7th travel letter, 25th of May 1995
I had a marvelous trip to Galapagos, although it was expensive,
it was worth all the money. The animals there are not afraid of people,
probably because they never had any enemies, maybe. I can best describe
it in this way; at home the birds fly away when you come to close,
at Galapagos they walk away.
Galapagos is a big national park with many restrictions, you have to be
accompanied by a guide at all times and you are not allowed to get off the
marked trail, but even though you can only go where they want you to, and
therefore always are surrounded by a lot of other tourists, you still see
a lot, especially if you got a good guide, which takes his time and don't
hurry to go back to the boat, as we saw many guides do, especially the
tours with tourists from Ecuador.
To see anything on Galapagos you have to go on a boat trip, in my case 5
days on a mice boat with 8 2-bed cabins with private bath and a 7-person
crew. We typically had 1 or 2 visits to different islands each morning and
each afternoon so during this trip we saw almost all the different animals
of the islands; pelicans, flamingos, red-footed and blue-footed boobies,
frigate birds, but no albatross.
Almost everyday we went schnorkling, playing with the baby sea-lion and
fur-seals, actually I think it was the other way around. The penguins are
incredibly fast in the water, even the giant tortoise is pretty fast under
water. On the beaches, which comes in almost any color you like, you
could see the large tracks left by the giant tortoise, when they walk up
the beach to deposit their eggs. Unfortunately, you would also see dead
baby tortoises fried on the sand as they have been trying to reach the
cold clear water.
In the evening the crew would go fishing, diving to catch langouste,
pretty delicious (it's a lobster without claws).
If you go to Ecuador, I can only recommend you to take a trip to
Galapagos. A trip like mine costs a little more than 1.000 USD, and can
hardly be done much cheaper, since the airfare and entrance to the
islands is about half of it. It is certainly worth going, and only
60.000 are allowed to visit the islands each year.
In Guayaquil I met a swiss guy, who was traveling on motorcycle with a
girl friend from Peru. They had just come from Peru, but because of the
war between Peru and Ecuador the border is closed except for foreigners.
Therefore, she could not cross the border, so once they were at the
border, they took a bus back to Lima, from Lima they took a plane to
Guayaquil in Ecuador and a bus to the border. Here the swiss guy crossed
to get his bike and then both could continue in Ecuador. War is stupid !
In my last travel letter from Guayaquil, I forgot to mention the troubles
we had getting there. In the middle of nowhere my alternator suddenly
decided to give up. A wire in the rotor was broken (burned), but due to a
good BMW design (you can remove the rotor without an extractor, you only
need a headless bolt 5 cm long - very clever), I was able to take it
apart. Luckily, the broken wire was on the outside, so I was able to
replace it with a few thinner wires, cover it all up with super-glue, and
it still works!
We had stopped to fix the bike at a simple adobe hut. Here lived a family
without much, but in the evening they had removed a big blanket, and
under it was a billiard table, and all the youngsters gathered there to
play. I was pretty surprised.
After Guayaquil I went to Riobamba to try a railway, which descends 3.000
meter in 80 km (you could sit on the roof and enjoy the view, but going
through the tunnels was pretty scaring). After 8 hours on the train, we
reached the lowland and I got off and took a bus back. It only took 3 hours.
While I was in Riobamba they celebrated the anniversary of the town and
one of the activities they had was a bull-fight, which I of course
It was kind of a two-sided experience. Most of the matadors were
pretty scared of the bulls, and when they stopped playing with the bull
and were going to kill it, they didn't manage to do it in the first try.
But one of the matadors was really brilliant, and so was the bull. It was
a great show, and when the matador finally wanted to kill the bull, the
audience wouldn't let him, and in the end the bull was allowed to live and
leave the arena - and the matador was the hero of the day. But I really
don't know if I like bull-fights. I was brought up in a home where we
were not allowed to play with the food.
On my way to Peru I visited some Inca ruins. They are all over, and are
not nearly as old as I thought, [from] 1200-1600, and you can find traces
from that period all over.
Once in Peru, I visited Chan Chan near Trujillo, the capitol of the
Chimu, a regime which existed before the Inca's. It is pretty impressive,
covering an area of more that 25 square kilometers, all surrounded by 9
meter tall adobe walls.
The Panamericano follows the coast of Peru, and the coast of Peru is all
covered by desert. I have driven more than 2.000 km through this desert by
now, and on the way to Lima I was getting tired of it, and had found a
bad road which would lead up to the mountains, and another road going
south. So on a fresh day I started my trip up in the highland again. The
road went worse, and after a few hours I hit a stone and had a flat on my
front wheel. Since it was pretty worn and I carried a new front-tire, I
decided to change tires too. Everything went without problems and I
finally threw the old tire away, so you could not see it from the road.
I had a little bad conscience, but here everyone throws garbage
everywhere, so I continued. After another hour and 20 km I hit another
rock, had a flat on the front wheel again, but his time it was worse. It
had cut all the way through my new tire, a hold so big that I could push
my swiss army knife through. I was not happy at all, I repaired the tube
and the tire, and decided to go back and try to find my old tire and go
back to the Panamericano. Altogether I reckoned that the gods didn't want
me to proceed on this road, and later the evening I was back on the
Panamericano. I even found my old front-tire, which I'm using to this day,
although it is almost gone.
On the way to Lima, I met Wayne, an English guy on a 500 cc Honda. He had
been on the road for 3 years working his way through Europe, India,
Southeast Asia, Australia, the USA, Central America and now South
America, more than 70.000 miles. He needed a new clutch, so I continued
alone from Lima to the south. The 1st of May they suddenly closed the
Panamericano for 7 hours, because there was a car race from Arequipa to
Lima, and since there is no other road, all of south Peru was stock that day.
In Arequipa I met Matthias from Switzerland. He is on a Gavina 650,
starting 5 months ago in Buenos Aires going south to Tierra del Fuego
then north through Chile to Peru, where I met him. He was going east as
well, so we have been traveling together for 3 weeks now.
First we went on a back-road towards Cuzco 2 to 3 days on bad gravel-road
over high passes near 5.000 meters. At this altitude you are really short of
power and so is your bike - it only had power between 3 and 4.000 rpm.
It is really cold once you get above 4.000 meters, and the night are
freezing, but the sun is very sharp. On the way to Cuzco, we visited a
canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and there we saw a condor. In a
little town we suddenly happened to be the guests of honor at a wedding.
Here the wedding go on for 3-5 days and we were there on the 3rd day and
nobody looked really tired - but I almost died dancing in the thin air.
Cuzco i a nice town at 3.300 meter, it has a pleasant climate and it is
no wonder that the Incas chose it as their capital. But the Spaniards
have destroyed most of it, and only kept the old walls as foundation for
their own houses and churches. Still, it is amazing to see how well the
stones from the Inca time fits together.
A 4-hour train ride north of Machu-Picchu a large Inca ruin only found in
this century - because the Spaniards never found it - is in a pretty good
shape, and we spend a good day there with a good guide.
After Cuzco we went south again to Puno at lake Titicaca. Here we were
visiting the floating islands, and as it was almost routine now fixing
the bikes, welding luggage rack etc. The roads in this region is killing
our bikes, every day something breaks, but we carried on to Bolivia and
La Paz, which is the highest capital in the world, 3.600 meters, and it
is actually built in a hole.
From La Paz we went to Oruro and visited a Tin-smelter, but we came on a
bad day, because that morning a worker had just been killed. Something,
which seemed not to be unknown.
We went further south, over very bad sandy roads to a very big salt-lake
at Uyuni. It was fun driving around on the lake, you could go very fast
on the smooth surface.
Next on our program was Potosi, famous for its silver mines. You can
visit the mines and so we did. First we went to a street shop and bought
a big bag of coca-leaves, a bottle of 96% alcohol, 2 sticks of dynamite
and detonators, etc. - all this for less than 2 dollars. Then we went up
the mountains and tried the dynamite - it was great fun. Then we were all
told to make a ball of coca-leaves in our cheeks and to chew it together
with the catalyst. It takes around 400 leaves, and it lasts for around
4 hours. In the end your cheek feels like you have got and injection at
the dentist, but otherwise you don't feel anything.
With the coca balls in place, we entered the mines each with our own
little carbide lamp. The tunnels were very low and the air was sometimes
filled with arsenic or ammonium (after dynamite explosions). I think we went
about a kilometer into the mountain. I'm glad that I'm not working here,
the people work up to 24 hours, a shift living only on coca-leaves and
the 96% alcohol and very strong cigarettes. There was no machinery at
all, the small rail-carriages were pulled by hand, and all in all you
thought you were in a different century. I was glad, when I came our
after 3 hours in the mine - not that I was really tired, but it was nice
getting our in the fresh air, although it is thin here at more than 4.000
Now we are in Sucre, which is also capitol of Bolivia. We are down at
2.800 meters and have a little more power now. Today is the anniversary
of this town, so all day there have been parades, thousands of people
have marched by. We have been here a week, because the alternator on
Matthias' bike is broken. He is getting it rewinded, but when it was
almost finished, the guy who is making it went for a ride on his bike, and
it seems that he had an accident. But we hope, we can get the bike fixed
tomorrow (as we have hoped every day).
The plan is to take a back road from Bolivia to Paraguay and later
continue to Buenos Aires with or without the bike, only time will tell.
Otherwise everything is OK. We have been a bit weak, but we are not sure
whether it is because of the mine trip, or it is because of something we
have eaten. I was almost unable to walk up and down stairs for 3 days
after the mine-visit, but everything is OK, we are only waiting for the
mechanic to be OK too, maybe tomorrow.