I had hoped to achieve and experience many different things on this trip and by no means the least of these was to ride great roads both tarmac and off road. It’s three weeks since I left Bogota with Phil and I haven’t been disappointed. I am writing this in Banos del Incas, near Cajamarca in Peru at the house of a man I’ve never met – David Groves. David runs a business called Adventure Peru Motorcycling and I was put in touch with him through a friend at Blackheath Rugby club. Apart from accommodation David has been extremely helpful in providing advice on routes and other matters and his right hand man here in Banos, Franco, has also been very kind.
It was David who provided the title for this post. He suggested our route from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca and it included the road from Leymebamba to Celendin, about 150km. He described it as the greatest road you will ride. This road, like the previously described Trampoline of Death, features on the world’s most spectacular roads website. It rose quite quickly but not too alarmingly to 3600m at Calla Calla where the temperature dropped to 8 deg C as we entered the clouds. From there the descent was on a narrow, gravel and pothole strewn road with virtually no barrier of any kind on the edge nearest the sheer drop. It went down for what felt like forever but was probably no more than a couple of hours via literally hundreds of hairpins, many completely blind and taken by me at walking pace as most of the time our side of the road (such as it was ) was on the side of the drop. Mercifully, there was very little other traffic in either direction and no large trucks at all. As we got lower, towards the tiny village of Balsas, the temperature rose to 38c. Phil tells me the views were spectacular and he even stopped a couple of times to take some photos to prove it. I decided to focus all my concentration on simply getting down. I don’t know if it was the greatest road I’ve ever ridden but it is certainly the most daunting.
The previous day Phil and I rode from Chachapoyas to an Inca hilltop fortress called Kuelap. There is a cable car from the village at the bottom, Tingo, to the top which is about 3000m. On arriving at the village we found the cable car closed for maintenance so the only option was to ride up, about 40km off road. It was a fantastic ride, also quite precipitous at times but as there was usually some sort of rock or shrub border I found it far less daunting and was able to really use the bike’s dual sport capabilities. I tried to put in to practice all the stuff I could remember from the off-road training I had done before the trip. It definitely helped. I must also record what a fantastic bike the 800GS is. It is quick enough and comfortable on tarmac and it allows me to go as briskly as I want round all the wonderful bends we’ve ridden in all three countries visited so far but it is also extremely capable and, no doubt, forgiving off road.
Today, Thursday, has been spent at David’s house tinkering with the bikes. I have swapped air filters as my bike seemed to be having a slight problem getting enough air at about 3900m just before we descended into Celendin after the climb back up again out of Balsas on Tuesday. On Franco’s suggestion we also took the bikes into Banos to be washed and the guy did an excellent job, including a blow dry with a high pressure air hose and a polish with a silicon liquid, and he also cleaned my air filter which was indeed quite clogged with dust and a variety of insects, all for 5 soles, about £1.25. I am doing my best to look after the bike and must hope it will continue to do the same for me.
For clarity, Ian and Tom did the same ride the day before us as they declined the cultural trip to Kuelap and they are now in fact en route to Lima so that Tom can get his dented front wheel fixed and Ian can get the brake pads for his Honda that Cristobal in Cuenca was unable to source within our earlier timeframe. We all hope to meet up again in Cusco in a week or so.