Shaky Concrete Boxes

We headed south from Nasca along the desert shore of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s so hard for me to believe that these are the same ocean waters shared by Oregon – I’ve never seen any place so dry and yet have an ocean of water at hand nearby.  The wet ocean beach transforms seamlessly into dunes that climb away eastward into the coastal desert mountains.  Where does the beach stop its association with the ocean, and change allegiance to the desert dunes?  It’s hard to think of a more complete opposition in duality than this.  Yin and yang taken to the extreme.  All I can do is show you the photos and let you wonder about it as much as I do.

Halfway to our next goal of Arequipa, we stayed in the beach town of Atico.  Along the coast, most rivers flowing down out of the interior mountains never make it through the coastal desert, but we do see many dry streambeds, or arroyos, some impressively deep and broad.  Along rivers that do succeed, we now see orchards of olive trees, and roadside stands selling locally produced aciete de oliva, or olive oil.  Even though the ground under the trees appears dry and dusty, the roots surely reach deep to find the life-sustaining water.  The hillside land above the olive trees is once again parched rock and sand.

Peru is full of inexpensive places to stay with food nearby, so we rarely worried about making reservations when we were just traveling along.  Since we were staying in Arequipa several days, we had used the iOverlander App to find and book a relaxing spot near the central Plaza, and once again it put us in a great place.  It was a comfortable hostel with secure parking, a rooftop terrace and ground-level courtyard inside.  We stayed four nights there, which was wonderful as it let me change Jalene’s water pump again, this time taking only 2-1/2 hours.  I had a nice level flagstone spot, and found a scrap of old cardboard to kneel on.  Curious hostel backpackers stopped by and marveled at seeing someone expose the guts of an engine on a side street in such a casual manner, except for the overlanders in old VW buses.  I give up on trying to explain a wet-plate clutch to someone who has never seen one pulled apart.

I change water pumps on our BMW F650 singles so often that the ritual has become something of a meditation now.  I find the constant repetition somehow centering and calming.  When I see oil or coolant dripping from the weep hole of one of our bikes, it once made me very upset, but now I only feel resignation and acceptance.  Discovering it dripping from both bikes together brings me double the peace, near to nirvana.  I must send my appreciation to the engine designers at Rotax.

In the early hours of our second night in Arequipa, I lay awake in the pre-dawn hours, enjoying the cool air and quiet, hearing the occasional dog or other early morning stirrings.  Very suddenly I heard the rumbling of a big truck coming down the road, not gradually, but instantly, like someone switched the sound on.  It was deep, strong, constant, and powerful, like a jet engine on a runway.  About 5 seconds later I knew the source for sure, as the ground started to shake. “Jay, get out!”  By the time I had made the doorway to the inner courtyard, the shaking stopped, and never restarted.  It lasted for maybe 6-8 seconds.  The quake happened just off the coast, many miles away, and was very shallow.  These concrete boxes we stay in make me react fast.  It’s also disconcerting when you find that the steel outer security door is locked and can’t be opened from the inside without the key, a practice not uncommon down here.  If you want to know how to get out fast, better ask ahead of time.

We had plans to ride north from Arequipa to visit Cañon del Colca, which is the second-deepest canyon in the world at 10,700’ (the deepest in the world is right next to it).  Colca is famous as a place where one can sit on the edge of the cliffs, and watch condors soaring on the thermals rising out of the canyon as they pass close by you.  A second earthquake had happened there.  Four people were dead, and the roads were damaged.  The earthquake was centered right next to Cabanaconde, the town at the edge of the canyon we were planning to stay in.  We learned the next day that the roads were being rapidly cleared, and so we decided to stick with our plans.  They treat road debris and landslides like New England treats snow – it’s plowed and cleared before you know it.

But back in Arequipa…It is a beautiful town, with a generous and lovely Plaza area with plenty of shade trees and fountains, great food, and reasonable prices for the traveler.  There is much history to be sampled here, with museums and the large convent, lots of crafts available from local artisans, and of course, huge volcanoes visible to the north from every street.  We enjoyed the view every morning from the rooftop as we had breakfast, and were able to be in t-shirts and sandals at sunup without it getting too crazy hot in the afternoon.  The breakfast conversations with travelers from around the world, with the jumble of city spread before us and the volcanoes presiding over all, were terrific fun and such an education. We spent a lot of time walking around and just wandering the central part of the city, but when we turned the corner onto “our” street with the hostel, it wonderfully changed to a quiet tree-lined small town avenue.

All this time we were catching the Olympics here and there on TV.  There are three channels down here that play Olympic events 24-7.  You can see stuff they rarely show at home in the US (women’s hammer-throw, field hockey, weight-lifting, judo, team handball), and it was great to just sit down and see what came on next.  The pole-vault showdown was incredible, with the winner becoming a Brazilian hero overnight.  As well, the Special Olympics received lots of attention and coverage here.  Best of all (in my view), there were none of those sappy time-eating profiles of the athlete and their family and their struggle.  Just show me the events – and down here, they do!

We had now spent about 6 weeks wandering around Peru as we worked our way south, and we still had three big goals ahead of us – Cañon del Colca, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca.  With some nervousness and a great deal of excitement, we made sure the bikes and ourselves were ready for high altitude, rougher roads, and life on the Altiplano as we journeyed inland and south.  Thoughts of high, rolling grasslands, llamas, Incan ruins, cold nights, alpaca blankets, the steep Andes and the Sacred Valley fired our imaginations, and energized our dreams.  And when the ground shook beneath us, it made it all so very real.

Postscript – As I finish this story, we are staying at Casa Matte, a family-owned hostel in Santiago, Chile that caters to moto-travelers.  I’m seated in the work area, amongst about a dozen motos belonging to the various travelers.  Cristian, our host, came out of the house a moment ago with a box of incense.  He told the story that, two years ago that day, a close friend of his died while exploring Iceland by motorcycle.  Christian lit a couple of fragrant sticks and placed them in an old jar in the corner.  It sits by the feet of a meter-tall statue of the Virgin Carmen, and on the jar is pasted a photo of his friend.

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We shared these photos of Arequipa in the last blog but they make make even more sense after you read this post -- click here :)