The trees rustled in the wind as a young monkey played in the boughs. Lounging in a hammock near the Amazonian town of Tena, Ecuador, I marveled at the creature above. My biggest wish at that moment was to hold that monkey. It would be the pinnacle of happiness.
A branch snapped and the monkey tumbled a few feet down the hill. Springing up he scampered over to a neighboring hammock and swung in gracefully. Maybe he thought it was a better bet than the thin tree he had been playing on, or maybe he was just looking for some company, but I could barely believe he was so close. I held my hand out, not expecting anything to happen, but grabbing it, he lept into my lap in one quick jump, put his long arms around my waist, and immediately snuggled into my body. I could feel his little hands squeezing my sides tenderly. “Is this really happening?” I said aloud to Justin, frozen for a second in disbelieve. I didn’t know what to do, so cradling him like a baby, I laid gingerly back down on the hammock. He sat up, delicately rolled my t-shirt up with his long, slender fingers, exposing the warm skin of my stomach, and snuggled in again. A few times I pulled my shirt down, and he’d immediately sit up to carefully roll it up again.
He stayed with us for almost an hour, sometimes napping, sometimes playing, very gently nibbling on my shirt, ear or fingers, or picking through my hair with his human like hands. His mysterious big brown eyes would sometimes wander up to my own, staring at me intently and calmly. The wilder monkeys hooted and called from nearby trees, much bigger and looking ferocious.
Taking a bus to Lima from Huaraz the second week of May, I picked up Ash from the airport and rode the nauseating 7 hour bus back to Huaraz after spending the night in the beautiful Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, reminding me so much of Melbourne. After months of riding my own motorcycle, being a passenger would have been unbearable if Ash and I didn’t have so much catching up to do, distracting me from the lurching bus and speedy hairpin turns. I was so happy she was with me. We had much to discuss. Wedding and bridesmaid dresses, flowers, invitations, cake, food, guest list and the music selection for her September wedding. One real regret on this trip is not being home to help her plan and prepare. I just had a dream I was in charge of the music, but could only get the Lion King soundtrack to play as she prepared to walk down the aisle (Ash, if you’re reading this, it was a terrible nightmare so please don’t put me on music duty!).
The next morning we set out on her first South American adventure. She had plenty of experience riding around Europe with me, but this time she was on her own bike in an even more foreign place. The keys to the Storm had been passed off by Tom, and she was both excited and nervous. She knew the driving conditions in Peru were perilous and that constant attention to the road needed to be maintained.
For the next week Peru introduced her to the glorious world of off-roading and insane Latin American driving. And she loved it. We have a bad habit of having motorcycles break down on us when we’re together though, so by the time we made it to Chiclayo on the Peruvian coast, and were just about to head into 200km of barren desert, my bike started stalling and we could go no further. Within a couple of hours, we had made it to a bus station, boarded the bus with motorcycles in the cargo hold below, and were on our way to Mancora, via Piura where I left both bikes to get serviced, and a new magneto for mine.
We spent the next couple of days catching up and relaxing on Peru’s most famous beach before she had to head back to the States.
The day after she left Justin arrived and we spent the next 8 days blasting through some of the most glorious rural roads of the entire trip, 1300km to Quito, following the western edge of the Amazon. The lush jungle beckoned, river crossings were plentiful, and steep muddy roads tested out our skills. An experienced mountain biker and world adventurer, Justin gave me a run for my money. His glorious pictures tell the story much better than I can.