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Published: November 9th 2009
The plan was to set out at 7 am. Jeff, the owner of the closest thing to a biker bar in Cuzco, had given me on the scoop on the back door entrance to The Citadel. Follow the route to Santa Maria via Oyantantambo and turn left. Follow that road to its end at the hydroelectric plant, and walk from there. Simple.
Of course, my seven o'clock start became an 8 o'clock start before I left the bar because I had much to discuss with Ken and Carol, two aussies that have been doing laps around the world on their BMW for years. Talked gear, repairs and maintenance with Ken, routes in Argentina with Carol.
At any rate, I was feeling fresh and ready for a challenge - gassed by the shocking beauty as I rounded a bend and began the decent from the Altiplano to the junglier climes of the Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley). The impossible, glaciated peak of Nevado Veronica descended thousands of deep green feet to the torrential Rio Urubamba. Riding through the valley, there were rafters running the river to the left and Inca walls still standing immaculate just beside the road to the right. When
I reached Oyantaytambo I nearly bounced out of my seat, or at least out of control, as the road turned unexpectedly to cobbles mid-curve. And that was the first of many challenges the road to Machu Picchu would present.
Now, I should clarify that most people don't go to the famed citadel by road. In fact you can't. There's only ever been a train, the miraculous existence of which is only appreciable if you've taken it. And, if you've taken it you should know why they couldn't fit a road in there too. Nevertheless, not being able to continue down the valley, shortly after Oyantaytambo I began my ascent up a crack in the mountain.
The road could only have been more spectacular if it was less repetitive switchbacks and more general twisties but i'm not picky. And soon, as it ascended out of a steep canyon that was exaclty what it became (the moto gods are good to Peruvians). What's more, exactly where I intended to stop to snap a photo of the tarmac insanity, I found two bubbly Brazilians, taking it all in as well next to their Honda 150cc so I had a couple kindred spirits to
share it with. We exchanged giddy greetings, trip details and I got to practice my Portuguese. They were coming down the pass and gave me a bit of information. I tried not to let my eyebrows furrow as they told me about the road. I would be ascending to 4361 meters (!) and then down into the upper Amazon and facing 80 km of dirty, dirty road. I took the opportunity to eat some of the cookies I'd packed with me but should have been putting on more clothes. It doesn't matter where you are at 4300 meters, it's cold. I needed only to look up at the heavy, damp cloud I'd be riding through to know the cold was about to snap. Speaking of snapping, we snapped a few photos, I told them to go to Jeff's bar in Cuzco, they recommended Maria's restaurant in Santa Maria and they left to continue their 20 day return journey from Minas Gerais, Brasil to Lima, Peru. ...Yeah, they best be making it snappy.
I continued the ascent up to Malaga pass then continued down to Alfamayo, where the pavement ends. River after stream after river after stream were crossed. Jeff told
me that the road was paved to Santa Maria so I started to look for the turn out shortly after the pavement ended, seeing none I stopped to ask. I was sure that the road was designed to double as a giant washboard so I was a little worried when I was told by a man sitting on a chair next to it that I had about 45 minutes more to go to Santa Maria and another 45 from there to Santa Teresa, the last town before the Hydroelectric dam. You there, sitting in your hydraulic suspension desk chair might think that an hour and a half of personal earthquake is no big deal, but I've got an ailing bike and constantly sore arse to consider... As it turned out though, they only needed a road that could substitute as a washboard until Santa Maria. After that the 15-20 km to Santa Terresa was actually designed by a dirtbike track architect. No, check that. A Peruvian bobsled enthusiast. It followed tightly the profile of a narrow canyon, cutting a precarious ledge out of the steep cliffs and erosion drifts along the rio Santa Teresa (but which had occasionally fallen away
in a landslide but was still passable). Stopped for lunch there, paying more than i would in even in Cuzco but the lomo saltado and palta rellenado were delicious (stir fried beef and veg with avocado stuffed with something like potato salad). Little did i know that that was the last real food i'd have until i got back to Cuzco.
after lunch I headed over a creaky wooden bridge and another ten kilometers to the hydroelectric dam. Just as I coasted up to a restricted area sign an older gentleman came running out of a wooden shack and flagged me down. Elisero Escobar was his name, he would be more than happy to watch my bike while I was in Aguas Calientes and don't worry "aca no pasa nada" (nothing's going to happen). We chatted a bit, he expressed his enthusiasm at the planned paving of the horrendousness I'd just rode over on - which will make his land the most lucrative parking lot in Peru - and I set out on foot.
The trail to Aguas Calientes is a rather developed one - it's a rail line. The park officials checked me in in case I met the
same fate as a Canadian woman who passed that way the day before. She was run down by the train because she was listening to her Ipod. Luckily your brave hero was too afraid of robbery to have brought his, else he might have fallen pray to the same sillyness listening to ToTo's Africa..
Walking on a rail line is rough on the ankles but I toughed it out and made it to Aguas without twisting mine and just before the night. I'd picked up a fabulous walking stick to ward off the dogs (twice i was attacked), so when I reached my over-touristed destination, still caked in dust and beaded with brown sweat, I must have looked like i had been in the jungle for weeks.
Irregardless, after enquireing at the overpriced municipal campground. I met the first of two faitful companions; a peruvian highschool student who fell instantly in love with my - nay, the fact that I had - blue eyes. She proved a usefull ally and broke the news: it was going to cost half of what cash I had with me to get into the site. In other words, after buying my ticket i had
about 20$ to live on and buy gas back to cusco. uh-oh. five would have to go to camping, at least ten to gas, which left 10 for water and food. But I was prepared. I had a can of tuna, crackers and a few peanuts. after making dinner of the tuna and crackers, imade my way back to the campground.
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