Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The MotoMission Adventures with Henry and Phil

“We’re looking for Scott,” is what the two guys said as they boldly walked in to the café.

“You’re looking at him,” I quickly replied, as if it was something out of a movie.

With nothing to fear, I quickly inquired of their needs. The two fellas stood there in front of the counter with a major problem on their hands talking to a guy that enjoys trying to come up with solutions. I asked them to come on in, sit down, and have a chat and see if we could come up with a plan.

The story these guys began telling me was unbelievable. Then I quickly realized I was in Peru. They told me that they started a motorcycle journey in San Diego, CA about 10 years ago. Each year or two, they would jump on a plane and fly to the last location that they stashed their bikes. That is what brought them to Cusco, but what brought them to the café was more divine in nature. They needed some help, and I was just the guy that God tossed into the middle of their trail.

These guys had left their motorcycles at a hotel in Cusco about 2 years prior. The then operator of the hotel is no longer in business. Upon their return, they found that the bikes were nowhere to be found. The new guy at the hotel knew nothing about the bikes. This posed a problem for Henry and Phil as they had plans to ride their bikes to Arequipa and then fly home on the 15th of March. Walking would not cut it, nor would taking a bus be as exciting as a motorcycle ride. As they were licking their wounds at a local restaurant, they ran into a gal named Sarita. I think I know which Sarita it was. She told the guys that they needed to talk to Scott at The Meeting Place. Maybe he could help. So into the café they came looking for me.

Well, they needed to get to Arequipa, they wanted to ride motorcycles, and I was willing to take them. We only had one problem. I am only equipped with one extra moto. These gentlemen were told all about the vision of MotoMission. They quickly came up with an idea that might solve a bundle of problems. They could purchase a motorcycle for MotoMission, donate it upon the end of the tour, and then they would fly home and I would keep the motorcycle. Great idea from my standpoint as well.

Now this was nothing normal as far as MotoMission goes. We would typically use our own motorcycles and equipment. However, because of the nature of the need of the clients, I decided to stray a bit from the course and make it work. So, onward we went.

Without much knowledge of me, they wired $6000 into my account to help purchase a bike for the trip. It was a good amount, but not enough to buy the right bike. I quickly found a suitable bike in good shape and one that would work for this tour as well as into the future. I talked with the owner of the bike and prepared for him and I to make the transaction the next day.

The money was a quick deal. Wire it now and in 2 hours I can go to the bank and get the money out. That is normally how it works, but this time it was more like three days. I am sure that Henry and Phil were thinking that I had come up with a clever excuse to keep the money. As Henry discussed the problem with his banker, he discovered that oversight on foreign transactions. It was a legitimate excuse and they continued to trust me.

That night, I was able to round up enough extra cash to purchase the bike. So in the morning, I headed down to purchase the bike. I told the guy to go ahead and put new tires on it and get it ready for our trip. I would be back in a half hour to pay for the bike. I even asked if I should bring cash or just do a transfer to his bank.

It looked like the deal was done. I walked out and no more than 10 minutes later, I got a call from Henry. “We found our bikes!!! This changes everything.”

So I quickly called the guy that was preparing to sell me his bike and asked him to hold tight. I told him that I would advise him shortly on what to do.

So for the next afternoon and a day, I spent tons of time helping Henry and Phil to get their bikes back. It was the shadiest thing I have ever been involved in. I can attest that I have been involved in some shady ones too. This one takes the cake.

There were the thieves, the policeman, and then Henry and Phil. Each with a motive. Two of them wanted some easy money and I can assure you it was not Henry and Phil. All they wanted was to get their bikes and hit the road.

So the policeman, Miguel, had a nice little racket going. He played it off like a pro. He was the hero because he “found” the bikes. He was also the hero because he brokered the price with the thieves for how much ransom was to be paid. So in the end, I believe it went something like this. Miguel told the thieves that they could go to jail or cooperate. So cooperate they did. Miguel and the thieves agreed to a price for the bikes. My guess is around 2000 dollars. However, when Miguel got around to telling Henry and Phil how much the price for ransom would be, it happened to be 2500 dollars. Nice scheme you might think. Well, in the end, Miguel, made it out that he was just doing this out of the kindness of his heart. I do not believe that to be true at all. However, it was another 500 dollars for Miguel’s heroism and valor for bravely jumping in and saving the day, out of the kindness of his heart.

Henry and Phil are now with bikes, minus the 3000 dollars. Thieves, and now I include Miguel in the mix, are sitting fat and happy with a nice paycheck for a little scheming. The bikes are thrashed as they had been tampered with many times while the thieves tried to get them running by means of hotwiring and tweaking the motor to try to get them to work. Off to the mechanic the bikes went so they could be ready for the road in a day or two. Time was running out.

The bikes got a good mechanical overhaul; enough for the trip to begin the next day. Off we headed towards Arequipa so the guys could catch their flights on the 15th. The day we left was the 8th.

Day 1 of the Tour

The first day was an adventure for sure. We started out of town through the mountains while stopping off by one of the towns that we work in each week called Huilkarpay. Many of you may recall the story of Jason. We stopped by and checked in on Jason and his family as I wanted to connect a face with the MotoMission vision so that Henry and Phil could understand what we are trying to accomplish with the mission. A few minutes there and off we went into the great Andes mountains filled with some of the most treacherous beauty that one could imagine. About 2 hours into our journey and the bike problems started to develop. Phil’s bike had problems and it took no less than two hours to get back on the road. This set us back on our plans. No big deal. We just needed to adapt and overcome. So we did.

A bit later in the journey, we ended up in this little town of Rondocan. It was there that we stopped and had a quick drink and a snack, then off we went. The gentleman at the little tienda steered us down the road which just happened to begin with a mud bog that was about 15 yards long. I made it through with mud all over me, but at least I was upright. Phil on the other hand, was not so fortunate. He slowly went to the middle of the mud, then decided that wanted to fall over on his left side into the freezing mud pit. He came out OK, but his bike, not so well. We continued on our journey to a point where Phil just disappeared. He was in the front and when he came to a fork in the road, he continued on one of the roads. That was against the tour rules, but once we figured out why, it all made sense. When he had taken the dip in the mud pit a while earlier, his radiator had smashed up against his radiator fan and rendered it useless. Thus his motor was hotter than a 2 dollar pistol. In other words really hot and so he went off the hill to the closest town and parked his bike and waited for us to find him. He was done for the night.

At the same time, I was dealing with my own problem; a front flat tire. Not an impossible thing to ride on, but not good for the stress level of the guide. I decided to stop in the sunlight and quickly fix my tire. As I began tearing it apart, Henry went on a reconnaissance mission to find Phil. Henry returned and convinced me to just limp my bike to the small town down the hill where he found Phil hanging out with a bunch of local kids enamored with the funny talking gringo with a messed up motorcycle. So down the hill I limped.

Upon my arrival, the three of us decided that Henry would go to find a truck to haul Phil’s bike into town where there might be a mechanic. It was about 17Kms down the hill. It was getting really late so we mentioned to Henry to just stay in town and we will stay with one of Phil’s newfound friends, Octavio. He had a place for two people to stay, but no more. As Henry left, we knew he was going to be staying in a nice place with nice food, and a nice comfortable bed. No worries, as we had a dirt floor, two rickety old beds with some type of rustic mattress that seemed to have a bathtub shape to them. The bed was covered with a pile of blankets that seemed like they had just come off a loaded hay truck. Not sure what was growing in those blankets, but I did not seem to care too much at the time, nor did Phil. We were tired.

We found out that Octavio was so thrilled to have guests at his house that he moved out his family and got the room all ready for us to stay there. He prepared some “great” tasting drinks of which I cannot pronounce let alone spell. It was warm, so it made it tolerable. With the drink from Octavio, Phil and I enjoyed a culinary delight that one can often find in places like this; it was a can of ground up fish, no telling what kind, and it was in a tuna type can. Although it was supposed to be for human consumption, I was sure it nothing more than cat food. In fact, I could care less what the label said, it WAS cat food. Phil went to the store while I was fixing my tire and bought dinner for us. We would be spending the night for sure. We sucked it down as if we were contestants on Fear Factor. It was lights out for us as we wished we were where Henry was. In a warm hotel room snuggled up after a nice hot meal. The snoring began and dreams commenced.

Moments later, the roar of a truck outside with a horrendous honking noise awoke the entire neighborhood. It was Henry. He found a truck and came to our rescue. He was not enjoying his nice hotel room, but rather saving the day, or hhmmm, night, with his tactical move of coercing a truck driver to come up the muddy mountain to retrieve a motorcycle and some wretched dirtbikers. Phil and I could not believe it. What was Henry thinking? It’s the middle of the night. Well, the truck was there. We had no choice but to awake, load up our bikes, and say goodbye to Octavio in the middle of the night. We paid him well which made it tolerable for him to rearrange his house for us. We loaded up the bikes and this ghostly truck began heading down the sketchy mountainside at a good pace.

Inside the cab of the truck was about enough room for three people. Three would be tight. However because of the nature of our engineering and physics experience, we were able to cram all three of us in, plus the driver. In addition, the driver had a copilot that needed a place to sit, so in he came as well. All 5 of us stuffed into this tiny cab of a truck. It was not so bad until I noticed that the roof had a huge leak and freezing cold water continued to shower my head. I, in turn, had to lean forward so the water would hit the back of my motorcycle jacket and run down into the seat. Oh, the joys of traveling in Peru.

We quickly arrived at our destination; a little town of Acamayo. Not necessarily a metropolis, but had one hostel to speak of. We pulled the bikes from the truck, and placed them in the parking area next to the hostel, got into our rooms, and crashed out for the night.

Day 2

The next morning, we went looking for a mechanic. Asking around is the best way to find what you need in a town that size. Immediately we were greeted by what seemed to be the town Sherriff. I doubt he was law enforcement, but did look a bit more official than anyone else. He steered us to the local bicycle shop. That was the best he could do for a mechanic. As we headed to the bicycle shop, another two guys rode up on a motorcycle and probed us about what we needed. They had apparently been sent by someone else. The word was out that we needed a mechanic. Suddenly, the whole town was full of professional and highly experienced mechanics, or at least they all wanted some work, whether or not they could handle the task.

We chose two of the guys to help us with the bike. One of them looked the part, however, could not verify if he had a shop or not; just some racing experience. He seemed to know a bit about motorcycles. So he started poking and prodding the bike. He suggested a few things and then we changed the oil. Nothing like pouring oil out on all over the ground and watching the beautiful colors run down the street for blocks. Environment was about as much of a concern to these “mechanics” as was the need for tools, of which they did not have any. As we got the bike back together, we were able to get the bike to the gas station. This was basically someone with a barrel of gas in their front room that was willing to peddle it jug by jug. It was flammable so we poured it in. While we waited for the tanks to be filled, the local school let out across the street. The local kids began to flock in awe of these crazy gringos with big motorcycles. It was a fun interaction as they welcomed us to their town and wished us a safe journey. We took a few pictures and then hit the road. Day two had finally got going on the road.

From Acamayo, we had a goal of getting to Espinar. Our trip was filled with some of the most gorgeous scenery that one could imagine. Lonely valleys, long windy passes up to 16,000 feet, then back down to the 4 lakes region which boasts of 4 lagoons that take your breath away, that is if you have any in the first place.

While we traveled, we continued to have problems with Phil’s bike. We were able to manage to keep it cool by keeping it moving. We continued on our journey to Espinar which was a wonderful sight. It was a pretty good size town with plenty of amenities such as hotel, food, fuel, mechanics, and possibly some motorcycle parts.

We settled up in a hotel, put the bikes away for the night, and grabbed a bite of Pollo a la Brasa, one of my favorite meals in Peru. The night quickly passed us by and we awoke to a bustling city outside our hotel. We came alive, gathered our things, and began the search for a good mechanic. It was there that we found Campos.

Day 3 of the Tour

Campos was a large motorcycle shop with about 30 incapable mechanics, and one that seemed to know something about fixing bikes. We chose the capable one to start on the bike. While there, we also had the incapable ones start on changing the tires on Henry’s bike. What a sight to see these guys work on these bikes. It was only after the grandfather came out, could they get the tires changed. All morning there waiting for the bikes to be ready, we hit the road at about 1 in the afternoon.

Graciously guided out of town by one of the incapable mechanics and his little friend on a 4 wheeler, we were led to this beautiful area called 3 canyons. It was the end of the road for the guide, so we took it from there. Off towards Arequipa we traveled. Once again the ride was filled with incredible views that never stopped.

As we traveled on what I labeled a rough dirt road, we found ourselves crossing streams, rocky sections, as well as mud bog after mud bog. To our delight, we all enjoyed this section the most. It put a smile on our faces, but it was also filled with its share of challenges. One notable challenge was the surprise puddle nestled in the middle of a thousand other shallow ones. This particular one looked the same as all the rest and it took two of us off guard. Henry went into it about half speed and quickly found out that the water was about 4 feet deep. He was able to slam his bike into it at enough speed that he carried through to the other side only to stall out with his front tire on the far edge. Soaked to the bone, he got his bike going and continued on.

I was a bit behind Henry, trying to catch up from checking on Phil. When I hit the ordinary looking puddle, I did the usual wheelie to keep my feet dry. Once my rear tire hit the puddle it was all over. It slammed my front tire down into the abyss of water, almost throwing me over my bars. With the only thing keeping me on my bike was the wall of water that was pressing me back, I suddenly realized that I had made a mistake, and I was going to pay for it. I made it through the puddle with blurred vision, as the water began pouring off my soaked goggles, rain jacket, and pants. From that point on, it was a freeze out as I managed to become a swamp cooler at 15,000 feet of elevation and cold temperatures. Phil managed to make it through better than Henry and I, but we were all soaked and cold from the numerous water crossings. It was getting late, and all were tired, so we decided to stay the night at this little pueblo called Condorcuyo. It had one of those little stores with a gas barrel and somewhat of a place to stay.

We were directed to a building just down the way that had a yellow sign on it. It apparently was the towns “hotel.” As we entered we found a gruff lady working away, without a friendly smile. We asked if she had a place to stay and indeed she did. As we moved in, we realized that we were in for a long and miserable night. The lady had few nice things to say, nor did she have many pleasant facial expressions. Needless to say, we were not at a Hilton.

As we got settled in, we realized our beds were not much to speak of. They consisted of a nappy old frame with a huge sag in the middle to spoon our bodies throughout the cold night. The blankets were not enough, but we were able to round up a few more. While we each jumped into our respective beds, each with frozen toes and fingers, we realized that the temperature was dropping. I happened to pack some plastic trash bags for water protection if needed. In this case it provided a bit more warmth for the long night ahead. So there we were inside our blankets, wrapped up in a Glad bag, trying to manage our body heat. Just about then, the grumpy lady came in with our dinner. It was nothing more than a pile of egg sandwiches and instant coffee. The crazy thing about it was that it was served in bed. Henry had the nerve to ask the lady. It apparently worked.

As the lady came back to retrieve the dishes she found us in the same places; miserably cold in our beds. Henry for some reason asked for a bedtime story to be read to us in Quechua. That went over like a dark cloud in the winter. As Phil and I sat there freezing in our beds, we laughed at the gall of Henry to ask for a bedtime story. We later realized that the lady probably could not read. She seemed to loosen up after that.

It was a long night of rest as the weather was cold and the bathroom was not a good option. The only other option was the water bottle next to the bed which was obviously too small to fit a full bladder. So as it approached morning, the bladder was full, but the temperature was too cold to even think of getting out of bed. The bottle by that time was about half the size it needed to be. Lye there and wait was the name of the game. Finally it had to be done. Bite the bullet and get up and relive yourself for crying out loud!

As we all arose to a freezing environment, we quickly realized that nothing had dried overnight. Our socks were frozen and boots still soaked. Not a good way to start the day. Not a lot of options at that point. So we readied ourselves, ate another round of egg sandwiches, and headed out to get the bikes.

Noticing that Phil’s bike was totally dead, we played the blame game. We later realized it was an alternator issue and not just someone leaving on the key. Either way, it took us all morning to get going. We had to get creative by using one of the other bikes to jump start Phil’s each time. We made a special wiring harness that could be connected just by riding up to the side of Phil and connecting the wires. It worked for a while, but soon, other issues prevailed and caused problems.

This was the day of riding that really put the smiles on the faces of each of us. It was riddled with beautiful views of desolate valleys, long stretches of technical dirt roads, mud bogs, and tons of water. One could not ask for a better combination of fun. So toward Chivay we headed. We made it as far as Sabayo and Phil’s bike finally gave up the ghost. Three hours of trying to get it going again and we had to give up and realize that this may be the end of the line for Phil’s bike. We had very little opportunity to get his bike transported to a town where there might be a mechanic, so we asked the one guy that could possibly help us. This guy had a small van, but assured us that his”other” vehicle was sufficient. He kindly told us that he would return in 10 minutes (equals about and hour in Peruvian time). He showed up with the same vehicle, but he had pulled out the seats. He apparently thought it was sufficient. We measured the bike and realized that the bike was about a foot taller than the highest point in his van. With a little frustration of our own, we decided that we could remove the front tire and the mirrors and it might work. So while we began pulling off the tire, the Senora of the driver arrived carrying a couple of sheep pelts, still bloody from the kill. The driver kindly pointed out that he could place the bloody pelts over the motorcycle to protect Phil’s investment. Along with the pelts, two old tires were placed on either side to keep it from moving back and forth during the short ride to Chivay. Who needs rope when you have tires and bloody sheepskins? Apparently not us.

It was at this point that my time with the guys was to end. The final chapter. What an adventure it had been. It was time that they needed to get their bikes to Arequipa so they could catch their flight. I, on the other hand, had to take a 4 day ride, compact it down to the equivalent of one day of riding. I had the rest of that evening and the morning of the following day to be at the airport in Cusco to greet some friends who happened to be flying in the next day at noon thirty.

With a hug and a few parting words with Henry and Phil, I watched the bloody sheepskins begin flopping around in the back of the van as they drove off toward the town of Chivay. It was quite a time with those guys. I enjoyed the company, the scenery, the riding, and the odd and crazy things that happened along the way.

I managed to part ways, hammered down on the throttle and made it back to a small town with somewhat of a place to spend the night. I slept for a few hours and then hopped on the bike and rode like a mad man to reach Cusco by noon. I rode through a 16K pass with about a foot of snow on the ground, a hail storm, rain, mud, and sunshine. It was an incredible ride. I did indeed make it to Cusco and arrived at the airport with no time to spare. I was there to greet my friends. What a great ending to such a fun filled adventure with Henry and Phil. Thanks for the stories guys! Hope to see you next time around.

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