Desert Beaches

Written July 20, 2016

With the slight nervousness we always feel when crossing into a new country, we approached the border into Peru.  We were stamped out of Ecuador with quick efficiency, and rode across the bridge over the Rio Macara.  Peruana Migracion stamped our passports with 183 days of time to see the country, after which we moved across the street and purchased the mandatory seguro (insurance) for the bikes.  After that it was up the road another 100 feet or so to the Aduana office to import the motos.  Sadly, the bikes were only given 90 days in Peru, even though I kind of begged, so that will be our limiting factor.  We took our time and made sure all the numbers were correct before signing the documents.  Friends have experienced trouble when exiting countries, especially Peru, because mistakes were made at entry, often simple typos, and so we are very careful about this.  Once we were satisfied, we rode south to continue our journey in the land of the Incas.

Peru was immediately different from Ecuador.  The coastal region dries out as you move south from the equator, and there is a fairly abrupt change in the border region.  On our route south, angling toward the Pacific, the land flattened and dried out drastically.  We were down in the coastal desert now, and in a much poorer country.  Visually, it looked much like northern Mexico deja vu.  Cactus, brush, sand and rocks.  Hot and dry.  Garbage was once again all around us.  But it was somehow liberating to be back in a place where things were simpler, choices in the little stores were fewer, road rules, or enforcement anyway, were nearly non-existent, and people just seemed happy in such a simple way.  Indeed, while having a flavor all its own, Peru has that old familiar loose feel and attitude, where most things are tolerated as long as we all get along.  Or don’t crash.

We stayed our first night in a little village called Chulucanas.  From here, we had a choice - go straight as an arrow across the Desierto de Sechura, or skirting inland along the base of the Andes.  The inland route seemed more interesting to us, a little windier and going through several towns along the way south toward Chiclayo.  Our route was desolate but quite beautiful, passing across great fields of sage-like brush, sometimes winding up and down to penetrate low hills sticking out from the mountains like troll’s toes.  There were places where water turned a valley green around us for a brief time, then we were back into the rock and sand that dominated.

Eroded pyramid at Sipan ruins.

We stayed at Chiclayo for 3 nights, after having been on the road daily since Vilcabamba.  I did a little work on the bikes (Jalene’s water pump is starting to leak coolant again), and we visited the site of the Sipan ruins and spectacular treasure excavated from the tombs there recently.  The treasure recovered and displayed now at the museum in Lambayeque rivals Tutankhamen’s, and is of finely crafted gold, silver, copper, and turquoise.  We rode out to the Sipan site itself and saw the eroded pyramids, which were made from adobe bricks.  Over several hundred years, the periodic El Niño/La Niña rain cycles had turned them into ordinary-looking worn-down desert hills, but when you inspect them closely the faint horizontal tracings of the rows of adobe become visible.  The excavation pits were still there, and they have recreated what was found in the pits, allowing you to see just how things were laid out in the tomb.  Well worth a visit if you are in the Chiclayo area.

After leaving Chiclayo, we headed south along the coast to an area recommended by an Ecuadorian friend, and we found our way across the flat, baked rocky sands to Chicama, a tiny surf village on Punto Malabrigo.  We were hot and tired after this day, and welcomed the cool breeze off the water.  We treated ourselves to a hotel costing more than our “limit,” but we struck a bargain and got a great deal on a really nice room for the night.  Our view was of the “Chicama surf spot,” which a friend in Oregon tells me is one of the longest left surf breaks in the world.  Indeed, one could sit and watch the waves continuously peeling, row after row, as they bent around the point and came toward the sandy shoreline.

Chicama surf spot and our treat for a night.

Waking up in Chicama was like waking up in Newport, our home in Oregon.  It was cold, the wind was blowing, and the sky was gray.  Who signed us up for this?  Breakfast was outside on the patio, not exactly what I was looking for, but we got fed with some great food and juice, packed up the bikes, and went inland just a bit before finding warmer air.  We were bound for the metropolis of Trujillo that day, and didn’t have far to go, so on the way we checked out some river valleys inland a little ways, and found incredibly dry, rocky plains between ridges where water comes down only during flood times.  We rode up a ways to get a feel for the country, over the sandy, rocky road leading literally “upriver” in the riverbed.   We could have continued if we wanted to and looped around into Trujillo from another way, but our hungry bellies won out and we went back down to the highway, where we ate at our typical little roadside restaurant stop for almuerzo, which is almost always a great lunch of soup, some chicken or pork, and maybe rice with yucca or platano, with a glass of fresh juice.  Usually it’s the equivalent of just 2 or 3 dollars, a heck of a deal for a good hot meal.

We only stayed one night in Trujillo.  We found ourselves in a crummy hotel and just didn’t like the feel of the town.  Later we found out that Huanchaco, just outside of Trujillo, was a much better place to stay, but our choice had been made, and so we packed up and headed inland to explore the northern Peruvian Andes.

After heading inland along the Rio Moche, it didn’t take long for the land to begin rising, and we found ourselves in green farmland along the bottom of a narrowing and steepening valley.  Beautiful, lush crops of potatoes, grains, and a little coffee grew alongside the road in small plots, and it took on almost a storybook feel to it as we were lifted through several small villages and the road snaked up and around like a roller-coaster.  We stopped to take a short break at a nice overlook, and a dog came barking up at us from a house just below.  With the steep drop-off, you could almost literally step out onto the roof of the house.  Soon a woman came up after the dog, and just as loud, whacking it with her cane and apologizing to the two gringos beside the road.  We had a pleasantly broken conversation with her.  She was a friendly, happy, comfortable person who was pleased to meet us, and let us get a photo with her and her lovely farmland valley.  Even if we only half knew what she was saying, it was obvious she was welcoming us into her land, and was pleased to meet us.  This is a place AND a face I’ll always remember.

Keith's roadside friend.

Soon we were high in the Andes again.  The air dried out, the land dried out, and it got cold.  We crossed a pass over 4,200 meters just two hours after leaving sea level, and found ourselves amidst huge mines, where they extracted gold, silver and copper.  Gigantic piles of mine tailings were around us at times.  But more often we were riding through starkly beautiful mountain tops covered with thin bunchgrasses and brush, no trees and little sign of rainfall.  The air was thin and cold and the wind never stopped.  Coal was piled outside some of the houses we passed.  Breathing was a purposeful exercise, getting what oxygen out of it that we could.  We endured this for couple of hours before coming into the town of Huamanchuco. 

As we came near the town, we were famished, so we stopped at a building that looked empty except for the chalkboard almuerzo sign out front.  We stopped and had a great meal of the usual soup, chicken and rice, skipped the salad, thanks, and a glass of juice.  A few other people were eating there, which was a good sign, and as usual, everyone was friendly.  The baños here were typical, in that they were clean enough, but one had to take a bucket and dip some water out of a barrel to flush the toilet, which was not plumbed to a water source.  The sink had cold water, and even some soap, which was great.  As is normal, no towel for your hands.  Bathrooms in more frequented places will almost always have the toilet working normally, but soap and towels are always hit or miss.  Seats on the toilet are sometimes not present, and hot water in the sink is very rare.

Huamanchuco is down in a bit of a valley and sheltered from the surrounding weather.  We found a great hotel with secure parking for the bikes across the street in the compound of a car repair place.  The décor of the hotel was unique, I must say, with color and flair, but you really have to go to the photos to grasp the “style.”  Still, it had hot water, so we were totally happy.

We had crossed over a significant divide in the mountains, and we saw this immediately in the people we were now surrounded with.  We found a unique culture here, with different clothes and especially different hats.  Now most all of the ladies wore a broad-brimmed hat with a tall center and flat or dished top, made of woven plant fiber, very distinctive and attractive.  Their hats were all nearly exactly the same, and a few of the men wore them too, but it was obvious that any lady worth her salt never left the house without that sombrero.  Over the next few days as we worked our way north, we continued to see that hat, but watched the style change from place to place.

So far, the trip in Peru had been a whirlwind of places and faces and varying climates, cultures, clothes, and food, and we had only been here about a week!  We decided to slow down our movement across the landscape, and so we chose a long valley to the north of us known for it’s Peruvian mummies and sarcophagi in the high cliffs and deep canyons.  As well, the roads were narrower and more broken, traversing extremely rugged canyons and mountains in a way we’d only seen in photographs before this.  Now we were planning on roads where we could literally fall thousands of feet if we went off the side, and where trucks or buses could not pass each other.  The trip was going to get really interesting.

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Plenty of photos to see in our South American Gallery.