About Claire Rogers
Claire Rogers writes on cross-cultural adventure drawn from her travels across the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, around Australia and of course, through Iceland--all by bike.
She's currently traveling by tandem with her husband Bob, through southwest China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Check out NewBohemians.net for more information on their travels.
Latest Posts by Claire Rogers
A pale gray dusts hides loose rocks on the road through the Rio Santa canyon in Northern Peru. A cliff into the river and a nearly vertical desert rock wall are it’s boundaries. Only a one lane tunnel allows passage in thirty-seven places.
Our narrow tandem tires cut into the dust and bounce and slide from one auto-tire slickened rock to another. We hope to avoid the shattered and sharpened hidden ones, capable of ruining our day, and one of our tires. We have one spare, and wonder if we should not have brought two. A few times a particularly vile rock (by the second day I was attributing evil intent to certain rocks) would throw the front wheel toward the abyss, necessitating a dual bail out.
All this is more than a little stressful. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for Claire on the back of the tandem, not being able to see what is causing the bumping and swerving (and not a little cursing).
The two days along this road were among the most physically demanding of 40,000 miles of touring, and yet I am beginning to let go of memories of aching shoulders and hands, and the mental exhaustion. Claire said I would. And she said I would probably get us into something just as bad in the future. She’s usually right. But maybe not this time. Maybe I’ve learned it’s possible to have an adventure without such a high degree of physical punishment. I think so.
I call on my friends to remind me to come back and read this post, if I seem to be hankering for something absurdly difficult, and not hearing Claire’s subtle hints that it might be over the top. That’s what friends are for.
I won’t forget the stark beauty of the desert Andes and the Rio Santa, our star lit bush camp, the Southern Cross sinking behind a knife edge ridge, leaving us with a cool restful sleep.
Bet you thought you’d be reading about a yawning sloth and a hungry jaguar. Actually this place is the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Amazon Animal Orphanage, a short boat ride from Iquitos, where founder Gudrun Sperrer gave us a personal tour. Pupating caterpillars just aren’t as photogenic as a sleepy sloth.
The sad story is that there is even a need for this place, a place where Peruvian children finally learn that big blue butterflies don’t come from little blue butterflies; shockingly, the metamorphosis of butterflies isn’t taught in school so Sperrer hosts field trips. It’s because of Sperrer’s heart of gold that the orphaned animals have a home here.
What else can be done with a pet jaguar who is no longer so charming? Her original intent was to raise butterflies in a protected environment, shipping pupae out to botanical gardens and zoological parks, now Sperrer is scaring up 25 pounds of chicken a day for a large cat’s dinner and paying dearly for vitamin enriched formula for an anteater, some sloths, several monkeys and a tapir. If you take a jungle tour in the Amazon, do NOT “rescue” an orphaned animal from anyone by buying it and setting it free. This just encourages more poaching.
It was quite a ride over the final ridge of the Andes, steep and increasingly verdant, filled with village roadside life. We knew the heat would come, and it has. We are resisting air conditioning, even though is is sometimes available, hoping to quickly adapt to the heat. We have kept the days short, trying to be done by early afternoon, when heat stress begins to take a heavy toll.
We are in Yurimaguas, the end-of-the-road in Peru. We’re down from around 4000 m to 150 m in elevation. It’s hot and humid and the last few days have been hard riding. It is a different world. Everything revolves around the river, here the Rio Huallaga, flat and brown and teeming with life. The market is filled with fresh and dried fish and bush meat.
We saw our first wild monkey yesterday, crossing the road in front of us. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but Claire clearly saw it’s round face and I noticed the downward curve to it’s tail. It was small, black and very cute.
We arrived in Celendin during a big fiesta week, on the day of the bullfight. We made our way to the still-under-construction bullfight ring. After careful consideration of the rickety contraption, that would soon hold, we hoped, a few thousand people, we selected seats (rough cut boards) on the second level fronting the ring. Our strategy, should the thing start rocking, would be to jump into the ring, and take our chances with the bulls. This was not to be. Lack of language had led us to think the event was free to all, and seating was open. No. Just at the end of this video, we were unceremoniously escorted from our seats. Apparently a family group buys a whole section, and we were trespassing. Oh well, we were able to see a couple of bloody bull deaths later on local cable TV in our (no water, but cable TV) room. That was close enough.
It’s all part of being travelers. Sometimes things don’t turn out as expected. The day began beautifully; a 300 meter climb, on pista (pavement) for a change. Sunny, lazy dogs, Zippy behaving, and a change of landscape over the top. Our legs felt good. It was to be a short day, 40k to a village just big enough to have accommodation and food. We found the food, but wasted an hour looking for the hospedaje, and failed to find it, after being pointed to all corners of the village.
We decided to tackle the following 600 meter climb, hoping the end of the pista wouldn’t mean another shoulder and butt wracking ride. The climb went fairly well, though the fist sized imbedded rocks made the effort much greater. We began looking for bush camping spots at the cold summit. As usual In Peru, there are people living and working everywhere, and the rough hillsides are much too steep to pitch a tent. If it’s too steep to farm, it’s too steep to sleep on.
The descent was difficult, rockier, narrower, and with heavy afternoon traffic. A couple of interactions with vicious dogs didn’t help. After a ten kilometer descent we were exhausted, and asked for a hospedaje in the village of Cruz Conga. No. We asked about setting up our tent in a bosque (small forest), and were refused. The idea of private real property is very strong in Peru. The woman we’d asked indicated she did have an unused room. The report? “Pretty basic.” We paid 20 soles for a dirt floor, bare mattress, on a slope, wandering pigs, dogs and chickens, scraps of trash, animal feces, a shared outhouse, and the lack of a door. I collapsed on the bed, shoulders pounded tender by the rocky descent, chilled by the effort and the altitude. We ate cookies and saltines, to save the dried fruit for breakfast.
This llama waited patiently for his “seat” to open up on the bus, had some help getting seated and settled in for the ride.
Below: Appropriate for our 21st Anniversary today, a photo of Claire making an oh so typical marriage bed!
Bush Camp on the Rio Santa
Our second day on the Rio Santa was even more difficult than the first because it was long. We had nearly 70 kilometers to Chuquicara, with no improvement in the road surface, save for a few kilometers out of town. We were fortunate to stock up on large sodas and water at a small village and a roadside stand. The touring couple from Austria, Andi and Anita, told us of a bush camp spot they’d found seven kilometers out of Chuquicara. They said there was only one room in the village and it was taken when they arrived; we figured we would be so late we’d be out of luck also.
As we approached the seven kilometer mark it appeared the river was too close on one side, and cliffs on the other to allow any spot to camp, particularly one safely out of sight. But, just before the bridge, just as Andi had described, was a spot completely hidden from the road.
We set our sleeping bag out, and left the tent packed, the better to see all around us. Black mountains created a 360 degree corral for a spectacular display of stars. The Southern Cross tilted to the west as it sunk slowly below a southern mountain and the faint hints of the rising Milky Way.
As usual when bush camping, I eased in and out of sleep throughout the night, keeping time with the changing positions of stars and Milky Way. It cooled through the night and we snuggled off and on, spoke quietly about the stars, and the shadows on the canyon walls cast by the odd passing vehicle, watching for a cessation of movement or change in motor sound. We even found the fog like illumination of their dust clouds entertaining.
We’ve had a lot of experience over the years in bush camping, and have a few interesting tips for safety and comfort:
Claire’s: Not to sound paranoid, but we make a point to obscure our tire tracks going into a bush camp (some bikers call it stealth camping). We also break up the visual lines of the bike and tent or sleeping bag with a bit of camouflage. We have a silent language between us when something has alarmed either of us and we have a few decoy ploys to thwart potential trouble makers. We’ve heard people make camp near us, never aware of our presence until we pack up in the morning. We both sleep a little fitfully this way, but with 12 hours of darkness, we usually each manage seven or eight good hours of sleep. When we’re awake, we’re keenly sensitized.