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Titicaca Nights

Lake Titicaca at NightI had based my original estimate of 400Km a day on smooth roads and big bikes that could sit happily at 120 km/h and even 180km/h, not that you would like to hit one of the unmarked speed humps here at that speed.

The cafe I’d earmarked for breakfast in Puno was closed so I skipped it heading south through town to pick up highway 3S again. Losing track of the shore, as it diverged away from the road, I’d also lost track of the days, Friday, I think it was. I turned left off the bypass into Ilave for breakfast just as the chill was Ilave SOATgetting to my knees and fingers. Ilave rang a bell. I had prepared my documents earlier ready for the border ceremony, into Bolivia, and checked the insurance details. La Positiva, There was a La Positiva across the road at the Yamaha shop which was closed. Well, well, if it wasn’t the exact same place as the address on the document. I still had three weeks to run on it so not worth hanging around for, besides it appears it can be done online decoding the Spanish notes.

Fish Farms on TiticacaThe farms weren’t solely confined to the land. Cresting a rise on a bend, Lake Titicaca once again presented its full fresh water blueness in the early afternoon sun, supporting floating frames far along the shoreline with fish farmers in their boats tending to their trout cages. I pulled over in a layby for a while, sitting my cold carcass on the ground leaning back on a rock absorbing the sun’s rays.

Yamaha YB125When my blood temperature rose above reptilian levels, I set off to Copacabana. It was only 45Km away so I would be there early afternoon. Time enough to get across the border and find a reasonable hostel. It was too cold to camp.

Titicaca BootsToday’s ride was decorated by the proximity of the lake under a deep blue sky over a deeper blue water. The anonymous-looking unmarked junction east to Copacabana almost slipped by unconsciously, disguised by a shanty looking town. I only recognised it by the curved triangle that each lane made with the main route. Checking the sat nav I doubled back the twenty metres plus braking distance.

Pomata LighthouseThe border town of Kasani was a handful of Kilometres and I was at the border control by 2pm. Two offices required my visit to depart Peru, one for me and one for the Yamaha (Khamakha, they confusingly pronounce over here.)

The place appeared abandoned but for the uniformed agentics and me, their only customer. Emerging from the Sunat traffic office, the chain that had been draped across the road had mysteriously dropped and Senor Yamakha and I idled across through the tentative arch on the hill that heralded Bolivia.

Bolivia Peru Border, KasaniThe border complex resembled an abandoned barracks with assorted militarised looking individuals meandering as if searching for significance in their lives. I viewed them as sharks in a pool. If I showed no fear they might not feel the need to justify their existence and attack.

Office one: Migraciones, Passport. “Occupation?” (Restricting the temptation to say Journalist or Wizard) “Computer Engineer “(always a safe bet.) “How long are you here?” (quick think of a number) “Two or three weeks” where are you going? (What’s best, near or far?) “Copacabana.” “Fill in form. Mesa aqui!” “I fill in the form with a plastic pen secured to the plastic table tethered by plastic string. Stamp! Vamonos!

Office two: Aduana Nacional. Senor Yamakha! “How long are you here… etc.?…Will you go to La Paz?” “No, just Copacabana.” (I don’t know why I said that, even I don’t know my plans”) “I give you one month!” “ Gracias, Adios!” I have 30 days to explore Bolivia… still, I’m not rushing. I’ll probably go to La Paz.

Office three: Policia (I don’t know why). The office is cool and bare with a shrine to Santa Maria in the corner with a candle hissing its last moments as the wick approaches the melted remains of its predecessors. A small shaggy white dog lifts its head up half disinterested and puts it down again. The officer behind the battered wooden desk reflects the same attitude. There are no computers here, the only item giving away which century we are in being the cell phone the officer glances at as it buzzes a message.

“Buenes Tardes,” I say as I offer my passport without him having to ask, holding crash helmet and fresh documents from the border experience in the other hand. He’s a friendly guy and smiles at my broken Spanish accent. My passport indicates Hannover as my birthplace “Allemagne?” he asks “Nein, Inglaterra… Great Britain.” I reply. “Ah, Gran Brettagne.” “Si.” I nod “Manchester Hunited!” he exclaims excitedly “Si.” I smile. He opens a hardback ledger, similar to what hostels and campsites use and fills in the hand-drawn columns using the closest pen to hand. I am now fully written into Bolivia, I exit the office, cross the deserted square and mount my iron horse, drifting out onto the high plains on the Bolivian shores of Titicaca, thinking of Clint Eastwood and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Even John Wayne gets a couple of brain cells.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m rumbling the Copacabana cobbles, so close to the border that it is. Still early I turn left down the bouldered surfaced road down to the beach. There’s no doubt that this place exists for tourism; the floating water busses moored in the bay, cafes lining the harbour. I turn left away from the harbour to explore the camping spots marked on ioverlander.com, a great app that Nikita showed me while buying the bike.

Titicaca ShoreI buck and swerve along the lane a couple of kilometres past camping ecolodge and Kasa Cultural as far as I can go: a mound piled across the road as it continues along the shore out of view. The sun still looked a way off the horizon, too early to pitch up for the night so I return along the shore earmarking flat patches of grass suitable for my tent.

Sunset at TotaraAfter dinner at Totara’s roof terrace watching the sun plummet toward the horizon, chased by the invisible chill of night, I delicately ride across the dust and boulders lining the shore back to where I hoped I remembered. Dogs leapt unseen out of the darkness under the trees, barking and chasing the bike almost knocking me over. One bit my leg and got a mouth full of shin protector before letting go and disappearing somewhere behind. Ignoring dogs is my only strategy for staying upright, so far it’s working.

Moments later I found a deserted spot on the lane with a patch of grass big enough for the tent. It was flat and smooth and best of all, silent apart from the waves lapping at the centuries smoothed boulders on the beach. The lights of the town shimmering across the surface of Titicaca.

Wild Camping TiticacaWithin half an hour the tent was up with the interior decked out for a good night’s sleep. Annoyingly, the thin pole for the door shelter broke leaving the porch limp and forlorn, not that there would be rain tonight. The sky was a pure indigo with a bright crescent moon above a Venus on full beam, the distant horizon lit by the fire of the sun. Inside the tent, it didn’t feel so cold but then, the night had only just fallen.

Peace on the lake seeped into my heart.

Lake Titicaca at Night

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Life on Mars

Cabell Hostel CalcaThree days later, I checked out of Hospedaje Cabell and rode into Plaza de Armas for a final omelette and latte at the cafe on the Plaza and hit route 28B down the Sacred Valley of the Incas through Pisac and down route PE3S toward Ayaviri, 268 km south-east closer to Bolivia and a thousand metres further away from sea level.

The longer I rode, the thinner both the traffic and the air got. The sun got hotter and the wind got colder, letting me know my altitude was increasing, eventually peaking at 4300 metres. The road along the valley was much straighter than the Ayaviri, Perumountain passes around Ollantaytambo and became straighter the further south I went. The scenery changed from steep alpine rocky giants left and right creating a natural channel, to rolling wispy grass hills and wide open, flat plains. It didn’t seem like planet Earth at all. Arriving in Ayaviri felt like landing at a moonbase. I had an option of campsite here or hostels. The air felt so cold, even in this clear blue sky with the suns rays irradiating me, that I opted for the relative warmth of a building rather than nylon shelter.

Ayaviri Bus Terminal, PeruWalking around the town and looking at the landscape, it wasn’t the moon I was on, it was Mars. No vegetation apart from thin grass lining the hills, dust stirred up by the three-wheeled motor rickshaws and a sky bluer than I’ve ever seen. It was noticeably harder to breathe simply walking about. Mars has a thin atmosphere too. The altitude here is just short of 4km above sea level. Staying in the sun to absorb the warmth through my jacket, I grabbed an early dinner at a Polleria and retreated to the hostel.

I lay on the bed with my jacket on and hood up typing up my recent adventures wriggling my cold feet still encased in their boots. I’m on the Alt1 Plano, a giant plato stretching cold empty miles between Peru and Bolivia. It’s not going to get any warmer, I imagine this is how it’s going to be until I’m finished in Bolivia.

Ayaviri Hostel, PeruAt half past six, the warming influence of the sun is subtracted from the day’s equation, I get ready for bed. My urine is dark amber, reminding me I need to drink more water if I am going to avoid a dehydration episode like I had in Bogota. I climb into bed still wearing my jacket with the hood up. There are three thick blankets and my feet soon warm up. My room is cold as it’s on the side away from the afternoon sun. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch the early morning sun’s rays through the windows. I’m going to need some windshields for my hands on the bike and start wearing my rain gear for insulation. Tomorrow I’m bound for  Puno, only 167km, or if it’s going well, Copacabana 284km plus a border crossing on the Bolivian shore of Lake Titicaca. We’ll See…

Wednesday 16th May
The sunlight beams through the frozen gap in the curtains that I open as wide as I can. The sun brings plenty of light but little warmth. The people I see out of the window are clad in heavy coats and hats and the moonbuggies travel up and down with their modified car alarms attempting to emulate a siren for ensuring optimum progress through the meagre traffic.

The shower had two faucets: one labelled Frio for cold and the other labelled Caliente for just as cold. I skip it. I notice some itchy bumps on elbows and knees. Wherever the insects were, they weren’t out in the cold. Their home was probably in the thick warm, woollen blankets.

This morning, I am not hungry. The water out of the tap tasted fresh and clean so I topped up my bottle and took a few gulps. The bike was already packed just as I’d left it loaded in the lobby. Full choke was needed to start in the cold, thin air and soon I was off through the city centre of Ayaviri and onto 3S south. The road was laser straight for Kilometers on end with little change in altitude. The cold was getting to my knees. Puno, I would stop in Puno.

The stark landscape slowly transformed into rich farmland, trees began to appear and some undulations and bends in the road began to appear. I was back on planet Earth.

Puno, PeruThe roads began to curve and undulate and suddenly, Puno presented itself in its full mediocrity while rounding a bend over a rise and descending into the suburbs. The beauty of the place was wholly dependent on its proximity to the lake. Bolivia’s version of Skegness or Margate, with its fairgrounds and sparse, ramshackle attractions.

Hospedaje Sol, Puno, PeruI cruised along the city’s coast and spotted a hostel sign among many I ignored. “WiFi y Aguas Calientes” Perfecto and, with permission, I rode into the courtyard reception and unloaded the bike. My room was upstairs. The WiFi only worked outside and I was in the shade which made it a chilly and short session. I tried the shower: cold dribble. The duchas calientes were not included in my ensuite, they were in a block downstairs past the building site that was pouring concrete into vertical wooden cases laced with steel rods, making columns. I skipped it, I wasn’t sweating in this climate. I’d keep…

Hostal Sol Secure ParkingMy room was room No 1 at the back, away from the road but next to a fairground that would spark up Gangnam Style and La Macarena as soon as the sunset. Ah well, what else to expect from previous experience. The bed was warmer than the one in Ayaviri, with its 5 heavy woollen blankets and apparently uninhabited by creatures other than me. The double bed meant I had two pillows so was able to sit comfortably and type up some notes. The ambient temperature was warmer than last night too… and I began to get comfortable, which had been a warning Puno fairground, Titicacafrom mother Ayahuasca not to settle for, and I abandoned the temptation to stay one more night. Anyhow, Copacabana was only 145Km away. It doesn’t sound much but the bike is slow. Even on a loaded YB125 that does a maximum of 80km/h and average of 50km/h it means 3 hours in cold wind.

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Into the Valley

Santa Maria, Machu PicchuSaturday 12th May, The Aussie chatter in the morning woke me early before the sun had a chance to warm the tent. I doze and wait for the sun to smile on me.

A bright fresh morning for tackling the cliff road back to Santa Maria. Earlier, brighter and drier along the road it looked less foreboding. There was more traffic which stirred up clouds of dust out of the powdery track.

Route 28B Abra MalagaThis time I drive straight through Santa Maria and continue toward Ollantaytambo. Abra Malaga wasn’t quite as wet and cloudy at the peak but it was bloody cold. The road was drier too and I felt more confident leaning around the 61 hairpin bends without fear of sliding under the barrier and down a couple of thousand feet of vertical rock.

Arin, Cusco, Peru 28BI checked the maps.me app. Arin. That’s where one of the people lived I was planning to hook up with. A friend of a friend. I rattled my fillings over Ollantaytambo’s coarse cobbled roads and out onto the asphalt to the east toward Arin and Pisac.

The smooth straight southeasterly 28B contrasted with the winding mountain pass over Abra Malaga. Rolling along the valley floor without undulation felt like the high mountain walls were directing me like a ball along a gutter.

Museo Inkariy, Calca, PeruI rolled into Arin just before 4pm and I was hungry. Stopping at a cafe, I looked for accommodation on the apps on the phone. Campo Verde Pitusiray was just down the road just before the Inkariy Museum. I’d stay there. I finished my coffee and got back on the bike.

Arin, Campo Verde Pulling into Campo Verde, it didn’t look like a campsite. I rode up the grass lane to the farmhouse, the family were out with their harvest of Maize spread out on tarps in the field looking at me quizzically. The youngest woman approached and I showed here the camping emblem asking if this was ‘aqui’? She pointed at the peak of Pitusiray and said no motioning over the peak. Apologising, I got back on the bike and started to leave but hesitated after glancing at the gathering clouds. Rain was on its way. Grey streaks painting the sky between the peaks sandwiching the valley. The direction I was riding.

I parked the bike and went back up to the family asking if I could camp along their drive for S/5. The woman happily agreed and I put the tent up as fast as I could. The wind picked up while I was attaching the rain cover, which became a wrestling match. The rain arrived not long after the gusts just as the pegs were going in and I dived into the tent before getting a good soaking.

I was in a field at the foot of a mountain. When the rain stopped, the young woman came to warn me that water can come gushing down the mountainsides and I should move. There was a bungalow down towards the entrance. I put my tent up on the porch.

The concrete was harder than the grass under the mattress but I was sheltered well and tired enough for a good night’s sleep.

Calca Plaza de ArmasSunday 13th May, I woke at dawn, cold even with the two fleece blankets over the sleeping bag. I buried my head to minimise heat loss and waited for the sun to warm the tent. I opened the flap of the door to help dry out the condensation. The family drove a few head of cattle by the tent toward their maize field, I waved and bid them buenas dias. When I emerged from the tent I could see the cattle had already set about eating the stalks and leaves left from the harvest. In a way, this seemed a backward way of life but at the same time, so much more holistic than what I knew back in the UK. No unemployment, fewer rules and regulations, the family happily working together, they had everything they needed, Self-sufficient, like.

The sun was clearing the mountains now and beaming down on me. I spread the tent on the drive to dry it out while I packed the bags and strapped them to the rear rack. By the time that was done the tent was dry and packed away on the front rack.

I rode back to Arin for breakfast at 9.30 but found nowhere open. I didn’t realise it was Sunday until I arrived in Calca further down the road. I caught sight of a desperately needed ATM in the main plaza and an open cafe opposite, perfect. Around a table in the porch were half a dozen Aussies, Rucksacks piled on the footpath nearby. They were talking loudly and I’m sure they were part of the group that was at Santa Teresa a couple of nights ago.

I asked them if they knew of any WiFi nearby, I needed to find a campsite or hostel without randomly riding around Peru. “We haven’t had WiFi for ten days.” boasted a rather loud young blonde girl. I inferred a ‘no’ from that response. It also suggested that this was part of the group from the campsite at Santa Teresa.

After breakfast, I rode around the town looking for accommodation. A hostel that was indicated on the map was in the middle of a Sunday street market so inaccessible by moto.

Cabell Hostel CalcaThe campsite on the map couldn’t be found where it was indicated, one hostel was S/80 a night and three other hostels were closed. It was Sunday. I rang the bell at Cabell on the main road through Calca and was answered by a young woman who spoke excellent English. The room reminded me of a Cornish cottage, low ceilings, small window looking out into the garden and polished wooden floorboards. The bathroom was next door but there was no-one else on the same floor as me so was almost an ensuite. It was perfect.

Calca is a plain town with no tourists except for stray hikers. I had a comfortable private room with good wifi for catching up on blogging and videos. The cafes were cheap and the days warm…

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Lost City of the IncasThursday 10th May. Nobody warned me of the enormous queue at the bus station. The hundred metre line hadn’t moved for twenty minutes until a convoy of four buses arrived at the same time. A flurry of activity and we were soon tacking up the hairpin bends up the mountainside for the next half hour towards Machu Picchu. There was little information or apparent organisation at the gate. A long queue at the entrance was confusing the issue but when I asked one of the guides about Machu Picchu mountain, he pointed for me to edge around the crowd and I bypassed the queue into the site. He advised I should go to the toilet before the tour but also that I wouldn’t have time and I should hurry if I was going to make it at all. So “why mention it,?” I thought.

Aguas Calientes BusesAsking the way a couple of times ensured I was hurrying my way up the right set of steps alongside the citadel and up to the checkpoint where I signed in at 7.45. With relief, I paused for a minute to recover from the climb and catch my breath. Up ahead were a couple and their guide about 20 meters up the steps. I caught them up and asked If I could tag along. Kalwant and his daughter, Laura, from Florida were finishing up their four day Inca Trail experience.

Montana Machu PicchuThe Inca Trail is an exclusive selection of guided treks throughout the Sacred Valley of the Incas and has limited numbers, which creates a long waiting list. You can’t just turn up a and walk the trail. Kalwant and Laura had booked this trip seven months previous in October. Kalwant at seventy years old was a comparative gazelle moving up the mountain. It would be hard to allow myself to appear feeble in such company. Laura confessed they were training for months on fully inclined treadmills but were unable to simulate the thin atmosphere. Me? I trained for nothing. Adventure itself was my exercise.

The climb was a relentless series of uneven rocky steps, sometimes steep, sometimes narrow, sometimes both. We met a few early risers clambering back down. Not everyone made it to the top but those that did said they couldn’t see anything because it was all was shrouded in cloud.

Sacred Valley in the CloudsAbout halfway up, we began to catch glimpses of the citadel below through breaks in the cloud. The weather was perfect for the climb, the cloud shielding us from the heat of the sun. I frequently removed my hat to wipe the sweat from my forehead and allow the high mountain air to cool me in the shade. By the time we had reached the peak after the two hours climb, the morning sun had burned away the cloud, leaving us a perfect view.

Montana Machupicchu SummitAt the peak, there is a thatched shelter and wide viewing areas. There were already about 15 people up here in various stages of taking selfies and getting in the way of each other’s panoramic video sweeps. Kalwant gave me a bag of trail mix and we took photos of us all around the summit.

Descending the steps was easier on the lungs but harder on the knees. Many more people were climbing the mountain now making the descent somewhat busy and frustrating on the narrower sections. They were climbing under full sun but at least getting good views on the way up.

Machu Picchu Mountain SummitWe signed out at 11.15. Three and a half hours after starting the climb. Machu Picchu Mountain is 650 meters higher than Machu Picchu Citadel, which itself is 400 metres above Aguas Calientes.

Following the guide into the citadel, we turned left along one of the terraces passing some Llamas busy keeping the grass trimmed. My colleagues had a flight to catch so had to hurry around the citadel while I rested in the shade enjoying the view and a half melted chocolate bar before embarking on the trail to Inka Bridge.

Inca BridgeThis short trek is not for the fearful of heights: a narrow path with sheer drops and no guard rail. It was a personal challenge which I could not let beat me. Seeing some people standing on the edge looking straight down turned my stomach. I passed those sections close to the rock face head turned away from the drop, trying to focus on other things.

There are a number of guides on Machu Picchu and I quickly tagged onto an English speaking one leading a group of six Brits. Machu Picchu is a fascinating place that has an energy about it and where every stone tells a story. I was conscious that this was Debs dream and I was in it. If she was alive, the mountain climb might have killed her.

I had intended to walk back to the town but the 400 metre descent was too much to think about after scaling Machu Picchu mountain so I bought another bus to save my knees from a further hammering.

Huillca Wasi Hostal, Machu PicchuThe shower in my room had a hot and cold tap but left me only a selection of cold left or cold right. There are hot springs on the edge of town from which the town gets its name Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters). I borrowed the hotel’s towel and marched up the hill to the thermal baths.
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Hot Springs Machu Picchu“Eases muscle aches and gets rid of toxins,” the sign says as I soak in the warm waters. “Where do these toxins go?” I wonder looking at the dozen people in this murky greenish water. The warm waters certainly ease muscle aches and pains and I felt refreshed heading back into town for dinner.

I had been puzzled when I first walked through Plaza de Armas in Cusco, about all the massage services being relentlessly touted. I can see why now; so much hiking and sightseeing around the Sacred Valley. There would be a lot of stiff muscles and joints around after a day at Machu Picchu and various trails.

Check out was at nine. I was out at eight thirty for coffee and empanadas before treading the sleepers along the railway back to Hydro Electrica. There seemed to be even more people hiking the railway today; both ways. Unless people were already grouped or paired, no one spoke to each other; not even greetings.

The Gardens of MandorA couple of kilometres along the track is Jardines de Mandor. The name was written in my notebook from recommendations I picked up a while ago. I paid the entrance fee and left my bag in their storage room and meandered around their gardens. A small river of pure crystal mountain water runs through the Gardens into the Urubamba. The river Mandor, barely bigger than a brook with crystal clear water too good not to taste. Pure cool mountain water with a natural sweetness.

The Gardens had a natural feel that fostered a sense of peace and tranquillity, Not so much cultivated as curated… Returning to reception scratching unexpected mosquito bites, the owner encouraged me to visit the restaurant where I bought an unnatural Coka Cola and sat in the garden overlooking the river resting my stiff back and contemplating life.

Vendprs along the Machu Picchu RailwayCollecting my backpack and crunching along the loose ballast along the track back towards Hydra Electrica, I was back at the Inti Watana restaurant within a couple of hours for rest, refreshment and another two nachos and blob of guacamole.

Descending the path through the trees to the siding, a train looked all set to go with its big diesel polluting the silence. The car park was alive with groups of hikers and fleets of minibuses. “Collectivo?” I asked. It was half-past two. No collectivo until tomorrow morning. A taxi would be S/20. I decided I would walk. What would I give for a 10Km ride? S/10 would be OK so as I walked, I held out a S/10 note in my hand to tempt any passing vehicles; there would be many judging by the car park at Hydro Electrica and the single road access from Santa Teresa.

Two minutes later the first minibus stops and accepts the offer. Three Peruvian looking workmen were smiling and chuckling, maybe at my unconventional ruse, I don’t know. This was a private vehicle and I climb into the front passenger seat, arm out of the window admiring the scenery as we followed the river back to Santa Teresa.

Inka Tours, Santa Teresa“Aqui, por favor!” the bus stops and I step out and cross the road into the Inka Tours campsite. The tents were out again and crowds of twenty-something Brits and Aussies were milling about. The WiFi was on but there was no internet connection. Not an environment I was keen on hanging around in.

Checking the offline app, Maps.me, I located the hot springs to the North of Santa Teresa.and hopped on the bike for the 4km ride for another long soothing soak. The trail was wide but rough following the path of the Urubamba river

Hot Springs Santa TeresaThese springs were the same temperature as Aguas Calientes, around 36C, but were crystal clear, flowing from one pool to the other, finally overflowing into ornate showers where we could use soap and shampoo before the water drained into the river. This site was far bigger and more natural with a large cafe area where groups of hikers were chilling out. I stayed for a couple of hours. I hadn’t realised there was a campsite here. Much quieter than Inka Tours.

Banos Termales de CocalmayoDarkness had fallen by the time my wrinkled fingers dressed my cleansed and soothed body and then sipped a Pisco Sour listening to the blend of the sound of the river between the mountains and the murmur of conversations around the baths. Returning to a tent just here would have been the perfect finale to the day. I could have been tempted to relocate but I was off tomorrow anyway.

In the darkness, I followed the shuddering headlamp beam back over the rocks and grave back to Inka Tours. Gangnam Style was blaring out of the solitary PA speaker and the elevated chatter and whooping of the gyrating hikers had upped a couple of notches. There was still no internet connection so I retreated to the tent to read some Terry Pratchett on the Kindle before being effortlessly drummed, cheered and whooped to sleep.

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Machu Picchu Basecamp, Inka Tours Campsite, Santa TeresaWednesday, 9th of May, after a sleepless night, listening to the kindergarten crowd shouting along to Gangnam Style, La Macarena and various blaring popular banalities, I emerged when the sun began to warm my tent to find a deserted campsite with the staff packing away the tents. Presumably, the hikers were now nursing a hangover through the Sacred Valley, Gangnam Style.

Today was the day to head to Machu Picchu. I had wanted to bike to Hydro Electrica where I could walk along the tracks. Two issues held me back. One: find a safe place for the bike with my worldly belongings packed on it. Two: packing everything away again. So I decided to leave the tent and bike where it was and walk the 10 Km to Hydro Electrica and maybe get the train from there.

Collectivo bus from Santa Teresa to Hydro ElectricaI packed the basics in the rucksack and stepped out of the campsite to follow the road that followed the river toward Machu Picchu. A car pulled up next to me and asked where I wanted to go. He wanted S/30, about £8. I declined the offer and the price dropped to S/20. No, I’ll walk. I crossed the river and the sun beat down on the pale shadeless track. After a kilometre, I rested under a solitary tree for a drink of water. Putting the bottle away, I noticed a bus coming round the corner. I watched it approach and stood up as it pulled up next to me. The driver asked “Hydro Electrica?” “Si, quanto es?” Six Soles! Result. I climbed aboard.

The road resembled the narrow track I travelled on to Santa Teresa on yesterday, narrow, dusty and twisty yet not so far above the valley.

Hydro Electrica Railway StationHydro Electrica was not what I expected: something like a mini Hoover dam in Nevada. It’s a car park at the end of a railway siding with a few buildings scattered along the valley and a railway siding lined by cafe and souvenir stalls. I could hear the horn of a train echoing around the mountains, followed five minutes later by the train itself.

Hydro Electrica Railway StationAfter watching the shunting and activity at this make-shift station, I headed down the track ignoring a sign next to a rail side hostel that pointed out a pathway up through the woods to Machu Picchu. I thought it easier along the tracks and continued around the bend following a pair of Swedes until we came to a dead end. It looked as if there had been a landslide some years ago and it was left here abandoned on the tracks.

The main line to Machu PicchuBacktracking the 200 metres or so to the footpath, the ascent through the trees emerged on the main line and I turned left to follow the sign to Machu Picchu. Passing another cafe, Inti Watana the menu caught my eye “Nachos con Guacamole” followed by soup and a main course. S/10 bargain. Not what I expected. Two nachos ‘con’ (being the operative word) guacamole… Still, there was plenty of soup and a decent main course.

Inti Watana Menu, Hydro ElectricaIt was gone 2pm by the time I set off. The 10km walk is reckoned to take 2 hours. It’s not a lonely trek, this one. The walk to Aguas Calientes is a popular one saving $33US each way for a 10km ride. There were a lot of people walking towards me. Presumably the Machu Picchu morning crowd on their way home.

Entrada Nachos con GuacamoleThe heat of the day was tempered by the valley’s forest canopy arching high over the tracks. The railway follows the river round in a horseshoe shape around Machu Picchu which remains invisible from the valley floor. It remains about 3Km away as the line circles it yet constantly out of sight. No wonder the Spaniards didn’t find it.

Vendprs along the Machu Picchu RailwayScattered along the railway are food shacks and vendors, campsites and hostels. Everything you’d expect along a roadside. It’s a bizarre arrangement but it works well to regulate tourism and preserve the site.

Rail Bridge between Hydro Electrica and Aguas CalientesA few trains passed me both ways on the single track. A delicate act of scheduling, I imagine, so as they cross at the very few passing places.

It was gone 5pm by the time I strode up the incline to Aguas Calientes past the surprisingly opulent hotels. The steep mountains enveloping the town seemed to bring on a premature twilight. I was glad of the earlier collectivo bus that stopped to pick me up else it would have been dark a couple of hours before my arrival and my stiff back would have been stiffer.

The road between Machu Picchu and Aguas CalientesI ducked into the first hostel I found to try my luck at finding a dorm. The young receptionist could not understand my Spanish or English but worked out I wanted somewhere to stay the night. Presumably, as I was standing at the reception of a hostel. “S/30?” I agreed and she beckoned me outside, leading me to the main square and up an alley to another hostel, Huillca Wasi. A private room with a view out to the mountains and ensuite. It was more than I hoped for and only about £8 a night.

Huillca Wasi Hostal, Machu PicchuThe girl helped me check in and led me to the bus station kiosk to buy tomorrow’s bus ticket up the hill to Machu Picchu and then to the ticket office to the attraction itself. Walking to Machu Picchu is a 400m scale up rocky stairs, taking about one and a half to two hours. I wanted to be fresh at the site so opted for the S/40 single; more expensive than the hotel.

There were three options for Machu Picchu:
1. Machu Picchu Citadel S/150 ($46)
2. Machu Picchu Citadel plus Machu Picchu Mountain S/200 ($61)
3. Machu Picchu Citadel plus Huayna Picchu S/250 ($77).

I’d heard of Huayna Picchu and that it was popular and often crowded despite limited ticket numbers so I opted for number 2 not knowing anything about Machu Picchu Mountain.

Schedules are tight and my ticket time was between 7 and 8am. Just to make sure, I’d be out of the Hotel by 6am for the half hour bus ride up to the entrance. I was set, ready and booked for the big day. I could relax and have something to eat before resting in a comfortable bed after two weeks of camping. I wasn’t even going to come here and had no interest when Debbie had told me Machu Picchu was her dream but I found myself in Cusco that I wanted to honour her memory more than any personal desire to see it. I thought of her a lot along the way; during the ride across the mountain pass of Abra Malaga, the narrow cliff road to Santa Teresa, the walk along the railway to Aguas Calientes. This was a pilgrimage in her memory and, already, I’m glad I came…

Debbie

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Ollantaytambo Plaza, PeruOver the next two weeks, I explore Ollantaytambo, mainly the coffee shops and tackle the rugged Pinkuylluna walk I chickened out of crossing the narrow, cliff path to the triple gabled granary to the south and instead explored the one on the northern promontory.

Pinkuylluna GranariesThe views are stunning, even as the dark clouds bring flecks of rain over the southern peaks and threaten a storm.

Saturday, 5th of May, Sitting at the Coffee Tree Cafe a few days later, I think about motorcycling to Machu Picchu but glance up at the Ruins on the walk. It bothers me that I didn’t cross to the triple gabled granary. This is unfinished business. I had the time, finished my coffee and set off once again to climb the Pinkuylluna walk. Tomorrow was Sunday and I decided I would be off to Santa Maria on the bike so this would be my last opportunity.

Pinkuylluna viewsOnce I had arrived at the point that my jellied knees convinced me to quit before, it didn’t seem quite as bad as I remembered. Looking straight ahead and filming with the phone, I strode ahead. At the ruin, I met Andrew from York, an ex-soldier enjoying a day off by climbing over rocky crags. He said he was going up to the ruin overlooking where we were, was I coming. How could I refuse? It was a challenge for completion.

At the ruin, there was red tape strewn over the rocks behind. A Path seemed to continue and the tape was easy enough to step over, so we explored further, discovering a cave tucked under the crags at the termination of the path. Somebody had built a fire pit and probably stayed the night there but no one else was here now.

Andrew left to explore another path but I spent 20 minutes admiring the view, relaxing and shrugging off early symptoms of a migraine, probably caused by coffee and exertion at high altitude.

Sunday, 6th of May, the sunrise warmed me out of bed and I prepped the bike but decided, “Nah, I’ll go tomorrow.” It’s been like this for the last 5 days but previous factors were poor weather forecasts that failed to deliver the storms they promised.

Monday, 7th of May, I packed up the Tent leaving a yellow rectangle in the green lawn – a sign of being here too long. Strapped the bags to the bike, and walked into Ollantaytambo Plaza for lunch, there was no rush.

Ollantaytambo Plaza looking toward PinkuyllunaI found a place full of locals the food, good and cheap, before heading back to the campsite. The bike was all set so I said farewell to the proprietors, Ed and Laura, and rattled along the giant cobbles out on to the highway. Maps.me indicated a Fuel station not far to the west but I couldn’t find it and did a U-turn at the hotel at Phiry. There was no way I could make Santa Maria with the fuel I had in my tank. I pulled into the plaza in Ollantaytambo intending to interrogate the tourist office. A guy approached with intention of getting me to move my bike which saved me getting off the bike. Either 20 minutes east or 5 minutes west. As it turned out, the fuel station was about half a kilometre further from the point I turned around.

Abra Malaga Mountain PasThe road was smooth and swept through the Andean valleys in and out of the shade of the afternoon sun. The gentle incline was peppered with hairpin turns as I climbed further towards Abra Malaga. I didn’t know it at the time but the road is quite well Biking Abra Malagaknown. You can read more about it here at Dangerous Roads.
Eventually, I reached cloud height and everything became cold and damp. I lifted my visor in order to see the edges of the road in the gloom only for my glasses to mist up. Looking over my glasses with natural but slightly blurred vision was the best I could see for the last ten minutes. The road became rough and pockmarked and I was riding over and around harsh potholes.

My water bottle bounced out of its restraining bands which gave me an excuse to stop. I was cold and damp, yet now over the peak of Abra Malaga and descending slowly out of the cloud.

Below the clouds, I began to dry out and see through my glasses. Sunny spells returned to the day. I found myself tailing the fuel truck I had passed earlier. I had no desire to overtake it now, I was admiring the scenery, I felt like a pilot descending, looping around the hairpins. Dusk was falling by the time I reached Santa Maria, It was a long haul to get here, in endurance rather than distance.

I found a hostel around the back streets and booked into what turned out to be a private room. Access was back out of reception onto the street and a walk around the block. I settled in and returned to reception to the intermittent WiFi. It seemed pretty quiet until a bus-load of white-water rafters invaded the reception for the WiFi. I was famished, Maurice, the proprietor, escorted me to a fine restaurant that served dinner for 10 Soles (£2.50).
I found out they did breakfast at “7 or 8 or whenever you want” were his words.

Cockerel headMy room had a small glassless window. Fine because it wasn’t cold or raining but useless for shielding the sound of the cockerel next door that started crowing at 3.15 and every hour after.

Tuesday, 8th of May: I laid in bed sleepless until about 8.30 and packed the single bag I’d taken off the bike and tottered around to reception. Closed. I tottered further up to the restaurant that served breakfast from ‘7 or 8 or whenever you want.’ It looked closed, at first glance, but a door was open enough to see all the chairs standing on the tables. “Abierto?” I called inside to someone I spotted out back in the kitchen. He went to ask the proprietor who I guess recognised me and beckoned me in: the only customer in the cafe, chairs being deployed around the table of my choice.

It was gone ten by the time I recovered the bike from the garage of the hostel and headed out to Santa Teresa. It was a good job I had passed the junction, last night, when curiosity foolishly tempted me to tackle the cliff road in the dark. This morning, a food vendor had set up in front of the sign, obscuring it with a beach brolly.

I was on my way, over the bridge and through the ghost town I explored yesterday’s twilight before finding the hostel. The high, shear ‘death road,’ someone called it on a forum, had been a worry but I was now distracted in keeping the bike straight on the rough marble like rocks and learning how to set up the Go Pro to record the experience.

Inka Tours, Santa TeresaThe campsite I noticed on maps.me is called Inka Tours and while it seemed a quiet corner of paradise, it later became a constant barrage of minibuses of hikers: hence the name, I guess. Hikers resting during their exclusive Inca Trail excursions over the Andes and through the Sacred Valley. S/10 a night felt a bargain. “Can you tell me the Wifi password?” “Si, five Soles…” “Is there anywhere to charge my laptop?” “Si, One Soles…” Took the shine off the place.

Machu Picchu Basecamp, Inka Tours Campsite, Santa TeresaThe weather is warmer here, what with being half the altitude of Ollantaytambo. Sandflies made their presence felt only after getting their fill of blood and escaping to bother others. Shorts and flip-flops were a poor choice for sitting at the bar watching my GoPro videos crawl up the narrowband internet pipe to Youtube

Once the tent was set, I spent the rest of the day wrestling with video editing. A new field for me, especially with Kdenlive on Linux that likes to crash the PC at random intervals. Patience seems to help: do nothing else while encoding.

As night fell and the last of the youtube videos were uploaded. Bus after bus of caucasian 20 somethings rolled in whooping, cheering and clapping. Shots of Inka Tequila piled high on the bar.

Something told me I’d rolled into the wrong paradise…

Read more about how to motorcycle to Machu Picchu here.

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Pununa Wasi, Arcopata, CuscoI’d been at the hostel so long that I felt at home and not that motivated to get moving. I’d been trying to mentally figure out optimal packing of the bike with my gear and the new stuff that came with the bike. I couldn’t do it without physically giving it a go and getting it wrong so that was the plan: experience was my best teacher. I packed the bags and pushed the bike out onto the street to start loading. The Motorcycle Diariessun was already high and hot and the effort of lugging and repacking the bike in the hot thin atmosphere was parching my throat. I had already packed away the water, mental note for next time. First stop? The store a hundred metres up the road to quench it my thirst.

Maps.me isn’t the best navigator out there but its better than nothing and works offline. I figured, once I’m on the road east out of the city then I’m set on my way. I push the starter button and the motor rumbles into life.

The road is smooth and fast and pretty soon I’m through Anta. The valley is wide and doesn’t give me the impression of the sacred valley. Pulling over, I discover that it’s not.

Zurite junction route 3SUp ahead is a right turn to Zurite, a track cuts across through Zurite to the road to Ollantaytambo. Packing my phone away and donning my gloves I turn along a shale track. Zurite isn’t too far off the main road but looks like a village from the third world. Laid out in a grid, the village is laced together with mud tracks and a suggestion of a central square.

The Yamaha bounces along the dirt track out of the top of Zurite and around the foot of the hills to the northeast.

Huarocondo is half a dozen kilometres up ahead and I can join route cu-110 to Ollantaytambo. Over the cobbles of Huarocondo and through the narrow streets brings me to an asphalt T junction and I confidently turn left and sweep down the hill. I use traffic a sign I am on the right route. There was none here, which subconsciously raises a doubt on whether I’m on the right track.

Three minutes later, it begins to rain, something I had been betting against since pulling on my jeans and jacket. I didn’t bother with the knee and elbow pads as I was keen to just get packed and going. The rain began to team down and I began to feel it penetrating my jacket. The terrain was rocky and mountainous. I was praying for some trees and I settled for some spindly specimens next to the river. Hurrying its way over the rocks down the valley.

The trees succeeded only into marshalling the raindrops into rivulets and poured them over me and the bike. Looking up and down the road, I decided I could get no wetter and head off onto the shiny black road surface peppered with rocks, fallen from the bordering cliff side.

Up ahead, the road turned grey which I took to be more shale. No this was bone dry asphalt with the edge of the shower painted as a sharp line across it. I was into dry, warm sun on a dry, smooth road.

A mile winding around the valley and I arrive at what looks like a construction site entrance. “Pare” means stop. The other signs I didn’t understand apart from closed but it had a list of times posted too. A car came past into the dusty entrance, disappearing around the corner.

It was early afternoon and it was sunny. I guessed this route was only closed at night and I slowly edged along the dirt track where the road used to be. This must have been a huge landslide as there was nothing but dirt and rock, harbouring the odd construction vehicle and shack for about a mile.

I follow an un-named river, that doesn’t even appear on Google Maps, crossing the railway between Cusco and Machu Picchu a couple of times and didn’t see any more asphalt until I arrived at the Urubamba river.

Huarocondo to OllantaytamboCu-110 had degraded into a gravel track and I stop and remove my jacket to dry my jacket and me in my Tshirt, off in the sun. The satnav app tells me to turn right, parallel to the Urubamba river, the opposite direction from Ollantaytambo. The track takes me a quarter of a mile to a steel bridge and a T junction that was buzzing with tour buses and taxis: the main road between Cusco and Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu beyond. Turning left, I joined the flow and tried to keep up, watching the more aggressive vehicles gain in my mirrors so I could wave them pass without a battle.

Arriving in OllantaytamboAbout 10 minutes later I was bucking over Incan cobbles behind a Coach rumbling into Ollantaytambo. I coast through a quaint square bristling with souvenir shops, cafes and tourists. Just past the square I turn left into Estudiante and judder along the coarse cobbles to the Casa Quechua campsite. My moto and I are welcomed through the back gate into the garden and I set about unpacking the bike for the first time. I’ll need to do better since the whole load had shifted forward but not far enough to foul the moving parts of the bike or me.

Coleman Rainforest 2 Tent, Ollantaytambo, Casa Quechua CampsiteThe tent was still in its original packaging, mainly a cardboard box, wet where the rain had penetrated the stitching of its outer bag. It’s a Coleman Rainforest 2, and comes with instructions in English, although the diagrams are self-explanatory. The tent was up in ten minutes, a record that should now easily be broken.

Camping at Casa Quechua, OllantaytamboWhen I bought the tent, I was disappointed I couldn’t find a 2 man but now I was thankful as the luggage now took up quite a bit of room. I had the appetite of a Paris – Dakar competitor. I had skipped breakfast and lunch due to the packing earlier and was keen to shovel some food past my cracked lips and dry throat. Riding at altitude appears to be more dehydrating than normal, as well as exhausting.

Entering the square after tidying my bags away, you might call throwing them in the tent, I was ushered into a cosy looking Pizzeria with welcoming smiles of the family members but no customers. Once in, it’s hard for me to make excuses and leave. I was the only customer and had the feeling I was about to be fleeced and wanted the reassurance of the herd, other diners to validate the value.

I settled into my new sleeping bag and tent around 9pm.

I awoke to voices. They weren’t there when I went to sleep. The camping community, as few as they were socialising in the communal area about ten feet from my tent. It’s nice to here young people fully expressed and uninhibited, as long as it’s not too close to me. Another ninety feet might have done the trick.

Sleep is punctuated by bouts of waking up gasping for air. An internet search reveals that I’m not dying, not yet anyway. Carbon Dioxide in the blood controls breathing. At high altitude, the body senses both low oxygen levels and high carbon dioxide to stimulate breathing. The breathing reduces the Carbon dioxide in the blood low enough to switch off the drive to breathe. When the Carbon dioxide rises again it switches the drive to breathe back on again, often with a gasp… and the cycle continues.

Sacred Valley of the IncasI emerge not long after dawn, grey formless clouds drape the Andean peaks. The morning air has a Celtic chill. No-one else stirs, all is quiet and there appears to be nothing to do, I retreat to the tent and scan for the absent WiFi signal while trying to keep warm.

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Sacred Valley of the Incas: Pisac

Pisac Butterfly PeruSun 15th April, 6 days after buying the Motorbike. It’s difficult to gain access to the passageway and wheeling the bike over a plank down the steps, so I’ve been reluctant to move it again until its time to leave. Cusco is a charming city and I have no time pressures so hanging around here is not a bad option. As I get to know my way around, it starts to feel like home.

Rosalie will arrive tomorrow and I’m just kicking back in the hostel dorm. I seek some solitude on the sunlit roof patio overlooking the Cusco rooftops. I’m disappointed to find two people already settled in both seats. Evan and Daniel an American and Argentinian on the patio were drinking Matte through a combined spoon straw, the like I’ve never seen before. They offered me some, breaking through my tacit resentment. The ornate cup is packed with leaves so I couldn’t see the liquid, I gave it a stir with a spoon and asked: “Do you eat it?” Apparently, it is a faux pas to touch the spoon and you simply drink the tea through the flattened handle that was also a straw and pass it around. Kind of a tea version of a bong. Offence may have been made but I noticed the sun was still out and the world was still spinning. There seemed to be no serious side effects.

JCs Cafe Cusco, PeruMon 16th April, JC’s Cafe is at the end of the street. One of the best cafes I’ve ever visited. Needless to say, It’s the first destination for the day for breakfast and coffee. Abierto 8:30. Which means opening time randomly between half eight and nine. This morning I delay my breakfast and order a coffee anticipating company, Engrossed online, I’m suddenly swamped by curly hair and a warm hug. I had my back to the door and hadn’t noticed Rosalie’s arrival.

This is a stark contrast to the time I voted against her joining Pantelisa back in Martinique. This is the third time fate has brought us together since then. Aloha Ke Akua, Nuevos Horizontes and now Cusco. For today, breakfast is a shared pleasure as we exchange our individual experiences since we’d last met.

Rosalie had booked an even cheaper hostal than mine in the heart of San Blas, a bohemian collection of narrow cobbled streets full of cafe’s restaurants and Peruvian souvenirs. I thought of relocating there but my motorcycle anchored me to Pununa Wasi. And, anyway, Rosalie was only here for 5 days and I’d also be on my way shortly after.

Wednesday Morning 18th April, I meet Rosalie at her hostel and we walk a few blocks down to the collectivos, shared people carriers and minibuses. We wait for a while for more passengers before a third joins us and we’re off, along the twisting road along the Sacred Valley of the Incas to Pisac, a small town east of Cusco in the sacred valley. I had skipped breakfast so first stop was something to eat and a coffee in a small square of sunlight in the courtyard of a coffee shop on the way to the Plaza de Armas.

Pisac has a relaxed and laid-backPisac, Sacred Valley of the Incas vibe. The market is huge, full of Peruvian colour, but apparently not many customers. Rosalie asks the Tourist Information official about the free options around Pisac. There are two: a Community Museum and a Botanical Garden. We walk up the hill along the cobbles until we get to the ticket office at the foot of the mountain path. 70 Soles for a 2 day ticket along the Sacred Valley. Rosalie emphasises we are only here for one day and, after a pause, the ticket clerk offers us a two for one deal, no one will check tickets on the trail, and we start to climb the path to the Inca ruins of Pisaq Old Town in the mountains.

Pisaq Old Town Guide, IntiA few minutes up the dusty path, we encounter a young Peruvian with his backpack sitting on a rock in the shade of an outcrop. If this were a movie, it would have been an implausible introduction to a new character. It was almost as if he was placed waiting for us. Inti speaks fluent Quechua, Spanish and English and happens to be a tour guide on his day off. He invites us along to Pisaq Old Town with him and points out places of interest along the mountain path. The Incas built their settlements high in the mountains, the Spanish built theirs in the Valley. The Pisac we see in the valley is a small town of Spanish origin.

Further east along the river is a small suburb, separate from the main town. Apparently, an expat community of Europeans. Expats being people we label back home as immigrants…

Inti gives us the option of ascending to the watchtowers and over the mountain peak above us or skirting the mountain to Pisaq Old Town. We take the easy route, the level path, east around the mountain. I have a fear of heights and the mountainsides become sheer and the path narrows. Rosalie and Inti are up ahead so I focus on them as we approach Pisaq Old Town. Inti is here for meditation and ceremony and invites us to share. We sit down for meditation and listen to the sweet sound of his flute.

Pisaq Old Town, Lost Valley of the IncasThe ceremony ends after about 10 minutes and we part company, promising to visit his shop on the way back to the collectivos. Rosalie and I climb the steps to Intihuatana and then further on to the peak and gazebo with the view of the terraces. Over the stream, behind the terraces in the cliff face there appear to be doorways in the cliff face with no pathway up or down to them. It looks like a vertical community but it turns out it’s an Inca cemetery.

This was the end of the walk, according to the map and we return, skirting the large peak, with its gazebo, and taking the route via the watchtowers overlooking the gridded streets of Pisac. We were both now hungry and dined at a vegetarian restaurant before cramming in a visit to the local community museum and then arriving at the Botanical Garden Gate just as the caretaker was closing it.

No matter, we noticed a quaint coffee bar and hostel on the way that had a balcony overlooking the gardens. We squeeze past some weathered hippies obstructing the balcony doors and enjoy a pretty ordinary coffee. The setting was the thing: birds in the trees, a hummingbird sipping nectar from the blossoms. A perfect break before heading back to Cusco.

We had promised to visit Inti’s shop and we headed to the collectivos, circling via the riverside where he said it was. We never found it. The sun was dipping below the horizon indicating an ideal time for abandoning the search and calling it a day.

“Cusco?” An eager Peruvian stepped across our path indicating a full collectivo ready to roll and pulled out into the street as soon as we squeezed ourselves aboard.

Cusco at Night, PeruDarkness had fallen on the sparkling cityscape of Cusco. The intention was to end the day with a craft beer at Eusebio & Manalo, except it was closed. Instead, we shared a litre of Cusqueno Trigo wheat beer back at Rosalie’s hostal.

 

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The Road to Cusco: Cusco

Plaza De Armas through the window of Paddy's Irish Bar.I chose the shortest route from Lima to Cusco via Nazca. Fear mongers related stories of bandits holding up coaches in the Andes where there is no cell signal available for calling for help. The last reported case I could find was in 2013, 5 years previous. Being held up looked extremely unlikely, to me, despite sensational internet reports.

Dusk fell by the time we made it out of Lima and not much could be seen out of the windows. It would be daylight before we reached the mountain passes and until then I tried to sleep as best I could.

The Road between Lima and CuscoWith the light of the dawn, the mountains presented themselves in their majestic beauty. The road lay like spaghetti dropped down mountainsides into the valleys. Pressing my head against the window, I could see traffic ahead and behind. the route is not as deserted as I expected. Any bandits would have a hard time remaining anonymous, at least at this time of day.

Flores bus break on the way to Cusco from LimaThe excitement of stopping for breakfast was brief. I wasn’t hungry and the coffee I looked forward to did not exist. Instead, I kicked over the car park gravel, warmed by the early morning sun until the bus driver was ready to thread us through the Andes again.

Pununa Wasi, Arcopata, CuscoThe bus rolled into Cusco Thursday afternoon at 3.30pm. Tour guides thrust leaflets into our hands. “Cheap Hotel 70 Soles?” I wanted cheaper. “40 Soles?” that was OK and I was escorted to an eager taxi and ferried to the hostel Pununa Wasi on Avenue Arcopata.

Pununa Wasi Dorm“Lo Siento,” no room. Dorm for “15 Soles?” Perfect, about £3 a night. The dorm was spacious but basic with painted creaky floorboards, 8 single beds and some ill-fitting raggedy curtains limp at the window failing at masking the daylight and the sound of tyres rattling along cobbles of Arcopata, and the random honking of taxis and buses. There appeared to be no more than 2 people currently staying. I later learned that that meant nothing since backpackers arrived at all hours by air and bus for Machu Picchu, stumbling around looking for mains sockets for phone chargers before settling down to sleep.

Plaza De Armas, CuscoI skate across the polished volcanic cobbles in treadless trainers toward Plaza de Armas, the main square, at noon the next day to meet Nikita. He didn’t recognise me since I hadn’t updated my facebook picture since I had opened my Facebook account 10 years previous. We walked to where the bike was parked and gave me a ride up to Temple de la Luna where his AirBnB overlooked Cusco. Anastasia made me muna tea and we talked about the motorbike before taking it for a test ride.

There was paperwork involved and we resolved to tackle that Monday. Until then, I had the weekend to myself.

Cusco, Capital of the Inca EmpireCusco lies in a long valley at 3,400 m (11,200 ft) elevation and has t shirt weather in the day with a British spring-like chill during the night.

 

Monday came and I waited at Migraciones at 10am for Nikita. He was fifteen minutes late due to queues at Sunarp where they register the owner of the bike.

Permission to SellNow we needed a stamp in the passport from Migraciones. The queue eventually delivered us to a Spanish speaking official that told us that a stamp was not necessario and pointed to a notice at the front of the office. We should go to the Nacional Bank and pay 16 Soles where they give us a ticket of code numbers for completing an online form.

The bank was heaving with multiple queues winding back and forth normally only seen at US airport immigration terminals. There were counters to the left and the right and aline at each. We split up to stand in each queue. Nikitas was far faster and I joined him before my queue rounded the bend into the third tier from the front. Within 20 minutes we were strolling down the road to the nearest internet cafe with paper slips in hand ready to complete the form and print out the paper.

The straightforward form only failed at the security ‘captcha’ script that asked to type in a series of distorted characters to make sure we were human and not hacker’s programs. It took several attempts to validate mine and print out the resulting document but Nikita’s was firmly refused. Eventually, we noticed that the bank clerk had missed three digits out of his passport number.

Nikita marched back to the bank but the clerk was unable to retrieve the data from the system. I returned to the Notary while Nikita walked back to Migraciones to try and sort it out. The notary insisted that we needed the passport stamp from the Migraciones so off I went back to Migraciones to double check. Twenty minutes queueing and happily finding an English speaking official confirmed that the notary was mistaken. The printed document was all we needed.

By now, the sun passed its noontime zenith and the Notary closed for lunch until 3. Anastasia had a class at three so she departed after we enjoyed a Peruvian lunch together while Nikita and I returned to the notary. We inherited a new clerk who accepted our documents without insisting on a stamp but told Nikita he needed another form from an office around the corner. I waited at the Notary while this new hurdle was overcome. 20 minutes later Nikita returned, fairly irritated. They told him that the document he was asking about was only required for cars. Motorcycles didn’t need it.

Fingerprints and signatures were submitted, indicating progress and all looked well until it came to light that Nikita had bought the motorcycle after his marriage date which necessitated his wife’s signature also, even though her name does not appear in any documents. Anastasia had been sitting here at the Notary for over an hour that morning and now she had gone to her class. We had reached a five-minute impasse. Eventually, we made it clear that the ‘M’ indicated in the passport meant gender ‘Male’ not marital status ‘Married’ and so the confused clerk overlooked the pointless marriage rule and completed the paperwork.

Motorcycle Diaries4pm, not a bad days work and now I was the owner of a Yamaha YB125 in Peru. I was set to go. After returning Nikita home, I rode back along the cobbles to the hostel and parked the bike along the passage next to reception.

Cusco RooftopsRosalie was coming to Cusco next week so I thought I’d hang around and enjoy a brief reunion. As it happened, I liked Cusco. There is a lot to see and it has a nice laid back vibe. Besides, the hostel was a quiet place to look into establishing an online income and between bouts of procrastination and idleness, I set about prodding around with that possibility. I soon found out that long periods online sap the spirit and whichever way I was going to go, creating an income without lapsing back into a slave existence was going to be a long haul.

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The Road to Cusco: Lima

Crossing the Ecuador border was straight forward after the half hour queue. “Occupation?” “Computer Engineer,” after reading a tip that saying writer or journalist can be problematic.

Straight on a bus to Tulcan bus terminal, after some language ping-pong with the ticket clerk, the bus I wanted was for Quitumbe, the South terminal in Quito, which was due in fifteen minutes. No breakfast for me then, and I bought a bottle of water while I had the opportunity.

The bus climbed into the mountains along wide smooth dual carriageways, something that Colombia lacked. The driver sped around the sweeping bends causing me to hold tight to the seat in front.

The landscape was mountainous but more barren than Colombia. The towns appeared more prosperous and reflected some influences of the United States with its currency and KFCs. Somewhere along the way, we crossed the equator, my first ever venture into the southern hemisphere. There was no fanfare or even sign that I noticed, and technically I went quietly from spring to autumn.

The bus pulled into Quitumbe shortly after 4.30pm and the hunt for the Cusco bus began. As was becoming the way of things, there wasn’t one. As usual, I was told I had to get to the border, cross in a taxi and get another bus. A ticket to Huaquillas, wherever that was, was $15 and due to depart in 10 minutes.

After 6 hours on one bus, there were to be 12 hours on this one. There was not much to see out of the window in Quito since the city was shrouded in grey drizzly cloud. ETA was 5am.

Taxies were waiting at the stop in Huaquillas. $5, I don’t if that was too much but I took it. Tired, you see. The taxi driver produced some Peruvian currency “Soles, Soles.” Typically they give an abysmal exchange rate and I had no dollars anyway so declined his optimistic offer.

Immigration was quiet and I was through in no time. Another day, another rubber stamp on a piece of paper. The next taxi was $10 which I thought was steep but I found the rate posted on a tariff board and it turned out a 20km journey and I only just managed to scrape the change together for it.

At the terminal, there was no bus to Cusco. Go to Lima and change. 90 Soles, departure at 8:30am. My visa card was rejected by the official and I walked about a mile to the ATM in the town. 6am and the Tumbes traffic was just honking its way to life. Drawing out the soles, I made my way safely back to the terminal and waited.
“Quanto Tiempo a Lima?” I ask. Twenty two hours journey time…

Tumbes seemed to be a purely commercial town like Ipiales was. I grabbed some street food for breakfast. Empanadas and a milky, porridgy drink, so nice I had another.

On the bus, through the Tumbes rush hour and we were soon zipping along the Panamerican highway. the land was flat and barren, reminding me of the Sinai, which led to thinking about Deb. Deb and I used to pick up cheap flights and go to her apartment in Sharm el Sheik for a month in the winters. She told me one of her dreams was to go to Machu Picchu. Cusco was the tourist springboard for that. Now she was dead there remained only memories and ‘shoulds’ and my attention resumed to the passing scenery.

The spindly bushes were adorned with discarded plastic bags that once drifted in the breeze. Scattered between were half buried plastic bottles resisting their decomposition by sun and sand.

It is warmer here near sea level and this bus, unlike the others, does not engage its air conditioning. And unusually had opening windows.

In the seat in front of me, there is a pleasant Peruvian lady sharing food and drink with her son, joyfully tossing plastic bags and wrappers out of the window. Ecological consciousness is not yet universal.

The Panamerican highway changes from dry shrubs to barren hills to flat plains and rice fields. The Pacific shore comes and goes in and out of view and the straight smooth asphalt degrades into gravel track and back again.

This is probably the oldest and most basic bus I’ve been on so far, with no power or wifi, but the journey seems less tiring without the constant sharp cornering and changes of altitude. The straighter roads make for faster speeds and there’s a real sense of making progress on the thousand kilometre journey to Lima.

People board and alight at stops along the way and I sometimes have the luxury of stretching out on a double seat. Even penned in, I still manage to sleep using a folded jacket as a pillow.

We arrive in Lima at 5am and we’re hustled bleary-eyed of the bus to claim our bags. The ticket desk officially opens at 6 but there is already someone at the ticket desk “Cusco Economico?” I ask. 5.30pm. The VIP service leaves at 1.30pm for a tenner extra. For that, I save four hours and gain a bit of luxury and perhaps some wifi. I say ‘perhaps’ as the route is the notorious Nazca route where bandits have been known to hijack buses while they are out of cell phone signal.

I devise a cunning plan, I notice a Hostel on the maps.me app on my phone not far from the terminal. It’s a 5 minute walk past the stadium and military barracks to an unassuming narrow entrance tucked behind a tree. I ring the bell and a short Peruvian appears rubbing his eyes and yawning. Normally, check in is not until the afternoon at these places but he shows me a double room with ensuite. Perfecto. It has a strong wifi signal as I’m right near the router.

The room looks like a prison cell. Looking up at the ceiling reveals daylight around the edges. This must have been an open courtyard at one time. It doesn’t matter, it’s not raining and I have the benefit of fresh air and the full volume of background city noise of horns, car alarms and the whistles of the traffic police. My single pair of socks are beginning to smell so I give them a wash in the sink and drape them over the electric fan, which also acts to mask the noise of the city and the audio from the Peruvian soap opera entertaining the receptionist in the foyer.

While charging my laptop and phone, I contemplate going to Cusco this afternoon, I’d still get nine hours rest but decide there’s no rush and decide to stay the night instead.

On my education in Amazonian plant medicines, I learned that Mambe and Ambil make a good combination for writing. Ambil, a tobacco paste used by the Witoto tribe for prayer to the spirit world, apparently provides the wisdom and Mambe provides ‘Sweet words.’ Discovering that the Ambil had gone missing wasn’t the best start to the day. It must have rolled out of the bag while it was under my seat. I now have sweet words but no wisdom. It could have been worse, it could have been wallet or passport.

The climate in Lima is not too hot and I take a walk across one of the parks to a shopping mall to get something to eat and withdraw some cash. I’m surprised to find Uncle Sam’s footholds: Pizza Hut, Popeye’s and Chili’s. I used to love going to Chili’s when my father and his wife were more receptive to my visits to Houston. Sitting down and browsing the menu was a stroll down memory lane.

Now, a Mango and Jalapeno Margarita doesn’t sound too appealing but it was one of the most delicious margaritas I’d tasted. A perfect accompaniment to the chicken tacos and watching Real Madrid beat Juventus on three flat screens hanging off the walls of the restaurant.

I wasn’t expecting to like Lima but it was more modern than I anticipated and there was everything anyone could ever want within five minutes walk of the hostel. The city seemed civilised but there was always a question mark on why some of the small stores were caged in with vendors serving and taking money between the bars. Less so in the centre but common in the suburbs.

Wednesday morning dawned through the spaces between the roof and the wall and the horns and whistles built up with the density of the morning traffic. I enjoyed my first piping hot shower for weeks. The on-demand appliances attached to the shower heads only seem to succeed in taking the chill off the meagre dribble needed to give the water a chance to snag some warmth on the way through. This was a proper immersion heater job. I kept the bathroom door open so that the draught from the sock drying fan kept the condensation off the mirror.

I was out of the hostel and into the cafe around the corner by 10:30.

I arrived early at the bus Terminal to make sure I got a seat as I noticed it was busy already yesterday when I arrived before dawn. The bus wasn’t until 5.30. It was 1.30 so I made myself comfortable in the cafeteria for the next four hours…

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