Touring South America: Operation Desert Storm
Chapter 4: March 27th, Ocoña, Peru.
Getting the bike out of the Walk On Inn wasn’t as easy as getting it in. The single step up the front door was too steep and the little wooden board they brought to serve as a ramp only got the front wheel up. It split in half when the back wheel went over it. In the end, I was able to get it out with the help of the hostel’s manager and a Finnish guy who had just returned from flyover of the Nazca lines.
On my way out of town I bought a water bottle next to the hostel where I had first asked about availability for the night. I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t spend the night there as the municipality had demolished the street right in front of it for repairs, which would have made it nearly impossible to get the motorcycle out.
Shortly after leaving Nazca I reached the 500km marker in a constantly changing landscape. Every sight visible on the road is dramatically different than what you’d seen 10km back. As soon as you depart Nazca, everything around you becomes an arid desert. After a slight uphill climb, the ground gradually goes from a sandy tan surface to a layer of greenish grass that gets more and more intense as you keep going up. One quick descent turns everything back to sand. One turn inland and you find yourself in a forest full of sand-covered trees. Further down south you come across a landscape that looks and feels a lot like the high-mountain regions even though you’re still traveling along the coast. This improbable surrounding spits you out into rock formations straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Cruising down the Panamerican Highway in this area you’ll also notice signs that say Zona de Arenamiento (Sand Zones). These are areas where winds are notorious for blowing sand directly onto the road. A lot of sand. I came across one of these sand zones in full swing. The wind was furiously howling and kicking up sand, forming dunes in the middle of the highway. You could see streaks of sand crawling across the asphalt like snakes. Whenever a truck rolled by, they’d momentarily disappear and then resume their trajectory once it was out of sight. They slithered into everything. Under the visor. Inside my jacket. Up my nose and in my mouth and eyes.
I had to pull over and use a scarf to try to keep the sand out of my helmet. What I couldn’t avoid was the sanding effect this flurry was taking on my motorcycle. The wind picked up speed as I crept into the mist and it became impossible to see the horizon. I was zigzagging across the entire width of the road trying to avoid sand banks. At the same time, I was also trying to keep from getting squashed by huge trucks and buses coming in from both directions. Eventually I came across a small dune that I couldn’t go around. The bike slid all over the place but at least I didn’t completely lose control. I inched my way through the mess and after a while I could start to see the light at the end.
As soon as I got out of that ridiculous sand pit, I practically got naked at the side of the road and started shaking off all the sand. I had to shake it out of my boots, socks, jacket, and even had to empty my pockets. I had to ruffle it out of my hair and ears as well. I smiled and waved at buses full of people gawking at a half naked man trying to de-sand himself.
Still a long way from Camana, my targeted destination for that night, I could see the sun slowly dipping into the sea. Ahead of me, a biker’s shadow stretched and kept getting longer. Stars started revealing themselves in the sky. Darkness ultimately descended upon me on dangerous winding roads. On one side I had an enormous mountain of sand and on the other a cliff that dropped into the ocean. My only roadside companions at this hour were truckers. Some of them, obviously assholes or too tired to give a damn, would not turn off their blinding high beams when they saw me coming.
Needless to say, there aren’t really campsites running along cliffside roads. I had to keep going until the next town to spend the night. That little town was Ocoña, at least another hour away from my intended destination. Calling it a town might be an overstatement. It was more like a truck stop that had dreams of becoming a little town when it was all grown up. It was all gas stations, restaurants, and cheap accommodation. There might have been a brightly colored strip joint. I parked my bike in the garage of a restaurant/motel/convenience store.
I think I was the only one sitting at a table there. My girlfriend would later tell me that an empty restaurant is not a good sign of quality food. She would also ask me how an adult human being did not possess this basic knowledge. When you’re tired and hungry you don’t really put these things together. I ordered the shrimp and noodles and a short while later I was presented with the biggest bowl of spaghetti covered in shrimp that I had ever seen in my life. I ate the whole thing with much gusto.
How much did that meal cost me? Three dollars and a sleepless night of intestinal cramps and a lot of almost-not-making-it-to-the-bathroom. To top it all off, the bathroom wasn’t even in my room. It was a shared bathroom in a small courtyard. Sorry about the noise, neighbors. By bathroom call number 3 I was starting to doubt that I’d feel better by morning and I certainly didn’t want to stay here. I curled up in fetal position on my bed thinking about my options. Should I seek medical attention? Do I just give it a bit more time? Is this what my entire trip is going to be like? Where’s my medkit? Will I even be able to sit on my motorcy— My thoughts were interrupted by bathroom call number 4.