November 09, 2006 GMT
On to Cuzco

While I was in Huaraz, I met a German/Swiss couple, Horst and Ruth, Who were staying at the same hotel I was. There were celebrating the 20,000th kilometer of their bicycle trip. That's right, bicycle. They have been on the road for 15 months or something like that, starting in Canada, and are now in central Peru. Makes me feel pretty wimpy, doing all this motorcycle riding. A day later, we were joined by their German friend Annette, who they had met in Panama. Annete was riding the length of the Americas as well, having not gotten enough riding to satisfy herself on her trip cycling Africa from the Cape to the Mediterranean. These people have more patience than I do, although I do understand the appeal, having once done a 500+ mile ride back in Wisconsin once. Anyway, we all went to dinner at a place I had found a couple days before, Chili Heaven, run by a British guy, Simon, who had motorcycled Africa and the Americas. Simon has a KTM 950, and has a 990 on order from the KTM dealer in Lima. Funny how you run into people like this.

When I finally left Huaraz, I started up a gravel road towards Huanuco, intending to kind of take the back way to Cuzco. I started out easy enough, on a graded gravel road, in cool temperatures. After 20 miles or so, the road climbed into the clouds, and it began raining. Soon after, the road turned to dirt, and climbed over a pass and it started sleeting and snowing, and the mud had a little crust of ice on it. Mind you, this is at about 10 degrees south latitude, way inside the topics. After descending somewhat, I went back up over a pass that was 4670 meters above sea level, that is 15,318 feet, according to Bill Gates' Windows calculator. That is the highest I have ever been, without help from an airplane. The KLR just kept chugging along, down on power and with noticeably less engine braking, but no real problems. This was one of those days where I was really glad I was on a motorcycle, as there is no way you would get to see this kind of remote country otherwise. I took a bunch of pictures, but landscape pictures are a little fustrating, as you only get a tunnel view through the camera, when it is all around you in real life. Soon after the econd pass, I intersected with a paved road and had a decision to make. Turn left, and it would be 3 more days of this kind of thing, through the mountains, with lousy maps. Turn right, and in 3 hours I could be back at sea level on the PanAm. I hate to admit it, but I turned right. As remote as the country I was travelling through was, I just felt I couldn't take the chance on doing it alone. I had seen a couple of sheep herders, but no other traffic on the road, and in the sleet and ice thought, better to live to ride another day. My main concern was getting lost though. Maybe next time, with some more preparation and better maps. Anybody want to fly to Lima, rent bikes and explore the Huaraz area for a couple weeks? In a couple years when my wallet recovers.

From 15,000 feet, down to sea level is a long way. You just descend and descend, it doesn't seem like you should be able to go downhill that long. I made me think of my cycling friends making that climb, when they came up from Trujillo. Soon I was down at the coast again. It was still quite cold, which has surprised me about the coast of Peru. The cold Humboldt current comes up the west coast of South America from Antarctica, and dominates the weather, creating the coastal deserts here. The next day, I just rode, for the most part, except I did stop to check out some sand dunes west of the highway.

About the time I was thinking about stopping for the night, the speedometer on the bike quit working. That may not sound like a big deal, since no one pays any attetion to speed limits anyway, but the odometer is a crucial piece of equipment in remote areas, as that is your gas gauge. I was in Ica when this happened, so I got a room in a hotel near a motorcycle shop. After a little disassembly, I found that the worm gear in the speedo drive had seized. Something had to give when that happened, and luckily it was a washer with internal and external tangs to drive the gearset. I was able to get the worm gear freed up and lubed over at the motorcycle shop, and hammered and filed the drive washer until it looked more or less like it was supposed to. It's not perfect, but it worked fine for 120 miles today, so with luck it will keep working. I'll look at it again when I change tires in a couple thousand more miles. I think all the water crossings this bike has done washed the lube out of the speedo drive. Now let's hope the wheel bearings make it.

After Ica, it was a fairly short ride to Nazca the next day. Nazca's tourism business is built around the famous Nazca lines. Nobody knows why these were built, and the fact that they can only be seen properly from the air has fueled all kinds of speculation that they were built to signal aliens and who knows what all. On the highway going into town there is a tower built for looking at a couple of the figures, so I climbed up that. I was interested enough that when I got to town, I looked into an airplane trip to see the lines. For $50 you can go up in a 4 seat plane for 40 minutes or so and loook at the lines. It was me and a British couple on my flight, plus the pilot. We went early in the morning, when the winds were lightest, but wind was the least of our worries. The pilot banked the plane to where it felt like we were vertical in both directions to get the best views out the windows. This was the closest I have been to acrobatic manuevers in a plane yet. I kept an eye on the airspeed indicator when we did climbs and banks, but the pilot was really good and didn't scare me at all. The British woman did hurl into the plastic bag thoughtfully provided by the pilot, and I felt queasy a time or two myself, but it was worth it for the ride. As for the lines, they were OK, but didn't blow my socks off or anything. I don't think it is that big a mystery, leisure time + creative energy = art. If you have a desert to work with, that is what you use. But it was a cool flight anyway.

From Nazca, I rode towards Cuzco, over a couple of big passes, and across a high plain that has to be over 4,000 meters. There were a couple of lakes up here with pink Flamingoes on them, and a lot of Vicunas, a deer like critter. There were enough of them that you had to keep a sharp eye out, as they would run across the road, and it would not be fun to hit one. Most of this trip, I have only had to worry about livestock on the road, not wild animals, so I had to realign my thinking as if I was in west Texas, or northern Wisconsin. This was a really pretty ride on good asphalt most of the way. It was cold, being at such altitude, and for the last two hours it rained. I pulled into Cuzco cold and wet, but found a place to stay near the center of town with good parking for the bike. That's where I am now, in Cuzco. I signed up for a 2 day trip to Machu Pichu from here. I was going to do the full 4 day hike up the Inca trail, but it has rained so much, I just don't feel like walking in the rain for 4 days, so I am taking the easy way out and getting somehelp from a train. I will write more a bout Cuzco when I get back.

These 3 pictures were taken on a very remote road, east of Huaraz, Peru. Naturally, photos don˝t do justice to the scenery.

This is the famous ─stronautĘfigure at the Nazca Lines.

Mummified remains of some pre Inca people at a cemetery near Nazca. There was a whole cemetery on display like this.

Posted by Andy Tiegs at November 09, 2006 07:32 PM GMT

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