17 May 2013

Peru - May 2013

01/05/2013 - 02/05/2013

The bike was almost ready to go, I fiddled about with a few more details before setting myself up to depart on Friday. 

03/05/2013

Time to go, after an enormous amount of time had been wasted in Lima sorting this motorbike out, I finally had my documentation and licence plate. I also needed a SOAT (essentially public insurance for traffic accidents). The Peruvians only sell it in one years terms, so despite only needing it for a week, I was going to have to stump up for the year. A year long SOAT here costs 450 soles (US$ 180). I figured I would pay less in bribes by not having it, so set off without it.

At least that is what I tried to do. The bike would not start properly and nor would it idle. Two hours of kick starting on a dead battery later, I pushed the bike back to the shop I had bought it from. They must have been sick of the sight of me by this stage. In the bike went for repairs. It would only be ready late on Saturday, so I was stuck yet again in Lima. Pull out the old Eagles LP and play Hotel California - that was how life for me was here, Hostal bloody Lima.

The staff were al very happy to see me return do quickly, but were also worried that I might never leave. They needn’t have worried on my behalf - I already felt that way. Joey (the manager of the hostel) refused my attempts at payment - he reasoned I had been there so long already that he could take no more of my money. Find me such great people outside of Latin America please - they likely don’t exist.  

04/05/2013

Pick up the bike to find that the battery wasn’t just flat it was faulty. So that was replaced under guarantee. I had a working bike again, back to the hostel to pack up and ready myself for tomorrows departure.

05/05/2013

Up at 06:00 to pack and ready myself. Hopefully today would be the day. Well, the bike started as planned and off I went stopping every few km’s to make sure I was on track. From Miraflores, Lima extends fully 65km’s to the north. A few hours later and I was suddenly on the open road and leaving Lima behind so quickly we may as well have been in different tie zones. If you have never ridden a motorbike you cannot understand the feeling of the wind in your face, the wide road stretching off to the horizon. There is a certain amount of freedom and satisfaction that even a top down Ferrari cannot give one.

First call of the day was a quick stop at Lomas de Lachay to find one more bird. Adrian and I had read that they do not occur here during the summer, so had driven past and not even looked. I felt obliged to apologise profusely in hindsight - the information was bollocks and indeed I had many of the Least Seedsnipe within a few km’s of the turnoff. Bird in the bag, I returned to the motorway and disappeared north. I had aimed to get as far as Trujillo today, but it was quickly discounted as being too far away. I would settle down somewhere closer depending on how the remainder of the day went. 

Things were about to turn from rosy to overcast though. Exactly 200km’s of riding and the traffic cops pulled me over (known here as Tombos - and you’d be correct in thinking that it is not an affectionate term). This is how things went, give or take :

'Licensia, Tarjeta de Vehicular, SOAT. [Licence, vehicle papers and SOAT]

I hand my papers over sans SOAT.

Tombo - ¿Dónde está su tarjeta de SOAT? [Where is your SOAT]
Me - SOAT, lo que es SOAT? [What is SOAT?]
Tombo - Por desgracia, es un bien caro para no tener SOAT ... ¿Tiene algún cámaras en el casco? [It is required that you have a SOAT, (he shows me what one looks like). Do you have any cameras on your helmet?]
Me : No nadda. [No cameras, nothing]
Tombo : Pues ya ves, necesitamos gasolina para el carro de la policía. [Right, so we need some ‘petrol’ for our police car]
Me : Eso es perfectamente comprensible, tal vez pueda hacer una donación para la buena gente de la policía? [Yes, that is perfectly understandable, I would be honoured to make a donation to the good people of the traffic police.]
Tombo : Bueno, usted está seguro de que no hay cámaras? [Good, you are certain there are no cameras?]

I get sent over to the other Tombo sitting in the police car. I tell him that I do not have SOAT, he makes a big deal out of this and hauls out his pad to start writing a fine. So I call the other Tombo over and tell him that perhaps the other officer has not heard about my donation. 

Tombo - Mi colega, el buen señor se ofrecieran hacer una donación para nuestro problema de gasolina. [Comrade, this young gentleman has offered to make a donation towards out petrol problem]
Me : Nods head agreeably
Tombo 2 - [Raises hands in apology] Oh, una donación. Ya veo bien en este caso no hay ningún problema. [Oh, a donation, well in that case there doesn’t seem to be a problem.]

I slip the Tombos S/.50 and promise to get my SOAT in the nearby town of Barranca. Actually, I went to Barranca, but it was Sunday and the SOAT shop was closed. So I carried on driving north. I then got stopped in a huge roadblock, absolutely no chance of bribing 20 officers? I chatted for a short while to the General, he never asked for my papers…

I decided to stay the night in Casma, some 400km’s of driving later. My chest infection that started 3 weeks ago is not getting better but worse, perhaps I have something serious? I manage some sleep, but it is a struggle to breath effectively.

Overnight : Casma

06/05/2013

So this morning I drove around Casma looking for a place to sort out my SOAT. They refused to give me one - something about import/export paperwork (my bike is Peruvian, not foreign, but the morons had no idea). Carried on driving north hoping that no more Tombos would stop me. I did manage to get past a few by driving on the left hand side of trucks and busses when I could see them. Made it to Chimbote where I did finally find a SOAT place willing to sort me out. Only S/.350 (in Lima it was S/.450). Took two hours but had nice people looking after me. So, bloody SOAT in hand I hit the road again. With all the delays there was no chance of getting much beyond Trujillo, not that I was staying there though. I went a little further to Huanchacho, a town that Adrian and I had stayed in previously. Not that I stayed in the expensive place we had originally been in. Very cheap and cheerful this time around (S/.10). 

Overnight : Huanchacho

07/05/2013

Off early this morning as I had a number of small birding stops to do as well as drive all the way to Olmos. First stop, Rafan - a small patch of rugged trees buried in the coastal desert. The wind was blowing a gale and the sun was already boiling. I persevered, struggling to walk up even the smallest incline due to my bloody chest infection. Most of the birds twitched before heading further afield. At this point I wondered about the point of visiting another desert location at this time of day. By the time I got there it would be early afternoon and very hot - hardly ideal birding weather. I decided to give it a shot in any case. 

As things turned out this was a good punt, for despite the temperature I did get all the remaining target species for the day. Now I just had to reach Olmos. Try as I might, i could not find the pre-planned road towards the town. Google Maps delivers yet again. I’m afraid that Google Maps is one of the most useless resources when travelling outside of big cities. Worse yet, Google do not even record minor roads - so this should have been fairly easy to find. Not for me, nor could any local tell me where this road was. They all sent me back towards Trujillo where I could take a side road back onto the Panamerican. Not that i wanted to muddle about anymore - time was no longer on my side. While I broke the ‘no driving after dark rule’ a few times in the car, this was not something i was going to break on the motorbike. 

Time to open the taps a little and scoot. I made it into Olmos with the last light fading, just about able to find a hostal for the night. Shot out for a quick meal only to find Helmut, a German motorbiker who I hd met in Lima. In fact, he had slept on the bunk above me for a few nights even. What had taken me three hard days of driving, had taken only two for Helmut and his ‘truck’ as he referred to his rather large motorbike. We chatted for a while before I disappeared for an early night. Tomorrow morning was another early start for one of the hardest and rarest birds in all of Latin America. 

Overnight : Olmos

08/05/2013

Another early start, eyes are starting to struggle in the mornings. Drive down the road for 20km’s before turning onto the dirt. The first real test for my moto on the rough stuff. Takes another hour to drive the 20km’s up the canyon. Park up and ready myself for an improbable search. From all the literature I have read, this is a tricky species best found only with a guide.

Huffing, wheezing a and puffing I gear up and start walking. I already know there is no chance I can walk for the two hours that is apparently required to find this bird, but I’ll see what I can make of the morning none the less.

I had barely walked for 5 minutes, and in my current state that equated to about 200metres when the first White-winged Guans went bashing through the tree canopies. Long walks and guides my backend - here it was. Spend the next 30 minutes watching this Critically Endangered bird, they number no more than 150 - 250 individuals. Do my best at capturing photos, but the horrid overcast conditions make this a useless effort. 

Fiddle about for a few more species before heading back to my moto. With the target bird in the bag, I could start the long ride up the coast sooner than expected. Spend the remainder of the day driving in sectors all the way to Mancora.

I know that I am going to hate Mancora - it is Peru’s version of Majorca and Faliraki rolled into one. Loaded with directionless youths partying away their parents money. I was not to be disappointed, the place was teeming with Eurotrash and the Yids - I thought the universities had started term already? They come here to 'see' South America! If South America looks like the bottom of beer can, railway lines of drugs and STD riddled women then perhaps they have…

It was just going to have to do, I needed cheap accommodation and decent wireless connection. Most of the accommodation resembles a dodgy crack house. I find something remotely decent, but owned by a company notorious for parties... I didn’t even get in the front door before one of the locals had introduced himself to me along with the going rates for all manner of drugs that he sold. How wonderful that all the locals in South America think Gringos live only for substance abuse. 

The hostel turns out to be relatively cheap but possesses horrid Wifi. I settle down to get some work done a ignore the brats. They ignore me too thankfully. Quick bite to eat before I depart the bar area, the music is starting to increase in volume and the party about to start. I return to my room to find I have Chilean and Peruvian’s for company, lucky me, I could have had a bunch of yobs from South Croydon (would they know where Peru was like?).

Overnight : Mancora

09/05/2013

Up bright and early to make best use of the internet before the masses bugger up the bandwidth. Make good progress on the Ecuador front. Quick brekkie, much more work. Same applied to lunch and then the internet died. Carry on with other stuff, internet never really recovers.

Tomorrow I head off to Tumbes, the last place in Peru that I will do any birding before the crossing the frontera.

Sleep had progressed rather well until 03:00 when my Chilean friend (who had been on the karaoke platform for a while) caused me to stir. It's one thing to shag in a hostel, it is quite another to do so in a room that has other occupants. I only lost a little sleep to what sounded like a very awkward and drunk effort that seemed to lack any semblance of rhythm, but it was more the young Peruvian girl in the room - her poor virgin ears must have burned rather horribly.

Overnight : Mancora

10/05/2013

Up early again for some last minute adjustments to the Ecuador plans before another decent cooked breakfast. Load up and start driving north. I had only been on the road for 10km’s when my chain sounded a little odd. I had tightened it yesterday and was not sure if I had made the correct adjustments. Off I climbed to have a look. The chain looked fine, but it was something else I noticed that did not - a large bolt that mounted my rear suspension to the frame had sheared. The bolt had snapped at the flange side too. I had no idea when this had happened, surely I would have seen it yesterday when I was working on the chain?

There was no chance of getting spares in Mancora, so I drove on, albeit a little slower until I got into Tumbes. First order of the day was to find habitation followed by a motorcycle repair shop.

It didn’t take long to source a decent pad, not did it take much effort to find a moto repair shop that sold what I was looking for. I was rather concerned that my replacement bolt only cost US$2.00. That was one thing, the other would be fitting this - I had rather hoped that the shop would do it. Tried reading up on it, even tried looking for videos on YouTube - problem was I had no idea what this bolt was called, still don’t. I was just going to have to make it up, out came the tool box and the new bolt for some fun. Turns out, the bolt was not overly difficult to replace. I knew that when the current bolt slipped thought the frame that the suspension would spring out of place, but all it look was a little leaning and pushing on the bike to realign the holes and slot the new bolt in. Good tighten and all looked spot on.

Now I needed to find an office called INRENA. I had good directions and even an address, how hard could this be? How hard is it took me over two hours to find the stupid place in a two horse town. Why was I looking for it? To visit the large nature reserve I had to apply for permission - a formality apparently but standard Peruvian Bureaucratic Bullshit prevails here too. Now I was at the correct spot, but there was a hitch - it was closed, in fact it was closed for the next 3 days too. Someones mother had died and the entire department of Agriculture in northern Peru was sitting behind a locked gate drinking beer - no doubt wallowing in grief for the mother of their colleague. Given that it was 15:30 on a Friday afternoon, this all seemed somewhat convenient.

That was it, there would be no visit to the Tumbes Reserve. I would instead use the day productively tomorrow to sort out more detail on Ecuador before crossing into Ecuador. if truth be told, I was quite sick of Peru by now and this latest setback was the culmination of over 5 months of slow rot. I would get the birds in Ecuador instead. 

Overnight : Tumbes

11/05/2013

Day spent working on plans, nothing exciting happened. Cross the border tomorrow. That detail will be included in the Ecuador blog piece.

Overnight : Tumbes

Postscript

I have been in Peru almost 5 months, this is what I have concluded about my time here. When I left Argentina and entered Bolivia, it was like falling into a dark abyss. Technologically inept, barely any roads, cold and unfriendly people, crap food. I have had very few positive things to say about Bolivia except that I understand where they are at. Bolivia has only just exited the Stoneage, they will get there. Entering into Peru was a step up. Suddenly the soup actually had some vegetables in it. The roads had asphalt on them, there was even warm water occasionally. This was all very exciting for a while, but on reflection it had more to do with how bad Bolivia had been rather than how good Peru was.

The first months passed by mostly unnoticed, my mind and body focussed more on the harrowing cycle from Cuzco to Nazca as well as the fun of riding a motorbike for the first time. Once I reached Lima, the distractions were over and I could look at my surroundings with a more critical eye. Peru seemed to have had a technological boom 10 years ago. However, the boom stopped after the first delivery of computers and routers - there has been no maintenance of repairs carried out since then. As you all must know by know, WiFi is one of my main requisites when deciding on accommodation. It was standard practice for me to walk around places checking the WiFi signal before I decided to stay there. I’d wager that at 60% of the places I stayed, either had no functioning internet, or had had internet but stopped using it. There was an incredible number of routers that were still plugged in but whose internet connectivity had been cut many years ago.

Bolivia at least has light at the end of the tunnel, but Peru seems not to - Peru seems to be retrogressing. My comments are not aimed at Peru bar Lima. Lima if anything only exacerbated this feeling. I stayed in the most exclusive suburb of Lima and was damed if I could find a decent internet connection. Sure, there was WiFi all over the place but the bandwidth was so poor it was barely worthwhile trying. This has only been further amplified since entering Ecuador. How is it that two countries, one practically surrounding by the other can have two completely different internet capacities?

Adrian then joined me and we travelled all over the country. The same useless crap kept cropping up. Internet is buggered, or simply doesn’t exist. Same with hot water, same with service. Actually service does not exist here in any measurable form. You could throw money at people here and it would change nothing. There is a big drive to build roads, but maintenance is not high up on the agenda. The same country that produced the mighty Incan architects cannot these days build a road that last longer than a year. Most dual carriageway Andean roads are now single carriageway due to landslides. Unless the landslide blocks both lanes, there is no interest in clearing the mess. Surely you must be aware that leaving a 100 metre high acutely graded sand bank is going to come crashing down at the mere thought of rain?

I have already spoken about the complete and utter rip off that tourists face here, and I didn’t even bother handing over a few tons of US$ and an arm and a leg to look a pile of old rubble they call Machu Pichu. 

Peru does have one thing that many countries in the area do not - a high number of Endemic birds. In other words, it is necessary to come here - one really has no choice but to. 

So Peru is nothing to write home about. Neither very good but not offensive either. I would however recommend that one visits in short bursts of a few weeks at a time. Spending a lengthy period of time here will cost you a fortune and wear you down mentally too. Peru, much like Brazil has a massively over valued currency, the bang for you buck is very low value. One enters Ecuador and wonder again where the differences are and how it can it be such. Ecuador has stunning infrastructure, good quality products, good service and operate with the US$ and it is still half as expensive as Peru. Go figure.

Would I come back - yes, there are still birds I need to see, but not for anything else. Of the three countries I am looking to reside in, Peru has been scratched off that list already. Five days in Ecuador has already convinced me I am in better company in Ecuador than Peru. 

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