June 15, 2012 GMT
Still In Peru

Six weeks after taking my motorcycle to a Cusco workshop to have a broken piston ring changed I finally got it back. The estimated time to complete the job had been ‘four or five days’ although I never for a moment thought that was achievable; I hadn’t expected it to take six weeks. The phrase ‘Mańana, Mańana’ will always remind me of this time and the continuously moving completion date.

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Sacsayhuaman Inca Site Above Cusco. How Do You Make Walls With Blocks This Size Without Machine Tools And Only Stone Handtools?

Fortunately Cusco turned out to be a nice place to wait and I have plenty of time as I’m waiting for the warmer weather of the southern hemisphere summer before venturing too far south. A steady stream of motorcyclists turned up at the Estrellita Hospedaje where I was staying. The most unusual bikes were ridden by four Germans. They had shipped their tiny 125cc machines with scooter sized wheels from Germany to Santiago, Chile for $250 (Ł158) each then ridden them north to Cusco. They were turning round at Cusco to return to Santiago to ship the bikes back to Germany. Not wanting to ride the first leg south to Arequipa they rode to the bus station, put the bikes in the luggage bay of an overnight bus and planned to sleep while they travelled. I had been complaining that my bike had proved too heavy for me on the badly eroded and/or muddy dirt roads of Central America, Colombia and Ecuador during the wet season and decided that if my bikes problems turned out to be terminal (I was beginning to doubt I would ever get it back in working order) I would migrate to the opposite end of the motorcycling spectrum and buy a similar small bike as the Germans and save tons of money shipping across the stretches of water.

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German Riders Heading To The Bus Station On Their Mini Bikes

The motorbike was returned to me for a few days in order to ride it for three hundred kilometres before changing the oil again to flush out any debris following the engine rebuild. It also gave me the opportunity to test the bike and partially renew my confidence that it won’t fail again, possibly on some back road miles from anywhere. I did two circular rides from Cusco, one going up the sacred valley to Ollantaytambo and the other going down the valley to Calcay. It felt good to be riding again and nice to get out of town and into the countryside.

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Lake In The Sacred Valey

I had a week and a half left on my Peru visa and temporary motorcycle import document when I got the bike back from the mechanic and decided to go to Colca Canyon before leaving Peru for Bolivia. Colca Canyon is one of around five canyons that claim to be the deepest in the world and is home to some impressively large condors. I plotted a 420km (262 mile) route, mainly on secondary roads. The route took me through the district of Espinar; where the government had declared a state of emergency because of demonstrations against the expansion of a Swiss run copper mine. Two people had been killed and the mayor arrested and jailed but my route was well away from the towns so I wasn’t expecting any problems. My paper map showed that forty kilometres of the route was on dirt roads while my GPS thought that considerably more of the route was going to be on dirt. I would normally have planned to do this journey over two leisurely days but as I didn’t have much time left in Peru decided to try and do it in one day. As the bulk of the journey was travelling through the desolate Alto Plano there wasn’t going to be any accommodation available anyway.

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Espinar Anti Mining, Pro Environment Demonstration In Cusco

I loaded the bike the day before and fitted the thermal lining to my motorcycle suit in preparation for a chilly early morning start. For only the second time in six weeks it was raining when I got up. Normally I have the luxury of delaying my departure by a day if it is raining but time was pressing and I headed out of Cusco through the heavy morning traffic. The rain eventually stopped although it didn’t get any warmer as I climbed up to over 3900 metres (12,700 feet). The first section of the journey was on the main road south from Cusco which headed to Puno then on to Copacabana in Bolivia. Once out of Cusco, the traffic was light and it felt good to be moving through the high Andes scenery. Other traffic became virtually non existent once I turned onto the secondary roads which crossed the Alto Plano. The roads were still paved and if my paper map proved to be accurate I should reach my destination of Yanque in the Colca Canyon before dark. The dirt road started where the paper map said it would but the surface was dry and compact and I was still making reasonable progress. Having covered the forty odd kilometres of dirt road I was looking out for the paved road to start again to be able to press on at a higher speed to Yanque but the GPS proved to be correct and the dirt continued for 129 kilometres (80 miles) until Sibayo a short distance before the journey’s end.

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Entering The State Of Emergency Area Of Espinar

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Espinar Protest Graffiti

Stopping for a quick picnic lunch at the roadside; a few drops of hail started to fall although the sky was bright and predominately blue. When I remounted the hail got heavier then eventually turned to snow which was blowing horizontally across the open plain. The snow wasn’t falling particularly heavily and my motorcycle suit and heated handlebar grips were sufficient to keep me warm but the visibility was reduced which meant I had to slow down from my normal mediocre pace. It looked like I was going to run out of daylight and if I did I would have to choose between setting up the tent in the snow and the wind for a cold night on the Alto Plano or riding on dirt roads in the dark. I normally avoid riding in the dark. I like to look at the scenery as I ride which you can’t do at night and there is an increased chance of having an accident in the dark. In Latin America I have occasionally ridden to my destination during dusk but always found somewhere to stay before it got completely dark. The only time I have ridden at night was when staying in an out of town motel and I have ridden the short distance into town for something to eat.

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Lunch Stop On The Way To Colca Canyon

The snow had eventually eased but the road; which was fine for most of the way had a few rough rocky sections and water crossings seemed to appear more frequently as black shapes looming out of the increasing darkness. At one of the deeper crossings I had to put a foot down to keep the bike upright and got a boot full of icy water. I continued to ride; hoping to drop to a lower altitude and out of the snow which would make camping a more comfortable option but the darkness descended, my progress slowed still further and I was still at a chilly and windy 3900 metres. When it got dark; I had according to the GPS; twenty kilometres to go to the next junction which could be the start of a paved road or even a village with some accommodation. Riding twenty kilometres on dirt roads in the dark seemed marginally better than camping in the bad weather but progress was slow as I looked for rocks and potholes in the beam of the headlight. Eventually lights from a small town appeared way below me and the road descended through a series of tight hairpin bends. The wind dropped and the temperature rose as soon as I left the Alto Plano and got into the shelter of the hills. The hairpin bends were tricky in the dark with the headlight peering straight out over an open mountainside, all I could see was blackness which I knew represented a long drop down the mountain and the outside of the bend which seemed to continue forever as I pulled the bike tighter into the turns until, eventually the road would appear in the beam of the headlamp once again. I was concentrating on the outside of the bends and the void beyond them more than the road surface and on one bend I skidded and stalled the engine on some fine powdery ‘bull dust’. As I regained control of the bike I pressed the starter and as I don’t normally ride at night; didn’t realise that the lights go out while the starter is turning. Plunged into total darkness on a slippery road surface; near the edge of a mountainside even at less than walking pace and for only a few seconds provided enough excitement to last me for quite a while.

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On The Way To Colca Canyon

The town I was approaching was only forty kilometres (twenty five miles) from my final destination so I decided that if the road was paved I would continue on to Yanque in the dark but if the road was still dirt I would try and find accommodation for the night. It was a relieve to reach the town and a lower altitude and the road was made of beautifully smooth concrete so I rode straight through the small town on the road towards Yanque. At the edge of the town the road changed back into gravel so I turned around, stopped at a restaurant and went in to ask if there was any accommodation available in town. My luck finally took an upturn as the restaurant turned out to be a hospedaje (small, cheap local hotel). I had to leave the bike on the street, something I try to avoid. I did walk a few doors along the street to the police station to see if I could park in their compound, something I have done in the past. I walked through the open door into the deserted office, full of computers, all turned on. I shouted and waited but no one appeared so the bike had to rough it on the street for one night.

I was soon changed out of the bike clothes; but unable to wash as there was no water available and sat in the restaurant with a large bowl of soup followed by the Latin American standard of chicken and chips.

The following morning it didn’t take long to reach Yanque in Colca Canyon. The road was paved after all apart from a short section of road works that had prompted my to turn around the previous evening. At least I got to enjoy the scenery as I entered Colca Canyon and there was a narrow rocky detour for road works and more slippery ’bull dust’ on some of the corners which were easier to negotiate in daylight. ‘Bull dust’ is a term I picked up in Australia for very fine, talcum powder like dust that settles on roads. It’s like riding in very fine dry sand and this journey was the first time I had encountered it on this trip.

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Chacapi, Colca Canyon - Near Yanque

I liked Yanque, a small rural village with cows, alpacas, sheep and donkeys being herded through the streets and almost as many horseback riders as cars. There were snow capped mountains to the south and clear blue skies that set them off nicely. The same clear skies produced a multitude of stars in the evening and I may have caught my first glimpse of the Southern Cross constellation on this trip. In the small fields on the outskirts of the village men were threshing some kind of grain with sticks while women in brightly coloured traditional dress were sat on the ground winnowing the threshed crop by scooping it up into a bowl and skilfully pouring it out so that the wind separated the chaff from the grain into two neat piles. It looked like I had stepped back into some medieval world except for the preponderance of mobile phones clasped firmly to the side of the workers heads.

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Snow Capped Mountain From Yanque, Colca Canyon

There are two reasons for coming to Colca Canyon, the scenery and the condors that live in the canyon. One day I rode out to a mirador (lookout point) overlooking the canyon and in a couple of hours counted eight condors, some were way off in the distance but others, soaring in the canyon below me or silhouetted by the sky above where close enough to see in detail. Unfortunately they were all too quick to get a decent photograph.

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After Two Hours This Was The Best Shot Of A Condor I Could Get

My final destination in Peru was Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The road climbed up from Colca Canyon to over 4000 metres. The clever folk at Garmin decided that the altimeter on my new 220 GPS should display the altitude in whole kilometres only so I can‘t be any more accurate I‘m afraid. By now I can usually guess how high I am to the nearest kilometre based on how cold it is and how out of breath I am. There was ice on the standing pools of water on the Alto Plano and a waterfall by the side of the road was frozen solid but the day was crisp and dry with a clear blue sky. The wind was blowing strongly, a sample of what I am expecting as I get further south although once the road dipped between the hills on its descent into Puno at 3800 metres (12,350 feet) there was shelter from the wind. I spent the afternoon walking along the shore of Lake Titicaca, exploring the town of Puno and achieved a lifetime ambition by seeing ladies wearing bowler hats several sizes too small for them for the first time.

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Lake Titicaca, Puno - The Highest Navigable Lake In The World At 3810 Metres

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A Lifetimes Ambition Achieved, Ladies In Bower Hats!

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at 04:00 AM GMT
 


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