The Most Beautiful Road
Sapito to Concepción
No matter what I did with the camera on the route from Satipo to Concepción, I just couldn’t capture the scale of my surroundings. So if pictures are worth 1000 words, I am probably wasting my time writing a blog post. Toby talked about today’s road as “the most beautiful road in Peru”, but Toby was wrong. I’ve been around the block a bit and I’ve never come close to seeing so many different flavours of stunning scenery in the same day; this could well be the most beautiful road in the world.
We got one of the earliest starts to date, having fixed up the bikes the night before. After a surprisingly breakfasty breakfast (no onions or rice), we were on the road by 8:30 and straight onto the dirt “highway” that winds itself through the Amazon. Just as we were getting into a rhythm, trusting the big tyres on our bikes more and more, Didier spotted a man on the side of the road pumping up the tyres on his 125cc by hand. It looks like it only took us 20km without mechanical troubles before thinking we could afford to burden ourselves with someone else’s. But then we thought if karma is a thing, we should probably gather up as much as we can.
Antonio is an Amazonian beekeeper whose inner tubes looked more like something used to catch fish rather than hold air. After patching the various holes in his tube, getting him a new tube as a backup, and ditching his bicycle pump for our compressor, he invited us back to his place to taste some honey (it was at this point that we realised he was a beekeeper; we were a bit confused at first). A proposition like this is always a bit of a hard decision on a trip because we’d just got our act together, our bikes were ok and we were on the road early, yet here was another potential time sink that could cost us getting to Concepción before dark. Except it’s not a time sink. It’s what this kind of adventure is about. If someone local offers to show you something (and it isn’t a body part), go for it because this is the stuff memories are made of.
He took us down the tiniest, muddiest of trails across a narrow wooden bridge dangling over quite a large river to a small shack that he shares with his wife and child. He made it look easy on his little 125cc but it was a bit of a challenge for us given the bigger bikes, the luggage, and our lack of talent. The last bit to their home was a rocky path on foot that led a small clearing amongst the banana trees. They brought us some fresh honey (still in the honeycomb) and next thing I know I can’t eat honey in Europe anymore because it’s rubbish. It’s like what Asia did to me with the damned mangoes.
When riding a motorcycle through somewhere like the Amazon it’s very easy to get distracted by your lines through corners, the next slide or surprise river crossing and you forget that tucked away behind each of these corners is someone’s life, and in this case, their mini honey farm. Spirits were high as we pulled away; we knew we’d just experienced something a bit special.
The gravel road started to wind its way up out of the rainforest, crossing bridges, passing waterfalls and eventually piercing through the clouds. The combination of jungle and the start of a mountain range delivers some truly spectacular scenery.
We climbed about 3000m on that road. It’s rough riding because you never know what’s behind the next bend and the grip is changing constantly. Eventually we passed through the clouds just after stopping to admire a waterfall stringing its way to the bottom of the valley. Less than 20 minutes later we were spat out onto the Andean highlands. It felt like we had changed continent in the time in takes to watch an episode of Friends. A shrubby valley, with livestock dotted around, massive peaks either side and a harsh blue sky up above is the home to a pristine ribbon of tarmac just wide enough to have just bit too much fun on a motorcycle. It makes its way through the top of the andes, all the way to 4500m, and then down to the town of Concepción at 3300m. Every corner brings with it a great challenge on the bike, but also a view that’s even better than the last. Which by the third time I was convinced was not possible. But then there were hundreds more times.
It’s probably a good thing that there was always a threat of a car coming the other way on this narrow road, because otherwise one of us would have gone into the valley 2000m below. The confidence tarmac gives you is bad news when there is a sheer drop just inches to the side. We are lucky that the only casualty was a curious chicken who wondered what it would feel like to put its neck through Didier’s spokes.
After the obligatory breakdown, which this time featured three engineers unable to figure out what a blown fuse looks like, we were wondering whether we would get to Concepción before dark.
As the sun started to sink, and Alex ran out of petrol again, we coasted down the pacific side of the Andes, all a bit miffed by the scale and beauty of what we could see through our visors. We rolled into Concepción as the sun set.
I am quite keen on my photography, but what we saw today reminded me that there are certain bits of the world where the spectacle is reserved for the few that make the effort to go in person. When you stumble upon a place like that, you just have to drop that camera and take it in. And hope they don’t plonk down a ski lift in the future.