Monday, April 6, 2015

On Our Way to Lima, a Journey through the Pato Canyon

Leaving Trujillo, we ride down the coast for a few hours along the Pan-Americana and are reminded just how much we don't like this highway.  We much prefer the lush green Andes to the dry and sandy coast, so that's the direction we head a couple hundred kilometers south of Trujillo.

Our goal for the day was to check something off our must-ride bucket list, the famed Cañon del Pato. This route, which in English translates to Duck Canyon, is about 100 kilometers long, 70 of which are unpaved, and takes you through a very narrow canyon as you wind up into the mountains.  The real kicker for this road is that in the 100 kilometers, there are somewhere between 35 and 40 single-lane tunnels carved out of the rock (depending where you read).  This could get interesting.

As we approached the entrance to the canyon and passed through a few last villages, the road turned to dirt.  We stopped to air down our tires for the day of off-pavement riding and were on our way.  Upon entering the canyon, we were immediately awestruck by the beautiful geology.

The road conditions were pretty easy,  just dry dirt, gravel, and sand.  Nothing too challenging on the BMW GS's.  The only real hazards on the route were the tunnels themselves.  All tunnels were single lane and were just big enough for a tourist van or construction truck alone to get through.  Really no margin for error.  Since the canyon road follows a twisty river, none of the tunnels are straight, making the exit of each one invisible from the entrance.

The strategy for riding safe into the tunnels is to roll up to the entrance, stop, start honking your horn, then wait for a second and listen carefully for anyone else honking their horn from the other side.  If you don't hear anything after a few seconds, then go for it, and just keep your fingers crossed that there's not oncoming traffic.  Luckily for us, there was very little traffic in the canyon that day, and we only came head-on with a truck once inside one of the tunnels and there just happened to be enough room at that point to squeeze around him.  I guess he didn't feel like he needed to honk his horn.

The weather was hot and beautiful, and we were loving the ride.  Definitely the best road we had taken to date.  After about 70 km of dirt roads, we came to the hydroelectric plant at the end of the canyon.  At this point, the route turned to a single-lane paved road that quickly gained elevation with switchbacks and even more single-lane tunnels.

We arrived at our destination of Huaraz, a beautiful mountain town, just in time for the rain to start again.  At least the weather was great during the day.

The next day we decided to make the long haul to Lima.  The ride from the mountains to the coast was beautiful.  Again, weaving up and down over multiple passes, climbing and dropping drastic elevation changes, and soaking in all the wonderful colors and culture.  Along the way we passed through many villages, saw people herding goats and cattle, and really got the chance to appreciate the old way of life here.  We noticed many rock corrals and fences that had to have been there for hundreds of years are still in use.

Once we hit the coast, it was back to the dry and windy Pan Americana highway.  Four lanes wide, fast, and desolate, it was easy to make miles coming into Lima in the late afternoon.  Lima is a huge city.  They claim roughly ten million people there, and it appears that most of them drive cars because the traffic is the slowest and thickest we have encountered for a while.  Luckily, Johan from Touratech Peru met us at one of the toll booths at the entrance to the city and guided us into their shop.

Touratech Peru just opened up their brand new shop not that long ago, and it looks great.  Unassuming from the outside, once you enter the front gate, it is really impressive.  Complete with a bike washing station, complete workshop, and tire changing and balancing machine, this shop is a traveler's dream. No more than 20 minutes after arriving, Ines and Johan had both our bikes in the shop and our tires swapped to brand new TKC 80's.  I still joke that this was my easiest tire change of the trip.  All I had to do is sit there and watch for 10 minutes.

Access to a nice, clean shop gave us the chance to address our first major mechanical problem of the trip: Brayde's F650GS water pump.  About a week earlier, we noticed the water pump starting to weep coolant from the bottom, a sign that the impeller shaft had worn a groove.  This is a common issue with the BMW 650, so fortunately we knew to carry a spare impeller and seals with us.  After a little over a day of work in the shop, we had the water pump fixed and the bike was ready to roll.

Our friend Dagowin.  Him and his buddy Jeri are headed North from Ushuaia on two Hondas and were waiting for parts in Lima.

Lima is a city we probably would have ridden past had we not had friends to visit there. We're generally not big fans of huge cities, but in this case, we are very glad we stopped.  Ivan and Ines took really good care of us, and showed us all the good things about the city.  After 5 days in Lima we absolutely loved it.  If you just rode past, you'd never get the same impression that we had.

Ivan and Ines are foodies like we are, so one of the biggest highlights for us was going to their favorite restaurants and eating the best of the best.  We had some of the best meals of our trip with Ivan and Ines.  Simply amazing.  Fresh ingredients and awesome presentation.  I think Lima nails it for gourmet food and fusion.  Mexico still gets the medal for best overall, and street food.

One of the coolest places Ivan and Ines took us was this restaurant located at the base of ancient pyramids.  While waiting for your table, you could go on a private tour through the pyramids at night, complete with Pisco Sour in hand.  Pretty incredible!

After more days than we had planned of catching up on bike maintenance, tires, laundry, rest, and riding gear repairs, plus getting to know great people, we were ready to hit the road.  It was a nice break from riding, but it is always good to get back on the bikes.  Next stop: Nazca lines.

Clementina, Touratech Peru's mascot tortoise.


  1. We're really enjoying your trip reports. The colors are so vibrant and the geology spectacular!

    1. Thanks Tim! We really loved Peru for those reasons exactly. Highly recommended.