Today was the big day. Adjustment to the altitude had gone well, the bikes were ready and so were we. Our goal was to ride to Puno, a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, a riding distance of 420kms. It wasn’t a long distance but a good distance to get a good feel for the bikes. We loaded up the bikes in front of the hotel as a policeman stopped to watch our progress. He nodded in encouragement and smiled. “Mucho Bueno” he said. Yes...mucho bueno.
We headed out of town and settled in on the bikes. At first there was a lot of traffic but then it thinned and we could relax and take in our surroundings. A few things stood out. The countryside was gorgeous. Even though there were many hills it all seemed rather open. The hills weren’t smooth, yet they weren’t hard either, they lingered somewhere in between and were covered with vegetation that gave the impression of peach fuzz from a distance. The semi soft contours were very welcoming. There were many ridges and valleys and a beautiful river carved its way through the guts of it all, as did the road. We passed through many towns and the monochromatic building material of choice, mud blocks, didn’t allow the towns to truly disassociate themselves from their surroundings. Many of the towns featured unfinished or run-down buildings that created a ‘grim’ feeling as Dominik aptly put it. The one splash of colour that was consistent from town to town was white and red as many property owners allowed local politicians and future politicians to paint their buildings and walls to the local party tune. For those that couldn’t read there were pictures instead.
Each town featured speed bumps at either end of the main road and numerous in between. They served a purpose to a degree as they forced everyone to lay off the gas through the heart of town, but as each speed bump passed it was a race to the next one, usually on both sides of the road providing no one was coming in the opposite direction as everyone jockied for a better position at the next bump. The race was for everyone. We saw huge buses racing through town at 70kph, then slamming on the brakes for the bump, then matting the gas to the next one so no one would dare overtake. Amongst the mayhem were the tire chasing dogs that didn’t take kindly to all the commotion. They’d launch from curbs and rip into the road with an enthusiasm that was admirable, though they could be a bit dodgy on the bike. I finally settled into a game of chicken with them, get on the horn and head right at them. That normally worked.
As we left one town we dialed up the pace again. I hit a left hand corner and felt the rear end of the Kawasaki go a little squirrely on me, the next left it was even worse so I drifted to a stop a couple hundred feet down the road. Dominik pulled in behind, looked at me, I nodded at the rear tire. Flat. We’d covered a whopping 53 miles on our first day. Not the start we had planned.
As good fortune would have it we were at a toll booth location. We quickly asked if we could pull the bike over by the operations buildings to make repairs. “Una hora,” said the toll booth attendant. “Tres hora,” shot back Dominik. He looked at us and nodded.
We pulled the Kawa over and proceeded to rip the back wheel off. As the bike only had a side stand we had to find a support to carry the load when we removed the back wheel. Dominik spotted a chair outside the building and grabbed it. A worker then came over, Sancho, looked at it, took it back and grabbed a stronger one. We thanked him and he smiled in return and settled in to watch the show. As I tried to tap the cotter pin from the rear axle nut with a set of pliers a hammer magically appeared before my eyes. I looked up and there was Sancho and a smile. I nodded. He had become part of the team. We pulled the wheel off and I put about breaking the bead and pulling the inner tube out. It had blown along a seam, not a puncture but a manufacturers defect. We grabbed a spare, whipped it in, levered the tire back on and then were faced with the problem of getting the tire back on the bead. As we were at the toll booth all traffic had to slow and as we pondered the problem I looked at a semi truck pulling up to the toll booth. I looked at Sancho and pointed my finger at the tire and made a ‘psssht’ ‘psssht’ sound with my lips. He looked at the semi, at us, then whipped over to the semi and had a quick conversation with the driver. After 30 seconds he turned around and smiled and pointed up the road just path the booth. We hustled the wheel over while the driver hooked up a line and a minute later we had the tire back on the bead. Five ‘sols’ to the driver and five to Sancho, about three and a half bucks Canadian. Not bad for a roadside repair.
We were back on the road, but not for long. Thirty kilometres later I whipped past a semi and kept an eye in my rear view mirror for Dominik to pass. He didn’t show, then the truck whipped by and Dominik rolled to a halt beside me by the road. “It keeps cutting out,” he said. To illustrate the point he fired the Yamaha up. It ran for five seconds and died. Another four or five times it did the same thing and we were starting to get concerned. Across the road was a field and in the distance a collection of buildings, tour buses and a church. While I played with the Yamaha I suggested to Dominik to take the Kawa up the dirt road and have a look.
He was back twenty minutes later with a smile on his face.
“Pretty interesting Inca ruins,” he said. Not what I expected but then he told me he’d talked to the restaurant owner and they’d made a call to Peru Moto Tours and that the mechanics were on their way. What to do in the meantime? We ended up towing the Yamaha over to the restaurant and settled in for the wait over a cold beer and some great local food. The restaurant owner was a card. He settled us in quickly and had us feeling like it was our local. While we waited for the meal we wondered over to the church and the square. It was a beautiful site, cobbled courtyard, shops on three sides and the church on the fourth. Around the courtyard were locals dressed in traditional outfits standing behind tables that sported local crafts. It reminded me of the farmers market back on Gabriola. As we sauntered around town the restaurant owner waved from his door and made motions that the food was ready.
A short while later Ramon, a cousin of Alejandro, arrived with another chap in a pickup. They had a quick look at the bike, tried to start it, then proceeded to load it up into the pickup. We offered to help but he waved us off, instead he recruited the restaurant owner and two of his staff. Together they backed the bike up a mound of dirt. Once it was parked there he lowered the tailgate to the bed and backed the truck to the mound and they rolled the Yammy on. Ten minutes later we were on the road, Dominik was in the pickup and I was on the Kawa.
We retraced our steps for 100 kilometres. It was quite the ride. Darkness had closed in and instead of taking in the countryside I kept pace with Ramon in the pickup and took in the night scents. Earlier in the day we had passed workers burning along the roadside and locals burning garbage. It was an interesting mix, clean night air, then burnt vegetation, then burnt garbage. The pattern repeated itself many times as we rolled through the night.
Eventually we pulled off the highway and made our way down a dusty road past some buildings. Ramon slowed at a large solid wooden door, the kind you see at a castle or a private estate, and honked. A few seconds later one side of the gate started to swing open, then the other side and Ramon drove in. As I followed through Alejandro waved me to a parking slot. When I killed the engine I glanced around my surroundings. It was amazing. We had left a dusty nondescript road and farmers fields and passed through a gate to an oasis. There was lush vegetation everywhere, a stone driveway with parking slots to the left and just beyond a hacienda style house. We were ushered through a second gate, escorted down a stone path, up stone steps, through a glass door, down a hallway and into a kitchen where Ada was preparing dinner. The house was incredible and as we sheepishly took in our surroundings cold beers were pressed into our hands. Just like the movies.
Before dinner Alejandro and his two mechanics, Victor and Wilbur went over the Yamaha. Within twenty minutes they brought down a verdict. Broken piston ring. The Yamaha was out for good. It was no ones fault. “Bad luck,” said Alejandro. They felt bad for our delay and we felt bad because of all the work they pad put into the bikes, but just like Alejandro said, “it’s a mechanical thing.” Over dinner we went over alternatives. Alejandro gave us the rundown on ‘Pan B.’ A Honda 700 Transalp was returning the following day. They would make it ready for us and that would be Dominik’s new steed. “What’s Plan C?” asked Dominik. Alejandro smiled....let’s stick with Plan B for the moment.
As the day wound down and Dominik and I recounted the events we both had a hard time not smiling. We’d started the day with a solid yet simple plan, and our plan had gone to shit.....but then the real adventure had started to kick in. We’d been forced to stop at a beautiful place we would have passed by, met locals we would have never met, but most satisfying of all had benefitted from an unforced kindness from those same locals. They were incredible, just goes to show that when you travel you never really are alone.
What a day.