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Our first week in the Andes

As children, the Andes, at least for us Italians, were those of Marco who had crossed the ocean in search of his mother.

From the Apennines to the Andes, an immense story taken from the Edmondo De Amicis novel, Cuore (Earth).

The Andes described as very high, cold mountains, shrouded in fog and snow.

Obviously today the Andes are no longer those of Marco and above all, to date, we have only experienced a small hint; just those of Colombia, Ecuador and Northern Peru.

Most of this trip in South America will be up and down the Andes.

In these first days in the Andes we traveled between 2,000 and 4,000 meters above sea level.

The first few days were a bit difficult. 

Above 3,000 metres, even simply driving or riding the motorbike, the sensation of lack of oxygen was pretty strong.

However, I think we are getting used to it.

Up to the south of Ecuador the roads were above expectations, far better than those of Central America.

But the last 80 kilometers in Ecuador were really complicated.

Having the objective of crossing the entire Cordillera Blanca, the plan was to enter Peru from the La Balza border.

We left on January 1st from Loja, the last city in south of Ecuador, with the aim of reaching San Ignacio in Peru, the first town after the La Balza border.

240 kilometres, for which we estimated around 6 hours including fuel and rest stops.

We left, late by our standard, around 9:30.

It was New Year's Day, the evening before we had dined in a splendid Peruvian restaurant in Loja that deserved at least one Michelin star and we had "only" 240 kilometers to travel.

The first 120 kilometers were easy, I would say.

Mountain roads, paved and in fair condition, between 2300 and 2900 meters altitude.

Afterwards, the asphalt gave way to a "mountain path" almost 90 kilometers long which accompanied us till the border with Peru.

A path without guard rails, with a single lane and, at times, moderately complicated.

Complicated and tiring for us too, two of us on a loaded motorbike that weighs more than 250 kilos.

However, we were reassured by the other vehicles we passed: simple cars, small-engined motorbikes and even vans and buses that struggled up these paths.

Over 4 hours to travel less than 90 kilometers!

The experience at the La Balza border was definitely the best We’ve had so far.

Both the exit from Ecuador and the entry into Peru were very fast and above all facilitated by kind and friendly officers from both customs and immigration.

From La Balza, the last 40 kilometers to San Ignacio and a well-deserved rest were all in all uneventful.

On January 2, 430 kilometers awaited us to reach Cajamarca, the capital of the region of the same name in the Northern Plateau of Peru.

A medium-sized town, perched at around 2,750 meters above sea level, Cajamarca is above all known for the capture of the Inca king Atahualpa by the Spanish conquerors.

The story goes that in 1532, the Spanish leader Francisco Pizarro sent two contingents of soldiers under the leadership of Hernando de Soto and his brother Hernando with the aim of convincing Atahualpa to join him in Cajamarca; after an initial refusal, the sovereign accepted.

The next day Atahualpa arrives in Cajamarca, escorted by numerous unarmed soldiers; the emperor did not know that Pizarro had carefully prepared the ambush, with the precise intention of capturing him and thus destroying any resistance from the natives.

Although it went down in history as the "Battle of Cajamarca", it was a massacre: around two hundred Spaniards killed thousands of unarmed Inca soldiers lined up around their sovereign's litter.

The young Atahualpa, who grew up and lived as an unattainable god, suddenly found himself in the unpredictable condition of a prisoner; his empire destroyed in one day.

Once imprisoned, Atahualpa thought of every solution to return free.

As an acute observer, he had noticed Pizarro's amazement at the abundance of gold, silver and precious stones in the Inca court and had decided to exploit the conquistador's greed, offering to fill the room in which he was imprisoned with precious stones "up to where the hand could touch them”, in exchange for freedom.

Having accepted the proposal, Pizarro had the notary present on the expedition preparing a contract, committing himself to free Atahualpa if the promise was kept.

But this time too Pizarro did not respect the pact: just as he had deceived the emperor by attracting him to Cajamarca with the excuse of a convivial meeting, so even more seriously he deceived him by stealing all the gold and silver accumulated in the room and then condemning him to an ignominious end, the killing with the garrote which took place in the current Plaza de Armas.

Even these 430 kilometers which according to the Peruvians were all on a “pista” (paved road) turned out to be interminable.

Regardless of the altitude, with continuous ups and downs between 2,700 and 4,000 metres, the real problem of the roads in the Andes are the landslides which inevitably destroy the roads during the rainy season.

And unfortunately, despite the efforts, rebuilding the road surface in such remote areas becomes difficult.

So, suddenly, maybe after a nice curve you find a huge boulder in the middle of the road or worse and more frequently, the road surface simply disappears to be replaced by kilometers of dirt track that heavy vehicles turn into a real hell both for motorists and especially for us motorcyclists.

To add further fun to the day, Cajamarca gave us beautiful fog for the last 40 kilometres, worthy of the Po Valley.

The initial idea was to stop in Cajamarca for two nights, in order to rest a bit and above all do some "laundry", but the following morning upon our arrival we found a small oil leak under the engine guard of our KTM.

Upon checking we discovered that the leak was coming from the gear selector sensor.

We knew it would be impossible to find the spare part in Cajamarca, however an attempt had to be made.

Google promptly suggested to us the presence of a KTM Dealer in Cajamarca, so we jumped on it.

Robert, the owner of Agape Motor, welcomed us with great courtesy and obviously ruled out being able to find the part in times compatible with our travel needs, however he assured us that he would still solve the problem.

Appointment for the following day at 4pm to collect the motorbike.

At this point we decided to stay one more day and take advantage of this unexpected stay to visit the Banos de los Inca, the Inca baths of Cajamarca.

So the following morning, equipped with flip-flops and swimsuits, we showed up at Pultumarka (the original Inca name) where we spent a pleasant half day of relaxation, culminating in a lunch based on Chevice and Cuy (our guinea pig) in a traditional Peruvian restaurant outside the spa.

At 4pm, punctual like clockwork, Robert handed us our KTM 990, perfectly repaired.

We are ready for new adventures.

Enoy, if you wish our video story here

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