• Thursday , 21 September 2017
Extortion for the greater good: Central Highlands Peru

Extortion for the greater good: Central Highlands Peru

We have retired from our short careers as adventure motorcycle tour guides and are blissfully back to being grubby, unemployed drifters. On our own now we headed for Lima taking the long way as we followed the spine of the Andes north. We stayed at elevation and hopped from one tiny hamlet to the next. We gave the gringo trail a wide berth as we took a 1,300-mile detour just for the hell of it.

Hostel Estrellita is a welcome stop for motorcyclists. Swapping stories with other bikers, wrenching on the motorcycles, or just hanging in the courtyard, we had everything we needed for a wonderful stay in Cusco.

Hostel Estrellita is a welcome stop for motorcyclists. Swapping stories with other bikers, wrenching on the motorcycles, or just hanging in the courtyard, we had everything we needed for a wonderful stay in Cusco.

We have been riding with Clinton off and on since Colombia. At this roadside stop the 3 Suzuki DR650s look like a heard of barely tamed wild animals.

We have been riding with Clinton off and on since Colombia. At this roadside stop the 3 Suzuki DR650s look like a herd of barely tamed wild animals.

Once a year the little town of Andahuaylas celebrates independence from the Spanish by lashing a live condor to a live bull and watching them go berserk. The statue in the town square celebrates this unique event.

Once a year the little town of Andahuaylas celebrates independence from the Spanish by lashing a live condor to a live bull and watching them go berserk. The statue in the town square celebrates this unique event.

Overland motorcyclists are a fascination to Peruvians and friendly crowds often gather to hear stories about travel and marvel at the strange machines we ride. Ayacucho, Peru.

Overland motorcyclists are a fascination to Peruvians and friendly crowds often gather to hear stories about travel and marvel at the strange machines we ride. Ayacucho, Peru.

The scenery in Peru is constantly changing as the miles roll by. Riding with Clinton gives us the rare opportunity to have us both in the photograph.

The scenery in Peru is constantly changing as the miles roll by. Riding with Clinton gives us the rare opportunity to have us both in the photograph.

Thirty miles from Huancavelica we got fleeced for the first time since leaving Seattle. And, we are still pondering why this was okay in a bizarre way.

The highway we had been following that afternoon turned from great to becoming a hot mess of never ending road construction, dust, mud, heavy truck traffic, and sections of closed road every ten miles or so. As is the custom when stopped for road construction a long line of vehicles builds up behind the flagger holding the stop sign. We all wait. Finally the line of vehicles coming from the opposite direction clears the road then our group gets the ok to go. The talc like dust was unbearable and visibility was near zero. We dropped back behind the pack so we could at least see and breath a little and carried on this way for mile after mile. It was getting late in the day, we still had a long way to go, and we were informed at the last stop that the road works wouldn’t end until we reached Huancavelica. Suck it up buttercup.

We approached a desolate mud brick village typical on these remote, high altitude expanses of rock, ice, and alpine grasses. This is a place of grinding poverty and a brutal subsistence life in a land that is always cold and never easy. Maybe two hundred people lived here and it was a place without cheer.

In the middle of the road three men stood out from the rest of the villagers and obviously did not live here as evidenced by the orange suits and hard-hats, the uniform of the road construction workers. As our parade of vehicles made their way through the village with us at the rear, one of the road workers stepped into our path and placed an orange cone in our way. The gringos had just been culled from the herd. We were the only vehicles stopped and there was no one behind us so we shut off the engines and lifted our helmet visors. All activity in the fly-blown hamlet ceased and we became the focus of all attention. A crowed formed in open-mouthed gawking wonder at the alien space crafts now stopped in their midst.

The jefe of the road crew practicing his extortion technique with the captive gringos. The S&M Boiler Works post "Extortion for the greater good" gives the whole story.

The jefe of the road crew practicing his extortion technique with the captive gringos. The S&M Boiler Works post “Extortion for the greater good” gives the whole story.

The obvious boss of the road workers had body language like a neon sign as he swaggered over to me as I sat on my bike. The arrogance and douche-baggery came off him in rippling waves. He leaned on my bike, started messing with the switches on my handlebars, and demanded a cigarette. When I offered him one of the cheap, local brand cigarettes I had with me he turned up his nose and complained because they weren’t lucky strikes. But grudgingly he took one anyway and made me feel like I should be apologizing for something.

He asked how much the motorcycle costs, the GPS, the clothes on my back, and even my boots. In trade for this information I asked him how long we would have to wait and thirty minutes was the reply. We would barely make our destination by dark but our day was still doable and turning around wasn’t an option.

King Shit next took interest in my metal panniers and asked if there was food inside, he wanted me to give him food. This guy had never missed a meal in his life and he had the belly to prove it. Of course I lied and denied any knowledge of sustenance on my bike.

I stopped engaging, broke eye contact, and pretended to pick at a thread on my leather glove. He kicked my front tire so hard the bike wobbled and he walked back to his orange cone of power in the middle of the road. After a half hour had passed we were still the only people at the road block. I tried a new tactic and engaged one of the other road workers. He made some calls on his radio and said it would be fifteen more minutes. Every time I made a glance at King Shit he put his hand to his mouth in the universal sign to “give me some food”.

Clinton waiting out the road closure as Mike negotiates a bribe in a desperate attempt to get us moving before the sun sets.

Clinton waiting out the road closure as Mike negotiates a bribe in a desperate attempt to get us moving before the sun sets.

The crowd consisted of unhealthy, dirty children with runny noses and crusty eyes. A woman in layers of pleated skirts, multiple sweaters, and a jaunty bowler hat yelled angrily in our general direction and was ignored by everyone. The rest of the gathering were the teenage boys and men of the area. They asked questions about us, our bikes, and were absolutely mesmerized by the touch screen GPS and the switch that turned the headlights on and off.

Fifteen minutes had passed with lots of chatter on the radio so I asked the normal flagger how much longer. He did not get to answer as King Shit once again swaggered over and leaned into me so close I could feel his breath on my face. He smiled like a used car salesman. He cheerfully chirped in Spanish “two more hours”. Two more hours would be past sunset and the thought of riding this abysmal road in the dark was horrifying. Staying in this village was not an option either. No hostel, no store, and the kind of poverty that gives people funny ideas about rich Americans on fancy motorcycles. It didn’t vibe us a safe place to stay the night.

No matter how remote the village, wherever smooth alley walls can be found the spray paint artists ply their trade. Huancavelica, Peru.

No matter how remote the village, wherever smooth alley walls can be found the spray paint artists ply their trade. Huancavelica, Peru.

I asked for him to clarify his mistake. No mistake, two more hours. I crossed the moral threshold and asked him what I would need to do to speed up the process. He said for 10 soles (US$3) he could pull some strings and get us on our way. He then clarified that the money was for the rag-tag children all around us and not for himself. BULLSHIT.

Shannon was livid and demanded the orange cone of power be moved out of the road and us rolling before money changed hands. He said no. Pay and then shortly after you can go. I forked over the money.

King Shit walked away and disappeared into a dark doorway of a mud brick building. When he came out, ten minutes later, a teenage girl followed him carrying a bouquet of grilled hotdogs on sticks and yet another person brought out a large bag full of apricots. And, like Jesus pulling loaves and fish from his basket, King Shit fed all those kids hotdogs and everyone got fruit. I was shocked how much food ten soles bought in this village. Seeing the joy that hot food gave the children was worth ten times what I paid but the anger of how this deal went down still stung. We were left in a state of conflicting emotion. Soon after the crowd had finished eating we sat with our engines running and demanded the road be opened to us. The toll had been paid and we had a deal. And, guess what? around the bend of the road in front of us came a parade of vehicles coming from the opposite direction. The cone was moved to let them pass and after they were gone we were free to go. The road was never going to be closed for two more hours only long enough to let the oncoming traffic pass. Now it was King Shit’s turn to not make eye contact. This is a strange and wonderful life and in the end I am glad those kids got fed.

The Suzuki DR650 is a very durable and reliable motorcycle but the wear on the machines is unavoidable. While cresting a high mountain pass beyond nowhere Mike's clutch cable broke. Fortunately the spare cable was already routed in place as a remedy for this kind of event. After a quick roadside job of connecting the new cable's ends we were back in action. The quick repair was a good thing, Shannon was running a fever and getting sicker by the minute. At the next town we holed up for 3 days while she got healthy again.

The Suzuki DR650 is a very durable and reliable motorcycle but the wear on the machines is unavoidable. While cresting a high mountain pass beyond nowhere Mike’s clutch cable broke. Fortunately the spare cable was already routed in place as a remedy for this kind of event. After a quick roadside job of connecting the new cable ends we were back in action. The quick repair was a good thing, Shannon was running a fever and getting sicker by the minute. At the next town we holed up for 3 days while she got healthy again.

Mike doing the final adjustments to the new clutch cable. It was cold and the air was thin, not a good place to spend the night because of a broken bike. In the unlikely event that one of the bikes cannot be repaired roadside, we carry a special strap so we can tow the injured bike to the next town.

Mike doing the final adjustments to the new clutch cable. It was cold and the air was thin, not a good place to spend the night because of a broken bike. In the unlikely event that one of the bikes cannot be repaired roadside, we carry a special strap so we can tow the injured bike to the next town.

Peru delivers once again. Along a lonely mountain highway we found prehistoric dinosaur foot prints. You can see them in the right of the photograph running up the wall. Central highlands, Peru.

Peru delivers once again. Along a lonely mountain highway we found prehistoric dinosaur foot prints. You can see them in the right of the photograph running up the wall. Central Highlands, Peru.

Shannon gets a closer look at at a mark left by a dinosaur. The wonders of this world abound and the more of it we see the more our curiosity grows. Central highlands, Peru.

Shannon gets a closer look at at a mark left by a dinosaur. The wonders of this world abound and the more of it we see the more our curiosity grows. Central Highlands, Peru.

The majority of the route we rode through in our wander north was at high elevation. The stark beauty of the high country is spellbinding. We often stop and stare in silence, words fail us in places like this. Central highlands, Peru.

The majority of the route we rode through in our wander north was at high elevation. The stark beauty of the high country is spellbinding. We often stop and stare in silence, words fail us in places like this. Central Highlands, Peru.

The stuff of daydreams. Central highlands, Peru.

The stuff of daydreams. Central Highlands, Peru.

Exploring the small mountain towns we encounter each day is fun to do. Every one is unique and they each have their own flavor and feel. Chavin, Peru.

Exploring the small mountain towns we encounter each day is fun to do. Each has their own flavor and feel. Chavin, Peru.

Lazy pup getting creative with his power napping. Chavin, Peru.

Lazy pup getting creative with his power napping. Chavin, Peru.

We met Carl and Kathleen way back in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are riding two-up on a Yamaha Tenere heading south like us. Whenever it is possible we find each other along the way and spend time with these dear friends. Huaraz, Peru.

We met Carl and Kathleen way back in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are riding two-up on a Yamaha Tenere heading south like us. Whenever it is possible we find each other along the way and spend time with these dear friends. Huaraz, Peru.

We continued north for the next two weeks without hindrance or trouble and only saw kindness, beauty, and adventure as we wandered through the Andes. We did dangerous mountain dirt roads as well as smooth new paved highways. We touched glaciers and passed through areas where tourists rarely go. Our momentum carried us as far north as Canon de Pato (Duck Canyon) before we turned south once again and made our way to Lima.

Riding through the Cordillera Blanca range in Central Peru feels like a trip to the Himalayas.

Riding through the Cordillera Blanca range in Central Peru feels like a trip to the Himalayas.

Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

My wife is a bad-ass motorcyclist. She is tough, resilient, and the love of my life. Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

My wife is a bad-ass motorcyclist. She is tough, resilient, and the love of my life. Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

The Black Donkey is shy and not prone to narcissistic selfies. In the Cordillera Blanca that rule was broken many times over.

The Black Donkey is shy and not prone to narcissistic selfies. In the Cordillera Blanca that rule was broken many times over.

To gain the elevations needed to cross these high mountain passes the roads must switch back and forth. On the GPS screen roads like this one look like a bowl of spaghetti. Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

To gain the elevations needed to cross these high mountain passes the roads must switch back and forth. On the GPS screen roads like this one look like a bowl of spaghetti. Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

You come around a corner on a lonely dirt road to be greeted by this? That will most surely do. Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

You come around a corner on a lonely dirt road to be greeted by this? That will most surely do. Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

Daily double! Not only did we round the corner to be greeted by that stellar view, at the exact same moment we passed someone we know going the opposite way on a small 250cc Yamaha. We have been following Heather's journey online and have become pals through Facebook. The chance meeting on this little used road was not wasted. We ate lunch and swapped stories for as long as we could, burning daylight when there is still many miles to go is a luxury not to squander.

Daily double! Not only did we round the corner to be greeted by that stellar view, at the exact same moment we passed someone we know going the opposite way on a small 250cc Yamaha. We have been following Heather’s journey online and have become pals through Facebook. The chance meeting on this little used road was not wasted. We ate lunch and swapped stories for as long as we could, burning daylight when there is still many miles to go is a luxury not to squander.

Canon de Pato (duck canyon) is a great motorcycle route. The road threads through dozens of tunnels blasted into the rock and follows a narrow valley that separates two great mountain ranges, the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra. The single lane road through the tunnels is a little unnerving when meeting oncoming traffic in the dark middle bits.

Canon de Pato (duck canyon) is a great motorcycle route. The road threads through dozens of tunnels blasted into the rock and follows a narrow valley that separates two great mountain ranges, the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra. The single lane road through the tunnels is a little unnerving when meeting oncoming traffic in the dark middle bits.

Shannon goofing around in Canon de Pato.

Shannon goofing around in Canon de Pato.

The tiny Honda was made in the early 70's and is in perfect running order. Caraz, Peru.

The tiny Honda was made in the early 70’s and is in perfect running order. Caraz, Peru.

When far off the tourist track you sometimes have to take what you can find as far as accommodations go. We have correlated that the cheap hotels with secure off-street parking often have mirrors around the bed and sometimes even on the ceiling. Very interesting.

When far off the tourist track you sometimes have to take what you can find as far as accommodations go. We have correlated that the cheap hotels with secure off-street parking often have mirrors around the bed and sometimes even on the ceiling. Very interesting.

On the outskirts of Lima we close the chapter on our epic Peruvian Andes trek. Now for some serious R&R and a home stay with our friends Milka and Richard in the Miraflores district of Lima. And after Lima, time to make tracks if we are to get to Tierra del Fuego on schedule.

On the outskirts of Lima we close the chapter on our epic Peruvian Andes trek. Now for some serious R&R and a home stay with our friends Milka and Richard in the Miraflores district of Lima. And after Lima, time to make tracks if we are to get to Tierra del Fuego on schedule.

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