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Days 2-4: Sand, Mud, and Rock

Day 2:
IMG_4896Huacachina Oasis is such an important place in Peru that it’s actually on the 50 soles bill! It’s also incredibly touristy, but an interesting area. I spent most of the morning relaxing before preparing for an afternoon dune buggy tour and – the entire reason I wanted to go – to try my hand at sandboarding!

The dune buggies they use here are insane, massive contraptions of steel with a huge engine and a bunch of seats strapped on. The one I went on had seating for seventeen or so people! I thought the dune buggy tour would just be a nice little romp around the desert nearby and didn’t feel strongly about it either way – boy was I wrong!

P1010501At the first opportunity, the drive slammed open the V8 and went full throttle up a massive dune at an extreme angle that felt like the buggy might fall over at any moment. We hit the top and soared over it, going full throttle straight down the next. For the next ten minutes we were treated to one of the most epic roller coaster style rides I’ve ever been on, jacked to the hilt on adrenaline with the sure knowledge that it was only a matter of time until this thing ended up rolling down a hill at 40MPH. I was in the back and was especially tuned to the rear tires underneath me and I could feel the thing constantly losing the back end and struggling for traction before the inevitable outward slide and roll…

Somehow (maybe a bit of experience?) the driver kept it mostly upright before coming to a stop at a large dune for us to take photos and take our first try at sandboarding! One by one, everything laid down face first on the board and went sledding down the hill. I’m not sure how to describe this – it’s close to real sledding, but different because you don’t get as much speed and seem to have much more control. It’s fun, but not epic… or so I thought on the first hill.

P1010513We climbed up the short side of the next dune and I decided to try standing up on the board, snowboarding style. The guide warned me to stay in one direction and go diagonal and not to try transitioning sides/direction. This turned out to be apt advice, mostly because sandboarding turned out to be NOTHING like snowboarding! (contributing to this may have been the velcro bindings which did not exactly allow any control at all)

My first standing ride down a dune I basically dug my front end a foot into the sand and flipped onto my face about five times before getting to the bottom with the realization that I needed to basically spend all of my effort keeping the leading edge lifted up. We proceeded to another HUGE hill where I gave it another try, getting some decent speed a couple of times but inevitably losing control and railing at the uselessness of the bindings.

After another quick ride, we stood atop the final hill – a massive dune that looked at least a hundred feet high from the top, and incredibly steep to boot. I decided to do this sled-style and tore straight down it without using my feet for brakes, so overcome by the speed and intensity that I didn’t even smile or laugh. It was over before the adrenaline could trigger, and I stood up to look at the dune from the bottom…  holy crap! That thing must’ve been at least two hundred feet high, if not more! It was HUGE. I wish I could have climbed up and given it another try…

P1010543P1010528 (Medium)
Once everyone was finished, we found a good spot to watch the sunset over the desert then headed back into town. I opted to chill out with a couple beers and read instead of partying like everyone else, then went to bed with the plan of an early breakfast and start. I thought about staying another day and trying things again, but I really want to hit the road for now.

Sleep beckons.P1010559

Day 3:
Huacachina Oasis in Ica, Peru @ 11AM
End: Unknown Location off 26A @ 6:30PM
Distance: approx. 257km (~160mi) in 7.5 hours (~34KMH / ~21MPH average)
Average Gas Mileage: ~70MPG
Stopped by Police: 8x

IMG_4912Tonight is my first night sleeping in my motokar in the middle of nowhere, though I suspect it will only be the first of many. The next town is still many hours away through twisted tortuous roads in the mountains so I decided to try my new technique of actually looking for a place to stop during the sunset, rather than waiting until dark.

I scouted what appeared to be an excellent location, a wash that went behind a large set of rocks and was not visible at all from the road, but it would require driving half a kilometer offroad in some very rocky terrain. I drove past and continued on for awhile before convincing myself I was running out of time and turning back.

Getting to a spot that could not be seen anywhere from the road was harder than I initially thought, mostly because I could barely inch forward in first gear trying desperately to avoid rocks and ending up falling into one of the many pits I could not see from the road…  but I made it to a secure spot, and now I’m happily snacking on crackers and preparing to unwind.

P1010572The day started a bit late, with me finally picking my moto up and hitting the road around 11AM after a fantastic breakfast at the Desert Nights hostel in Huacachina. I took off south towards Nazca and checked out for the 175km or so to get here. I pondered the question of the Nazca lines but I did not bother to try to see them at a mirador or by plane, mostly because I have heard it’s not really worth it compared to the effect from satellite (thank you Google Earth).

In Nazca I got lost for a bit trying to find the turn onto 26A towards Puquio and then Carocaro, but with lots of asking and help from random strangers I was on my way – towards the massive twisting ascent up over ten thousand feet. My moto handled it fantastic, generally climbing most hills in fourth with only a few downshifts to third. The road was also much less busy and full of beautiful views.

I hoped that since I left the Panamerican I would finally stop being hassled by the policia – I’d been stopped seven times already. No such luck, as the first policia that saw me on 26A stopped me for the same reason, saying motos were prohibited! Apparently 26A is considered a feeder road to the Panamerican and the same rules apply. This guy was also very stern and took much more discussion before he finally let me go, warning me to be off the road by 6PM (around sunset) or I would get into a lot of trouble.

So I took his advice and here I am… we’ll see what happens tomorrow!

Day 4:
Begin: Unknown Location off 26A, Peru @ 7AM
End: Coracora, Peru @ 4PM
Distance: approx. 194km (~121mi) in 9 hours (~21KMH / ~13MPH average)
Average Gas Mileage: ~49MPG
Stopped by Police: 0x

I wish I could say I slept like a baby last night, but the reality is that my first night sleeping in the back seat of my motokar was not as pleasant as it could have been. I think the root of this was simply the fact that I had ascended from ~400m to 3740m (12,270ft) in one day and that transition is not conducive to comfort (I found myself waking up needing to take deep breaths and dealing with a mild headache all night).

At one point in the night I started hearing sounds of movement nearby and was wondering if someone would stop by to see what I was doing there when I heard an animal snort of some kind. Knowing there are all sorts of domestic animals around here in herds, I didn’t worry too much, but drifted off back to sleep. Later I was awoken by something and my sleep befuddled brain wasn’t sure what it was… I slowly processed it and realized something had smashed into my motokar frame (probably the back bumper), rocking it and making a loud metallic *ping* sound.

For what felt like another ten minutes I debated ignoring it and going back to sleep (comfy in my sleeping back pulled over my head), or extricating myself to investigate. Prudence finally won out and I sat up to look behind me and see, to my surprise, a herd of at least ten cows including a number of very large bulls staring at me from five feet away. How should one deal with such a situation? Shoo them off? I couldn’t decide, so instead I just went back to sleep and hoped I didn’t wake up to a bull goring my feet or something…

When the sun came up, I quickly packed and navigated my way back towards the road, a process which turned out to be quite difficult since I had failed to consider there would be a large amount of condensation at night turning the dirt into muddy sand. I may have even been trapped if it had rained in any quantity!

Once back on the road, it only took me a few hours to get to Puqiou on the nice paved road, though my poor motokar was struggling greatly during some of the transitions over 4300m (14,000+ ft), especially on the hills. I spent a lot of time in 2nd gear being very careful for worries of my chain (I am not carrying a spare, which is a really stupid oversight – I asked for two in Lima but they didn’t give them to me and I forgot to follow up). I also found myself on reserve as I closed towards Puqiou, unsure if I would even make it! Another note – I really need to buy a gas can!

Puqiou was an interesting town, however I transitioned it fast expecting to have a short 60km or so ride to Carocaro on a dirt road. In retrospect, I should have just headed for Abancay and the dealer there, but Carocaro was closer according to Google Maps! Let me just say, that’s the last time I rely on Google Maps because apparently it hasn’t heard of this thing called “twisty mountain roads.”

P1010586I don’t even want to get into this in too much detail because it was mind numbing. Let’s just say the next 100km or so to Carocaro was a road consisting entirely of (in various spots) mud, sand, dirt, gravel, and rock with a number of water crossings with depths over eight inches. On top of that, it constantly climbed and ascended, with the longest straight stretch on the entire road being maybe two hundred feet. Altitudes varied from mid 3000 meters to low 4000 meters, with my little motokar struggling up hills and staggering down them.

P1010595This section of road, around one hundred kilometers, took me around seven hours (do that math). Around five hours in, I noticed that my front fender was loose and banging around and that some bolts had fallen out. I tightened the two remaining and decided to leave it on with the belief that it would hold until Carocaro, which I kept thinking was just around the corner (it was not). After stopping a few times at ten minute intervals to re-tighten it I was considering applying some Quicksteel to hold it in place and literally looking for a spot to pull over on the side of the road to do so (that wasn’t too muddy/sandy) when it gave out completely.

P1010588With a heart wrenching lurch my moto slid to a stop in the mud, almost tipping over on its side. I had a panic thought that my engine had seized when I realized it must have been the front fender. A quick investigation showed that only one bolt remained and that the fender had wedged itself into the tire and front forks. I removed the fender and got back on to continue onwards when I realized something was very wrong – my front forks appeared to be severely bent, meaning that when the wheel was pointing straight ahead my handlebars were angled at around 30 degrees to the left!

This made the rest of the ride into Carocaro a bit miserable, especially since ever time I looked up for the road to take in the view I would naturally square my hands and send my moto careening towards a cliff, more often than not only saving it at the last second. Fighting the steering constantly, I finally rounded a corner to see another lush green valley spread out before me with a weird green lake (algae, like Huacachina I expect) and, what is that?! A huge town sprawled out that can only be Carocaro!

The problem: It was on the other side of the valley! ARGH. There is little more frustrating than spending two hours descending one side of a mountain, then ascending the other side, all the while watching your destination slowly grow closer. The road also turned to this horrible rocky surface that bounced my moto everywhere (I’ll take dirt over rock any day), leaving me in fear of some sort of catastrophic failure from my damaged forks. Arrival into Carocaro was a bit emotional, but I kept it under control while asking for directions to Av. 9 de Diciembre where the Honda repair place was.

Fifteen minutes of driving around town following directions got me to the right street, only to find that directions to the Honda place at the end of the street weren’t correct because it wasn’t there! I kept asking people who directed me back to this area, when I finally got the bright idea of asking a guy on a Honda motorcycle. I found out that Ponte Honda had moved and was now on the other side of town!

With a few more stops for directions, I drove by a house with some large doors and a Honda generator banner outside, but no other indications. Could this be it? I knocked on the doors with no luck when a neighbour pulled up. A quick conversation verified I was at the right place, then while I was talking the main mechanic pulled up! Perfect. He told me he’d be happy to work on my moto early in the morning and eventually even showed me a nearby hostal that had secure parking.

Room and imminent repairs secured, I went into town to eat my first food in around 30 hours. I walked into a pollo a la brasa place that was open (at 4:30PM, a miracle! most don’t eat dinner until much later) and asked if they had food, to which the reply was “yes, but we only have pollo a la brasa!” Well, that’s what I want, so I ordered half a chicken and gorged myself on it and a huge mound of fries while watching Baywatch in Spanish.

I don’t remember ever actually watching an episode of that show as a kid and I don’t think I paid much attention as an adult. The whole time I kept watching all the “sexy” women bouncing around in their high-waisted bikinis and all I could think was that it made their asses look funny and thank goodness for modern swimwear. Wonder what the kids will be thinking in twenty years looking back on today’s bikinis…

Perhaps pondering this was a sign of how tired I was, so I retired to my hostal to watch a few episodes of “modern” tv shows on my laptop and crash out early. Trying to keep myself on a strict 6AM wakeup from here on out.

The hard decision to be made tomorrow, after the work is done on my moto, is… where to go from here? I am wondering if maybe it’s best that I go back to Puquio then north to Abancay and take the Cusco route. I’ve done that one before, which is why I wanted to take the Panamerican down until I could transition to Bolivia, but I’ll be honest – I’m getting sick of talking my way past these policia and I can’t help but agree with the last one who warned me it’s only a matter of time until I encounter one who isn’t willing to bend the rules for me.

It’s annoying how much navigation plays a role in these trips – I know I’ll get where I’m going no matter what, but it sucks to arrive there emotionally and physically played out sometimes. Ah well.



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