Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 136 (0km): Stoppable.

You heard me!

The good times of the Peruvian Sierra seem so far away now. Today we went to the BMW dealer in Lima because they had finished taking apart Alberto's engine. We had talked to them on the phone but wanted to see things for ourselves.

When we arrived Alberto's bike had been put away and the engine was lying in a box. The mechanic was on his lunch break but the two BMW representatives we have been dealing with showed us the evidence. 
La Gringa's engine sitting in a box

Long story short Alberto's bike was found to have broken piston rings and various engine components are unusually worn-out (gaskets, metal rings, the list goes on and on...). My bike was still being taken apart when we got there but I'm sure it has similar issues, though maybe less severe. 
Broken piston rings
Unusually wearing

It is still unclear what was the cause, and what will happen. For us this has been very surprising since we've more or less taken good care of our bikes (they aren't old lady driven but certainly looked after). Since they are our only means of transportation and the essence of our trip we've been keeping an eye on things. So this severe engine failure has come as a shock. I baby my Ducati at home less! 
My bike waiting to be violated

Some people at the dealer think it was low octane gas, though I would question that, due to the thousands of people that ride F800GSs worldwide. I'm sure some of those people have had to buy questionable gas in remote situations and didn't have their engines blowing up. Others at the dealer think it is a lubrication issue. The integrity of the oil was compromised, or the oil was low (we check our oil regularly so unless it dropped suddenly on the way to Lima this is unlikely). Who knows. 
No heart, no life.
Regardless of what we hear back from Germany this week parts will need to be replaced before those bikes are ridden again (~4 weeks). This brings me to some sad news. Sorry to all our loyal fans and readers but the blog and our trip are officially being placed on hold. The official trip clock is stopped at 22,178 km. 

When all the facts are put on the table we will have to make decisions on how things will proceed but it's looking very likely that Patagonia isn't going to happen. This is a huge disappointment for me since it is probably the one single place I was actually looking forward to riding. Everything else was just filler. So we continue to roll with the punches and hope that the repairs will be covered under warranty.

Surprising, disappointing, upsetting

What a sad looking bike

Day 135 (0km): The waiting continues

Today the dealer was given authorization to take the engines apart and see what was going on. By the end of the day they had discovered some worn engines parts and suspected it was a lubrication problem.

In the evening we met up with some of Alberto's friends to try and take our minds off the shitty situation.

Tomorrow we will know more as the information slowly trickles out.

Day 134 (0km): BMW check-up

We came back to Lima this morning. We went straight to the BMW dealer to see what the story was. They were unable to do anything about our bikes until they got authorization from Germany. They expected to get this tomorrow so we left.

Alberto's mom was in Lima so we spent the rest of the day hanging out with her.

Day 133 (0km): Soaking up the relaxation

Day 2 at the beach and more relaxing was on the menu. Daniel and Rosita invited us over for lunch and we had a nice time chilling around their pool and talking. The weather was perfect (not too hot not too cold). We spent most of the day there before returning to the beach house to take care of some computer related chores.
Relaxing around the pool
Alberto keeping an eye on his beer
Having lunch

Day 132 (0km): Hitting the beach

Viviana is the mayor of the community so she has to do her “rounds” of the beach area. We decided to tag along today. Apparently Saturday is the less busy day, but it still seemed busy to poor Canadian me. Alberto tried to do some body surfing but the waves broke really fast and he ended up getting cut up a few times. I was just relaxing on the beach and absorbing the beach culture. Beaches aren't really my thing.
The breakfast table
We took some time to relax at the yacht club in the afternoon. By that point I was happy to be hiding in the shade. For lunch we went back to the beach house for some delicious seafood, which included a very tasty ceviche.
At the market buying the ingredients for ceviche
As assortment of peppers

In the evening we went over to a friends house where we were sat at the kiddie table. It was nice and a little weird since this was the first time the entire trip we were hanging out with a group of people our age. I kind of forgot what it felt like. It was really fun to talk to everyone and share stories. A most enjoyable evening. 
Fernando and Viviana's building is in the middle

Day 131 (0km): Might as well go to the beach

Alberto's aunt and uncle were going to their beach house for the weekend, and since there was nothing we could do about our bikes we gladly hopped on the band wagon.

During the day we got caught up on the blog etcetera and then in the evening we went to the beach with Fernando (Alberto's uncle). Before we left the city we made a few stops. One in particular was a french deli and it was amazing. The highlight for me was trying the different flavours of fresh pate. Yum yum.

It was a fairly quick drive out to the beach community of Santa Maria del Mar. We arrived at dusk and met up with Alberto's aunt Viviana (who had gone to the beach the previous day). We went for a walk with them checking out the different facilities and different areas of the community. At one of the clubs there is a gigantic swimming pool! 
The sun is setting on the beach community of Santa Maria

For the evening we had a bbq, with another aunt and uncle of Alberto (Daniel and Rosita) and some friends of Fernando and Viviana's. It was a great time telling our stories. Fernando and Viviana's house is perfect for entertaining. 
The upstairs patio
Having a good time around the bbq

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 130 (138km): Our hand has been forced

A change in plans, we unfortunately had to leave the Sierra and go to Lima. The bikes still aren't quite right; Alberto's is in the worse shape. We'll be doing a lot of highway riding in Chile so we need the bikes in tip-top shape. Our only option was to take them to the dealer to get sorted out.
Leaving our camping place

We got up really early because we wanted to drop the bikes off at the dealer as soon as possible. We were cruising down the road, and since it was early in the morning the air was fresh. We stopped at a gas station for gas but they had no power so we couldn't get any. We rejoined the highway but we were going slow looking for another gas station. A pickup truck went flying by us and then a police car appeared in the left lane. Then all of a sudden they were pulling us over. We were a bit confused but pulled over. 
Camp early in the morning

We both thought that it was the cops from the toll booth yesterday that we snubbed. It turned out it wasn't those cops just some random cops trying to tell us we were speeding. Apparently they saw us passing buses back on the highway and “it had taken us a while to catch up to you”. So we played the game of not speaking Spanish and giving them our fake licenses. The guy pointed at my speedo indicating that I was going 160kph. At that pointed I laughed since I have never even gone that speed on this bike. I find the windblast troublesome after 120kph let alone 160! At that point I decided that they were completely full of shit and I was going to leave but one of the police officers was writing up a ticket but he was being really slow about it. I got off my bike and went to talk to him. I was making hand gestures for him to speed up because I had places to go. He started asking for our title documents, at which point we just keep pointing to the driver's license saying that's all we use in Canada. Things were going nowhere so I gestured that I wanted my ticket and license and that broke the deadlock. Once they saw that I was unconcerned with getting a ticket, plus they didn't know how to ask for money in English, the game was over. We got our fake licenses back and continued on our way.

That's the other problem with driving around in populated Peru, there are annoying police. The funny thing is that they are pretty lazy about trying to get money. They don't put up much of a fight and quickly lose interest. I thought we would end up getting stopped several times on the way to Lima but that was the only time. 
Riding to Lima

We soon reached the city and the fun driving experience that brings. I tried to kick a cab driver's mirror off because he tried to run me over. I couldn't reach it though. All in all it was as crazy as I thought it would be, so in that sense it was uneventful. One comment I will make is the aversion Latin American drivers have to driving over bumps, even small bumps. Traffic came to a standstill just because there were some tiny bumps on a bridge. This slowing down trend is something I've noticed this entire trip and it baffles me. We aren't talking Lamborghinis with zero clearance. We are talking about 4X4s and old beater cars.

We found the BMW Dealership without much trouble and quickly handed over the bikes to the mechanic. We had phoned two days ago so they knew we were coming. They were very helpful. 
At the BMW dealer in Lima. I wish it was under different circumstances
They only had one mechanic, or so I could tell, and he was working on Alberto's bike all day. The bad news is that it doesn't look like an easy fix. He checked the spark plugs (all good) and replaced the oil (no change). While replacing the oil he found debris (metal and gasket) which is not a good sign. He tried a few other tricks but nothing made the bike sound better. He is now going to have to take apart the engine and try and track down the source of the problem. The only bike that has been looked at is Alberto's. We left the bikes there and took a cab to Alberto's uncle's house.  
La Gringa being dissected like a frog
Alberto keeping an eye on things

The bikes are now in the hands of the professionals and hopefully they can figure out what's wrong with them. My Dad only JUST got his bike back after needing the brake disc fixed after the lady ran over him in the ferry terminal at the beginning of our trip. I hope we have better luck. Cross your fingers.

Day 129 (430km): Searching for some white peaks

So there were two things that we wanted to check out today: Llanganuco and Punta Olympica. Unfortunately it was cloudy when we woke up, but it looked a little brighter in the direction we were going. The other downside of our sightseeing was that we had to backtrack. And now time for my rant.

I was so unhappy to be backtracking because we had to drive the dreaded section of road that I have now named my least favourite road on the entire trip. Why? Oh sure Mexico had equally terrible roads (potholes, dirt, gravel) but this road was in similar disrepair but had the added bonus of Peruvian drivers. At least Mexican drivers were more mellow in their approach to potholes. Peruvian are simply crazy! They swerve erratically and at speed. It's an insane experience that lasts for like 50km. So yeah my least favourite section of road ever, and now we had to do it twice more. Not only that but a group of guys fixing the road were asking for money. This is a common practice and not one I support. Their fixing usually ends up making the situation worse because whatever material they use to fill the potholes doesn't last long and becomes debris on the road. Anyway the guy asking for money had a fake gun he was pointing at us when we drove by not stopping to pay. I almost lost it. If my bike was easier to park I think I would have pulled over and kicked the crap out of him. Pointing a fake gun at someone is probably one of the most disrespectful things you can do. Once again losing faith in Peruvian culture.

Okay rant over. We drove to Yungay and followed the signs (only can be seen in the northbound direction) to Llanganuco. It was only 25km of bumpy, busy dirt roads until we arrived at the park gate. We paid our entrance fee and were granted access. I think we were some of the first tourists to visit for the day.
In the park

The natural scenery is quite spectacular. There are dramatic rock formations on either side of the two lagunas. The lagunas (the highlight of the area) are a beautiful blue colour and worth the small detour to check out. You can even camp there overnight (a good stopover after Canon del Pato?). Also there were a bunch of tiny water falls coming down from the rocks. We even caught a glimpse of some white mountain peaks, again we were thwarted by the cloudiness. We lingered around a bit taking pictures and taking in the scenery. By the time we made it back to the dreaded highway it was 1:30pm. 
Intense rock formations
The amazing colour of the lagoon
A hint of glacier when the clouds parted briefly
We decided to cut our losses and skip our other planned activity of the day. The clouds were covering all the amazing mountains so there wasn't much point heading up to Punta Olympica. So we got a jump on tomorrow's riding. Again we drove the gauntlet back to Huaraz and thankfully shortly after getting through town and cruising on highway 3 again the road quality improved. It was disappointing though, and Alberto felt it was shameful that Peru had let the highway get to that condition, considering what an important tourist area it was.

The real road was nice. It had pretty fresh pavement and the scenery was stunningly barren. It kind of reminded me of photos from Mongolia. Probably because of the alpine grass. Even though it was only 2:30pm it felt really late because the clouds made it very dark. We decided to push on though and start our decent back to the coast. This is a deviation from the original plan. Our bikes are still not running well so we decided to take them to Lima to get them checked out.

As soon as we started the decent it was foggy. Really foggy. And the fog pretty much lasted most of the decent, about an hours worth of fog driving. With fog also comes very cold air. I was happy to have my heated vest and grips at full power. By the time we got out of the fog we realized we were probably pretty close to making it to the Panamerican so we decided to push on and get to the coast.

The scenery changed to desert and we soon leveled out. As we were approaching a toll booth two police officers pulled me over (there are usually cops hanging around toll booths). Weird I thought. They asked for our “documentos” (this is usually the first question). No problem we both handed them our fake licenses. The police officer I was talking to handed mine back immediately. They started telling us that we had been speeding, which is true but I had actually slowed down for the toll booth unlike most local traffic. Blah blah, we are both pretending to not speak any spanish. We just kept saying that we were going to Lima and giving the thumbs up sign (indicating that we were all cool). It was silly the guy was trying to get money or whatever but he didn't even have my driver's license. Rookie mistake; he had no bargaining leverage. Anyways they quickly grew tired of us (10min maybe?) and we got to drive off. 
The change in scenery

We hit the Panamerican highway and started heading towards Lima. There was too much civilization and we were starting to get worried about finding a place to stay for the night. We went through another toll booth and we had a hard time by passing the actual booths (Alberto got his cases stuck). We made it free and another cop was trying to pull us over. Alberto was in front and I was behind, hiding behind a big truck. The cop waved Alberto to pull over and he just shook his head and sped off.

Shortly after we found a place to bush camp in the desert. It was starting to get dark so we didn't really want to keep driving. It would be fun to just tear around out there without all the luggage. 
Stopped to camp for the night

Today we broke a record. We saw 4 separate adventure rider groups (going the opposite direction as us) while riding. I think we've only passed like half a dozen other people this entire trip so 4 groups in one day was pretty cool. BMWs seem to be the bike of choice. 
Good to go for the night

Day 128 (0km): Making the most out of our visit to the big city

Today we didn't really have a plan we just wanted to catch up on internet and take a look around. By mid-morning we wanted a bit of fresh air so we went for a walk to the plaza. We got lucky because today was somewhat sunny (it was completely cloudy yesterday). Why were we lucky? Because we caught a glimpse of some of the white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. We climbed to the top of our hotel to get an even better view. It was pretty amazing but it made me wish it was a completely clear day so I could fully appreciate it. 
Peak action
View of the city
Some more peak action

We wandered around some more and stopped in at a few tourist information places. Alberto had visited the area more than 10 years ago on a road trip with his friends so we were doing a bit of research on a few places he wanted to check out. We also got lucky and found a tour operator that sold white gas; bonus! 
Llama for the tourists
Some authentic peruvian action

That was pretty much it, it was a taking care of business day. 
Alberto enjoying some Pacay fruit

Day 127 (162km): Go Pato, everybody telling me to – by Pato Banton

There was no wind this morning when we woke up but unfortunately that meant that the bugs were on the rampage. I was eaten alive when I went outside of the tent for a pee. So after that we went into full-on offensive. We didn't come back out of the tent until we had all our riding gear on. Take that bugs! We packed up as fast as possible and hightailed it out of there. 
Interesting rock formations
Don't want to hang out here for too long
There were some nice views and we took our time, taking pictures and fixing parts on Alberto's bike that had rattled loose (his turn signal). It had rained a little bit last night so that kept the dust down. The road itself was actually our least favourite of the last few days. It's really bumpy and there was more traffic than we'd seen in a while. The tunnels are pretty cool though, despite the alarm bells going off in my head since they are in unsupported ground. I'm just glad we didn't meet any oncoming traffic in the tunnels. That was my biggest fear. 
Classic Canon del Pato photo for Naomi; check!
Classic Canon del Pato photo for Alberto; check!
Some cool waterfalls as well

The whole thing felt like it was over quickly and we were ascending again, leaving the turbid river behind. We were on a quest to find Nevado Alpamayo since my map showed a road going in that direction. All the locals just gave us blank looks until we got to Caraz where we were told there was no road; hiking only. Okay, off to Huaraz then. 
Tunnel from the upper road
 Our integration back into civilization was like a big slap in the face! All the traffic (read crazy Peruvian drivers) and potholed pavement were a complete nightmare. It was a horrible ride to Huaraz and I thought it would never end. Thankfully we survived the drivers trying to avoid the potholes, a feat in itself, and arrived in Huaraz. Alberto found a gem of a hotel and we both enjoyed the chance to take a proper shower. I guess there are some advantages of being back in civilization. 
The central plaza in Huaraz (our typical starting point to look for accommodations)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 126 (156km): The perfect day for a F8GS?

The morning started with an epic ascent up the mountain. It was switchback after switchback. The higher we climbed the more dramatic the view down to the river at the bottom. We could even see the road we had taken yesterday across the way.
Making our way up
The road from yesterday
It wasn't long before we arrived in Pallasca where we stocked up on some gas and food. I had a nice chat with one of the ladies in the plaza. She commented that it was so nice to see a Gringita in the Sierra. I'm glad to be of service.
Checking out the goods for sale in Pallasca
Getting some 90 octane gas in Pallasca

From there the road just kept getting better and better. Amazing views and fun roads with a bit of everything: smooth dirt, rocky, mud... We barely saw any other traffic too, and really that's the best part! We crossed several tiny rivers and then one real river crossing. Again we encountered lots of mud throughout the day but it didn't give us much trouble. Except for one section where I hit the side of the rut and went down. 
On the way to Cabana
I had some issues in the mud. I guess I wasn't looking up
My bike taking a bath in the river
And La Gringa too

And then unexpectedly the road turned to pavement. We didn't know that was going to happen. We got to Cabana and filled up on gas. You have to love Peru. Even in the middle of the highlands they accept USD at a reasonable exchange rate. We stopped for a lunchtime snack and entertained the locals with our presence. A little girl was so excited when Alberto gave her our card.
Filling up in Cabana
Stopping for a snack in the Plaza

There was a tiny bit more dirt but after Tauca the road was fully paved all the way. And oh boy... oh boy, what a road it was. From Tauca down was the best hour of driving we have ever experienced. It was switchback after switchback, snaking turn after snaking turn. Nicely paved and we never saw a single other vehicle. We had the whole road to ourselves and fully took advantage (it's fun using the other lane to set-up corners). The scenery was good and the driving was even better. A MUST-DO for anyone in the area. 
And that was near the bottom!
Alberto giving his tires a workout
There was still an opportunity to have a little fun exploring
Once we got down to the bottom, where there was a river, the temperature was pretty warm and the scenery had changed to desert. There was some interesting rock formations and there were a few cool tunnels to drive through. The road followed the river and the only negative was 3 bridges we had to cross before reaching Chuquicara. The first bridge happened so fast I didn't have time to really think about it. It was a scary experience. 
At the bottom; the fun was over
The bridge was constructed with 3 boards parallel to the direction of travel for each tire track and then big timbers perpendicular to the direction of traffic for the base. This is pretty common practice and no big deal normally, but these bridges were in disrepair with large gaps. Poor construction combined with really gusty wind on the bridges is not a fun experience. When we reached the second bridge I didn't want to go across. Yesterday I dropped my bike on a bridge because of wind and with these bridges there was nowhere to fall but down into the river. We walked my bike across, a much safer option. Alberto tried going through the middle but some of the gaps were pretty big and he said the wind was blowing him around. On the third and last bridge we walked both bikes over together. It just wasn't worth the risk. 
The dangerous bridge
We started out on the famous Canon del Pato road. This was the first time since hitting the dirt 4 days ago that we had encountered traffic traveling in our direction (who put these other cars in our way?). The road was pretty rough, washboard sections and big rocks. There was also a lot of traffic by our standards. We made it through the first tunnel, and first bridge (note: better construction than the paved road) before finding a place to camp for the night.
Posing for a photo at the first tunnel

I guess the wind picks up in the evenings because it was crazy windy in the canyon. Our tent normally takes 5 min to put up but it took us over an hour wrestling with the wind. It was crazy. It was so windy we hid inside and ate our delicious guacamole dinner hoping the tent wouldn't blow away.
We finally got the tent up, using our bikes to block the wind
Today had everything, great dirt, amazing scenery and kick-ass twisties. What more could an F800GS rider ask for? 
To celebrate we had a gourmet dinner of fresh guacamole!