DO, DO, DO THE FUNKY MONKEY RUN…

Surely an organised adventure is a contradiction in terms? Not if you sign up with the adventurists and head to deepest Peru on the most diminutive and useless machinery...

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by Marcus Deglos |

It all began with an email, subject line: Your next adventure?

It came from a group called the Adventurists (theadventurists.com), an adventure travel company with a big difference. 12 weeks later I was boarding a flight to Peru. 30 hours after that I walked into Ayacucho’s Viavia hotel and sat down to a welcome breakfast.

Over the next few hours I was joined by three fellow foolhardy pioneers: Alvaro, Alberto, and Heather plus organisers: Joolz, Rich, and their fixer Alfonso. For all their unpredictability, trips with the Adventurists are usually fairly well planned and organised.

The basics: we have a start line (Ayacucho), a finish line (Atalaya), a bike each (diminutive) and a week to do it in... As we sat together and talked routes and plans Alvaro and Alberto revealed their aim to head to Machu Picchu or Cusco. Never mind that it was a good 500km in the opposite direction to our finish line in Atalaya, they felt it worth the detour. The chaos was starting to gather. Heather had done the most research out of all of us and has a list of places to visit and an idea of the routes between each stop. My research was limited to an article about the narco-guerrilla controlled area on the direct path to the finish line. I decided to stick with Heather and see where we ended up.

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After a few delays we left just before midday. I made it maybe ten yards – out of the hotel courtyard and onto the street – before the bike stalled and ground to a halt. Then wouldn’t restart. Choke on, choke off, throttle up, throttle off, no dice. Well, I had been warned that some of the bikes were better than others, and that I had ended up with one of the worst ones. But I hadn’t expected this to hit quite so soon.

Bump-starting it down a hill and riding around the block seemed to do the trick so I took the plunge and started jostling through Ayacucho’s traffic. Within 15 minutes and after many, many stalls, I’d lost the others so I stopped and pulled out the toolkit only to find a spark-plug coated black with carbon. Something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t long before I realised that my bike hated towns and cities. Give it an open road with air flowing over the engine and it served up a whopping 60km per hour. But five minutes in traffic, with stop signs and traffic lights to contend with and it would throw a tantrum and refuse to move.

By the end of the first day all four of us – me, Heather, Rich and Joolz – were heading to Churcampa and we had all managed to run out of fuel thanks to our teeny tiny petrol tanks.

Within 15 minutes and after many, many stalls, I'd lost the others.

Only Heather had the foresight to pack a jerry can, leaving me with a 30 minute walk into a village to beg an empty coke bottle and Rich and Joolz to hitch a ride thanks to a helpful truck driver. At 3200m altitude, an early start to day two had us all donning warm jackets, then stripping down to T-shirts an hour later, as the sun raised itself above the mountain peaks.

This day was full of indescribably beautiful vistas you only find in the mountains, as well as breakdowns (Joolz, again), attention from the police (papers please), and as we entered Pampas my bike quickly realised it was in an urban area and decided to stop working too. Thankfully Pampas is mostly flat.

The following morning I woke up to find that my bike had been visited during the night, with the seat-lock rather worse for wear. Our best guess was that someone was after fuel and somehow completely failed to notice the full jerry-can strapped to the next bike. Brute force and a screwdriver fixed the broken lock, and we set off for Huancayo.

Over the course of the day we all ran out of fuel, thankfully with jerry-cans apiece. Mentioning no names some people insisted they’d broken down and the fuel sloshing around the bottom of their tank meant that they absolutely hadn’t run out of petrol. Mysteriously, their bikes started running right after they filled their tanks. It turned out some of the fuel pickups weren’t fond of hills.

We reached Huancayo and somehow survived the local traffic to reach our hotel. I discovered that killing the engine at every single red light let me keep the bike going to the hotel, but still resolved to find a mechanic that evening and was joined by both Rich and Joolz. After many wrong turns we found said mechanic and as the nominated Spanish speaker I tried my hardest to explain our issues in extremely broken Spanish. I suspect if my GCSE teacher ever sees the footage she may well revoke my qualification.

We came back the next morning and my bike might as well have been new: it started without choke and ran like a dream. The fee? A princely 80 Soles. £18. I love Peru. Our departure from Huancaya saw Joolz stopped by the police, who insisted he attach his licence plate to the bike instead of keeping it in his bag. Bodge-jobs with wire and duct-tape are the norm for this kind of trip.

From Ayacucho to Huancayo felt like adventure. What came next was something else. Over the course of the day Joolz and I ended up separated from Heather and Rich. While Joolz’ bike struggled with the uphills, his was the only bike with off-road tires and after summitting 4500m in the shivering cold of midday, he blitzed the downhills, while I struggled to keep up without riding off the edge of a cliff. An hour after nightfall we reached the village of Lucma and found ourselves a homestay. Fatigue competed with the rasping snores of the resident in the next room, but quickly sleep won out.

Bodge-jobs with wire and duct-tape are the norm for this kind of trip.

This was the place where Heather’s planned route departed the main road, and led into the mountains. We set off and quickly found the slope abused the engines to pieces as we struggled to make 5km per hour. At the time we found it tough going, but in hindsight this was mere practice for what was yet to come…

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The day started off sunny and we regrouped with Heather and Rich by midday, but by nightfall we were driving through such a torrential downpour it made light work of our waterproofs and drenched us all to the skin. Pulling over in a small village Joolz insisted we had to stop and as he eyed up the local shepherd huts for shelter I noticed a building painted with a most welcome word: Restaurant. As I walked over a concerned local came out and before long they’d opened up their village hall for us to spend the night undercover. The restaurant brought out a dish of potatoes, which also turned out to work incredibly well as hand-warmers. Which we all sorely needed. Peruvian hospitality has to be experienced.

The next day we descended from mountain to jungle. Shivers turned to sweat, rain to sun and we were on our way to encounter parrots, monkeys, giant butterflies and all sorts of jungle bugs. Satipo was our last urban stop on the route. Given all the issues we’d encountered it was only fair that Heather’s bike started playing up: mud must have gummed up the fuel tank’s breather, because she could only drive 15 minutes without having to open the petrol tank to break the vacuum lock.

From Satipo we thought it a short dash to the finish line. It really wasn’t. Our maps were inaccurate, our distance and time estimates way wrong, and the prediction of a flat road absolutely and totally wrong. We spent the night as guests of a local tribe who opened their school room for us to sleep in and waved us off in the morning, with a parting drink of Masato (Google it). The road behind us was tough, but what was ahead was something else. We christened it Hell Road. Those last two days broke us. Multiple breakdowns, Joolz ended up being towed for over eight hours – that final stretch was proper punishment. No bike came out intact. It wasn’t until gone 11pm that we were all safe and sound at the Atalaya finish line.

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It’s hard to do justice to the Peruvian Monkey Run in one article. The roads and the bikes are awful, the Peruvian hospitality second to none. There is inhospitable weather and challenging roads, with nothing but the support of fellow riders and local warm-heartedness. And you will come away with memories of struggles, breakdowns, hospitality, and kindness, and you won’t regret it one bit. Cheers Adventurists.

The restaurant brought out a dish of potatoes, which worked well as hand-warmers.

Reader adventures

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