With the bike barely resurrected from the dead by our new mates, we left Arequipa behind and motored on towards Canyon de Cotahuasi, one of the deepest canyons in the world. The golden light set in as we flew off the desert plains and dropped into the first of many canyons we had to cross on our way to solitude.
The roads snaked through the mountainous canyons, winding beside sparkling rivers and surrounding farmland. Late in the arvo our revived bike chucked a tanty and called it quits again, just like when we refuse Pat ice cream. Fortunately, we were next to some terraced paddocks that looked perfect to spend the night in. We set up camp and before the evening was out the farmers came by. A testament to the kindness of people over here that you wouldn’t necessarily find back home, they asked us all about our trip and wished us a good night. Not once did they question why we were camping on their land or insinuate that we should leave.
The Canyon de Cotahuasi is so steep and deep that a town 20km away as the crow flies equates to 50km of windy roads and switchbacks that climb the seemingly impossibly steep cliffs. One afternoon we found ourselves deep in a remote section of the canyon chasing some elusive hot pools. Given the lack of tourism to the canyon combined with the fortunate tip off about the existence of the hot pools, we figure they have rarely been visited bar a handful of locals. To get there we ditched the bikes in the main square of a tiny village and hiked over some hills before dropping hundreds of metres down to a cascading river beside the most tranquil, free hot springs you could imagine. We camped the night beside the pools and had the entire place to ourselves, including a cave from which the hot water flowed freely.
Having cleansed ourselves of our noxious stench we climbed our way out of the canyon the next morning. The next stop was a monstrously powerful 150m waterfall which we camped next to for the night. Scott was nearly tossed into the torrent as his endless chain of rotten farts would not abate, but we spared him so he could see the next part of the canyon where the real adventure began.
Our maps suggested that there was a road through the canyon and over some mountains to Cusco. But the many locals we asked to see if it existed said they’d never done it and didn’t know if it was possible. We thought we should check for them.
Now a few hours deep into the canyon, we’d passed men butchering a cow on he road, ancient villages with aqueducts running down the middle of their streets and a severe lack of other vehicles. Obviously this was the perfect time for the bike decided to mess with us again. We failed at towing the bike up the rough dirt road switchbacks and were at a loss with what to do. Pushing on with a broken bike didn’t make sense but turning around was no longer an attractive option, we’d come too far. Thankfully, after resting the bike for an hour it managed to splutter its way to the next town.
This was the last town before things got seriously remote. The locals warned us that from here the roads get rougher, we would have to cross rivers that they thought might be too deep for the bikes and that the very few locals ahead didn’t really speak Spanish (only indigenous Peruvian language, Quechuan). To say the outlook was grim was an understatement. Our options were to push on and hope the bike would make it out or to put it in a truck to a mining area where another truck MIGHT be able to take it to Cusco…. For ~$800. With our meagre wallets tightly sealed we accepted a hand draw map of the region, put our brave faces on and set off into who knows what.
The bike was deep in struggle town, but impressively made it to a tiny village. The sounds of the bikes was evidently unfamiliar to the villagers as whole families poked their heads out of their houses. They lined the streets with friendly smiles and waves for the exceptionally random appearance of three, young long haired gringos. They gave us a place to stay and the kids warmed to us and gave us a village tour. They were enthralled by how different we were. They found everything we did fascinating and would even stand in the room watching us unpack because they couldn’t believe what was happening. The camera blew their minds.
It was so humbling to see how these people live and it was amazing to observe how comparatively simple and basic their lives are, yet how overwhelmingly positive, happy and friendly they are. Young brothers and sisters happily play together, and there was an incredibly strong sense of family and community. It doesn’t appear they have much in the way of ‘things’, but they sure have a lot that western culture could learn from.
Having broken out of the clutches of the canyon we now just had a few 5000m mountain passes to cross before we were in the clear. Fortunately we made it through without issue and got to ride through some of the most incredibly, isolated landscapes we’d experienced to date.
It’s such a privilege to be riding motorbikes up this incredible continent. They’ve frequently allowed us to visit very remote places so far from the heavenly trodden tourist trail. The kind people we’ve met, strong sense of culture we’ve felt and unique ways of life we’ve observed have all relayed powerful messages. Be happy, live a positive life, and be appreciative of every moment and opportunity you get. We’re extremely grateful for the privilege to undertake this trip and relish every moment.
Out on the main road we opened up the throttle and began trying to outrun an intimidating storm coming our way. We made it to another set of hot springs where the owners let us stay the night before heading to Cusco to organise lots of hiking.
More on that soon - Lachie