Peru - The North - mile 14,158

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October 15th 2009
Published: December 22nd 2009
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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 desertstill in the desertstill 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.

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 25


Chiclayo marketChiclayo market
Chiclayo market

Cuy for supper? yes we are now in the land of guinea pig for tea.

grain being spread out on the road,
more desertmore desert
more desert

here the workmen are trying to keep the desert off the raod
Chan Chan Chan Chan
Chan Chan

the remains of a Moche palace
Chan Chan ruinsChan Chan ruins
Chan Chan ruins

decorative pelican motifs
Chan Chan ruinsChan Chan ruins
Chan Chan ruins

restoration in progress
Heading InlandHeading Inland
Heading Inland

its carrot harvest season
tea breaktea break
tea break

preparing for the Canyon del Pato at the last village on the tarmac road
Canyon del Pato Canyon del Pato
Canyon del Pato

notice I'm not on the bike - the road repair team had deposited a large pile of sand round one of the hairpin bends - I decided it was safer to walk the 500 yards.
Canyon del Pato Canyon del Pato
Canyon del Pato

a rare two lane section - wide enough for a rest stop. NB-we are doing this on road tyres
Canyon del Pato Canyon del Pato
Canyon del Pato

the half-way point celebrated with 1/2 a mile of tarmac through the village.
Canyon del Pato Canyon del Pato
Canyon del Pato

typical tunnel - where does it go? how long is it? is there a bus entering the other side?
Canyon del PatoCanyon del Pato
Canyon del Pato

these must be the gargantuan walls

22nd December 2009

i really envy you both what a fantastic journey excellent photos and interesting reading.You must be on the final part of your adventure now. i look forward to seeing you in Kirby february time i expect. Best wishes for christmas & a safe 2010 pete
22nd December 2009

Fascinated by northern peru - I didn't expect it to be such a desert as the the coastal stretch south of Lima. Sounds fun. Have a great Christmas, thank you for b'day message! CT
30th December 2009

Tunnel vision
Bit scarey......... not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel........glad the coach drivers are thoughtful! Sounds like the tunnels in the Faroes, except they do have built in passing places and Carbon Monoxide detectors switching a red light on if needed to warn not to enter for a while!The ancient remains sound most interesting.

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