July 22, 2013 GMT
Cusco and the Sacred Valley

We are lucky enough to be in Cusco in the two week lead up to Inti Rami – the festival of the Winter Solstice. It is truly amazing, there is always something going on in the Plaze de Armes

Cusco sits at 3300 metres above see level. It is the continents oldest continuously inhabited city, steeped in history, the narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with huge Incan built walls, and while it is undeniably a tourist city it is also undeniably beautiful and still quite authentic. It truly is a lovely, living city.


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The Plaza de Armes – Cusco


However our first three days in Cusco are marked by rain, freezing temperatures and continual visits to DHL to check on our parcels arrival. We know that the DHL process will be a long tedious one so we make the decision to move to a warmer hostel. We feel a bit mean doing this, as the family at Hostel Estrellita are incredibly kind, the place is old but spotlessly clean and the company is good. However I am frozen to death and the old beds are not that comfortable. However the price is right, it is ridiculously cheap, about $12.00 a night including breakfast.

We literally move one street away to Hostal Labrador run by the gregarious Estella and her family. We negotiate a weekly rate. We now have a comfortable bed (well beds), our own bathroom and a warmer room. There is no off street parking but it is in a dead end lane way close to the Plaza de Armes, the only beings interested in the bike seem to be the street dogs, lets just say the cover needed a wash when we left.


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The hidden alleyways to Hotal Labrador


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Our new posh room


During those first few days in Cusco we visit Qorikancha. these Incan ruins form the base of the colonial church of Iglesia de Santo Domingo. In Incan times, the Qorikancha was literally covered with gold and was used not only for religious purposes but also as a celestial monitoring station. Of course it was looted and trashed by the marauding Spanish conquistadors, however the Incan stonework has survived unscathed by the Spanish and numerous massive earthquakes. The Incans really were master craftsman.


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Qorikancha


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Qorikancha


In complete contrast we also check out the local motorcycle street and with the help of the phone to translate, Skill asks a local shop if he can work on the bike in their workshop. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing they agree and we try to explain that we are waiting on a part. All seems to be Ok and we take our leave.

Everyday we go to the main Square to watch the dancers and parades, there is always something going on, there is never a dull moment, it is an amazing time to be in Cusco.


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Dancers in Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


We aimlessly wander nearly every street in the city centre there is always something to see. There is not much of Cusco we didn't get to explore.


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Lan points out the 12 sided stone


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Lan in Diagon alley (well that's what she christened it)


We also become complete and utter gringos whilst in this city, eating out at all the gringo haunts. One day whilst leaving Jacks (our restaurant of choice) we get a moral lecture from a young American lad who happens to be outside. He tells everyone within earshot that he only ever eats at local haunts when he travels, to which I silently reply “Well that's great for you, but I have had more Caldo Galindas (vegetable soup with a piece of meat) than you've had breakfasts sunshine so I am going to continue coming here everyday and eating everything on their menu” which I think we probably did. Anyway it's an Aussie owned establishment and by all accounts the owner is a silent philanthropist in Cusco helping out countless local disadvantaged women.

We also enjoy a fantastic curry at Los Perros Restaurant, another Aussie owned establishment, this place is quite posh, but we lashed out, our first Asian curry in soooooooo long.


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Skill at Los Perros


Of course we frequent the local watering holes showing no favouritism, we give them all a fair hearing - Paddy's Irish Pub, Cross Keys Pub and of course Norton Rats Pub, not only can you get beer and food, they are good vantage points for taking in the squares goings on.


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Skill enjoying the sunshine and a beer at the Cross Keys Pub


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A beer or two on the verandah at Norton Rats Pub

It is also where we meet an interesting variety of people. On one day we meet a group of independent American travellers who have had to turn back on Day 2 of the Inca Trail, it was just too tougher going for them. To their credit they listened to their guide and found some alternative trails to walk. On another day we meet a group of brash young Australian men about to set out on the Sakilkantay Trail, apparently a tougher prospect than the Inca trail, and with a couple of them suffering from altitude sickness, we wonder how they will fair.

One of the great things about travel is you get to meet amazing people doing amazing things. At Hostal Labrador we meet Jan, an English lady who is in the midst of setting up a charity to feed the street children of Ollantaytambo and surrounds. It gives her adopted Ollantaytambo godson a job and purpose while utilising the families disused terraces.

Meanwhile the DHL saga continues: I will now give you the abbreviated version of the proceedings. After having been in Cusco for nearly two weeks we are no closer to getting our bike parts. For 3 or 4 days Skill had been going twice daily to the DHL office asking “Was there anything we needed to do to expediate the packages arrival” only to be told the same information everyday, “No it was with Customs and it should be cleared in a day or two”. In the end it was a prompting email from Stacey (DHL Australia) and with the DHL tracking still showing the package in Lima on Friday morning, SkllI went back to the DHL office and insisted they call Customs in Lima to find out what was required. After they called DHL and Customs in Lima, yes there were actually documents required - surprise surprise! Apparently they wanted the invoice for the parts. Skill said “No invoice, parts are gift from a friend”.

So more calls to Customs and finally an answer. Aduana (Customs) will email a form/declaration to Skill which he must sign and return to DHL. Skill asks if DHL can print the form and sign it here immediately? No, the email will come to him, not DHL. When? Within the next hour. Three hours later Skill returns to the DHL office to tell them that no email has been received yet.

More phone calls and emails to Aduana, then "Please return in 15 min". Skill returned "No response from Aduana, please return in another 15 mins", Skill returned again "Aduana must be on lunch, please return later this afternoon", Skill returned 2 hours later and now the man that speaks English is not there "Please return in 1 hour" all in Spanish of course, Skill returned in 1 hour "Man will be here soon please wait", man finally returns and prints the Aduana form which was duly completed and signed complete with Skill's thumbprint and a passport copy!


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Skill is thumbprinted

By the time we got this far it was clear that Aduana need a value for parts and 'gift' wasn't going to fly, so we made up a value of $10US. Skill was then told to return the following day even though he pointed out it was Saturday and Aduana didn't work on a Saturday. "No please return tomorrow" He returned on Saturday only to be told Aduana don't work on Saturday, “Please return on Monday.”

Skill returns on Monday, there is no movement and after the man at DHL Cusco phones DHL Lima, he then resends the paperwork for whatever reason.

On Tuesday, I asked Skill if he wanted me to come with him today, to which he replied "Are you sure that's a good idea"?. Well the inevitable happened I had terse words with the young man, who kept telling me it was not DHL's problem, the package was with Customs and now we would have to deal with Customs to get them out.

I told him politely but very very firmly that “we have paid for DHL to deliver our parcel and they need to help us get it out of Customs, this is what their business is, receiving and delivering international parcels, they must deal with Aduana every day. It is his problem and we expect him to help. If he had given us the correct information on Tuesday instead of waiting till Friday, that may have helped us get our parcel earlier.” He seems to be completely dumbstruck that a woman would speak to him in this manner. He fiddled about on the computer for ages then told us we had to ring this number in Lima. By this time I am very antagonised and told him “No” he could ring the number in Lima, and sort it out, but apparently only the receiver of the parcel could do this, so we assumed it must be the Aduana in Lima, but no it was DHL in Lima.

Anyway he grudgingly rang the number in Lima and handed Skill the phone. Skill gave them the tracking number and explained that two lots of paperwork had been sent, (including a signed declaration with Skill's thumbprint), they then informed us that they hoped it would clear customs today or tomorrow, which they have been telling us for over a week.

We explained that we really need to leave Cusco as there is no accommodation this weekend (which is almost true as everything is booked out for the winter solstice party, we have to go back to our first cold dodgy hostel for a few nights) and her solution to this problem was that perhaps we could come to Lima (over 500 km away) to pick up the parcel. By this time Skill (a very patient man) has had enough and tells her in no uncertain terms that this is a ridiculous suggestion and we expect our parcel to be delivered here in Cusco by Friday.

We must say that DHL Australia was fabulous, it was all tracked and here in two days, it is the Peruvian end that is hopeless, they just don't seem to have any idea of how their own system works, or perhaps they just don't care.

It is also at this point that Stacey (DHL Australia and a friend of Guys) also has a terse word with DHL Lima and things start to happen. We are so grateful for her help.

As it became obvious that we are not going to get our parcel any time soon we decide we will take a day tour to the Sacred Valley. It starts off badly as our bus and guide do not show at the Plaza de Armes at the allotted time. In fact an hour later a completely flustered woman arrives apologising profusely that they could not get the bus into the Plaza because of all the people and police blocks for the street parades. We now get a private car ride to meet the tour which has only just arrived at its first destination, a dodgy market about 45 minutes drive away.

We have an enjoyable day with an eclectic group of 15 people. We visit the small village and ruins of Pisac, an Incan citadel surrounded by terraces, atop the terraces is the ceremonial centre with an Intihuatana (hitching post to the sun), several working water channels and some well preserved buildings. A cliff behind the site is honeycombed with hundreds of Inca tombs.


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The ruins of Pisac

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The ruins of Pisac


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The Incan tombs of Pisac


From here it is onto the Pisac markets and a posh smorgasboard lunch and then a visit to the ruins of Ollantaytambo. This village is absolutely gorgeous, and is perhaps the best surviving example of Inca city planning, it's massive fort stands guard over the cobblestoned village. It is also one of the only places where the conquistadors lost a major battle, when the Mano Inca threw missiles and actually flooded the plain below. The site was however more ceremonial and the stone work is amazing considering it was transported from kilometres away using huge (still visible) ramps.


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Lan at the ruins of Ollantaytambo


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The girls playing silly buggers in the niches at the ruins of Ollantaytambo


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View over the village of Ollantaytambo and the grainery on the opposite hillside


We love this village, but our time here is too short so we make a decision to return once the bike is back in action.

The tour bus wends its way back to Cusco via the village of Chinchero where we stop to look at the simply frescoed church, it is now dark and cold so it is a very quick stop.


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The Church at Chinchero


We arrive back in Cusco in the dark and to an absolutely packed Plaza de Armes, the place is going off, bands, and partying locals everywhere. We go for a wander through the chaos, grab a kebab and retire for the night.

The following day, Thursday we decide to book a city tour as it is cheap and we enjoyed our tour the day before. We do have a bit of a question about the timing, 2pm – 7pm, considering it is dark by 6.00 pm. Oh well we will give it a whirl. Just before we board the bus Skill goes to the DHL office to check on the parcel.

“Oh yes sir it arrived this morning”. WTF!!! “ and you didn't notify me. OK well I am here to collect it”. “Good sir we need your passport”. “ I don't have it on me and you know me. I have been here 3 times a day for the past two weeks. You also have now made 2 photocopies of my passport” “Sorry sir, we need your original passport” is the response. Bloody hell there is no time to go back to the hotel and get the passport before we get on the bus and DHL closes at 7.00pm.

The tour is hilariously BAD, every city tour in Cusco leaves at 2.00pm, they all follow the same itinerary and there are about 50 people in each group. We firstly visit Saqsaywaman, where we have to wait for nearly an hour to get in, we then have a rather disjointed misinformation session, which leaves us 20 minutes to look around, before it is back on the bus racing all the other tour buses to the next site. We do get the giggles as the guards are constantly blowing their whistles at the marauding tourists telling them to get off the rock walls that have survived Spanish conquistadors and earthquakes, but apparently it was alright to use the place as a quarry (for buildings in Cusco) up until 2001.


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Lan at Saqsaywaman


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The ruins of Saqsaywaman


Next we visit Q'enqo a small mysterious cave with rock hewn alters. Here we line up for another 30 minutes for a two minute walk through the cave. Then it is back on the Michael Schumacher bus for a 10 minute race to Tambomachay, a beautiful ceremonial bath still channelling clear water. It is very simple but quite lovely.

By the time we leave here it is completely dark, so at the next ruin of Pukapukara we don't even bother getting off the bus. Apparently in daylight it is a “Red Fort”.

And finally to add insult to injury our last stop for nearly an hour is at an Alpaca wool and jewellery shop. We do a cursory 5 minute walk through before getting back on the bus and chatting to a lovely young couple from Singapore.

Back to Cusco and we cannot move for sea of people, Inti Raymi festivities are in full swing, the Plaza is packed, there are food and drink stalls everywhere, 2 huge stages with rock bands playing, and a finale of fireworks. WOW!

Next morning Skill and his passport are at the DHL office before the 8.30 am opening time. He comes back with parcel in hand and a smile on his dial, has breakfast and then goes directly to the motorcycle shop and leaves me at the hostal.


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Our DHL Parcel arrives, thanks to Guy and Stacey


Skill writes - Because its now 2 weeks since I arranged to use the very nice clean Honda workshop, they take a while to remember me. Then the bad news, today is Friday and the start of the long weekend for Inti Raymi festival so although sales is still open, the workshop is closed until next Tuesday. WHAT? I explain that I don't need a mechanic just access to the workshop. Sorry but you are not allowed in workshop while it is unattended. While I do understand this I really need to get this fixed and get out of Cusco – PLEASE!

I can tell they want to help and after a number of phone calls a guy turns up on a 2-stroke motorcross bike (no helmet) and then everyone says I must go with him to another workshop. I thought maybe in the next street, but no, we go halfway across the city and now I have no idea how to get back to our hostal. We finally get to the workshop and its the usual ramshakle dusty dirty establishment – bugger – what to do. Oh well make the best of it I guess. I once again try to communicate that I will do the work and pay them for use of workshop. They seem confused but sort of agree. All goes reasonably well although they keep trying to take over working on the bike even though they would never have seen a bike like this before. In the end we replaced the leaking oil seals, changed the engine oil and filter, cleaned and re-oiled the air filter and washed the bike all for about $60Aus including new Motul engine oil and bottle of air filter oil. Result!

Luckily for me a local guy who spoke a little English took a liking to the bike and translated for me in the workshop, then he wanted a lift back to near the Honda shop, so at least someone could give me directions from the pillion seat. Only problem was he was enjoying the bike ride so much he kept forgetting to give me directions, or perhaps he was shit-scared, not sure.

Lan writes - As it is now the weekend and most hostels/hotels in town are full we move back to Estrellita Hostel. Compared to our stay 2 weeks ago the place is packed and there are now 4 bikes parked in the courtyard. We enjoy a lovely couple of days with like minded souls, but are itching to get going. Bring on Monday!


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Bikes parked at Estrellita Hostel

Posted by John Skillington at 06:32 PM GMT
Ollantaytambo to Puno

After the weekend we are eager to hit the road even if it is a short 3 hour ride to Ollantaytambo.

For the first time since we arrived in Santiago 9 months ago we have pre-booked our accommodation in Ollantaytambo at the lovely Hotel Munay Tika. The hotel is gorgeous, we have the most amazing views from our room and the staff are so helpful. The only problem is getting the bike through the garden door. It is more than a tight fit but Skill manages it.


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Skill got the bike through that door


We love this little village, it is just so beautiful, the ruins are visible from everywhere. On one of our days in the village we walk up to the Incan graineries on the opposite side of the main ruins. The views are outstanding.


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The bustling streets of Ollantaytambo


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The bustling streets of Ollantaytambo


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On our way to the Graineries


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The Grainery ruins

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The Grainery Ruins

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Views back to the ruins of Ollantaytambo


After a couple of days exploring Ollantaytambo, eating and drinking at just about every establishment in town we board our train for Aguas Calientes and the main event, Machu Piccu. We can't wipe the smiles of our faces


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Restaurant opposite our hotel


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Our train to Aguas Caliente


The train ride to Aguas Calientes is absolutely stunning, our necks are on swivels, in every direction the views are breath taking. Unfortunately the train is packed, not a seat to be had, and we are packed in like sardines, poor Skill cannot fit his legs under the table.

Aguas Calientes would have to be the most touristed place we have been to in South America, it is sustained solely by tourists, to and from Machu Piccu.
We arrive in this little town just after dark and are met by a girl from the hostel who has our name on a little board (Johan and Ellena), we follow her blindly through the maze of streets to arrive at our hostel. A quick shower, a dodgy pizza dinner and then it is off to meet our guide Peter, who gives us a run down for our MP visit tomorrow, we are to meet him at 8.00 am. We quickly buy snacks from the shop across the road for tomorrows visit and that is all we see of Aguas Caliente as we are in bed by 9.00pm.

The alarm sounds at 4.30 am, up and at em, dodgy breakfast then it is down to join the queue for the bus to Machu Piccu, we have a half hour wait but are soon on a bus enjoying the 30 minute ride up the switchbacks to Machu Piccu and enter the gates by 6.45 am.

People are swarming in like ants and I begin to question our visit. After dreaming of coming here for 30 years and all the amazing ruins we have seen in our travels am I going to be disappointed?


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Our first glimpse of the ruin


As we climb the path to the lookout at the Caretaker's Hut and finally arrive for our first glimpse, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by the absolute beauty of this ruin and it's location. It is everything we have imagined and more. Simply stunning. The sun does not rise over the mountains and hit the ruins until around 7.30 am. We secure our view point and soak it all in, it is all a bit much to take in, almost like I am in someone else's movie


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Here comes the sun – Machu Picchu


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Here comes the sun – Machu Picchu


Once again we luck in with the weather which for weeks has been in a word, changeable, today the sun is shining, it is hot and not a breath of wind. A beautiful day for exploring the ruins. We join Peter our tour guide for our two hour tour around Machu Piccu. We then spend the day at our own leisure visiting every inch of the ruins.


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Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun) sits atop a pyramid


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Sacred Rock - a coincidence or perfectly carved to match the mountains?


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Temple of the Condor


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Temple of the Sun and the Royal tomb


We take a break for lunch in the Incan quarry, it is quite bizarre, although the place is crawling with 100s of tourists we have this place all to ourselves and enjoy our picnic lunch in peaceful solitude.


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Skill enjoys lunch in peace and quiet


We then walk a small portion of Inca trail up to the Sungate and back again.


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Walk to the Sungate along the famous Inca Trail


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Walk to the Sungate. View back to Machu Piccu including the road up, a series of switchbacks


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Check out the size of those mountains


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Views back to the ruins


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An exhausted Lan


When we arrive back at the main ruins at 2.00pm there is hardly anyone around at all, we take the opportunity to re walk most of the ruins and catch one of the last buses back to Aguas Caliente around 4.45 pm. Once back in Aguas Caliente we collect our gear from the hostel, grab a burger and a few happy hour drinks before catching our train back to Ollantaytambo at 7.00 pm. Luckily our lovely hotel in Ollantaytambo is only a 5 minute walk away, we return to our room, a hot shower and bed. It has been an amazing day, one we will remember for a long time to come.


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Lan and Skill at Machu Piccu


Next day we sleep in, mooch around Ollantaytambo, repack the bike before a late Menu del Dia where we get chatting to a lovely American couple who are actually staying at the same hotel as us. As we enjoy our lunch with views to the ruins we notice that the school kids are out on the terraces apparently practising for an anniverary re-enactment of the great battle where the Mano Inca defeated the conquistadors. It is a shame we will miss it.


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Ollantaytambo Streets


Next morning we leave Ollantaytambo with a touch of sadness, we have really enjoyed our stay in this beautiful living village and great hotel. The ride back through the Sacred Valley is stunning and once again it is a glorious sunny day. The road follows the river for the first couple of hours before we return to the main road between Cusco and Puno. We are in no hurry as we plan to stop in Pucara for the night. We stop in a random village for a local lunch and continue on up over the Alti Plano.

As we are tootling along we are pulled over by the police, for what reason I am not sure. I think they were going to book us for speeding, except we weren't speeding, and they had no radar anyway. After a long, happy chat, a check of documents and insurance, then 2 koalas passing hands (I handed over one koala and one pen but was soon asked for another for his colleague, cheeky buggers) we were on our way, none the wiser why we were pulled over. We later passed these guys at another checkpoint where they enthusiastically waved us on.


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Hmmm, it's the Peruvian Police

At this point it is getting on a bit so we do start to push it along, at Pucara we make the decision to press on to Puno, mainly because Pucara is a bit of a dive and the hotel is very unimpressive. After another 200 km we reach Puno just after sunset. It is absolutely freezing, we happen upon the Hostel Arequipa which we know has parking and decide that will do us for the night. We unpack and lug the gear upstairs before it is off to MachuPizza for dinner. We return to the room where the thermometer in the tank bag is showing 4 degrees. I decide the tepid water in the shower is not for me and crawl into bed, luckily there are lots of blankets and we are toasty warm once we put our beanies on to keep our heads warm. At this point we still haven't decided if it is back to Bolivia tomorrow or are we heading to Northern Chile. Ohhhh I guess we can figure it out in the morning, that is if we haven't frozen to death overnight.

Posted by John Skillington at 07:29 PM GMT
July 25, 2013 GMT
Puno (Peru) to Tilcara (Argentina)

Yesterday was a long day, and last night in Puno it got down to minus 6 degrees Celcius, so we have a bit of a sleep in before venturing out for a bacon and egg breakfast and hitting the road for (hmm is it back to Bolivia or off to Chile) a toss of the coin and Bolivia it is.

We leave Puno easily, fill up with fuel and enjoy a short ride to …................... the first police checkpoint. They check our papers, including our SOAT insurance and we are off again. About 20 kms further along we pass a traveller's bike with Guatamala plates, we don't stop as he gives us the thumbs up and continues to take photos. Not long afterwards he overtakes us and disappears. We are enjoying our ride and the scenery, the mountains are back in all their glory.


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The ride to the Bolivian Border


We spy the Triumph Tiger again and this time we stop. We meet the gregarious David, an American/Mexican citizen living in Guatamala. After a quick chat we discover we are both heading for the Bolivian border at Copacabana so travel together.

We cross out of Peru easily and then it is on to Bolivia.


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We cross out of Peru


All appears to be off to a flying start until we realise they are on lunch for an hour, What a surprise!!


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The boomgates are closed. The Bolivian side is on lunch.

We park the bikes up and have a chat, David is on a 5 month trip from Guatamala to Brazil, and has just had his wife join him in Cusco for a week to see the sights of the Sacred Valley. He is continuing on solo.

Eventually the Bolivian side is open and we are processed reasonably quickly, the boys get the temporary imports done with little fuss and no question of a bribe. Maybe having two people and a fluent Spanish speaker (ie; David) made a difference. Anyway we are off and travel the 10 kms to Copacabana where we park in the square while I try to find Hotel Utama, this is an Antje and Ingolf recommendation (travellers we met in southern Argentina).

No luck, but while I am away, Martin our Swiss van driving friend makes an appearance for the third time on this trip, I am always amazed at the way you can run into the same people so randomly. If you tried to organise it you would never do it. At this point we have an hours chat on the footpath before David decides he will join us at our accomodation and not push on to La Paz. We say good bye to Martin, find the lovely Hotel Utama and check into a room with a view over the Lake.

It is then out for a walk, and a couple of beers by the Lake, before an early dinner, a long chat, and a reasonably late evening.

Next day we spend a lazy day in Copacabana, walking along Lake Titicaca. The shores of the Lake are lined with literally 100s of swan pedalos, obviously someone thought it would be a good business venture, and everyone hopped on the bandwagon however we did not see one single one in use, we did however discuss the idea of a swan Grand Prix.


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Two of the two hundred swan pedalos

Copacabana is a small town with not a lot happening, most tourists are here to visit Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, while many locals are here to have their cars blessed, a ritual where car and truck owners line up outside the cathedral with their vehicles decorated with flowers, ribbons and glittery top hats??? and ask the Virgen de Copacabana to protect them. While this is all well and good, perhaps a little bit of defensive driver training might actually be of more use.


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Decorated car, which has just been blessed

We decide not to take a tour out to the Isla del Sol as we did our tour from Puno on the Peru side a month or so ago, sometimes you cannot manage to do everything.

The following day, I am not feeling particularly well, I am suffering from a bad headache/mild migraine but after a slow start I am feeling a tad better so we make the break for the Lake Titicaca Ferry. Thankfully Copacabana is a small town and we manage to find our way out easily because as usual there is not one single sign to La Paz until you are actually on the road to La Paz. The ride to the ferry is a very stunning series of twists and turns over the mountains never losing sight of the highest navigable Lake in the world – Lake Titicaca.

The ferry (well that is a bit of an over statement) are actually wooden punts tied together with wire and duct tape by the look of them. After a five minute wait we ride on, carefully negotiating the large cracks in the wood with views to the Lake below, then it is a 15 minute ride across the Lake where we get chatting to a lovely group of French lads who help us unload at the other end, you have to reverse off uphill, not the easiest thing on an overloaded bike. Backing the bike off is a bit of a challenge but between the 6 of us we manage not to land in the drink.


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The Lake Titicaca Ferries


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Loading the Bike onto the Ferry


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Bike on the Lake Titicaca Ferry

We continue the ride to La Paz, for a while it is really enjoyable but the closer we get to the capital the more trafficked it becomes and the slower and harder the ride. We manage to negotiate El Alto's crazy traffic without incident and then begin the hunt for the elusive Bolivian fuel, an hour later after our fourth gasoline station, still not feeling well, I lose it big time. It is not only the fact that they won't serve you, it is the fact that you line up for ten or more minutes, you get to the bowser, take the tank bag off, open the fuel tank and they absolutely and totally ignore you for another ten minutes, before very smugly saying NO or bald-facely lie to you and tell you there is no fuel.

By this time I am seething and tell Skill NOT to move the bike so we are creating a huge queue and I am having my say in Spanglish and creating a scene. I am not haggling over paying the foreigner price, I just want fuel. It didn't get us fuel but at least I had my say. The next service station also refuses us fuel but at least he does point us to a station that will sell to foreigners, so finally we can refuel after one and a half hours! Did we mention that the ridiculous fuel situation in Bolivia shits us to tears? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

The ride to Oruro is actually backtracking for us and we take it fairly steady as the road is not in great condition and Skill knows I am not feeling great. It is on this road we see our first police radar at the entrance to a small town. As we are being overtaken by nearly every vehicle on the road and the police already have a number of cars pulled over we continue on without incident. However it is only ten minutes down the road that we are overtaken by the same said vehicles, obviously they have learnt their lesson.............. no ..............obviously they have paid the police off and are on their speeding way again.

About 15 kms out of Oruro we are discussing our hotel options and what we feel like for dinner when Skill looks down at the instrument panel and says to me “The bike is about to conk out”. What do you mean conk out? Skill says “The instrument panel just died, the bike is spluttering and has lost power, the battery is dead”.

Fortunately we spy a small track off to the side and take that as the bike dies. Hmmmm, what to do.

It was the same problem that Skill had when he went to the Snowy Mountains a couple of years ago with Dave Longy, the problem that we had TWO electrical guys look at before we left on the trip and was deemed to be within specifications and satisfactory.

Anyway we are now stuck on the roadside in a not so desirable part of Bolivia, Oruro is not the most inspiring place in Bolivia, in fact it would have to rate up there with the worst place we have been in Bolivia. Unfortunately we find out that Bolivians are very reticent to stop to help anyone broken down and after nearly 45 minutes we finally get a small ute (pick up) to stop, only because in sheer desperation we put ourselves on the road in front of him. After a quick chat, much measuring and consternation it is pretty obvious the bike is too heavy for us to lift onto the pick-up and is not going to fit in the small tray anyway. Skill manages to ask him to phone someone who can help us. After a few minutes he has phoned a tow/hoist truck and told us it would be an hour (all in Spanish, so I guess our Spanish is getting slightly better). This lovely man wishes us luck and continues on his way. Unfortunately the sun has just dipped below the horizon and at over 4000m altitude in winter it is already very cold and will be pitch black and much colder by the time the rescue truck arrives in an hour.


P1020525.jpg
Broken down on the Oruro La Paz road


We get out our winter woollies, rain gear and headlights and stand around to wait it out. Well an hour and a half later it is now pitch black with occasional light rain/mist with temps around or below freezing, every time we see a truck approaching we illuminate the bike with our headlights but to no avail. Interestingly in the hours we have been standing by the road side no one else stops, we must really look like misfits. After an hour and a half, we have given up hope of seeing our rescue truck and are about to resort to putting up the tent on a rocky 30 degree slope a few metres from this quite busy highway.

We discuss the fact that we haven't eaten since breakfast (skipped lunch), are both feeling quite dehydrated and we barely have half a litre of water remaining, so we can't cook our emergency pasta or noodles, can't even make a hot cuppa. It would have to be about the only day of the whole trip we haven't been carrying our usual mandatory 2 litres of water with us. Guess that means no breakfast either. Bugger!

We were still contemplating our circumstances, when out of the darkness our truck appears, it looked like an angelic apparition to me. The two guys jump out and set to work.


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The bike ready to be hoisted onto the truck


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The bike is hoisted onto the truck


It takes a long while to organise the harness to hoist the bike up in the dark and cold, but this is eventually accomplished. We then load our gear and ourselves into the truck and drive to the hotel where we stayed last time we were in Oruro, thank goodness we knew of a hotel with parking. I unload our gear, check into the hotel and lug some of the stuff upstairs to the top floor while Skill and the guys unload the bike in the main square of Oruro to the amazement of the locals. We were charged gringo prices for the rescue service but to be honest I would have paid them triple.


P1020533.jpg
The bike is unloaded


We manage to get only a barely tepid shower (some days are just not meant to be easy), I am still not feeling that well, and am absolutely exhausted, dehydrated, and slightly nauseous, I fall into bed thanking my lucky stars I am in a warm hotel and not on a rock strewn roadside in my tent. Skill bless his cotton socks, phones Cory then hunts down some street food chicken & chips, beer, lemonade and water. It has been quite a day.

The following day I don't get out of bed until after midday, although I am a bit groggy I am feeling so much better. Skill has been busy getting the battery charged, emailing contacts and organising a rendezvous point with Cory and Paola who will be on their way back to Cochabamba from La Paz tomorrow and have have kindly offered to pick up the bike.

As our close friend Kath Finn once said to us “You two were whacked in the arse by a rainbow”. It probably didn't feel like it last night by the road side but what are the chances that Cory and Paolo were in La Paz and were coming home in the next day or two. Cory is probably one of the few people in Bolivia who has a vehicle set up for carrying bikes, complete with ramp and tie downs.

We arrange to meet the Rowdens at 9.30 am at Caracolla, 30 minutes out of Oruro on the road we came in on (or didn't come in on) the night before last. Riding on freshly recharged battery power alone with the headlights disconnected, we hold our breath as we ride the 35km out of Oruro. Fortunately we make it. It is so nice to see these guys again. Friendly, familiar faces go a long way to making insurmountable problems seem small. It takes a fair bit of reorganisation to load the bike and reload all the gear. We put Cory's new tailgate and loading ramp to the ultimate test, all goes well except for the undersized wire cables on the tailgate which snap under the immense weight. Oops, sorry Cory. The pick-up is really loaded up by the time we pack all our gear and repack their gear.


P1020535.jpg
Loading the bike into the Rowden's ute.


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Isaac and friend help out


After some discussion we decide we should take a bus to Cochabamba as no room for us in the ute (pick-up). We farewell the Rowdens and the bike and try our hand at catching a bus. We are told buses stop here, but none do in the next hour, so we try to hail one from the road side. No luck with the first 4 or 5 just ignoring us. Seems we are not good with public transport, but eventually a coach stops on the roadside. The attendant confirms they are indeed going to Cochabamba and welcomes us aboard and explains something in a volley of Spanish. We understand none of it but soon find that there is actually only one seat available but one of us can sit on a little stool at the back, beside the toilet. Oh well it wasn't that bad, compared to a certain Moroccan bus ride complete with goat and chickens several years ago, it was sheer luxury.

About 2 hours later, half way to Cochabamaba, we are both beckoned to some recently vacated very comfortable seats near the front. You cannot complain considering it cost us $5.00 each for a 4 hour journey. As luck would have it, the driver was a really good one, not executing any of the usual dangerous stunt manoeuvres that Bolivian truck and bus drivers are famous for. He was a really safe driver. We arrive in Cochabamba and manage to hail a car-wreck masquerading as a taxi and arrive safely on Cory, Paola, Hugo, Liam and Isaac's doorstep AGAIN. The generosity of these people knows no bounds.

Between us all we manage to unload the ute (pick up), we get ourselves organised and then join the family for dinner, drinks and a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng chat. Once again we fall into bed exhausted.

The following day, Skill diagnoses the problem being the “stator” (ie; part of the alternator – tests indicated it was open circuit with zero voltage being produced – you can tell Skill wrote that). Skill then removes the engine case complete with stuffed stator assembly. It is then off to Cory's auto-electrician in the Cancha (walled Market Area). On first impression, the electrical shop doesn't inspire confidence wedged between junk shops with fruit sellers lining the street outside, the shop is a roller-door wide and about the same depth with one work bench about the size of a kitchen table and junk stacked everywhere. Cory discusses the problem with the electrician and apparently Skill didn't understand a word of the technical discussion in Spanish. The electrician uses his meters to check the stator and comes to the same conclusion as Skill – the stator needs repair/rewiring and then immediately points to at least one of the burnt through wires. Yes he can rewind the stator, but it will take a few days. Cory assures us he is very good, so we agree the price and leave the stator with him.

As it is now Thursday and the stator won't be ready until Tuesday, we try and make ourselves useful around the house and in the bike workshop, I am not sure how successful we are but at least we are doing something. Skill does the mowing and strimming (whipper-snipping) and helps with some oil changes, tyre and wheel bearing changes on some of Cory's bikes.

On Sunday morning Paola and I venture out to the Cancha to do the monthly shop. For Paola it is hard work but I have a ball, it is such an eye opener and sure beats a day at “The Plaza” - our sanitised shopping mall at home. We buy heaps of fresh fruit and veges, the most amazing variety of lentils, quinoa, and rice. Then it is off to get some materials, plates and bowls, some new legins before we buy a new stool and lastly 10 kgs of potatoes. Exhausted by our shopping and lugging expedition we opt for a sugary black nescafe in the bowels of the cancha. For some reason, it is a pinch me, I can't believe I am here moment. The hardest part of our expedition is driving home, the streets around the cancha are packed with people, animals vendors, buses, taxis and traffic, to be honest I don't know how Paola negotiated it.

On Tuesday morning Skill and Cory are off on a round of jobs including picking up our repaired stator, parts for Cory's motorcycles, much stronger wire to repair Cory's tailgate wire that our bike broke and also the 2 ducklings that are to spend the school holidays at the Rowden household.

The last week passes in a blurr, once again we enjoy being in a family environment, however we are very aware that time is ticking away on our visa, we only have 19 days left. Once we have the newly rewound stator in our hot little hands, Skill reinstalls it and we hold our breathe, everything seems to go back together well and the bike is again charging as it should and all electrical readings are within specifications.

The following day we decide to take the bike for a test run, we are invited to Nathan and Kate Spies for Lunch (good friends of Cory and Paolas and our Lake friends from our last trip to Cochabamba) we ride the bike over to their place, enjoy a lovely afternoon with this great family before we say goodbye and take the bike for a bit more of a run. Everything seems to be working as it should. Later that afternoon we do a big pack up and get ourselves organised to leave next morning.

We don't get away early (so what's new), Cory helps us refuel by jerry can and we fill our trusty extra bottle at their local gasoline station, it is then more sad goodbyes and finally we can leave this poor family in peace. We have to say it, if it were not for their kindness to virtual strangers, we would probably still be scratching our heads wondering what to do. Once again they welcomed us into their home and Cory's knowledge of local motorcycle mechanics and electricians was amazing, and we just could not have done it without his help with translations. We cannot thank them enough. For more information about Cory and Paola's Bolivian motorcycle touring and hire business check out www.boliviabound.net

As we get away late and we take it easy on the road (which we are riding/driving for the fourth time) we arrive in Oruro around 2.30pm. We decide it is too late to push on to Potosi so we go back to the same hotel for the 3rd time. Once again we unpack, lug everything up to the top floor and just about die of breathlessness. Skill spends an hour going over the bike making sure it is all still ok and then begins the hunt for fuel, he walks to a couple of gasoline stations where he is again refused fuel. Feeling slightly fed up, he opts for a shower, beer, chicken and chips, with a scotch chaser. We wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Well tomorrow brings the great Bolivian hunt for fuel AGAIN, we have to try five service stations before we find one that will fill the bike and our bottle even at the foreigner price. Finally we can set off and enjoy the ride to Potosi and even manage to find another service station to refuel our bottle. Once in Potosi we get lost again, this is the 3rd time we have ridden through this city with no signs and the 3rd time we have ended up lost, it's just a maze. We end up on what we believe is one of the main roads out of town which deteriorates into a very steep single-lane rock strewn dirt 4WD track running along side a new under-construction concrete road with about half a metre lip. We can see the T-intersection with the road we want to Tupiza, but with a traffic jam of cars and vans in front all stuck on this steep rock strewn track, we cannot move. I eventually move some rocks and concrete to build a ramp and Skill artfully jumps the bike up onto the concrete road and we ride past the vehicles trying to free themselves, yeah!! So this is apparently one of the main roads through Potosi! We are finally on the highway out of town but not before dodging a few on-coming trucks doing crazy overtaking manoeuvrers. Life is never dull in Bolivia.

By this time it is quite late but we are happy to push on to Tupiza, it is a beautiful ride and thankfully we manage to dodge another police radar, luckily there was a speeding taxi in front of us and we also find a service station that will sell us some fuel! Amazing!

We arrive in Tupiza just on dark, after nine hours on the bike, find the Hotel Mitru as we know it has easy parking. We are unpacked, showered and out to dinner by 7.00pm. However after waiting an hour and a half for a pizza, we cut our losses, leave and go to another establishment. Bed was very welcome that night.

Today was our last day in Bolivia, we used up as many bolivianos as we could and changed the rest to US dollars, it was then a lovely 90 km ride to the border. For some reason it was a remarkably easy border crossing this time, the Argentinian Aduana guys were so helpful. One young man spoke great English and was a Wallabies Rugby fan. He helped smooth our way and did a very cursory glance over the bike. We had been warned that coming from Boliva they sometimes take everything off to check for drugs. However once he discovered our left over pizza in the topbox and I had offered him some, (he declined and explained that they had an asado on the go at the back of the Aduana offices – you got to love Argentina) he wasn't that interested in checking anything else.


P1020539.jpg
We cross back into Argentina and look it's only 5121 km back to Ushuaia!

As we are quite early we refuel (hooray we can easily buy fuel again in Argentina, but you do have to queue for it!) and decide to push on to Purmamarka, it is an absolutely beautiful 250 km ride through the most stunning mountainous countryside, we stop roadside near this Gaucho Gil roadside shrine for our leftover pizza lunch,


P1020541.jpg
Gaucho Gil (See footnote)


before reaching Purmamarka where we find the town packed and accommodation prices double what we paid last time we were here a couple of months ago. Apparently it is Argentinian school holidays and there is a festival of some sort in progress. We decide to backtrack the 20 kms to Tilcara where we eventually find the lovely Waira hostel and camp ground. It is dinner, bed and a deep wonderful 12 hour sleep.

While we have loved Bolivia, it's natural beauty, it's sites and people, and we treasure the new friends we have made here, the fuel saga is really starting to become a major headache and pain-in-the-a***, at least it is for us.

When we started our tour around Bolivia over 3 months ago we had the occasional service station refuse to fill our five litre bottle but as time has progressed more and more service stations are refusing to fill the five litre bottle and trying to get the bike filled is a nightmare even at the foreigner price, there is no negotiation, it is just a straight out NO, it doesn't seem to matter how much money you offer them. On average we will be refused 3 to 4 times before we will find a service station that will serve us fuel. And while you can sometimes pay off a hapless taxi driver, or fellow motorist or find black market fuel, it really has become a painful exercise, adding at least an extra hour and a half or more to the daily journey, not to mention the niggling worry of running out of fuel.

We were hoping to leave Bolivia via Tarija but decided to cut our losses and leave by the shortest route, Tupiza. It is a shame that Bolivia government has made such a mountain out of a molehill. Even the blockades are not as frustrating as the fuel situation. It borders on the ridiculous. There is just no consistency of rules or their implementation.

In fact the last few overlanders in vehicles we have met have bought black market fake Bolivian number plates just to get around the fuel problem.

We really hope that the fuel issue for foreign, independent travellers gets sorted out as it is the one thing that seriously detracts from adventure travel in this amazingly beautiful country. Other than the fuel issue, Bolivia is really worth the effort. You really HAVE to see this spectacular country

Cheers,
John and Lan

Footnote:
All through Argentina, you will see red shrines of all shapes and sizes or red flags on the roadsides. They are everywhere. These are affectionate shrines to Gaucho Gil. Apparently Gaucho Gil is not an official saint in the church, he is a “pseudo saint” who is much revered throughout the country. There are many mysteries surrounding this man, fact and fiction have become blurred, however, it is known his name was Antonio Mamerto Gil Nuñez, he was born in the 1840's and died on January 8, 1878.

Apparently he was a deserter from the Argentine military who evaded capture for many years. During that time, he became the "Robin Hood" of Argentina, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

When he was eventually captured and sentenced to death, he was strung up from a tree. As the executioner was preparing to behead him, Gaucho's final words were "Don't kill me - my pardon is coming. If you do kill me, your son will be stricken with a deadly illness, and the only way to save him will be to give my body a proper burial."

The executioner obviously proceeded with his task, but when he arrived home he discovered that his son was dying. He returned to the site of the execution and buried Gaucho's body. His son was miraculously cured and so a legend was born.
Now, the superstitious Argentinians have built shrines throughout the country to celebrate the memory of Gaucho Gil. It is also where they bring offerings in the hope that their prayers will be answered.

Posted by John Skillington at 04:03 PM GMT
 



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