Packed and out of the hotel by 7.30am – after a continental breakfast including ‘devious eggs’ – lost in translation I feel – we head for the Ecuador-Peru border. Peru-sing (geddit?) the map gives us three border options…the main border in the far west near Hermanquilla (?), a smaller one near Maraca and probably the remotest border crossing yet near Zumba (cool name!) a little futher east, slap in the middle of the Andes. We wanted to ride some seriously remote roads so the decision was obvious…go east, as the song (almost) said.
Leaving Loja, we had great plans for making Jaen in Peru that day…oh how wrong we were. About 20km outside Loja the roads turned into gravel tracks…and then into real dirt roads…fantastic riding (although not conducive to high average speeds!), winding and climbing up through dense forest around the butressed sides of the Andes, bikes skidding on fist-sized chunks of rock and spitting out clouds of dust inches from a 600m vertical fall to the frothing river below. There appear to be two ways to approach the blind bends on these wide, remote roads – either tentatively tiptoeing around, hoping the bike doesn’t skip or jump on the loose surface – or motocross-styleee, bike leant over, weight above the front wheel to bite through the loose top layer, throttle abuse prominent, back tyre spinning and clawing at the dirt despite the 40kg of weight in the panniers…after a half an hour the latter method proved much more entertaining and so we arrived in Zumba in style…much later than planned as the average speeds had dropped right off. Maybe we wouldn’t make Jaen tonight after all…even the border was looking marginal! The Pirelli tyres came into their own on the dirt – superly progressive and controllable.
After a rapid lunch of the ubiquitous meat and rice (preceded by chicken-foot soup – errr – yum?) in Zumba we headed on towards the border. The road degenerated into little more than a gravel lane… Matt discovered a hitherto-undiscovered penchant for geometry as he departed a slightly overenthusiastic right-hand corner on a perfect tangent courtesy of a sliding front wheel – Will’s compassion knew no bounds as he carefully photographed the moment before helping to remove the bike from the Ecuadorean undergrowth. Eventually, scraping down a vertiginous descent out of the high scrubland, the border was in sight, straddling a river on the valley floor..a welcome sight, as, despite the inevitable tedious beauracracies, we’d begun to doubt that it existed as we were so far from anywhere.
Will threw our customs papers at the border guard, told him the procedure we’d followed in Colombia and confused the poor guy into letting us across to the Peruvian side complete with exit stamps. Peruvian immigration was easy, although the usual temporary bike import process proved otherwise, the guards delaying for nearly four hours whilst arguing – with each other! – over a minor technicality…the engine capacity on the registration document says 599cc but the stamp on the engine block saying 595cc…we began to regret pointing out the engine block markings at all. However, bad spanish, a lot of poor jokes and continuously smiling worked wonders as we eventually departed with import douments for nearby Namballe – expecting to find a grubby one-horse hole of a place, instead we found a really friendly community- locals laughing, waving and keen to talk about anything and everything…just goes to prove how wrong you can be! In short order we located a hotel, dinner and a couple of cold beers in a bar overlooking the tiny town…WE’RE IN PERU!
Next stop – Chachapoyas.