At the end of part 1 we left Neale Bayly and his crew in the one-horse town of Chalhuanca.
In part two, Neale winds his way to the orphanage via the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
At the end of part 1 we left Neale Bayly and his crew in the one-horse town of Chalhuanca. In part two, Neale winds his way to the orphanage via the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
Waking to the sound of chickens, donkeys, and life being lived on the only street in town, we breakfast and saddle up in a clear, cool morning. “Soon we won’t wake up in some strange, dusty little town in the mountains, load up our dirty old bikes that have sat outside like faithful horses and ride off into a totally new landscape.” NB Diary ’95.
The road out of town passes small shops and street vendors, before following a vibrant river, adorned with abundant vegetation to our right and steep mountainsides lit by the sun’s early light to the left.
Thumping along at 50 mph with David on point, there’s a magic in the air that’s impossible to describe. Flavio and the rest of the gang are somewhere behind, and our only job is to hold the throttle open and enjoy the gorge that winds along the Chalhuanca river.
Reaching Abencay, we have now descended to 7,500 feet and are running well in the more oxygen-rich environment. Now a sprawling modern town, there is little I recognize, and my old-snapshot memory is as faded as any I’ve had on this trip.
We gas up, and on slick, smooth tarmac start the serpentine climb on the Via de los Libertadore heading for Cusco. It was along here I met Father Giovanni, but as hard as I try, the exact place eludes me.
“We passed through small towns with native Indian people so far off the beaten track they seem barely touched by Western life. As night was approaching, we began to ride into a huge valley and up ahead a fierce, dark storm spread across the horizon pierced with lightning. Just as the rain hit, Father Gio turned left on a small dirt road and we detoured around the storm….” NB diary ’95.
I call a stop to take photos, and marvel at the town of Abencay over a mile below us. Deep in thought, I let the others slip ahead of me. When I come back to the present, I take the opportunity to gun the XR.
It’s a while before I find the gang at a small guinea-pig farm beside the road. It’s a local delicacy in these parts, and we are given a tour by the most gracious of hosts. With his wife labouring over an open fire in the dirt-floored kitchen, he shows us his guinea pigs, vegetable garden, and fruit trees.
We drop out of the mountains into the vast cradle that holds the ancient city of Cusco. With the sun already behind the high mountain walls flanking the west side of the city, we enter a maze of streets jammed with cars, buses and trucks.
Diving left, merging right, and devoting all our attention to not losing the truck, somehow we make the centre of town, where we catch our breath. Even before we have our gear off, Flavio negotiates a great rate in the fabulous La Casona Delsol hotel with safe parking.
Leaving Cusco before sunrise, we hop in a mini bus and head for Ollyantaytambo and the train for Machu Picchu. It was here I walked the ancient streets with Father Gio, toured the Temple of the Llama, and drank coffee in a dusty bar.
These days the temple is walled off with tickets needed to gain access, and the old building with the dirt floors is now a modern restaurant with bright stucco walls.
We board the modern tourist train to Aguas Calientes – a stark juxtaposition to the last time I rode this rail, when the bathroom overflowed as Quechan ladies breast-fed dirty babies and transported all manner of produce and animals.
Then we take the bus that chugs up the tight, narrow road to Machu Picchu, situated 7,700 feet into the clouds. It’s known as the “Lost City of the Incas” and was abandoned by the Inca in the 1500s, then rediscovered in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham.
What made the Inca abandon Machu Picchu might never be known. But to feel the presence and aura that exist as you walk here, it’s clear it was a sacred place.
BACK TO THE ALTIPLANO
Another pre-dawn departure sees our small caravan rolling out of Cusco as the sun begins its day. Passing the ancient Inca stonework, along the cobblestone streets and out through the modern suburbs we ride. Traffic is manageable and there is an air of urgency with over 400 miles to Aerquipa.
Throttles pinned, we speed through farmland and villages, before heading back up onto the barren Altiplano. Harsh and beautiful in equal measures, it reminds me of the Highlands of Scotland. It’s colder now and overcast, but we hit sunshine by Sicuani, which is also the last place I saw Father Gio before he died in 2001.
At over 14,000 feet, we aren’t feeling any ill effects this time, and while I wouldn’t want to drop and do push-ups, it feels good to be functioning in a fairly normal fashion. Periodically we ride into the clouds where it gets cold and damp, but by late afternoon we are positively flying down the helter-skelter road that leads to Aerquipa.
Flanked by two large volcanic mountains, riding toward the city as the sun sinks is like being in the middle of a huge 3D postcard. Travelling on smooth, empty tarmac, we have to ride around these mountains to gain access to the city.
With the shadow riders to our sides growing longer, and the temperature beginning to fall, we enter the historic city of Aerquipa and make for a secluded hotel Flavio knows.
GETTING LOW TO BE HIGH ON OXYGEN
Starting the day in the tranquil hotel restaurant, devouring all manner of fresh fruits and cereal, washed down with piping hot coffee, the mood is perfect.
Exiting the city, the traffic moves in a predictable way, and we have
fun blasting down the tight, narrow Spanish streets, laughing and waving
at anyone who wants to wave back. Three Gringos on large dirt bikes in
adventure clothing is something different and the people are having fun
The mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the receding city as we head to the coast, but it also makes it hard to focus on the road ahead. The sun is shining, the temperature is just right, and as we run closer to sea level it’s like someone bolted a turbo to the old XRs. We practically fly through the twisting canyons before levelling out on the desert floor.
With Moquegua and the orphanage in reach, we settle into a steady 65-mph rhythm and make miles across this vast desert.
Watching the thin black tarmac line disappear in the white distance as far as my eye can see, I drift into a hypnotic trance accompanied by the thump of the big single below me.
It’s been 14 years since I first came to Peru, but I don’t think I’ve ever left. Somehow this worn and dusty country has been burned into the depths of my soul. With its beautiful people, its rich tradition and culture, and some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in the world, it’s no wonder I just have to keep coming back.
We still have a few days of riding up the coast to get back to Lima, but after 2,000 kilometres of the wildest terrain Peru has to offer we will spend a couple of days with the abandoned children of Moquegua at the Hogar Belen orphanage.
It’s run by 78-year-old Sister Loretta for the last 40 years, and I am humbled by her work – it’s hard to conceive that this quiet, peaceful lady has raised over 1,200 children. As always, Sr. Loretta invites us for lunch and gives us a forum to relive our journey. Talking about Father Gio, I feel mixed emotions, as it was through him I learned of the orphanage.
Soon we are laughing and joking though, as we remember Gio’s boisterous behaviour and loud infectious laugh. Over the next couple of days we show the kids pictures on our laptops, take a thousand more, marvelling at the beauty and joy in these dirty little urchins’ souls.
Leaving the donations we raised Stateside with Sr. Loretta, we ride out chased by a wild, howling dust ball of kids. Father Gio might be gone, but his memory lives on at Hogar, and during this trip he rode with me often in my thoughts.
Spinning through the vast, unspoiled desert before meandering north along the Pacific Ocean gives time to think about the events that led me to this place.
A chance meeting in the high mountains of Peru, a life changed, and now hundreds of young lives positively impacted by a group of motorcyclists with a desire to help.
To find out more about the Hogar Belen orphanage, go to www.wellspring-outreach.org.