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Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Welcome to Puno! The second most popular city for tourists next to Cusco. It is a city of hundreds of tiny streets crammed into the hillside leading down to the famed Lake Titicaca. Last night, we settled on a place to stay that was a little outside of the madness and closer to the lake. And guess what we woke up to this morning? Yes, of course, torrential rain. We waited it out for about an hour and luckily it moved over. We decided to chance it and check out boat tours to the infamous native-built reed islands.

We were able to secure tickets to the islands for a good price and the weather looked a lot better, so we went for it. We had also read it was a bit of a tourist trap from one source and that it was cool from another. When in Rome, right? It took about 30 minutes to get out to the islands, and there were tons of them! I believe these ones started out with natives living on them and surviving by fishing and such, but from what I understand now, they primarily live off of tourism. When we arrived we were ushered onto one of the islands, seated in a semi circle with the rest of the tourists from the boat, and one of the inhabitants spoke in Spanish about the history of the islands and other things. I didn’t catch much of it, though.

We were then split into little groups and ushered into various reed huts which I thought seemed cool, until we were sat down in a row and an old woman desperately tried to sell us cheaply made souvenirs. It was a bit awkward. Pretty quickly we exited the hut and the man who had talked to the group about the history of the islands was trying to herd us on to their reed boat (he called it the mercedes boat of love) to take us to the capitol island. For another fee. We were under the impression that what we had paid the guy on the mainland included the round trip fee and a visit to two islands. Hmmm, what did we miss? We decided to wait on this island and see what happened. Some of the other tourists chose to go on the native’s boat while some of us stayed behind. We were the only gringo tourists while the rest were Peruvians, I did catch one of them grumbling that it was “mas carro” which means “too expensive”. At least we weren’t the only ones feeling taken advantage of. We watched as the native used a 15 horsepower motor boat to slowly push the reed boat across to the other island. We settled in on the roof of the main boat, expecting to be stuck there for a while.

Eventually, the main boat took us to the capitol island anyway and we were able to exit the boat and explore for about thirty minutes. It was a tiny island with an overpriced restaurant and a filthy bathroom and a bodega with a few snacks. We all agreed the whole thing was a bit silly, but oh well, at least the weather was nice and we had a nice boat ride.

On the capitol island

Once back on land we wandered to the center of the city and found some lunch, a little ice cream treat, and some more stickers for the bikes. We then decided to make our way back to the hotel to do some work on the bikes. Both Linus’ and my bikes had developed an annoying chirping sound, and Sam’s had just randomly quit on him in city traffic yesterday. Linus and I decided to walk back while the others took a tuk tuk. Yes, the tuk tuks and crazy drivers are back. On the walk back, we ended up on the hair cutting street. As Linus hadn’t cut his hair since August, he decided to enquire. For less than $3 he could get a cut. Why not? It actually ended up being a better cut than his $10 cache valley cut, and the girl was super nice.

It was nice to walk back to our hotel through the less touristy parts of the city. We both agreed we find it more interesting and satisfying to see how the locals live. Once back at the hotel, Linus showed me how to remove various parts of the outside of my bike and after doing this, tightening some screws, testing the bike, still hearing the noise, and repeating the process, we solved the problem. I ended up taking the front faring off and tightening the metal casing around the headlight. Voile! No more deafening high pitched squeak to drive my OCD ears nuts.

Tomorrow we head around the lake to cross into Bolivia by Copacabana. Hopefully it won’t be quite a trap as today’s excursion. But if it is, I am confidant it will quickly become a distant memory as we venture into the crazy roads of Bolivia!

Towards Titikaka

Towards Titikaka

Today we rode out of Arequipa as a trio. Sam and Rich had taken off yesterday to check out Canyon del Coca while me Drew and Lise farted around in the big city in futile attempts to find parts for the bike.

We had decided to meet up with them again in the city of Puno by the great lake Titicaca, and to get there we had to backtrack about 100km the same way we had taken to Arequipa a few days ago.

It took us quite some time to get out of the city as our maps and GPS sent us through the usual interesting parts of town. It has become quite the exciting routine to ride out of cities through Google maps as it has an interesting way of making road choices to make the trip as short as possible, many times routing through small dirt roads and sometimes through impassable two wheel tracks in the outskirts of the city. Eventually we left Arequipa behind and ascended into the higher mountains. Here it started to rain and it got really foggy and chilly for a while before we busted out of the clouds onto the highlands once again.

The daily shower

We went through the miles in a quick tempo and stopped for a short rest in the town of Imata. After parking our bikes Sam and Rich came flying down the road and joined up a bit earlier than planned. Apparently you needed to pay about $20 each to get into the canyon and the guys thought it was to expensive so they found a camping spot in the vicinity, stayed the night and got up early to catch up with us. On the way they had a few adventures, including one with a muddy road ending in a lake.

So after our short break we rode off as the full gang again, and moved quickly on the straight roads over the altiplano. The landscape changed at points from the rolling green mountains to more rocky formations and lakes and it was a very pleasant ride.

The landscape kept changing between rolling hills and craggy mountains

After taking a shortcut through some dusty half paved roads we finally reached Puno and got a first look at the great lake. Soon we were in the city and the roads got very narrow and busy with traffic. We found a hostel a bit outside the city center called Pacha hostel with a secure parking, negotiated the price down a bit and unloaded our dusty bikes.

A first glimpse of Lake Titicaca

After this we were very hungry but it was only five o’clock and most restaurants in our part of town were closed for another couple of hours so we jumped on to one of the little local buses and rode into the center. Here we found a Chinese Peruvian Chifa restaurant and had a good fusion meal. After a good walk back to the hostel everyone were really tired and we decided to have and early night.

A Day in Arequipa

A Day in Arequipa

I really like this city! Last night I was so excited to sleep in today and so, of course, I woke up at 7. Around 9 I headed out to explore the downtown historic center of Arequipa. Linus and Drew went on a quest to find the motorcycle street of Arequipa, and Sam and Rich headed off for Canon del Colca. I had a few things to find that I needed, and some things to find that I wanted. A nice strong cup of coffee being one of them. I found a cozy little cafe with an espresso machine and enjoyed an Americano while practicing my Spanish with the owner. She was really nice. I then headed down the street and ducked into one of the many pharmacias to see if they had claritin, and also figured out how to ask the pharmacist where I could get passport photos taken. More Spanish practice! After walking where I thought she sent me, asking another person and walking two more blocks, I found the foto shop. Less then $2 for 8 fotos, and more Spanish!

Arequipan Streets!
Arequipan Streets!

I then set to exploring the tiny streets of Arequipa. I couldn’t help but notice how much more conscientious the drivers were. They actually slow down instead of speed up when you attempt to cross the street. And there are no crazy little tuk tuks to be found! Many of the buildings in Arequipa are made from the white stone of the nearby volcanoes. The old buildings, churches and cathedrals are quite something to look at. It was difficult to get decent pictures of the cathedral to do it any justice because it is so big, you can’t get far enough away from it to photograph the whole thing. It sits on a beautiful plaza full of palm trees surrounding a fountain.

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I enjoyed some much needed fresh juice while walking around the plaza and then headed down the side streets to see if there was anything worth buying in the little shops. I am still finding it difficult to differentiate between mass produced touristy stuff and nice, worthwhile things. Especially since I have limited space to carry extra items.

I ended up finding some stickers for Linus’ panniers, and a new deck of cards. I saw a lot of the same woven blankets and knitted goods. They are beautiful and would be nice to have back home or to give to family members, but I decided to wait a bit. I’m sure there will be more beautiful things down the road. I settled on a little falafel place for lunch and then headed back to the hostel to see what the guys came up with. On the way back I found these really tiny and quiet streets that sort of wound around through all of these beautiful old buildings. So much character!

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I found Linus back at the hostal being slightly irritated at his fruitless attempt to find a new cable for his choke, new brake pads were too expensive, no luck with tires and no one seemed to have heated grips for the handle bars. Needless to say, he was a bit grumpy. I gave him some space and did some writing. Luckily Drew found most of what he needed and in the end, Linus ended up finding new (slightly used) handle bar grips for me, so he was pleased not all was wasted today.

We went to a brewery before dinner owned by a guy from Oregon and had some DELICIOUS beers. The name of the place was Chelawasi Public House, the beers on tap were Peruvian brewed and really good. Oh my goodness, I did not realize how mediocre the beer has been until tasting something decent again! We enjoyed them thoroughly and may even go back for a night cap. The owner also loaded us up with cool stickers for our panniers! For dinner we had some good, spicy, and affordable indian food at a small place I read about online. Yay for no chicken! I guess being in a bigger city has it’s perks! After dinner it was raining again, so we booked it back to the hostal and spent the rest of the evening cleaning mud off of our gear and reorganizing for an early departure to Puno in the morning. As we near the crossing to Bolivia I can’t believe we have been in Peru for nearly one month. I did not think we would be here that long and I am definitely excited for a new country!!

Good beer!!
Good beer!!
To Arequipa

To Arequipa

Yesterday, we started the day in the high plains town of Espinar. It was cold and rainy all day yesterday from Cusco to Espinar, and our night’s pit stop was not enough time for the gear to dry. We got to enjoy the wonderful feeling of putting on cold, soaking wet gear on a cold morning. Our lovely hosts at the hostal gave us a warm send off. We took lots of photos with them and by the time we rolled out we had a small crowd of locals hanging around to see what all the fuss was about. I think Espinar was small enough and since our hostal was not on any online forums that we were somewhat of a rare sighting. The “main” road to Arequipa ended up being a dusty, somewhat pothole filled mess for about 60 miles or so. It seemed to be a main thoroughfare for mining trucks, so it made for a dusty ride with pretty low visibility when trying to get around the trucks. When not negotiating around trucks, though, the scenery was so beautiful! Wide open high plains with big, beautiful skies. We even got some sunshine here and there. I found myself to be really cold for most of the day, and when I found out how high we had traveled the constant shivering and numb hands made sense. We had gradually climbed up to 15,500 feet or 4,700 meters!

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At one point we got stopped at a little construction stop and we were behind a little Nissan truck with two sheep in the back. I saw a little boy through the back window taking a picture of us, so I waved. Pretty soon, a really smiley woman, her two sons, and husband piled out of the truck. They wanted to take photos with us. She was so sweet, gave me a nice warm hug. This time we remembered to get a photo for ourselves!

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Not long after this, the road became beautifully paved and we were able to pick up the tempo. By now we had split into two groups. Sam and Rich like to go faster and quickly get pretty far ahead, and Linus and Drew have been riding with me. I have a sneaking suspicion that they would all keep a faster pace if I weren’t around, but they are very patient with me and have expressed no frustration. We caught up with them at a turn off to Arequipa. I actually missed them as they had pulled way off the road into a big dirt lot. When I turned around and made it back I saw Sam and Rich were making coffee,  a very welcome treat as I was still frozen to the core!

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As we continued on, the road cut through a national reserve and I noticed some huge snow covered mountains off in the distance. More volcanoes! I am still so amazed by how big they are! the first one we passed is called Volcan Chachani and the second one is called Misti and towers above Arequipa. It towers just shy of  6,000 meters and last erupted in 1985. About 50km out of Arequipa, the road started to head down and the temperature headed up. It felt so good to feel my fingers again!

Down towards warmth
Down towards warmth

We passed a huge processing plant/mine, and I am really curious as to what the major industries are here. I should inquire with the expert, Uncle Mike. The outskirts of Arequipa looked similar to the other bigger city’s outskirts we have encountered in Peru: pretty rough around the edges, lots of garbage, dust, and packs of dogs. Honestly, I wanted to skip Arequipa all together and continue on to Bolivia from Cusco. As Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, I wasn’t really interested in fighting with pushy Peruvian city drivers again. But, as we got closer to the center the scene quickly changed. Everything became very well organized and clean. It felt like the most modern city since Cuenca in Ecuador and I didn’t feel like my life was on the line driving in the city traffic! It was a bit of a process navigating to our hostel, but only because it is a big city, not because of disorganization.

It was around 4:00 when we arrived and easily parked all five of our motorcycles. Once settled in, we went in search of food as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We settled on a pizza/pasta place with some good specials. It didn’t taste that special, but at least it wasn’t dry chicken and rubbery rice and it was a good deal. We discussed plans for the next few days. The reason we came to Arequipa was for Drew to find a new chain and sprocket, Linus and I are still on the lookout for some affordable tires and maybe some heated grips, also Drew and I need passport photos in order to get a visa to enter Bolivia. I guess Bolivians like to make it more difficult and pricey for Americans to enter their country. Hopefully, we can sort it all out in one day and be on our way to Lake Titicaca on Tuesday. Sam and Rich are going to take a detour north-west to one of the deepest canyons in the world called Canon del Colca, and will meet us on Tuesday in Puno near Lake Titicaca.

We finished the night playing cards and enjoying some chocolate and beer. Linus and I shared some wine as it is starting to get cheaper as we get closer to Argentina! It was nice to play cards again since I missed a whole week of them when staying in Cusco. I couldn’t help but notice the cards were significantly more dirty and beat up since the last time I saw the deck on New Years. Something tells me the guys split their time between motorcycle mechanics and cards last week, and maybe forgot about hand washing…  Perhaps I can find a new deck of kitschy touristy cards tomorrow.

Leaving Cusco

Leaving Cusco

It had become time to leave Cusco. The two groups, me Lise, Sam and Drew, Rich, Geert were to join up to the biggest bike group this far on the trip for us. The plan was to make our way down to Arequipa for some parts and then drive up to lake Titicaca and in to Bolivia together. The daily goal was to go to Rainbow mountain, a colorful mountain range a few hours outside Cusco. To get to the actual site three hours of hiking is required so we were not sure we could make it, but we wanted to at least see if there was a shorter or alternative route.

We had breakfast and packed up our bikes. The courtyard was quite busy with the six of us preparing and strapping our gear back on the bike after one week of Cusco. A german guy, Olle, was also gearing up his motorcycle to leave on his trip up north.

After a little incident with Lise having an empty battery and needing a jump start we rolled up the ramp out of the Estrellita hostel courtyard one by one to regroup at a gas station down the street. Unfortunately the street was shut off and we had to make a detour out of town and lost Drew on the way. Assuming that he was ahead of us and would wait once outside the city we continued on the main road leading out of Cusco.

Sam and Rich quickly disappeared into the horizon as we got out of the city, and Lise, Geert and me formed the rear guard. After driving about two hours we stopped for a quick break and to check the route on the GPS and after a few minutes we saw Drew come down the road from the same direction as us. He had gone back to the hostel after discovering that the road was shut off and had waited for twenty minutes before realizing we wouldn’t come back, and then got on his bike and ridden hard to catch up with us. The joy of having all the members accounted for was quickly dampened by the realization that Geerts BMW was leaking badly from the problematic final drive shaft nut. After fiddling with it for a bit we came to the conclusion that he would have to return to Cusco to fix this problem once and for all. It was a sad and unexpected farewell and it felt wrong to see him take off in the opposite direction back towards Cusco.

Now it was time for me Lise and Drew to catch up with Sam and Rich, who were now fairly far ahead. We took off the main road to a smaller road leading towards a parking lot for the rainbow mountain we’d found on the iOverlander app. We rode through a few small villages and the road turned to dirt and winded up the mountain sides. The road was really pretty with green mountains and rocks covered with moss surrounded by a river and many small streams. Soon it started raining a bit and the road got muddier as we drove along. After about 45 minutes we ran into Sam and Rich who had turned around further down the road as it apparently turned into a muddy mess. As the rain increased we decided to ditch our rainbow mountain plans as we weren’t to keen on doing a hike for five or so hours in rain at almost 5000m altitude.

Towards Rainbow mountain
Towards Rainbow mountain

As we drove back to the main road we were riding through fairly heavy rain and thunder, making the descent slower muddier and much colder. Once back at the highway we decided to look for lunch and warm ourselves up a little. After a good 7 soles ($2) trout and steak lunch in a local little restaurant we were ready to continue on towards Arequipa. The ride was to long to do in one day so we decided to make a stop in a village on the way. But first we had to cut across the mountains on a smaller road to get to a parallel highway that would take us to Arequipa instead of the lake Titicaca.

The entrance to this little road proved itself hard to find and we did several dips into a little town by the main road before the locals shoved us around the town to the backside where the road took off up a mountain side.

This road turned out to be really long and mostly dirt and clay, and as the rain started again it was a pretty hard, slippery and tiring ride. The landscape though was fantastic with huge grass covered mountains and deep valleys with fields of different crops.

Grassy altiplano
Grassy altiplano

After slipping and sliding around for a few hours we finally descended to the other highway and we had a quick break before continuing on the comfortable but wet asphalt road.

Just as we were getting comfortable the asphalt ended abruptly and we found ourselves on dirt again. Apparently the road project must have ran out of money and the decision was made to leave the rest of the road unpaved.

Eventually we arrived in the town of Espinar where we decided to look for a hostel for the night. After a few failed attempts with full or expensive hostels we settled for a really cheap hostel with parking. The rooms were clean and ok, but pretty much same temperature as outside. Also, between our two rooms we could only use hot water in one at a time and it seemed like they were not very used to travelers.

We managed to hang up our wet gear, get a hot shower and a chicken meal before crashing on our beds for the night.

Machu Picchu Adventure!

Machu Picchu Adventure!

There are a couple different ways to experience Machu Picchu. The most popular (and expensive) way is to take a bus to a town a few hours out of Cusco, take a train to the bottom of the mountain where Machu Picchu is perched, and take a bus up the hill to the entrance. We explored options that were better for the Enoksson economy which is, sadly, dwindling as we enter the last two months of our adventure. After inquiring with the internet gods and my host brother, Roger, we decided to charter a van. This worked out well as Sam and our new found moto buddies were all interested in saving on costs. Roger kindly helped us find a reliable driver that would take care of us for the whole day and a half extravaganza. The van ended up costing $30 (U.S.) per person. The plan was to have the van take us six hours to the town of Santa Theresa where we would spend Thursday night, wake up super early Friday morning for a thirty minute van ride to the tiny town of Hydroelectrica, hike three hours to the ruins, spend two hours there, hike three hours back, and drive seven hours back to Cusco on Friday night.

On Thursday afternoon our Peruvian driver, Kenny, and his driving companion picked us up in a brand new ten person Renault van. Sweet! Plenty of room for the six of us to spread out. It was a trip to experience the crazy, twisty Peruvian roads from inside of a van rather than on a motorcycle. We all agreed we would rather be on the bikes versus in a car on a roads like this. Then it started pouring down rain.. Okay, okay, not so bad to be in a van right then. With about two hours left before arriving in Santa Theresa we turned onto a small dirt road and it became clear why it was the back way to Machu Picchu. Very quickly we came to a small bridge with taxi stopped on it and messing with the bridge. Upon inspection, it turned out he was trying to put a piece of wood into a decent sized hole that had appeared in the bridge. Below the hole was a raging river. Most of us chose to walk across the bridge, Kenny drove over like a champ with his buddy directing. Crazy Peru! The small dirt road quickly zig zagged up a steep mountain side, and although it was pitch dark outside, I could still sense the steep drop off directly to the left. There was a river far far down the steep canyon glowing in the moonlight. Again, we all agreed we would rather drive this on our bikes!

We arrived safely in Santa Theresa and Kenny showed us to a clean and cheap hospedaje. Santa Theresa is a small town famous for it’s avocados and had plenty of places for Machu Picchu bound tourists to eat and sleep. We found some decent food had some good laughs and headed to bed to catch some sleep before the 5:30 wake up. We were greeted in the morning by a steady flow of rain outside. Despite the weather, we were up and at em towards Hydroelectrica by 6:00. Rain coats and hiking shoes on, we set out for Machu Picchu around 6:45.

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For about two hours we walked a trail that followed the railroad track through a deep jungly canyon.

Geert, the Dutchman
Geert, the Dutchman

It was so beautiful! The trail and tracks followed a river that was raging with all of the recent rain water. It was crazy, definitely not something you would want to attempt rafting. Every time we looked up we were greeted by sheer black streaked cliffs and dramatic tree covered mountains. It was exciting to think that somewhere hidden up there was a big ancient city!

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We eventually came to the train stop where all the big spenders were dumped. Here, our tickets to the city that we had purchased in Cusco were checked with our passports. We than began the grueling 2 km climb up to the city. It zigzagged straight up the side of one of the steep tree covered mountains I had earlier stared at in awe. My heart, lungs, and legs reminded me that I have some work to do when we return home in March. I guess riding a motorcycle isn’t that beneficial. But, hey, it beats sitting in a car! As I dragged myself up the final stone steps I saw Linus’ sweet face waiting on me and as our eyes met I knew he read my thoughts: “well shit, this is a buzz kill!” I thought as I surveyed the snarl of eager tourists and exhaust spitting buses after hiking up the beautiful mountain. We got everyone together, re-hydrated, and headed to the line of people waiting to get in. The line went surprisingly quickly and soon we were inside the ancient city of Machu Picchu. And we couldn’t see anything. Even though the rain had stopped we were high up in the clouds and they were so thick the visibility was very limited. We started to pick our way through the many small pathways carefully dug into the side of the mountain, walked down a bunch of steps, and back up again, trying to catch snippets of what english speaking tour guides had to say. Eventually the clouds started to clear and when they did, what we saw was pretty incredible, the classic view!

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Once in the city, it was big enough that you could kind of stay away from the crowds. Every so often you would encounter a bottle neck of various nationalities of people taking photos and selfies and what not. One American tourist was using a selfie stick with her phone and the phone came loose and fell down into the ruins and despite her tantrum, was not allowed to retrieve it. I couldn’t help but be a little amused. It’s difficult to put to words the scale of what we saw, so I’ll post some photos and continue on with our story.

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Llamas! Not a bad gig to have.
Llamas! Not a bad gig to have.
Linus has been hitting his head a lot lately
Linus has been hitting his head a lot lately

Around 12:00 we continued our trek back down the mountain and along the tracks back to Hydroelectrica. The rain stayed away and we split off into smaller groups as we walked. It was nice to walk and talk and get to know our new friends. They are definitely ones that we will stay in touch with once back home. We’ve already made plans to meet up for mini western adventures.. Kenny was waiting for us in Hydroelectrica, and we were loaded back in the van and headed for Cusco around 3:30.  Around 5:00 we were starving and stopped in a small town for the one and only chicken, rice, and french fries. It wasn’t so bad, or maybe we were just really hungry.  After dinner we were back on the paved road and ready to make good time back to Cusco. We figured we would be there around 9:00, until we ran into this:

Slight obstacle
Slight obstacle

The river that we had so easily crossed multiple times the night before was raging over the road, complete with huge boulders blocking the way. Traffic was lined up on both sides of the river and no one was able to cross. I guess all the rain from the night before had pushed the river passed it’s tipping point. We all stood around for a while with the rest of the crowd staring in amazement and wondering what to do as the sun went down. After a while a big cargo truck came blundering down the road, paused for a few seconds and then barreled through the raging water. We all held our breath and then let out a cheer as he got through to the other side. A few more trucks followed, but the smaller cars and vans were still hesitant to try. Eventually, I went back to the van and fell asleep in the back, totally prepared to sleep in the van or head back to Santa Theresa.  After a while the guys came back to the van and said that someone in a station wagon got impatient and had driven through with no problem. “Es seguro?” I asked Kenny. “Si! Seguro!” I guess it was safe to cross. The problem was everyone decided it was safe, and so in true Peruvian style the massive cluster ensued. In the end we ended up waiting another hour before we could cross, and the only reason we got across at that time was because the river appeared to get wider and stronger so the smaller cars backed off and we were able to move to the head of the line. We even gave a few stranded Peruvians a lift across the river, and we made the crossing with no trouble at all. I am really glad we didn’t encounter this on the motorcycles! That would have been quite the predicament.

After this little adventure we were able to continue on to Cusco with no more surprises. We rolled in to town around 11:30 and Linus and I trotted up the hill to the empanada place we have kept in business this week. We enjoyed a little bedtime snack and promptly passed out sharing Linus’ single bed, as it was too late for me to take the bus to my host family’s house. The long day had obviously tired us out because we had no trouble sleeping at all!

Linus in Cusco

Linus in Cusco

While Lise went for her Volunteer adventure I relocated to a cheap bike hostel to meet up with the rest of the new motorcycle gang and do some maintenance on the bikes. The hostel had a big courtyard and the owners didn’t mind us working there. And work we did. Rich, the Australian needed new fork seals, Geert the Belgian needed new seals for his shaft drive on his BMW, I needed new brake pads and to fix my broken choke cable and we all needed an oil change.
After asking around a bit we found what was to be named the Moto Street, a road for a block or so full with knock off motorcycle brand stores, where most repairs were done in the street or in a hole in the wall closet sized workshop. What they didn’t have in tools they made up with creativity to different degrees of success. Sometimes the parts being repaired were not treated with care. At one time the inside of Rich’s front fork was rolling around on the floor and stepped on by the shop assistant and the mechanic while we were watching. We ended up going here at least once a day to buy parts, fluids, repair something or just going back to re-repair something that they repaired badly the day before.
We pretty much turned the courtyard of the hostel into a motorcycle workshop full of old tires, cables, break parts and old oil in containers of all sizes and shapes. From time to time it turned into a real circus as someone tried to find home made solutions to his problems while the rest of the gang stood around giving bad and good advice leading to success and failure. And yes, a few beers were consumed.
The change of fork seals on Rich’s bike turned into a multi day repair with a Colombian mechanic on Moto Street failing badly to put them together properly and Rich finally finding a motorcycle tour company with a skilled mechanic that finally put everything back in order. All the while Geert was running around the whole city looking for seals and bearings for his BMW, visiting machine shops and numerous little workshops that all offered home made solutions.

Backyard mechanics at their best
Backyard mechanics at their best

I was looking for a choke cable but failed miserably and had to make a home made solution cutting the cable off and re-routing it out on the side of the bike near the carburetor. To engage the choke I now have to pull the wire by hand. Not a perfect solution but at least a working one. What I did manage to find was brake pads for my back brake that almost fit. They were for some other model of motorcycle but I could fit them to my brake caliper, the only problem being that the two pads do not really align themselves exactly opposite of each other. The brake seems to work with them, though, and for $3 I am hoping it can work as a temporary solution. I will just have to keep an eye on how they wear. Oh, and Lise’s bike got a new spark plug so hopefully she will have more power at higher elevations and speed.

After staying for three days at the hostel we had almost not seen anything of the city, but we had been a hundred times between the hostel, the Moto street and a local pastry shop that sold fantastic empanadas and a superb chocolate cake. I think we devoured two or three whole cakes in three days. Slowly our bikes started to be back in shape, except for poor Geert who was still running around ordering parts that didn’t fit for his BMW. And so we started planning a trip to the mystic ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu!

Lise in Cusco

Lise in Cusco

Despite my mixed feelings about my experience volunteering, I have had a great time in Cusco. On Monday morning I met a nice guy named Roger who showed me to my Spanish classes and later, to he and his mom’s home where I would live for most of the week. The Spanish class was instantly awesome. I could tell that I was easily absorbing a lot more information then I did in Guatemala. It must have been because of the amount of time we have traveled since then. So, my daily schedule was 9am Spanish in downtown Cusco, onto a bus for a 30 minute bus ride to my host family’s house for lunch, and then a 15 min bus ride to the clinic to volunteer until dinner time. The host family’s place was on the fourth story of a small apartment building and was clean and nice. I appreciated the hot shower, comfy bed (equaled lost of good sleep) and fast wifi. The food that the host mom cooked was a welcome change, too. Every meal was packed with veggies and fresh fruit, and sat so nicely in a stomach that has been rather beat up lately.

Outside the Spanish school
Outside the Spanish school

The clinic seemed to be a walk in type clinic that could address simple issues or give you a referral to a specialist that could handle more complex issues. The first day I spent time with the doctor, who basically saw a slew of patients ranging for 6 mos to old. He wrote a lot of prescriptions for antibiotics and various things. Listened to some lungs, looked in some throats, and asked me if it was normal for an 8 month old to breath 30 times a minute (it is). The second day I was with a “nurse technician”.  She would take vital signs, heights and weights, and triage patients deciding who needed to see the doctor and in what order. With my limited Spanish it took a bit for me to figure out what was going on, and if I hadn’t been assertive and jumped in and started taking heights and weights while she took blood pressures, I would have just sat there watching all afternoon.

In all honesty, I was pretty disappointed with the experience. I did not feel like they needed me or knew how to use me to help at the clinic. While the volunteer organization I used was helpful up until I got to Cusco, they are not really present in Cusco, handing all the responsibility over to host family. While he was very nice, he had no detailed knowledge of the volunteering or how the clinic worked. Basically, they take your money, keep some for living costs, give some to the Spanish school, and give the rest to the clinic. It was interesting to see how the clinic was run (very similar to the welfare clinics in the states), and I very quickly saw what they needed help and education with. But I was in no position to offer input, nor were they any position to receive it.

The most obvious issue was with hand washing and sanitizing. They simply did not do it. Sinks with soap were scarce and hand sanitizer was non-existent. The doctor and nurse I observed saw 30+ patients over five hours and did not once clean their hands. What would be awesome is if the volunteer organization were more involved in the field. It would be great if they could hire someone to go into their communities, assess the situations, come up with an initiative, raise money to buy supplies (hand sanitizer/soap) and hire health care volunteers to come in for a certain amount of time to educate the local workers (on importance of proper hand sanitizing). When I first started searching for volunteer opportunities, I did have trouble finding one that looked legitimate for a qualified health care worker. I was also shocked that I had to pay to offer my skills. In the end I settled on Global Crossroad as it was the most affordable and in their description for qualified health care workers they said you helped in the clinics. I did not feel that I helped at all beyond taking some weights and temperatures and writing them down for the nurse tech. Maybe it would have been different had I spoken better Spanish, but I still feel the experience could have been better, regardless.

What have I learned? Once home and back to reality I will continue to work on my Spanish skills, I am going to dedicate time to searching for true rubber to the road organizations. I am going to find out exactly what I need to do to make myself more useful and qualified, and I will develop and sharpen skills that will allow me to get out there and truly help. My eyes have also been opened to the sheer scope a problem as simple as hand washing can be in a country like Peru. And I have only been in one city that is considered one of the most developed in the country! Truly eye opening.

Street in downtown. Sorry, I failed to take photos of the clinic and host family!
Street in downtown. Sorry, I failed to take photos of the clinic and host family!

I spent the rest of the week taking full advantage of the awesome Spanish classes they offered. It was at a place called the Wiracocha school. I felt that I got a well balanced mix of vocabulary, grammar, and conversation practice. I also got an awesome work book that I will continue to use.

On Thursday afternoon, I opted to join the guys for a day and a half trip to Macchu Picchu. Originally I had planned to be a volunteer and student all week, but I realized that I probably shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to see Macchu Picchu, especially since the volunteering wasn’t really, well, volunteering. Oh well! That’s what this entire trip has been, one big learning experience!

More on our grand Macchu Picchu adventure to follow…

Happy New Year from Cusco!

Happy New Year from Cusco!

Well folks, we made it to Cusco in time for New Year’s Eve! What a crazy five day journey! Our last day of driving from Andahuaylas to Cusco was another long haul, but not as eventful as the other days. I am more than okay with this. The roads were similar in shape, size, and traffic. We were able to average anywhere from 40-60 mph, which made for about an eight hour day of around 215 miles (345 km). SO, cue the drum roll, here is our mileage update:

Day 98 at 9,291 miles or 14,952 kilometers total!

Even though it was relatively uneventful driving, it still took a mad amount of focus and we were more than ready to be in Cusco when we got there. And, of course, we were greeted with an impressive thunderstorm upon arrival. The outskirts of Cusco were pretty rough looking. Lots of crazy traffic as usual, a TON of garbage piled up everywhere, and huge packs of dogs. We even saw a dog eating on top of a burning mountain of trash inside of a dumpster that was at least 6 ft (2 meters) tall. I hate to say it, but they are almost reminding me of cockroaches, there are so many of them. It’s really upsetting.

Once we fought our way through the massive snarl of traffic, we found ourselves in old town Cusco. It looks like a mix of Spanish colonial with Incan influenced architecture. The streets became narrow and cobble stoned, and the amount of gringos went from 0-60 in no time. I found it a little unsettling how poor and shabby Cusco looked on the drive in and how one almost instantly enters into a pretty little bubble for all the tourists, aka the historic center. I suppose most cities tend to be like this, but I found it especially jarring here. That said, it’s a really pleasant city with beautiful squares and churches and a ton of old buildings and really interesting architecture. We soon found the street to our hostel climbing acutely up the side of a very steep hill. Of course, we were stopped by traffic in the middle of the steep climb… Sorry clutch, with each hill I encounter in traffic I try to treat you better! I hope you are understanding of me until the end of this adventure!

Very happy to have arrived
Very happy to have arrived

We arrived at our hostel around about 5pm and checked in to what looked like a mix of Gryffindor house and a Monastery. It had some very interesting decor, dark wood mixed with low arched stone doorways and steps with quite a collection of jesus stuff scattered about. Oh, and some yellow balloons reading “Feliz Nuevo Anos”. I have gathered through observation that yellow is the good luck color to wear and parade around for the new year here. Our room was nice and cozy, complete with plenty of space for all the gear, table and chairs for cards, and the most beautiful shower we have encountered yet. It turns out this place is actually a hotel that Linus was able to get for half price. That explains the shower and the nice bedside lamps! Happy New Year indeed!

We found some nice food for dinner, I had grilled trout and Linus and Sam had some pasta dishes, all for a decent price, which is a relief to find in a more touristy city. We then explored the streets a bit while making our way towards our Christmas buddy’s hostel. They arrived in Cusco the night before we did. On the way, we stumbled upon what has turned out to be an amazing little place that has a little bit of everything in addition to the best baked goods we’ve found in a long time. The baked empanadas are to DIE for!! And apparently the chocolate cake isn’t half bad either, seeing how Sam and Linus have already returned for more..  Upon meeting up with the other guys, we learned they had a different but equally epic and long journey to Cusco as well. Lets just say there was some throwing up in a little tourist plane above the nasca lines and someone colliding with a llama on there motorbike, to name a few things.

We hung out and drank beers (water and ibuprofen for me) and made a gallant effort to stay up for the Cusco midnight madness we had heard so much about. We were pretty successful too! Around 11:30 we made our way to the main plaza where we had heard they light off fireworks. And by they, that means EVERYONE. I cannot believe the scope of huge fireworks that anyone is allowed to get their hands on and light in this country! There were masses of people in the plaza, and there were rumors that they all run laps around it at midnight. Hmmmm… My nurse brain started kicking in. As the clocked ticked closer to midnight, more and more fireworks were randomly being fired off, some of them big enough to send hoards of people screaming and scattering. I was not super comfortable with being in the middle of this drunken pyrotechnic chaos. Linus agreed with me, so with ten minutes to go we hoofed it up the hill towards our hotel and found an awesome viewpoint to watch it all unfold from above. It was quite the spectacle! I’ve never seen so may fireworks go off at once!

Later on we got the report from Sam, who had stayed in the craziness, that there were fireworks whizzing past his face, and at one point they got launched into the big nativity scene and it went up in flames! Then the bomburas (firefighters) showed up, but by the time they got there it had burned out and so they were just driving around the plaza with a bunch of drunk people hanging off of the firetruck. At some point during all of this, the masses started running their good luck laps around the plaza and Sam saw a gringo family get completely separated and in an attempt to stick together, one of them got head butted! I think it’s safe to say I am pleased that we chose to watch from above.

Street party remnants
Street party remnants

On New Years Day we all slept in and woke up feeling very refreshed. I was happy to find my headache had disappeared and just a little sad to find we slept past our included breakfast. Oops! Linus was actually the most upset, saying “Damnit, see what happens when I make myself sleep in?!” Tee hee! We found a nice place for late breakfast and Linus and I enjoyed our first real and downright delicious cup of coffee since Huanchaco (Sam had tea). After food we walked down to the hostel where the other guys were staying to enquire about getting a room for Linus and Sam there as I will be volunteering this week and staying with a host family. On the way back to the hotel we somehow found ourselves back at the little bakery and stocked up on deliciousness to take back with us. Our plan was to veg out and relax for the rest of the day. We made a pretty decent attempt to catch y’all up to speed in blog land and then got back to business with our little card tournament. Wine, cards, good music, good friends and in Peru nonetheless. What better way to spend the new year? We are all looking forward to having some down time (and exploring) here in Cusco for the next little while. So again, Happy New Year to all of our loved ones! We’re looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Cheers to good health and happiness!
Cheers to good health and happiness!
Obstacles a Plenty!

Obstacles a Plenty!

What is shaping up to be quite the epic journey to Cusco in time for New Year’s Eve definitely continued today! We left Ayucucho later than planned as Sam and Linus were trying to sort out why Sam’s bike was making a high pitched jingling noise, thanks to the pot hole road from hell. While they were working I managed to find some street food breakfast sandwiches from a nice old lady so we didn’t have to repeat the lack of morning food mayhem that occurred yesterday, and I made sure that there was no mystery meat hidden anywhere for Linus. After feeling fairly confident they solved the jingling we got on the road around 9:30. In an attempt to direct us away from traffic congestion, google maps lead us through a maze of nasty rutted out and steep dirt roads through some questionable neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. We eventually found the main road, stopped to get gas and continued to fiddle with Sam’s bike that was STILL jingling. While I was hanging out waiting for them to finish, a Peruvian couple approached me and I put together that the woman really wanted to have a photo with me. This is becoming quite the pattern here in Peru! I was happy to oblige and even helped her to sit in my bike for a photo. Luckily Linus was right there, because as she hopped on, the bike nearly toppled over! We both steadied it, posed for the photo and she happily hopped off and thanked us without even knowing she almost hit the ground. Whew!

Linus happy to use his tools, Sam not happy about the noise
Linus happy to use his tools, Sam not happy about the noise

Finally, we were truly heading out of town around 10:30. The roads seemed to be in great condition and the scenery was, again, super beautiful as we climbed high above the valley towards more high plains. I was settling in nicely to the mix of gentle curves and hairpins when I thought I felt my bike wobble in a strange way, but I brushed it off and continued up to the next hair pin. It happened again but more pronounced, a feeling of loss of control and wobbling from behind. Luckily Linus was behind me so I pulled over to tell him about it, but before I could speak he said, “well, well, you have a flat tire back here!” New challenge! He pumped it up enough for me to drive a little further to a good spot to fix it and we got to work. Sam had been driving ahead and we figured he would eventually make his way back when he didn’t see us. Linus was very excited to use his invention from an old crutch to jack the bike up, and he had the rear tire off in no time. The culprit? A ginormous nail that did a decent number on the tube.

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I probably picked it up on our rough exit out of town and then the damage was done when the road got twisty. After almost an hour of working Sam finally showed up, thank goodness, just in time to help get the tire sealed around the rim which is the hardest part. It took another 45 minutes! SO, at 12:45 we FINALLY got moving with the annoying realization that we would not make our planned destination for today which would most likely land us in Cusco pretty late on New Year’s Eve.

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The roads continued to be in great condition, but a constant repetition of switchbacks up and down and up and down through the mountains. I guess this is why the Andes are so famous. It’s one thing to hear about them and something completely different when you actually experience the sheer scale of these mountainous roads. Jim Sherner, I now fully understand what you were talking about! An image that keeps coming to mind is that these roads resemble a handful of wet spaghetti noodles being thrown at and stuck to a wall. Between the road itself, the combination of insane Peruvian drivers, aggressive and suicidal dogs, and huge herds of livestock, you simply can’t move quickly. It takes an incredible amount of focus to drive on these epic roads! It’s turning out to be a valuable learning experience for my driving skills, though. I am starting to feel really comfortable and in control of the bike these days!

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We stopped in one of the tiny little towns along the road to get a few snacks for lunch. We all decided that we didn’t want to have anymore meat adventures at the moment, so we stocked up on various crackers, cookies, chocolate and some oranges from a little bodega and settled in some shade at an abandoned gas station to eat. It truly felt like we were deep in the remote mountains. All of the dwellings were built from mud bricks and were very simple, and the only two bathrooms in town were at the two eateries. We were running into more and more locals running herds of various combinations of pigs, sheep, cows and goats, and we were definitely getting a lot more curious and dumbfounded, open mouthed stares. For the most part, though, if we smile and wave or even try to speak a little Spanish, we seem to get a warm reception.

The afternoon drive took us into some beautiful and very high mountain valleys, so back on with the warm gear yet again. It’s crazy how the mountains almost resemble the swiss alps, super green and craggy, but then you see a bunch of yucca and cactus plants. And then all at once you are, once again, above the timber line driving through cold, wet air and brown scrub brush. All while looking out across a massive valley into red rock. It is simply dizzying. And then all at once you drop into an insanely chaotic little city where no one gives two shits about traffic rules and use their horns like oxygen, and won’t hesitate to knock you over. A word that comes to mind to describe Peru: Bipolar.

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Around 6:30, after only 146 miles for the day, and in the pouring rain, we arrived in our back up town of Andahuaylas to look for a place to sleep. Linus expertly guided us to a decent little spot with parking across the street. We checked in and spread all our gear out to attempt to get it dry before morning and set out to find a proper meal. Linus and Sam were set on hamburgers and I was so burned out and slightly culture shocked on the food that I had no opinion in the matter. I ended up with, you guessed it, a chicken sandwich. Ugh. I stomached half of it and had an inner melt down as I longed for a huge plate of fresh, raw, crunchy vegetables that wouldn’t give me the shits. We did have some good comic relief at the expense of Sam during dinner: as Linus was experimenting with various sauces for the french fries he managed to send some herby mayonaise sideways into a splattering mess all over Sam. It had clearly been a long day as Linus was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his cheeks. Sorry Sam! We were all spent after dinner and passed out early, in preparation for the final haul to Cusco. Cusco or bust!!!