Panini Tour: Continuing our Journey through South America to Peru and Bolivia
Although our Panini motorcycle world tour has already entered the final third, we’re certainly not tired of it – and even we are a little surprised by that! After every ‘bike-free’ day, we look forward to getting back in the saddle, pressing on, making new discoveries, and having new encounters on our KTM 1190 ADVENTURE Rs.
After journeying along a bumpy track on our way out of Ecuador, we arrive in Peru at a sleepy border crossing, a long way from the Pan-American Highway; practically through the ‘back door’. We’re really looking forward to Peru and Bolivia, even though, or actually because, we have had the pleasure of getting to know both absolutely fascinating countries on previous motorcycle tours.
The north of Peru is not much of a tourist destination, with it lying a long way from the main draws like Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. It’s somewhere you can discover unknown landscapes, as passes wind their way over sparse, colorful mountain ranges that rise up behind a long, dune-filled coastline, dotted with charming towns.
The highlights of northern Peru for us include the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra mountain ranges; the snow-covered white and snow-free, hence black, Cordilleras. A breathtaking panorama: more than fifty 5000-meter-high peaks rise up one after the other before us, including the highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán, standing at 6,768 meters tall – and all of them bathed in sunlight! Perfect conditions for exploring the range up close.
We stay at a snug bed & breakfast in the small, central town of Huaraz and cross the Cordilleras several times over the next few days in every possible direction. Criss-cross, back and forth – the scenery is so impressive and such a rider’s dream that we can’t get enough of it! We ride along lonely offroad passes, negotiate the odd landslide, wind through tunnels carved out of the rock in narrow gorges; all the while with the snow-covered, high mountain peaks in view.
We learn that nowhere else does a hot chicken soup taste as good as when it’s served to you fresh from the stove by friendly villagers when you unexpectedly come across a buried section of mountain pass at an altitude of 4000 meters. And, that the largest flower in the world is called Puya Raimondii, only flowers once, and is well worth a look.
If you want to get to the capital city, Lima, you have no choice but to join the Pan-American Highway: a multi-lane asphalt strip along the foggy coast, lined with poultry farms and an ever-increasing volume of traffic.While our ADVENTUREs are being fitted with new Conti TKC 80 tires in the Peruvian KTM importer’s workshop (the fun we had in the Cordilleras certainly wore down some rubber), we explore the historical old town on foot as well as the modern, coastal quarter of the Peruvian capital, which is home to over ten million inhabitants.
Peruvian cuisine also has the fine reputation of being the best in Latin America. We sample some of the highlights, including Quinotto, made from a type of grain that has been native to the Andes for millennia; Ceviche, raw fish marinated in lemon juice; Pisco Sour, THE Peruvian cocktail from the coastal city of Pisco; and not forgetting the bright yellow Inca Cola that they have here instead of Coca Cola.
After racking up quite a few kilometers on our feet, with weary legs and full stomachs we’re looking forward to getting back in the saddle of our ADVENTUREs, complete with new tires, and leaving the traffic of the city behind us.
Narrow, undeveloped roads link the less-visited cities of Ayacucho (home of the Sendero Luminoso, a communist militant group in Peru, whose terrorist blood trail is revisited in the Museo de la Memoria) and Abancay. This is the Peruvian hinterland, filled with a million bends cutting through the green mountain landscape. We pass through small villages built in the traditional clay style with colorfully decorated houses and bumpy cobblestones, surrounded by endless potato fields. In between them are high pastures, where Quechua women in brightly colored clothes tend to their llama herds.
The rural inhabitants of the Andean highlands are shy and reserved, yet extremely friendly if you take the time to chat to them. They’ll then enjoy telling you about their hard labor in the potato fields, give you their favorite recipe, or proudly let you take a photo of them with their newly baptized son.
After several days of endless meandering bends, the former capital of the enormous Inca Empire, Cusco, lies ahead. This is home to sights of global significance that attract hordes of tourists: archaeological site after site, packed with countless colonial buildings constructed on the impressive foundation walls of former Inca strongholds. And how impressive are the walls? Enormous, irregular stone blocks have been placed so tightly one on top of the other, without any mortar, that there’s not even enough space to get a sheet of paper between them! No idea how they managed that so perfectly back them – helmets off to them!
The Inca civilization amazes us in several places, for instance in the Salineras de Maras, where we make our way through a gigantic labyrinth of hundreds of salt water pools, created 1,000 years ago and used just as much now as they were then. Or the evenly laid out terrace fields with the clever channel system in the sacred Urubamba Valley. Here, at an altitude of almost 3,000 meters, the Incas grew all the food they needed. Of course not fish though; the Inca rulers had that brought in by the so-called “Chasquis” (running messengers) from Lake Titicaca, almost 400 kilometers away – our next destination.
To get to Lake Titicaca, we have to cross a number of river courses with the help of braided-grass bridges. A bridge like this is still maintained to this day by the inhabitants of Andean villages and knotted annually – an interesting destination, even though crossing the swaying structures did take some effort!
The magic-sounding, rather polluted Lake Titicaca is 3,800 meters above sea level and is the largest lake in South America. Indigenous families originating from the Uru people live here on floating islands made of reeds. They mainly make their living nowadays as a frequently visited tourist attraction. A trip along the banks of Lake Titicaca is particularly special – provided you’re a biker and can leave the main road behind.
Magnificent viewpoints at the end of hidden tracks, musicians and dancers rehearsing for a performance in the middle of nowhere, rope weavers, ferryboats knocked together from rickety planks, and then Copacabana – no, not the beach in Rio, but the first town you reach after crossing the border between Peru and Bolivia. A surprise awaits us here: unusual floral decorations for our two ADVENTUREs. Women decorate our bikes in every way imaginable, then we’re given a religious banner, another round of holy water over us and, blessed with good wishes, we’re in high spirits as we continue our journey through Bolivia.
Like Peru, Bolivia is a stunning country to discover by motorcycle – the colorful Andean highlands, enormous dips and climbs, vast national parks without a single meter of asphalt, bizarre lunar landscapes, colorful lakes… the list goes on. To put it simply, it’s an ADVENTURE paradise!
If you manage to emerge unscathed from the pandemonium that is the traffic in the capital city La Paz, an unforgettable biking experience awaits just a short ride away. For instance, high up on the Chacaltaya, one of the mountains close to La Paz. Our goal is to ride up it until the very end of the track. As we leave the last few tin huts, the cemetery, and finally the dump on the outskirts of El Alto behind us, we ride over pothole after pothole climbing a muddy, ever-narrowing and windy track higher and higher. Llamas look on in surprise, at intersections we rely entirely on the GPS, into which we simply entered the mountain peak as our destination (incidentally, we’re using a Garmin sat nav and OpenStreetMaps downloaded free from the Internet to navigate – quite successfully too!).
At this point it gets steeper, rockier, and craggier. We ride over slate scree and along snowfields, all the while climbing higher and higher. There’s no one else around but us, until we reach an altitude of 5,235 meters and the track ends at a slanted shack; a hut belonging to the Bolivian Andean community. To get from here to the mountain peak in front of us we would need climbing gear, so it marks the end of the two-wheel terrain. It’s a great feeling to have made it so high up on our KTMs!
Next stop: the jungle. That means a 4,000-meter descent along a route of less than 100 kilometers; the world-renowned “Ruta de Yungas”. We rode it ten years ago on our bikes and just had to experience it again: How it gets warmer kilometer by kilometer; how the vegetation gets thicker, greener, and higher; how waterfalls rush down over you; and the sheer thrill you get on the left-hand side of the single-lane (!) track carved out of the rock as it drops pretty much vertically for several hundred meters, without any form of guardrails of course. You had to take the bends carefully and really get up close to the rocks in case a truck came towards you. But – to our great surprise – the single-lane track, also commonly known as the “Road of Death”, has since become one-way, and nothing and nobody comes towards you anymore.
Another extra-special Bolivian biking experience is the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, where literally everything is made of salt. Fittingly, we stay overnight in a salt hotel. The floor is made of coarse road salt, while the walls, beds, and even bedside tables are built from blocks of salt. Surprisingly, our evening meal is not oversalted. The Dakar Rally has passed through here many times; as KTM riders we well remember seeing images of a wet, salty, threatening brine that quite a few participants and their bikes got bogged down in two years ago.
This time too we’re lucky with the weather at the Salar, as it’s windy and the salt lake’s dry and hard, making it easy to ride on and meaning we can enjoy every meter of it. A dazzling white illuminates the salt flat that stretches out towards the horizon. Roughly in the center of the salt lake, a small island full of cacti rises up; the ideal place to stop for a break and take a few snaps.
Situated over 4,000 meters above sea level in southern Bolivia is the sprawling Eduardo Avaroa National Park. It’s an offroad paradise… as long as you’ve got the stamina or you’re pig-headed enough! We brave the challenge of riding through it. To be on the safe side, we stay over at the “Flamenco Hotel”, which we found on Google Earth – the only alternative to a tent in sight. And true to form, our two days in the Bolivian highlands prove to be a real adventure: the fog gets thicker and thicker, we ride through more and more water (desert my ass!), and only 10 kilometers from our night’s lodging are caught in yet another huge downpour. The following day it pays off though, as we’re treated to an awesome view of the Laguna Hedionda packed with pink flamingos, with the freshly snow-covered mountains reflected in the crystal-clear water. Wow!
But we have another challenging day ahead of us – over 300 kilometers on sandy, gravelly track permeated with deep ruts until we reach the Chilean border. Today, we need to hang on in there, spur each other on, keep our bikes upright, and just not give up! Luckily, as we pass a small hamlet, we manage to scavenge a canister of fuel, otherwise… who knows!
The unrivaled landscape gives us the motivation we need and rewards our efforts. We take in the Arbol de Piedra, a 7-meter-tall stone tree rock formation; the Laguna Colorada, a lake that glistens in a variety of colors; the green lagoon; spitting geysers and bubbling mud holes, topped off by perfectly formed volcanic cones. A biker’s paradise. What more could you want?
Photos: Barbara Kenedi
Info: Around the world – Panini Moto Tour
Barbara Kenedi, a KTM employee in Mattighofen, and her partner Peter are on a round-the-world adventure tour. Why the mysterious name Panini? Because that’s the name of the couple’s cat, which is naturally placed in good hands while they’re away.
The keen travellers, who have been on tour with two KTM 1190 ADVENTURE Rs since March 2013, are completing the round-the-world trip in stages, rather than all at once. The first major stage led from Austria to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Then they continued the trip on the Australian continent, starting in Darwin. This was followed by New Zealand and, as the first port of call in North America, the crossing of Alaska to the south of California, before they finally step onto South American soil.
The marathon pleasure trip, entitled “Around the world – Panini Moto Tour” can be followed on Facebook, although only after prior registration.