Stories from the Road: Peru
In the Fall of 2007 when I endeavored on this far-fetched journey around South America, believing I could pull off something near impossible (that is, to not die), I met many people along the way who helped achieving that goal. One of them was Jeff Powers. He owned a small pub called Norton Rat's in Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas that I happened to hear about through the usual means…some motorcyclist, somewhere along the way mentioned it, and I immediately scribbled it down in my tattered notebook. Always good to know a local, even better if they speak English, and better yet if they ride. Jeff embodied all three and he genuinely cared about his adopted motorcycle family. He was quite the character as you’d never expect the combination of an American expat and a to-the-death Norton (and other Brit bikes) enthusiast in Peru, let alone one who actually RODE a Commando down to the far reaches of the Argentine Patagonia. He was infamous for being that guy on the side of the road, resuscitating a Norton on the spot.
Peru was at the start of my journey so I was still sporting a few extra pounds from Europe (as noted in my cherubic face above). By the time I reached Cuzco I really had only been riding for less than one month <cough> total. I sat at the bar, drank a beer, and chatted up Jeff about our mutual friends and local riding. As was a common theme amongst the people I met on my trip, he couldn’t discern if I was overconfident or just completely naïve to how crazy it sounded that a girl with zero riding experience, paltry fluency in Spanish, alone, and on a tiny Honda embark on a round-the-continent journey.
Jeff stopped by the hotel before opening the bar the next day to check out the bike and my setup Doesn’t everyone use bungee cords and zip ties? After seeing the bike, I am certain he decided upon naiveté. Apparently there was so much play on the chain that you could have jumped rope with it. Ahhhh, so that was what that rattling noise was. With an extra night at the bar spent storytelling, I left the following morning with a new chain and fresh weld covering the hole in my exhaust.
Years later I found him on Facebook and let him know I actually lived let alone made it the whole way. Not surprised to hear his response:
I have often thought of you, and sometimes worried! I wondered what happened to you. I was worried since I never heard from you. I'm happy to know you're fine, and also very pleased you made it all around South America! You said you learned to ride some in Phuket? I'm not as surprised you made it as I am that the Honda 200XL did. You did the whole trip on that bike? What route did you take? Good to hear from you…Jeff
Jeff’s pub, Norton Rats, has made its way into every guidebook, every motorcycle forum, and has become a staple stopping point for all motorcycle travelers heading south and passing through Peru. He has spent the last 10+ years of his life hosting and helping thousands of wandering and weary motorcyclists.
I was saddened to hear that while out riding his famed Norton Commando in Tarapoto near his “vacation” home, Jeff was killed in an accident. His death is a great loss to the international riding community, but his stories, quirky character and love of leaky British bikes will live on throughout the stories told in the motorcycling community.