17 March 2017
This has been by far the hardest driving in my life. I have not felt this out of control, this desperate, this out of options. It has gone beyond merely an “adventure” to more of survival. Looking back at the last couple days is mostly a blur but these are the snapshots that have stuck in my mind.
The drizzle that has been following me turned to rain and then turned into something much, much more. In what they are calling historic flooding, over 200 bridges here in Peru have been destroyed and almost all travel has come to a grinding stop. I discovered this myself just outside of Chimbote, where the main coast highway 1N bridge collapsed into the river. At first I thought, no problem, I’ll try to find a way around and proceeded to find a place to rest so I can start early the next morning. Because I wasn’t the only one stuck, the only place I could find was a very bad hotel, but it was a bed so I took it.
Early the next morning, I went back out to the 1N bridge to see if there was any progress on repairs. What I found instead was more stranded vehicles and much more water . I found a gravel road to the south of the highway and thought I might find an alternative route there, and hour and a lot of struggle later I found yet another washed out bridge. At this moment, I started to feel a little nervous.
I then tried to go east to find the next road south. After about 50-60 miles, driving through villages that looked like warzones and seeing a large truck right in front of me fall into a sink hole, I came to the next bridge to see yet another dead end and I started to feel a little more than nervous. On the way back to Chimbote I had an event that really rattled me. There was a village that was completely destroyed and by completely, I mean there wasn’t a building standing. I remember looking in awe as I passed it earlier in the day and this time as I came back to it I could tell there was something going on.
Across the road there was a small tree which was obviously thrown down as a makeshift road block. Along both sides of the roads were what I assumed were the villagers and they were not happy. There was no way that I could run over the log at speed and as I slowed down, I was quickly surrounded. Immediately they started to demand money to repair their destroyed homes. This was a first for me, I’ve heard of these types of roadblocks but have yet to experience anything of this nature myself, so I was not prepared. I had nothing more than a little change in my pockets and there was no way I was going to pull my wallet out in front of this mob. I tried to give them the little change I had on me but that just seemed to anger them further. They started to scream at me and tried to pull things off of my motorcycle and then began to rock me back and forth. Luckily I had everything well strapped onto my bike, so they were unable to pull anything off. Once they started to actually hit me, I decided enough was enough and gunned the engine and barely made it over their roadblock without crashing the bike. Safe to say I was really feeling desperate and was quite shaken up.
Once back in Chimbote I decided to try to backtrack and head back north to see if there was another route to higher ground. The other day, while difficult, it was still cross-able so I figured that was my best bet and really at the time, my only option. Well after another hour of weaving through stuck vehicles, flooded streets, and very slippery mud, I discovered that that route was no longer available. I was trapped it seemed with no way out. Feeling defeated, I retreated back to my shitty hotel where I was told that it may take weeks for a proper repair to any of the bridges and oh, there was more rain on the way.
The next morning I woke up extremely sore. From the multiple drops to my fun little mob adventure, I was worn out, but I had the beginning of a plan. There was one last route that I missed yesterday and it was a do or die plan. If I wasn’t able to get through on this road, I wasn’t going to make it to see my dad in Brazil before he left. That means all this rushing had been for nothing and I wasn’t going to let that happen. So with a quick gas stop, some Inca Cola to recharge my sore and battered body, I headed out.
Road 3N/12 turned out to be the lucky route, but it wasn’t easy. Not only was I exhausted, but my motorcycle was started to show the strain as well. I’ve done almost 8000 miles on my KLR without any real problems, but it was looking like Peru was going to change that. The mud here is extremely slick on pavement which has ended up with some very nasty crashes. In these last couple days I’ve bent my handlebars, taken out a mirror, cracked my windshield, and now my clutch was starting to go. To top it off, I managed to injury my clutch hand which made it worse.
During my drive into the mountains, I experience some of the hardest driving of my life. I crossed countless rivers where my clutch issue was turning into a major problem. On one of these crossings where, of course, I was mere feet from the cliff drop, I ran out of clutch and stalled mid river. That was my scary moment for the day and ended up just riding the starter to get across without being swept over the edge. That cliff side was much closer than I would like to admit.
About midday I came to a gorgeous little mountain village of Huallanca and my next big obstacle. Instead of washed out bridges, it was landslides this time. After maybe an hour of some of the most amazing views yet on this trip and numerous small dark tunnels cut into the mountain, I came to the dead end. It was a huge landslide and there was no way I was getting past it. At least Huallanca was a much more scenic stop than Chimbote.
Once back in the village, the hunt for food and shelter began. After a wet hour walk around town I was successful in finding shelter, but not for food. Luckily I had some tuna in my panniers. To put myself in a better mood, I tried to do a little maintenance on my poor motorcycle and practice my Spanish with the old man that rented me the room. After roughly explaining to him my misfortunes of the last couple days, he pointed up on the mountain side and told me of a “road” that wasn’t much more than a goat path, but this road would take me across to the next village and past the rock slide. I had another plan.
This next morning I started what was another very difficult day. Between the constant switchbacks where I literally traveled 50 miles back and forth just to get 5 miles in distance, and dumping the bike on that fantastic slick mud/clay merely inches from yet another 100 foot drop off, I got myself here in Caraz. I think I’m going to take a couple days here and get myself and my bike repaired and rested.
I’m thankful that I survived another day. There were way too many right-on-the-edge moments where situations were frantically close to spinning out of control. I’m glad I was able to keep my head and continue on, but I think I got what I was looking for and maybe a little too much beyond that. I think I’ve had my fill for adventure but I’m only a third through this amazing country and I still need to get to Bolivia in time so I can see my dad. While I was walking around this town, trying to catch my breath, I noticed that I was completely surrounded by thunderstorms so it looks like the worst of the weather still isn’t over. I guess all I can do it put my head down and grind on hoping that it gets easier from here.