May 01, 2006 GMT
(4) Peru: The Highlands

You can eat a three course meal at street level in Peru for less than $2. You can eat at sidewalk level for less than $4. You can eat at tourist level for much more, the choice is yours. Entree, soup, main course, coffee and desert (pie) for $3.50. It works for me and that is just for lunch. A lunch meal like that can allow you to skip dinner.

The sun peered into the valley slit and put a bright shine on the new day. A few miles down the road I came into a small town. I hadnīt eaten since early afternoon so it was time for some food.

Fried eggs, bread and some tea matte con cocoa sounded good. It turned out to be a fried egg sandwich. That was a pleasant surprise. I was nicely settled into my breakfast when a Tour-Bus pulled up and disgorged its contents. Turns out everyone gets out here for a pee, a poke, a stretch and a bite to eat. This was a bus from Lima to Cuzco...20 hours...for about $25. Sounds like a good deal to me.

The bus stop restaurant.JPG

The third person into the restaurant was a middle aged lady. She scanned the empty tables, discarded them in a glance and settled in at mine. OK, with me lady! Whatīs on your mind? We chatted for the duration of the bus stop. Her sister joined us a few minutes later. What a pleasant start to the day. The bus tooted its horn, they hurried to gather up their goods and then decided they wanted a picture of the three of us beside the bike. The bus started to roll as we posed for the camera. Snap! Run! Goodbye! See you in Cusco...maybe.

Down the road the grain harvest was in progress. I rounded the corner to find the road covered with a two foot thick mass of maize, a heavy headed grain not unlike wheat but with a much larger head. I braked hard and swerved to the right to avoid what looked like a very slippery encounter.

The Threshing Machine.JPG

Once passed I turned around and rode back to look at the operation. What the heck I figured. Why not help them out. I bounced across the grain stalks as the farmers waved and cheered in delight. I turned around again to talk to them. They responded in turn by offering to share a cup of 'chicha' with me. I had never had this weird, ancient, partly fermented Quechua drink before...and probably won't again. My stomach thought so too and rumbled in protest the rest of the day.

All day I worked the sides of the tires. These mountain roads in Peru provide some of the absolute best riding and scenery in the world. This was no exception. I poked along enjoying the sights, working the gears and never getting much beyond 3rd. Traffic was minimal even as I approached Cuzco. Then in the last 40 km I dropped onto a broad valley and the road straightened out allowing a quicker pace.

Cuzco has become a big city, burgeoning with tourists, peddlars, thieves, beggars, businesses and the like. I worked my way to the Plaza de Armas and then settled with my foot on the curb, to peruse my Lonely Planet, Peru book for a place to stay. I had hardly opened the book when a man charged across the wide road, waving at me. This is not uncommon as in a lot of these cities businesses have spotters who hang out around the zocalo looking for a business opportunity.

This was not the case. Mario was from Argentina and a fellow biker. After introducing himself he offered to take me to the place he was staying, only one block off of the zocalo and only $10 a night with secure parking. It was worth a look. Ten minutes later I was checked in and enjoying a matte tea con cocoa.

Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, the Tahuantinsuyo, the Center of the Universe. It is now a city of balconies. After the Spanish destroyed most of the Inca architecture they built upon the stone foundations and erected their own buildings in a fashion they had become accustomed to.

Cuzco Balconies.JPG

The trouble with Cuzco is there are too many tourists. Tourists bring out the worst in people. The city is literally crawling with street urchins, beggars, peddlars and any other word that can be used to describe these predators. They detract from the whole experience as one cannot even enjoy a stroll without having to beat off a dozen or more of these urchins. A few adds to the for every tourist is distracting.

They are persistent beyond stupidity. You can get your shoes shined, get up and walk three steps and another shoeshine boy is hounding you for a shoe shine. Go figure!

Posted by Robert Bielesch at May 01, 2006 10:17 PM GMT
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