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4 Week Southern Tour

LIMA
We will be waiting for your flight's arrival at Lima's International Airport and probably spot you before you see our APM board held aloft. Once everyone is satisfied everything and everyone is present we'll be heading off to the city's district of Miraflores. Lima is huge but once we've arrived at the Hotel Carmel everything you are likely to want for the night is right there or really near. 'Norkys' , a spacious restaurant with comprehensive menu (in Spanish and English) is just across the road. The popular 'El Haiti' pavement cafe/bar is one block away.
After what we hope will have been a good night's rest we take the same four wheel transport out of the city and head south some 50 km to where we keep our motorcycles. The afternoon ride takes us down the Panamericana Highway - the main north- south route through all Peru.
We travel through the desert passing through a few small towns and eventually turning off the highway at km 203 (from Lima) taking us into the heart of a cotton growing area. The converted old hacienda where we stay the night has a history that you will likely want to hear. Visit too the catacombs where women, children and treasures hid from the British and Dutch pirates that occasionally raided this far inland. On Christmas day in 1879 a slave rebellion broke out on what was then a sugar plantation. The Master was hacked down by machete on the principal stair entrance. Descendants of these slaves still populate the area and the local village of El Carmen is almost exclusively populated by people of African origin. Needless to say - or perhaps I 'ought to' say - the staff at The Hacienda San Jose now are courteous and genuinely friendly (even to British and Dutch guests) and enjoy explaining about any part of their history to anyone who is interested. Rooms are basic but quite adequate and well tended. The real pleasure here is enjoying the atmosphere and the facilities offered. There are several dinning areas, a bar, billiards room, swimming pool, tennis court and beautiful grounds.
When we leave the Hacienda San Jose we soon leave the coastal highway and travel eastwards towards the Andes. It is a ride of 200 miles or so up to our destination town of Ayacucho, however this road is now well surfaced and carries little traffic. Riding this route is a magnificent introduction to Peruvian mountain scenery. We climb up to 4,500 mts before descending into the valley where Ayacucho lies at around 2,700 mts. At this altitude Ayacucho has a near perfect climate.

AYACUCHO
Ayacucho has an important university and claims to be the intellectual centre of Peru (as does Arequipa). Much distinctive handicraft is produced here. It is the source of ornate silver works, tapestries, iron work and those cheerful leaning tower ceramic churches crowded with figures that you see in most handicraft markets of Peru. The artisans of these works can be visited in the Santa Ana barrio of town. We stay a couple of nights at the Santa Rosa Hotel just half a block from the main square. This gives us one whole day to go around this interesting colonial style town. In the Plaza de Armas (main square) the newly set up Tourist Office will give you brochures and further information on any local feature that especially interests you.

The road we take to Chinchero is very different from the smooth well engineered road we climbed up to Ayacucho on - you'll probably not get into top gear all day. As soon as we drop down from the plain on which Ayacucho is built the road becomes narrow and twisting with a surface alternating between sand and earth - most of it stony. The route is very scenic and we pass several Andean villages during the course of the day. We meet up at prearranged points so stopping to take photos , for example, poses no problem. Buses travel this route - perhaps surprisingly- but there's little traffic. Few tourists get the opportunity to stop off at these places, consequently locals can be quite curious about us. School children if in a bunch might 'interrogate' you or run away in mock fear. We stay the night in the small town of CHINCHERO and the next day make the relatively short run over to the much larger town of ANDAHUAYLAS. We can check into our accommodation early here and ride over to see Pachaca Lake and the Sondor Ruins. Near here The Inca had an early victory defeating the war-like Chanka tribe.
Next day we head towards Abancay on another unmade road albeit better than of the last two days travel. The distance is not great but our route takes us zig zaging down the side of mountains in order to cross river valleys then climbing again to cross the next one. Fortunately this slow advance makes for spectacular views and the day's ride should be a really memorable one.
The Hotel de Turistas at ABANCAY is an old fashioned place with attentive staff. Some rooms have balconies overlooking a colourful garden and one may dine or take drinks inside or out . It really is a relaxing place to rest up after a dusty ride through the Andes.

Riding on towards Cuzco takes us through a variety of landscapes on an asphalt road with little traffic (also read 3 Week Southern Tour - Abancay to Cuzco ).

CUZCO
This most famous of all Peruvian cities deserves its reputation as cultural jewel. Capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco still has much in evidence of its past - both from Colonial and from Inca times. Everywhere there is evidence of Inca building, incredible masonry work and the remains of temples and fortresses nearby. We spend several days based at The Hotel Emperador Plaza , near to the main Plaza and Cathedral. A full day exploring the colonial centre will not exhaust Cuzco's treasures. As you can imagine this is a good place to find quality Peruvian souvenirs , alpaca clothing, Cuzquena style religious paintings etc., and a wide range of restaurants and of course a lively nightlife scene. Pick up any guide book on Peru and you will find pages on Cuzco's history and essential places to visit. As motorcyclists you'll no doubt be curious to visit too the ' Nortons Rats' bar/cafe. The owner Jeff Powers is an American who has a passion for British bikes and for travel. Apparently Jeff recently brought a Triumph Triple down from Colombia to join his fleet of - at least - a Norton Commando and .. ahem.. a BMW. (OK so it's not British). Four days
allows us time to also make excursions to The Sacred Valley, Pisac, Sacsayhuaman ruins and the train excursion to Machu Picchu.

Cuzco to PUNO is a fair way but there are no mountains ' blocking' our way such as on our route between Andahuaylas and Abancay and we can roll along in top gear most of the time once away from Cuzco. You'll catch sight of the railway track linking Cuzco with Puno quite frequently although actual trains are scarce. By early afternoon we'll be coming onto the Altiplano. You'll see grazing llama, alpaca and sheep and probably some very shaggy, mean-looking, dogs trotting along parallel to the road. No owners or herds in sight they are no doubt looking for something to eat and likely are feral beasts. It is surprising how similar one looks like another.

PUNO is a cold town (Peru classifies it as 'a city') and architecturally dull, especially having come from Cuzco, but in other aspects it is most interesting. Both Aymara and Quechua speaking Indians live in the area and hardly anyone who has come to see Puno will miss a boat excursion to see the Uros Indians on their floating reed structures out on Lake Titicaca. These 'islands' are about half an hour out from Puno and the local guide that accompanies us will tell you (in English or Spanish) all about the history and existence of this independent ethnic group. Considerably further out in the lake the island of Taquile is home to an isolated Quechua group that have adopted Aymara customs. These people have little contact with mainland folk and control tourist visits. There is no electricity or running water out here and although it is possible to spend a night in one of the islander's homes we would return to Puno by boat late the same day.

Leaving Puno heading south the route stays close to the lake although losing sight of it at times. Twenty kilometres or so down the road you may care to stop a while and check out the stone art of Chucuito - a small Aymara village beside Lake Titicaca. I did say ' may' wish to. Chucuito's main claim to fame is its fertility temple the ' Inca Uyo'. This genuine Inca structure houses dozens of stone phallus, the largest of which, 8 foot tall, supposedly could indirectly bring women a healthy male baby if she would sit upon it for one quarter of a day. However we really do not recommend this for several reasons, not least of which you'll be having a super hotel room and a swimming pool awaiting you in the warm evening air of Moquegua that day many miles yonder.

Further along still beside the lake the Baroque churches of Juli and Pomata are rather different. Nearing the Bolivian frontier we cut off west out across the altiplano on a road with little traffic.
It seems strange that a road so little used has an almost perfect surface. Before the end of the day however you'll have probably noticed one or two big trucks with Bolivian plates and if you got your GCSE certificate in geography or equivalent - or nearly got it - you'll remember that Bolivia has had no coastline for over 100 years and this road is one of Bolivia's main ways to receive imports from non neighbouring countries (via the Peruvian port of Ilo). Hopefully you are going to have plenty of camera capacity for more shots because this day you'll see more alpaca and llama than you could eat. You'll likely see vicuna too - although I may not include vicuna in the presceeding statement. But if I may say, the main attraction for me on this part of the ride is the isolation from all things modern (albeit apart from our mode of transport), a feeling of of space and desolation, a place beyond where man has occupied almost. This desolation continues when we descend the western Andes slopes but the surroundings become totally arid. It seems like a long ride because we see the country's geographical features change so much during the day. The last few miles follow the Moquegua River , lined by fruit orchards. One can see how different this territory would be if it only rained occasionally here.

In fact MOQUEGUA is one of , if not THE driest town in Peru. There's not a lot to see in town although the main plaza is attractive. Our hotel is three kilometres away from the centre and situated on a hillside. Here is a swimming pool , restaurant and great views. Moquegua is not on most tourist's itinerary and you may well have the whole hotel to yourself (ie ourselves). However if the 5 Soles for small beers begins to irritate you can always invest one Sole for the taxi ride down into town.

Next day we connect with the Panamerican Highway and ride through the desert but crossing some river valleys, cultivated out to the extent that irrigation will permit.. We pass beyond the Arequipa city turn off to another junction thirty miles further on.. Heading in a northerly direction towards the Colca Canyon this road is very little travelled - most tourists would approach the canyon coming from Arequipa and returning the same way. For the 90 miles or so before reaching Huambo we advise you to ride together or at least keep our mobile group in sight. Eventually you'll come to Huambo and on from there another 28 miles (45 kilometres) to the small town of Cabanaconde.
CABANACONDE, named after the people that occupied the area before the Incas, has an interesting new hotel owned by a couple from Lima. The charming lady owner of the Hotel Kuntur Wassi, the hotel facilities and the attentive hotel staff would make it a shame to move on after only one night - so we don't!

Next morning instead of pulling on your motorcycle boots and gear we suggest you dress more casually and take a walk with us through town and across a couple of fields to the edge of the canyon. Not until the last 100 yards or so might you sense the presence of this big ' drop'. From the edge of the field down to the Colca River is about one mile. Needless to say not everyone seems to enjoy this view. Find a fat rock to position yourself beside if this should be the case and check out the scene in no hurry. Across the canyon slightly further to the north you'll see the village of Tapay. It's not the kind of place you'd want to realize you'd forgotten to buy the sugar. Back to Cabanaconde means a two hour descent to the river and another 3 hours climb on a zig zag path up the other side. Continue along the cliff path just a little way our side of the canyon and you'll get sight of a tiny green oasis beside the river. A hacienda is located there. Not a good place to be when the Earth shakes, which it certainly has done periodically. Why would anyone want to live there ? Any guesses ? The answer lies with the fact that the whole area is subject to micro climates. Whereas maize, barley, potatoes are cultivated around Cabanaconde down there a mile away it's semi tropical. Bananas, mangoes anyone ? Yes, just a mile down the road - literally.

The area surprises and fascinates but better to see it than read about it. Incidentally the most likely place to see condors flying is 10 kilometres on from here towards Chivay at the Cruz Del Condor look-out point. The best time to be there is before 10 am but we'll get two chances at this.
Later back at the Kuntur Wassi Hotel relax if you wish but come nightfall a couple of us will likely be walking over for an alpaca steak and beer at El Valle De Fuego bar. The sons Jamil and Pablo of this family run business are very hospitable and knowledgeable about their area. The place is rustic, usually only lit by candlelight and smokey (wood smoke mostly)..... make that one more steak?
Continuing our journey further up alongside and above the Colca river the canyon gradually becomes less deep, but the terraced lands and simple villages keep the whole area interesting and picturesque. After 'Maca' we can choose to ride on either side of the canyon because both roads lead to 'Chivay' , the regional capital. Serious climbing up from this town takes us up to 4,900 meters in a short while and again expect to see herds of llama, alpaca and a few vicuna. The descent from the altiplano into Peru's most beautiful city - Arequipa, an hour and a half later, is relatively quick because the city is situated at 2,400 metres above sea level. You really wouldn't know it though with distant mountains (actually volcanoes) to the east and north and from the arid surroundings and the climate Arequipa feels more like a Peruvian coastal town in the desert than a city in the Andes.

AREQUIPA
The colonial centre is largely constructed with white silca volcanic rock and there are many fine buildings to visit. The main Plaza has several quality shops selling Peruvian handicraft and terraced restaurants that specialize in regional cuisine. It is an ideal place to take a break from riding and learn something about Peru's colonial past. The famous ' El Misti' volcano, of which Arequipenos are very proud, is visible from most points and makes a nice backdrop feature for photos taken in the city, especially when the top is covered with snow. (see more on Arequipa in the 3 week southern tour text).
From Arequipa we head towards the coast to meet up with the Panamericana to travel in a northerly direction. Sizeable towns along this southern stretch are few and far between. You will cover several miles following the contours of oceanside cliffs, with sea birds as the only lifeform apparent. Traffic is scarce but watch out for sand slides partially blocking your path.
We rest the night at CHALA. There really isn't a lot to do here. You could perhaps ponder life's meaning whilst listening to the sound of waves breaking on the beach ! - or - complain to the hotel management (about the sound of waves breaking on the beach) - or - have a drink, plug your ears, and go to bed.

NAZCA
Famous for the lines and drawings that aliens left in the desert sand to say 'we were here' then left to go elsewhere leaves us now to wonder who in fact they were. Of course there are some sceptics that have other theories. Some think that a past culture of man marked out these gigantic figures. The Paracas and Nazca cultures possibly. Anyway check it out - either from the lookout tower right beside the highway just north of Nazca (you can't see many figures from there) or let us fix you up with an excursion flight from Nazca'z own little airport. Be warned that those little planes get to do some pretty agile manoeuvring and whereas your eyes will appreciate the pilots obvious skills your stomach may not.

The figures are still noticeable after centuries because of a number of factors. Firstly it rains here hardly at all in the desert. Secondly, now that man is more active in the area and that the zone has become a protected national site vehicles and walkers may not approach anywhere near them. Most significant though, during the creation of these art forms the abundant natural stone found on the pampa was removed and laid along the sides of the shallow trench work thus accenting the design form.

For a serious presentation of the Nazca lines, which incidentally do include straight desert markings many kilometres in length as well as figures, one can attend a lecture given most evenings at the Maria Reiche Planetarium. Nazca also has the Museo Didactico Antonini where you can learn something about the Nazca culture and see the relevant textiles and ceramic finds.

After a two night's stay in Nazca we continue on up the Panamericana until we reach PARACAS. Here we can see a great variety of coastal wildlife as the area is protected from hunting, commercial fishing and development. We are permitted to enter the Paracas Wildlife Reserve with motorbikes and can also take a boat to the Ballestas Islands. Apart from seeing a multitude of sea birds - which will include Humbolt penguins, pelicans, red foot boobies and pink flamingo's - you may catch sight of a sea otter and for sure many many sea lions.

When the time comes to leave Paracas we take a leisurely ride up to San Bartolo, near to Lima.
This is a surfing resort popular with folk from Lima over weekends.
After a night here we will take you in our 4x4 to make your international flight connection back home.
If you can spend another week in South America why not fly to Iquitos in the Amazon Basin.
Iquitos has no road connections with he rest of Peru so it's fly or go by riverboat - which is kind of SLOW !



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