A Short Detour Turns Long in Canon De Colca

We thought it would be easy. Looking at the map we figured a quick two or three hour ride and we would be in Arequipa. It’s a popular tourist route, and they all do it in half a day, and motorcycles are faster, so this made perfect sense. We set out at 9am, planning to be in Arequipa for lunch. Thankfully we both had food along, as we were horribly wrong. 11 hours after we left Majes (west of Arequpa towards the coast) we finally pulled into the hostel Flying Dog. My crash bars had been reformed after a 30mph argument with the road, Alex and I were completely exhausted from riding our laden bikes over terrain most people would say an adventure bike can’t be ridden over, and we had gone from hot, to nearly hypothermic, back to hot. We had big smiles on our faces, and our bodies were a wreak. But let me start from the beginning…

We left Ica, Peru, at about 9am, two hours after we had hoped to leave. We rode hard, but despite our best efforts we only made it to the little burg of Majes. We were 40km short of out destination, but this actually worked out in our favor. I e-mailed a girl I had agreed to meet up with in Arequipa letting her know we were going to be half a day late and went back to the hostel. Karla is the wife of a work associate of my Dad’s, and she was kind enough to offer to give us a tour of the city once we got there. Alex and I took a look at the map, added up distances, and agreed that we should be able to make the loop through Canon del Colca (the second deepest canyon in the world) and get to Arequipa for lunch, even if it were a slightly late one. Off to bed we went, looking forward to an easy days ride through tourist vill…

We got up about 8, had breakfast of left over’s from the previous day, and set out headed for Canon del Colca. We passed one truck shortly after leaving Majes, and then a buss with flat tires shortly after, but that was the only traffic we saw. We were ecstatic; the temperature was perfect, the sun wasn’t too overpowering, and with no traffic we could relax and ride with ease, stopping to take pictures at will.

Looking back down our “tourist trail” shortly after the climb began

Looking up the same valley

We rode on for a while, taking in the amazing scenery and the complete lack of any other traffic. At one point we passed a single rock walled house with two families living in it. There were two kids standing near the road, and as soon as they saw us coming the little girl grabbed her brother and the held each other, completely baffled and probably scared of these massive machines with their alien riders, unlike anything they have probably ever seen in their lives. I mentioned to Alex over the intercom that the next family like that we saw, I wanted to stop and see if we could trade some Oreo packs for portraits, maybe at the next town on the map? We came to an intersection that wasn’t on the map, buy according to my GPS if we took the road less traveled it would take us through a little town and back to the main road in only a few kilometers, and we might even pass a remote alpine lake.

Alex was quite skeptical, but he bit anyway and off we went. We were shortly rewarded with a distant snow covered peak, the first we had seen on this loop.

Small place with a grand view!

Town was just around the next corner, and I was hoping we could stop and take some pictures. We began to take notice, however, that the road was deteriorating and there ware no tracks. Curious, i guess everyone comes to town from the other side? A few more turns and we learned why there were no tracks. Town was nothing more then ruins, probably not lived in for a decade or more. The only inhabitants now were at that small farm WAY off in the distance. No matter, we were now only a few km from joining back up with the main road, so we pressed on. Rather then a nice flat road however, we began to climb out of the valley. Rains had taken their toll on the steep road, and conditions were getting worse fast.

I didn’t get any picture of the abandoned town because I didn’t want to loose momentum stopping to take the camera out. I did at least get some good video of the road, though my video editing skills are more then sub par (it was my first ever video, so I don’t feel too bad for not knowing what I was doing!)

We managed to make it back to the main road, and other then my getting stuck in a ditch for a minute we cruised through all the rough spots with out incident. By now we were starting to really wonder why there was no traffic on what was supposed to be a popular tourist rout. We also began to recognize that this short ride was going to take longer then planned, so we rolled on some throttle and made tracks for the Canyon. First though, we needed to dismount and catch our breath; as much as we pretended otherwise, we were not on nimble little dirt bikes, and we were now at 3,300m (10,800ft).

Another 45 minutes of riding and we finally saw our first sign of civilization, Huambo. There was hope, we could also the the end of what has to be Canon del Colca!

We stopped for lunch at the plaza in Huambo. By now it was 1330hrs, we had already planned to be in Arequipa and we were barely half way through the loop. We still hadn’t seen a single car on the road, what gives? Alex enjoyed some tuna and ramen while I wandered around taking some pictures and munching on a PB&J.

My new bling starting to look a little dusty!

Other then our little detour the road was in good condition, so while we weren’t making anywhere near the time we thought we would, we were still able to move at a good clip. Climbing out of Huambo however, the road was steep, loose, and windy, so we slowed down a bit. We climbed up to what we assumed must be the elevation of the canyon rim and were greeted by some spectacular views. I pulled over to take a few shots of the scenery, and then as I was pulling back onto the road my rear tire caught a rock just right, flipping the bike and sending me sprawling across the road in disbelief.

I had to unload the higher stuff on the bike to get her back up, but it only took 5min to unload, pick her up, reload, and get back on the road slightly humbled. I checked the GPS to reassure my self that we were getting closer; it was only 33 more km to Chivay, which I knew was on the far side of the Canyon, we were home free! How far is it to Arequipa you ask? My heart sank, we still had 200km to go and it was after 1500hrs! We rode on, wondering how we were so wrong on our time estimate. Where are all the bloody tourists, anyway!? Despite running so far behind schedule, we refrained from getting careless and pushing too hard. This was a good thing, as despite being careful I came around an easy corner doing about 30kph (20mph), hit a patch of deep gravel. I knew before I even went down that I was going to crash, so I told Alex as much. He checked his mirrors and was confused to see me still up, but when he asked me to repeat I said, “yes, I’m down.” He looked again and indeed, Porky was taking a nap. I picked my self up, all systems were go, so I grabbed the camera to record this. Porky had never been down at speed before!

With two of us no unpacking was necessary and in barely a minute we were back on the move. From there the road flattened out, and in Cabanaconde we even had a short stretch of brand new pavement taking us up to the official overlook of the Canyon. We made it!

Once we had seen the Canyon we really rolled on the throttle. We were now dangerously low on fuel, most of the towns on the map were abandoned, and it was now 1630hrs. We needed to get moving!

Looking back towards Canon del Colca just before Chivay.

We rolled into Chivay and got gas, which was extremely exciting. I still had about about 40 miles on my reserve, but that didn’t make me any less happy to have a full tank of gas! We also had pavement from there back to Arequipa, which we were told was about two hours. As we rode out of town it dawned on us why there hadn’t been any traffic: This was a National Park with entrance fees and the like, and tourists do a one way trip from Arequipa, coming back on the same paved road. No one does the loop that shows on the map as such a beautiful big highway line! As we climbed it got cold, and by the time we reached the pass at 4,550m (that put our heads over 16,000 feet!) we were starting to shiver uncontrollably.

We had already pulled out some of the cold weather gear, but at the first safe pull out we stopped to take some pictures of the setting sun and put on the rest of our gear. The sunset was stunning!

We rode hard for Arequipa and managed to cut some time off the average 2 hours, but by the time we came into town, got through traffic, took off some of our gear (it was now warm again) and found the hostel, it was after 2000hrs. 11 hours in the saddle and we were completely exhausted. I was asleep before 9pm having showered, talked to Ustadza on messenger, and e-mailed Karla that we were still alive. Was it worth it? We still can’t decide. We saw some amazing and remote areas, and had a blast unintentionally avoiding the S35 entrance fee, but we more then made up for that in gas and lost a lot of time that we could have spent doing things like replacing Alex’s almost bald rear tire. But hey, we had an adventure, which is what we are here for right!?


Clark White