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Published: December 22nd 2009
A tiny bridge across a small river forms the border between Ecuador and Peru. However, there seems to be a world of difference between the two countries, the most noticeable contrast so far. On the Ecuadorian side there were lush green fields on the Peruvian side its very dry and desert like. The villages in Peru are much scruffier, the vehicles a bit more battered, the rubbish dumps are at the side of the road with plastic bag blowing around and catching on all the bushes and fences - it definitely has a 'rough around the edges' feel to it.
A few miles into Peru we hit the real desert and spend the next 2 days travelling through the vast flat expanse of the Sechura desert on long, long straight roads that disappear away into a heat haze in the distance. Variety is provided by the occasional patch of sand dunes or men sweeping sand off the road - a job for life I should think. Why ride 400 miles through a coastal desert? Because there are lots of really interesting things to see here - we only have time to take in two; The Royal Tombs of Sipan museum
near Chiclayo and Chan Chan near Huanchaco.
Chiclayo seems to be the main milling town. There are loads of mills along the road and outside each of them are are enormous bags of grain everywhere which are spread out on the road each evening and swept up again the next morning - very strange we are in the middle of the desert and there is all this grain around. The Royal Tombs of Sipan museum is a really spectacular museum. You start at the top and as you spiral down the levels you discover the different layers of the Lord of Sipan's tomb in the same order archaeologists discovered them. The occupant of the tomb was from the Moche culture who ruled parts of northern Peru from 1AD - 700AD. His body was covered with layer upon layer of fine gold pieces, turquoise and coral necklaces, golden trinkets to protect him in the afterworld etc. etc. - the phrase 'King Tutankhamen of the Americas' is certainly appropriate. Unfortunately no photos allowed but there are plenty of web site showing a range of the riches found in the tomb.
Huanchaco is a little sea-side town with great wave and
straw fishing boat - you ride 200 miles across the desert and end up at the sea side!! Chan Chan is a total contrast to the Lord of Sipan - its the remains of a Chimu city from 1300AD, its was the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world. One small part has been excavated and for miles around this there are lumps and bumps in the desert which are obviously more remains. Most of the adobe walls are only a few feet high now but they still contain the remains of intricate decorations especially the pelican freezes - the Chimu obviously liked their pelicans and they appear in numerous different poses. There's no fancy gold objects here but its just as beautiful and impressive.
After 400 miles of desert we head inland, immediately we are in a green and fertile valley - a bit of a shock after all the desert. As we get higher it becomes rockier and cacti start to appear, then, in a tiny village, the tarmac swings round and continues eastwards - we turn to the south onto something that in no way resembles a road, this
is the start of 60 miles of mostly single track dirt road through Canon del Pato which the Lonely Planet guide book describes as being “where the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra come to within spitting distance for a battle of bedrock wills, separated in parts by only 15m, and plummeting to vertigo-inducing depths of upto 1000m. The road snakes along a path hewn out of sheer rock, over a precipitous gorge and passes through 35 tunnels, hand-cut through solid stone. Gargantuan, crude walls tower above the road on all sides..... it's dramatic enough to house the secret lair of a James Bond arch-villain.”. With a description like that we just have to ride along it, it turns out to be a pretty good description. The tunnels are fun, they are mostly single lane and long enough that you cant see the other end i.e. you don't know if something is coming towards you - the after market extra loud horn certainly got a lot of use. Luckily for us the bus drivers are amazingly courteous and when they see a wobbly motorbike coming towards them they actually pull over and let us past - we have never witnessed
still in the desert
excitment provided by sand dunes
this behaviour before, bus drivers are usually king of the road. Its a great days riding and the next day we have the pleasure of riding along the wide open valleys running alongside the Cordillera Blanca with 50 peaks greater than 5700m (the road is at 4100m). Then dropping back down to the coast on twisty turning roads - we drop from 4100m to sea-level in 60 miles. Yet another day of saying wow every time you turn the corner and it was finished off with a visit to Paramonga, the remains of a Chimu fortress from 1200-1400AD. Tomorrow wont be quite as much fun - we have over 400 miles to ride taking us straight through Lima and all its traffic.
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