The PanAm through Northern Peru

My Peruvian trip has had 2 distinct halves to it. The first half from Bolivia to Cuzco took me through cool, lush highlands; whilst the second half was hot, flat desert coastal roads.

From Nazca, I continue north along the coast of Peru through the Sechura Desert. Dead straight roads and painfully slow speed limits make the 1,700km slow and dull.

Desert wine
Desert wines. Gotta give this farmer 10 points for determination, these grapevines are growing bang in the middle of the desert. The wine is ridiculously sweet but very, very cheap.

Peru fuel
95 octane! At least the fuel improves along the coast. It’s not just that 84 octane rubbish any more.

Pan american highway
Yes, 90kph speed limit, a cruel cruel joke on the long often dead straight PamAm. Some stretches allow a whopping 100kmp

Just north of Lima I deviated from the dull straights of the PanAm and head inland to see the Cordillera Blanca Mountains near Huaraz.

One of the things I love about motorcycle travel is how you notice the changes in the landscape. Nowhere have I noticed this more than when ascending or descending the Andes. No matter how many Andean crossing I’ve done, they fascinate me everytime. The road to Hauraz was a fairly typically example, from Paramonga on the coast you ascend to 4,100m in 120km. Its not the highest road out there, but it is a fairly average ascent.

Sea level – Road begins through a wide open valley, long fast straights with the odd bend. Its practically desert here with soft porous sand, but they manage to grow sugar cane with enough irrigation. The Peruvian coast is constantly covered with a thick fog during the dry season.

50km in; ascended 1,000m – The valley has narrowed to a few 100ms, the river supports crops on its banks. The road consists of long fast sweeping bends. The sea fog has disappeared but you can still smell the sea. Air is still thick and normal tasks are still manageable.

85 kms in; ascended 2,100m – I have reached the mountains, they are literally everywhere. The ascent is increasing. The river is far below and there is no more farming. Sweeping bends have been replaced with hairpin bends and my speed drops. The air is noticeably thinner and it is getting harder to breathe.

105 kms in; ascended 3,100m – Ascended 1,000m in the last 20kms. It is now practically hairpin after hairpin. Progress becomes slower. The vegetation becomes greener and more plants appear on the mountain. The air becomes cooler and even thinner.

GPS hairpin bend crazy

GPS gone hairpin bend crazy. Yup, I’ve probably blown the warranty on my GPS…

120 kms in; ascended 4,100m – The ascent is now even steeper; 1,000m in 15km. Again, hairpin after hairpin. Now noticeably cooler and greener. Finally reach the highest point in the road and the landscape flattens to reveal a plateau with almost pumpas like vegetation. The rest of the road follows the plateau to Huaraz, gradually descending as it follows the river, but the landscape remains green. The air is now very thin and cold. Time to put extra clothing on, this simple task leaves you out of breathe.


Sweeping bends along the crest of the Andes en-route to Huaraz


Constant hairpin bends are great for even tyre wear

The Cordillera Blanca Mountains near Huaraz 

Back from Huaraz and I rejoin the PanAm. Although it is a dull ride, there are loads of archaeological sites along the way, which I enjoy even though many are in a bad state of disrepair. These sites are a reminder that this part of the world has seen many different cultures rise and fall over the last 3,000 years.

The Sechin ruins, dating from 1600BC; with it’s Homer Simpson-like reliefs of warriors often with gruesomely vivid depictions of their victims being disemboweled.

Sechin ruins

The Fortress of Paramonga with it’s staggered pyramid structure
Paramonga

Paramonga
That is the PanAm in the background, literally meters from Paramonga

Paramonga

The Moche Pyramids, the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon are about 1,500 years old. The Moon pyramids being the religious center where human sacrifices were carried out. Each new layer of the pyramid covered the previous, preserving the rooms and contents

Moche - Sun Pyramid

Moche - Pyramid of the Moon

The face god

Moche bricks

Chan Chan, 1300AD. This walled city-fort is massive, it’s the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas. Built by the Chim empire who were eventually conquered by the Incas in the 1460s.

Chan Chan
Chan Chan’s 10m high exterior walls

Chan chan

Chan Chan

Sacred pool inside Chan Chan
The sacred pool inside Chan Chan

 

I loved the next spot that I stayed at near Chiclayo. The owner was very keen to stress that he only had “rustico” accommodation available, a description that I would agree with. It consists of 3 “eco” pyramids and a collection of mad max buggies scattered throughout, the GS fitted in extremely well. Seen as no-one was staying there, or seemed to have stayed there recently, I had my own pyramid.

The next day I continued north to Mancora marking the end of the Sechura Desert and my last stop before the Ecuadorian border. After all of the long desert riding, I settled down for a couple of days in this little surf town for some much needed R&R. Loki Hostel in Mancora, pictured below, is another party hostel that fits our “Chaos in a sea of calm” description.

 Sunset at Mancora. Like something out of a bad vampire film, Loki hostels can be quite scary places at nighttime

I have absolutely loved every second in Peru, it is a country that I am definitely going to return to. If the number of photographs that I took was anything to go by then Peru was the country that I found the most beautiful. Next time I will make a effort to spend more time hiking, the mountains here are stunning.