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06/05/2011

Nick Sanders Pan Am Blog 07

Copocabana is a small Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca and a handful of kilometres from the Peruvian border. The hotel we are staying at overlooks what is by volume of water, the largest lake in South America. When the sun sets here, it is so impressionistic, you almost forget to breath.

Back on earth, Brian the Auzzie has got a new prescription for his eye – ciprofloxacin; “that’s the sort which is given to young ladies who have painful wee wee’s”, piped up Dr C.

“And also koalas who’ve all got Chlamydia,” said Brian’s son, Dan.

“Some babies are born with gonorrhoea,” said Dr C, “25% of the under 25’s had Chlamydia in a part of London called Lambeth,”

“100% of all koalas have it and there is a university programme designed to find out why,” said Brian, “and when they have sex they scream and make such a noise.”

“You should be more careful with your koala,” said Craig, now in the support vehicle nursing his collarbone, and we all laughed.

“I was at a local church meeting once,” said Brian, “something to do with the local koala population getting gonorrhoea, and when we were asked to submit questions, a very proper old lady put up her hand and said, ‘excuse me, I apologise for asking, but why do koalas make such a noise when they are having sex?’”

“Babies can be born with gonnorea and it manifests itself as sticky eye, the mothers simply don’t know they’ve got it,” said Dr C.

“No wonder you fell of your bike Brian, getting gonorrhoea in it,” said Jim. So instead of talking about the Island of the Sun or Moon, about the Suriqui or Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra Expeditions, we discussed Koala Bear sex on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

The ride to Cusco was uneventful enough. The city of Puno was industrial and in a way, wretched. To my eyes it evaded any description of beauty. The traffic was constantly busy and the main trunk road to Juliaca presented only two narrow lanes, making driving difficult. Scenically it was scratchy with poorly levelled terraces looking unkempt. Goats and cows wondered untethered, lonely and desolate, as if owned by no one.

Behind me a train sounded it’s deep horn and two large diesel tenders marked Perurail pulled a street length of wagons containing hazardous materials. As I drove towards Cusco, the road continued to climb until once again we were at 14 000 ft when with a force I had never before experienced, a hailstorm started to fall and I had to stop and wait. Underfoot a thick layer quickly formed of small frozen balls, and the sky was black. My pillion – our lady doctor – unbraced a small umbrella and looked sanguine. Here was a remarkable woman who took such things in her stride. My pillion was the ultimate motorcycle passenger, fearless and uncomplaining in the manner of a modern day Freya Stark.

By evening we had ridden into Cusco. Without doubt one of the most beautiful small cities in the world, it is the historical capital of Peru as well as being the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Sitting at an altitude of around 3400 metres, it lords it over the Urubamba Valley, nestled as it is in the Andes. In 1983, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site, a place of outstanding international historical and architectural importance.

Being the whistle-stop expedition this journey obviously is, that morning we left Cusco. Brian the Aussie and Craig Dale were in the support vehicle. Brian nursing his damaged eye and Craig strapped up still with a broken collarbone. Their bikes were on the trailer making friends with Alan Clunnies Super Tenere. We were now no longer able to support anyone else should their bikes fail or should an accident befall a rider. Technically we could get a fourth bike on the tailgate of the truck, but already Jim was towing a ton weight and as a project we were stretched.

The ride over the lower section of the Andes was proving to be extraordinary. The road climbed and then swooped around corners so tight it removed any memory of a road considered straight. Horses with ribs showing through dirty skin stood hobbled by ropes around skinny ankles, behind which were views so deep and dynamic as to be unbelievable.

For several hours we rode around corners, switch backing all afternoon until we dropped the final 30 kilometres into Abancay. As we fuelled at the first gas station, a text came through from Jim that the head gasket of the support vehicle he was driving had blown. The engine temperature had gone into the red as he left Cusco and for 70 kilometres he had nursed the vehicle like an ill patient. The group had now dissipated into town for food and only by receiving short sporadic texts with Jim did we ascertain that he would be with us in a couple of hours.

Because we were carrying Aussie Brian and his bike along with Craig and his Triumph and Alan’s old 750cc Super Tenere, the support team were pulling a weight in the mountains at altitude that the engine could not tolerate. We ate, we waited. I slept, my head on my arms, hoping that this would all get better when I woke. When Jim arrived he said we might need a new engine and that the cylinder head might be broken and warped. Jim had a head fine tuned for drama and often used this ability for effect, but deep down I knew that if anyone could diagnose the problem correctly, and solve it, it was Jim. Here we were, at 4000 metres in the Peruvian Andes hundreds of miles from anyone who could help us. Jim said that we would need a machine shop to skim the cylinder head but where would we track down a gasket? Nasca would not have the parts and Lima would be closed for the Easter holidays. I had 22 riders and 3 pillions to care for and a vehicle that could implode at any minute. It would take a driver with consummate skill to pull us through this particular part of the adventure.

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