Madaru moto - motorbike adventures in South America


Somehow I suspected it would take longer than 2 weeks to get all the paperwork and plates. So, I figured I was in for an enforced hiatus. But that would give me time to work on the bike and get a few things done. Plus, it was Christmas, so a time for taking it easy.

A young English cyclist name Robert had been waiting in La Estrellita for a parcel containing some spares for his bike - for almost 2 months! After much emailing and phone calls, he eventually got his stuff out of customs. As he was heading for the Amazon, and because he was so happy, he gave me a lot of his cold weather gear, including snow gloves, an old one-man tent, thermal long-johns, a huge sub-zero sleeping bag, thick socks, and waterproof ski-pants. Thanks Robert!


On the evening of the 23rd of December, I shot this gigapan of the main plaza in temperatures which, according to my key-chain digital thermometer got down to 8 degrees C.,  (remember its the middle of summer in the tropics here in in Cusco!) After midnight I saw people from the provinces assembling under Norton's Rats balcony:

(to see the above photo as a gigapan,  click here )

The people were getting good spots early, because the next day there was a huge market set up in the main square. 

One stall was selling what appeared to be soft moss, but may have been woody and endangered yareta plant. As it was starting to rain I hot-tailed it back to the hostel rather than inquire.

On Chistmas Eve I had a drink at Paddy's Pub, whose Irish owner Gary claims is "The Highest 100% Irish Owned Pub on the planet - 11156ft ".


Here's Gary between me and the man with the glasses, my old friend Richard Nisbet, author of a book called Cusco Tales, and expounder of a highly unconventional theory about how people walked to Easter Island during the Ice Age :


Jane invited me to a Christmas Breakfast Buffet at Cusco's best hotel,  ( and recently voted one of the top ten in South America), the Hotel Monasterio. It was raining and miserable outside and I didn't take any photos of the luxurious inside, (a centuries-old monastery built, like so many other great Cusco buildings, upon an  Inca temple, later transformed into a 5-star hotel) but we had a great buffet meal for only about $20, and it sure beat the basic fried egg and cup of coffee which was regular fare at the Estrellita! Later we all went to Jane's place where we had some 'snacks' - which included a rich, rum-soaked Christmas cake prepared by Emily (which she said consumed a whole bottle of rum):

Emily is an amazing English lady who in a previous life (and different name) was an actress in British films, theatre and TV shows like "Minder". She raised over $120, 000 for a home for local teenage/underage mothers, most of them victims of abuse, called Casa Mantay; at the same time she wrote a book called "Cancer Healed Me", detailing how she used traditional herbal remedies and alternative treatments like drinking ayahuasca and her own urine, and has defied several oncologists' fatal prognoses now for some years - she discusses it here on YouTube. A few days after this photo was taken Emily was cruelly robbed of her daypack full of Christmas presents by child thieves in a Cusco restaurant. She put a positive spin on the robbery, as she does with everything, in her blog. Sadly, another guest at Jane's party, another British woman who has lived in Cusco for several years, was also robbed by three teenage boys in front of her children, while she was walking in central Cusco. She took chase after them because her purse contained a large amount of money and, unfortunately, her passport.  But they got away.

However, none of that had yet happened on Christmas Day at Jane's place, where we all had a merry old time:

DOn the 30th of December I went with Christo to see  a new museum, the Museo de Machu Picchu. The flag of Yale University flies outside, as it conatins many of the artifacts Hiram Bingham took to the US; Peru had sued for their return for many years. Entry was free for Christo, being a local, for me 20 Soles (about $7). When I jokingly queried why, the receptionist said Christo gets in for free because "his ancestors were Incas". We all laughed heartily at that comment, as Christo has a French surname and his skin is whiter than mine!   

As a consolation, we were asked to sign the visitor's book. This museum only opened a few weeks before- we signed on page 3 or 4; Mick Jagger was the first name on page one, where he wrote: "Thank you for a most interesting visit":

Most interesting for me was an exhibit which showed a "bola" - ropes tied to weights, thown with the intention of entanglement,  for hunting and fighting. The exhibited "bola" had a metallic weight - identified as meteoric iron.

Another interesting exhibit was the Quipu. These strands of knotted strings were like a secret code of writing, a code once known to the quipucamayocs, the Inca "quipu-men" literate in the code, but the surviving quipus have thus far eluded modern translations. The one exhibited in this museum is either very, very well preserved, so much so it looks like it was made just yesterday; or, more likely, it is a replica made yesterday.

Inside the museum everything is in Spanish, with subtitles in English. It seemed half empty, as if they were waiting expecting more exhibits to arrive later. In fact, many of the salons were exhibiting local art, or other things totally unrelated to Machu Picchu. While I did very much enjoy the few rooms dedicated to Machu Picchu, in my humble opinion, the main museum in Cusco, the Museo Inca, is much more interesting, at least until this museum gets some more exhibits. That may well happen, as a few days earlier, on the 15th December, I saw this on Peruvian TV: it reads "Yale Pieces Arrive -aboard a Peruvian Air Force  plane"

When Tsuneko (Christo's Japanese wife) arrived, we went for a coffee at Trotamundos Cafe on the plaza. All of a sudden Christo was followed by a pack of dogs. Maybe they could smell his pet dog's scent, or maybe they sense he is a dog lover. In any case, he decided he liked them too:

On New Year's Eve I went to Cusco's main plaza with my friend Martine. The rain held off just long enough, until about 12.20am.  I didn't really enjoy the night, as it was quite cold and a couple of times I saw skyrockets fall over sideways and launch into the crowd; and very large firecrackers were being deliberately thrown into the throng by some delinquents. Fortunately they were in the minority.


Back in my hostel, a number of backpackers told me they had been pick-pocketed, so stealthily they didn't feel a thing! 

On New Year's Day there was a line up of old Volvos in Cusco's main plaza, who had started in Buenos Aires, travelled down to Patagonia, and were now heading north to Cartagena Colombia.



Even the Transit Police were interested. God only knows how long before some of these model cars will ever pass this way again...

Here is a rough video I shot with my little Pentax WG-1:


 I also managed to shoot two gigapans of the line up, view them here and here.

Festivities don't seem to stop in Cusco - they continue year round. On the 2nd January I was walking up Calle Tullumayo and came upon this scene:

A few days later I came upon a Viringo puppy and its mother, wandering around a carpark next door.The Viringo is an ancient Peruvian breed of dog that has no hair except on its forehead:


The Ronco shop was true to their word and got me some orange tank guards to exchange for the black ones that were incorrectly fitted at the factory:

I wanted to make a custom rear luggage rack. I decided the best way to go about it was to make a model out of plastic tubing, so all the workshop had to do was copy it. I did the rounds of all the hardware shops, but none had what I wanted in stock: small 16mm PVC conduit, even though many displayed sample boards with it outside their shops:


 It was near here I saw two signs which show just how superstitious some Peruvians are:


Its advertises "brujerias" and "hechizos" : spells and curses.

Maria Santa offers "payments to Pachamama" in what appears to be a syncretic mix of gypsy and Andean beliefs.

In the main square, some new statues were being erected


Back to my rack construction - I ended up using larger diameter tube, which was not ideal, but was all I could get.


 Half a day of measuring and trial fitting, and I had what I wanted: a rack that could be bolted on and unbolted off when required, which centered the weight down low. 

Pacho, one of the owners of my hostel, recommended a friend of his who did metal fabrication work, their workshop was almost next door. So I gave my PVC "maqueta", or model, to Senor Dimas Roble, who had three of his men start work on it. They used a hollow steel tube of the same gauge used by the many local moto-delivery bikes.


At the last minute I decided to add a few extra bars to make it stronger.  The final result was pretty much just as I wanted - nothing welded to the frame, and can easily be unbolted if I ever want to take a pillion passenger:

My design does not interfere with the passenger foot-pegs nor kickstarter, though a passenger will need a cushion to sit on if I don't remove the baggage rack first. 

 It should also protect the plastic fairings and side indicators if Atwakey tips over, to a certain extent.

I also noticed I had my first hitch-hiker - albeit a dead one, stuck to the fresh paint:


Next I added a a fused 10 amp cable from the battery, my idea being to have auxillary power supply outlest at the front of the bike to power my GPS, camera, heated gloves etc.


My bike was slowly evolving into what I wanted.

This German couple have ridden all the way from Canada these bikes:

On the 20th January, about a month after I paid for the bike, I received a 'paper plate' - in lieu of the metal number plate which would take another ten days to arrive. Technically, I was free to ride my bike after I bought some third party insurance, called SOAT here in Peru. But I wanted to wait for the metal plate and also hadn't yet bought the SOAT. I also felt I needed more riding practice, so I  inquired about doing another ride on a rented bike on the 24th January. Pamela, the owner of the agency, arranged for me to do a ride with Angelo, the same guide I used before. But when I arrived they only had a Falcon 400cc Honda available. I declined to ride the bigger bike, at least until I felt confident on a 250.

But, the day wasn't a complete waste, I walked up to the agency with several GPS units switched on, planning to map the day's travels. Although I only walked around for a while, when I analyzed the results they highlighted a thing or two as how best to use them.

I am always amazed by the different types of bikes that come and go in La Estrellita. This bike, owned by  Jerome who rode it from France to Cusco via Morocco, French Caribbean, and Brazil looks like it would be much more comfortable on a long ride than a saddle seat:

Here is Jerome's blog, in French (of course); his photos are very good.

The two motos in the background are owned by Jordan and Sandra, two Canadians riding 650 BMWs, they have come all the way from Canada. Jordan had a slight problem extracting a broken bolt from his kick stand but he was able to get it fixed at one of the workshops in Huayna Capac street. After vsisiting Machu Picchu - which they loved, but weren't too enthusiastic about the town of Aguas Calientes - they left for Chile via Arequipa. Sandra told me they had been ambushed and robbed by men with machetes when they were riding around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Here is their blog entry about that robbery -fortunately they weren't hurt - and here they are riding out of La Estrellita:

I would almost like to be booked by a sweetie like this policewoman


Crossing the road, I heard someone call out my name... it was Tsuneko in a cab - her smile was thoroughly enchanting:


My half-century anniversary caught up with me. I had planned to be on  the road, or camping in the forest or some such place on this day, but things don't always go according to plan (especially in Peru!) Nevertheless I did not let such a once-in-a-lifetime day go by unnoticed... so I celebrated it in style!

Later I did treat myself to a great lunch at Jack's Cafe with my good friend Jane

She treated herself to one of these concoctions- an Andean herbal tea:

I spent most of the day fitting a topbox to the rear rack of the bike. Note the orange Madaru Moto sticker, I got some printed the other day.

I don't plan on putting anything heavy in the topbox; every ounce of weight there reduces the amount of steering and front braking traction. But it will prove a nice, secure place to store my GigaPan mount, which I plan on taking with me, coccooned inside a second aluminium box, within a waterproof plastic cover and lots of foam padding. (My first GigaPan mount was broken clean in half by an airline company's rough baggage handling, despite being carefully packed; when I finally got a refund for damages -after months of haggling with Jetstar Airways - I bought an aluminium box and filled it with copious amounts of foam padding.)

The topbox was a gift from Dan Jones, who, passing through Cusco a few weeks ago with his buddy Shaun Galanos, decided to remove it from his bike (here is Dan's blog). Here is a photo of Dan and Shaun's bikes:

Shaun spoke with an American accent, but claimed his father was an Australian. Any doubts I had were dispelled when I saw him eat some Vegemite for breakfast (BTW here is Shaun's blog). 

One interesting guest at La Estrellita is Carlos from Medellin. Author of a book on Colombian regional traditions, he rode a bicycle from Colombia to here, and intends to continue to Paraguay. He is also an author- here is a book he co-authored:

Carlos supports himself by making little wooden toys which he sells on the street. When I bought my bike Carlos warned me in his baritone voice - "Amigo, there is an emergency clinic in Medellin they call Clinica Kawasaki, for all the moto accidents they treat there" 

One of the first stickers I gave away, to this young boy in a shop, didn't last very long in his hands!