Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 08 Feb 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970208.rpt
Tuesday February 4 63988
I slept in and then spent the rest of the morning, reading, writing my
journal, and going for a swim in the Pacific Ocean. The weather was
beautiful. Not too hot, but warm enough that a swim felt good. The water
temperature was perfect. There were decent enough waves that a lot of
surfers were out on their boards. Also quite a few women in bikinis. Now
that's something I don't get to see if I only ride the roads in the Andes!
There were 3 surfer-dudes and their girlfriends from Arica, Chile, a town
near the Peruvian border, staying at the residencia I was at. They were
travelling up the coast to Ecuador during their summer vacation. One of
the girls borrowed my Ecuador map to make copies from.
After showing the woman who runs the hotel my computer and it's fax/modem,
and after putting the fax/modem card back in, the computer wouldn't turn
back on. It just would beep. That's a sick feeling because you don't
know if it is going to be a major problem or just another glitch in the
DOS operating system. I'm also hesitant to change the main batteries,
because if the backup battery is dead or low you can wipe out the memory.
That's what happened back in Belize. I watch the level of the backup
battery pretty carefully now, and was pretty sure it was OK, so tried
putting new main batteries in the computer. It didn't help. Then I tried
to reboot it with the standard CTRL-ALT-DEL combination. It wouldn't
reboot either. Finally I tried the last resort, a hard reset with the
CTRL-SHIFT-ON combination, and that worked. At this point you're never
sure, what, if anything, has been affected, and you start activating the
applications you were using and checking if critical files are there. I
did lose stuff I had written with the editor that morning and hadn't saved
yet, but other than that everything appeared OK. Whew!!
I didn't leave till almost 1:30. I needed to find a bank to either
exchange some dollors, or better yet, get some Sols from a bank machine,
but since it was during lunch I didn't even bother to ask if there was a
bank in town. If there was it probably didn't have an ATM on the Plus
Initially the road continued along the coast through desert-like terrain
of sand and dirt hills with little if any vegetation. Eventually it left
the coast, switchbacking up through the surrounding dirt hills till the
road came out on a plateau at an elevation of about 900 feet. The road
stayed up on the plateau for a while, finally switchbacking back down as I
approached Talara, reached by a spur road to the west.
>From Talara, the road headed southeast, inland, and the surrounding
terrain changed from mostly dirt to sand. At places it was flat sand with
scrubby bushes and at other places there were large sand dunes on either
side of the road. Stretches of road had small trees planted along the
roadside, presumably as windbreaks. A light wind was blowing inland from
my right side, blowing ribbons of sand across the road surface.
Occasionally along the road there were "settlements", which consisted of
houses built one deep along the roadside. Some of the houses were of mud
brick construction, others were concrete or concrete block, and some of
wood. All were low, squat affairs to accomodate the incessant wind. It
wasn't clear where these people got their water from. The wind stirred up
enough sand and dirt that a thick haze extended as far as one could see,
and the mountains in the distance were just blurry monoliths.
Areas of the desert reminded me very much of the Mojave Desert, or Death
Valley in Southern California, with jagged, craggy mountains on the
I stopped at a Texaco station on the outskirts of Sullana around 3pm to
ask directions to a bank. I had to ask directions a couple more times,
and in the end the driver of one of the local 3-wheel motorcycle taxis led
me the last couple of blocks to the bank, which had a Plus System ATM
across the street from which I was able to get Sols. Sullana is where I
would have joined the Pan American Highway if I had gone through Loja,
Ecuador and crossed the border at Macara.
I returned to the Texaco and gassed up. Surprisingly, even with the high
speeds I've been doing, my mileage for this tank was 37.8mpg. 95 octane
gas was US$2.76 per gallon. Ouch.
Here in coastal Peru, and in coastal Ecuador as well the most common form
of taxi is a 3-wheeled affair which uses the front end off a motorcycle,
with the driver sitting on the motorcycle seat, but the rear end has 2
side-by-side wheels and a seat in between for the passengers. They are
everywhere and one is constantly dodging them in traffic in the cities and
>From Sullana the road headed due south to Piura and then on another 275 km
to Chiclayo, my destination for the day. The entire way was desert,
interrupted only by Piura and a few sporadic dwellings along the roadside.
Piura was a bleak city of about 300000 people, situated at an oasis, but
it still had sand blowing through it's streets. It was actually founded 3
years before Lima by the conquistadores left behind by Pizarro. I just
passed through on my way south.
South of Piura the desert became even bleaker, alternating between areas
of sand dunes and areas of table-flat sand stretching to the horizon. In
areas like this the wind had miles and miles to build up strength and
there was a ferocious cross-wind from 90 degrees off my bow on my
starboard side. The bike had to be heeled well over into the wind to
maintain a straight heading. At several spots where the dunes encroached
right up to and on to the road, workcrews of 3-4 men were using brooms, in
a seemingly futile effort to keep the sand at bay.
The Pan American Highway in Peru is in excellant shape, there is very
little traffic, it is very straight in most places, and the distances to
be covered are great. Given those factors I had been keeping my speed at
between 70-75 mph, certainly the fastest I've gone since Mexico. Now with
the vicious crosswind I found that if I wicked my speed up a bit to 75-80
mph, the effects of the crosswind were somewhat reduced because the normal
component of thw wind was then a smaller percentage of my overall
velocity. A little techo-geek talk for those engineers following my saga.
Passing busses and large trucks became an interesting affair however. As
I approached the rear of the bus in the passing lane, all of a sudden my
speed would increase as I got sucked into it's draft, and then once out of
the wind behind the bus I'd have to compensate my lean angle. Then as I
passed the bus, and emerged from it's protection, the blast of wind would
again hit me and blow me towards the left side of the road. I quickly
learned to anticipate and adjust.
There was one stretch of about half an hour where the wind really picked
up in intensity. So much so that it was very difficult to hold my head
upright against the wind and it felt likeI was doing isometric exercises
with my neck and I could feel my neck muscles straining and getting sore.
As I approached Chiclayo, irrigation increased and there were rice
paddies, fields of sugar cane, and other crops and cattle grazing. Large
tractors were not an uncommon sight in the surrounding fields.
I arrived in Chiclayo, another oasis city of about 280000 people around
6pm, and got a room at the Hostal San Ramon for S17 (US$6.80) with bath.
Just as for some of the hotels in Bogota, the Handbook had bad information
regarding parking. It said it had a car park but that was not the case.
The hotel and its rooms were located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the
building. It did however have a large area at the foot of the stairs on
the first floor where the proprietor said I could park the bike. It
wasn't ideal since the bike was clearly visable to passers-by in the
street but it was dark by now and I didn't feel like looking for another
hotel so decided to go with this. I covered the bike up, but also took
off my tankbag and Givi topcase, something I've only done a handful of
times during this trip.
After carrying my stuff up to the room I notice that one of the 6mm
flat-head plastic bolts which holds the left-side faceshield mounting
plate on my Shoei helmet has fallen out. I had thought that lowering the
shield had become a bit more difficult. This was why. I'd have to try to
fix it somehow before it broke further.
The wind had really tired me out, and even though I hadn't eaten anything
all day since a midmorning brunch back in Mancara, and hadn't eaten dinner
the night before, I was too tired to venture out and quickly fell asleep.
Wednesday February 5
Electrically heated showers are fairly common in many countries in Latin
America. They consist of a large shower head which directly heats the
water as it passes through a series of coils. The slower you run the
water, the hotter it is. I had read numerous accounta of people getting
shocked by faulty installations of these devices, but had never
experienced it myself, until this morning. Nothing really serious, just a
small tingle when I would touch the water faucet when my feet were
touching the wet floor. Similar to the tingle you get if you touch a 1.5
volt battery with your tongue. All the same, I minimized the number of
times I touched the faucet.
In the morning I walked around the block until I found an open restaurant.
The owner, a gentleman in his mid-fifties asked if he could join me and
we talked while I ate my breakfast of bistek, rice, and salad, and a large
glass of fresh papaya juice. He had travelled through much of South
America, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. He was President
of the Chiclayo chapter of the Lions Club and showed me his membership
card, and when I told him that my father was also a member back in
Pennsylvania that got him talking about the various charity events his
chapter had sponsored locally. The market area was one block away and as
is common when talking with locals, he warned me to be careful for thieves
when walking in the market area. He was quick to add that 95% of the
people were good and only 5% or so were bad, and I pointed out that it was
the same in most countries, including tha United States.
I left Chiclayo and rode back north 10km to the town of Lambayaque, where
the Bruning Archaeological Museum is located. It covers the Mochica,
Lambayaque, Chimu, and Vicus cultures that thrived in this area circa AD
1-650. The museum contains the spectacular gold treasures and physical
remains themselves, found in the tomb of the Lord of Sipan, a Moche
warrior priest, at the nearby archaeological site of Sipan in 1987. The
displays were all in Spanish, but a lot could be deduced from the content
and my limited Spanish. I had trouble leaving the museum because the
guards and other patrons who had seen the bike parked out front all wanted
to talk. With me walking around in my big motorcycle boots it was clear I
was the owner.
In the museum I learned, that while the amount of irrigation in areas
surrounding the present day oases is impressive, in the times of the early
cultures, even a larger percentage of the land was irrigated and
cultivated, with an extensive network of canals and viaducts which brought
water from the Andes down into the arid coastal plains. Many of those
canals and viaducts are still used today. The Lambayaque region is one of
Peru's main agricultural regions.
I leave Lambayaque about 1:30-2:00pm and decide to skip stopping at the
Sipan Archaeological site which is east of Chiclayo. Most of the
important, original contents of the tombs excavated there are displayed in
the museum in Lambayaque. I also plan to visit several sites near
Trujillo, 120 miles to the south, and my destination for tonight.
The terrain is more desert, interspersed with areas of irrigation.
Crossing a small river in one such area, the air is full of large flying
insects of some sort which seem to home in on me and the bike as we pass.
The bugs are big enough that it is difficult not to fixate on them as they
zoom in towards you.
I stop at a Shell station on the outskirts of Trujillo to check my
guidebook for the road to Huanchaco, a small fishing village just
northwest of Trujillo where I planned to spend at least 2 nights. One of
the attendants, a pretty young woman, in her Shell uniform, comes over to
offer assistance. She was one of the few people to correctly "ask" if I
was from the US. 90% of the time I'm asked if I'm from Germany. She also
seemed intent on getting as close to me as she could while we were
talking. Not that it was objectionable or anything.
Huanchaco is a beautiful, quiet, little fishing village, though the
ocean-front Malecon now is lined with the expensive homes of the wealthy
from Trujillo, and on weekends many come from the city to enjoy its
beaches. But it still retains it's small-village charms and is a
delightful place to spend a couple of days. It's also a nice base for
exploring the archaeological sites around Trujillo of which there are
quite a few.
I arrived in town, did one loop around the village and along the Malecon
on the oceanfront and then parked along the Malecon and just sat and
watched the waves coming ashore, the surfers farther out, and the people
strolling along the beach. No sooner had I got off the bike than a young
couple stopped to look at the bike and to talk. They were both university
students in Trujillo, he studying Industrial Engineering, and she
Business. He looked like he'd be at home on southern California beaches,
with his shoulder-length blond hair and stylish oval glasses.
A little while later Jeff sat down and he and I and a steady stream of his
friends talked for the next hour. Jeff was from Utah, where he was an
interior remodeler, but had been in Peru and Ecuador now for about 8
months. He had just bought some land here in Huanchaco for US$3500, and
planned to build a house here over the next couple of years. He had just
helped a Swedish couple buy some land and they planned to return in 4
months to live permanently. I can understand where they are coming from.
It's a very pleasant, laid-back village, with great beaches, relatively
few tourists, and great climate. There is a major airport at Trujillo,
closeby which makes access relatively easy.
I end up getting a room, directly across the Malecon from where I had
parked at The Golden Club, a combination hostal, restaurant, and health
club with full workout equipment, and a pool upstairs. Jeff was staying
there as well while he fenced in his land. A single with shared bath was
Thursday February 6
During the night I awoke with a high fever and sweating which then
alternated with periods of being cold. My stomach was also quite upset.
It stuck with me through the afternoon, and I basically just stayed in my
room, sleeping and doing a bit of reading and writing, then sleeping some
more. By evening I was feeling somewhat better and drug myself out of my
room for the first time that day for some dinner.
Since I hadn't seen any of the nearby archaeological sites I decided to
stay another day.
Friday February 7
I first went to the two large Moche pyramids, Huaca del Sol and the Huaca
de la Luna, south of Trujillo. The pyramids are situated in a desert area
at the foot of a barren, rocky mountain. They contain millions of adobe
bricks and are the largest precolombian structures in South America,
though they are crumbling, and from a distance resemble large mounds of
dirt. The Huaca de la Luna has some fine examples of very well preserved
moldings and paintings of geometric designs. Some of the best I've seen
on this trip. Parts of a few of the inner passageways were open for
inspection. The flat desert floor between the two pyramids is littered
with innumerable pottery shards. Literally, I don't think you could have
found a square foot of ground that didn't have some pottery shards in it.
>From there I rode back through Trujillo to the restored temple Huaca El
Dragon, also known as Huaca Arco Iris (rainbow) after the shape of the
friezes which decorate it. The temple is completely surrounded by huge
10-12m high adobe walls 4-5m thick and with a single narrow entrance
opening. The temple itself is inside the walls and is a large flat-topped
platform slightly higher than the surrounding walls, with wide ramps
leading, around the periphery, up to the top. The sides of the interior
temple were decorated with carvings of birds and animals. Difficult to
capture the grandeur in words.
>From there I visited the site museum at Chan-Chan on the road back to
Huanchaco. Most of Chan-Chan now consists of crumbling adobe walls, but
the fantastic thing about this site s it's shear size. Today it covers 14
square kilometers of an original 18-20 square kilometers. It was (is?)
the largest adobe city in the world and was the imperial city of the Chimu
culture. It consisted of 9 great compounds, each surrounded by 10-12m high
walls, 4-5m thick with a single entrance, and each built for/by a
particular Chimu king. Each contained storerooms, living quarters,
ceremonial areas, water reservoirs, and burial area for the king and the
other royalty of the palace. One such compound, the Ciudadele of Tschudi
(named after the Swiss investigator who spent many years working here),
has been largely restored and is open to the public and I visited it. The
other areas are sprawled across the desert floor and while open to the
public, offer only crumbling adobe walls.
As I was leaving Tschudi, a solo Japanese woman, from Tokyo, was also
leaving and we spoke for a bit. At the entrance all the taxi drivers
approached her about taking a cab, since the site was somewhat remote, off
the main Trujillo-Huanchaco road, and the guidebooks warn about walking
this route alone due to muggings. She waved off the taxi drivers and
headed off down the road while I reloaded things on my bike. I stopped as
I passed her on the road and offered her a ride out to the main road,
which she readily accepted. You can cram a passenger behind me on the
solo seat for short distances, though it wouldn't be comfortable for
either for long distances.
Back at the hotel I remember to tackle the job of replacing the lost bolt
in my helmet. I have a couple spare 6mm stainless-steel hex-head bolts
which fit but are too long. I contemplate where in town I can find a
hacksaw to cut it down when I remember that in my emergency kit I carry a
collapsable hacksaw, and with it am able to cut the bolt to length and
repair my helmet.
I also remember, for the first time when I am close to a sourse of sand,
to try to "fix" my handlebar-mounted waterbottle, which several months ago
I discovered had become moldy inside. Some sand and some vigourous
shaking cleared out most of the bad stuff, then I filled it with some good
water and 2 capfuls of saturated iodine solution to let it soak overnight.
Hopefully that will fix it for now, though I'll have to watch it in the
At dinner that night, a group of 4 at the next table envite me to join
them. They are just having some beers. Teo is from Spain, though he now
lives and works in Zurich Switzerland. Jasmine is studying law at the
University in Trujillo, and the other 2 guys (whose names I forget) are
from Lima. All except Teo (and me) and are there for the surfing. There
is a surfing competition here on Sunday. Around 10pm they leave to go
into Trujillo to a disco; I decline since I'm still feeling some of the
effects of yesterday and I plan to leave in the morning for parts south
Saturday February 8
I got up early so I'd be out on the beach when the fishermen return in
their caballitos between 7 and 8 AM. Caballitos are narrow, pointed
fishing rafts made of totora reeds, and are used many places along the
Peruvian coast. Unlike the reed rafts used on Lake Titicaca, these are
flat, not hollow, and the fishermen either kneel on them, or sit on them
with their legs dangling over the sides. They ride the breakers and surf
almost like surfboards.
There were about a dozen boats out and they straggled in in ones and twos,
and then a large group of about six came in together. The mornings catch
was very meager.
I wrote in my journal while having a leisurely breakfast overlooking the
ocean and the town pier, and then the lure of the sea breezes, the sun,
and the surf was too much and I decided to stay another day.
I spent the rest of the day lazing around on the beach, watching a beach
volleyball tournament, and basically soaking up the sun and doing nothing.