N.B. You’re reading the longer, better version of what I had published in my trip report for Bike magazine (March 2016 edition). You can find the full report here (though it’s only the proof copy from the editor!). Stick around if you want to hear a story though!
I was sat on the cold, grey polished floor of Gatwick airport.
Three or so hours travelling down by train had got me here early, so all I had to do was bide my time – wait until my travelling companions would reveal themselves. Without knowing what they looked like I kept my eyes peeled for anyone who looked like a biker, from my slumped vantage point opposite baggage check in. I was excited and eager to get going so the short wait dragged its feet. I practically sprang up when I clocked a man who’s suitcase was adorned by ‘Adventure Peru Motorcycling’ decals. This must be the guy, Dave…
“All right Tommy boy!” Like a strong cheese, the London accent overpowered the senses at first, but mellowed with repeated exposure. “You’re taller than I thought you’d be..”
We shook hands and, checking our bags in (I was surprised that good airlines don’t actually make you carry around paper boarding passes all day), ascended into the lofty heights of the airport to meet the others – Chas, Mike and Colin. This was the start of my holiday – five strangers, all comfortingly uncomfortable, stringing together small talk in the lead up to a 12 hour journey to Lima.
I say holiday – but in the run up to Peru I was running around, bat shit crazy, completing all the prep work to keep things ticking smoothly. Not only was I winning a prize, I was contractually obliged to write up a lengthy trip review for Bike magazine upon my return. The article, around 6 pages in total, would have to be supported by as many photos – particularity action shots – as we could muster. For one, that meant buying a camera and figuring out how to back up the data to my smartphone – it is the 21st century after all.. So, along with a raft of vaccinations and other vital purchases (actual padded trousers!) this free trip was starting to cost more and more. But I was content to involve myself so fully in the prep work. This after all, was a once in a lifetime opportunity to publicize some of my writing in a national magazine while experiencing an incredible country from the saddle of a dirt bike. Like the incessant drone of the Boeing, I was still buzzing.
It was early morning when we arrived in Lima, greasy with Traveler’s mist. Security were being untypically thorough with each bag – opening them up and poking around. When my bag didn’t come out of the XRay for a good couple of minutes I scouted around to see whether the others were having the same difficulties. Eventually it was released and a young lady opened it up and pulled out a big bubble wrapped package. It had kindly been donated by Dave after his own case was 7kg over and mine, fortuitously or not, was exactly 7kg under. It was the bag check-in attendants idea. Back in the present the young lady looked up at me for explanation – it really did look like your typical block of badly smuggled drugs. I told her I hadn’t packing them myself.
Nearly an hour later and Dave and I rejoined the others in the arrivals lounge. We’d both been carrying motorcycle batteries – the former also lugging around chains as well. It was uncomfortable viewing, stood by the window as the tax officer threw more and more tax charges at Dave. Alas he paid them, we had somewhere to be. I was just grateful not to be cavity searched.
Considering the brutality of the taxi ride from the airport, I was surprised that more cars and bikes weren’t scoured front to back with battle scars. Cars jammed in like sardines, noses all pinning together as 15 lanes bottlenecked into two in little over 15 feet. The driver, a surly looking man with a beaded seat cover, took Mike and I along the beach to our hotel. Lima seemed stunted by a wall of steep, crumbling cliffs between the city and the sea. As the road cut its way along these cliffs in a zig zag ascent, it was clear that the Peruvians had made us of every inch up to the point the earth fell away steeply. Tall, expensive looking skyscrapers hoarded the view over the coast while smaller residential buildings fell in suit behind. Our hotel was a beautiful if antiquated building, nestled in Miraflores, a popular tourist quarter. Our flight wasn’t for a day or two – so we explored Lima by foot for a while. While lost I accidentally out-Spanished our host. We were looking for a beach and Dave kept repeating ‘la Mer’ to confused locals. I stepped in with a helpful ‘ La Playa’ and they nodded, pointing what in hindsight was the wrong way anyway, but I don’t think Dave forgot it quickly… After sampling the local (italian) food Mike and I had a spin at the local nightlife and, despite the bottles of beer being sold in the clubs being liters, survived without even the impression of a hangover.
In the hours preceding our departure for our internal flight to Cajamarca I’d been doggedly avoiding contact with Dave – wishing to avoid having batteries in my cargo for a second flight. I laughed off a couple of his propositions as jokes, quickly making for the door before he had the chance to follow it up. In the end poor old Colin got collared and was soon battery mule number two. In the airport, despite his contestation (“No connection!”) Dave was escorted down to the security office where his and Colin’s bags were waiting – not on the plane. There were a few minutes of light entertainment as David, calling from the security office, desperately tried to get Colin’s luggage lock combination across bad reception. In due time we were hustled through the gate and onto a dinky little twin prop to rattle into the sky.
Franco, kitted out head to toe in a dusty, armored textile suit and tall boots, was waiting to shake our hands as we left an airport that was barely larger than the twin prop we’d just disembarked. We stood about waiting for something, though I wasn’t entirely sure what. Franco pecked snappy Spanish into his hands free mic, laughing as he went. A big white Toyota pickup whipped up outside the airport compound and, under direction, we lugged the bags into the back. The headcount showed a +1 on the number of seats in the cab so me and Mike both opted to ride in cargo – the air whipping by as we hustled to get out our cameras and capture some dusky action shots.
Our driver Jorge slowed down and peeled off to the left, up a cobbled ramp to some serious looking steel compound doors. He flicked the lights a few times until a petite Peruvian lady, maybe in her late 30’s, emerged through a smaller door, within the door. Unbolted, the steel swung open to reveal Casa Buena Vista, lit up like a romantic Christmas tree. Running my bags to the top story was a sharp reminded that we’d landed at altitude. I took a few seconds to steady myself. The view across the Andes was worth the climb, even if we couldn’t see much apart from the occasional house light through the dense black that had descended in a matter of minutes. It gets dark fast in Peru.
Once again we jumped into the back of the pickup – an altogether less delightful experience in the chill of an Andean night – and headed to the main plaza in Cajamarca for an evening chow-down. The square, like Buena Vista, was illuminated by an assortment of lights and adorned with people just walking around chatting. Peaceful and homely, despite being so far removed. We pulled up chairs in a spacious white, ruggedly kept restaurant and under direction of ‘the boys’ as our group now affectionately called them (Franco and Jorge) proceeded to order a local favorite. Gradually plates of food emerged from the kitchen until, the last plate, my fried Cuy arrived. I don’t know what I was expecting, but more than four lean legs to eat would be a start. To me, it seemed like a bit of a waste of a Guinea Pig…
Dave arrived early the next morning – the dawn still clutching its purple veil. Despite the time we were already up and sat on the terrace, enjoying a refreshing breakfast cigarette and small cups of black coffee. We peered down as the gate swung open and our Cockney leader reappeared. Turns out he’s had a nightmare with these batteries – but good thing is they should be arriving by courier on a flight that afternoon. It cancelled the days test-run, we were all excited for that, but we’d spend the day exploring about Cajamarca instead – drinking tequila, eating BBQ food and waiting for the batteries to arrive. When we got back to Dave’s place Franco wen’t straight back to working on the bikes, tinkering until each one, in turn, sputtered into life. The DRZ650s and transalps filled the courtyard and the exhaust noise ricocheted of all the walls to cradle you from all sides. Just think – tomorrow we’d strap up and ride these bad boys out of here… into the Andes.