In 1995, motorcycle journalist Neale Bayly went to Peru where he befriended a priest who introduced him to the abandoned children of Peru. He has since helped fund an orphanage for the kids and recently returned to visit it.
In 1995, motorcycle journalist Neale Bayly went to Peru where he befriended a priest who introduced him to the abandoned children of Peru. He has since created the Wellspring International Outreach charity (wellspring-outreach.org), funding an orphanage that is run by the Mission Sisters of Saskatchewan.
Following is part one of a two part feature on a recent ride Bayly took to retrace the original journey and visit the orphanage that he helped to create.
If the world is nothing more than a mirror of our feelings, my soul has dozens of arms, dozens of legs and a sea of brown eyes. Squirming, shrieking, laughing and jostling, the crowd of seething bodies brings our bikes to a halt.
Arriving at Hogar Belen in the remote southeastern desert region of Peru, it’s taken five long days in the saddle of our well-worn Honda XR600s to get here. Our trip started in Lima, took us up to Cuzco, out to Machu Picchu, across the heights of Altiplano, and finally down into this desert.
But this is merely part of a journey that started 14 years ago, a journey that started with a chance meeting on a lonely dirt road high up in the Peruvian Andes.
Riding through Lima in brilliant morning sunshine, adrenaline is coursing through my veins. Vibrant colours fill my peripheral vision as motion blurs, my focus firmly locked on our support vehicle ahead. Cutting and thrusting through the hectic city traffic, my mind is working overtime to process all the new stimuli firing through my visor.
The energy of the moment is electric, intense, and exhilarating, as we blast through the chaos of Peru’s capital city of over 7 million people. Buses compete with bicycles, trucks do battle with motorcycles, taxis come out of nowhere as Lima heads to work with an order my western eyes can’t yet see.
Behind the handlebars of the XR600, all the months of planning are over, and like ballast being thrown from a hot air balloon, my emotions rise ever higher into the crazy Peruvian morning.
As we depart Lima, we catch our first glimpses of the Pacific Ocean and the desert that runs the coast south to Chile. Up front Flavio Salvetti, owner of Inca Moto Adventures, is driving his Toyota Hi Lux laden with our luggage.
Spare wheels, tires, tools and parts compete for the remaining spaces, and a tarpaulin covered with a strong net holds everything in place. A group of five, we have four riders sharing three bikes.
We aren’t following a regular tour so one rider has to take turns to ride in the truck as we can’t say how long certain sections might take.
Contrary to expectations, these rides in the truck with Flavio become one of the many highlights of the tour. A deep thinker, Flavio also inspires us to journey inward as we travel through this fascinating land.
Modern billboards line the highway as I look for the Peru I left behind 14 years ago. It’s still here, just covered with a modern blanket, as giant big-breasted girls in swimsuits entice me to eat more ice cream.
We opt for a more traditional break and buy fruit from the local ladies beside the road. This brings the first round of photos, laughter, and games that will accompany us around Peru.
The only female member of our group, Christie Frick, presents us with an interesting challenge. The kick-start XRs are too tall for her five-foot-one frame. Travelling with two consummate gentlemen, David Reid and Brad Alston, the problem is soon solved. One of them starts the bike, the other holding her upright until she can start rolling.
Coming to a halt is always fun.
With the town of Nazca on the Pampa de Jumana as our destination there’s no time to visit the famous geoglyphs etched into the desert floor this time by. Covering an area of 190 square miles, they are at least 1,500 years old. They’re made by removing the red pebbles to reveal the whitish ground beneath, and historians can only theorize about their purpose.
Checking in at a welcome hacienda we stroll into town for dinner. A bright, modern place with a wide variety of eateries, it has changed so much since my last visit I don’t recognize it.
“How could I ever explain these dusty faded streets, buildings that haven’t seen paint for who knows how long. It’s so earthy, so real…” NB diary ’95.
AN ASPHYXIATING BUZZ
Leaving Nazca with a crisp chill in the morning air and a huge cloudless
blue canopy above, my memories confuse me again. It’s rained a lot in
the last 10 years so things are greener, and tarmac has replaced much of
the rough-hewn rock roads.
With our last member, Brandon McDearis, earning his crust as a nutritional chef, we find our camel backs full of treated water flavoured with energy tablets daily and our pockets filled with high-energy trail mix and power bars.
Soaring like Peruvian Condors on the desert thermals, we climb into treeless desert mountains. Twisting and turning on switchbacks that rival anything the Alps has to offer — save for the traffic — as we are mostly alone in this wondrous mountain landscape.
As the elevation rises, so the oxygen level falls; the good news is the euphoric buzz that overcomes us. The bad news is you need to pay extra attention and be cognizant that you can’t really fly. Suitably reined in mentally, we slide past packs of Vicuñas grazing on the huge grassy flats.
We pause to watch local Quechuan Indians tend their sheep. Speaking little to no Spanish, they don’t use money, and make all their own clothes. They’re also responsible for the beautiful, colourful fabrics you associate with Peru, which they’ll trade for supplies.
Living without electricity or running water in some of the most remote places in Peru, it’s fascinating and humbling in equal measures to peer back in time at these ancient people. With a hard life lived at altitude, it’s not easy to guess their age behind their battered skin.
From here the road climbs out of the semi-arid desert into a lush, fertile valley. Mountainsides blanketed in thick green grass and peppered with small yellow flowers fill my lens as far as I can see.
Up and up we go, climbing onto the Altiplano plateau at around 14,000 feet and doing fine. In the saddle of the XR the sun warms my bones and the big single is less out of breath than me, thanks to the fitting of smaller main jets.
HIGH AND DRY
Riding as if on a vast table top with distant snow-capped mountains on the horizon, there are no visual clues we are up so high but you soon notice a full breath doesn’t seem as full anymore. The landscape is scattered with lakes whose surfaces are as calm as millponds, and so deep and blue they appear as if coloured from a mix on an artist’s palette.
We stop at a roadside café and consume some cocoa leaves to complement the altitude sickness pills that we’ve taken, but a few hours later this doesn’t prove to be enough.
By now we are used to the kick-starting procedure, and covered in a layer of Peruvian dust are looking and feeling like a cohesive team. Our destination for the night is the town of Abencay and we’re making great progress until we come to a screeching halt at some road works. With traffic on both sides lined up we have no choice but to pull over and wait.
The lack of oxygen soon starts to tell and as the hours tick slowly by, we lie slumped against the truck gazing out at the massive landscape. Surreal in its beauty, it’s like I’m sitting in a fish-eye lens as I gaze at the massive horizon. Short, round Quechuan women sell stale, out-of-date chips, cookies, and soda from wheelbarrows.
Existing now in a foggy dream world, I move Christie and me to the front of the line as the sound of engines starting signal that it’s time to go. The smell of diesel burning without much oxygen is threatening my lunch with a revisit, but I somehow find the energy to kick-start both bikes and keep my midday meal where it belongs.
Hauling my lead carcass into the saddle, I ride off slumped behind the handlebars like a wet dishrag. But slowly the road begins to fall, and we drop into a tree-lined valley next to a river and with it comes the gift of oxygen.
I realize we won’t make Abencay, so Flavio and I scan the map for a place to stay. We find the small one-horse town of Chalhuanca with a rustic hotel, where a bottle of Pepsi with an anti-nausea tablet fixes everything.
We’re still at close to 10,000 feet, but there’s noticeably more oxygen and even though our next stop is the famous mountaintop Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, it’s still another couple of thousand feet lower down than where we are now!
Part two of Neale Bayly’s Peru adventure can be seen here.