June 07, 2009 GMT
Reed All About It

8.5.09 Puno, Peru.

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Call me a hideous travesty of a bastard if you like, but why doesn't everyone in the world just listen to "Exodus" all the time, to the exclusion of everything else (except, maybe, once a week, the long version of "Trans-Europe Express", for balance)? Apart from the fact that it's a perfect song, it's also the most brilliantly produced record ever - fact. (And maybe on Friday mornings, the No Sleep Til Hammersmith version of "Capricorn", for kicks.)

After a necessarily-short visit to Bolivia, due to having gorged myself on Chile, affecting my Iron Schedule of being home just in time for the 2010 World Cup, it's Hi Ho! for Peru! I wonder what the border guards will try on? The answer is - much the same as their Bolivian muckers. It's all quite polite and slightly sheepish, but I'm not giving them anything, and again I'm glad of my cheeky "licences". Beyond Lake Titicaca, and everywhere's still at least 12,000 feet up; fine during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down it's mighty cold on a bike. La Fluffita doesn't miss a beat at this altitude. I need to start her differently in the chill mornings, but she still fires up first time, every time. I'm proud of the old gal, 9,650 miles into the trip. There's a slight but perceptible loss of power, but look, I like oxygen as well, and my loss of power is way more obvious.

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Now then. How about a boat trip to Titicaca's floating islands? Man-made freak-platforms built of reeds, invented - ooh - ages ago to escape one set of marauding bastards or another, they sure are weird 'n' spongy when you first set foot on them. The fact that they've now become floating tat-shops shouldn't surprise, and doesn't diminish their uniqueness.

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I spend a couple more days in Puno to ensure I've visited all the necessary bars, squeezing in an oil change and suppressing (or rather failing to suppress) an intestinal disaster caused, I suspect, by some restaurant cucumber that had been "washed" in a liquid far more noxious than the soil it grew in.

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Squittered to puckering-point, it's time to spin - and the direction's Cuzco. I don't know it yet, but the signs are there; Peru is a monstrously beautiful country. There's every possibility of falling over a cliff while gaping at the landscape, however hard you try and concentrate on the road. Plus - it's rammed to the rafters with Inca antiquities, the people are lovely, the hotels are a steal and the beaches in the north are (apparently) paradise (fact-check to follow).

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In the minus column, we have 84 octane petrol - excuse me? Is that not what they put in European fire-extinguishers? - and a lot of very bad chips*, which is something of a surprise in the country that invented the potato.

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Hi ho for Cuzco! And - Mother Mary - it's blinking gorgeous. 15 days trundle by, and still it's hard to go. Here's the backstory. About 700 years ago the Incas built Cuzco. Look at the stonework and wonder - HTF?

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Then the Spaniards arrived and built their stuff on top. Ugly scenes at the time, but pretty as hell now. What was once the House Of The Virgins Of The Sun is now Norton Rats, a - get this - motorcycle pub with 3 dartboards and Mountain's "Nantucket Sleighride"** (the best song ever) on the jukebox, overlooking the most attractive square in Latin America (it says in my book).

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Harry and Dave challenge me at the dartboard...

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...to no avail.

It's just perfect, and plays a large-to-total part in my extended stay. Also I couldn't find the road out of town; and checkout time at the Hostal Inka is 9am, which, if you've been chugging Cuzqueñas and playing Brand Of Shame*** with Jeff (Norton's owner and Norton owner) until 6am, simply won't do.

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Harry and Jeff swallow another beating with good grace.

You're only allowed to sign the Norton's guestbook if you arrive on 2 wheels (tough luck to Stephen Hawking - that's 4, bucko) and a lengthy read reveals a couple of expected names - Dan Walsh (Jesus to Ted Simon's God), Alan and Martin (BMW bad boys from Ethiopia and Marlow); but also Gary and Lou from Mauritania and Cornwall, participants in the most breath-snatchingly laughy evening Nouakchott has ever seen.**** They had a spice rack built into one of their panniers. A spice rack!

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Hang on old bean, I sense you thinking, but what of Macchu Picchu? Is it not both close by, and the eighth wonder of the etc?

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Well, yup, it is. I went (bike to Ollantaytambo and then train), and it does rather urinate over everything else in the world. No point talking about it; very little point, given its constant pictorialization, in showing pictures of it - but here it is anyway.

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Eventually I manage to squeeze my increasingly cow-pat-like form through Cuzco's bristly, chapped back end. I'm plopped out (veiny temples and corn-hole spasms notwithstanding) onto the road to Nazca and the Lines. The Nazca Lines. I'm just off to South America to do the Lines. Ha.

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Somebody (and I think it was Dan Walsh in the Norton's guestbook) described the Cuzco-Nazca road as "the most beautiful road in the world", and maybe it is. It's stupid, mind-breaking, bloody odd in its constant one-upmanship; "hey! this view is better than the one 100 yards back!"

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It's three days to Nazca if you dawdle like I do, and dawdle you must. I like to stop fairly frequently for water and cigs, but this road begs you to stop at every kilometer marker, just to take another cack-handed pic of the always-collapsing grandeur of the world.

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The rocks of which the Andes are made took millions of years at the sea-bed to create*****, then millions more to shove up into the sky, then millions more to erode into the triangular, valley-scored dribblescape we have now. Millions of years from now they'll be gone, like dozens of mountain ranges before them, but I'll still be here because I'm immortal! Cool, huh? (Fact-check to follow).

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*Crisps. No wait - fries.
**If you're 35+ and British, you know it as the Weekend World - with Bwian Wawden - music.
***A splendid European darts game.
****Not saying much
*****Unless you're a Creationist - you bozo.

Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at June 07, 2009 09:38 PM GMT

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