Home Safe

Oakland, CA

This will just be a quick post, most importantly to say that I have made it safely back to Oakland.

As it turns out, the spiritual end of the trip was in Cusco. With the coronavirus writing on the wall, I moved my schedule up even more than I already had and really rushed down to Santiago, making the 2,000 mile trip in 6 days, with South American countries closing their borders and restricting travel all the while. My travel was uneventful – long days making my way through the Atacama desert and down the Chilean coast.

A valley in the Chilean desert Mountains meeting the coast

In Santiago, I met my shipping agent at the airport, and we got the motorcycle apart and strapped to a pallet to be sent by air up to SFO. As it turns out, shipping the bike by air was the most economical.

Getting the motorcycle prepared on the pallet Just another checked bag

Later that night I got on my flight to the US. It was a strange feeling watching the in-flight map, seeing the plane tick past all of the places in 9 hours that I had spent the last 6 months getting through.

Anyways, I made it, and it is an eerie homecoming indeed. The Bay Area entered lockdown on the morning I arrived, and my girlfriend is under isolation with suspect symptoms. So here I am, in just another hotel room. At least I can drink the tap water.

I am absolutely relieved, though, to have made it here. The thought of getting stuck in Chile alone for months during this crisis was a nightmare. I have several moto friends still down in South America now struggling to quickly get home, some having to make the call to ditch their bike.

I’ll probably have some more thoughts on this trip later – I will certainly have plenty of time to reflect on it. For now though, thanks for following along, stay safe, and stay healthy!

<3 Micah

You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers

Tacna, Peru

I feel like I often have an inverse relationship between what I am supposed to feel when encountering a major sight and what I actually feel. This goes for things like natural phenomena like a panoramic vista of the Grand Canyon as much as remarkable man-made constructions. That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate them – it’s just that when I lay my eyes on them, I tend to feel a distinct lack of rapturous euphoria which has been suggested as appropriate.

As such, I steeled myself for lack-of-enthusiasm-to-mild-disappointment for that modern wonder of the world (excuse me: New7Wonder), Machu Picchu. While I maybe didn’t go weak at the knees (altitude-induced weakness excepted), I gotta say, it was pretty fantastic.

And I wasn’t alone! The day after I made it up to Cusco, Brother Noah arrived, and the day after that, my parents. As I alluded to in my last post, I’d been getting a bit stir-crazy for lack of company, and their arrival was one I had been looking to for a long time.

Unbeknownst to us, the day Noah got to Cusco was the final celebration of Carnaval, and unbeknownster that this is celebrated with a city-wide water fight, augmented with spray canisters of foam. We were first clued in while walking towards the main square when a small girl assaulted us with a blast of foam to the face.

A foam blast

At the square, it was a full-on melee, with no one safe, least of which those who looked like they really didn’t want a water balloon to the dome or a bucket of water down the back.

Foam a-flyin Shortly after getting chased down by a unapologetic girl with a water balloon

The next day, the parents arrived, and began acclimatizing to the altitude, which at 11,000 feet is no joke. Our first outing was checking out ruins near the city with a guide named Alaín, who would finish each factoid with “…which is very interesting.” On a hill just above and overlooking Cusco, the ruins of Saqsaywamán were pretty neat.

Zig-zag walls of Saqsaywaman

We also met and learned how to differentiate the camelids of Peru: the llama, the alpaca, the vicuña and the guanaco. I have already completely forgotten.

Who can say?

The next day, we did a pretty substantial hike in the Sacred Valley, partially on an Inca trail and going through the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo.

Inca hike

From there, it was a train to Aguas Calientes, the small town whose sole raison d’être is servicing tourists visiting Machu Picchu just down the valley. And it did so admirably, and the next morning we were there.

The fam

Like I said, it was pretty fantastic. Worth it.

Classic Machu Picchu The terraces From on top of Huayna Picchu

Back in Cusco, it was a few fairly low-key days involving more Inca ruins, poking around the city, and generally taking it easy. It was all a pretty great time, and incidentally the longest I’ve been in one place since I left, but now Noah went back to Dublin and the parents went off to Lima and it is time for me to go home. By way of Santiago, Chile, 2,000 miles to the south.

My last time crossing the Andes on this trip, they weren’t going to let me go without leaving me a few more memories. Yesterday I made my way uneventfully to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and then today first crossed the altiplano, and summited a pass that’s the highest I’ve ever ridden (or been, for that matter): 4,592 meters or 15,065 feet.

The altiplano, extra alti The pass at Abra Ojelaca

Not too much further down the road, over a pass only a few feet lower, I ran into a sudden storm. First came hail, which quickly turned to sleet. The road got really slick really fast, so I pulled off.

Hail on the road

This is right around when the lightning started, and being on the top of a mountain with a motorcycle had me thinking how other hypothetical situations would probably be comparatively safer, and just then a bolt of lightning struck close enough to really put the fear of god into me. I had seen a minibus pull off just up the road, so I ran over to it and was warmly welcomed inside by a crew of 14 construction workers on the way to their worksite. As the sleet continued to rain down and turned to snow, they distributed lunch, with an extra portion for me, noodle soup and chicken with rice. By this time, a couple inches of slushy snow on the road, traffic on the pass came to a stop, with semis and buses giving up and parking in the middle of the highway. Not much to do but make a snowman.

A top-notch snowman

The skies eventually cleared, and the slush eventually melted enough that I could ride very slowly along the tire tracks to safe haven. 15 minutes later and lower, it was green and sunny.

The calm after the storm

An hour later, I was on Tatooine.

The desert outside of Tacna

Anyways, some of the best moments of this trip have been receiving the kindness of strangers in moments of vulnerability. I’m lucky I got one more.

Me with my crew

Pressing on in Peru

Abancay, Peru

Time has gotten away from me once again, and since I last wrote, I have made it a good portion of the way down Peru. Starting with another painless border crossing, my first day of riding in Peru was like a little microcosm of the landscapes I’ve been through since: first expansive, flat, dry desert, then red mountains straight out of southern Utah, then lush green mountains as I made my way to the Amazon basin.

My first big stop was the small city of Chachapoyas, which served as a gateway to the ruins of Kuélap. Sometimes called “The Machu Picchu of the North,” it’s an impressive mountaintop city, dating back to the 5th century AD. It mainly consists of hundreds of circular structures, apparently once home to over 300,000 people.

One Kuelap dwelling Many Kuelap dwellings

It was more stimulating riding as I made my way south back across the Andes, first following the Utcubamba River for a stretch before taking the road from Leimebamba to Celendín, a winding mountain road which is very single-lane, with nary a guardrail between you and a sheer drop. Going around its abundant blind corners, the standard protocol is to toot your horn as you’re going into the curve. I never did find out the procedure for when someone toots back, which I am content to leave a mystery.

Along the Utcubamba River The road from Leimebamba to Celedin

I made it down the coast, the first time on the Pacific since Costa Rica. I first landed in Trujillo, where I spent a bit longer than planned getting over an illness and also a bit of malaise. Coming up on 5 months on the road, I’ve been feeling more and more ready to be home again (and, I mean, to have a home to be in). Being around friends and loved ones foremost, but also getting away from the drudgery of constantly being on the move, packing all my things in a box to get to the next place, not having my own bed, etc. etc. This all caught up to me recently, and I’ve relaxed my itinerary as a result.

So anyways. After doing not much at all in Trujillo for a few days, I made my way down on the Pan-Am to Lima. I knew Lima was big, but I had not realized how big. It’s the third largest city of the Americas, after São Paulo and Mexico City. It took me an hour and a half to get from the edge of the city to where I was staying, in the district of Miraflores. I didn’t check too many tourist boxes in Lima, but I did relax a bunch and enjoy being in a metropolis for the last time until I head home. My highlight was probably Parque Kennedy in the middle of Miraflores, which is full of flowers, street performers, and most importantly cats. Lots of cats.

A Parque Kennedy cat

From what I did see, anyways, Lima seemed like a pretty rad city. I would certainly come back.

The expansive beachfront of Lima

My next stop was the small village of Paracas, a few hours down the coast. I hopped on a boat there to check out the Islas Ballestas, a “poor man’s Galápagos” just a few miles off the coast. No turtles here, but an impressive array of birds lounging above some huge colonies of sea lions.

One of the islas A lot of birbs

Also on this trip was a good vantage point of the Paracas Candelabra, a pretty neat geoglyph dug into a hill facing the coast, dating to 200 BC.

Paracas Candelabra

In the few days since, I have been again cutting across the Andes, this time making my way to Cusco to meet my family, which I am very excited for.