Peru - desert & altiplano - mile 15072


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October 19th 2009
Published: December 23rd 2009
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450miles of coastal desert in one day with the journey broken only by 'Zona de Neblinas' i.e. misty patches, chicken sheds - there are thousands of them, the occasional sandy cove with nice waves and Lima. It took us 2 hours to get round Lima in one solid traffic jam with hawkers wandering in and out of the traffic selling all sorts of items you never knew you wanted. There were lots of signs proclaiming how pretty Lima is - not from this angle .

There are lots of peajes (toll booths) along the road. Motorcycles don't have to pay and there is usually a small bypass on the far right hand side. These are sometimes very difficult to spot as some are literally just a tyre track though the grass. We negotiated most correctly but there was one particularly complicated one. The road split into 2 x 5 lane roads, we stuck in the one going straight on and when we got to the peaje went over to the right hand side where there were lots of people frantically waving and shouting at us. There was no motorcycle bypass lane - apparently we should have gone down the other
Lima ring roadLima ring roadLima ring road

do you want to buy a new sweeping brush? very handy on a motobike.
road and now they wanted us to turn round, battle through the 5 lanes of on-coming traffic, turn onto the other road, zip across the 5 lanes of traffic to get to the right hand side and go through the by-pass. We took a look at the on-coming traffic and decided to play the 'stupid foreigners we don't understand' card. We smiled a lot and waved merrily back at everyone that was waving at us and snuck round the side of the car barrier. This set of all sorts of alarms and flashing lights, the peaje system locked down and everyone come out to look at us. We did more waving merrily and accelerated off into the distance. Luckily none of the police cars decided to give chase.

South of Lima its noticeably different, its much cleaner and smarter, no rubbish blowing around or plastic bags hanging off bushes, the locals, while still in traditional dress look smarter and cleaner. Its still coastal desert but occasionally an enormous patch of green will appear as we pass by small pisco distilleries then suddenly you are back in the desert again. Quite a fascinating 450 miles really and at the end
clear of Lima but back in the coastal desertclear of Lima but back in the coastal desertclear of Lima but back in the coastal desert

note the chicken sheds on the beach - they are everywhere
of it we get to see the Nazca lines plus the amazing Cantallo aqueducts - built around 300AD by the Nazca people and still in use today bringing water down from the Andes to the dry coastal desert to irrigate the crops. Access for yearly cleaning is via amazing spiral ventanas all made from rounded boulders; they specifically used rounded ones so during earthquakes they just jiggle and stay in place. The aqueducts were more amazing than the Nazca lines in some ways - you know about the lines and have seen picture of them but the aqueduct are un-expected.

Next we have another 2 days and 500+ miles of riding through absolutely fantastic scenery. First its a steep ascent, from sea level to 4000m, round tight hairpins that switch back on themselves. Then across the altiplano complete with herds of vicunas and llamas/alpacas. Then through mountains sweeping up and down along green valleys and through narrow cannons next to rapidly flowing mountains streams. All up at 4000m to 4500m. The air is so clear and fresh up here, none of the Lima smog, none of the coastal mists, just fresh air and amazing blue skies. You can see
Nazca LinesNazca LinesNazca Lines

the hummingbird
for miles and miles, you can see snowy mountains in the far, far distance with total clarity, its just not possible to explain how the air is different but it is and its wonderful. .

There's no other traffic around. The road hazards are now the animals that stand and look at you from the road side then suddenly decide they want to cross the road in front of you. The llama and alpaca herds are watched over by a local ladies who sit on stones knitting. You never see idle hands here, they are always doing something. Through they are still pretty poor there is a difference between the people here and those in the north - here they seem to have a certain pride, the villages are only a few simple houses, often with thatched roofs, but they are clean and tidy.

At one point we ride through a snow storm. We stop to put our waterproofs on and out of nowhere there appears a tiny lady and small child, the tiny lady is carrying a 6ft concrete reinforcing bar. They seem totally un-phased by the large motorbike and two foreigners at the side of the
Nazca - Cantello aqueductsNazca - Cantello aqueductsNazca - Cantello aqueducts

bringing waters from the mountains to the dry coastal plains
road. They walk over, smile, ask if we are going to Cuzco, nod wisely then walk off into the distance. Why are they here? Where are they going? We are in the middle of no-where in a snow storm. Its one of those strange but wonderful, almost enigmatic, encounters that make your trip. Afterwards you wonder if it was real or if you imagined it.

We stop overnight at Abancay. Getting to the hotel proves quite tricky - its on a main road but every few hundred meters the road is blocked and school children are making colourful patterns on the road in sawdust. We know where the hotel is and keep circling it on the back roads (all one way) but we always pop out on the wrong side of one of the colourful patterns - its like being trapped in one of those video games. Eventually somebody in a petrol station takes pity on us and leads us to the hotel in his car (this is a reasonably common occurrence in Latin America - you stop to ask directions and they just tell you to follow them and lead you to the road you need and they
Nazca ValleyNazca ValleyNazca Valley

those aqueducts make a big difference!!
are incredibly proud to have been of assistance). Later when we walk down the street the children have finished their colourful design and were desperate for us to take photos, we had to take photos of them all so nobody felt left out. All the places along the road were bringing out idols onto the street and soon a procession carrying a saint came down the street and stopped at every idol to give a blessing and say some prayers - it was all very solemn and all the colourful designs are trampled and scattered across the road.

Along the road there are several Inca and pre-Inca ruins. They might not be as grand as the ones near Cuzco but they are our ruins - they are deserted, we are the only people there so we have them to ourselves to appreciate at leisure. Nearer to Cuzco we turn off the main road and ride along the Sacred Valley. Suddenly we are on the Gringo Trail and there are other tourists and tour buses. Its quite a shock after our weeks of tiny villages and deserted roads. There's a good reason for all the tourists though the Inca ruins
The road upThe road upThe road up

climbing from sea level to 4000m
and terraces are quite spectacular. We end the day with a circumnavigation of the main square in Cuzco. We are now at the heart of the Inca Empire with several days of ruins and culture to look forward too.


Additional photos below
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At the top At the top
At the top

we made it all the way up to the altiplano at 4000m
it snowed on us - its summer!!it snowed on us - its summer!!
it snowed on us - its summer!!

at least the alpacas have been trained to cross the road in the right place (check out the sign)
localslocals
locals

they appeared out of nowhere - stopped for a chat - and disappeared into the distance.
roof top good luck symbolroof top good luck symbol
roof top good luck symbol

most of the houses in the little villages have them - being up here in this harsh environment they probably need all the luck they can get
local road hazardlocal road hazard
local road hazard

a least they have dressed up for the occasion - note the snazzy earrings
AbancayAbancay
Abancay

sawdust pattern on the main street
AbancayAbancay
Abancay

the procession that trampled all the pretty patterns
TarawasiTarawasi
Tarawasi

our own personal Inca ruins in the middle of nowhere
OllantaytamboOllantaytambo
Ollantaytambo

negociating the roadworks on the way into the main square
OllantaytamboOllantaytambo
Ollantaytambo

locals making a phone call
OllantaytamboOllantaytambo
Ollantaytambo

the Inca fortress - one of the few that was never captured by the Spanish
PisacPisac
Pisac

Incas terracing - still in use today
CuscoCusco
Cusco

Plaza de Armas - the main square


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