6 May 2013

Peru - April 2013


We debated fairly heavily about driving up the coast to Mocupe for a few more Endemics, but ultimately the distance vs reward vs cost of extra miles won out. Thus we started moving south towards Lima. The target for today would be the small coastal desert town of Chao. After taking one or two wrong turns, we did find the appropriate spot and cleaned up in a matter of minutes. Remarkable for this desert location, just a few thorn bush clumps brimming with the handful of species that we were after. 

Birds sorted, we headed further south to get to the turnoff towards Ancash province - home of Peru’s highest mountain. Yet again, we were climbing - a long and arduous drive of switchback after switchback. After many hours on the road it was time to exchange t-shirts for warm jackets. Ultimately we arrived in the large Andean city of Huaraz, still 70km’s short of our final destination of Yungay.

It would transpire that not only did the province of Ancash hold the highest mountain in Peru, but also the most attractive section I have seen of the Andes range so far. High jagged peaks covered in snow, ice and glaciers. The last section of the drive was stunningly beautiful, interrupted only by the odd Tombo checking paperwork. We fiddled around at a few hostels until we found one that possessed Wifi. Decent early dinner, a hot shower. Bed time arrived shortly much to the relief of both of us.

Overnight : Yungay

Score : 530


Out and about early again, this time for the 25km drive up to Parque Nacional Huascaran. Near the summit of the drive we stood next to the highest mountain in Peru, fully 3km higher than the point where we were stood. At least that is how much higher we knew it to be, for a thick bank of cloud had settled in obscuring the view and indeed our birding capabilities. With the cloud set thick, we attempted to bird along the banks of the llagunas. When the cloud eventually cleared later, we were to behold stunning blue lakes bereft of any contamination or dirt to colour the water. Pure glacial runoff. Not that we were getting too absorbed with the scenery, for there were important birds to be seen.

A rather impressive trail led us back down the mountain through pristine Polylepis forest for the best part of 5km’s giving up it’s avian wonders slowly, but steadily at least. Of course we were very mindful of what was to come, a long and sweaty climb back up to the car. The slog completed, we drove higher up past the crystalline lakes for the few species we still needed. More birds twitched, we started the descent on the crappy road. Or at least that is what it should have been, for the road condition had improved dramatically over the last few hours. One grader and a heavy duty roller had improved all but a few km’s of the road in less than 6 hours!

A late lunch was followed by an afternoon trip further down the road to Pueblo Libre for a few stragglers and yet another un-described species (Pale-tailed Canastero complex). Another decent dinner (by Andean standards at least) was followed by another early night. Tomorrow we were planning on a quick hit and run down the road before heading all the way back to Lima.

Overnight : Yungay

Score : 544


The hit and run was essentially a quick drive down the road followed by another climb into the mountains (opposite Huascaran) for Great and Rufous-backed Inca Finches, both Endemics. The Great Inca Finch is found at lower altitudes than the Rufous-backed and was certainly easier to find, calling incessantly in the early morning dawn. The Rufous-backed required us to drive much higher but fortunately it responded quickly too. With both birds in the bag we turned around and jettisoned the province of Ancash hightailing it to Lima.

At least that was the plan. Google maps suggested a fairly straight forward route, but in reality the roads were either closed or I had been advised to avoid some of them by those in the know. The route was therefore quite a bit longer, we only reached the coast after midday. With another 200km’s to go, my backside was starting to cramp and I needed a break. A few minutes of rest and biscuits were followed by the long haul back to Lima. What I did not take into account was that the outskirts of Lima were fully 65km north of downtown. More time wasted while playing amongst the increasingly diabolical traffic. I couldn’t recall the driving standards being this bad while I had been cycling. Mind you, I could not recall having driven amongst such moronic drivers before either (my CV of bad drivers includes Brazil, now demoted to 2nd place, India a close 3rd followed by any of the Italians, French, Vietnamese, South African and or any other African country). Thus I was particularly impressed when I stopped the car for the last time having managed to avoid contact with all and sundry.

Overnight : Lima

Score : 546


Poor Adrian got dragged along with me while I stomped around Lima handing in my laptop and camera for repairs as well as trying to sort out my motorcycle paperwork. That took most of the day, but I felt as though there was a very good chance of success on all fronts. Tomorrow we were off at sparrows fart again to join Gunnar Engblom, the owner of Kolibri Expeditions in Lima. I had never met Gunnar before but had communicated heavily with him on social media sights. Even today was not so much a paid tour, he had a free day and we would cover the costs.  

Overnight : Lima

Score : 546


The alarm woke us not much after 03:30. Mind you, I’d stayed up all night if it was required to get the birds we were after today. Gunnar pitches up on time, but we don’t even make it around the block before the Tombos have stopped us for a check of paperwork. Gunnar takes a markedly different approach to me, he gives the Tombos what for from the outset. Neither Adrian or I are certain it is the best approach for it takes us longer to argue than it does just to look at paperwork. [It would turn out later that Gunnar’s approach is necessary for his particular set of circumstances.]

We set off for a long drive up into the Andes again, the targeted species all live in the Santa Eulalia valley, a very convenient spot located near to Lima. The birding won’t start for another two hours, so Gunnar and I catch up on the aspects of my tour to date and his multitude of business ideas for the birding world. We take a short stop for breakfast before ascending the last few kilometres for the number one target of the this trip - the Critically Endangered Endemic, White-bellied Cinclodes. There are probably no more than 200 of these birds left, only occurring in the scrubby grass around very high altitude glacial runoff lakes. It takes almost an hour in the frigid conditions around the 4700masl mark before we see one. We enjoy great views before heading on for the other specials of the day. Next up is the equally sort after but not necessarily rare Diademed Plover.

More fruitless searching around a bog. Nothing giving and we start the slow and disappointing trudge back to the car. We are no more than 50 metres from the car when Gunnar spots one and then spots two very young chicks. This is the section of bog that I walked over, I must have been no more than a few feet from them and never saw a thing. Never mind, the birds are in the bag. Mum and dad keeping watch over their two fluffy white and bright yellow-legged chicks. We watch for some time, Gunnar taking photos and video footage just for good measure. The remaining target birds are found without much effort before we call it a day and start the drive back to Lima.

All is going swimmingly until we round a bend and realise with a few seconds to spare that we are going to go head on into a big rig. The damn truck has rounded the bend and encroached completely into our lane. The road being wet and downhill, we have no chance - only enough time perhaps to aim for best collision site. We end up hitting the side of the cab, wrecking the front of Gunnar’s car but doing little if anything to the truck. Here there seems not to be any protocol for accidents. We don’t exchange numbers, names or insurance companies - nothing. Even a few minutes after the accident, the road is becoming backed up on both sides with much hooting and irritable drivers. The truck drives off and we pull and push various parts of the bodywork to allow the vehicle to clear the road. The power steering fluid holder has cracked, but otherwise the car is drivable. We carry on towards Lima without a left light and some very wrecked body work. It is not surprise when we are pulled over by the Tombos a few more times.

Gunnar takes the same offensive approach, managing to end the day without some certain fines but a wrecked car. Put a damper on what had been a fantastic birding day. Either way, by the time Adrian and I walked back into the hostel it was already 21:00 and we were rather shattered to say the least. 

Overnight : Lima

Score : 554


After yesterdays excitement, today was all about the success of the camera and laptop repairs. Frustratingly, shops don’t open much before 10:30 or 11:00 - so there was little to do but waste some of the morning having breakfast and playing pool with Adrian. Had to deliver yet another notarised document to the bike store - this time I had everything in order and they would now process the paperwork almost two months after this affair started!

Next stop was the computer shop. Laptop started fine and all my data had been saved and backed up for me! The software was centuries out of date, but the important stuff was intact. The camera store was the only concern I had, they had said they were not sure if the issue could be fixed. However, they had found the problem (a broke plastic mount as I had diagnosed) and replaced it. Brilliant, the rest of the day could be spent as tourists in Lima - at least for Adrian. I had a mountain of software to download on a piss poor WiFi connection.

By the end of the day, I had all my data sorted and the vast majority of my software updated. I just had to get my OS updated - 4Gb, about 12 hours on the particular WiFi link I was on. I had a better plan, knowing that if the WiFi signal dropped I would lose the data downloaded (really this is poor Apple, sort it out!). I hooked my laptop up to Cat5 cable that was no longer being used and left things to update. I went upstairs every half hour or so to check on progress. With less than an hour to go, I had a beer and played another game of pool with Adrian. Went up for my usual inspection only to find that my laptop was no longer in position. One of the staff was busy fixing the computer whose cable I was using, so at first I figured he had moved it out of the way.

No such luck unfortunately. We went downstairs to have a look at the video recorder for further clues. Cutting a very long story short, a local Peruvian criminal had buzzed into the hostel, gone upstairs with a backpack and trawled through both floors picking up whatever was on offer. Promptly left within 10 minutes, loaded with stolen gear. Included amongst all his loot was the laptop, sunglasses, a camera, US dollars and who knows what else in other people’s gear. I realised the situation was rather irretrievable and headed across the road to join Adrian at the other bar. He was none the wiser then or the next day when more stuff ended up missing. Worse of course, I knew without having to look at the small print of my travel insurance that my laptop was not going to be covered having sat in a common room. My only consolation was having backed up all my data before this happened. 

Had this happened in England a year ago, I can only image my reaction. The ‘new’ approach I have these days involved a little unhappiness but the sanguinity of knowing that worse things can happen to oneself.  

Overnight : Lima

Score : 554


So having had my working laptop for only a matter of hours, I was now in need of a replacement. Thus it was off to the Apple store to buy the laptop I had actually wanted to take on this trip - the new Air. I even managed to make use of the stores WiFi which was quicker than anything I ever had access to in the UK! I updated and downloaded all the software I needed in the matter of 20 minutes from the coffee shop across the way.

Then it was back to the hostel to finalise our remaining part of the trip. Only finalise would have been nice, for yet again a Manu lodge cancelled out booking (3rd time for me). More re-working of the logistics until we had a feasible plan. The afternoon was spent going to banks to pay the various lodges that we would be staying at.

Overnight : Lima

Score : 554


Nothing much happened today. Adi and I went for a walk, but otherwise we vegetated anxiously waiting for our very early departure to Cuzco in the morning. 

Overnight : Lima

Score : 554


Up at 03:30 again - believe me this gets no easier with practice. Taxi to the airport and checked in for our 06:00 flight to the Incan capital. The flight proceeded as planned and we arrived an hour or so later. First order of the day was the making of more payments (those I was not able to do in Lima) before collecting the bike and heading south to Lago Huacarpay. By this stage we had seen all the birds that the lake had to offer except my nemesis, the Bearded Mountaineer. Here I was trying for a forth time to find it at ‘the best place going’. Not that it mattered, we dipped on the bird again. With time running short we headed for the town of Paucartambo on the Manu Road.

Somehow I missed the turnoff and ended up in Pisaq before having to turn around and retrace our steps. This was no simple issue, for riding two up on a motorbike is never easy - especially when you also have a ton of gear attached to the back. I was grouchy today for some reason and Adrian’s continual shifting had me passing sharp comments. Even my arse hurt by the end of the day when we finally reached town just before nightfall. Needless to say, Adrian moving around on the back made my job of steering rather tricky and in some instances downright dangerous. He was told to grow a pair and front up, or both of us would be eating asphalt/dirt.

Stayed in the same place I had come to months before. Dinner at the same, and only chifa in town. 

Overnight : Paucartambo

Score : 557


Up at 05:30 for our drive up to Manu National Park and the start of proper birding. Only our hosts had forgotten to wake up and no matter how loudly I revved the engine or hooted nothing was waking them. I even took a pickaxe to the gate’s lock without success. Eventually another person at the hostel jumped over a fence and rang the doorbell incessantly until they did get up. I was not happy that we were heavily delayed already.

We arrived in good time though, and while the birding was not what Adrian had expected, we did get the majority of the species that I had targeted. Next, it was the start of the descent. If Adrian had fidgeted like a butterfly on the way up, he became a bloody worm on the downhill. Cue more sharp words, but he never listened for all that long. Fortunately we had only a short distance to travel, arriving at Wayqecha Biological Station for lunch. more quiet birding followed, even I was disappointed by the lack of species despite knowing that these high altitude Polylepis forests are often like that. We eked out some more birds before dinner, but sat a little disconsolately wondering what the hell had happened today. Tomorrow held more opportunities, so we had to hope for the best tomorrow.

Overnight : Wayqecha

Score : 570


We departed the lodge early and walked down to the ‘Tunnels’ a few kilometres away. Again the birding was quiet, only a few additions made. With time running out we headed back to the lodge for coffee and breakfast. Filled up, we headed off for a long drive all the way to Pilcopata and Atalaya.

We made decent progress to start with until construction played it’s hand yet again. An underground pipe was being dug up delaying us for 45 minutes. No sooner had we gotten under way and a huge landslide threatened to terminate the trip where it stood. Some helpful road crews reckoned the road would be opened by the end of the day, but I needed to get to the end of the road today, not just past this mess. We birded the area for half an hour before I decided to take a chance and cross the landslide. Adrian wasn’t convinced, but we worked out a route over which we could walk the bike.

We just about made it, a few slips and stumbles but the bike remained upright. The gear was then taken over on foot to resounding congratulations from the road crew and management team. Both of us reflected on the likely response had we done such a thing in England - jail and court time for endangering ourselves, certainly not congratulations. So people may wonder why so many Europeans like it down here - those of us who have a brain, can make decisions and live with the consequences rather enjoy the capacity to do so. Here the governments think like we do. If you are too thick to work out the consequences of a particular action, move to England, the various government agencies will provide you with biblical size works on how not to hurt yourself and who to sue should you end up doing so in any case.

Adrian didn’t play up quite so much on the bike today, but developed a horrid migraine towards the end of the drive. No doubt a consequence of the bumpy, winding road and the heavy backpack he was wearing. For some reason he decided to join me on a frantic ride to Atalaya. I was racing the clock, trying to get to the town and arrange our boat for the morning and racing back equally as quickly in the dark on a mud, rock and water track. I probably didn’t help his migraine all that much but he made few complaints. I ended up haggling with a few people in Atalaya but ultimately refused their offers (US$450 - 600) So all the rushing helped me no end. I still had no boat for the morning. 

Overnight : Pilcopata

Score : 579


Last night I counted the money again and decided we could pay the silly sum of US$450 for a 2 hour boat ride down the river. You can wax on about the costs of fuel and impact of tourism etc, but this is highway bloody robbery under the guise of ‘conservation’. I know how much fuel the boat uses in order to complete the return journey - 16 gallons. Even at the most expensive pump, this costs no more than NS14 per gallon, or US90. I paraphrase a fellow birder (Craig Evenhouse) who could not have written more succinctly, “let’s use the word ‘conservation’ in our mission statement so we can charge these stupid gringos an arm and a leg to stay at our lodge attitude”. Indeed. 

So the day began with another crunching motorbike ride along the horrendous road from Pilcopata to Atalaya. The government might actually tax the local boat crews and then fix the road occasionally, at least the extortion would be justified. I’ll stop banging on about this for now, but there will be more. I set off back to the fellow I tried negotiating with yesterday, I know I can only push my luck so far - we need to catch a boat today. Well, if the locals are going to screw me for being a gringo, then I am going to screw them with something they don;t have any idea about, mathematics. Indeed, by the time I am finished with part payments in US$, Nuevo Soles and conversion rates I have bought the cost down to US$400.

The boat will only be ready in 2 hours, so we settle down for a quick breakfast before finding a shady spot to rest our rather sore back ends. Adrian’s migraine from yesterday is only starting to clear. All is set and it should be time to experience this luxury boat ride? Not quite, instead it is a low slung wooden dugout style with small outboard. Various supplies and our gear are added before we are issued with life vests! How did this come about? Health and safety doesn’t exist in Peru, so clearly a number of people must have drowned at one stage for this to have happened. Damn gringos can’t swim either. The boat trip proceeds without incident, we add a small number of new species along the way including a solitary Red-and-green Macaw. 

Bang on schedule the boat is grounded along a river bank, you’d never have known there was a lodge just over the bank - no jetty or welcoming party to suggest that this was anything other than another part of the river bank. Bags off and into the lodge - first impressions not good. It looked like one of those basic indigenous tribe type settings - people pay lots of money to stay in such places for a ‘cultural experience’ - we’re not interested in such things. The lodge did improve slightly, just looked heavily weathered on the outside - but like property in the UK. Generally crap on the outside and much improved inside. That was my opinion until the first rainfall at least, then the various holes in the roof were noted. 

First order of the day was lunch. This was certainly an area that the lodge did perform very well on, food was very good throughout. With lunch over it was time to head out and look for some birds. The sun was out and the temperature high, not good birding conditions. Never the less, the birds put in small show for us. This good first afternoon bode well for the next two full days. A quick rain shower had us hiding under the heavy set trees trying to keep dry. At least the rain was no surprise. Back to the lodge for a shower, cold... After that rain shower, the ambient temperature had dropped significantly too meaning it was not one of those pleasant cold showers either. Most of which was done in the dark, no power down here either. Dinner by candlelight, might even have been described as romantic except between brothers.

Sleep was coming along nicely until a mammoth downpour woke me up. Then the panic of realising that the roof acted like a sieve. Scoot about moving all the gear to avoid the torrent pouring in. 

Overnight : Panticolla Lodge

Score : 609


Up at dawn and out for a big day of birding. The weather was not pleasant, grey, overcast and quite cold. So much for the Amazon heat and humidity. Birds started a little sluggishly, no doubt struggling to wake up in these temperatures. It even crossed my mind that the nutters in North Korea might actually have started a nuclear war by now. (We headed down the Manu Road when the dear leader was ratcheting up tension and threatening to nuke US bases on Guam and Hawaii. Given previous rocket tests, there was every possibility of the warhead ending up on Guam as there was of it landing on the moon.) Turn out that no nuclear weapons had been used, this was a cold spell that the Amazon experiences every now and then - and it generally lasts 2-3 days, our whole stay basically.

The birds did wake up eventually, but it was us that had dozed off in the interim. Suddenly we got hit by a torrent of activity and had barely taken cognisance before it was over. We got back in shape for an hour or so before heading back to the lodge for some much needed coffee and breakfast. More miserable weather and birding before returning for lunch. This afternoon we would head out to a different part of the reserve and hope our luck changed.
We knew that the bird numbers would be lower, but the speciation should be quite different. Indeed the bird numbers were much lower, but we were ticking over quite nicely. The trail on the other hand had seen better days, fallen trees and brush blocked large portions of the trail. No one had been here to clear the path since last year it seemed. Despite being told that trail maps and bird lists were available at the lodge, they were not. As it happened, genius here had ‘memorised’ the path map on the lodge wall. What genius could not know of course was that the map was not entirely accurate. We took a turn which I thought would get us back to the lodge in an hour, enough time for a daylight shower before dinner. As it happened, this was not the path leading back to the lodge but the start of the full extension. Instead of one hour, it would be another 3 - something that only started to dawn on us with about an hour of light left.

The birding got ditched and we started to quick march, this was the last place in the world (other than central Johannesburg) that I wanted to be walking about through after dark. We were shifting quickly, much too quickly for these narrow paths - spiders, snakes there would have been no time to react. Then came another huge tree fall, only this one looked pretty new and thus there was no obvious path around it. More wasted time trying to find our way in the now dark gloom. Adrian, who had spent so much time gingerly walking around every dam on the pathway (some of these ‘puddles’ were a foot deep and the size of a decent swimming pool) was now having to charge straight though the middle after me. All his vain efforts to keep his boots try were over. Rather luckily we made it back to the lodge as night was falling, without having been bitten by anything other than mosquitos.

Another freezing shower before relaxing in front of another good dinner. A large group had arrived at about the same time and were seated next to us for dinner. At first the conversation was mildly entertaining, but for most of the dinner I had to try my very best not to either laugh or make snide comments. I am always taken aback by how pathetically informed so many citizens of the US are. Unlike similarly uninformed Europeans, they don’t know when to shut their mouths and open their ears instead. Hence dinner became an enduring affair of listening to a couple spout absolute crap while everyone else including their guide simply mumbled in resigned agreement. At least they were leaving tomorrow, the only words I managed to hear from the poor guides mouth - although he was to have the final say in the matter. 

Having raced through dinner to escape the cacophony, it was off for an early night. This was not to be a decent sleep however. The guide was unusually for a Peruvian at least on the very portly size. Short, stout and very round - imagine a pot-bellied pig if you will. There is only one way to sleep when you are shaped like that and it also means that there is only one certainty to occur while you poor body labours to breathe - snore. I have heard some snorers in my life - I thought my father was impressive, but he was a lightweight by comparison to some of my work colleagues. And then there was this fellow, he didn’t even have a rhythm. Snork here followed by a massive snore there, then a choke and another massive snore, then silence and then it would start again with the odd whistle thrown in for variety. At his finest, his pitch was like that of an Ultrasonic bath, his worst was that of an industrial sand blaster. I am quite certain that you’d have woken up to sparkling clean jewellery and the corrugated iron would need a new coat of paint. Woke up at intermittent times by said snoring.
Overnight : Panticolla Lodge

Score : 636 


More of the same today, up early for a spot of birding along the lower trails before turning back for breakfast. Our snoring guide had many snide comments made around the table, I guess his clients were really looking forward to the next 7 days with him. The sun made an appearance for a few hours allowing us to bird in some comfort for a while. Not that it lasted long, by lunch the sun had gone and we were back to birding in the grey. This afternoon we purposefully set off to walk the same high trail we had yesterday, giving ourselves enough time to at least finish without hurrying. 

More of the same good food for dinner. Tomorrow was our last morning here, so it was going to be another early one.

Overnight : Panticolla Lodge

Score : 665


Up at sparrows fart for one last attempt at increasing the bird list. We stayed on the lower trails near the lodge but did not add all that much before grabbing breakfast and packing our gear. The boat ride back was no different to that of the other day except it had the horrible ‘end of holiday’ feeling to it. 

Arrived back in Atalaya and loaded up for the drive back up the Manu Road. We were not travelling a massive distance today, just to the Cock of the Rock Lodge where we were due to camp for a few nights. The ride back proceeded without alarm, evening Adrian seemed to have come to terms with his shifting and moving about. 

Arrived at the lodge just after 13:00 in time for some coffee and lunch. It is much higher here and the general cold weather in the Amazon was making the cloud forests really nippy. The coffee was much appreciated and at least 3 cups were downed before any serious birding was contemplated. I was now back on ‘home turf’ so to speak as I had birded this area already. However, the incessant grey cloud and temperamental rain put a slight damper on our birding, so we sat put in the lodge and watched the hummingbirds instead.

Dinner was excellent, there is a reason this place costs an arm and leg to stay at. Even camping was costing US$15 per person per night, excluding food. Off to play with the tent, at least this was not rough camping for a change. The lodge has a covered platform, so you needn’t worry about rain or an uneven surface. 

Overnight : Cock of the Rock Lodge, Manu Road

Score : 679


Yet again, the weather was up shite creek. Off to bird the trails and the road before an excellent breakfast followed by more coffee and hummingbirds. Spent the rest of the day walking up and down the road picking up birds as we went. I had not budgeted for lunch today, but as we had enough money I decided it was best to keep the stomachs full. By the afternoon, we had rather run out of ideas and returned to the lodge for more coffee and some hummingbird watching.

Adrian went off for a freezing cold shower, I declined the opportunity thank you. By nightfall, I was perched in the dining room tapping away at the laptop and editing photos. I dispatched Adrian to go and look for the Lyre-tailed Nightjar, something I had already seen. Jammy sod entered the dining room out of breath beckoning me to follow. He had not seen any nightjar, but had seen a large owl - a species I had not seen before. The owl had of course ducked out of sight, so there was no lifer for me. However, it was good of Adi to go out and try and I was glad he got something for his efforts. Tomorrow would be a long ride all the way to Ollantaytambo, something I was not looking forward to. Nor was I keeping Adi in the picture as to just how far this was. 

Overnight : Cock of the Rock Lodge, Manu Road

Score : 696


We birded early again, and actually put together a half decent morning of new and tricky species. We both had the satisfaction of knowing that the bird list had now reached a mammoth 700 species. With that we had a quick breakfast, paid our bill and hit the road for the long drive to Ollantaytambo. I did stop a few times on the way up to bird here and there, but there was little of interest. The Acjanaco pass was tipping it down with freezing rain. Adi was getting some advantage by sitting at the back - missing most of the rain and the freezing wind. At about this stage I suddenly remembered the road blocks, there was no way I could make it in time. it would mean a 4 hour delay which would put an end to our plans of getting to Ollantaytambo today. I decided at this point that come hell or high water I was going through that road block regardless of the consequences.

I think it is fair to say that by this time, I had had enough of Peru and it’s ridiculous bureaucracy, road blocks were just one of my pet hates. The rest of the world manages to fix roads by simply closing one lane and thus not holding traffic up much, not this lot.

Anyhow, a little later we did indeed arrive at the road block - I missed the cut off by 4 minutes. I thought about simply driving through it, but I had yet to develop the brass to do this just yet. However, a plan emerged almost spontaneously between the two of us. We would just drive around the road block and rejoin the road further down. So off we went, riding over rough fallow fields. Eventually the poor bike could not make it, or we could not take the bumps, so Adrian was ditched to lose some weight and scout the way ahead. In the mean time, I managed to stall the bike and then put my foot in a crappy position - a second later I was on my arse with the bike on top of me. The bike was not damaged and I was fine, we just about managed to right it before setting off to find a route through the fields. Twenty minutes later, route in mind I returned to find Adrian scraping away at the dirt next to a toppled bike. He had returned to see the wind blow the bike over and had been desperately trying to dig the bike out and right it before we lost too much fuel. I was impressed with his logic here, for fuel was indeed an issue on this road. 

The two of us quickly righted the bike to find that one of the mirrors had smashed. Bollocks, we would have to deal with that later. Back on the bike I drove around the bend and rejoined the road in front of the road block - the road worked didn’t bat an eyelid, either she couldn’t see us or didn’t want to. Perhaps she knew something we didn’t, there was another road block up ahead.

This time I had no patience for the roundabout approach and simply revved the engine and gunned straight at the small gap in the barrier. The road worked tried valiantly to stop us by throwing a traffic cone in the way. Her only mistake was to throw to my left side - my Francois Steyn foot - the traffic cone was dutifully dispatched back to whence it originated and we were off. It did cross my mind that the police might be called - then again there were no police for a long way, so that might be an issue later.

Further along it was necessary to negotiate the road crews and their machinery, a few deft overtaking manoeuvres had us past the diggers and massive trucks and away. The last road block presented no problems, they simply opened the gate and let us on our way. Feeling rather brash after our roadblock success, I gunned the bike and headed for Pisaq - only to feel the back end starting to slip out. On a bicycle, I’d have tapped the brakes and slowed in order to regain position, but on a motorbike the solution here was to gun the engine even more and spin back into position. Thankfully I had had the time to learn this otherwise we would have been eating the dirt road.

I eased off the throttle after that but still made it to Huancarani in decent time. From here on the road was asphalt, so no concerns about losing the heavy backend. The ride to Pisaq was pretty comfortable, but we were starting to get a little short on time. Never mind, I wanted to visit my favourite coffee shop in Pisaq and check my mail before heading off for Ollantaytambo. Coffee and internet sorted, we started the final dash. The heavens opened, driving became treacherous and the light faded heavily at just the wrong time. With frozen, gritted teeth I persevered all the way to Ollantaytambo where we quickly settled into the hotel. Soaked to the bone yet again, shower and head across the road for coffee. We end up sitting there for dinner too and then getting an early night.

Tomorrow would be another early one, this time all the way up Abra Malaga - something I was not looking forward to.

Overnight : Ollantaytambo

Score : 702


Up early for the ride of pain. I had been up and over Abra Malaga twice before and no amount of clothing could dampen the freezing pain. I don’t recommend this drive to anyone on a motorbike or bicycle unless your cold threshold is a hell of a lot higher than mine. Of course, from Adrian’s rather sheltered position he was unable to understand my whinging. Arriving at the summit, we headed into a small mud adobe shelter to get coffee. Proper tin mugs, coffee was as rough as it comes. The women serving us was almost blind, something I have noticed is not all that uncommon in the high Andes. In most cases it would seem to be the onset of UV accelerated cataracts. Although another women just around the corner who was completely blind had corneal issues. I could not diagnose the cause, but her corneas were horribly scarred, something I had only ever seen with acid/alkali burns to the eye. 

Slightly warmer after the rather rough coffee we headed off to walk the trail. Unlike all my previous trips here, the sun was out and shining brightly. We sweated and huffed and puffed our way up a short climb before descending steeply over the precipice. It took us all of an hour to nail all the targeted birds (barring Royal Cinclodes). Adrian was still keen to try for the Cinclodes until I showed him where the forest patch was. Having already started to climb back up, he decided it was not worth the effort either. Besides, we had a host of other species to get on the other side of the pass and I wanted to get there before the weather changed.

The cloud forests on this side are heavy set with bamboo. Despite having seen a number of Endemics already today, we had another three on offer here. I had been here once before, but rain had ended my day prematurely, seeing none of the targeted species. So the birds were of high value to both of us. We walked about a little without hearing or seeing much until Adrian (as is his wont) found the activity we needed. While my ID skills are arguably better, Adrian posses one skill which I cannot compete with in the birding context and that is spotting. I’ve no idea how he does it, but Adi can see a flick of wing at one hundred yards without trying. Over the years, I have added many birds to my life list courtesy of this incredible capability he has. In fact, my birding in Peru with him had improved dramatically, not just because there was an extra set of eyes, but because of what those eyes could do. (It’s OK, I can laud Adrian here because I know he doesn’t read my blog and even if he did he would not have the patience to have made it this far down. On the other had, my mother does - so if you do tell your other son about the comments made by his very proud brother - could you copy and paste without the bracketed wording please).

We didn’t just get some good birds, Adrian’s flock had all three of the targeted Endemics meaning we were effectively done and dusted for the trip. There was only one bird outstanding - the damn Bearded Mountaineer. There was little chance of that bird here though, so we headed back to Ollantaytambo for more coffee and a relaxed afternoon. It crossed my mind that I should try to replace the mirror on the bike, for it was likely to cost me an arm and a leg at the bike hire company. I scouted about for a likely ‘donation’, but the only motorbikes that had the same mirror as mine belonged to the police and that was definitely not a good idea. 

Another good dinner and Adrian’s first Pisco Sour. 

Overnight : Ollantaytambo

Score : 716


The birding was now practically over, but we would make one more belated effort for the Mountaineer. Gunnar Engblom had yet again come to my rescue and suggested a place just down the road from us. Despite searching for a few hours we were unable to make any headway and set off for Cuzco. The bike needed to be returned by 09:00 and I was already cutting things a little fine on that front. Dropping Adrian back at Starbucks to continue our ruse (it was only supposed to be me on the bike after all). Bike returned and the damages totalled up - 180 soles for a bloody mirror, about US$80! Talk about highway robbery - a new mirror only cost 14 soles... I was in no mood to mess about, so paid up and left.

More coffee at Starbucks where Adrian had gotten chatting with another biker. I walked in to be given some good information on where and how to cross into Ecuador. Off to find a hostel for the night before taking a walk around town for some supplies and a half hearted attempt at being ‘tourists’. We didn’t find anything we were after, so settled down for lunch instead. Adrian got dispatched to enjoy the town while I settled down to some more work on the laptop. It didn’t last long on his front before he joined me to surf the web aimlessly for the rest of the afternoon. Tomorrow we had a flight back to Lima which had already been delayed.
Overnight : Cuzco

Score : 716


Our flight ended up being delayed for much longer than expected. The plane was unable to lave due to poor weather in Lima. Then again, a committee of certified genius’s had decided to build the airport next to the sea. The cold Humboldt current caused heavy fog every morning along the entire Peruvian coast, how on earth were they unable to factor this into the airport location! By the time we had landed and driven back to the hostel it was already 15:00. Nothing much to do except relax for a few days. 

Overnight : Lima

21/04/2013, 22/04/2013

Nothing much happened on these two days, we played pool, went for the odd walk but mostly just tapped away at our respective computers and waited for Adrian’s imminent departure. I had my this stage convinced Adrian to take a ‘few’ bits and pieces of my bicycle back with him. By the time I had finished working on him, he had signed up to take the entire rig back. Good boy Adrian! What would have cost me over US$1200 to ship had now cost me no more than 75 euros. Thanks in part to the very low cost of Iberia and the even better ‘gratis’ transport of SAA. SAA must surely be the only airline left in the world that does not charge for bicycle transportation. Very grateful to them, but more so to Adrian who had a torrid time lugging about the 25kg box to England, getting to interview in the afternoon before dashing to catch another plane back to South Africa. He had an equally eventful time getting the bike through RSA customs, but neither him or my mother will tell me much about it. So I am resolutely grateful, but still want the details you two. 

Overnight : Lima


The day I had been dreading had finally arrived. Having had Adrian on tour with me for almost 7 weeks, I was now losing him to my parents in South Africa. I had lost my other half, no longer was my trusted accomplice around to bird and experience Peru with. Leaving the UK was one thing, back then I had a psychopathic view of emotion - in other words none. South America as I have probably mentioned many times already has not only changed me, but softened me up too. I would have to start all over again and learn to bird and travel on my own.
24/04/2013 - 31/04/2013

No boring you here of my activities. Essentially I spent the remaining days in Lima getting my bike paperwork sorted out, planning the rest of my Peru trip and the upcoming entry to Ecuador. During this time I managed to visit a gay bar with some other people at the hostel, get chatted up in Afrikaans by a gay peruvian fellow (I’m not making this up). He wasn’t speaking Dutch, he spoke Afrikaans - a language spoken by perhaps no more than a few million people. As fascinating as this was, I had no desire to continue chatting to my new ‘friend’. Perhaps I might have had he not been so intent on rubbing my arm, I accept I was in a gay club, but the terms and conditions were ironed out after introduction. Anyhow, I beat a retreat back to the hostel - abandoning my new found friends who had yet to return to the club. And where were they? Finding cocaine, something I was intent on trying tonight for some reason. in some respects my overly friendly gay man saved me from myself, for when my two ‘mates’ walked into the hostel at 08:00 the next morning I was no longer interested in playing with their remaining powder.

Yes, what was I thinking. For the genius, there is a streak in me that like to investigate and play with fire. It’s why I jumped out of a plane, kept deadly venomous snakes, owned guns, tackled wild crocodiles, sat in the middle of a buffalo herd, overdosed on alcohol and acid. It’s the same streak that had me single-mindedly and single handedly cycle cross a continent. Sometimes this propensity is not directed positively, but I am damned if I intend to suppress it. 

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