In my world, things always happen for a reason. Sometimes the reason makes no sense other than the fact that it gives us a crazy unbelievable story. That might be the case here.
I was the guide, and normally, I would have some sort of a plan. In this particular case, the customers wanted something spontaneous. I believe the words were, "Scott, just give us a good time. We just want an adventure." I put a few possibilities together. One being a journey to the deepest canyon in the world, Cotahuasi. Grasp, if you dare to imagine two Grand Canyons on top of each other, it would get you close. Our plan was to reach the canyon, spend a day or two exploring, then head back to Cusco to fly home. We had some flexibility in our number of days.
Watch this tour video to see the action
Phil and Henry were repeat customers. In fact, they were my first customers. They came back a year and a half after their first ride. I was honored. I put a tentative tour together to meet their request for a "good time."
We left Cusco on a couple of KLR 650's(these guys rode their own bikes from the US) and a CRF 450x. We wound our way through some legendary country. The Andes Mountains are big. They are beautiful. They are daunting. But Supercool! We had a decent map and some idea of places that may have gas, food, and shelter. Up and down through the mountains is a simplification. The bottoms of the canyons lay about 7000 to 8000 foot elevation. The tops run up to about 15,000. High jungle at the bottom, where they can grow papayas. So cold and desolate at the high points, that only the toughest of alpaca herders dare to live.
Henry and Phil after a great breakfast at the best place in Peru to have a great meal...and all the profits go to support a local children's project
In order to reach the Cotihuasi Canyon, we had to pass over a number of these high spots. We call them altiplanos=high plains. It is usually hot when the sun is out, and freezing when it's not. The altiplano ain't for sissies.
Phil, Henry, and I found ourselves on day 3 working our way through the altiplano heading south towards the Valley of the Volcanoes. We were a bit behind the flexible schedule, but the grins on their faces led me to believe that it was irrelevant. We pounded out the route towards a small community where we found gas. We topped off the tanks, grabbed a quick snack, and created a big stir with the locals. Not sure when the last tourist passed through, but the curious town folk seemed to have forgotten. We asked for directions to the next town with amenities.
Peru is a paradise for motorcyclists
This is where the story turned. The locals giggled when they realized we were heading up to the altiplano. They knew something that we didn't.
The locals clarified their concern for us by pointing out that the lighting would soon be arriving. We had a small window of opportunity. We geared up and took off to beat the storm that was somehow going to replace the cloudless sky in a short matter of time(sarcasm noted).
We were tough. We had good gear. No worries...The boys told me they wanted an adventure...We were headed straight there. We climbed for what seemed like days. Back and forth on the switchbacks to finally come over the top of the canyon. There it was...The altiplano. A desolate and cold eternity that lay between us and our destination.
Within moments, little white balls of ice began pelting us. How did those little boogers get through to my cheeks? With icy misery challenging us, the second wave began; the thunder. Not to worry as it was a ways off in the horizon. We rode in its direction. Within a few minutes, the length of time from the lightning flash to the crack of the thunder decreased to hardly anything. We were in the eye of the storm.
The day had been long. We had covered a lot of miles. According to the locals, we had about 2 hours to our destination from where we filled our tanks. We had to be close. We trudged on through the storm. It sucked. There wasn't a tree in a hundred miles. No shelter...just a slimy two track road heading toward the next town. We battled the storm for a solid hour. We were certain that our destination would be around the next bend. We kept on.
We finally hit our limit. Our bodies had no more to give. The miserable cold had taken its toll on our balance. Phil had a couple of close calls. Henry and I were beginning to think we would have to figure out some sort of shelter. There was no town anywhere near. In fact, we had gone many a mile without seeing any sign of life; houses, herds, or people.
We stopped, huddled around our exhaust pipes in some sort of heat worship ceremony, then discussed our options. Phil was done. Henry and I were about out of juice as well. We talked about heading back to the last civilization that we could remember. It was a long way back...not a great option.
Henry looking like a thug...but well prepared
It was at that moment that Henry piped in about a rock hut a ways back that sat off the road and down the hill. Phil and I didn't see it. We both kind of thought Henry was having hypothermic hallucinations. Regardless, it was our best option. I agreed to head back and hopefully find some sign of life, while Henry and Phil would follow at a safe pace.
I finally found what Henry was talking about. What I found was not much, but I would say it was better than nothing. I rode down to the decrepit rock structure and found life. It was an older Quechua(native to the area and spoke Quechua as well as a little bit of Spanish) lady down below her house, rounding up a small herd of alpacas for the night. It was almost dark.
I asked her about the town that we were looking for. She chuckled and told me there was no town by that name. It was actually a spot in the road where that alpaca herders would bring their pelts , pile them on the truck, and send them to market. Certainly no town, no food, no gas, and a long way away from any kind of place to spend the night.
With a long pause after I asked about anyplace close to stay, I gave my best puppy dog eyes. I glanced around at the lack of options. She hesitated a moment, then gave me an offer that felt like a gift from heaven. She had a four walled structure with a couple of tin metal sheets laid on top. It had an opening about 4 feet tall to enter. Inside, well, let's just say it looked like something from a biology lab mixed with a pantry and a morgue.
I accepted the offer with a smile. By that time, Phil and Henry had arrived and were anxious for a hot shower and comfy bed. This lady lived off grid and my guess, may have never had a hot shower in her entire life. A comfy bed, well, let's just say, the amenities were primitive.
I did my best to translate for the guys. We were all so thankful to have something around us to get us out of the weather and the mess that we were in.
We brought our wet and frozen stuff to the door. There was no light except that which entered through the holes in the walls. We had a small flashlight. We each entered through the troll door that stood at best, 4 feet high.
One by one, we entered to find ourselves face to face with a couple of strings stretched from one side of the shack to the other. Draped over the strings were a variety of animal parts. It could have been the last motorcycle guys that stayed there, but it felt better to believe it was just some type of animal meat for food.
This little church could not be passed up without taking a picture
Along the back wall was a makeshift shelving system with some staple items such as rice, noodles, and flour. Dispersed with the clutter and food items were countless decaying skulls from a variety of animals. Some of the skulls still had remnants of meat for some reason. It was a bit creepy. We were grown men. We could handle this lady if she tried anything funny. We remained open minded...There wasn't much choice.
In the corner, was our saving grace; A shoulder high stack of bloody alpaca pelts. With not much room left for the dirt floor, the three of us decided on the sleeping arrangements. There was a flat spot, more like a table than a bed, with a few soft items laying on top. There were a number of unidentifiable items that made up the "bed." We were better off not knowing what was underneath.
There was one real blanket to share. Certainly, it was not enough. Henry and I cuddled up on the table structure with the blanket and as many alpaca pelts as we could stand. Phil resorted to the dirt floor. Phil, like any survivalist would do, made a nice alpaca mattress, covered it with alpaca sheets, then draped a fresh alpaca comforter on top of that. He looked like a human sandwich with nasty alpaca pelts being the bread. We also placed anything and everything else on top of us to help retain any kind of heat. We wore everything we had in our possession with the exception of our helmets.
It was bedtime. Exhausted, frozen, creeped out, and unable to breath because of the sheer weight of the makeshift covers, or possibly the 14k plus altitude, we called it a night.
Our goal was to sleep. It was a failure in every way. The howling wind that worked its way through the rocks that were stacked up to make the walls, insulated nothing. My nose stopped running, not because of my heat index, but rather, the snot was frozen. For countless hours, we all struggled to maintain any type of comfort; absolutely miserable. I was like a kid looking forward to Christmas morning...our present to receive; some sort of heat from the sun. It couldn't happen fast enough.
The dreaded night finally ceased its torture on us. The rays of light somehow snuck through the holes in the side of the rock. There was no wind. The air was moist, but like dew, not rain. Another day, blessed to be alive.
We couldn't wait to get outside and take in some radiant heat from the Andean sun. With no pollution, being that close to the equator, and at an elevation as close to the sun as many will ever get a chance to be, the sun was strong. We got up, shared our harrowing tales of suffering , laughed at each other, and went outside to enjoy the heat.
The little lady invited us over for breakfast. We gladly accepted. We were a bit concerned what it might be, but any type of hospitality while we were in a situation like that was a welcomed blessing. We brought our food to share as well.
As we climbed into another small rock hut, the door even smaller this time, it opened into a one room studio complete with a fireplace, and some wooden furniture that was built for people that stood no more than 4 foot tall. We were offered the best seats in the house, given a rusty tin cup full of tea, and were told that breakfast was served. Perfect!
We had a great cultural exchange. The husband and son had arrived in the middle of the night. The whole family was there. I did my best to translate, but with the Quechua and Spanish mix, it was hard to understand much. We shared stories, laughed, and gave the kids their first ever raisins to try. The little girl couldn't eat them fast enough. Phil picked through his trail mix bag and extracted every single raisin for the little girl.
It was a nice time. We had good weather outside, and so had to get going. We confirmed our directions with the mister, gathered up our things, left the family with a nice donation for their incredible hospitality, and said goodbye. As miserable as it was, it turned out to be one of the highlights of the ride.
Riding through the Altiplano and subsequently up and down more Andes mountains, we came across countless scenic valleys, small communities(3-5 houses), and many a herd of alpacas. It was just what these guys wanted to see; Peru... in all its natural state.
The ride for the day concluded with a little get off. Phil was on a tight switchback, grabbed a little too much brake on the loose corner and went down breaking his foot. We were close to the next town, which is where we would be able to get some help, hopefully.
Henry stayed with Phil while I went for help. As I arrived in town, the first thing I came across was a government health clinic, complete with an ambulance. I couldn't have dreamed of a better situation.
Notice the blood from the previous patient...Phil was not so impressed with the Peruvian medical standards
I went inside to begin the rescue process and quickly found out that the ambulance had not been moved in over 5 years. Besides, there was no key to the gate. I asked for options and also found out that there were no taxis, and the three people that owned cars in the town were all wasted drunk because of the carnival festivities. I found one of the drunks, offered to pay to use his truck, but he insisted on driving himself. I've done some stupid things in my life, but even I have limits.
Our best bet was to flag down a truck from the mine traffic that would be coming down the hill. The doctor told me that we were running out of time. I quickly returned back to the crash site. Upon my arrival, Henry had managed to flag down a large truck, heading into town. We loaded up the bike and Phil and headed to the clinic where the doctor was ready to put Phil back together.
The doctor and staff were great...
Our ride was over. We spent the night at the clinic to stabilize Phil and make a plan to get back to Cusco. A truck was hired, we loaded the bikes and headed back to where we started.
These guys wanted an adventure. They got everything they bargained for. What I find so satisfying is that the part that will forever be talked about is the bloody alpaca pelts. The tales of suffering, together, a group of guys, all sharing the same moto adventure. We have a common bond...Motos. It doesn't matter what color you ride, what size of motor, two stroke or four. That is a community of which I am proud to be a part...Scott
A little about Motomission...We are the only enduro tour operator in Cusco, Peru, South America. We are also a social enterprise where all of the profits from the operation go to support the Altivas Canas Children's Project. Our backyard is the Andes Mountains. We specialize in hard enduro, tight and technical singletrack rides through untouched areas. Our fleet of Honda CRF 450X bikes as well as a couple of other options are ready to be put to the test. We focus on private groups of 1 to a 4 riders(we can handle other groups as well). We can also do lighter trails for those that want to see Peru on a moto. Young and old, intermediate to advanced riders are welcome to join us. Please message us if you would like more information or visit our website at www.motomissionperu.com or check out our videos on our Youtube channel at MotoMission Peru Dirtbike Adventures.