night on thier way out to the darkness of Titicaca. Crowched on the balcony, I watched bolts of lightning illuminate civilians and policia alike scurrying for shelter- the best moment for illegality.

Decision day.. I awoke monday morning, practiced up on my pity speech, and headed out hoping this would be the day I would become Bolivian bound. No such luck with the Desaguadero customs office, as they told me the same thing everyone else had told me- "no can do... go to the next office". I wanted to become a terrorist for a moment. According to the aduanas (customs) office at the border, 200 km to the north lay the customs headquarters, and I would no doubt be able to get the correct paperwork there. So, after cooling off with a glass of manzana quinoa I figured one last attempt to make my passage a legal one could be worth the effort. Off to Puno via Peruvian packed bus, only to be denied again, first at the Minestry of Transportation, then again at the "fort" better known as Aduanas Central in Puno, Peru. My quest to cross legally, it seemed, would have me on the next bus to Lima, over 25 hours north of Puno. Instead, I hopped the next bus south, back to Desaguadero, my feathers flustered but not yet plucked.

I was starting to get a hold of this patience thing, and, since it was no longer up to anyone else, I felt a little relieved to Butch Cassidy it over the border-one way or another.
After returning to Desaguadero and explaining my situation to the only person who seemed to listen, suprisingly, the owner of the hostal I was staying at offered directions to a dry river crossing south of town 7 or 8km without a control checkpoint. He claimed it was where he would send his nieces and nephews if they were without paperwork, and needed to go to Bolivia for whatever reason. This sounded like money in the bank. It seemed things were starting to favor Butch and his faithful steed.

I would drink to my last night in Peru that evening with a couple of local teenage bike-taxi drivers, all to eager to share the suds of my Cusquena cerveza. We secretly dicussed the different possibilities and risks of an illegal crossing. Secrets soon led to jokes and laughter with my new amigos, and I felt a new wave of hope flow through my bones. Phone numbers and e-mails were exchanged- just in case, and I strolled off toward my bed, anxious for the next mornings adventure.

Ten kilometers south of town I located a small gravel road heading east toward Bolivia. Foot paths and creek crossings were abundant in the muddy marshland south of town passing through what I thought to be the last minutes of Peru and the first moments in Bolivia. I named one particular creek ¨the one¨, and proceeded to shed all gear and clothing-save for my boots (for comfort), goggles (for style), and underwear (to keep the vampire catfish out), and ¡YIPPIE KAY YAYED! my way back and forth accrossed the muddy creek- one time for each day I waited for this moment. I spent and hour or two basking in the Bolivian sun, enjoying my success, and planning my route to La Paz. After scanning the marsh ahead for control checkpoints with my newly gifted binoculars, I decided to saddle up and hit the road. Smiles crested my face for the next half-an-hour or so, then both my motorcycle and happiness came to a swift halt when I crested a hill looking down on a very familiar sight- Desaguadero. In hindsight, this wouldn´t have been all that bad if I had been looking down from the Bolivian side of the river, but I wasn´t. I was still in Peru. This was no longer a game, it had become a battle.

I solemnly strolled back into town to the nearsest phone booth, and dialed the number given to me the night before. I was out of options. I needed advice. I needed a way accross. My friends from the night before-Edwin and Wilbur, had contacts. They were happy to meet me and discuss the in´s and out´s of border hopping by boat. A couple of hours later the plans were confirmed, and we were on for later that night. I would either be in a Bolivian hostal by 9 or a Peruvian jail by 10, only time would tell.

Eight o´clock, and the rain began to come down as if on cue, gracias a Dios. We wound our way through the empty & soaked streets of Desaguadero, three going-to-be fugitives on our way to the boatman down by the river. Huddled behind a small shack, we watched each others slightly nervous & criminaly eager faces light up with each strike of lightning above- smirking in anticipation. The signal was given, and we pushed the bike, fully loaded with gear, down to the muddy bank below. It took all four of us to heave the weighted bike into the tiny row boat, and after a confident nod from the boatman assuring we wouldn´t sink his vessel with such a load, we pushed off. Suprisingly, it only took a few thunder-filled minutes for the three peruvians, motorcycle, and leather clad gringo to reach the Bolivian bank. Our grunts lifting the bike out of the boat were drowned out by the sound of thunder and rain, and a brief scan of the shore above revealed no policia for the moment. I gave the capitain quick handshake and payment of 100 Bolivianos (equivalent to about $14) and he set off back to Peru, the two Peruvian teens and I into the Bolivian streets smiling in pure joy of a succesful mission. Finally, I was in Bolivia. My amigos had to return to their bicycle taxis in Peru, so I thanked them immensely, and they were on their way. I slept incredibly well that night, and woke the next morning eager to start the Bolivian Motocyclandes chapter.. First stop after the stressfull last week in Peru-The Peace (La Paz) for a celebretory weekend with Bro B.

Family(ar) Faces

Having my dad and uncle join Brent and I for a week in southern Peru certainly made up for any lack of laughter & fun I might have suffered in the last couple of months. It was a needed dose of familiar faces in a time of minute homesickness.

Four Sturlaugsons´- two pairs of bros from two generations turned loose on southern Peru. A sight not unnoticed by numerous street vendors pushing any & everything on our crew of 6ft tall gringos. Brent and I, having over 5 months of experience with this culture , were able to ward off most unwanted proposals, and arrange our tour without the added expense of someone else´s help. Dad & Craig each found their own nich in the Peruvian culture as well. Dad-hailing taxis and seaching out cervezas, and Craig (in true uncle Craig fashion)- bargaining better than any local Peruvian at the markets, each without real knowledge of the language- impressive.

Trains, buses, and taxis provided transportation to two of the most impressive sights in Peru- Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Lack of leg room and sleep could not prevent the molecules of our party pants from gyrating us into good humor and energetic conversations throughout our travels. Da boys handled both the altitude and culture difference very well, and thanks to 1 liter bottles of medicine found at any store or restaurant, no one got sick or sad. The week seemed to fly by way too fast, as good times are said to do, and after saying our sianara´s- I mean hasta luego´s, we sent them off on a plane back to Lima and eventually the twin cities of Minnesota. Days packed full of sight seeing and stomach aching laughter with Bro and Driver were exactly what the doc ordered for Brent and I mid-way through our travels in South America. Thanks again guys.

Jan 20, 2009

Colca Cañon

To pass time whilst waiting for dad and uncle craig led me on a beautiful ride to Cañon del Colca- the second deepest canyon in the world. The route to the canyon took me through a few ruins including the one-of-a-kind Rakqui site. Its uniqueness comes in the form of construction combining both Inca stone and adobe/rock in the same structure- the only known site to incorperate the two materials in one building. The site includes 40´walls making up the main temple area, rock corridors weaving through cornfields and flower beds , circular houses in quantities enough for thousands, and the ever-so-delicious Inca baths. Quite an impressive area, well worth the $2.50 entrance fee.

After Rakqui, the road turned from nice pavement into rough dirt and gravel. Twisting and turning all the way up to an unforgettable campsite overlooking Lago Langui Layo. After failing to find flat land atop a well overgrown powerline road, I decided to post up next to a cemetary on the horizon of the lake. The view of the lake was spectacular out of my vestibuled front porch, but dreamlike views soon led to a dreamless/sleepless night. I must not have fed the spirits resting there enough leftover pasta, for the landscape I had chosen for my tent (flat at the time) was transformed into a minature version of the Andes over the course of the night, leaving me sore and tired for the long push to the cañon the next day.
After cresting mountain passes, crossing flooded river valleys, and paying a few ¨propinas¨ (tips) to local kids filling the countless pot-holes in the road, I found myself in Chivay- a town at the mouth of the canyon, and home to a spectacular hot springs. Well, maybe not that spectacular compared to some of the greats around the world, but to me being submersed in hot mineral water for the first time in six+ months was nothing less than spectacular. So, after soaking and steaming for a couple of hours at the hot springs, I lodged up awaiting the drive through the canyon the next day.

I recieved some good advice from the owner of the hostal about when the park officials were to take their lunch, thus not being alert to motorists wanting to pass without paying the steep entrance fee. So couragously, I blew past the fee station and into the incredible gorge below. During one of my many breaks to take in all that there was to see, I was greeted by a fellow motorcyle tourist-Gilles, a Belgian on a BMW G3 circling South America. The two of us decided to ride the cañon together, doubling the oohs and awes echoed by the canyons´ walls below. Gilles´s route would have taken him south, out of the canyon toward Nazca, but after convincing him of the blissful enjoyment I experienced at the hot springs the night before, he re-evaluated his route, and we ended up back in the baños termales that night. The tubs in Chivay sparked what would end up being a three day tour of the areas many hot springs. It seems two cold, & road ragged bikers will gladly change plans in order to take in a hot bath or two along the way. The baños tour eventually lead back up to Cusco, where I was again succesful in convincing Gilles of touring something that was not on his original itinerary- Machu Picchu. It seemed odd that one would choose to ride through Peru and not see the famed site, but not having seen it myself, I couldn´t judged. I joined him for the awesome ride through the Sacred Valley down to Ollantaytambo, acting as tour guide through the area I have come to know fairly well. I held up in Ollantay, while he took the train down the valley to M.P. His expectations of a not-worth-the-expense park turned out to be just as costly as imagined, but very impressive, thus well worth the price. After exchanging information about our favorite rides, the two of us split ways the next day, him north, and myself south. Suerte mi amigo.Travelling with a comrade has sparked thoughts and hopes of a future tour of Brazil with my dad, if he´s up to it. So whaddya think pa?

Año Nuevo

New Years must have left its mark, as it´s taken me this long to write something down since then. After ¨practicing¨for the new year with a group of very fun San Fransiscans in a heated game of borrachan pictionary, the time had come to welcome 2009. (or was it 6007 Brent?)
The night greeted us with a BANG! Well, more like hundreds of thousands of bangs, as we joined the masses in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco for an unforgettable New Years party. Fireworks. Everybody´s got em´, nobody respects them. The downpour couldn´t prevent an onslaught of misguided malpractioners from lighting massive amounts of ¨fuegos artificiales¨ in every direction, at any moment. Nothing like a little chaos in the name of fun! We decided to join the anarchy with five foot long roman candles, and some Big Tom Thumbs of our own. Luckily the Man upstairs continued to soak the city, preventing Cusco from going up in one big ball of fire. After a change of clothes, swapping wet party pants for dry ones, we inevitably ended up in a bar dancing to an un-named band, saluting random Peruvians and gringos alike, and sipping champagne-in true New Years fashion-straight from the bottle. The town, reminiscent of Christmas, continued to pop and bang for the entire night and into the next morning, where we found ourselves reluctantly welcoming the dawn of a new year, tired and hung-over, ready to announce of resolutions of never drinking champagne like that again, or at least until 2010 that is.


In foreign countries friendships seem to form at a very rapid pace when ¨not so foriegn¨aquaintences are made. Whether it´s a similar ¨traveler¨ mindset, the simplicity of slang and humor, or just the lack of language barrier, it plays true for many abroad. For Brent and I such has been the case with numerous ¨gringos¨ since departing from Quito six months ago. Fellowship has found its way into our lives in plenty of grand occasions: It has been fellow cyclists joining forces to tackle a stretch of Andean roads long forgotten about by modern constructionists. It´s been gathering together for ad'lib jam sessions on the top floor of Caroline´s. It´s been camping trips, pictionary battles, dance parties, and drinking games. Its been deep conversations, prayers & meditation. Its been soaking weary bones in mineral baths after not having bathed for several months on end, and most of all and most important- its been laughter. I feel blessed to have met many good people I can happily call friends along the journey, and anxiously await the next encounter with each of them. A big shout out to all we´ve met along the way, and a future shout out to everyone we will meet down the road. Thanks for the memories- Salud!

Jan 2, 2009

two-up traveling

Surprisingly, with only 250cc´s, the bike handled the two of us very well. It provided us with the freedom to explore a few mystical sites off the bus-beaten path of most tourists. A fun thing about traveling two up on a motorcycle in this country is that the passenger gets to enjoy the openess and assimilation of all the sights, sounds, and smells passed along the way. On our second day out I got the urge to experience this freedom, and asked Brent if he wanted to drive for a while. With a sore tucas and the option of driving the "beast of a bike" (compared to his bicycle), he gave the green light for a switch-aroo.

We spotted the outskirts of what looked like a fortress of ruins on top of a neighboring hill, and after a couple of minutes practicing with the clutch, we took off into the unkown. We were doing just fine until the dirt road turned into mud, and the flat surface became littered with pot-holes. Unsure on how to react to such obstacles with a large bike, Brent lost control, and, very peacefully, put us down on the muddy road, rather than over the cliff to our left. Bravo. Niether of us were hurt, as our rate of travel could´nt have been more than 10kmph. So, thankful that it wasn´t any worse, we laughed, scraped off the mud, Brent humbly gave up the driver position for the rest of the day, and we started off again to explore the ancient traces of an Incan civilization, shaken but not stirred.

The ruins we saw during our two-up outing were amazing, and mysterious. The towns we passed through were cozy and welcoming. And the company we kept, witty and inspiring. The loop of road eventually dropped us back in Cusco, where we await the coming of the New Year.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Chistmas in Cusco this year. I admit, I´m a little homesick during the holidays down here..I find myself recalling past holidays spent round the Christmas tree, tossing presents at Mom, Dad, Brent, and Dayne, listening to Manhiem, and stoking the warm fire, while it snows bright white flakes outside...ahhh famil(y)arities, sniffle. Well, it´s not really that lonely down here ; ) The owners of the hostal we were staying at had plans themselves for the holiday, so they left us the keys to the place and parted for a few days with a "¡Feliz Navidad!". So, Brent and I spent Cristmas eve cruising the markets buying fixins for Christmas dinner, and fun presents for each other. Accompanied by a decorated pine limb- for our Christmas tree, a few big beers, some cheap champagne, a fish dinner with sweet potatoes and pasta, and each other, we were´nt alone.

Christmas day consisted of nothing more than a marathon of Christmas themed movies- dubbed in spanish, hot cocoa, and paneton. Inbetween movies, we planned an excursion for the next two days that would take us out to some ruins and towns in the Cusco region, via moto, two-up.


On the road again, this time at my kinda pace. With a fresh paint job and a custom-made rack to accomadate my bicycle panniers, I was re-discovering the Andes with a twinkle in my eye and a windswept smile on my face.

The route to Cusco took me through some stunning country via several roads I had nearly forgotton about. The roads in the Andes are as freestyle as the mountains themselves, offering their fair share of obstacles that seem to appear rather unexpectedly, and quite often. The obstacles come in a variety of forms. It could be any combination of the medley of animals out and about (bulls, goats, cows, sheep, llamas, alpacas, dogs, pigs, chickens- to name a few of the more frequent encountered species), it could be an unsuspecting pedestrian (normally colorfully clad, so fairly easy to spot), or it could be the condition of the "carretera" itself (housing a variegated combination of slicks, boulders, and potholes the size of bathtubs.) By far the most precarious of all hazards is the stunning scenery in all dierctions, beconing to the viewer to glance away from the ribbon of road ahead.

These rural roads may not prove to be the most comfortable or fastest routes to travel, but they minister to this travelers´soul, offering amazing vistas, genuine and fascinating people, and glimpses at the true heartbeat of a culture. After a week of treasuring and battling all the elements the Andes are known to bestow, I found myself looking down on the town of Cusco. Somewhere in this maze of narrow streets, churches, and tourists, my brother awaits my timely arrival, two days before Christmas.


Leaving Huaraz was bittersweet...Sadness gripped me for a bit leaving the city, as Brent and I had come to know a family to the point of being family... La familia Rojas, dueños (owners) of Caroline Lodging, and "corazones grandes". Together we enjoyed daily, delicious Peruvian cuisine prepared by one of the best Peruvian chefs-Anita Rojas. We shared many laughs during fiestas of all sorts, including three birthday parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and numerous Peruvian holidays (seems to be two or three every week). Teo Rojas even arranged for me to stay with his folks for a few days in Lima, to ease process of integrating into the "big city" life, during my hunt for a motorcycle. They treated us like a part of their family from the day we arrived, through the many "wannabe" departures (only to return to warm smiles dawning broken bikes, sickness´, or faulty tires), til´ the day we parted ways for good.

Huaraz is home to a very positive energy that includes not only the people, but the surrounding Cordillera Blancas as well. The view atop Caroline Lodging provides an incredible vista of the surrounding mountains of the Cordilleras, and Huascaran (the tallest mountain in Peru 6768m) Many mornings have been spent there gazing out at these monsters of mountains, enjoying a warm beverage, delighting in their presence. The town prides itself as being the "base camp" for The Cordilleras, and hosts countless tour agencies willing to take you out on what is sure to be the climb, ride, trek or summit of your life. Precaution and patience are neccesarry if you want to expèrience these mountains with a seasoned veteren. On one occasion, as we´ve heard, unknowing tourists got swung on a not-so-good-deal with one of the "wannabe" guide agencies. They found themselves carrying their own gear, not because they prefer to, but because their "porter"- an undernurished, overworked burro, collapsed of exaustion and died. This story is a rarity, as many come back with nothing but positive tales of their adventure, and it is definetly not imperative to have a guide in these parts. We found sufficiancy with a detailed map of the area and young enough bones to handle carrying our own gear on treks of "extreme" nature. (see Cordillera Huayhuash in BICICLANDES)

Huaraz tops the list on my favorite places in South America thus far because of the incredible family we´ve met there, and because of the unlimited amount of things to do in the beautiful mountains surrounding the town. Yep, saying goodbye was bitter, but how sweet it is to hit the road once again after encountering such a miraculous place. Gracias a Dios.