Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Chewing the Coca at 4200 meters

Having got over the novelty of consuming Guinea Pig, Alpaca and Pisco Sour it was time to move on to headier heights. Don't get me wrong, I highly recommend Pisco Sour. It cures most ailments. So far it has cured a bad back, headaches, stomach cramps and tiredness! Peruvian Penicillin! Guinea Pig? I can take it or leave it.

Our guide has been chewing Coca leaves throughout the trip and now after using all my energy to climb a rocky track to 4200 meters and faced with a trek on foot to the bottom of the glacier it seemed appropriate to try chewing the coca (the alkaloid contents of coca leaves is low and so chewing the leaves does not produce the same intense high as with cocaine). A ritual not dissimilar to chewing tobacco. You grab a handful of leaves, stick it in your cheek,  add a little flavoring (not sure what it was. The details were slightly lost in translation), then chew for up to 2 hours. It tastes foul but it certainly does lift your energy levels. Perfectly legal of course and commonly practiced by the locals. The only problem was deciding how much I was being affected by the altitude and how much by the coca. For this reason, after half an hour of climbing, chewing and general lightheadedness I decided the coca had to go.

The riding today was wonderful and the location superb. The bike I had been using was sadly not up to coping with this altitude and so half way up, one of the team, having seen me cursing the bike once again, offered me his 650, a bike far more comfortable with the climb and so being given the extra power I finally had the chance to play without the frustration of the last few days. I held back from the group so I could blast up the track behind them with 4 Non Blondes singing in my ears "25 years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope". Sometimes Ipod shuffle spits out something really appropriate for the occasion! I smiled in my helmet and raced up the track slowing down only for the odd cow.

Soon we will be leaving the Peruvian Andes and heading back down to the coast. It has been an interesting couple of weeks and an experience that has raised several questions for me about my world trip in 5 months time. Can I cope on my own in countries like this as well as Mexico, Pakistan, India and Iran.Will all this helmet time be too much for my little brain? Having now ridden part of the Pan American Highway, will my Honda CRF250L cope with this long dusty road. Will it cope with altitude and mile after mile in the heat, humidity, cold, rain, dirt and tarmac?
Some people have suggested I have bitten off more than I can chew. Some say the bike is not up to it and some say I am foolish to even consider this trip on my own. They may be right. However, the people who know me have stayed strong and have stood by my decision with genuine loyalty and belief in me. Sometimes more than I have in myself. I would be crazy not to have doubts but in the end it boils down to two options. Let the doubts get the better of me and stay at home or get on with it. Take one day at a time and if I don't make it then at least I tried and there is no shame in that!

I certainly have faith in my Honda. It may be a small bike and yes it is fuel injected which might make things more complicated.  However, if I ride her with respect and do my daily checks and regular servicing I am convinced she will do me proud. Honda don't build crap engines! Of course no one has ever attempted to do this journey on a 250L but that makes it all the more interesting and if we can  pull this off together then what can't we do?

My bike arrives this month. I can't wait to start work on getting her ready! She will need a bigger tank and possibly a little strengthening at the back to hold the luggage system from Kriega. Other than that, we are good to go. Keep it simple and we should do OK.

Soon I will be training with ex British Comandos (, learning the art of motorbike mechanics  and trying to come up with new and ingenious ways of raising more funds, but mostly I will be trying to remember how I got myself it to this!

 Bring it on!


  1. Life is an adventure and you embody that adventure Steph. I have every confidence in you, the bike and your coping mechansims. Keep on blogging and bringing it to life for us armchair travellers...

    1. Thanks Lisa. That means a lot. Raring to go now.