Gotta love the French

Pierre bustin' out a saucisson at the pass

Researching options to climb or snowboard one of the 6,000 meter peaks while I’m in Huaraz, I got talked into a 4 day hike of Santa Cruz to help acclimate.

The price was right and it included all equipment, guide, all meals, transportation and even burros. It was my first time with burros, and let me tell you, they ROCK! Each one can carry 50 kg and with 3 burros to 4 hikers (plus guide and burro driver) we had a lot o’ goodies. They packed even more luxury stuff than I do on a kayak trip (except they were missing my trusty portable rotisserie). They carried however, a full propane tank, two serious burners, the kind you deep fry a turkey or brew 5 gallon worts of beer with, 3 crates filled with tons of food, and all our overnight gear in dry bags, leaving us with only our day packs.

The meals were great, although for the most part pretty traditional Peruvian foods. Each dinner started with a grain soup (first night was quinoa, the second wheat soup and third barley soup), main courses were white rice with potatoes (wrong, I know), and meat for first two nights, and a break from rice with pasta and a tuna bolognaise sauce for the 3rd night. We also had lunch packs made for us (I think the last time I had that was in Junior high about 30 years ago), and hot breakfasts with enough options for French, American, British, Peruvian, and Continental breakfasts combined.

While I can’t say enough about the burros and the meals, the rest of the pampering was a bit too much for me. The tents would be set up at the sites upon arrival with snacks laid out for us; our guide Geonela and our burro driver Iban (nicknamed Chato) wouldn’t let me help with cleaning the dishes or cooking or prep or setting up anything as they never stopped working to cater to us. They even brought hot coca tea to our tents at our 5:30 am wake up call.

The hike was gorgeous though the weather didn’t really corporate. We never did get a view of the cordilleras blancas as the peaks were in the clouds the whole four days. We got some sun breaks but for the most part it was overcast with a bit of rain, sleet, snow and hail every day.

Had I had more experience with hiking with burros, I would have packed a few more goodies (like a couple bottles of wine). Luckily there was a French couple, Pierre and Natasha, who knew how it’s done. They were a super fun couple with experience hiking all over the world, including an annual trip to Nepal and the Himalayas. When we crested the 4,750 meter pass (15,584’) on day two, Pierre, sporting his French beret, busts out a saucisson from his home town in the Alps. BAM! The next day it’s pate de canard at lake. …and then French chocolate at the campsite. “Pierre, did I ever tell you, you are my hero?”

I’m pretty sure I heard them talking about red wine as well, but if they did indeed have some, they wisely kept it to themselves in their tent.

Honestly, the French couple made the trek. I had a great time with them and before leaving Huaraz, they gave me all their remaining food supplies. They left me with more pate de canard, some pork rillettes, some soups, and other tasty French foods.

…and I even have an invitation to stay with them in the Alps and meet their friend who makes the sausisson. You can bet I’ll take ‘em up on the offer.

…I also made an attempt to climb a 5,783 meter peak, packing a the duck pate for a picture on the summit to send to Pierre and Natasha, but snow and warm weather stymied us on summit day, and for the second time, I failed to break the 5,000 meter mark, let alone summit one of the high Andes peaks. I’ll just have to come back during dry season.

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Huaraz at last

A crazy ride to Huaraz. What should have taken me one day, ended up taking me five, and involved landslides, mudslides, rockslides, muddy dirt roads, wrong turns, another flat, a crash, and the closest call I’ve had yet, with exposed bridges over a windy canyon and class IV rapids. …Some serious adventure riding peeps.

The initial plan was to ride to Huaraz directly through the mountains from Cajamarca and Huamachuco, …but that was not to be. I found the correct turn-off and was heading down a dirt track in the right direction, only to learn the road was closed and had been washed out by a landslide. I never reached the landslide as I first came across a construction zone, where I was informed that I could go through but the construction zone would be closed in about an hour for blasting, as the flagger pointed me towards the men laying explosives, and that the road wouldn’t open again for at least 6 hours. She also mentioned that I could only go another 30km because the road no longer existed after that as it had been washed out in a landslide. According to the flagger, it would be another week or two before they blasted a new section and re-opened the road. She made it pretty clear that if I crossed the construction, I’d be stuck on the other side for the rest of the day, with nowhere to go but back to Huamachuco after dark, so that’s when the decision to head to the coast and Puerto Chimaca came into play.

For a place that claims the longest wave in the world, and only 45 minutes from the second biggest city in Peru, Puerto Chimaca was remarkably quiet for a weekend. I walked down to look at the famous wave during peak time on a Sunday, only to see no more than 10 surfers out at once. First impressions of the chill, laid back Puerto Chimaca had me thinking I might spend some time here. I rented a board and wet suit and gave it a go, only to find the water cold and plagued jellyfish. Suddenly the lack of surfers made sense. Hopping the wet suit was protecting me and not feeling like the stings on my wrists, feet and neck were that bad, I stayed in the water for about 1.5 hours before giving in to the jelly fish and ending the session. Again, first impressions of these jellyfish weren’t bad and it wasn’t until I woke up at midnight that the stings really surfaced and started hitching and stinking like crazy. Time to leave Puerto Chimaca!

The right wrist was worse but couldn't photograph it.

During my stay, I did enjoy some great food. Chaufa de Mariscos (chaufas are mostly Chinese style fried rice but these varied between Chinese style stir fry and more Spanish influenced paellas, delish). I pigged out on these on 3 different occasions filled with lots of fresh local shell fish. Another treat, and Spanish influence, were Spanish tortilla sandwiches served on the street for breakfast at about $.30 a pop. They’ve been fairly common throughout Peru but these were definitely the best I’ve had yet.

I set off for Huaraz, this time with plans on riding through the canyon road from Chimbote. To my surprise the road was well paved with only a lot of fallen rocks to dodge around every corner, making for some fun riding that keeps you on your toes. About a third of the way there, the road went over a bridge and turned 180 degrees. Nothing unusual in these switch back, mountain/canyon roads, so I didn’t think twice and pushed on. The bridge was pretty exposed with gaps about 10’ wide between the suspension I-beams, open holes in the center, and planks to drive on, on either side. …and it was windy, very windy with about a 40’ drop over a class IV river. I got across the bridge with a bit of a thrill as I was thinking, wow, that was a little scary but laughing it off as I continued my beautiful ride. About ten miles later I came across another one of these exposed bridges. As I got towards the end of this one, the 4 plank wide path turned into a single plank. I rode over it only to find a gap about the size of a manhole cover on the other side. I gas’ed it, lifting up the front wheel and made it across safely but not without a little scare. This time I wasn’t laughing and started feeling a lot more nervous but relieved that I made it across. I come across another one as soon as I rounded the corner. It was only a few hundred meters between bridges so I hadn’t had time to build up too much anxiety and decided to attack it from the left side as I could see the warped planks seemed a little better, with slightly less gaps and rock fill-ins. Two thirds of the way across, the wind changed direction and a gust hit me from the right, sending me sideways. My front tire went into a gap between planks only to pop up on the outermost plank pointing outwards. I immediately corrected but I must have been within an inch of flying off the side, a 40’ drop, into shallow, rocky, class 4 rapids. After I cleared the bridge, I should have stopped to gather up my nerves (and take pics) but all I could think about was getting to my destination and cracking open a cold beer.

these pics lifted from Mark Hohman's site. He also crossed the sketchy bridges

I rode on, hopping that was the last of the exposed bridges and not knowing what I’d do if I came across another one. I looked down at my GPS to figure out how much further I had to go. (I don’t have a map of Peru for my GPS but some of the towns show up by default so I can kind of gage direction). It seemed like I’d been going north a little too long and should have been heading east by now.  I had a moment of panic thinking I may have missed my turn, but thinking back, I couldn’t recall any turn off. I continued and eventually relaxed as the road started heading east. I passed a coalmine, the cause of the dark grey river, and eventually reached a town, a town that I shouldn’t have reached. Panic stuck again. I was on the other side of the road that was washed out from the landslide that I couldn’t access from Huamachuco. Doh! I confirmed my fears with a local and sure enough, my turn off was about 20 miles back. Yikes, … and on the other side of the terrifying bridges of course.

working in a coalmine...

...going downtown

I turned around and by the time I reached the first bridge, I had so much anxiety that I could barely hold the handlebars straight, as my arms were shaking so hard (and the steering’s super loose from a couple of broken spokes and a faulty wheel bearing). I decided my best plan of attack would be to slowly walk the bike across, straddling it the whole way, but when I reached a section where the planks were missing and had been filled in with rocks, I slipped the clutch to lift the rear wheel over them only to stall the bike. NO!!! I quickly put my foot down and it slips off the plank into one of the gaps in the middle. AGAIN NO!!! I quickly jump off the bike, pushing myself  to the planks on the other side, thinking if Rosita’s going over, I’m not going with, but luckily she fell perfectly and rested on the cross beams as well as the planks on the other side.

This time I unloaded everything from the bike, stopped to take a few pictures and waited for a truck to come by so I could get some help lifting the bike. The truck driver was really helpful and held the bike stable as I lifted it up, making sure I didn’t drop it over the side. I got it across and parked it as I calmed my nerves and repacked everything.

The next bridge wasn’t so bad. This time I unloaded everything first and I made it across fine. Two down, one to go, I’m thinking as I start to relax a little, but even 5 miles later, about 5 miles before the final bridge, I came across a rock slide that had occurred in the hour and a half I was off track. A couple truckers suggested I ride back to the town, but there was no way I was crossing those bridges again if I could avoid them so I parked the bike and set up camp. 24 hours later the road was cleared and I was on my way.

I missed the turn again but this time I knew where it should have been, turned around, asked directions and found myself on a muddy and rough dirt road that looked like it would dead end shortly at a rock quarry or mine. To my surprise it kept going and about an hour later, just as it’s getting close to dark, I come across another rockslide. This ones the locals tell me will be a few days at least before it’s cleared up as it’s not a priority road and there just aren’t enough resource to clear it, with all the landslides happening everywhere. I pitched my tent again and spend the night.

The next morning, I found myself up early and heading back towards Casma, the option with a paved road to Huaraz. Before getting there, I swing 3 km out of the way to check out Puerto Casma, both curious of the dot on my map and thinking breakfast on the water would be nice. The town was a fishing village with a small cannery for smelt. I took some pictures, talked to the locals and enjoyed some more delicious Spanish tortilla sandwiches before heading out. Unfortunately on my way out I got a flat tire just as I entered a turn and crashed with the front wheel washing out, bruising my ribs and shoulder. I’ve had a dozen flats and feel I’m pretty good at changing tires but with my sore shoulder and ribs I was struggling to get the tire back on the rim when a fisherman pushes me out of the way, grabs my tire iron and brute forces the tire on, …only to pinch my spare tire. Doh! I’m feeling frustrated and patch my first tire only to pinch it myself this time. Damn! …and then I do it again (no joke) and this time I step on my glue spilling it all over the road so I’ve got nothing to patch the tire with. Frustrated, I’m feeling like an idiot but one of the fisherman from the audience of fisherman watching the gringo struggle with his tire, also the local police officer, offers to drive me into Casma to pick up a new tube. He had his wife watch my bike and make sure everything stayed safe and I boarded his tuktuk to a ride into Casma. Bought a new tube, had a llantera change it and we’re on our way back to Puerto Casma. This time we get stopped by a random police roadblock. I’m thinking not a big deal, and sort of glad to see it happens to the locals too but as it turned out, the police officer helping me is out of his jurisdiction and technically can’t drive his tuktuk into Casma. Funny stuff, as I witness a police officer paying off another police officer. Got to love the corrupt police in Peru. I reimbursed him of course and ironically the first bribe I’ve paid out on my trip. Too funny. Anyway, shortly after the police block, the chain on the officer’s tuktuk breaks. He’s got the tools and we fix it. 5 hours later, my bike is back together and I’m on the road again. So much for my early start.

I get stopped by a cop as I turn onto the road to Huaraz and he asks me how long I expect it to take. I tell him I don’t know, 3 maybe 4 hours, mas o menos, depending on the weather. He nods and confirms “three hours”.  It’s 2:00pm so I’ve still got 4.5 hours of daylight and feel a bit relieved when the officer confirms my time estimate and that the road’s paved the whole way. Even so, I’m certainly not going to rush it. About an hour in, my temperature gauge shoots up and I pulled over to find the radiator’s empty, …again. Cracked? This is the 3rd time. I gather some water from the river and fill her up. An hour later, it’s another rock slide. This time a british couple, Paul and Helen http://www.goingoverland.com/  are clearing the way with their land rover. It was really cool to see and the locals were pretty impressed too. 

It was only a 20-30 minute delay and then off to ride into the clouds. Visibility disappeared slowing down the ride considerably and I finally pulled into Huaraz in a torrential downpore just as it was getting dark. I found a hostel with a parking lot half a block away and checked in. It turned out to be a beautiful hostal, with two terraces and a great price. I woke up the next morning to blue skies, sunshine and stunning views of the snowy peaks of the Cadilleras blancas. Huaraz rocks!

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Drinking with the locals

As most of you would know, drinking’s one of my favorite hobbies, so I’m not one to turn down an invite for a beer. Since Ecuador the beer comes in 20 ouncers and it took me a bit to learn the protocol, but it goes like this; One person buys 1-4 beers and is handed one empty 5-8 oz glass. The glass and a bottle of beer get passed around clockwise, and each person pores the amount they want and shoots it, before passing it to the next person. If you empty the bottle in the cup at your turn, you must pore a little more from the next bottle. If there’s no more, you buy the next round. It’s a lot of fun and gets you pretty schnokered fast, but way social.
…Not to discriminate but I’ve noticed Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Peruvians seem to be much happier drunks that in Central America, though maybe it’s just that my Spanish is getting better.

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Huamachuco and the road to the coast

I got up early and headed back to the market to see them start setting up at 7:00am. Another great experience, super colorful, tons of life, and some of the friendliest people I’ve met. I’m really starting to love Peru.

I couldn’t find a good coffee of course, but after a fresh juice, a nescafe, and breakfast sandwich I packed up and got on my way. It was again a beautiful morning and the next 30 miles out of town were stunning, all on a well paved road. I arrived at a mining town called Quiruvilca where I stopped to check out it’s market as I’ve had such a good experience in Huamachuco, and am feeling a lot better about leaving my bike unattended after seeing the stalls leave their produce unattended. I still locked up my GPS and my helmet but stupidly left my Spot tracker on the bike.

The walk through town was great and I was greeted by some miners enjoying beers in the market. Was invited over and partook in a round of shots. Again, super friendly people and I’m feeling great, but when I get back to the bike I see my spot tracker’s gone. Doh! I’m sure it was just a teenager that saw a shinny orange box, with a flashing light, and decided he/she had to have one of them. Thankfully, nothing else was missing and once again, the irony is what got stolen is no use to anyone there, but there was tons of other stuff that they definitely could have used or sold but left behind. It’s not really a big deal as the service is up for renewal in a few weeks and I was debating on continuing or cancelling the service, so the decision was made for me. Still, it’s never a nice feeling when something gets stolen and I rode off in a bad mood.
More pics yo’

Mining town

a drink with the boys

The road got worse, much, much worse. It took almost 3 more hours to reach Otuzco, the town I had planned on staying the night before, so once again, I was grateful for my decision to stay in Huamachuco. I got into Otuzco at 2:45, in time for a late lunch. I ordered the trout still thinking about the excellent one I had the week before, only to get a tasteless, overcooked piece of deep fried fish in old oil. I asked for the bill and she hesitates and says 20 soles. Seriously? I asked, as this is clearly the gringo price, and she time she firmly says “yes, 20 soles” I hand her a 50 and get 28 back. I question her again and she says “and 2 for the coke”. What? Now I know I’m being ripped off. My mood not improving, I saddle up and start heading for the coast.

I was a bit worried about finding a place to stay in a beach town, 45 minutes from the second biggest city in Peru, that states claim to the longest wave in the world, on a saturday night but figured I could always camp on the beach. I arrived in Puerto Chicama and asked Johnny, the owner of the longboard hostal for a room. He’s full but recommends La Panchita, a hostal around the block and tells me I’m welcome to park the bike in his secure lot. The town has a great vibe and after check into to a room with a private beachfront balcony in La Panchita and park my bike at Johnny’s, he introduces me to a few surfers drinking beer at sunset. I get invited to join and spend the next few hours getting drunk with the locals and surprisingly having a bit of a real conversation. With my little Spanish, their little English, lots of beer, and similar interests, it turns out to be a really fun evening. I hung with them for a few hours and got pretty wasted. Boca, the local surf champion, offered to take me out the next day and show me their longest wave in the world, 2 km long and a ride up to 4 minutes. Can’t wait…

Once again, everything’s about balance. The good with the bad and back with the good.

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Cui

CUI!!! ...with white rice of course

I had a sneak preview of Cui (guinea pig) in Ecuador. It was grilled on a stick by a street vendor, as I had seen in so many pictures, but when I ordered it, it was taken inside, whacked a bunch of times with a cleaver and served as bony meat on a bed of white rice. If not for the minuscule claw, it could have been chicken. …and how did it taste you ask? Well, to be honest, very chewy and somewhere between a bony, overcooked chicken and an bony, overcooked rabbit with very little seasoning and not much meat.

‘K, so my first impression of cui was a bit of a disappointment but I’d been warned that it had to be cooked properly so I knew I had to give it another try. …and after all it’s a Peruvian specialty, not an Ecuadorian one, so hopefully better impressions to come.

While inquiring about the specialties of Cajamarca (pesos (cow brain) which I never saw, potatoes which I saw lots, and cui (guinea pig)) I also found out that Cajabamba is the cui capital of the world, and only lies a few hours away. …and they know it too. Starting about 10 miles outside of Cajabamba, there were signs for “Cajabamba, the best cui in the world” and “Cajabamba, the cui capital of the world” and “Cajabamba, the origin of cui”and…

I timed it perfectly and pulled into Cajabamba, hungry at 12:30pm, just in time for lunch. I drove around the city inquiring numerous times for the best place to try cui, but the locals looked at me as nuts, and would point me to the closest restaurant, …like everyone serves cui. The first two I approached didn’t have cui on the menu. The third did, so I parked in front, and ordered it.

This time it came in a green sauce with white rice of course. It wasn’t whole on a stick, or chopped to pieces with a meat cleaver, it was in two big chunks, but when I cut into it for my first bite, it appeared as stringy red meat, and nothing like what it looked like in Ecuador. Hmmm, curious, time to try. …urr this taste like red meat. The next cut revealed a huge bone, like a part of a hip bone, WAY too big for any guinea pig, so I asked the owner if this was cui. Her non-apologetic response was… “No, of course not, we’re out of cui, so you got the goat instead”. ‘k, that made a lot more sense and oh well, I can’t really complain, the goat was very good (though super bony) and probably better than any cui, and with my 20oz beer cost less than 3 dollars. Still being in the cui capital of the world, I kinda had my heart set on it. Oh well.

After my second disappointing cui experience I debated on staying the night just to claim having eaten cui in Cajabamba, but after a quick walk through the market where I didn’t see any cui in the meat stalls, I opted to continue to Otuzco.

½ an hour out of town I came across a family packing live guinea pigs in bags, on their way to the market of Huamachuco so I stopped and talked them into letting me take some pics. Another friendly guy stopped, joined in the pics and also asked if I was going to Huamachuco. I wasn’t planning on it but seeing how both were so enthusiastic about the place, I say “yes”.

awww

As I drove through Huamachuco I saw a huge colorful market. Something I haven’t seen this bustling since Guatemala and wanted to stop but feeling apprehensive about parking my loaded bike on the street, in such a busy section, I kept riding instead. I was questioning my decision when I see huge grey clouds up ahead, only ten minutes out of town. There was no doubt I was about to ride into a giant thunderstorm and having enjoyed a rare sunny day so far, I turned back and opted to spend the night in Huamachuco after all. I found a great hostal right way and just in time as it started downpoaring just as I checked in. I waited for the rain to stop before heading to the market. People were starting to shut down but one of the first things I noticed was that the closed stalls left all there stuff there for the taking, just covered up for the evening. Wow, I’ve never seen so much trust. And the people were super friendly. Typically these giant outdoor markets are known for pick-pocketers and purse snatchers and a place to keep on alert but it appears not to be the case here. I still felt guilty about flashing my big camera but no one seemed to mind and lots of peeps wanted their pictures taken. YES!
This was a real market too with everything from cui’s to sheep’s heads to cows brains, and I hate to say it, even baby shark fins.

As I’m walking back to the hostal, a street vendor, in front of a restaurant, tries to sell me chicken livers on a stick. I’m thinking chicken livers on a stick? That’s so last week, I’m looking for cui. I tell her no thanks but ask if there’s a place to get cui. She says, oh yes, I can cook you cui right here. She tells me to take a seat in the restaurant, orders one of her daughters to man (or woman) the grill outside and sends the other daughter an errand (I’m guessing to go buy cui). I’m chatting with the husband as he tells me cui needs to be cooked right. Not many people do it well he says but when done properly it’s delicious, and my wife cook’s one of the best. The plate comes and it’s a quarter of a cui, deep fried and well seasoned. This time around it’s a much better experience and taste closer to a properly cooked rabbit but with a chewy skin, even when deep fried, and not much meat. Worth the experience but nothing to write home about (just worth blogging).

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Coffee before noon? Are you loco?

Despite coffee beans being a major crop throughout Latin America, good coffee is often hard to come by. For the most part it’s Nescafe down here, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve grown a taste for it in the absence of the real stuff, but every now and then, I crave, and I mean crave, a good cappuccino or espresso and will go out of my way to find a gourmet coffee shop.
In bigger cities, in particular tourist ones, such things do exist, the problem is the timing. As it turns out, gourmet coffee is an evening treat in these parts and I’ve recently found that most gourmet coffee shops don’t open until 4:00pm, 6:00pm, or even 8:00pm.

When I arrived in Cajamarca, a beautiful colonial city that’s totally set up for tourists (although more Hispanic tourists as I didn’t see a single gringo in my two days there), I did however see a ton of coffee shops.
I knew from experience that coffee shops don’t open first thing in the morning, when I’m usually on my way and wanting a coffee, but I sort of assumed that they’d open around 9:00am or 10:00am at the latest, so knowing I’d be spending an extra day in Cajamarca, I was looking forward to a late morning cappuccino after my usual trip to the local market. Having mapped a dozen coffee shops in my head from my evening walk, I was feeling prepared and on a mission for a quality coffee.

I did my morning market tour and was impressed by the amount of herbs, something I haven’t seen this abundant since Mexico. I also encountered some new fruits, one in particular they called “Guaba”, a giant bean sprout looking thing with a white fleshy fruit and black pips inside.

Guaba

mo' guaba


It was very tasty with the white flesh tasting like a combination of watery passion fruit with the texture of dry watermelon, and the pips having a sweet, nutty crunch, and the whole thing leaving a peppery after taste that stung the throat. There was also a huge amount of various grasses being sold that I couldn’t imagine were for consumption and after further inquiry, I found out they were to feed your guinea pigs.

cui grass

K’ so I digress. Back to the coffee. So after my tour of the market and few quick pics, I’m off for my reward, a good cup o’ joe. I spend 45 minutes hitting the dozen shops I had spotted the night before, without a single one open. Finally, as I’m giving up and heading to back my hostal, I spot an ice cream-coffee house that had eluded me the night before. …It’s open too. Excited to have a real coffee before 10:00am, I head for the counter and order a cappuccino, …only to get a horrific look of terror, like I just asked for the content of the cash register. “NO, SENOR, NO!” “NO SE PUEDE!”…“Later, much later…” “…the espresso machine doesn’t turn on until after noon…” “lo siento, senor” Seeing my disappointed and mostly shocked look… “…Would you like an ice cream instead, senor?”

Let me point out, this is a city at 11,000’, where at 9:45 in the morning, I’m wearing jeans, wool socks, a sweater and my down puffy jacket. Seriously, I’m always open to different cultures and customs, but ice cream for breakfast and coffee dinner in close to freezing temperature? That just ain’t right, peoples!

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The northern highlands…

When I left Paita, I headed into the mountains, this time armed with an official Peruvian map I picked up in Piura, which I was told was completely accurate (so far so good).

Arriving in Chachapoyas, I encounter a Croatian couple Petar and Irena, traveling by motorcycle as well earthonwheels.com. They were on the later Stahlratte crossing where they had met Joel (see Honduras and … link here) We spent the next few rainy days visiting fairly unimpressive Chachapoyan and Incan ruins and catching up on our blogs.

One day, on our way back from one of the ruins, we stopped for lunch at a comedor just on the highway. All three of us ordered the trout and were really impressed. It possibly the best trout I’ve had this trip so I inquired as to the secret. It’s rubbed with garlic, pre-washed/marinated in Manteca (pork fat), salt, and lime before being fried in manteca and oil the cook enthusiastically told me. Pork fat? No wonder it was so good. The owner, excited about my interest in the food said I had to come back on Sunday for the house specialty. Arroz con Pato. (rice with duck) and ceviche mixto. Ducks are about as common in peoples yards in these parts as chickens, hens, roosters and pigs so obviously a local food. I asked if I could come early and help with the cooking and get the recipe, and got an enthusiastic “yes, of course”. Woohoo, Hasta Domingo, a kiss on the cheek and a wave goodbye would change my schedule would to return in two days.

trout in pork fat. YUM!

The whole family showed up for Sunday’s special including great great grandma of 98 who wanted to hook me up with her great granddaughter of 19. The whole family was super fun but talked fast and with an accent so little was understood but a great experience.

great, great grandaughter


Great, great grandma

The duck was similar to a risotto of sorts and they actually used vegetables, Woohoo, what a treat! I’m starting to love Peru. Here’s some pics

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First impressions of Peru…

After a crazy wet ride through the Southern Ecuadorian Amazon, I left Loja for the Peruvian border. It was a damp and foggy morning but appeared to be just a light marine layer so I gambled that it would burn off. I opted not to suit up in my plastics, a dangerous gamble, but for the first time in weeks, the weather didn’t feel threatening. After a cold and damp start, the decision paid off as the clouds lifted and exposed a beautiful landscape. A perfect way to say farewell to Ecuador, a country I should have loved but seemed plagued by bad luck and bad weather. The ride was a breathtaking 4 hours of beautiful mountain roads with everyone I passed smiling and waving. I look forward to revisiting Ecuador in better climate.

Just before crossing the border, I ran into a South African couple riding up from Argentina. We talked shop, I gave them my Ecuador maps, and we exchanged info. They asked if I was heading into Peru via the mountains or the PanAmericana? I quickly answered “the mountains of course” as I didn’t want to sound like a lamo riding the PanAmericana, but honestly, I hadn’t made up my mind yet. I was in search of better weather and had yet to decide where I’d be going first in Peru, but from my response they got excited and said “good, we just came from there. There’s a nice small town about 85km from the border that has a cheap but nice hospedaje with all the amenities including a swimming pool. …but we can’t remember the name…” “the border crossing’s super easy…” “Peru’s beautiful…” “…lot’s of cops…” and a few other tidbits.
The border crossing was super easy. The easiest I’ve had yet. 20 minutes, I was in Peru, Motorcyclemenus sticker on the wall of ADV rider stickers, and a big “Bienvenido a Peru” from all the customs officers. It was actually fun, …crazy I know.

wall of ADV rider blogs

I had heard from numerous riders that Peru has police officers stopping you outside of every town, and not 2 miles into the country, I had my first encounter with the fuzz. Two coppers pulled me over, and though very friendly, were fishing for something. First it was money questions like “how much is the bike worth?”, “how can you afford this trip?”, “you must be loaded?” “…something about giving gifts that I didn’t completely understand all of it, but got the gist.” …I have my whole sob story to a “T” by now so I was well prepared with… “I lost my job…, it’s cheaper to travel than live in the states…, I’m traveling on the cheap…, $5 a day…, only camping…, cook my own meals…, don’t have any money…(and in this case was true as I had yet to make it to a bank machine for Peruvian cash)”… Once it was clear no money would get exchanged, one of the officers started asking what music I listen to and again started suggesting something about a gift. I couldn’t see any device in their camp that we could exchange tunes and I certainly wasn’t giving him my phone so I said I don’t have any, only Spanish lessons. He laughed and said “listo, bienvenido a Peru” and I was on my way.

It was a minor police hassle as the police stops go and all in good fun, however this solidified my decision to get off the PooAmericana and head for the mountains, even though I could see the rain in them thar hills.
According to my paper map, I could make it to Ayacaba in plenty of time before dark, and from there, head south through the highlands. …and so I did. It was further than I thought and took longer but was the only road on my map that headed towards the mountains and the town ending up being 62 miles from the border, over muddy and sometime treacherous dirt roads (not too far off from “about 85 km” so I assumed I had the right place). A thunderstorm and some drizzle from the clouds made the plastics come out after all, but when I got to Ayacaba, it was clear and dry with a beautiful sunset above the clouds (about 11,000’).
Ayacaba was a beautiful town, where I got a very warm welcome but no hotel with any swimming pool, and honestly, way too cold to even contemplate jumping in a pool. Gringos obviously don’t come by this way very often (and I found out the next day why) so I was a bit of an excitement around town. The local street food was meat on a stick, no surprise there, but for a change the meat was chicken feet and chicken livers. I’m not a huge fan of chicken feet (though better than they sound) but if done right, chicken livers can be delicious so I gave ‘em a go. …and then it was an early night as border crossing days, even easy ones, are pretty stressful. …Also I didn’t want to outweigh my welcome as things can get a bit sticky once the basic conversation has worn off and booze kicks in after they’ve finished gnawing on their chicken feet.

I woke up to a beautiful day, sunny and above the clouds with views of mountain peaks in every direction over a bed of white, puffy clouds, and was thinking this is going to be a great day. Pic here So confident in fact that I actually packed my plastics in my duffle instead of easy access in the cargo net. Nothing was open at 6:30am so after a short walk, I decided to saddle up and head out of town. For precautionary reasons, I headed to the gas station I saw coming into town but it was closed. A local motorcyclist, also looking for gas lead me to a person’s house where I bought one gallon out of two 2 liter water bottles that came close to topping me off but would leave me unsure of the exact amount in the tank. Still I figured it would be plenty to get me wherever I needed to. He also asked where I was going and told me that road doesn’t exist. I showed him on my map and he shook his head. He pointed one way and said “this ends in Ecuador”, he pointed another way and said “this way joins with that road and ends in Ecuador”, then he pointed in the direction I came from and said “you need to go to Piura, …that way”. Doh! Not entirely convinced, as I’m heading out of town, I ask another local where the road leads to and get the short answer, “Ecuador”. Still not convinced, I figure I’ll give it a go and see where it takes me. About 5 miles in, I’m clearly heading towards Ecuador and only about 10 miles from the border, so once again, it’s time to swallow my pride and start backtracking before I get too close to Ecuador and run into police looking for smugglers.

Not even 8:00am and still feeling like the day’s going to be great, I wave goodbye to Ayacaba, admiring the scenery with a smile on my face as I retreat towards the coast. And then Bam! Not even a mile out of town, I slide out in a big mud puddle. I’ve crossed hundreds of these, and rode the same exact one, not even 16 hours before, in much worse conditions through a thunder storm, but this time it bit me. After picking up the bike, in the mud,

taken from my phone, sorry

I dumped it again trying to ride out of the puddle, …and this time with an audience. Doh! Embarrassed, I picked it up again and rode off.
After about 50 miles and one police stop/inquiry, and with my confidence back, I come to one of the many water crossings I had passed the previous day. I remembered it being a little deep in once section and a bit slippery but nothing too bad, so I rode straight for it with barely a thought. A meter or two in, the front wheel drops about a foot, hits a rock, bounces up and then suddenly bam, I’m down again, sliding now on the shallow but slick side of the crossing. I’ve dumped Rosita once in Guatemala in a mud slide, during the craziest week of rain than I’ve ever seen in my life, and once in Nicaragua when the ground gave way and I was not at my sharpest after riding 400 miles of dirt road. …And now, 3 times in two hours on fairly average stuff? WTF?
This time it was a little more sketchy getting Rosita upright. Though shallow, the ground under the running water was layered with slick moss and as I made my first attempt to lift her up, she wanted to slide towards and over the edge. Pic here. I decide I better unload all of my stuff to lighten the load and then rig something to stop the bike from sliding. Just as I’d unloaded the last bag and took a picture, a young guy came along and helped me wedge a rock to block the rear wheel and pick up the bike. Gracias, …and it’s still only 9:30am.

...again, phone shot

I reach the PanAmericana and start heading south before shortly coming across a road block. There’s a handful of police officers walking around and checking the scene but they seem unconcerned by my presence, so I ride around the road block and continue south. About 500 meters later I come across another road block. This one un-manned and so again I ride around. At this point it starts to occur to me that I haven’t seen a single car in either direction so the road must be blocked in other places as well. …Then suddenly I see a ton of cars and trucks coming straight at me. A police car pulls out of his lane into mine with his lights flashing and stops as a cop jumps out frantically waving me down. I’m thinking, “oh shit, what this time?” but this was different. He comes running up to me with a huge “Buenos dias, Senor” and then proceeds to ask me…
“Was there a roadblock up ahead?”
Trying to look innocent, I say “yes, two, I didn’t know what they were so I just rode around (still being apprehensive, in particular after ignoring the cops on the first block)”
“What were the roadblocks?”
“big tree branches and rocks”
“people? Were there people too?”
“no, no one”
“good, good, how far back? By the bridge?”
“yes, one on either side of the bridge”
“…A huge thanks. The road’s clear going forward. Welcome to Peru and have a great trip” as he runs back into the police car with 7 other officers in it and quickly drives off.

A km later I pull into Las Lomas to see hundreds of police in riot gear and thousands of people walking around. Whatever’s happened is over and most of the people are cheering me passed, with a few shouting stuff I can’t understand but seems in good humor. I get pulled over by another copper leaving town and once again, checks my papers, lets me go, apologizes for the protest, and welcomes me to Peru. I was tempting to tell him, it’s not the protesters I mind (I’m with the working man, yo’), it’s the fuzz pulling me over every 20 km that I don’t care for, but I bit my tongue (and I probably couldn’t have pulled it off in Spanish anyway). I proceeded to pass hundreds more peeps walking back to town and 4 dismantled roadblocks, some still burning. I later found out that the protest was indeed for the working man. My boys were protesting the loss their jobs to illegal immigrants and outsourcing. Same story all over the world, I guess. You go working men!

Once I’d cleared the riots, I stopped for lunch. A shack on the side of the highway whose specialty was clearly ceviche. I ordered the house special, as it’s what everyone else is eating and looked delicious (even though I’m breaking my own rule of no raw seafood away from the coast) and a cerveza (it’s been a long morning already). It looked great, but when I inquired about the bathroom and was sent through the back yard where chickens, turkeys, pigs, ducks, and dogs were all frolicking around, vying for space over the poop, mud and food scattered around the ground, I started to question my decision. It was only intensified when I come back to find my cold beer and a dirty looking glass on the table. Oh well, I’m thinking, it can’t be that bad as I fill my glass but when I take my first sip it smells super fishy. Yikes, as I ask myself “is it worth it?”. It is, the plate comes and it’s super fresh. So fresh in fact that it’s barely cured. This is more like sushi with a bit of lime sauce on top and one of the best ceviches I’ve had yet. It’s also a new fish for me “corrillon” (I need to do more research to identify it as it’s super tasty). At the time I suspected it a fresh water fish but upon further research, it’s clearly salt water.

20 Km later, and yes I get pulled over again, I’m seeing a pattern here. It’s quick this time. Paper work in order, listo, …on my way. …and it’s barely after noon.
I take a wrong turn and exit the PanAmericana but just as I’m getting ready to turn around, I see a sign for a town that’s on my map. Hey, I’m thinking, this is a “via corta” or “short cut” and an excuse to get off the PanAmericana and see the real Peru through some dirt roads. I’m sure it’ll take longer but why not? …and I can bypass Piura.

As far as I could tell it looked about 30-40 miles. The first 20-25 miles were slow going, as most dirt roads are, but for the most part fairly easy with the occasional deep sand pit. The road took me through some desert slum with house after house boarded off with wooden fences. To be honest, this reminded me more of slum housing in Africa than anything I’ve seen so far in the Americas. Besides the garbage everywhere, it was really cool to see and the road eventually dead ended at a church and school. I made a few loops around some of the houses before turning off what I figured would be the road out of town and back to the PanAmericana, on the other side of Piura. The road was going in the right direction but too my surprise, there were suddenly no more houses and the road started getting progressively worse with deeper and deeper sand and cactus trees on both sides.

The over loaded, loose steering head, off balanced KLR is really, really, really not a friendly bike in the soft, deep sand. As the sand got deeper and more treacherous, I dumped the bike once, twice, three times before thinking I should turn back. I’m stubborn so the idea of turning back when I’m already 3 miles into what appears to be only about 10-12 miles total is a hard decision to make. Just as I’d picked up and reloaded Rosita after the third spill, a mounted cowboy comes by the other way. We chatted and he guessed right that I had just come from Ecuador. I figured there was about 10 miles to go but asked how much further and if the road was like this the whole way. He said “Yes, more of the same and it gets worse before it gets better” …but seeing my scared expression he said “oh but it’s never that bad. …and on a motorcycle it should only take you about 20min” Yup, magic carpet thing again. It’s now 1:00pm, reaching the hottest part of the day with my thermometer reading 104.2 degrees in it’s own shade and no real shade in site. The last three miles have taken me close to an hour and he said it gets worse. Yikes! Still, I feel a bit of optimism from what he said and decide not to turn back.

It gets worse, a lot worse. I proceed to dump the bike another dozen or so times and each time I’m slower to unload, pick it up, reload and start again. The temperature’s rising and the sun keep’s beating down on me but I don’t have much choice but to move on. The more tired I get, the worse I ride, and by now I’m only making it about 100-200 meters before dumping the bike and starting the whole process over. I decide to strip from my protective riding gear as it’s doing nothing but dehydrating me and I figure I’m better off without it. Two whole hours have passed since I’ve met the cowboy and I’ve only made it 2.5 miles and have at least 5 to go. I decide I need to take a break and way my options as I’ve got huge arm pump in both my arms and my back is starting to tense up from all the lifting. I figure, at this rate, I won’t make it out by daylight and camping’s starting to look like my best option. I thought I started the day with plenty of water (5 liters) but in this hot, desert sun I’ve drank all but ½ a liter which I’m now treasuring and isn’t enough to camp. Gas is another issue. Under normal circumstances Rosita does between 55-60 mpg and shouldn’t have been a concern, but spinning the rear wheel in the sand for hours, and dropping the bike every 200 meters, spilling the gas from the carburator, I’d be lucky if I’m getting 5 mpg. So I leave Rosita lying on her side, I eat, I drink, I rest as best as I can under the hot sun, before deciding to give it another go. This time, after a 20 minute break, I’m doing better. I’m starting to get a grove and am kinda walking the bike and moving forward at about 3 miles an hour, yes I could be walking faster than riding, but it’s working. And then once again, bam! This time it’s a flat tire. In the back of my mind I was worried about the cactus’s but tried to push the concern aside. …no point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet.
I flew off the road and this time laid Rosita down on purpose as I went to look for something to put under the center stand. Once upright, with the wheel off, I examined the tire and proceeded to check the tube. The whole tire was riddled with cactus needles and at first glance, I found 4 holes in the tube. (I debate between patching the tube or replacing it with my spare and opted for patching. My spare tube, which I picked up in Nicaragua after all my spare parts got stolen, is a lot less hefty than the current, so I figured patching the better tube would be wiser as there was still 3.5 miles to go through cactus country.) After patching the 4 holes, I blew up the inner tube only to find 2 more, patched those, blew it up again and found another two. In the end, 8 holes, 5 patches. I also checked the tire and with my forceps, patiently removed at least 50 needles and hoped that I’d got them all. Remounted the tire and it’s now 4:45pm. Still 3.5 miles to go and less than two hours of daylight.

cow's checking me out as I change the tire

The flat tire turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The 1.5 hours it took to fix the tire gave me significant rest, and despite my thermometer still reading 103.8 degrees, the lower sun wasn’t anything like as scorcher it’d been so I rode the last 3.5 miles with relative ease (at least compared to before and still at onlyabout 3-5 mph) and didn’t drop the bike once. …Keep it quiet ,but I’ve never been so happy to see the PanAmericana.

With gas, daylight, exhaustion, and dehydration all weighing in on my next decision, I decided to backtrack towards Piura, the city I tried to avoid in the first place. I got stopped on the way of course, …papers in order, …on the way again. Topped off the gas only to find my front tire was almost flat so I pumped it up in hopes it was just a small leak and would get me to a hotel. …it did.

I arrived in Piura during rush hour, just as the sun was going down. Piura’s a big city, and rush hour in any city never gives good first impressions, especially to an exhausted rider just looking for a place to crash for the night. I rode through smog and honking traffic and stopped to inquire at the first hotel I saw. It was uber pricey for what it was, and no secure place to park the bike, so move along. Not feeling in the mood to get myself lost in the city and searching a place to stay, I opted to stay on the highway and look for a motel. I rode all the way through the city making only one other stop at a motel just on the outskirts of town, but before I got off the bike to inquire about price, I saw a drugged up hooker yelling at what I can only guess was her pimp, so again move along.

Just as I was exiting the town and thinking about making a U-turn for another look-see, I saw a sign for Paita, a coastal town on my map 50km away. I’m tired, it’s getting dark and despite my physical exhausted, the idea of a cerveza on the beach and waking up on the pacific outweighed searching for a sleezy motel on the PanAmericana and waking up to trucks and highway so I rode off into the sunset towards Paita.
My spirits lifted as I could taste my cold beer about an hour away, but as I pulled into town, it was nothing like I imagined. Paita is not some hippie surfer town nor is it a beach resort. No, it’s a blue-collar city with a giant shipping industry, an industrial fishing port, 2 canneries and an oil refinery. I loved it immediately.

After finding a place, I went down to the malecon and found myself eating pizza with my cerveza as I was too lazy to search for the specialties or streetfood and the obvious choices were limited. Even tired and grumpy after a tough day, I felt a connection with the city and for the first time in my fourteen months of traveling, was not treated like a tourist but one of them. Everyone who approached that night and the following day were not after money but inquiring which ship I worked on. Super cool experience. I had some beers with a few locals before retiring. The next morning I walked the town and pier with more of the same welcoming. A great ending to a tough couple of days.

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Coca and the Amazon

Every guidebook, travel agency, and local advice, claimed Coca as the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon. There are tours of the Selva or the Cuyabeno but for the true jungle experience, Coca’s the only option, at least that’s what the local gossip told me. The town sits deep in the heart of the jungle, and from there the tours head 4 days deeper in by boat. I had heard from two Spaniards, at least as best as I had understood them, that they’d done a 4 day, 3night tour from there for $100, all inclusive, so that’s what I was after.

I got into Coca after seven hours of riding, through the heavy Amazon canopy, and the wettest, wettest roads I’d seen since northern Guatemala during their unusually heavy rainy season. It down poured the whole way and while I suspect the views where spectacular, with waterfalls and greens on both sides, the visibility was nil, and just trying to keep two wheels on the road took all my concentration and vision, so not much to report.

Just as I pulled into Coca, the rain stopped. …of f’ing course, grrrrr. The sky’s cleared up, and steam started rising from the streets; And once again I experienced the sudden change from cold winter weather, to hot, steamy tropical climate, in a matter of minutes. Still wrapped in my plastics and winter gear, I found myself scrambling to park the bike and strip. I made it to the malecon; parked, stripped, and grabbed a late lunch and beer before figuring out where to stay. As I was eating, a German couple approached me and the skinny on their experience through the Amazon. Their stories were great and went something like this… “We went swimming with piranhas, caymans and electric eels. The guide told us they were nothing to worry about and we fished out a few piranhas a few inches big. But then I saw the ones in the market. They were huge”. “…And at night we went out and couldn’t see anything. We’d be standing and the guide would say “look”, and he’d reach with his hand and grab a tarantula, or a lighting frog, or a poison dart frog, or some other animal that’ll kill you, all within arms reach.” “…I’m never doing this again.” I was sold immediately and wanted to make it happen. I approached their guide but he said there were no tours going on in the next few days that he knew about and if I wanted to go on one, I should book it through Quito.

I was feeling pretty excited about the Amazon, so after the German couple left, I pulled out the LP to see what they had to say about Coca, and if there was some useful advice. To my surprise, and for the first time that I’ve ever seen, the Lonely Planet actually dis’ed the place. While the review of Coca started with one positive statement, it went on to describe it as an ugly, dirty, and dangerous industrial oil city with nothing of significant interest except being the gateway to the Amazon. There was some truth to it, at least the oil worker city with a pipe line heading out of town and two of the neighboring towns called “Shell” and “Gulf” but with the oil companies logos at the towns entrances.

The LP also said there were only three travel agencies and that it’s better to book a tour though Quito. Great! I went in search of the three travel agencies listed only to find out they were all gone and there were no more travel agencies in town. Having seen first hand the enormous power of the Lonely Planet carries, I can’t help but think it’s negative description of the town played a major role in closing down the agencies.

With all the agencies closed, I walked to docks and asked the workers if there were any tour options. The main scoop I got was there would probably be tours coming through in the next week or so but they didn’t know when or if I could piggy back on them but I could wait ready to go every morning at 7:30am by the dock (which I tried the following morning but no tours were scheduled). They also all suggested I book something from Quito. Doh!

Despite the disappointment of the tours, Coca was really interesting. Different fish and fruits in the market and I tried my first piranha. Truth be told, it was a bit dry and bony but it was also over cooked so it would be worth trying again.

The Amazon tour was just not in the cards so I decided to explore what I could by bike through various dirt roads not on any map before heading back to Quito to make one more effort to climb Cotopaxi (also a dud, due to a recent avalanche taking out the climbers path, and high avalanche danger in the forecast).

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The French know how to cook

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Ecuador’s beautiful and the people rock, but after the Galapagos I got pretty sick, …pretty damn sick. I suspect a bad flu but possibly a mild case of dengue, as 3 weeks later I’m still recovering. Combined with rainy season, my mood hasn’t been the best, and honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit home sick. I hate to write about bad experiences, and I can’t emphasize enough that positive brings positive, and negative brings negative, so being in a bad mood is no way to travel. It’s also why I’ve been so reluctant to update the blog, but now that I’m feeling much stronger and things have been looking up, I feel it’s ok to post the bad with the good.

I found myself in Banos, a hipster party town about 2 hours from Quito, after dead-ending numerous times in various cow pastures and dirt roads that I was hopping would lead me to Tena (a city about 200km NE of Banos). All the locals said the road didn’t exist but both my paper maps showed it and they even had a number assigned to it “#104” so I was determined to find a way. It was a beautiful 3 hours of riding, that got me nowhere, but worth every minute, …but eventually I accepted defeat and heading back to the main highway.  Yup, a short spurt on the PooAmericana.

The dead end in the cow pasture that finally turned me around

As always the rain picked up and by the time I pulled into Banos at 3:30, I was soaked and decided not to go any further. It happened to be Saturday, and as it turns out the town is packed on weekends, as it’s a local get away. After checking about 10 different hostals, I was ready to give up and keep riding to Puya in the rain but gave one hotel, one last chance. A fancy place that would normally have been way above my price range, but they offered me a room for the hostal price (a quarter their normal rate) so I accepted and ended up staying two nights.

Banos is famous for it’s thermals and got me thinking of an ex-girlfriend’s solution to the blues or being sick. A spa day, of course. Hmmm, I could go for a massage and spa, …not a bad idea at all, …and shortly afterwards found myself looking into spa options. After my first spa inquiry I spotted a day trip that involved canyoning, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting, all for substantially less. Huh, screw the spa day, “Opcion dos, por favor”.

All three activities were advertised as extreme but they turned out to be disappointing tourist intros to the sports, with a lot of cold, wet, waiting around (I should have gone with option one) time. Not exactly what I had hopped for, for improving my health and mood. And to boot, they didn’t have their papers in order as we got busted on the way back by a random police stop, which made us back track, park the van, and take a public bus, getting us back in town about 2 hours later than we were supposed to (this was actually pretty cool, and for me was a highlight of the day and the biggest adventure of the tour. While the other tourists were all complaining, I was secretly laughing that this is happening to someone else, the people that sugar coated the trip and over charged me).  Like diving in the Galapagos, I was the only gringo, but to boot it was a huge group with fifteen 20 year old Argentinians who like totally just wanted to party (I’m like not totaly sure how to say “like” in Espanol but I’m like so working on it) and a really cool Chilean family of three that took pity on my and sparked up 3 year old conversations whenever they could. All in all it was a long, cold, and disappointing day that did nothing to improve my mood until…

We finally arrived back in Banos; dark, still raining, wet and cold, and at the bus station on the other side of town from my hotel,. I started walking in it’s general direction looking for a place to eat. Just out of the bus station, I spotted a run down sign for a French restaurant and directions, also on the other side of town. From the looks of the sign, I didn’t hold up much hope that it was still in existence but with fondue savoyarde advertised on the sign, I felt it worthy of searching it out, all the while keeping my eyes open for anything alternative if I needed to backtrack. Using all my bushman tracking skills, to my surprise, I found it, …and it was open, …and the menu looked great, …and it was reasonable priced so I’m thinking “F’  street food tonight!” BAM!

The fondue was for a minimum of two but there were plenty of other options for gluttony. I went all out and started with a French onion soup, followed by foie de volaille, followed by tagine de poulet Moroccaine, all with a good bottle of rouge. Enjoy the little things I say, …or in this case the big things, …but seriously this was a really big ticket to improving my mood. I chatted small talk with the owner and chef afterwards in my broken Spanish, French and English as we finished off the wine. I could tell they were having a really hard time deciding where I was from but thankfully never asked, and the discussion remained strictly about the food.

Gracias for a great meal Petite Auberge de Banos.

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