Day 6: Road to Maquegua, Peru

Another use for a helmet liner....and a good one!

 Originally we were targeting Tacna, a Peruvian town close to the Chilean border, but once again our best laid plans fell victim to over indulgence. There were simply too many  corners between Puno and Moquegua. The ride today was similar to yesterdays at the beginning, more mountains, valleys and open landscapes and the highest pass of the trip to date, 4,692 metres, the highest either Dominik or I had been on a motorcycle. We stopped at the sign for a photo-op but not for long as we were both feeling a little light headed and wanted to descend to a saner elevation.

The descent was a roller coaster of a ride, switchbacks, blind corners, semis climbing the opposite direction and a landscape that took on the appearance of Mars. For quite some time it was devoid of all vegetation, only different shades and grades of sand and rock. It was a beautiful but tedious ride which gave us a nice chance to further come to grips with our steeds. Both the Kawasaki and Honda were plugging along admirably, though they too felt the effects of altitude as they were a little sluggish up top. It is nice being on motorcycles as they are the perfect tool for driving in Peru...and speaking of driving, to say the rules of the road in Peru are flexible would be a vast understatement, to us they seemed non-existent though in Cuzco the traffic police had a pretty good handle on it. Outside of Cuzco was a different story. Every few kilometres are signs that prohibit overtaking, well, after a couple of days on the road we’re thinking of writing the Ministry of Transportation to encourage them to use the signs for something else as they serve absolutely no purpose. Overtaking in Peru is not just a common occurrence, it’s an unwritten law. If there is someone in front, you must overtake, blind corners, main street with double yellows, hills and school zones be damned. It is a right of passage, so much so that some locals have taken to driving on the left side out of habit. They only move back to their lane when a bigger vehicle approaches from the opposite direction.

We were finally getting used to the lunacy when we hit a town called Juliaca. Before we exited the other side we had a couple more home grown rules under the belt. Juliaca was huge, and like most other towns was a giant construction site, which included the roads. As soon as we entered the city we were ushered off our side of the road onto a three lane carriageway coming the opposite direction. There were no signs, just a flow so we and opposing traffic ended up sharing three lanes. This went on for a couple hundred metres when the traffic flowing with us suddenly dried up in front. I looked to the right, over the centre divider, and noticed traffic going the same direction as us. I looked back in front and realized we’d missed our reconnection. Three lanes were moving toward us. No headlights flashing, no horns honking, no one seemed to care we were going the wrong way. Welcome to Peru. We finally found a way back to our side just as the road surface turned to mud. Things became interesting at that point. Add a bit more water and a total lack of signage and the game was on. It reminded me of that arcade game I used to play when I was younger. The one where you’re the frog trying to cross the highway and not get mown over by a semi. The only difference was we were on the highway and at every intersection cars posing as frogs plowed across in front of us. It was quite the process and we soon learned that to brake was bad, accelerating was also bad. It was like the flow of traffic had been choreographed the day before and everyone knew their positions. Keep moving, don’t hesitate or someone will clip your rear end. Once we accepted our roles the going became much easier.

But that was the city, yesterday, we were now back in the mountains and as we continued to descend the rock eventually gave way to foliage, usually in the valleys, and then full blown pastoral scenes became more common. We stopped for a bite in a corner restaurant in Moquegua which turned out to be our last meal of the day as it was enormous. Roast chicken, rice, noodles, french fries and a large bottle of Coke between us for 16 Sol, around sixteen Canadian dollars. The patrons of the busy restaurant were very gracious and when we asked if we could film they didn’t hesitate. The woman behind the serving counter proudly showed off her offerings, boiled chicken feet and all.

As the sun was setting we decided to forget about Tacna and bunk down in Moquegua. We trolled around town for ten minutes before Dominik spotted a Hostel and we were good for the night. It was the same scenario as the night before with the bikes. They opened the doors wide and we rode through the lobby into a courtyard out back. As we filled in our paperwork we were given a room on the ground floor with a window that overlooked the bikes. They couldn’t have been more understanding and when Dominik started slinging washed laundry off a line between the bikes one of the staff offered to put the clothes out to dry in a special room upstairs. Very nice.

The day was about done but as Dominik had first dibs on the laptop I grabbed the big camera to go and film in the Plaza D’Armes. A quick ten minute assignment turned into an hour as the town was throwing a party. Chile has been celebrating its independence and folks were out in throngs. There are a lot of pedestrians in Peru and the Plaza D’Armes was no exception. Couples sat on park benches, children played by the fountain and groups huddled together telling stories. It was a beautiful sight. Peruvians love their public spaces and use them well. As I began to return to the hotel I heard music coming from beside a beautiful church.  I followed others as they made their way to a live concert in a little amphitheatre next to it. Families were gathered together as a band belted out tunes from a platform at the other end. When the band wrapped up an official came on to introduce the next act, some dancers dressed in costume, that put on a heck of a show. It was during the show that the announcer came to me as I was filming. He asked me my name and where I was from and ‘welcomed’ me to Chile. I thought that was that, but the next time he rose to welcome an act he took a moment to welcome a Canadian by the name of Scott to Moquegua. Well wasn’t that a nice touch!

It doesn’t seem to matter where we go in Peru for we have been welcomed like long lost relatives in every town we’ve stopped in. The hospitality has been overwhelming and we look forward to much more in the coming days.