Begin: Lima, Peru @ 1PM
End: Huacachina Oasis in Ica, Peru @ 10PM
Distance: approx. 303km (~190mi) in 9 hours (~33KMH / ~21MPH average)
Average Gas Mileage: ~57MPG
Stopped by Police: 2x
Almost exactly a month to the day from the initial purchase, my mototaxi (henceforth “motokar” or “moto” since the locals use those terms most) was finally going to be ready to go at 11AM today. It took a teeny bit longer, but before long I was tearily shaking hangs with Enrique at Desert Honda and waving goodbye to my home in Lima (at Pirwa Backpackers Hostel) to head out on this brave new adventure.
I was quite surprised to escape the clutches of Lima with a minimum of hassle, I only missed a few turns and my map kept me under control. Soon enough I had made it to the Panamerican Highway where my real struggle would begin. I need to take this road south for quite awhile before I can cut away from it and there’s only one problem with this scenario: Motos are prohibited on the Panamerican. Time to see how far my charm could get me…
I started out catching the pieces of Panamerica Antigua that I could, as it’s a local road that parallels the highway. Before long I ran out and had no choice but to merge onto the four lane autopista directly before a toll! Three ladies from three different booths came out to tell me that I couldn’t drive a moto on the autopista, but they quickly relented in response to my subtle wit and charm – “this time only!” they tell me as they let me through (okay I admit I’m pretty sure this only worked because I just smiled really big and told them I would drive careful on the side and they could not resist my infectious grin!).
From there, things got boring, really fast. There’s a reason I don’t want to take the Panamerican down like many people do and this is exactly why – it’s a busy road through a desert in this area, where everyone drives super fast. I amused myself by attempting to translate all the giant billboards (harder than you may think), either trying to figure out what a word meant by the placement or just making up a meaning (this is probably not a good idea). I also settled down to fall in love with my moto.
I didn’t expect it to happen so fast – it’s not a normal thing, a moto. It doesn’t quite drive like a motorcycle or a car or an ATV, the closest I have experienced is maybe a snowmobile. On the other hand, I’ve driven one for over two thousand miles before, so maybe it was more a matter of remembering than learning… regardless, by the time I was out of Lima I was seriously stoked. This Honda is bloody fun to drive and it’s going to be awesome to take it to the end of the world.
To start with I was extremely careful as the engine was brand new. After the first hundred kilometers I could feel everything bedding in, some of the vibrations stopping, and the engine generally breathing better. I still haven’t taken it to the limit, but I’m guessing it will top out at around 70KMH (44MPH). There’s a bad resonance from 45KMH to 55KHM, but just north of 55KMH (35MPH) seems to be the sweet spot for cruising,right around 7500RPM (redline is just north of 9000RPM). Of course this will change as I get up into the mountains and lose oxygen.
The foot pegs, gear and brake levers, and handlebars are all quite comfortable, though the latter definitely puts out a lot of vibration – I’ve been stopped for nearly 45min and my hands are still feeling funny. There’s a nice back rest at the end of the seat that gets a lot of use (also conveniently helps prevent the back of my shirt from flying up), but the seat itself is HORRIBLE. It’s the most uncomfortable motorcycle seat I’ve ever experienced, I think because it is way too soft. My ass hurts so bad right now I can barely sit down… I sure hope I get used to that seat fast!
As I continued to feel out the moto and get used to it, I noticed the sun was going down and I had only made it around a third of the way to Ica, my ideal destination. I told myself on this trip that I wouldn’t keep driving into the night repeatedly because I miss scenery, take considerably more risks, and lose out on random side-of-the-road stops (for food or sleep). Every half hour I would tell myself that I’d stop at the next decent location, but then I’d notice how much more distance I had covered and wonder if I could make it all the way to Ica..
As darkness fell, I was waved down for the first time by the police in their ever-present checkpoints (I had avoided a couple by drafting trucks). The officer was surprised to see my strange looking face and asked for my papers while telling me that I wasn’t allowed on the highway in a moto. I gave him my license and registration and told him the nice ladies at the toll booth had let me through, so it must be okay, right? He then asked the standard “where are you going?” to which I replied “Ica” and he told me I was crazy.
I expect the conversation that followed is going to be typical for me on this trip – I explained that I was traveling all over South America by motokar and was raising money for a charity that helped children in their country. There was a crowd of police officers asking questions before long and my illegal driving of the Panamerican was quickly tossed off with a “please be very careful and good luck!” and I was off again.
A few hours later, the scenario repeated itself, except the second officer said it would be okay to drive it in the daylight but not at night! I told him stories about driving in India at night and explained that the trucks and busses here are actually quite nice (they are) and he let me off as well.
Twilight turned to darkness quickly, the darkness that you forget is reality outside a city or a suburb with street lights. Even with a large moon, I could barely make out shapes on the side of the road and resorted to simply trusting in the quality of the road as I crush another couple hundred kilometers. Suddenly I saw a sign that said Ica was only 25km away, and in my travel addled state it seemed I had teleported 300km to get there. I rode into the town surprised at how big it was, found the turn towards Huacachina on my map and road into the little tourist area at the oasis.
As I drove around looking for a hostel (the plan is to spend a day here sandboarding), I went to the end of a street and started at the darkest one only to have a guy come out all excited to talk about my moto, then be joined by a woman. They turned out to be running the hostel, loved what I was doing, and hooked me up with one bed in an empty hostel room for 20 soles! Then Victor asked if he could drive my moto around before putting it into some secure parking and I got to experience being a passenger in my moto for the first time.
Then, a shower – I was shocked to notice how crazily swept back my hair was, though I guess I should have predicted it. I looked craaazy. There is a big fiesta in town going on right now and I was promised tons of beer and girls if I went, but instead I decided to wind down and recover. Within a couple weeks a nine hour non-stop day won’t be that unusual for me, but for now the emotional and physical impact is definitely noticeable. Ah, sleep…
P.S. Because I had a destination and was dealing with the emotional payload of a new moto and a new adventure, I didn’t take very many photos today. That will change as time passes!
(written April 15 @ 11PM)