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South America » Peru » Puno » Lake Titicaca » Uros Island
January 31st 2013
Published: February 27th 2013
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Monday 14/1/13 – Realising we had a border crossing to attempt today; we rose early and hit the road. We headed south towards the well signed frontier. With no customs or immigration office on the Ecuadorian side, we rode about 4kms into Peru and stopped at their immigration building (which turned out to also be the Ecuador immigration building). We were told that we must have ridden past Ecuadorian customs and had to turn back. After a frustrating hour of enquires, finger pointing, middle finger pointing and swearing, we eventually found customs about 10kms back inside Ecuador, in an unmarked building on the wrong side of the road. We then rode into Peru to immigration to get ourselves stamped out of Ecuador (how can it take about 45 mins for them to tick the ‘left the country’ box?) and stamped into Peru (how can it take them just 45 seconds to enter all the details into the computer, stamp the passport and hand it back to me?). As is ritual at border crossings, I was getting pretty irritated by this stage; our last challenge was to get the bikes temporarily imported at customs. It was obvious we were either the only, or one of very few people who had been in customs today. The two officers were hilariously enjoying an exciting break from their otherwise monotonous and boring work life of waiting for someone like me to walk into their office. Their ‘3 Stooges’ routine started grating on me after just 5 mins of them intentionally dropping our paperwork, constantly singing to each other, and intentionally misspelling our names, details or writing down numbers wrong and then laughing and pointing it out if the other one hadn’t noticed. I quickly realised that fools like these tend to be far more efficient at their job when they don’t have an audience to perform in front of; so Kenz went to organise the mandatory insurance whilst I made a quick lunch outside. Without the distraction of an audience they finished quite quickly so we grabbed the paperwork, I nicked his nice pen (and laughingly said his ‘rascally and hilarious’ friend must have taken it) and went to the small stall to spend our $6.36 in loose US change that couldn’t be used in Peru. Despite our best efforts we still didn’t spend all the $6.36 even after buying 6 bread rolls, 4 bottles of coke, 2 bottles of juice, 2 ice creams and a large packet of cream filled wafers – we were still left with a handful of coins and huge sugar headache as we rode into Peru.

Usually nothing much changes when crossing from one country to another – just the currency and flags above government buildings (or red-necks houses if you’re in the US); however we noticed immediate differences between Ecuador and Peru. Riding away from the border, we came to a vast flat desert full of sand and wind with almost no vegetation in sight - it’s almost as if the Earth itself has declared where the border between Ecuador and Peru will be. We rode a short distance to the large border town of Tumbes and I hastily found a suitable hotel on the main road. Perhaps I was a little hasty as once we had settled down, we realised that there was no running water. After an intense conversation with the hotelier, we were assured the water would come on later and we shouldn’t worry. About an hour later, the sun went down and we realised there was no electricity either! After an even intenser conversation, she assured us it would be switched on later and sure enough an hour or so later, our dark room was transformed into the surface of the sun when our overhead light came to life along with the giant hotel sign right outside our ceiling to floor window. At this point, I realised the room didn’t have any curtains and I didn’t want to sleep wearing sunglasses. So after the most intensest conversation, a man came up with dripping wet curtains and installed them in our room. Deep into the evening the water still wasn’t on, so stealing myself for the most intenserest conversation, I went downstairs and found that the lady had gone and was replaced by a much friendlier person. She heard my plight, grabbed a flashlight and we went on an adventure onto the hotel roof to fix the problem. Before this evening I had seen some ridiculous women do some ridiculous things in some ridiculous high heels (riding motorbikes, hiking, street dancing, etc…) but I have never seen one climb a ladder on the edge of a building 3 storeys above a highway! She sprang from rung to rung like a beautiful but crazy gazelle and fixed the problem in 2 minutes - all hail the amazing Peruvian Goddess of Rain who, equipped with just a pair of high heels, flashlight and ladder, can instantly make water appear!

With a spring in our step we headed out into the damp night to check out the city. The main square was bustling with people all oblivious to their children rioting at knee level over soccer balls, dolls and candy. We walked up the steps to the main cathedral which was scarred by huge cracks and holes (which looked like open sores on the beautiful building) due to the intense tectonic activity which occurs often in the area. At the other end of the plaza, there was a huge 3D mural depicting the relationships between the invading Spanish, the local Indians and animals of the Amazon. We climbed a large platform which overlooked a river that ran past the city, however this area was full of young (disturbingly young!) lovers kissing and enjoying each other’s company. Being far too old, far too white and far too prudish, we beat a hasty retreat and found a small restaurant whose cooks worked magic with chicken. The electricity in this town must be notoriously unreliable as most of the banks had diesel generators outside. It is strange to see a bank made of glass, marble and stainless steel, displaying the other typical signs of affluence which we immediately associate with financial stability, running off a generator that is sitting on the street outside in the rain.

Tuesday 15/1/13 – We woke early to electricity, running water, and damp curtains above a long pool of water on the floor. We knew we had a long day’s ride ahead so we packed up and left very early. We rode the thin strip of land between the sandy foothills of the Andes and the Pacific coastline. The next 5 hours were spent riding through the most beautiful land I think I have ever seen. I love riding through areas with little or no vegetation – I sometimes imagine that vegetation is like a blanket covering the surface of the Earth, hiding its true shapes and surface from view. When crossing high mountain passes or vast deserts, you finally get to admire the true form of the Earth, all its folds, creases, bumps and holes. Standing amongst such formations seeing no vegetation but just the true surface of the Earth from one horizon to the next is extremely humbling. For hours we passed nothing but sand, sand dunes and craggy mountains rising or seemingly falling into the sand. It was like thousands of giant invisible hourglasses were strewn across the earth, there was nothing but giant piles of sand or rocks. Occasionally we would pass a plastic bag blowing in the wind, bright in the sun and caught on small thorny shrubs or snagged in the many crevices of the Earth skin – like desert ghosts seeking shade amongst the natural forms of the Earth. At one point we passed a giant pile of plastic and glass bottles on the side of the road, half buried in the sand, they glinted in the sun like seashells on a beach – it was stunningly beautiful. The only thing stopping me from daydreaming about the desert (and consequently crashing) was the wind. Sometimes the wind seemed to be coming from the mountains to the East, and other times it was blowing in hard from the Pacific Ocean to the west. At times it was so strong the bikes felt like they would blow out from under us; it was constantly picking up a thin layer of sand and blowing it across the road in front of us. Riding the bikes over this blanket of moving sand reminds me of being on a plane that’s just broken through the cloud line: your only point of reference is the rapidly moving clouds/sand below you.

The seemingly endless desert was occasionally broken by some very small villages, or small communities of very poor people. We would often pass small groups of mud-brick houses, most were unfinished, and none had glass windows or wooden doors. The rare house which was inhabited was usually a single room construct of mud brick, tin and with sheets of tarpaulin or hessian across the single door or window. We did cross a few larger towns that were scattered along the coast. We stopped at the fuel station in one such town, and whilst we sat down for lunch a goat herder came down the road with about 300 goats that passed by us and through the petrol station. Whilst here we enjoyed the first (and only) wedding present we have received – a fine 2012 bottle of Isaac Cola (the local soda drink here) from our friends Isaac and Renee. Despite the name, the drink was less awful than I thought it would be, but I am nervously waiting to see if it turns my hair red… Whilst enjoying our wedding gift some crazy Peruvian ladies came over and wanted to talk and take photos of us, they kept asking if we were in the Dakar Rally (a motorbike race held in the deserts of Peru, Chile and Argentina at this time of year). I kept answering no, but they just laughed, kept asking and taking photos.

We headed further south and as we came to the city of Chiclayo, we noticed lots of trucks with people either standing shoulder to shoulder in the back, or sitting on the roof. They were all wearing jumpers or scarves on their heads to keep the sand out – they all looked like desert bandits. The city was typical of all the dwellings we had seen in the desert, it was mostly one storey mud brick buildings stretching off into the distance. The city centre was slightly more developed and we found a cheap hotel to spend the night.

Wednesday 16/1/13 – My lower intestine woke me up this morning – groaning and squeaking uncontrollably until I tamed it with a tablet. We jumped on the bikes and rode out of town to the ruins of Tucume. What we had previously assumed were just humongous piles of mud in the desert, were in fact the ruins of ancient mud brick cities that have melted over the centuries, or been covered in desert sands. The ruins have had been partially explored; however they are in very poor condition. On one side of the pile of mud was a soccer pitch with young kids kicking the ball up against the melted ruins. We battled the awful road back into Chiclayo and visited the Museo del Tumbas (museum of tombs). There were many artefacts on display that have been excavated from various tombs in the area. Some of the metal work was astonishingly detailed; they most common pieces were funeral garments such as necklaces, earrings and chest plates, as well as figurines made from gold and turquoise.

Thursday 17/1/13 – We left Chiclayo and headed for the city of Trujillo. The 200kms of road between the cities was very straight, surrounded by huge desert dunes and often covered in the smoke of burning roadside rubbish. The ride was made even more painful when a piece of sugar cane the length and width of my arm came flying off a truck coming the other way and landed directly on the end of my big toe (at about 90kph). My motorcycle boots were the only thing that saved my toe from being broken – but it still hurt enough to take my breath away and it was still sensitive a number of days later.

We arrived in Trujillo and were welcomed by bad traffic and disgruntled drivers. It was so bad even Kenz got on the horn and was handing out middle fingers left and right. We found a nice hotel and parked the bikes in the foyer, the hotelier wasn’t too impressed but we just smiled and started unpacking the bikes. We immediately jumped on a tour bus and visited the ruins of the Rainbow Temple (Huaca Arco Iris) which were located inside the city. We walked around and up to the top of the temple which gave us a good view of the city. We then visited Chan Chan ruins which were partially restored to resemble what it would have looked like around 1000AD. It was a very impressive structure with detailed carvings of pelicans, cat fish and local deities, there was also an extensive canal system and a large water reservoir within the ancient cities walls. After visiting the two ruins, we stopped by Huanchaco beach which is the city’s popular beach and tourist destination. It was a nice place to spend an hour, but we were glad to get back on the bus and return to the historical centre afterwards.

Friday 18/1/13 – Today we went on a tour out to the Moon Temple (Huaca de la Luna) which was absolutely amazing. The temple had only recently been excavated and much of it is still buried under the desert dunes. There are six levels to the temple (a new level being constructed roughly every 100 years) and each level is decorated with different intricate patterns and carvings. The most amazing part was a 20m high wall with many carvings and decorations that were uncovered from the dunes. As we left, the wind began to blow quite hard, picking up sand and throwing it around. The guide said sometimes it blows so hard she has trouble talking as the sand blows in her mouth when she talks. We then visited the museum nearby which had the most intricate pottery we had ever seen – all found in the Moon Temple. Many of the ruins over here now have a museum on site where they display the artefacts found in the local ruins. This prevents all the artefacts from being sent away to the capital city, plus it encourages people to visit the local ruins and brings in money for the local communities. Outside the museum we came across our first Peruvian Hairless Dog. Despite looking like survivors of a zombie apocalypse, they are actually really cute in an ugly kind of way. Their skin is grey and wrinkly looking like elephant skin; they have no fur except a few strands on their paws and sometimes a few tufts on top of their heads. They are a totally unique, and unfortunately threatened, animal.

In the afternoon we jumped on a bus and visited the tomb of the witch (El Brujo) which is about 80kms north of Trujillo. They are still excavating the site, however they found a mummified lady, who was possibly a ruler. Her body is still in such good condition that you can still see the tattoos on her skin (she is now on display in the on-site museum). Luckily it was just us two and a Canadian couple at the ruins which made us feel like we were there by ourselves. The guide took us all around the ruins which are still littered in human bones dating back to around 1000AD; we literally had to watch our step so as not to step on any bones. I picked up a rib bone that was lying on the ground and it blew my mind thinking that it belonged to a person who lived over 1000 years ago; it was a very intense moment! I carefully put it back and we walked to the top of the temple where the lady’s tomb was found. As was tradition, she was also buried with the things they believed would need in the afterlife - typically a few servants, a few young men or women, a military advisor, a ‘Wiseman’, often a llama, and always many pots of seeds, foods and supplies. Again the on-site museum was filled with incredible artefacts, however it was her mummified body which was the most interesting, and it was still in almost perfect condition.

Once we returned to Trujillo we walked around the city in the evening and ate some great roast chicken. The streets were packed with men standing outside shops and restaurants watching a soccer game on the TVs inside. The under 20s World Cup Qualifier between Peru and Brazil was being shown, and when Peru scored their 2 goals, the men would erupt into cheers with vigorous fist pumping and back slapping.

Saturday 19/1/13 – 600kms of desert is what separates Trujillo from the Peruvian capital of Lima; and today’s challenge was to traverse it. We woke up really early and I dreamingly thought by bike had transformed into a KTM overnight (a much more expensive and desirable bike) as one had appeared in the hotel foyer sometime in the night! We rode out of Trujillo and into the vast nothingness of the Peruvian desert. 600kms of desert sounds boring, but I find it so unique and different that it is a pleasure to ride. The road was flanked with dunes with large pockets of sand sometimes being kicked up by the wind and swirling around on the road in front of us. As trucks went past they would sometimes kick up a huge cloud of sand which would somehow get inside my clothes and helmet when I rode through them. Often we would be riding along coastal mountain ranges which plunged immediately into the ocean. Again the landscape looked like thousands of hourglasses – it reminded me of being a child and staring at the hourglass that came with the ‘Pictionary’ board game which I would look at and dream of places like this.

The route between Trujillo and Lima was broken by a few small undeveloped settlements – none of which had fuel. At around 280kms we started to get a bit nervous as there is nothing in the desert, and very little traffic on the roads. Luckily as we ticked over 300kms we came across a small town where we could fuel up. On the way into town there was a lady waving a red rag on the side of the road, we barely slowed down enough before realising that one of the power lines had come down and was across the road. With no time to stop and the panicked question “does rubber conduct electricity?” roaring through my mind (and then the question “are tyres even made from rubber these days?”), we crossed over the power line with no consequence aside from profuse sweating and a sudden hunger for toast. At the fuel station we bumped into a local man on a KLR who was interested in our trip – he almost fell over when we told him where we started and how far we had come. I could see the formulation of a similar plan unfolding in his eyes.

At 3:30pm we came to the abrupt interface between the desert and the city of Lima. Within minutes we were in the Peruvian capital of almost 9 million people. A long and arduous quest was then undertaken for the next 2 hours: trying to find an affordable hotel with space for 2 bikes. After 5:30 as it was getting dark, we found a nice hostel which also had another KLR in the courtyard with Canadian plates. He was a strange old guy who was also heading south. We have noticed that almost every KLR adventure rider we have met is a strange old guy…

Our hostel was near the main plaza in the affluent suburb of Miraflores so we decided to check it out in the evening. It was a beautiful plaza ringed with a church, museum and many old buildings renovated into restaurants and cafes. There were cats everywhere in the plaza, climbing trees and stalking each other which was entertaining to watch. There were many artistic painters in the square painting the landscape and buildings around them, as well as artisans selling wares. Most interesting of all was a sunken amphitheatre full of many couples dancing and surrounded by hundreds of family members, friends and onlookers waiting for their chance to dance. The closeness of families is very strong in central and south America, and the plazas and squares of the cities are the main areas for socialising and bonding – it’s hard to imagine anything like it in Australia.

Sunday 20/1/13 – This morning we caught a local bus into the historical city centre and walked to the main square. There was a huge cathedral on one side of the plaza so we poked our heads inside and observed the service which was underway. There was plenty of commotion in the plaza today, there was temporary stadium seating erected for the traditional changing of the guard outside the Government House. As we walked over to see what was happening, about 20 traditionally dressed soldiers on horseback came riding into the courtyard and began playing their music instruments (one even had a full sized tuba). Our interest waned as the music continued with no other action except other tourists elbowing us and treading on our toes, so we moved on after about 10 minutes. We went to the nearby San Francisco Cathedral which is home to an extensive museum and catacombs. We walked in and joined an English tour with just 2 other tourists. Perhaps the most interesting part (besides the catacombs) was the library which was home to hundreds of old manuals, tomes, bibles, texts and treatises – some dating back to the 1600s. Every section of wall was covered by book shelves and the ‘ancient library feeling’ was complete with skylights and 2 spiral staircases rising to the upper levels. The museum is located in the old cathedral monastery that has been preserved and now adapted into the museum. There were some interesting paintings (including one from the 1700s, depicting the last supper where Jesus and his disciples are eating guinea pig – a local delicacy!), sculptures, mosaics and domes. However the best part of the tour was the catacombs beneath the cathedral: the final resting place of over 25,000 dead from the 1700 and 1800s. The dead buried hereincluding priests, citizens, peasants, prisoners, and victims of the inquisition. It was incredibly creepy down there as it is set out like a winding labyrinth, with many dark pits filled with bones and skulls. The creepiest part was a well (or pit) that was 4m in diameter and 10m deep and was filled with bones. The number of dead is believed to be over 25,000 however it is hard to get an accurate count, as many of the dead were victims of the inquisition meaning that many were beheaded before being taken to the catacombs (and their heads were burnt), or their hands or feet were cut off before they were killed and taken to the catacombs.

Quite fittingly we then visited the Inquisition museum just a few blocks from the catacombs and housed in the old inquisition headquarters. We got to walk down into the dungeons were they held the suspected witches awaiting trial – another creepy experience. Whilst walking back to the bus station, we came to a festival outside a small church where some men were dressed in strange gear (they looked like bull fighters) and they started to fight each other with whips. When the fighters got excited and came too close to the crowd everyone would move back to avoid accidently being whipped! We watched for a while but didn’t enjoy being obvious tourists and being jostled around in a crowd of fervent religious nuts, so we headed home.

Monday 21/1/13 – Recently Kenz had noticed that her bike’s steering had become increasingly wobbly at speed, the likely cause was damaged or unlubricated steering head bearings. Quickly realising I didn’t have the necessary tools (or aptitude) to fix it in the hostel courtyard; we rode out to the Kawasaki dealer in Lima. He drew us an incredibly detailed map to the Kawasaki service centre which we had unknowingly passed about an hour ago. We rode to the service centre and managed to ask the mechanic to grease the steering head bearings in Spanish (a job that requires the fuel tank and handle bars to be removed). We left for lunch and returned an hour later with the job done and the problem fixed. He kept smiling and shaking my hand and refusing payment, and he had even cleaned the bike for us – what a top bloke! Almost every Kawasaki shop we have been to have either given us free gear, refused payment or only charged us for parts and not labour; the generosity of the Kawasaki community has been amazing (there have been a few exceptions – yeah I’m looking at you Mexico and USA!).

We took the scenic route home along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. It was so beautiful that once we had ridden the bikes back to the hostel, we continued along the cliffs on foot. We came to a huge shopping complex that was almost impossibly built into the sheer cliff face above the ocean. We stood here and watched the surfers riding the waves below, the water was sparkling blue, there were no clouds, the sun was out, and it was hard to believe we were in the middle of a South American city home to 9 million people.

Tuesday 22/1/13 – This morning I again noticed a pair of sunglasses on the hostel’s computer desk that had been sitting there for at least the three days we have been here. Figuring their previous owners had discarded them, I gave a new home to the lonely pair. Kenz scowled at me and grumbled some crap about karma, but I thought it was a good idea as I have already been through 3 other pairs on this trip. Well half an hour later as we were preparing to leave, Kenz’s bike just fell over whilst warming up – the first bad occurrence today. We finished and headed out the gate when my GPS died and wouldn’t turn back on – the second bad occurrence. With no GPS we picked a direction we thought was south and started riding. Eventually the GPS came back to life as we headed through the farmlands south of Lima. It is the greenest part of Peru we have seen (there are actually trees here!), all fed by an intricate and ancient canal system where water is diverted as it runs out of the Andes and through the desert towards the ocean. It is a strange landscape of perfectly square patches of bright green farmland bordered by sand dunes; literally 2 metres inside the fences are thick green pastures, and 2 metres outside is desert and sand for hundreds of kilometres.

It was a 450 km trip from Lima to Nazca, again through vast stretches of desert. We came to a small town halfway to Nazca where we fuelled up and had lunch at the fuel station. As we ate lunch I was watching the bike and noticed that the front tyre was going down right in front of my eyes (the third and most mysterious bad occurrence today!). I took the wheel off and walked a short way to a tyre repair man who couldn’t find any leaks at all. Despite this he put my spare inner tube in and charged me $1.20 for his troubles – not a bad deal. We continued south until we crossed the famous Nazca plains and to the lookout where you can climb up and observe ancient geoglyphs named ‘the Nazca Lines’. Many are over 200m in length; and they often resemble animals and date back to around 500AD. They were ‘scratched’ into the ground by removing narrow stretched of earth revealing the different coloured earth beneath, most are only noticeable from high vantage points such as lookouts or from aircraft.

We rode into the town of Nazca and found a suitable hotel half a block from the plaza. It turns out the town was celebrating an important anniversary this evening meaning there was a huge party about to begin. This meant that they played music so loud it must have shaken the very foundations of the Earth until about 4 am. I am surprised the nearby Nazca Lines weren’t vibrated into oblivion. Kenz still insists my acquirement of the sunnies are what caused her bike to drop, the GPS to stop working, my tyre to go down, and somehow made the Nazca anniversary to fall on this day.

Wednesday 23/1/13 – Kenz woke up with the shits this morning, both emotionally and physically. After some dodgy chicken the night before, and no sleep between bed-time and 4am she was emotionally and physically spent. To make matters worse we had a tough (but stunning) day’s ride of 350kms through the Peruvian Andes. We had decided to split the ride from Nazca to Cusco into 2 days of around 350kms each. We left Nazca on a road that is a motorcyclist’s dream, all corners and switchbacks which ran from sea level to over 4500m in just a few hours. The scenery was stunning; the towering Andes were mostly bare of vegetation and often covered in desert dunes. The scenery was almost beyond description; however I will say it i’s the best I have seen since the landscape in the Alaskan Arctic Circle (and maybe even better). When we reached 4000m we started seeing packs of wild Vicuna (very similar to llamas but leaner and prettier) grazing on the alpine grasses. They are now a protected species but were almost hunted to extinction in the 1970s. We also saw some llamas in fenced areas and a few small dwellings that local herders use. As we rode on we began to crest the top of the Andes and were surrounded by snow-capped peaks. We rose above an altitude of 4500m and the snow started falling. It began to get very thick and was not only coating the ground around us, but also the road in front of us. Huge clumps of snow that stuck to our helmets and jackets quickly turned to ice and fell down into our laps (we don’t have waterproof pants!). Soon I was riding one handed (as the other was constantly wiping snow and ice from the helmet visor), the roads were getting slippery, Kenz was crying over the comms, I couldn’t see more than 10m ahead, I was absolutely freezing with only a t-shirt beneath my jacket, and huge piles of ice kept falling into my lap and felt like someone was slicing my groin open with a scalpel. The worst thing about riding in snow at altitude is that you can’t stop, and there’s no point turning around because it will probably be snowing later in the day when you attempt it again anyway. After about 20 minutes we started to descend again and thankfully the snow stopped. A few times over the next hour we reached that magic 4500m mark where the snow would start again, but these were only short lived as we crossed the higher mountain passes.

In the late afternoon we rode into the small village of Chalhuanca, wet, freezing (Kenz’s lips were blue) and exhausted. We stopped at the first (and possibly only) hostel in town which had hot water. In the 10 minutes between checking the room had hot water, paying the hotelier, getting undressed and standing in the shower, the city’s water supply shut down and wouldn’t be put back on till 9pm… So we went to warm up by eating a meal at a small restaurant across the street. The meal came with some beautifully hot chicken soup. Life suddenly didn’t seem so bad as the hot soup began to warm us up - until I scooped a huge spoonful of soup up which had a cooked chicken foot in it. A stray dog had followed us into the restaurant so Kenz slipped him the chicken foot under the table which he swallowed without even chewing. He eventually got to eat 3 chicken feet before our soup was finished, although one of mine had a few claws suspiciously missing (and I distinctly remember eating a few suspiciously crunchy mouthfuls of soup).

When we returned to the hostel, the water had been turned on, but for some reason it never heated up. Kenz was still cold, her lips were still blue and she felt nauseous; we assumed it was altitude sickness as we had travelled from sea-level this morning and had passed over 4500m today.

Thursday 24/1/13 – Today’s leg from Chalhuanca to Cusco was just as spectacular as yesterday’s ride, but fortunately there was no snow! Much of the road followed alongside a raging river that wound between incredibly steep mountains and cliffs. Quite a number of small rivers were flowing across the road which we had to ride through, the deepest was probably only half a metre deep so they were quite fun to cross. However one long section of road running parallel to the river must have recently flooded and the road had been swept away leaving many small boulders and river rocks which we had to navigate – it was almost like our own little Dakar experience. After about 300kms of spectacular riding we came to the city of Cusco. We headed to the historical centre which had winding, narrow and steep streets made of cobblestones which look fantastic, but make riding very difficult especially when the road is damp. We spent about 2 hours doing many blocks of the city trying to find a hotel or hostel with suitable parking. Just when we were starting to get extremely frustrated and snapping at each other, a friendly guy who loves motorbikes came over and said he had seen us ride past 3 times in the past 2 hours. He showed me to a hostel within 2 blocks where you could park the bikes (he works at a pub on the block and parks his bike in the hostel courtyard). It wasn’t quite so easy though as we had to mount the curb and ride down a narrow alley and through a shop to an internal courtyard. It was almost dark by now so we strolled around to the main plaza after dark and visited the huge cathedral (just one of 3 in the main plaza), the gaudy fountain, and the local pizzeria.

Friday 25/1/13 – Again Kenz woke up with a gnarly stomach so we spent most of the day in the hostel. We did re-walk the plaza in the afternoon and organised tomorrow’s train tickets to the small town of Aguas Calientes, the town near Machu Picchu (we got the last ones available).

This morning we had organised a trip to the Cusco Planetarium. In the evening we got picked up by a slightly insane man (who turned out to be a professor of Astronomy) from the central plaza. He took us to the planetarium which was discretely situated within the Saqsaywaman ruins. They gave us a personal 2 hour tour and information lecture about the Inca’s relationship to astrology such as developing their calendar and agricultural patterns. They also built temples where the main altar was cast in sunlight (through a small window) at the equinoxes. We then enjoyed a lecture from the professor in the planetarium whilst he projected the night sky on the domed ceiling and superimposed it with the constellations. Knowing we were Australian, he spent a great deal of time talking about the Southern Hemisphere. The most interesting part of his talk was about how all the Northern Hemisphere constellations are based on Greek Mythological gods and creatures, but the constellations in the far south areas of the southern hemisphere were only ‘discovered’ by Europeans and named in the 1500s. This means they are were mostly named by sailors and are typically animals, sea creatures, ships, or native peoples that they had recently discovered. Unfortunately the city of Cusco was blanketed in clouds this evening so we couldn’t actually use the telescopes to view the stars in the night sky.

Saturday 26/1/13 – Our train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes left at 7:42 am, so we chained up the bikes in the hostel courtyard and caught a taxi to the train station. We sat in the station watching tourists for about half an hour. About a third of the tourists were your typical ‘cruise-ship’ types wearing terrible knitted jumpers, bum-bags, full tracksuits or souvenir t-shirts and wandering around like they had no idea who or where they were; another third seemed to be the typical young hippie types with dreads, bandanas, pantaloons and rocking the ‘unwashed’ look; and the final group were the ones strutting around in their brand new North Face gear with hiking boots in first-use condition. Kenz and I were definitely in the small minority of normal looking people in the station (or as we were in the vast minority, does this mean we were the most non-normal?).

The train took 3 hours to travel 90kms, firstly through small towns and extensive agriculture pastures (mostly corn and potatoes), and then through towering snow-capped mountains. I enjoy travelling by train; there is a nostalgic ‘old-world’ feel about trains, like a feeling of elegance not found on any other transport. However travelling by train means you are separated from the environment and the world outside the train window. It’s not like riding a motorcycle: I didn’t smell the smells of the villages, burning rubbish, croplands or mountains, I wasn’t cold when we travelled across the shadows of the mountains, I didn’t get wet when it rained, I felt no wind on my body or wind pushing the bike around, and ultimately I wasn’t in control of the journey – I may as well have been sitting back home watching the journey through a TV or computer screen… Despite this the scenery near the end of the journey was stunning, I felt like I was transported into the Lord of the Rings movies.

We arrived at Aguas Calientes with no plans or accommodation booked. We strolled through the town looking for a hostel; the first one we visited smelt like chemical toilets, but the second suited us fine. The man at reception even walked us through the town to help organise our bus tickets and parks pass required to enter Machu Picchu. We then walked around the town which straddles a small river that joins an enormous roaring river which flows along the town’s western edge. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a Mexican restaurant where Kenz ordered chicken tacos and I got grilled alpaca with chips and salad.

For some reason the toilet in almost every hostel room we stay at flushes fine when we are checking the room out, but when you pay for the room and later try to use the toilet, it is always broken. Again this was the case but luckily Kenz has been doing a self-taught toilet-fixing apprenticeship since Mexico and can identify and fix any toilet problem in a jiffy. If pharmacy doesn’t work out for her when we return to Australia, she may have a promising career as a toilet-fix-it-woman.

Sunday 27/1/13 – Unfortunately our sleep was regularly interrupted last night by youths singing, dancing, partying, spewing and fighting at the club across the street – just another Saturday night in Aguas Calientes? At 5am we were up, packed and mashing some tasteless breakfast into our mouths whilst walking down the street towards the bus station. We arrived at about 5:15 and were surprised to see the queue already about 150 people deep. By the time our bus pulled out of the station it was 5:35 and 3 other buses had already departed. The bus wound along the raging river and then up the incredibly steep mountain towards Machu Picchu regularly passing the brave (and mostly younger and fitter) hikers attempting to scale the mountain. Once at the top we jumped off the bus, joined the small queue at the gate and then passed into the Machu Picchu archaeological site. We walked to the famous lookout where all the postcard photographs are taken and were greeted by thick fog and mist which allowed us to only see about 10m in any direction. We sat down with the other early risers and waited for the mist to clear and the sun to rise. It only took about 10 minutes and the beautiful ruins, scenery and mountain loomed out of the mist. As we were there early, there were no people down in the ruins yet, just a few llamas walking around and munching on the grass. Over the next 4 hours we walked across the ruins which slowly started filling with tourists. The site was constantly changing between clear skies and huge blankets of fog that would roll in and cover everything. The actual ruins were not that impressive compared to the many ruins found in Central America, however the setting of the ruins in the mountains is what makes this site so special. There was one very impressive building which had a curved wall, an altar and a small window in the wall. At the equinoxes the sun would shine in through the small window and light up the altar – another example of the pre-Columbian people’s close relationship with astronomy. By 9am the place was packed and the magic and mystery of the place was replaced by the typical scene of thousands of tourists yelling and climbing all over the place. We sat on the hill top for a while taking it all in before catching the bus back to town.

We then spent a while walking around the small market in Aguas Calientes before catching the train back to Cusco.

Monday 28/1/13 – After our experience last Wednesday of riding through thick snow with thoughts of never being able to have children every time I scooped a handful of snow and ice out of my trousers, we decided to by some wet-weather pants at a local camping shop. We also dropped off some laundry at the nearby Laundromat. In the afternoon we met up with Byron and Isabel, two fellow adventure riders that we have crossed paths with a few times already on this trip. We had lunch at a small café and then dinner at a typical Peruvian restaurant who served up beef pretending it was alpaca. Just above our table at this restaurant was a picture of Mary breastfeeding the baby Jesus – it was a bit strange as the artists had also painted milk squirting out of her nipple. I’m now off milk…

Tuesday 29/1/13 – This morning we carefully manoeuvred the bikes out of the hostel courtyard, through the trinket shop, onto the cobblestone street and then through the city and towards the Sacred Valley. Our first stop was the town of Moray and the nearby archaeological site of the same name. Here there are gigantic terraced holes in the ground easily bigger than an AFL pitch in diameter. It is believed that this site was a place for ancient agricultural experimentation; however the true purpose of these massive holes is still unclear. We walked the perimeter of the site and then down into the centre of the second deepest hole which was deserted. We then walked around the deepest hole but the centre was full of hippies meditating and doing yoga – not really our scene.

The road through the Sacred Valley was amazing, it wound through vast fields of wildflowers and flowering crops with beautiful snowy mountain ranges above. We then travelled a few kilometres down a gravel road in terrible condition, and pulled into a salt mine situated in a deep valley near Moray. Natural streams full of minerals trickled down the valley walls and were collected in terraced shelves where the water would evaporate leaving the salt and minerals to be collected by locals. We walked along the valley edge and across numerous salt shelves which were mostly full of smelly, discoloured, sludge-like water and salt. After staring at the pools for a while, Kenz decided she is never eating salt again.

Back in Cusco we decided to splash-out and have dinner at a flash pizzeria. The waiter was so rude and didn’t say a single word to us in either English or Spanish the whole time – not even when we ordered. We actually thought maybe he was bereft of the faculty of speech, until he began to chat to the waitress behind the bar. We didn’t tip him despite the food being pretty good.

Wednesday 30/01/13 – This morning we left Cusco and headed south to the city of Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The road wound through the mountains at an altitude of around 4000m. A few time we reached 4300m where it would always start raining, and a short glance above showed that just 100m higher it was snowing – luckily we never reached this point. There were many paddocks of llamas here and at one stage we crossed a bridge spanning a river where some men were washing recently shorn llama wool. They had a huge drum of water above a fire where they were boiling the wool. They would then lift out the wool with large poles and dip it in the icy cold river and leave it on the river bank to dry. A little further up the river the village women were washing their clothes in the river and also drying them on the banks. At the next village we saw a traditionally-dressed funeral procession carrying a coffin along the main street of a small village.

Just north of Puno is the shitty, horrible city of Juliaca which we accidently turned off the highway and rode through the middle of (the fault of the GPS, not the user). We rode about 3km of the worst roads I have ever seen. The road was 6 lanes wide and full of stretches of puddles around knee deep and about 5 metres long. When riding through puddles like this, you don’t want to stop the bike so typically we wait for the car in front to clear the puddle and then we ride through. This way you can see the end of the puddle and are able to cross it successfully without having to put your foot down in knee deep muddy water and risk slipping or getting stuck. However with 6 lanes of thick traffic we would constantly be cut off by crazy drivers making riding extremely difficult and dangerous. At the biggest intersection Kenz had a mental breakdown and left her bike in the middle of the street stopping about 2 lanes of traffic. I had to leave mine on the side of the street, run back and rescue her bike which was left on the edge of a huge puddle.

Eventually we made it to Puno and found a reasonable hotel which had a stuffed aardvark on the office bench. I think we were the only people staying in the whole place which meant it was nice and quiet. We walked around the city centre and pedestrian mall after dark where we organised a tour for tomorrow out to the floating villages of Lake Titicaca.

Thursday 31/1/13 – We were picked up in a taxi for the tour this morning and driven down to the docks. We meet our guide who showed us to his incredibly slow looking boat where we sat down and waited for the rest of the tour group to arrive. Whilst we waited a strange man played Simon and Garfunkel on Peruvian pan pipes. During our journey out to the floating islands, the tour guide gave us some history about Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the highest freshwater lake in the world (3800m) and because of its size it is more like an inland sea than a lake. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived to the area, they tried to force the indigenous people to work in the Bolivian silver mines; so the indigenous people fled and built floating rafts out of reeds and formed floating communities on the lake. The rafts were built by binding large clumps of reeds and their roots together and then piling a 2m layer of reeds on top. The rafts are then stable enough to support a number of small reed huts for the indigenous people to dwell in. There are still communities that build floating rafts and live on the lake. They live by catching fish and inviting tourists onto the rafts where they have small stalls full of trinkets and tapestries. We visited one such raft and were invited into Olga’s hut, where she tried to explain what living on the raft was like. We then enjoyed a short ride to another island on a traditional reed boat. Whilst we were on one of these floating islands a motorboat went past and its wake made the island rise and fall over the small waves.

After visiting these amazing communities, we travelled to a large island further out in Lake Titicaca called Isla Taquile. The island is an old volcano with incredibly steep sides and a small village at the pinnacle of 4000m. The walk up the side of the island was pretty gruelling but we got to have lunch at a small restaurant at the top. The people of the island still dress traditionally and we got some explanations as to the subtleties of the dress code. The most interesting were the different hats that the people wear in different ways, all meaning different things such as ‘I am looking for a wife’, or ‘I am widowed’. Interestingly couples live together for two years before getting married to make sure they have made the right choice for a partner (there is no divorce here).

The trip back to Puno was mostly uneventful and really slow; however we did enjoy seeing the city from the water. We arrived back late and went to eat dinner across the street at a local roast chicken joint. When eating the soup in these places we have learnt not to scoop the spoon too deep – you just have to enjoy the soup until it gets so shallow that strange chicken body parts start breaking the surface, and then you stop eating. Tonight, however, Kenz dug too deep and scooped out what appeared to be a chicken heart. A nice meal for our last night in Peru – tomorrow we ride into Bolivia!


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