May 17, 2012 GMT
Peru (South)

On the approach into Nazca heading south on the Pan Americana Highway I stopped at a viewing tower. From the top you could see two of the famous Nazca lines, geometric patterns etched into the desert floor. I’m afraid I didn’t find the lines overly impressive. They are made by moving a top layer of dark rocks and pebbles and scratching a shallow trench through to the very pale, sandy coloured sub layer. What is impressive is that these fairly flimsy looking constructions have survived hundreds of years thanks to the stable weather conditions of little wind or rain resulting in virtually zero erosion. The road beside the tower is now fenced but you could clearly see tyre tracks cutting through and destroying part of one of the ancient patterns. I could only see two of the many Nazca lines from the tower and I imagine they look much more impressive looking down at them from a plane.

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One Of The Nazca Lines Viewed From The Pan Americana Tower

I sometimes service the bike myself and sometimes find a mechanic to do it for me. Labour is cheap by western standards and I have a problem finding somewhere socially acceptable to drain the oil and to dispose of it. In Nazca I found a workshop that would do the job. I hung around to tell the mechanic what bits to take off to get to the drain plugs and oil filter and distrusting soul that I am, to make sure he took the old oil filter out rather than throwing the new one I had supplied away and claiming to have changed it. I then left to find an optician to see if I could get a pair of glasses repaired. In Europe the glasses would have to be replaced but in Nazca I had a new arm fitted that was taken from a new frame to make the glasses as good as new for S5 (£1.20 or US$1.90). When I returned for the motorbike it was being dried with compressed air and looked cleaner than it has since the trip started. The service cost S75 (£17.80 or US$28) and most of that was for the oil.

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The Nazca To Cusco Road

The road from Nazca to Cusco has to be one of the best paved motorcycling roads in the world, particularly the first section which climbs from the low lying desert up into the mountains. The road is over four hundred miles long (640 km), rising from the desert floor in a series of hairpin bends and sweeping curves. The scenery changes from the dry dusty desert of the coast getting greener as it passes alongside small fields of crops then on into cattle and alpaca country. There was a thin covering of snow at the side of the road at one point.

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The Nazca To Cusco Road

With Cusco not too far away the bike lost power. I was at an altitude of over 3000m (9750 feet) but the drop in power was too sudden and severe to be caused by the high altitude. There had been no nasty mechanical noises and the bike was still doing my normal cruising speed of 50mph (80kph) although now only with the throttle wide open. Being forced to slow down for a tope (speed bump) on the approach into the village of Porhoy; the engine cut out and wouldn’t restart. A smoking exhaust and a smell of burning oil indicated a top end engine overhaul. Fortunately I was only ten kilometres from Cusco and on the main road. The situation would have been a lot worse if I had been stranded on some remote dirt road miles from anywhere. I left the bike at a nearby restaurant and took a cheap shared taxi into Cusco.

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Cusco, Plaza de Armas

The following day I walked to the Cusco street where all the motorbike shops were and was directed to the owner of a pickup truck who agreed to collect the bike. When we got to the restaurant where I had left it the owner had padlocked the room for security and had gone to Cusco with the key. Eduardo, the pick up truck owner couldn’t wait but arranged for the local hardware store owner to bring my bike into Cusco once we had the key to get the bike out. It turned out Eduardo owned one of the motorbike shops and we arranged for the bike to go to his workshop for preliminary inspection. If it couldn’t be repaired in Cusco it would have to be trucked 690 miles (1100 km) back to Lima.

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I Was Relieved That This Sign Was Outside A Knitwear Shop And Not A Restaurant!

As I suspected, the mechanic said there was a loss of compression. I immediately envisaged a twenty hour ride in a truck to Lima but the mechanic was confident that they could strip the top half of the engine, get the parts from Lima and rebuild the bike in four or five days. I thought it would take longer; but as I planned to spend at least a week in Cusco and nearby Machu Picchu and definitely didn’t want to trail all the way back to Lima I gave them the go ahead with the job. Having spent some time learning the Spanish for various engine parts I returned to the mechanic a few days later and was told a piston ring had failed and that the necessary parts were on order. I would have liked to have had an in depth talk with the mechanic to figure out why the engine failed but my Spanish wasn’t up to that level of conversation. I wondered if the recent oil change had anything to do with it but the oil level was fine, no warning lights came on and the bike had done over 400 miles since the service so I think it unlikely.

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Cusco, San Blas Plaza

The broken bike removed the decision on how to get to Machu Picchu 110 kilometres (69 miles) away. There are no roads to Machu Picchu. With the bike I could have ridden to Ollantaytambo, half way to Machu Picchu then taken the expensive tourist train or ridden to Santa Teresa on dirt roads then trekked for a further two or three hours along the railway track. Without the bike, the buses to Santa Teresa then walking or a combination of bus to Ollantayambo then train seemed complicated so I opted for the expensive tourist train from Cusco. When I bought the train ticket I discovered that the train actually leaves from Porhoy Station less than 100 yards from where the bike had broken down.

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Machu Picchu Train At Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)

The Peru government which controls Machu Picchu has a simple policy of maximising the revenue it can get from overseas tourists. Prices to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu and into the site are expensive by any standard but very few tourists that come to Peru are going to bypass one of the worlds greatest archaeological sites. The site is amazing and if the entrance fee had been a bit cheaper I would have seen it over two leisurely days instead of one hectic day marching across the site determined not to miss anything out.

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The Compulsory Machu Picchu Photograph

Machu Picchu has the best preserved Inca architecture as it was hidden in a remote valley and never discovered by the Conquistadors and therefore avoided the destruction that was inevitably carried out. It still has that feeling of remoteness despite the number of visitors. I guess, in the 21st century anyplace that can’t be reached by road feels remote.

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Early Morning Mist On The Machu Picchu Agricultural Terraces

The site is believed to be the country retreat of the Inca ruler, Pachacuti who ran his empire from the capital city of Cusco.

The Inca stonework on the high status buildings is ingenious with carved stones closely knitted together without any form of mortar. Some of these stones weight over a hundred tons with one estimated at around three hundred tons. Brilliant stonemasons as the Incas obviously were, they had no written language and no records exist of how they prepared and positioned the stones. The Spanish Conquistadors ‘employed’ Inca stonemasons to build the lower courses of the colonial buildings in Cusco to produce a mixed architectural style of Inca and Colonial. Many of the stones would have been reused following the demolition of the original Inca town. It is now difficult to tell which is original Inca foundations, rebuilt colonial Inca stonework or fairly recent reproduction. All very impressive though.

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Clever Inca Drystone Wall At Machu Picchu

The Norton Rat’s Bar in the main square (Plaza de Armas) is a legendary watering hole for overland motorcyclists. The gringo owner did an Alaska to Ushuaia journey a few years ago then returned to Cusco to set up home and business. Unfortunately I picked the wrong time to visit, 4pm on a Sunday. The balcony was full of customers enjoying the view over the plaza but the bar was almost deserted. I ordered a pint of English bitter, my first in over two years, the barman and the cashier were both looking in my direction and having a furtive whispered conversation as my money was passed between them. I drank half of the beer at the bar waiting for my change which I rightly suspected wasn’t forthcoming and in the end had to ask the cashier for it. On another day; with a few motorcyclists to chat to I would have enjoyed the Norton Rat’s Bar but the behaviour of the bar staff put me off making a second visit. My pint of bitter went down a treat though!

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Norton Rat's Pub, Cusco

Life gets pretty scary when you suddenly find it necessary to look up the Spanish for “Why did you have to split the crankcase?”. I went to the workshop to see if the ordered parts had arrived and… they hadn’t. Then I noticed that the engine was now out of the frame. I found it under a dust sheet in many many pieces spread across a workbench with the crankcase open and no sign of the barrel, piston or rings which I wanted to have a look at to see exactly what had failed and hopefully why it had failed. Dates for the parts to arrive come and go without the parts making an appearance. The mechanic working on my bike is rarely in the workshop and none of the others really know what is going on but they confidently give me a new date for when the parts will arrive and ask me to check back then.

Cusco is as good a place as any to be stuck in while waiting for the bike to be repaired. It’s small enough to walk everywhere but big enough to offer a variety of walks and places to visit.

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Cusco Traditional Dance Carnival

Posted by at May 17, 2012 08:44 PM GMT

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