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November 07, 2011
Back to Peru
The border is about 5 minutes from Copacabana. I put my rain gear on while Deya cleared us out of Bolivia. About 100 metres from the customs building was a stone arch bridging the road into Peru, an easy marker if your not sure where to go. My rain gear is neon yellow with reflective strips, the bright kind that makes you squint when you look at it and wonder if it will ever stop. It also has the effect of drawing locals like moths to a flame. People would walk right up to me and touch me as though they didn’t have any self control, some would just stand and stare. Many would ask me to give them the gear and seemed a little surprised when I’d say no. After all, it was about to rain and I could probably use my own gear, couldn’t I?
What bugs me about situations like that is the presumption that money is pulled out of thin air. What have these people seen that makes them think that? I’ve even had people ask if I can give them my bike then I can just get a new one, bizarre but they are totally serious.
Two hundred metres past the arch is the Peruvian Customs. There were a lot of tourists getting dropped off by the bus load to walk up the hill into Bolivia and over to Copacabana. The process for checking in was standard, except this time the final check was with the police and they tried to get some graft.
The Peruvian police at the border all have the same look, fat with squinting eyes that measure every opportunity to squeeze you of your loose change. If you hang out at any of the borders you’ll actually get to see it happen, it’s pathetic. It would be really something to see a secure border around here.
Deya threw her usual smoke grenade and we left without having to pay, as it should be. We had to promise the Customs agent we would get the insurance (SOAT) at the next town because it wasn’t available at the border, he was agreeable. You can get it online with Peruvian identification but of course that excludes us.
The first thing I noticed about this region of Peru is that it is much nicer to travel though than the coast. Once we entered Puno we started the search for insurance, so we could keep our word to the customs official who let us through. We found it but they wanted to charge us $80 USD each for the same insurance that we just paid $35 USD for on our way through. We sorted that out and they gave us reasonable excuses but really I bet it was a bit of a scam. We spent the night in Puno and ate at Rico’s Pan, a fantastic bakery and my new hobby, eating good pastries. Puno was a nice town and it would have been nice to stay for a couple of days but with our new insurance in hand we had to make tracks.
The valley leading into Cusco is absolutely beautiful, better than I had imagined. But first we had to transit through a messy and chaotic city of Juliaca (hoolee-acca). The bonus was we no longer had problems finding fuel, 90 octane was everywhere. As we cruised easily through the valley we were about to pass the village of Sicuani. Below the road, by the rivers banks, were a couple dozen alpaca skins laid out to dry in the sun. We stopped to see if we could buy one, unfortunately these skins were not yet cured but the gentleman pointed us into town where we could likely find a cured pelt. This was an exciting moment because these things are surprisingly hard to find.
We found a shop in town and acquired two pelts, a young one and a mature one. Total cost was 60 Soles for both! We had been offered up to 400 Soles for a pelt half the size as the young one and in poor condition. Awesome! The young pelts are extremely soft and typically made into hats and slippers for tourists while the older ones are more like a sheep skin and not as desirable. I didn’t realize there was a difference from young to old and was a little saddened to learn that the young alpaca are only killed for the tourists. While the young pelt is beautiful I personally covet the older pelt for what it represents, its strength, warmth and durability.
We left happy and headed into Cusco to stay at the ‘Guest House Estrellita’, recommended by some French cyclists we met on route. The location was a win, cheap, comfortable and right down town. It attracts a lot of motorcyclists and cyclists so the company was first class and the tips and stories never ended.
It was in Cusco that I really realized just how cool Peru is, the people, the food, all excellent. Tremendous variety and ease of walking around this city makes it a good destination. It was busy and I could imagine it as pretty crazy during high season, yet the place has a nice feel to it and scenery is grand. But it is not just the city with its small shops and great prices, it’s the surrounding villages with cool adobe homes and beautiful settings.
We had decided to take the train to Machu Picchu, logistically we just couldn’t figure out how to get to the site and secure the bikes. After checking some of the several hundred tour agencies we realized that it was easier and less risky to just arrange the trip ourselves, it would also save us about 100 bucks (25%). We also got a better train ride and were able to credit card the entire thing, which is insured. The train ride was really nice and relaxing. We met a lovely young couple from Chile and talked the entire trip. I ruthlessly promoted Canada as a place to work and live, I do this whenever I meet educated young people trying to build themselves and their careers; I just can’t help myself. Canada always gives back whatever you put in, usually in multiples.
Deya arranged lodging for 70 Soles (about 25 USD) using her sing song Spanish and when we arrived we noticed that the foreign tourists where paying 70 USD….wow, ripped off. The town of Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu, is a really cool little tourist trap. We were on a time frame so headed for the hill as soon as we were booked in.
Machu Picchu, the area is beautiful; to me it is the kind of location that makes sense to build a fort of some kind. It would be easily defended and could survive a siege, I’m sure. Other than that I was more impressed with the geography and the cool little towns of the area. We finished our tour and headed back to find some dinner; we were looking for a restaurant recommended to us called El Indio Feliz.
A French owner was present, the food was first class and while the price was considered high it was excellent value for your money. During the dinner a tour guide, pretty young female, was having drinks on the house. She was asked to produce a voucher to prove she was a real guide instead she brushed it off saying she would get it later. Turns out she had done this several times before, our French host stepped in. What made the upcoming drama so funny was that the host was really drunk. There was drama, some barely controlled arguments and a few flying utensils. The ‘guide’ ejected herself and all was quiet.
After that we chatted with this fellow, an entertaining character to say the least. Though he eventually disappeared he made sure to invite us for many drinks on the house, maybe to make up for the drama that occurred in front of our table. Regardless, Deya held me up as we staggered back to our hotel room, the night being a total success with great food and entertainment. I’d go back.
(A couple from Japan we met who have been peddling for three years)
After our departure from Cusco the scenery never lacked, the valley got more beautiful and as we headed towards Nasca on the coast, the road became magical. If it was possible to get rid of the uneducated drivers that don’t know what a double yellow is for, or for that matter which side of the road they should be on, then I would place the route at the top of my favourite rides. If I had a sport bike and no traffic I might never have left, it almost brought a tear to my eyes. Unfortunately the riding style we’ve had to adopt is going very slow around corners with the horn blaring; it has saved our bacon on several occasions now.
Once we hit the coast it was same-same but not different, since we were now officially backtracking. Our destination was Asia, where if you recall we were greeted by Carmelo and the Canadian Cody. We would also see Kai and Annette there eventually and get to spend some time with Carmelo’s family. I love these kinds of things because it’s the connection with people that seems to be bigger and more important than a moment in a corner or a beautiful vista but it’s the ride that lets us reflect on these critical events in our lives.
I can’t explain exactly the feeling and comfort of being with family during our days there and being able to share with them my birthday and Carmelo & Cathy’s 35 Wedding Anniversary. It was simply fantastic and the whole family are brilliant and fun people. My best wishes for them for every moment they share.
We left, I, excited to be riding, Deya, in tears. It’s funny for me because I know how Deya feels about people but it must be uncomfortable for the people with tear stained shoulders, either way it is lovely. Our new destination would be back to the beautiful mountains and Huaraz before heading once again to the coast and North to Colombia.