March 30, 2010

The Road to Arequipo

The kitty litter gets more interesting when it is juxtaposed with El Mar Pacifico.  I have been following the coast for about 2,000 kilometers, but the ocean is always out of sight, except for the odd glimpse in the distance.  Today I chose to head for Arequipo and the world's deepest canyon instead of Machu Pichu.  A few kilometers out and I was right beside the ocean for most of the way.  I stopped here in Aticlo, about 300 km from Arequipo.

This may be why the road stays away from the ocean :-)  Actually for most of the way there was very little sand, mostly kitty litter.  The next picture was taken by setting the camera on the ground on a typical spot, thousands of kilometers of this, it looks like those mars pictures.  

I have been trying to be polite about the food in Central and South America, but the truth is I don't really like it that much, overcooked and bland.  Peru will change all that.  Along with the pretty girls, Peru also knows how to cook tasty meals, the ingredients are the same, it just tastes better.

Aticla has a great beach,  but it is probably not safe for swimming, huge waves rolling in all day, that I imagine would have surfers drooling.  However this is a working beach, the local people collect seaweed from the rocks which is laid out to dry, then bundled and shipped off in trucks.  Seaweed (brown algae) is an important ingredient for many food products, including ice cream.

Strolling along the beach I came across the skull of a dolphin.

More pix here;

March 29, 2010

To Machu or Not

Check out the license plate on the bus.  

Today or early tomorrow I will have to make up my mind which road to take, the road that will take me to Cuzco and Machu Pichu, or the other road which will take me to another archeological site and Chile.  Machu Pichu has been closed becuase of rain, it is supposed to open April 1, but there will be a long line of people waiting to get in.  Decisions, decisions.

Today I landed in Nazca, the place with the lines in the sand,  where the ancient indians left secret messages for the flying saucer folks.  

I am staying in resort type hotel right across from the aeropuerto that takes el turistos to see the lines.  I saw one set of lines more economically (1 Sole) from this tower.   I don't know why it looks so crooked in the photo, it looked pretty straight when I climbed it.

I had expected that each figure was like a half a mile long or something.  Maybe some are, but this one was the size of a small playing field (hockey rink?).  Anyway it can be seen fairly clearly from the top of the tower, four flights of stairs, ~10 feet each?

I bought a DVD, I am sure that will have some aerial views.

So I guess you want to know what's up with the van.  Dominic and Belinda have been on the road for about a year and half in the VW.  Dominic was living in BC, and Belinda is from New Zealand.  You can read all about their adventures on their blog, Nice people.

I spent yesterday on the beach, and most of today riding through more kitty litter.  About half way here, the road descends into the oasis valley of the Rio Grande and the city of Ica.  Great view driving in. 

The place I am staying, the Hotel Maison Suisse in Nasca (peruvian spelling) is an oasis as well, or was, two tour buses full of various Euros just unloaded, one set in this super cool adventure tour truck-bus, they will be camping in the yard.  Hope they don't stay up all night roasting weenies and telling ghost stories.

March 28, 2010

The many faces of Peru

This is Lima

So is this

This was my hotel in Lima.  Looks not too bad right?  Inside though, there are jails with less security.  You get in by knocking on a door, which is unlocked electronically if you are allowed in.  You can`t get in or out unless the invisible man with the button lets you.  Nevertheless, with all this security, somebody got into my room and pilfered my cell phone, and all my USB and SD cards with photos on them.  Fortunately I have already mailed my backups to Alberta, so I only lost a few hundred Peru pictures, and my cell phone which did not work woth a tinkers damn anyway.  Did I mention that Bell Canada sucks? It does, just like all the other cell phone companies.  If ever there is an industry crying out for regulation, this is it.  Anyway no biggee, life goes on.  If this is the worst thing that happens than I will have been lucky.

Southward Ho.  This part of Peru, the coast,  looksmostly  like a giant kitty litter spill 100s and 100s of kilometers.

The west coast is extremely dry,   this is a Sahara style desert, the only thing that grows are sand dunes.  There is agriculture only where there are rivers coming down from the mountains, otherwise it all looks just like the picture on the right.  In places dunes that may drift across the road like snow drifts.

I could not resist leaving a bit of Canada behind.

If you like sandy beaches, you will love Peru, the beach must be about 50 kilometers wide.  Today I am in Paracas, a resort town with luxury hotels where they only take dollars and gringos for guests.  I am not a guest here, my hotel landlady promised me internet, but hers did not work, so she got me into this place to use their PC, the best internet connection I have had since starting this trip. :-)

March 26, 2010

Life's a Beach

This part of Peru is not a pretty place.  It is a desert and everything is monotone brown.  But people have been living here for thousands of years, and developed products and technologies that are still in daily use all over the world.  Hands up who knew that potatoes, tomatoes, and the cotton variety most grown, originated here?  I did not.  What is really cool is that the people here, who are thoroughly modern by the way, still use the stuff developed by their ancestors many thousands of years ago. Fisherman put their nets out in reed boats (buttressed with a styrofoam core)  A lady I spoke to lives in an adobe house made of sun dried mud bricks that was built by her father about 14 years ago.  The next day I visited an archeological excavation of a 1300 year old (huge) temple made of adobe bricks.  The people who lived here 3000 years ago developed irrigation systems to take the water flowing from the mountains and make the desert fertile.  Irrigation is still used today.  They had highly advanced pottery and ceramics, check out the replica vase and compare it with the features of the Moche man next to it.

March 25, 2010

The Driving Post

People have been asking me about driving in Latin America, and how dangerous it is.  If you are reading this in Canada or the United States, I'll bet you saw more accidents in your morning commute than I have seen since I entered Mexico on February 5.  But, if like me, your driving experience has been limited to Canada and the US, riding a moto here can be terrifying.

If you want to ride here you have to unlearn everything you thought you knew about how riding in traffic.  If you have ever raced, the unwritten rules are sort of the same as on the race track, pass the slower guys anyway you can, but never recklessly, if you are slow, expect the fast guys to pass you anyway they can, you ride your bike, they ride theirs.

Most of the highways are two lanes or 4 lanes with a divider.  You share the road with cars, trucks, other motos, mostly of the small variety, buses, dogs, donkeys, horses, pigs, goats, chickens, pedestrians, bicycles, moto taxis, just about everything that moves.  You are not allowed to hit anything, and neither are they.

 First off, speed limits, in most Latin American countries the posted speed limit is a suggestion to be taken as seriously as advice from your mother.  The police have better things to do than chasing speeders, (unless you are in Costa Rica, Honduras or Panama).

The maximum posted speed everywhere I have been so far is 80 kmh, with the exception of a very few limited access toll roads where the speed limit was 110 kmh.  You won't have many opportunities to go faster than about 120 for brief periods, you will be doing good to average 60 kmh overall.  Speed is controlled by the conditions of the road, the other vehicles, roaming domesticated animals, speed bumps, tight curves, and the towns, which are only about 10 or 20 kilometers apart.

An octoganal red sign that says PARE (stop) is treated the same as a yield sign, drivers stop only if someone is coming.

Traffic circles are common in many Latin American countries.

Passing is permitted any way you can manage it without actually hitting anything, including but not limited to left, right, or up the middle.  Be prepared to move over when facing an oncoming line of traffic backed up behind a slow moving vehicle. 

The unwritten rules of the road are, slower yields to faster, smaller yields to bigger.  If you are going slower than the guy behind you, move over, he is not going to hit you, there is room enough on a two line highway for three full size tractor trailers side by side.

Traffic is usually heavy close to towns, and gridlocked in the cities. Motos can and do thread through stopped traffic, between cars, in front of stopped cars, up the sidewalk, whatever works.  Just don't hit anything.

Traffic lights are usually respected, but if it stays red too long, and it is safe to proceed, drivers will run the light.  Sometimes the lights are not working.  They generally place a convenient PARE sign in the intersection for those eventualities.

The cities and towns mostly pre date automobile traffic, and the streets are very narrow, so usually what happens when you enter a town is that the highway is split into opposing streets, each one way in opposite directions.  Whenever this happens watch carefully for signs that lead you back out of town. If there are no signs, follow the big trucks, and hope they are going through.

Latin American drivers are accustomed to sharing the road with a wide variety of vehicles, and other moving objects.  They see you, and they are not going to run you over unless you do something unexpected.  Think of a squirrel or a deer on the road, nobody wants to hit them, the reason they become road kill is because they are unpredictable.  If you panic and do something unpredictable from the local driver's standpoint, you are making it difficult for the other drivers to avoid hitting you.

The biggest adjustment I had to make was to my comfortable distance zone.  Keep your one car length for every 10 kph or whatever from the guy in front of you, and the guy behind you will be in there before you can blink. If the big truck behind the other big truck wants to pass and you are going the other way, you better move over, it's OK, there is lots of room. If someone puts their bumper 6 inches off your license plate, either pick up your speed or move over.    If a Latin American driver is going to pull something that would trigger a full blown road rage incident in Gringoland, he will toot his horn as a courtesy to let you know he is about to have your ass.  If an oncoming driver flashes his lights or high beams he is warning you that you are approaching a hazard, be alert for anything from a donkey road kill to a sand dune in your lane.

You can go as fast or as slow as you prefer and road conditions allow.  If you want to go slow, move over to the right, everybody will pass you, but they won't hit you, it's OK nobody gets upset, you are probably going faster than the man riding the horse.  If you think you are ready for the big time go ahead and pass everybody. As far as solid yellow lines go, refer to the earlier paragraph on speed limits and stop signs. Don't hit anybody either.

Road hazards to watch for,

Trucks, the big highway hauler drivers are the most courteous and also the slowest vehicles on the road if you are in towns, near curves or in the mountains.  They will do what they can to let you pass, and wave you on if the road is clear. 

Buses, and there are lots of buses, are the worst.  They will stop anywhere, including the middle of the road to unload or load passengers.  They will also dart from one side to the other, or pull a big passing move on you and then throw on the brakes to let somebody off or on.  If someone is standing beside the road, chances are they are waiting for a bus, in any case the bus will slow for them whether they want one or not.

Intercity taxis are also very good, if you follow one (not too close) you can learn how to drive in Latin America from an expert who drives all day every day. The taxis in the cities are like buses everywhere, stay clear.
(El Yellow Peril)

Farm trucks are the same as farm trucks everywhere, slow and oblivious. If you see a tiny pickup truck with stock racks and people sitting or standing on the truck bed you are actually seeing a rural bus.  They are usually slow, and keep to the side.  Moto taxis, three wheel cars, etc. are very slow. 

The man in the shiny new luxury car truck or SUV is king of the road.  He is not used to motos that can travel at high velocity, and will do whatever he needs to pass you.  Best to let him go. He can be very persistent.

Other motos, scooters and mopeds are typically of the 200 cc or less variety, they will dart all around you in the cities, but on the highway a twist of the wrist leaves em behind. 

You will also need to keep your eye out for cows, pigs, and other creatures. Dogs are the same as dogs everywhere, most of want to chase you, and quite a few do.  Dogs are also the most common road kill I saw, probably a 10 to one ratio of dogs to all other species, so I guess it is OK to hit a dog.

March 23, 2010

36 Horas en Peru (mas o minus)

Whenever I cross a border it is like entering an entirely different country, this would be because I am entering an entirely different country.  The effect is often a shock to the senses, but rarely so much as entering Peru from Ecuador.  I have posted 138 pictures on Picasa taken in the last 36 hours.  I think the pictures speak better than my words so here goes, off to Picasa.  (I promise I won't it again)

Someone was asking if I was taking lots of pictures, a friend wanted to know what the women were like in South America.  The answer to the first is, yes, when I am not riding I am snapping.  The answer to the last, all's I can say is that the ladies of Peru are easy on the eyes. 

I have also been accused of not taking 'people pictures'.  People react in various ways (mostly bad) when they know their picture is being taken, so I have started to hang the camera around my neck and and just push the button while I am strolling through a place.  This is why so many are cockeyed. 

March 22, 2010

Adios Ecuador, Hola Peru

Before I left Ecuador I made a side trip to Zamora to see Podocarpus National Park. 
Ecuador is green in more ways than one, they are at the forefront when it comes to protecting their environment, no basura here, you can't even fumar in the park. 
The park starts high in the mountains just outside of Loja and descends into the Amazon watershed at Zamora.  I visited the amazon part as I had yet to see the rain forest.  It met all expectations, including the rain part! 

I left cool Loja wearing all my cold weather gear (10 C in the morning) , and was down to a T shirt when I got to Zamora two hour later.  Follow the link to more pics

Peru was an easy border crossing, everybody was super helpful on both sides.  No Tramitadors needed or wanted.

March 21, 2010


This was a roadside food stand, one of about a half a dozen all roasting pigs like this in La Paz Ecuador, (3085 meters elevation!).  They were also doing interesting things with all the stuff that used to be inside the pig.  I had a coffee and a cheese sandwich. Yes, the lady is roasting the pig with a tiger torch.  I may try this at home instead of one of those fancy ceramic barbecues.  Seems to work pretty good.

The Indian ladies in Ecuador wear fedora hats.  Sometimes they wear one on top of the other, or maybe top off their fedora with a ball cap.  These ladies are from Tiobamba, where they favor dark colored felt hats.
This lady is from is from Cuenca
where the white panama is the only hat to have.

The police in Columbia and Ecuador use mostly motorcycles, and mostly Kawasaki KLR 650s.  In Columbia they might also ride a Suzuki Freewind which is a DR650 with a large tank and windscreen similar to the KLR or my KTM (and not available in Canada).  They often ride two to a bike. 

When I was in Quito two cops on one bike rolled up to a kid about 20 feet in front of me, jumped off and made him hand over his jacket which he was holding in his hand.  It was hiding a knife.   I am pretty sure it was a gang thing, the kid looked OK to me, about 16.  The cops must have been looking for him, because they went straight to him and it was all over in seconds.

In all the cities in Ecuador I have stayed and looked around, there are hardly any stores as we know them.  What they have is large buildings called Centro Comercials.  They are divided into small stalls, each with their own proprietor.  The stalls are grouped by whatever they are selling, all ropa (clothes) together, all food stuff together, all cel phone accesories together etc..  It is like a city wide farmers market and flea market. 
There are also lots of small tiendas, like the old mom and pop corner stores we used to have before 7-11 and Macs took that market over.  Tiendas are everywhere, at least one or two per block.  Many do not let the customers inside, you have ask for what you want from the sidewalk.

One of my personal gripes is that hotels everywhere seem to always have bizzare plumbing fixtures in their showers that I can never figure out how to use first thing in the morning, when all's I want to do is to take a damn shower, not to take some damn IQ test on how to make it work.  On your left is the grand champion of evil showers, located in the Aqua Hotel and Spa 'Bet (sic) and Breakfast' in Cuenca.  This thing will hose you four ways from Sunday, it is a drive through car wash for people.  I hosed down the entire bathroom trying to figure how it works.  Woulda been great if they had hot water.

I was having a hamburguesa with a yogurt strawberry drink (very popular all over, very good), when this kid and a smaller one walked in with a plastic grocery bag and proceeded to empty the leftover contents of the plates that diners had left behind.  He also finished off a left over half empty coke bottle, and returned the empty to the counter man, gave his brother (I assume it was) some chicken bones, and took the bag out to his mother (I assume) who was selling lottery tickets on the sidewalk in front.  About ten minutes later he was standing in front of me, staring at me and my yogurt drink.  The pic tells what happened next :-)   

I have only had a few kids come up to me ask for money.  I gave the first one a peso in Mexico.  A guy I was talking to said I should not do that, as the kids can make good money begging from tourists and then they drop out of school.  That made sense to me, so when a kid asks for money, I ask them why they want the money, usually they say 'por comida'  (food).  I then say OK, I will buy you some food, they usually go away at that point, with me shouting "¡Va escuala!" at their disappearing backsides.  I don't what this kid was asking for, he did not say anything, but he got my yogurt.

Speaking of escuela (school) in most of Latin America kids wear school uniforms, or uniform clothing, usually a navy skirt for girls, navy pants for boys with a plain white shirt or top.  In Ecuador it seems that school does not get out till 6 PM, which is about when this picture was taken.  They do get out around noon, and I believe they do not go back until 3.  From what I can see, kids are very well behaved here. 

In all the parts of Ecuador I have visited so far, everybody wears a sweater in the morning and evening.  When I ride my bike I wear practically all of my cold weather gear.  The weather is the same as Calgary in the summer all year round. 

This was another roadside food stand, looks yummy don't it?  I wasn't real hungry, so I just had a coffee.

March 19, 2010

¡You can´t get lost if you don´t know where you are going!

Make sure you click on the picture above and make it full size.  Then look up, look way up.

Ecuador improves markedly once past Tulcan and having quit Quito.  Riobamba and Cuenca are way nicer.  I stopped over in Riobamba on my way to Cuenca where there is a KTM dealer.  The bike is way overdue for an oil change and assorted maintenance tasks. 

Leaving Riobamba I just headed south instead of seeking out the Pan American Highway, and ended up in some amazing places, and as a bonus I got to Cuenca as well.  I also got full use of the off road capabilities of the KTM :-)  All in all it has been a great ride, every day I can´t imagine that it can get any better, but somehow everyday it does. 
More on picasa,

March 18, 2010

Comida Post

Comida means food and also lunch or dinner. One of my fans (thanks Dave) was asking about food, and how I am making out.  First off in Latin America they don't eat when we eat.  Most restaurants do not open until 9 AM for desayuno (breakfast).  Desayuno is best eaten just before noon, and here is why.

This was today's desayuna, sopa (soup) with large chunks of potato, a beef rib, very tiny noodles, and unidentifiable yellow blobs floating on top, a glass of orange juice, a banana, a plate with arroz (rice), carne (meat), and frijoles (beans).  In Ecuador this set me back a whole $1.75, I thought I was robbing the lady, she even wanted to give me back the 25 cent tip I left.  Another desayuna came with the above, a chicken leg instead of carne, and two very well done sunny side up eggs, and a pan (bun).  I think that one was 2,700 Columbian pesos or about the same as Ecuador, but it sounded better.   These meals are not what I want to be eating first thing in the AM, but I usually skip breakfast so this is not a problem.

Comida (dinner) is supposed to be in the afternoon and cena (supper) about 7 to 9 PM.   My problem is that the type of restaurant where locals eat do not have menus, and if they do it is all wishful thinking anyway, as most items are named so that I can't tell what it is and often not available.  People just ask for stuff and they get it, they have tbeen there before so they know what to order. 

At one restaurant I explained that I had not a clue and asked the lady who waited on me to give me something typical.  This is what I got.  Beef sliced very thin and very well done, like a schnitzel, papas (potatoes) arroz, and an excellent cucumber salad with onions and tomatoes and other stuff.  Meals are light on meat, with lots of arroz and frijoles.  Meat even pollo (chicken) is usually sliced very thin like a schnitzel.  Oh, and the beer is excellent everywhere, I always make sure to try the local brew.  The cooking I find a bit on the bland side, spices are not used flavors are very subtle.  There is usually a salsa that is supplied on the side, and it is usually spicy hot.

There is a wide variety of vegetables and fruits most of which I do not recognize, all grown locally, probably on the side of a hill.

It is brought to town, probably in a bus, or a small truck or a small truck that is also a bus, and carried to market or a store.


The market in Riobamba was fascinating, so I am going to do a seque.

And  for those of us (like me) who must have a morning coffee, and are up early, will need to find a panaderia (bake shop), or a roadside stall, usually the first businesses to open (7 AM).  (Licore stores are usually open 24 horas.) More often than not you are given a cup of hot water and jar of instant.  The pastries are not very good, they taste like the day old stuff from Safeway, which they probably are, (or the equivalent). They don't seem to make their own in the panaderias I have been in.  The bread (pan) is very different from Norte Americano pan, it is more like cake than bread, I don't like it much.

The reason comida has remained a mystery so far is that after desayuna I can't even think about food until cena.  But if looking for a snack, an empenada, a deep fried dumpling filled with carne (meat) or queso (cheese) will do the trick, they come in all sizes, the one pictured is huge, they can also be much smaller, like a wonton. 
Street venders also sell all kinds of interesting snack food, a shish-ke-bob meat sliced very thin on a stick is my favorite.  Leche con jugo is milk mixed with fruit juice, and is delicious.  In Panama and Costa Rica vendors sell cold coconut milk with chunks of coconut in it.  This can also come in a can alongside your regular pop and energy drinks in convenience stores.