Adventures in Northern Peru

Riding to the Peruvian border from Ecuador I received a concerning welcome to the country when a crow dive bombed into my chest at 70km/hr, breaking its neck and rolling across the pavement dead right before we reached the border crossing. I pulled over, more in awe of the tragedy that just unfolded than of concern for any injury. As I looked back and saw the dead bird about 100m behind me I noticed the look on my supportive girlfriend’s face through her helmet as she tried to keep the laughter in. Thankfully the border crossing was less traumatic and took a short hour and a half to sort out paperwork and purchase new insurance for the motos. Peru has their act together when it comes to border crossings and the moto insurance could be purchased right at the border. This was opposed to the fiasco we had to go through in Ecuador coming from Colombia as we searched all over the nearest town and eventually had the police escort us to the insurance office.


As we started the southern descent into Peru it was a bit of a shock to find out that whole north coast was essentially a barren high winded desert. Suddenly I was back in the high plains of New Mexico riding on the long boring Panamerican highway. Not ok, Peru, not ok. After several hours of going only straight and leaning the bike to the right against the cold westerly blowing sandy wind my neck started to cramp and the desert game was getting old quickly.  There is good reason that most all of any tourist information about Peru concerns itself with the central and southern parts of the country. If you really want to visit northern Peru I can recommend an Air Force base for you in northeastern New Mexico.

The only thing worth going to on the northern coast, and worth being a very subjective term, is the gringo ghetto beach town of Mancora.  Mancora is known as the backpacker’s destination for good surfing and decent beach hangouts along the coast. It should be noted that Peru is not known for its beaches, so the bar is pretty low here when talking about great surfing and sand.

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The town itself seemed to be more of a over done tourist trap that was probably a better place to get your pockets picked than get a tan. After staying in a string of low key local towns we elected to try our luck again at one of the hyper social giant party hostels of South America, Loki del mar. The Loki is a low budget beach resort with over 300 beds for the young alcohol fueled crowd masquerading as a hostel. There is a large pool, bar and variety of activities to satisfy any level of late night happy hour cravings.

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Unfortunately there were no private rooms and we resorted back to dorm beds which we haven’t had to do since hot Cartagena in Colombia. We shared our four bedroom dorm with a couple of early twenty something girls from Lima that were on vacation for a few days (first bad sign). They seemed nice enough and we made some brief small talk before heading out for dinner. After indulging in some amazing fresh seafood we came back to the room and the girls were asleep at 8pm. Liz saw this as a positive thing, and thought maybe they would just be lame and go to be early, I knew better however (second bad sign). Down at the bar we met some German like minded backpackers and joined them for a night of drinks and food along the beach returning to the ever music thumping Loki at around 1am. Not surprisingly our Lima friends were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until 4am that one of them stumbled in the door. As normal behavior for a drunk 20-ish year old she started loudly drunk dialing people on her phone, with not so much as a care for her grumpy old 30 year old roommates. My interventions quickly escalated from quietly saying something while laying in bed to thumping on her cabinet to shining my light in her face while standing over her bed yelling at her. She seemed to not notice my existence and continued to talk on the phone until well past 5am. I debated at one point about taking her phone and throwing it in the pool, but the thought of a latin america soap opera unfolded in my head and I let it go. Thankfully she eventually passed out. All said, the Loki was a great hostel if you’re young, looking to party, and care nothing about being given any level of respect or privacy. As the music turned back on by the pool promptly at 8am the next morning and the bass started to shake the walls I made a vow that as a 32 year old physician I was done with youth hostel dorms. The next two nights we upgraded to the Hosteria beach hotel that was run by the son of one of Peru’s most famous chefs. The food and general atmosphere couldn’t have been more in contrast to the previous night. 

Onward south days blurred together between the towns of Piura and Chiclayo. The long straight road and desert wind seemed to stretch on forever intermixed only by overnight stays in fairly identical medium sized, loud, coastal towns populated by a new breed of insane carless driving that was redeemed only by some decent cerviche and pisco sours. 

Further south we stayed at the beach town of Huanchaco outside of the regional capital of Trujillo. Not expecting much Huanchaco turned out to be a great surprise. Huanchaco is a small fishing town that went through the tourist bloom, but not to an overabundant level and is most known for its small hand woven fishing boats that are still being used and built the same way they have been for hundreds of years. These boats line the picturesque beach in the evenings as they are set to dry for the following morning. Huanchaco was also a surprise for the wide variety of fantastic vegetarian and seafood restaurants. The surfing, food, and general chilled out atmosphere of Huanchaco seemed to make it a safe bet over the dirty backpacker infested Mancora. 

Sad to leave Huanchaco, the next stop was the generic coastal town of Chimbote. From Chimbote we headed inland towards the trekking capital of Hauraz which sat at the base of the majestic Cordillera Blanca mountain range, second in height only to the Himalayas. My idea for going this way came from a route I stole from some South American motorcycle adventure website. A few years ago when I was planning this trip I always had the idea to do it on a bike, the generic way of course to do this is to go with a tour company that supplies the bikes, and all logistics. The problem with this is that these companies charge an absolutely obscene price for these tours. The solution came when I figured out that most of them post their route on their websites with various trip highlights. I have been stealing route itineraries for months now. 

canon del pato

The road inland took us through the stunning and adrenaline infused Canon del Pato. Voted as one of the world’s most dangerous roads Canon del Pato is known for its breathtaking views as it traverses in between two megalithic cliffs formed by two different mountain ranges. 

The road itself is recognized for being dangerous due to the numerous one way tunnels that line the canyon wall. The road is two lanes, but the tunnels are only big enough for one car at a time. The Peruvian solution to this problem was to post signs in front of the most hair raising tunnels to simply honk your horn before entering, hopefully letting the other driver know that a collision was likely imminent unless someone played chicken appropriately. The horror in this was compounded by the fact that the tunnels were pitch black and my poor little moto light did little outside of 5 feet directly in front of me. Somewhere along the Canon road we stopped in a small town looking for a quick meal. There was a restaurant alongside five identical stands all selling the same assortment of soft drinks, chips, and various sugary snacks. At the entrance of the restaurant was the sickest most disgusting dog I’ve ever seen, I generally love dogs, and I’ve seen my fair share of strays, but this one needed to be put down. Also, probably not the best selling point for a restaurant. I walked inside and was greeted by a dead stare from a couple sitting near the entrance. Not, feeling very welcomed a man walked out of the kitchen covered in mechanics grease and asked if I wanted something. “Lunch”, I replied. He pointed to the small chalkboard in the corner where three items were chicken scratched on the board. None of which I could read. Fearing whatever had infected the dog had infected the kitchen I showed myself out. Down the street I was hoping to have better luck at the cloned snack stands. They all were exactly the same except for one man who seemed to have some empanandas behind a dusty glass case. I pointed at them and asked if they were hot. He told me they were three days old, and purchased from the town that was 4 hours away. I had a bag of sealed peanuts and a redbull and moved on.

Surviving the Canon Del Pato we stayed the night in the town of Caraz. Without much of a plan,  or care for time we decided to take an extra day in Caraz to ride the bikes up the 25km dirt path to the Laguna de Paron. At nearly 14,000 feet this lagoon forms a crystal blue sheen that can only be made from nearby glaciers. The scene is even more spectacular as the nearby mountain of Piramide de Garcilasco towers over at 16,500 feet. 

Arriving late in Huaraz we stayed at the multi leveled bavarian looking guest house Churup. More of a European lodge than a hostel, the Churup was a welcome change with its top floor lounge full of comfy sofas and warm fireplace overlooking the ice capped peaks lifting up to 20,000 feet. The plan was to only spend a day in Huaraz, but then I saw a whiteboard advertising an 8 day trek to a place called Huayhuash which claimed to be one of the top 10 treks in the world. Our timeline was basically hosed from there. 

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