On the Panamericana

Back from South Africa and loaded with spare parts and other important goodies like gummy bears and biltong we were on the road again. This time sticking to the well worn artery of the west coast: the Panamericana.

A bit shy of authority after our Bolivia-Peru border experience we were dubious when some cops pulled up next to us on our first night. We had set up our tent on a cold, foggy but tranquil beach with only armies of grey gulls for company. Well, we were surprised when they turned out to be just checking to make sure that we were ok and had everything we needed. Our faith was restored. The next plan was to avoid Lima completely by taking the Panamericana highway straight through. Somehow, we went wrong somewhere and got sucked into the vortex of Lima’s bustling traffic. We decided the smartest way out would be to hire a taxi that we would follow to get us through. It worked and soon grimy, crowded Lima was disappearing in our rear-view mirrors.

 About an hour and a half’s ride from Lima was Lachay National Park, described in our guide book as a sign-posted turnoff directly off the highway. Well we took a turn-off, and followed an ancient, faded signpost for the National Park that led us to a barren side valley that twisted, turned then finally narrowed to a lush oasis. Believing ourselves to be in the National Park we set up camp. Moss topped dunes stretched up on either side of us, nourished by the fog that rolls off the Pacific, completely cutting off any noise from the Panamericana and making for an idyllic campsite. No sooner were we settled in than some rangers came walking along the road. It turns out we were in the Park but no wild camping was allowed there. We reluctantly packed up and rode back to the right entrance a little further along marked by a huge welcoming board and signs to the campsite. So a little sheepishly we made our way to the right spot.

The next morning we woke up to an impenetrable fog. You could feel the moisture against your skin and even see the drops of water floating in front of you. There were snails everywhere, they had taken over the place, and it seems a lot of them had spent the night in our empty beer bottles drinking up the dregs. Looked like it had been a good party! After overcoming the fog induced lethargy we explored the Park. We shared the paths with only the occasional school group, and a low budget music video crew. Having been subjected to the tinny sounding clips in cheap eats along the highway we knew what was going on. It seems national heritage sites are hot spots for Peruvian musicians to shoot their homemade videos. Humorous but also a tad annoying as their music blasted out from car speakers across the serene valley while they wandered through the mist while being filmed on a handycam. I guess they would have laughed too if they had seen our photo shoot. Axel the paparazzi had me driving along a sand path in the mist while he took shots. Only the mist was thick and the sand thicker and I ended up dropping the bike. There are only so many times Axel could swop my cracked valve covers with the Russian’s!

The Panamericana continued along coastal roads encroached by sand dunes, past chicken farm after chicken farm (they do love their chicken here). It was a desolate but beautiful coastline, with mile upon mile of deserted wild beaches and only the occasional adventurous surfer out in the cold water (Mancora, Peru has the largest left hand point break in the world!).  In Barranca we shacked up at a lively place called the Hotel Jefferson. The very friendly owner recommended a local Chifa (Chinese) restaurant. There are quite a lot of Peruvians of Chinese or Japanese origin and their influence is especially noticeable in Peru’s cuisine. In no other South American country will you find as many Chifas as here.

After Barranca we carried on north where we had our second run in with corruption. We were flagged down by a police car and told that this stretch of road was a 25km per hour zone (while trucks thundered past us at 80km/h), and that we were being fined a hundred dollars. Axel, I must say, is a master at playing the Police with his invaluable African experience. He always keeps his cool and plays the part of the happily ignorant tourist. After some feigned misunderstanding he pulled out our secret weapon - an EU form printed off a government website. Travellers can give this to Police to sign in event of any encounters with the law. This ruffled them. They parried with ‘’aleman, solo diez dollares” ie. A reduction to only ten dollars for being German.   Axel held his ground. So they changed tactics, apologetically asked for “Benzina?”. Axel enthusiastically pointed out the canisters on the motorbike offering ours (in small quantities of course), then pretended confusion when they insisted they needed money to buy their own. Oh! OK, Axel said, “Do you take credit card?” The Police by then had lost their staying power and sent us off,  having given up on the dumb, or perhaps they suspected, not so dumb tourists.