Its straight into the good stuff, and before you know it you are riding dirt tracks with drops that will end you
we try and find remote areas to go to the places we want to see, you know how we pack kinda light we still save room for a few treats for the kids, maybe a lollipop or a kinder egg to a small child in the mountains might be the only the only gift or treat they get this year…and surprisingly a bag of dog food for our canine friends who we meet.
Egle posted a similar photo to this is a Lithuanian post and someone commented that doing this will make the kids beggars and thieves…really, a 3-6 year kid who gets this will convert into begging and thievery, I don’t think so, we just made there day, month or possibly year.
This little girl was living in a mud hut on a mountainside dozens of miles from the nearest people…likelihood of her becoming a mob boss zero.
These comments usually come from people who don’t travel to the areas we have and have no conception of the extreme poverty this kids and their families live in, the minimum wage in Peru for a month is $260…do you think the parents are treating the kids?
We ride the back roads towards Kuelap and climb over 10,000′ in no time
There is an option to take a cable car across a canyon to get there quicker, besides the fact we are on motorcycles, so we’d have to leave all our gear and the bikes for hours…we are on motorcycles we came to ride, anyone who comes to Kuelap and takes a cable car must really hate riding or dirt roads and they missed out on a spectacular ride
Once at the parking lot, one other car was in it and our two bikes, it takes an hour or so to ride and we weren’t holding back at all. We switch from the mighty DR to 1hp to get to the fortress
The ladies that own the horses are required to lead you up a path so steep that at times I could see Graeme Javis struggling on his Husky but my trusty steed took it in stride. To make the walk they charge you around $4, well worth it, they might make this same walk only twice a day but they were telling us it has changed their lives an the lives of their families…we rounded up and gave a 100% tip
Kuelap was built almost a 1000 year prior to Machu Picchu, its more well-known mountaintop community to the south of Peru. It is by no means as grand but it is just as impressive a location.
As you approach you see the dominating fortress walls
We enter thru one of the 3 entrances that reduce in size to an area where only one person can pass, Egle is her element, you know this if you’ve read her ride report or ordered her book, she has a love for last people and where and how they lived
Kuelap has 550 structures all but 5 are round in varying in size, only in the 1980’s did archeologists really start looking at the site and as a tourist attraction it is very new…we had the place to ourselves.
Our only company were a few llamas keeping the grass short
a thousand more years have reduced some of the stonework to nothing nut there are still glimpses of intricacies
The big difference between MP and Kuelap is MP was only occupied for around 80 years, Kuelap was occupied for hundreds of years until the Spanish Conquests until it was abandoned just a few years before MP was.
Walking to the edge of the settlement you get to look out at the dirt road we rode up and you have to admire the road builders to add that slither of sand and dirt to get you here
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As we leave the impenetrable walls must have struck fear into anyone who dared to try and sack the fortress
That night the rainy season started on time Nov1, it was torrential, we rode out in the morning and in an hour or two the skies opened and we continued in rain almost all day long passing thru little villages, going up and down, but mainly up.
The tracks and roads got smaller, the mountains got taller, we were starting to enter the high Andes
we continued along for a few days more of the same, but all stunning
Eventually peaking out a few times over 14.000′
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We headed down towards Balsas, a two street town on the Marañón River which is where Amazonas starts.
This is in the main square, we are directed to a family who has a small hostel on the outskirts of town
we find them down a dirt road after a small stream crossing here -6.840110, -78.026190, they are not too welcoming but it is late and nearly getting dark. The lady agrees to make us a little food which was nice, in the morning it is a different scene, everybody is up and super friendly, I’ll let Egle take up the story from here –
River Marañón, starting in the snow-capped Andes of Peru, is the main source of the Amazon. Marañón is spectacular: it pushes its vast waters through deep canyons, carving up Andean valleys as it makes its way East to meet River Utcayali and give birth to the Amazon river in Brasil.
It’s also terrifying. When it floods, Marañón gets out of control, its rapids becoming violently turbulent, its banks flooding and destroying everything in its path.
Some of the canyons and gorges of Rio Marañón are so massive it’s been compared to the Grand Canyon. The nature surrounding Marañón is out of this world, and travelers are now attempting to explore the whole length of the river by boats.
Somewhere along the river, there is a small pueblo called Balsas. It’s so tiny it’s barely visible on the map. It’s hot and sticky in Balsas; women sell fresh coconuts, mangos, and bananas, and kids run around half-naked, chasing lizards. Derelict streets line a small plaza where dust-covered trucks stop for a cold coconut water and gossip.
Just a few kilometers out of the village, there is a narrow dirt track leading to a settlement on the riverbank. Right off of Rio Marañón, there are a few clay-brick houses, makeshift huts, and a larger compound called the Rancho – a small clay-walled homestay.
Last night, having ridden over the mountain pass from Chachapoyas, we stayed at the Rancho. It’s a simple place. The room was completely bare except for two beds and a wooden chair. There were mosquito nets on the door shutters – this is dengue fever region – but no glass in the windows. The yard was graded clay dirt, and all the washing was done outside.
The Señora made us some rice and pork for dinner, asked us to switch the outside light off for the night, and retired. Perhaps she was tired that night. We were, too. We fell asleep listening to the mighty Marañón whispering into the night.
In the morning, I was woken up by a giggle. As I headed for the sink, I saw a small boy hiding in the kitchen. The boy kept peering at me and laughing.
As the Señora busied herself with our breakfast, the boy got braver and braver. At first, he hid in the kitchen; we smiled and waved at him, and he began inching forward. He had a small toy dinosaur in his hands and looked about five years old.
Little by little, the boy got closer. He made his dinosaur “walk” on the wall, approaching us slowly. He was curious.
Eventually, the Señora sat down to talk, and boy’s dinosaur ended up in my plate. Despite numerous warnings from his mother (“the gringos will take you away on their motorcycles if you don’t take your filthy toys off the table!”), the boy now felt comfortable around us and kept bringing his toys on the table: a water gun; another dinosaur; a toy sports car.
Sitting down for a moment, Señora chatted about life. Just like everyone else in Balsas, she and her husband grew limes. They had a lime tree orchard, and they would get a little over $10 for a fourty-kilo bag of limes. Once a month, trucks came from Celendin and Cajamarca. They bought all the limes in Balsas. Señora and her family also had some tomatoes, chickens, and potatoes.
“Life is good here, in Peru”, – Señora said. “On the TV, we see so many Venezuelans fleeing to Peru. Why do they all go to Lima? There are no jobs there, and so much crime. Once on the TV, we saw that young Venezuelan girls have to sell their bodies to survive. Is that a life! It’s a tragedy, I tell you, an atrocity. They should come here, to Balsas. We would welcome them. They could grow limes, too”, – Señora smiled.
The little boy was now bouncing around our table on a blow-up duck.
“Three and a half, this one”, – she said.
The boy was very big and intelligent for his age; we thought he was at least five. He had the longest, thickest eyelashes I have ever seen. I asked him whether his toy dinosaurs had names. The boy shook his head.
“Are there any other kids for him to play with here, Señora?”.
“Yes, but he doesn’t really go outside much. He doesn’t go near the River”, – she said, quietly.
“I had four sons. Two are teenagers now, they’re in school. The little one is with me”.
“And my other boy is gone…He went missing. We looked for him for days. Finally, they found him, six days later… It was the Marañón. The River took him… He’s over there now,” – Senora pointed at a small shrine near the washing sink. In it was a big photograph of a boy, about ten or eleven years old, and above him, a painting of Jesus looking over. The shrine was decorated with plastic flowers.
“And look, here”, – Señora carefully unwrapped a red cloth which held a pound sterling coin. “A traveler left this for me once. Where is it from? Is it lucky?” – lovingly, she wrapped the coin again and placed it on the top of the shrine.
Thanking the Señora and her family for their hospitality, we packed up our bikes. The little boy ran around giggling. His father came up to us to ask for a photo with the bikes. Paul lifted the little boy up on his tank bag. He sat very still before his father put him down.
Thanking the family again, we said our goodbyes. Red earth clung to our tires and boots.
As we weaved our way back towards the road on the narrow dirt track, on our left, the muddy waters of Rio Marañón snarled and foamed over the rapids.
It was the start of the rainy season.
We leave the village and head a little further south, we might average 20km south for each 100-150km we ride due to the mountains
…and we’re trying to speed up a little to catch the seasons. We were talking to a local guy at a gas station and he said rainy season is due to start any day now, I hope your gear is waterproof?
Then this happened…fffffoooooookkkkk!
The best way NOT to get wet is to get above the clouds, that way they can’t get you
We head for Cajamarca for one objective – Insurance
On arrival, if you were just dropped here you’d think it was national silly hat day, but it’s not it’s just a normal day where everyone wears these hats in this area of Peru
We’d priced insurance as its mandatory here, the first town we’d tried was crazy expensive, equivalent of $850 a year, but even they said they were expensive, I know we just said that!
The company was called Mapfre, they told us to look for an office called La Positiva, they are cheaper. We tried in that town then in another then another and denied insurance in all of them because we’re not Peruvians, until this is where we were sent.
100% guaranteed you can buy it here, we find the office and its closed or are they asleep inside?
We go find food across the street and ask the restaurant owner if they are still in business, he said yes but today is a holiday, come back tomorrow!
We come back the next day and they had decided to add a day to this holiday that no one else is taking except them and the local puppies it seems
We have a chat with the local police to see if there is another place, they say yes and we head there, yes they sell La Positiva but won’t sell it to us!
They tell us we need to go to the main office, the one that is taking the holiday that no one else is? Yes!
Oh, and they take a 3-hour lunch as well when they are open
Three days later we finally get the insurance at a third of the price so I guess it was worth the wait.
In the mean time a little detective work on weather websites I have deduced my dear Watson that if we get up at 6 and on the road by 7-8 we should have a blue sky until at least 2pm. This is nothing short of weird for us types that like to roll out at the crack of 11
What do you know it works, clouds are there but don’t dump, so lets go find some cool interesting places…how about this beauty
We ride a little too long that day and catch the rain just after 2pm as predicted by the interwebs, but somehow looking for a place to stay and get dry we ride by a hat gathering, and are shoooed away as I sneak a few shots
the following morning we are up with the roosters at 6 am…this sucks, why anyone would want to be up this early is beyond me, the only thing 6 am is good for is leaving a bar and heading home if you’re from Vegas
…but the lady shepherds are already at it…in their big hats of course
this weather thing is working out though, look at that blue sky in the rainy season
Let’s go ride over there, that where the big mountains live…ok!
before we can get a few hundred meters she’s at it again, once again in the middle of nowhere four snotty nosed little ragamuffins are sitting at the roadside with their mom
Egle holds up four lollipops, two green, and two purple, they each grab one, then take a few steps back and debate like only kids can…whats the coolest color – green or purple, then a few swaps are made.
Egle and the mom watch and laugh as it unfolds, then they are all happy. They hadn’t spotted me 30 meters or so back, when they did they all ran to me and high fived me and thanked me as well…yes we are just making hardened criminals here in Peru…HA!
The mom right behind them smiles at me and give me a big thank you…life is good this morning in Peruvian Andes
***as part of Egle’s book deal on Indiegogo we are giving back a portion of the proceeds to the people she is writing about in her book, we are heading to see a few of them, but also this allows to do more of this too, with total strangers. There were more than a few naysayers on this forum, saying it’s not possible to donate back to poor people in the middle of nowhere because they don’t have bank accounts, really, well it is, its easy if you really want to do it, you can bring gifts. We are actually carrying a computer as part of a donation for one family and some other stuff, but more about that later when it happens