Madaru moto - motorbike adventures in South America


...I wanted to cry...  

        But I didn't. 

        Luckily I have been visiting Cusco for more than 2 decades, and have made many good friends over the years. I was stuck in my room, but I had a cell phone, and I used it to call Howard Levine, a  Canadian chiropractor resident in Cusco. My main concern was whether I needed an operation, or at the very least, an X-ray. Howard said he didn't think I had broken any bones, since I had been able to walk for a few hours after the accident, and there was no swelling or external bruising.  And, strangely, no pain until I put weight on that leg. This seemed to me to mean I had twisted my thigh bone in the hip socket, or perhaps damaged the ball-joint ligaments. And the pain was severe - I could not even put the slightest weight on it - let alone half my body weight - without recoiling in absolute agony. Since the source of the pain came from deep inside my left hip socket, Howard couldn't really massage it, and advised rest before getting an X-ray - which here in Cusco are pretty cheap anyway. Assuming no bone damage, Howard said recovery could take anything between a month and six months.

Although the owners of the hostel were very kind, bringing me hot breakfasts in my room everyday, I craved decent main meals. Here my good friend Jane came to my rescue, like a guardian angel. Jane is the owner of Jack's Cafe, a popular restaurant in the same street as my hostel.


         Jane kindly hand delivered fresh soups and other delicious, home-style meals in such large portions I didn't need to order dinner.

The next friend who aided me in my hour of need was Caroline Brouwer. I have known Caroline for a number of years: here we are at a trivia quiz a few years ago.


Caroline was the first female team physiotherapist for a Premier League Football Club, and the first female physio to take part in the FA Cup Final - when she worked for Wimbledon Football Club, when they beat Liverpool at Wembley in the cup final of 1988. This is her during her moment of fame standing third from the left.


           Although there was a shower cubicle just across the hallway from my room, it took me more than half an hour to get there, undress, and do my ablutions: I used my camera tripod as a rickety, makeshift crutch. After a short chat with Caroline by phone, she appeared at my hostel with a pair of new aluminium crutches. Trying them out, I felt better for the first time in four days - as long as I kept the weight off my left leg, I was more or less mobile! She concurred with Howard that probably nothing was broken, and even offered an opinion that I might be walking without assistance within two weeks!

          It was a prediction I earnestly hoped would come true. Speaking of predictions, my friend Bill,  now back in New  Orleans, when he heard about my accident, wrote me  on 3rd November:

  i kinda sorta felt a premonition of something somehow...

         I was able to move to a ground level floor at my hostel, which had the added bonus of wi-fi internet in the room. I started going on short walks, and two days later was able to walk several miles around Cusco, visiting Jack's Cafe and the South American Explorers Clubhouse, both of which were at the top of very steep hills. One thing I noticed was local people were very polite, jumping up to open doors for me, cars stopping to let me cross the road, etc etc.   Getting in and out of taxis was difficult, but the drivers never tried to overcharge me. I even passed a one-legged beggar, who instead of asking me for money, called out "Hola, amigo!" with a girn on his face. This was the first time in my life I had ever been on crutches, and I was feeling a little low, but that moment was kind of uplifting in its own way.

        I tried reading books and doing stuff on the internet, but wanted to get some exercise.  So I dared  to load up my daypack with some photographic equipment so I could indulge in a hobby I have, shooting gigapans. Over the next few days, whenever the weather was suitable, hobbling along with my crutches, I shot some good gigapans, including this one. While shooting that panorama of Avenida el Sol,  I sat down on some steps, using my tripod semi-extended to half-height. While I sat working, a teenage shoe-shine guy started asking me about my camera, how I had the accident,  price of my new crutches, etc, and asked to clean my black leather shoes. We agreed on a price of 3 Peruvian Nuevo Soles, a bit less than a dollar. He waited till I had finished shooting, set about doing a good job, but then demanded 13 Soles. I reminded him we had agreed on three soles, then he claimed I had misunderstood his Spanish - 'three' is pronounced  very similar to 'thirteen' in Spanish - tres, and trece (pronounced tres-ay). But I have come across this scam before, and argued with him. From  seemingly nowhere a trio of his colleagues arrived, all chanting "Trece, trece!" ("Thirteen, thirteen!") No sympathy for being on crutches from this lot! I wasn't sure of the correct price but I knew $4 was too much. I only had a 5 Sole coin so I gave him that and hobbled away. I later found out 1 Sole is the normal rate!

Further down the same avenue, a local initiative was in progress to stop jaywalking. If you dared cross the road at the wrong place, this whip-wielder would crack a whip in your direction and publicly chastise you!


          One day I saw this sign, outside a small bar: "Entry only with ID"; "Baseball Caps Prohibited"; "Underage Entry Prohibited"; and "Entry of Persons in an Inebriated State Prohibited".

 These had-made signs pinned up facing the main plaza, ask, in no uncertain terms, for men to respect women:


I had planned to return to Arica in northern Chile where most of my luggage was stored. My original dea was to buy a motorbike in Chile because the paperwork was reportedly a lot less bureaucratic. But that idea seemed more remote than ever as it was now about ten days since I had the accident, but  there had been absolutely ZERO improvement in my injury. Still I could not put weight on my left leg. Now, I was worried about my Peruvian visa running out. I worried, how would this long-planned trip end? Me flying home on a jet still on crutches?

           It was about 12 days after my accident I noticed I could put a small amount of weight on my left leg. From then on I seemed able to walk, still on crutches, faster and faster. Each day I would set out to try and walk further and further. One day I went with a German friend to Santo Domingo church, which is built upon the ruins of Coricancha, the most important temple of the Incas.

The Plaza de Armas always has something happening. On weekends there are processions and marches, on weekdays there are sometimes protests.  And any day of the week you might come across a wedding party walking out of the Cathedral. One day I snapped a workman washing down the walls of the cathedral, suspended in a precarious way:

I guess he trusts his workmates more than you or I would, he was about 100 ft above the ground!

He was washing the walls with what appeared to be muddy water.  It might be way of 'staining' the masonry, because if you look closely in some places the masonry does not match, a legacy of the great earthquake of 1950, when the Cathedral was rebuilt by a Spanish architect with funds provided by Spanish dictator General Franco; his name can still be read on a memorial plaque on the front wall:


The have been fatal falls from the belltowers in the past, as this memorial recounts:


It translates as "Here gave his life - Rodney Collin - to protect harmony. May 3 1956" . Who was Rodney Collin, who fell to his death from Cusco's cathedral belltower? An English writer who tried to unite science, planetary movements, religion and world history:  quite an interesting character.

On more than one occasion I saw falconers with their birds on the Basilica forecourt:




To kill time, I also engaged in one of my other passions, trivia quizzes.  On several occasions,  held at The Real McCoy pub, an international team recruited from my hostel won the first prize - a bottle of Argentine red wine.


We had a pretty high success again:

but then the quiz nights stopped for the Christmas break.

During this time of recuperation, many two-wheeled adventurers came and went from the Hostal Estrellita, including this Swiss rider, who actually travelled with 5 tyres:


One day I got talking about GPS units, another device I am very interested in:  I own three (four if you count the one built into one of my cameras).We lined them all up in the courtyard and let them settle onto satellites for about half an hour, then observed what they calculated as altitude. The results varied almost 200m, (say, 600 ft) - between 3237m and 3416m:


Immediately after the accident, I swore I would never get on a motorbike again. But so many bikers were arriving and leaving - heading north before the Peruvian rainy season set in, or heading south to Patagonia for the southern summer. I met one French guy in his 20s, who bought a second hand Kawasaki 650 in Ecuador, along with fake papers and license, and rode it all the way to Cusco. Despite a lack of moto experience, he had arrived without a single fall or accident.

I refrained from telling my family anything about my little 'prang' - they would just worry. Only my younger brother knew of my planned 'big trip'. Word did, however, spread quickly around my Cusco friends, most of whom advised me to give up the whole idea. Also I told a few of my accident via email. A friend who I admire and respect a lot, John Leivers, replied:

Sorry to hear about your little accident which is now causing you a lot of physical grief.
Now is the time to think about the wise saying:
It is not about how you fall over, but how you get up.
You now realise more than ever how fit, strong and tough you have to be physically and mentally to be able to do a long haul bike ride in South America. You are capable of doing your proposed expedition, but need to do some serious training beforehand to avoid potentially serious problems on the road. Good luck !

I thought about  John's quote for a while: 'Its not about how you fall over, but how you get up'. 

I interpreted his words as saying 'Now is not the time to give up, but pick yourself up.' 

One day Josh Fowler arrived on a 650 Suzuki. Josh was a mechanical engineer who had ridden all the way from his home in Florida, without any major mishaps, and was heading to Brazil via Puerto Maldonado.


About three weeks after my accident, I was able to walk unaided - and without pain. My recovery was complete! 

One day I looked around the motorbike showroom zone here in Cusco, in a street called Huayna Capac, only a 5 minute walk from my hostel. There were many new models for sale, Japanese, Chinese and Indian Bajaj bikes; but most common were the Chinese bikes. Each salesman I spoke to assured me its easy and legal for a foreigner to buy and register a new motorbike in Peru.

Although I was not altogether sure whether I would resurrect my moto-trip plan, I decided a few days later to catch a bus to Arica Chile and retrieve the rest of my luggage. It would also give me an opportunity to renew my Peruvian visa. I almost always travel with a company called Cruz del Sur: they are a little more expensive, but they have their own terminal in Cusco, long trips are made more relaxing with onboard stewardesses serving refreshments, videos, toilets, even games of bingo. Before departing, they videotape each passenger twice: once as he boards the bus, and again in his seat, for two reasons: one is to identify your corpse in the tragic event of a fatality. The second is to put potential thieves on notice their faces have been recorded. They also display the bus speed via a digital monitor so you know instantly if the bus is speeding, in which case which they encourage you to report their 'piloto', or driver. Note the video camera facing the passengers as their baggage is searched when boarding:


They also enforce the wearing of seatbelts. If you have ever spent time in Peru reading the newspapers, you will know there is a terrible problem with 'pirate bus' accidents, but by travelling with Cruz del Sur and another good company called Ormeno, you reduce the risks somewhat.

In Arica I stayed at 'Sunny Days' hostel, run by a genial New Zealander called Ross, where I had stored my luggage in October with the idea I would be returning to buy a motorbike. I had two days in Arica, during which I had time to shoot this quick hand-held gigapan and this billboard which is no doubt useful both as a recruiting tool and a reminder to visiting Peruvians the strength of their army; Peru and Chile have never been the best of neighbours since Chile invaded, occupied and annexed parts of Peru years ago in the War of the Pacific.


It translates as "In the military service you will find ... true friends".

Peru and Chile aren't exactly 'true friends'; everyday in the popular press there are stories about military manoeuvres or spy satellites:


After two nights in Arica I headed back to Cusco, about a 28 hr journey including a few hours waiting for a change of bus in Arequipa. Here is the border.



On the way back I saw many whirlwinds - or willy-willys as we used to call them as kids - spinning a vortex of dust across the desert.

Back in Cusco's Hospedaje La Estrellita, another moto adventurer who came and left was Len MacDonald, on a huge  BMW 1200 GS. He told me new they sell for $25,000, but he picked his up somewhat cheaper second hand. Len had ridden even further than Josh, without major problems, all the way from Canada.  Len has a blog called "Earth Wind and Tires" (here is Len's blog entry for Cusco).

Len too was supportive of my idea to re-mount.

I began to reconsider my earlier resolution never to mount a moto again...