Vilcabamba -> San Ignacio -> Chachapoyas
Total Miles Covered So Far: 2600
2/25/17 - 3/3/17
Crossing into Peru from La Balza to San Ignacio
Up until this ride, the driving on the trip had been pretty easy. I hit maybe 30 minutes of dirt roads outside of Medellin on my first day but besides that I had been on asphalt that was of comparable quality to any U.S. Highway the whole time. In a sign of things to come though, the pavement ended about 20 minutes into my ride towards the Peru border and I had about 4 hours straight of poorly maintained dirt roads on the way out of Ecuador.
Dirt roads are way more fun to ride but the problem is that you never know if you are going the right way when you are on them because they NEVER have signs and they constantly fork without telling you which way goes to where. At this point in the trip I was doing longer rides and I couldn’t keep google maps up the whole time becuase my battery would only last about three hours. You don’t need wifi to use GPS on your phone so nav was a mix of pulling my phone out every 20/30 minutes to do a quick check on my position and then putting it back on airplane mode to save battery, and stopping to ask every person I crossed if I was headed towards the correct next little town on the trip or if I’d gotten turned around.
I made it to the border with no problem and saw some people doing this same trip on bicycle which seemed insane to me because it was 4 hours of difficult terrain on motorcycle so it must have been like a 12 hours for them unless they just camped on a farm or something.
I had learned back in Cuenca that I was supposed to have gotten a temporary import permit for my motorcycle when I crossed into Ecuador so my bike was technically there illegaly. I was a bit nervous about the border because of this but these jungle borders are jokes and nobody cares about anything. They asked me why I didn’t have the papers and I just mumbled whatever spanish I could come up with and then they shook their heads and told me to make sure to do it next time and let me through.
It was about an hour altogther to get stamped out of Ecuador, into Peru, and to get the Peruvian bike import permit.
The road immediately turned back into asphalt after crossing the Peruvian border which I was happy about but about 2 minutes into that trip I saw the biggest rock slide I’d ever seen blocking about 80% of the road and probably a couple minutes later had to cross about foot deep water running straight through a major road, both of which I’d come to find are completely normal in Peru.
I had about an hour and a half left to the next town, San Ignacio but about 30 minutes into the trip I hit a small stream in the middle of a sharp turn that had mud under at and slid out my bike at about 30 km/h. I walked away but later that night my knee looked like it had baseball inside of it(pics above). I was wearing full protective gear though and had crash bars and I’m guessing the combination of the two probably prevented a broken leg/knee/ankle.
After getting to San Ignacio I limped around town to find dinner which cost $2, got a hair cut which I really needed for $1.30 (the guy seemed a bit offended that I offered a tip and refused it) and then went back to my $7 a night hotel room, took some percocet which I had bought OTC in columbia in case of an accident, and fell asleep.
That night it rained really hard and the top floor hotel room ceiling was made of rough plywood so water poured into my room soaking everything I owned. I woke up, soaking wet, in a ton of pain and was just in a shit mood so I went down and got in a fight with the hotel owner and demanded my money back but ended up taking 50% becuase I realized I was arguing over $3.
I unpacked everything, dried it all out in the sun for an hour, and then moved to the expensive hotel in town which was $15 and decided to stay for another day to recover.
San Ignacio was really boring and dirty and I left as soon as I could the next morning for Chachapoyas.
Trip to Chachapoyas
I had rerouted pretty far into the middle of nowhere of north eastern Peru on the advice of some other travelers that said Chachapoyas was really worth checking out.
On my way there I learned my first lesson about not trusting Google Maps out in the country. I had to cross a town called Jaen on my way to Chachapoyas which has perfectly good roads all the way through it. Google cleverly realized though that it would be a couple kilometers shorter to route me through a non existent road through the middle of a legit desert outside the town (I didn’t know yet but this would be a common theme of my trip in Peru). There was kind of a road through the desert but it looked like maybe a couple people crossed it a year. It was about 40 minutes crossing sand and dirt roads with no sign of civilization in any direction. It was actually awesome but I was also very aware of the fact that I would have been pretty fucked if I fell or the bike broke down and it is way easier to fall on these kinds of roads. I was also nervous about the road just going nowhere and finding out after 2 hours in that I had no gas left and was nowhere near a road but I was tracking it with GPS and it seemed alright.
When I finally saw a huge bridge in the distance I decided to stop and take a picture to remember everything so I parked my bike on the side of the road. I turned around to get my camera out of my bag and when I looked over my bike had fallen over and was literally dangling off of a 30 ft cliff. I got really lucky that my trip didn’t end right there but I dragged the bike away from the cliff, picked it up, took a picture, and got over to the bridge. On the other side of the bridge there was a single, dirt hut selling fresh cold coconuts with straws in them and cold water which I think I enjoyed more than anything I had ever eaten.
From there it was about 4 more hours of amazingly beautiful riding through canyons to the mountain town of Chachapoyas.
Chachapoyas and Kuelap
Chachapoyas is a 500 year old colonial town that is famous for its access to some of the tallest waterfalls in the world and being surrounded in every direction by pre incan ruins.
After a failed attempt on my second day in Chachapoyas becuase I left too late, I drove 2 hours through the mountains out to Kuelap on my third day. Kuelap is nick named the Machu Picchu of the north. It’s a huge walled city from the 6th Century built by the Chachapoyan society. The cool thing about Kuelap is that unlike Machu Picchu, it’s easy to get to, it costs a couple dollars to enter, and nobody cares about it. I was literally the only tourist there when I arrived at the end of the day although there was a crew of about 30 people doing restoration work on one corner of the site. But basically, I got to walk around a site the size of Machu Picchu with just me and some Alpacas there which was pretty surreal.
On the way back my bike had an electrical problem and I stopped a farm house. The guy kept calling me gringito (“little gringo”) which was hilarious and awesome and let me stay inside to wait out some rain. I somehow got lucky, and found the bad connection and fixed it with just my multi tool and got back on the road.
I never went to the waterfalls because I honestly just don’t care about seeing waterfalls that much. I was seeing waterfalls pretty much every day on the road so I decided to keep moving. The crazy thing was that in this area you would just cross dozens of abandoned archeological sites as you rode around. There were so many ancient building sites, people would just build a farmhouse in the middle of 1500 year old ruin and store farm equiptment in the crumbling stone buildings.
I had two 6 hour days to the next city, Cajamarca so I got on the road.