Back in Peru – Calama to Arequipa

Peru Desert


The Suzuki conspired to keep us in Calama. When it finally decided to let us go, the Yamaha picked up the reigns, doing its best to prevent us from leaving Chile. After 33,000km of almost trouble-free riding, my trusty Tenere started to misbehave.

The ride from Calama to Iquique was uneventful. It was new territory for Paulina; for me, however, it was a case of retracing my steps along the rugged coastline. But the following morning, after riding slowly though a 5km traffic jam to the top of the escarpment above Iquique, I got a red light on my dash – the engine was overheating. So we turned about, and returned to the city below us. After two days and a visit to a local mechanic, I thought the problem was solved and we duly set off northbound through the desert. 300km later, all looked good until I found myself once again stop-starting through the traffic in Arica. Red light, overheating engine, problem definitely not solved.

DIY switchIt seemed to be the fan – it wasn’t being activated when the engine was getting hot. Throughout my trip, I have had the support of the Yamaha mechanic who serviced my bike in UK – Simon from Powerbiking in High Wycombe. I email him the problem, he tells me what to do about it.  There is also an excellent web forum solely for Yamaha XT660s, frequented by people who know infinitely more about my bike than I ever will. Once again I called upon their assistance. That afternoon in Arica the fuel tank came off the bike and I set to work trying to find the fault. A few hours later, I had set up a very makeshift but effective switch wired directly into the battery, made from bits of wood, metal and wire I found lying around in the hostel garage. It would allow me turn the fan on manually when I found myself riding slowly through traffic.

I am not mechanically minded, nor am I very interested in ‘wrenching’ and getting my hands oily. As as result, I have done little in the past to proactively learn about what makes my moto move; just the essentials for a big trip like this. But over the last 15 months I have learnt a lot – by necessity. Every time an issue has cropped up on my bike, I have pulled up the service manual on my iPad, unrolled my tool roll and set about navigating the mystery world of wires, sockets, pipes, sprockets and the like. Simon and the XT660.com members have been my tutors – as have local mechanics whom I watch when I’ve needed to call upon their services. I’m still very much in the ‘amateur’ category, but I surprise myself when I realise I now actually understand what each part (well, let’s say ‘most’) of a moto does.

Desert VallesyWith my Heath Robinson switch attached to the handlebars, we struck out for Arequipa in Peru. Once across the border and north of the town of Tacna, the ride through the Peruvian desert was beautiful. I had expected more of the same after the Chilean Atacama, but instead we were treated to rolling dunes of beautiful oranges and soft browns, rugged cordilleras and the occasional valley of almost luminous green, where mountain rivers dissected the desert and irrigated lush fields of young wheat, vines and other crops. And it also ‘felt’ different. Peru has a very different energy to Chile. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was very tangible – softer, lighter, altogether more relaxing.

We are now in Arequipa. I had hoped the Yamaha garage I had used back in May last year would be able to pin down and resolve the problem the the fan. Yesterday morning when I visited, the boss of the garage was very enthusiastic and ‘can do’ – and I foolishly allowed myself to feel optimistic. I returned this morning, to find my bike exactly where I had left it (deja vu – when will I learn the lesson?). So maybe the O-Level Physics switch will have to stay on the bike a little longer. Much that we both like Arequipa, we are determined not to get stuck again. We plan to stay a week or two in the Sacred Valley, two days drive north from here. Let’s hope Yamaha Cusco are a bit more proactive, as my incipient mechanical skills don’t yet stretch to stripping down and rebuilding the fan.

2 Comments on Back in Peru – Calama to Arequipa

  1. Rex Thomas // 19/02/2014 at 2:37 am // Reply

    You change plans constantly….it’s good to be flexible….you were going to Bolivia and went straight to Peru instead. You must have ridden by the abandoned mining town of Humberstone, if you didn’t check it you should have it is really good….different.
    Yeah, fixing motos is a pain in the butt, we just want them to go don’t we.
    Peru sure is different to Chile or anyplace really, a bit more edgy and rough, seems like it hasn’t changed since the frontier days. Though it is some years since I was there. I remember that the only meal was “pollo a la brasa” .
    Mate, Rosie and I should be on bikes, travelling with you two.
    Sacred Valley, fantastic but you were there before weren’t you?!
    Best wishes from R and R

    • We are dodging the weather to some degree. Bolivia is raining, but then again so is Peru in the mountains so we are going to find rain eventually regardless. Arequipa is a great city and we are glad we came – returning in my case but new for Pau. And the good news is work has started on the bike. The fan motor seems to be damaged. The next question is whether we can get one from Lima!!

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