Compass Web - Highlights of Peru Motorcycle Tour
Once you start travelling it is hard to stop, it is like reading the first chapter of a good book, you just have to finish it. Travel, well there is no last chapter or page, it is infinite, its only controlling factor being time and money.
Nowadays travel is relatively easy with a myriad of companies offering everything from beach to adventure holidays. You can fly, go by road, ship or train, or pedal cycle or just walk, the choice once again being controlled by time and finances.
Over here in Europe we are lucky with a large land mass easily accessible by good air, road, boat and train links, nothing is really a problem to get to quite quickly. Major capital cities, mountain ranges, coastline with masses of climatic variations are not many hours away. Even from the UK a quick hour on boat from Dover, or a train under the English Channel is not too much of a problem, or a limiting factor!
Travel though can be good or bad depending or your point of view. If you just want to reach a destination, then it is probably the latter. However, travel by motorcycle is all part of the experience as most touring/adventure riders will tell you.
You are exposed and that makes you accessible to locals who are more inclined to greet you and help you in many ways and of course you get to experience the smells and atmosphere that makes each location/destination unique.
As you gradually work you way further afield you become hooked to the point you probably just want to sell everything, pack your bike up and just go touring the world for a few years. Nice thought, but for the vast majority of us there are restraints like families, business’s etc that make that just an idle thought.
That being said, that never stops you looking for destinations to put on your ‘must do before I die’ list. If you have one, then a look at the Compass Expeditions list of tours will probably find quite a few similarities with your own.
Like many other companies what they offer is the chance to take time out to reach those locations without the hassle of a years planning, hours on the internet, the hassle of shipping bikes and all the other things that normally go with exploration of some of the those not so close ‘must-do’ destinations.
The last part is what really attracted me, having been on quite a few other trips was the fact they were going to allow me a few ticks on my list, but give me some culture to go with potentially some superb motorcycle roads, but in complete safety with good back-up. Unlike some other companies, the places they go are not one’s that you would want to consider doing on your own without some background support.
It all looked good on the web, but as they say ‘the proof of the pudding’, so emails exchanged, dates agreed on the ‘Highlights of Peru’ trip it was just a case of setting things straight at home as I would be gone for nearly three weeks.
Interestingly, unlike other operators they do not include travel to and from as part of the time spent, so fourteen days is riding time, there are extra days either side not included in the riding tour time, but form part of the experience.
First up was very comprehensive briefing pack arriving by email including a useful potted history of South America, all good for helping you understand what you are going to see. In fact I can’t think of things that were not included, so good was the pack, even simple language was explained so you did not feel a complete fool!
Ok, 30 hours travel from blighty could not be avoided, even those inevitable delays, so it was nice when I arrived at La Paz in Bolivia, (our starting point) to find the cab with my name on his card as promised. A 20 minute ride brought us to a pretty individual hotel near the centre of town and a welcome bed.
The following morning tour leader Brendan introduced himself and gave me a rundown on what was to follow including the need to acclimatise to the altitude. A gentle tour of the city had been arranged to help me unwind and get to grips with the culture. The afternoon was spent in the colourful market next to the hotel buying a local t-shirt before quick nap.
Early evening saw all my fellow tour participants meet up in the hotel for a comprehensive briefing and some inevitable paperwork, before we headed out to an excellent restaurant to get to know each other.
After a reasonable breakfast we caught a cab to the BMW GS 650 F bikes garaged on the outskirts of town and again went through a thorough briefing and a short familiarisation ride to ensure we were all happy. Traffic conditions were of course very different to what many of us are used to, but slow and steady was to be the object of the first day.
Originally we should have headed out and towards the border with Peru and continued onto Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca, but Brendan had heard that the political situation in Peru was a little volatile and re-routed us to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake.. (Had you been doing your own thing, you would not have known about the troubles!)
A stop for lunch along the way in the middle of nowhere had us scratching our heads until Leo our back up driver pulled up and tables and fresh food appeared from the cavernous trailer and Toyota. This was to be the standard for most days and it must be said hungry was never to be a word uttered on the tour!
More surprises were to come as we headed down for the crossing point that justifies the Bolivian Navy’s existence (it is land locked!) The ferry consisted of large barges with planks of wood powered by an outboard motor. Bike security? Well that was down to you, just stand there and hold it!
The drop down to the small lakeside town was just like dropping down to one on the side of the Mediterranean and the hastily arranged hotel was right on the front with stunning views and five star food and accommodation.
The best of it was there was no Barry Manilow singing about the better known location of the same name!
This rescheduling meant we would not be able to take in the floating Uros reed islands, so instead we had a pleasant two hour cruise on the lake to the Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun) and a chance to start learning about the Inca civilisation that would be central to our travels. A relaxing day ended with a meal in town after watching an amazing sunset.
An early start was called for the next day in order to clear the border crossing into Peru. An amazingly quick three hours had us on our way to Puno our original stopping point and by the time lunch was taken, all had agreed the change had been a very good deal.
The only downside was we had a longer ride than scheduled and we finally arrived in Cusco early evening, having dodged the rocks left in the road by the political protesters. Still it all ads to the experience and the food in the hotel, which was once again quite unique, was well worth the journey.
The good thing was that the following day was again free to explore the city, which was once the capital of the Incan civilisation, so no early start. The Plaza de Armas was superb and sitting overlooking it from the Norton Rats bikers bar seemed to add to the experience. Certainly there was no problem finding things to do with the various museums, markets and historic buildings virtually on every corner.
(It just made you feel a little guilty as you knew Brendan and Leo were working hard checking the bikes over and doing all the maintenance as they did every day to ensure we had a trouble free ride while we were enjoying ourselves!)
The next day it was back on the bikes for a ride out through the Sacred Valley after having stopped and looked at Saqsayhuman, a large Incan historic site above Cusco. This was nothing compared to our destination of Ollantaytambo where we parked the bikes. This amazing Incan ruin set into the side of the mountain was amazing and gave a clue as to what we were going to see the following day.
Bikes parked and armed with our own personal guide, we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride trough the mountains allowed us to see the Incan trail which many chose to walk!
Again a unique hotel provided a short nights sleep as we rose at 4 am to queue for the bus that was to take us up to Machu Pichu and a chance to climb the mountain Waynapichu which dominates all the pictures.
Only four hundred people a day are allowed to make the climb and this was once again a good example of having inside knowledge as we made the first group, thanks to our guide. Life could have been hassle, but thanks to the entire Compass organisation things were moving like clockwork.
Just like the Grand Canyon, until you stand at the location you cannot comprehend its size and being, no matter how many pictures you have looked at, or films you may have seen!
After an energetic morning it back on the train after lunch to pick the bikes up and ride back to Cusco. A different route on some superb blacktop followed by en excellent meal in a very unique restaurant was a good way to end a mind-blowingly superb day.
The next day was once again free to catch up with washing and see any parts of the ancient city that we may have missed.
The following day saw us head out of town on the Pan American Highway, before turning off onto hard packed gravel and head for the remote settlement of Yauri. This small town was totally devoid of the trappings of tourism and gave a real feel to Peru.
An early start saw us head back on hard packed gravel roads to Chivay, regarded as the gateway to the Colca Canyon, the world’s second deepest canyon, the other just being over the ridge! This day saw us cross one of the highest passes on the tour at 4800mts and it must be said the bikes coped well with all the altitude changes and performed faultlessly.
The end of the day saw us take advantage of the hot springs, these taking away any aches and pains and relaxing us for an early night. The reason was the next day saw us up early to ride up the canyon to watch the massive Condors ride on thermals. These birds were very much part of the Inca history and watching them swoop and glide high above the jagged peaks it was easy to see why.
From there is was just case of winding our way down to Arequipa on some excellent roads, gradually descending from the altitudes we had become used to.
The city traffic came as something of shock given the clear roads we had become used to, but bikes were soon parked in the rear of another excellent and well positioned hotel.
Close to the Plaza de Armas and other treasures like the Catalina Convent which was not opened to the public until 1970 having been closed since 1580, it was an excellent base for another bike free day and a chance to explore and enjoy the culture.
Once again refreshed, the bikes now being clean and tidy thanks to some hard work by Leo, we headed off to the coast, continuing our descent. The bikes too became noticeable more perky, which was useful as we headed up one of the best biking roads in the world.
Precariously hugging the Peruvian coastline, continually twisting and turning as well as climbing and dropping, it lead us to the overnight stop at Puerto Inca. This small bay houses many bones and skeletons from the past in open excavations and once again provided a totally unique place to stay overnight before our last days ride.
So with some sadness we headed further up the coast dodging sand drifts and heavy winds towards Nazca our final destination.
A stop at the cemetery of Chauchilla allowing us to see the mummies propped up in their open graves and learn more about the history of the Peru before ending up at our hotel on the outskirts of Nazca. After lunch, a flight over the famous Nazca Lines seemed a fitting end to the trip and a last look at some of the totally unique history of Peru.
Fourteen days excellent riding on bikes that had performed faultlessly and a camera full of excellent memories that should keep dinner tables entertained for the next few years!
All that was left was a bus ride to Lima with an afternoon’s sightseeing prior to flights home the following day. These two days like the rest went without problems thanks to the excellent organisation and behind the scenes work of Brendan and Leo.
It has to be said that we all like adventure, but most of us like to have the insurance policy tucked in the back pocket just in case it goes wrong. We hope we never need it, but it does allow you to enjoy life knowing it is there. In this case it was all in place, but discreet and very laid back Aussie style!
I very much doubt that I could have enjoyed such a hassle free trip even with a year’s worth of plotting and planning. Given the number of these sorts of trips I have done, I got to say that it is amongst the very best, combining some excellent motorcycling with the chance to see a couple of the new ‘seven wonders of the world’.
The only trouble is that while Compass have enabled me to make a couple of ticks on my list, their range of tours has added new items to the list. Still I know that when I get round to looking to make the ticks I know that I will have a Compass five star adventure that will enable me to do so with a huge grin and an immense feeling of satisfaction! (www.compassexpeditions.com)
Article by Ian Kerr