We write on 2014-05-30:
We are presently in Copacabana, Bolivia which is just over the border from Peru. This is the real Copacabana – the beach in Brazil, which has a famous song written about it, borrowed its name from this picturesque pueblo on the shores of the grand Lake Titicaca.
We arrived at Hostel Suma Sumawi yesterday afternoon. We are presently enjoying a couple of cervezas just a stones throw from the blue waters of Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. While Copacabana does have a “gringo alley”, we are basically by ourselves here being the only guests (off season?) with an occasional visit by some dogs, or passer-bys, but we both agree that the gentle waves of Titicaca with the cool breeze and warm sun is reminiscent of “cottage country” back home. The price is right too, at USD$4 a night, one might expect a much higher price for this ambiance, but being a moderate walk outside of town, we don’t have to share our beachfront (too cold to swim!) with those opting to stay right inside of town.
Admittedly, the digs are not perfect. No locks on the room. Electrically heated showers, well, don’t seem to heat. Electrical socket is a bit dodgy, and the room is a bit cool at night – but we have decent sleeping bags so we slept very comfortably. And oh yes, the “manager” brought Jenn a little welcome gift last night – a toilet seat.
All things said and done, it is a decent enough place and, while it is a bit of a walk for food (but not beer), it is certainly convenient for overlanders with ample parking and tent sites. While we aren’t going to be stupid about things, we aren’t too concerned about things going missing – unless one of the cats decides to use said thing as a play toy.
One of the main attractions here is the Isla del Sol but we are going to pass on it. We don’t really feel like spending 4 hours round trip on a boat to be ushered around for brief looks at various ruins. We wonder if those who offer such trips, such as our hostel host, are surprised when people pass up the main attractions in the area? We, however, just want to take it easy right now, get some handwash laundry done, enjoy the peace and quiet (!), take care of some internet-ing and do some planning.
We crossed the border from Peru to Bolivia yesterday and it was probably the easiest one to date. This is in distinct juxtaposition to that of, say, Costa Rica to Panama (uggh). While we did have to wait a little while since we arrived at the Bolivian customs during lunch hour, the process took under an hour if we subtract the minor wait. No fuss. No muss. No money spent except of a couple of photocopies. Ten minutes later we were in Copacabana.
Prior to Copacabana, we stayed in Puno, Peru. We expected this to be a quick stop over but were pleasantly surprised (relatively speaking) and stayed for a day including taking a boat tour of the Uros islands which are made from totora reeds.
With Adam having briefly visited Puno four years ago, but deciding not to stay, it was a pleasant surprise to both of us. From the outskirts, Puno looks dingy, very brown and most of its building are not finished. A common feature in Peru is to not “finish” your building thus reportedly not having to pay taxes, but Puno seemed to be far worse than most other places and almost all buildings displayed a “birds nest” of steel rebar sticking out of the top. This time, however, we came prepared with several hostel locations, including one which was reported on another motorcycle traveller’s blog as accepting bikes.
Without much fanfare we found the central “Plaza de Armas” and then the Tumi Inn. We removed our luggage, and wheeled our bikes into the lobby and were provided with a room close by, rather than the original one we were shown, which was upstairs. We found the place to be pretty comfortable, had decent hot water (mostly) and periods of decent internet – oh, and free coca tea in the lobby which reportedly helps with the altitude.
Upon arrival, we realized that we were out for our walk well before sundown. This is not normal for us. And this is in despite of the fact that we spent some time jumping Adam’s bike that morning having failed to “bump start” it down the big hill from Leo’s (note: Garmin Montana GPS draws current when in mount despite being off, Zumo 550 does not) as well as riding some 400km over the Peruvian Altoplano.
We found a very decent bakery (for later) and found ourselves eating quite good “promotional” pizza. (Note to the service industry of Peru: please do not act surprised when we customers walk in an order your “special”, as posted on your window, and turn away your more expensive menu items). While this seems to be a common theme for Peru, upon further inspection, every other person in the room had order the very affordable “personal” pizza, so it seems that, again, it is as if we are viewed with a $-sign tattoo smack dab on the middle of our foreheads, as we didn’t see the waitress trying to “up sell” the other guests. Ah well.
Despite the above statement, both of us felt rather relieved to be in Puno. It is not that we didn’t enjoy Cusco, our prior stop, but the amount of pushy people pushing their goods and services becomes tiring very quickly. More on this later.
The morning following our arrival, we had a nice coffee and what we know as quiche at a local bakery and headed down to shore of Lake Titicaca. The shoreline was interesting in that many ducks could be seen paddling around in the thick, green algae which covered much of the shore line. Along with various clown and duck face novelty pedal boats, it was almost reminiscent of “mini-put” golf. Just lots of green, but the ducks don’t seem to mind it. The only really negative here, is again, Peru’s garbage problem. There are simply too many plastic bottles floating around. That said, also to be seen were many “tourist” boats amongst slender, put prevalent reeds. Our main interest in coming down to the harbour was to jump on a quick tour out to the Islas del Uros.
The Uros are a people who have been living for centuries on “artificial” islands made from totora reeds. While we were initial a little skeptical (so many tourist traps, too little time), it was one of the most interesting things we have seen to date. For a nominal fee of S/10 for the boat ride plus S/5 for and entry fee (plus a surprise S/7 late for an additional “ferry”), we boarding a small ferry and headed out to Titicaca (Approx 2.5:1 Soles to USD). Shortly enough we found ourselves passing through areas which almost reminded us of rocky areas found amongst the lakes of Ontario, and eventually we found ourselves passing through a corridor in the reeds amongst blue billed ducks and various other birds. In the distance we could make out what seemed to rows of small shacks and before long we found ourselves passing various building structures made from reeds.
In short order, we were “docked” against a floating mat of reeds with various colourfully dressed women welcoming us. Surely they do this day in and day out, but it only felt half contrived. Realistically, we were doing “tourist things” so the authenticity of the little adventure would be somewhat “watered down”. We debarked, cautiously creeped around on the reed surface as it sunk under foot – a very weird sensation – and sat on what could almost be logs around a campfire made of bundled reads. (Believe us when we say – no campfires allowed!). One of the guys from the boat, while seemingly the captain’s apprentice, was also the tour guide, but only in Spanish. With the help of some “props” he started to give an explanation of this strange totora reed town. What we all sat around resembled a rectangular bale of hay back home (with a bit of rot on the bottom), but was actually a piece of the artificially created island that we were siting on. Essentially, a base of reads is made and ten keep together with series of ropes and stakes and then further reeds placed on top in different direction to create sort of cross-hatched pattern to make to maintain its integrity. As the base decays in the water, more reeds are added. Reportedly, the Uros people who are accepting tourists, are finding it harder and harder to find the time to keep their islands in good repair as apparently the task is on-going.
The guide went further on to explain that the “islands” were somewhat portable. Apparently the island’s existence relates to the Uros people hiding out from the ruling Incas in times long past. Using one of the props, a rusty hand saw, our guide also made an attempt at cracking some humour. Apparently if you have a row with your neighbours, or generally find them annoying, you can simply whip out as saw and de-neighbour yourself. And they say “tall fences make good neighbours”. Our would-be stand-up comedian also made a crack pertaining to geo-politics with something to the effect of how it is important to keep your island stake to the lake floor less you might find yourself requiring a Bolivian passport. Bolivia shares approximately half of Lake Titicaca with Peru, and yes, landlocked Bolivia does have a naval force.
The tour went on to be divided into groups and we were invited into a woman’s house. It was constructed of reeds, and being about 9×9 feet, it housed herself, her husband and four kids. Some bathrooms in Canada are the same size. It seems that this visit was mostly so that she could hock her crafts, but this largely seemed fair, all things concerned. Jenn ended up picking up an alpaca wool hat. We agree that we feel better about buying it from her, rather than one of the many tourist stalls since it was hand made by her and the money would go right back to her family.
This particular island wasn’t particularly large – think a suburban backyard back home – and we soon found ourselves paying S/7 for a 5 minute ride on a ride a reed boat pushed by a motor boat over to the “capital island”. This island was somewhat bigger and contained bathrooms (we couldn’t figure out were the pipes coming from the toilets led but it didn’t seem to smell), a couple of restaurants, what seemed to be a very small fish hatchery, and some plots were chickens were being raised. We had a good look around, passed up various offers for trout based meals and drank a couple of carbonated beverages making sure we packed the bottles out with us. The whole experience was hard to explain in that, by the end of it, we were sitting in a small restaurant commenting how we had almost forgotten that we were essentially sitting on what is almost a very large hay bale floating in Titicaca.
Eventually it was time to leave and once the guys got the boat working again, we were off back through the reed channels and back to the mainland. We had a quick look around a market, passed up some food stalls with where various woman literately sounded like seagulls trying to persuade people to come in to their stalls, and eventually sat down for one of the worst meals of our trips so far – some really poor Chifa.
Some time later we decided to compensate our terrible lunch with some very nice cakes and cappuccinos for our dinner. While we had previously been led to believe that Colombia was the pastry and bakery capital of South America, Peru has really given Colombia a run for its money. Peru may well have come out the leader as far as baked good are concerned. In either case, the cakes of Peru and Colombia are much, much more impressive looking (sorry, we haven’t tasted them all) than those back home, and frankly, Canadian bakers have some homework to do.
Prior to Puno, we spent a good amount of time in and around Cusco, the capital of the Incan world. We arrived in Cusco on a sunny afternoon under “heavy traffic”. The fun of driving in Cusco was emphasized by road closures, and narrow one-way streets, as well as being constructed out of cobblestones, and on steep hillsides. Even though we had the address of our gracious host, Leo, we had a bit of trouble finding his office, and so we had to make a phone call from the Plaza de Armas to request that he come to meet us.
Soon after Adam placed the call, a well-dressed Leo, came dashing across the plaza, suit jacket blowing in the breeze, to greet us and give us directions to his place where we would be crashing for the duration of our stay in Cusco. We were a little surprised to see that there was no garage or pathway to an outside storage area, but we wheeled the bikes in through the front door and into Leo’s living room. Oddly enough they didn’t seem too out of place in his bachelor pad. Our steeds found their temporary home next to Leo’s Kawasaki KLR650 “C” model in what might be a dining room if not occupied by motorcycles.
As per usual, we had arrived at our destination without food in our bellies. Fortunately there were a lot of options for food. Unfortunately we were soon to discover that the prices at most places were jacked through the roof in order to bleed the most tourist money from the pockets of gringos, as possible. We also were unable to walk down the street without being harassed by every single vendor who wanted to sell us souvenirs, massages, invite us into their restaurant, or pose for a photo with a baby llama for a cost. Their relentlessness quickly became tiresome. Really.
Walking around the city, it was quite the place with amazing architecture. Many of the current buildings had been built on Inca rock foundations, and even the churches had been constructed from stones pilfered by the Spanish from Incan structures. It was a very beautiful city, although much like Costa Rica, Cusco had jumped on the tourist band wagon, and everything had a cost attached to it. It wasn’t even possible to visit the main cathedrals in the square, just of a couple of photos, without paying a relatively steep admission fee.
One of the main reasons for visiting Cusco was to make the “trek” to Machu Picchu, a place that Jenn had wanted to visit for many years. Adam had visited it in 2010. A visit to Machu Picchu entails either taking a train or walking as there are no roads that go all the way there. While many backpackers opt for the long trek through the “Inca Trail” starting from Ollantaybambo, the more common way to get to Machu Picchu is to take a train either from Ollantaybambo (shorter), or Cusco (longer), to Aguas Calientes (now called Machu Picchu Pueblo) and then take a short, but relatively expensive, bus ride up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.
The train to Aguas Calientes is very expensive for what it is and fortunately (there are caveats here), the “budget traveller” can opt for to get to Aguas Calientes by a different means. This involves taking a long bus ride (or your own transportation) to the “back door” of Machu Picchu, which is an area known as Hidro-Electrica which is basically a hydro electric and mining compound. From here you then walk 2-3 hours along some railway tracks to Aguas Calientes and then the remaining process of getting to Machu Picchu is the same as if you took the train.
We ended up choosing a budget tour package for USD$125/pp which included transportation, two nights in Aguas Calientes, entry to Machu Picchu, but not the bus from AC to MP. We did not opt to take our bikes via the back route as Adam was fighting a persistent head cold (this started in Nazca and remnants exist as of writing), and Jenn was a little leery about the “death road” (single lane, steep gorges) portion of the journey although it would have been a nice ride. We suspect that our budget trip was about half of the cost of the train option and we may well have paid more if we tried to do this a-la-carte in terms of transportation, hostels, etc.
And so on the day of our tour we were up bright and early and headed out to meet our bus. We were the last passengers to be picked up out of fifteen, and shuffled our way onto the bus, which drove around the block and parked where we then proceeded to shuffle passengers around between other buses, for the next half hour. We couldn’t help but notice the difference in the tourist buses, and that we seemed to have been put on the ‘ghetto’ bus. Our hunch was correct (maybe the “for sale” sign should have tipped us off), as two and half hours into our drive the bus broke down due to a seizure of a brake caliper, yup, we are going to need that, especially on the “death road” section. Our driver didn’t have a cell phone, so we were lucky that another tour bus pulled over so that our driver could make a call and organize a replacement. We were told that we would be waiting “20 minutes” for a replacement which we knew to be laughable. Two and a half hours later, the replacement came, and relatively speaking, it was a step up in terms of comfort compared to the original bus.
Fortunately, the day was nice and sunny, and the spot where we broke down, although it appeared to frequently be used as a toilet pit-stop by the amount of toilet paper strewn about, was quite picturesque with snow-covered mountains in the distance.
Once the replacement bus showed up we all piled on and were back on our way. At 5:15pm we rolled into Santa Theresa for lunch. Better late than never, although the matron of the restaurant didn’t seem to be too happy to be preparing lunch so late for 15 bus passengers. Despite that, she managed to whip up a shriveled burger patty (“he shoots, he scores…”, some rice, and salad to feed us starving touristas, and we were back on the road. Our “orientation” with respects of, oh any details concerning our tour, was supposed to take place at this time. It didn’t.
After “lunch”, we headed off to the “death road” section of the road. We use the term “road” here quite loosely, since the pavement ended in Santa Maria, which is before Santa Teresa, and what we were travelling on was a dirt and gravel single-lane that clung desperately to the side of the mountains with sheer drop-offs of hundreds of meters down to a raging river. At times we bounced across slick water crossings from mountain run-off, and where it was too deep there were rickety uneven wooden bridges that we somehow managed to drive over without toppling down the mountainside.
From time to time we would come face-to-face with an oncoming vehicle and one of us would have to back up until there was a bit of space to inch over to let the other one pass. (Would it have been safer to just have taken our motorcycles?) While we were waiting at a roadblock for a large piece of hydro equipment to maneuver its way up a particularly tight switchback, one of the Brits on the bus dubbed our journey “Cheap Bastard Tours”, as he stared down a steep crevasse, in light of the condition of the road and the fact that our driver was rocketing along in an effort to make up time. It is a name that stuck as the tour continued.
Just when we though the end was in sight, we heard a pop and a hissing sound, and sure enough, the bus had suffered a blow-out in one of the rear tires. Thankfully there was a spare (note that we did not see a spare in the original bus when we were poking around at the brake problem), and it was even inflated, and the driver was able to change the tire out in about 15 minutes. Adam is pretty sure that he found the culprit which was an almost arrow head shaped piece of gravel sticking up right on the tight track. As darkness fell, we reached Hidro-electrica, our destination for the motorized portion of our trip. We all (or most) knew that we would be partaking in a 2-3 hour hike along the rail tracks into Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo, but none of us though that we would be doing it all in the dark.
With some vague hand gestures that doubled for directions, we set off into the night along the tracks that would lead us to the town. Our trek also involved hiking up a steep jungle hill and one wrong turn, but thankfully we had enough flashlights (and Android phones with “the Torch app”) to be able to see hazards along the way, namely numerous train bridges that crossed rocky river crossings. We were somewhat surprised that the driver seemed unconcerned that he was sending a bunch of tourists off into the dark without even asking if we had lights, as doing the walk completely in the dark would have been quite challenging and would have probably resulted in a few injuries. On second thought, it would probably be impassable and outright dangerous.
If one thing was evident, our cheapness really brought us together. As a group, there wasn’t a lot of common language being spoken (English, Spanish, German), but we managed to help each other out so that we all got there in one piece. While the rest of the landscape was shrouded in dark, the stars were quite amazing, filling the sky. Since we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there wasn’t any light pollution to drown them out, and we even got to see the Southern Cross. Beautiful.
Some of the main obstacles include bridges, including a rather large metal bridge which Adam volunteered to lead the crossing which included some minor heart palpitations as the metal below foot creaked, banged and buckled. And of course, one of the small rail maintenance vehicles stealthily gave us small heart attacks during the process. Luckily all the rail dogs were friendly and we didn’t run into any snakes. We don’t know if snakes are present, but come on, this is jungle.
About halfway through the walk, we were teasing a slender dreadlocked British fellow about whether his suitcase was actually a mini-martini bar with shaker and all. We guess that poor old Craig wasn’t informed that the Cheap Bastards tour involved a sizable walk as he was sporting a full backpack and a carry-on suitcase – ouch.
Finally, we hobbled into town like a bunch of zombies coming out of the night, and into Aguas Calientes. Without much direction, we think only one of the girls in our group was told to meet at the central square, we ambled into the middle of town where we stood looking quite lost. We had no names, no contacts (except the cell number of the woman who sold us the tour), and no idea where we were staying. It wasn’t long before a small Peruvian man approached us and started dividing up the group. Despite us all being on the same bus, we had all booked with different tour operators, and would all be staying at different hostels.
Our Hostal – Hostal Sayacmarca – was conveniently located near the central square, and the river. We didn’t mind staying in the basic hostel as the room was adequate enough for a few nights, however the attitude of the staff was off-putting and rude. When we entered the room we found no towels, soap, or toilet paper. After a long walk through the dark, a bathroom break was in dire need. We were given (i.e. reluctantly and almost thrown) towels and soap, but were informed that there was no toilet paper nor would there be none provided. We suppose that we should have been thankful enough that there was a toilet seat. So, out we went to buy toilet paper which could be had just down the street. Apparently our Cheap Bastards tour hooked us up with a Cheap (and lazy) Bastard hostel. And Lazy Sayacmarca who couldn’t be bothered to go four doors for TP.
Dinner was included in our C.B. Tour, so we rallied with a few others from our hostel at a restaurant across the street for food and information about what to expect for Machu Picchu the following morning. It was almost 10pm by the time we ate dinner, and we would have to be up at 5am the next morning to meet our guide with our tickets. Needless to say, it was not as early a night as we would have liked (Adam was really, really hoping to get a good sleep to help shake off his cold), but it was off to bed shortly after returning to the room, and after a quick shower with a bathroom, which was host to a handful of slugs.
Morning came rather quickly and brought with it the sound of pouring rain. Perfect. A day at Machu Picchu in the pouring rain. But up we got, and after some initial confusion about meeting our guide, we boarded the bus (USD$19 each/return) and began the 20 minute drive up the hill to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, this is what everyone else was doing and when we arrived at the main gates is was chaos and confusion as tourists scrambled to find their guides amongst large crowds of people waiting to get inside. The popular belief is to arrive early at the site to beat the crowds. The only real possible way of doing this is by either staying at the on-site uber-expensive hotel, or to get up really earlier and make the walk up thus beating the bus traffic. In hindsight, we should have ditched the guided component of the tour, gone on our own time, and even waited out the rain for day or two at an additional cost.
The rain continued despite our guide’s insistence that it would clear up if we thought positively. We had about half an hour of dry weather, at which point we were able to pull out the good camera and take a few shots before the rain started again, which relentlessly soaking us. On the bright side, we did get a good first hand demonstration of the amazing Incan irrigation system. We had a two hour guided tour of some of the highlights of Machu Picchu, and truthfully the stonework was quite a feat of engineering. Contrary to what some believe, Machu Picchu was not built by aliens (i.e. that Ancient Aliens show hosted by the guy who looks like an heirloom chicken), and all of their feats can be explained rationally. The cloudy weather made for some amazing vistas in the mountains, but did make it hard to see the full view of Machu Picchu.
Taking a break, we huddled with many other tourists underneath the sun umbrellas near the snack bar and enjoyed a $4 cup of moderately drinkable coffee in an effort to warm up. The rain did not stop, and eventually the wind picked up making things a bit chilly. We decided that Jenn’s Machu Picchu dream, that being taking photos of wonderful mountainous backdrops, wasn’t going to happen and we headed for the bus. Apparently everyone else had had the same idea and we spent the next 45 minutes waiting in line to board a bus to take us back down to town.
In Jenn’s words: “Machu Picchu was bit of a disappointment. I don’t blame the Peruvians for profiting off of their cultural heritage but it was a bit ridiculous. It was very crowded with long line-ups, and at times it was difficult to hear our guide over the other guides who were leading other tours nearby. Security guards enforcing rules at the strangest times (i.e. going against the wooden arrow signs in flat parts but not batting an eye at people descending steep stairs in the rain in the wrong direction which could lead to dangerous falls). Large price tags on food and drinks. It all seemed at bit circus-like. I was hoping for a mystical experience, but it was more like a Disney experience. I am happy that I went, but probably wouldn’t go again.”
Back at Aguas Calientes we went off in search of hot beverages and soup to warm us up – which we found away from the main strip – followed by a hot shower and straight into bed for a nap (and to warm up since almost all of our clothes were wet). We later had to dawn our wet clothes and in search of dinner food. While Aguas Calientes is not without its charm, and has certain beauty amongst its mountainous backdrop, the tourist component of it is as bad, or worse than the historical center of Cusco. While there are some variants, including boutique and expensive bars, most of the food options are “cookie cutter” and the wait staff are uber-“in your face”. We spent a bit of time theorizing as to how so many restaurants can offer the same thing (and stay in business?). The most likely hypothesis is that as soon as one restaurant decides to differentiate itself from the other by offering a “unique” item, the whole row pilfers the idea – and so the process goes endlessly repeating itself. How else can any restaurant specialize on 20 to 30 items? That said, dinner was had for sustenance and was nothing special – surprise, surprise.
The following morning we were abruptly disturbed by a “nicky nicky nine door” wake-up call at 8:20am. Signs all around the hostel stated that check-out was at 9am, and we have never stayed anywhere that felt it necessary to bang on their guests’ doors 40 minutes before check out to make sure that they were awake and getting ready to leave. Ten minutes later there was a second banging on the door, as the cleaning woman urgently yelled that she needed to clean the floors and make up the room. Jenn opened the door to tell her that she could clean the room at nine after we had checked out, pointing to the sign on the wall, just in case she had missed it. She seemed confused.
After breakfast and a hot chocolate, we started our hike back to the Hidro-electrica to meet our bus. It was nice to see what we had previously missed in the dark – including a that rather tall steel bridge which would lead to instant death of one fell off – as we walked back along the tracks that ran alongside a picturesque river and through the mountains. It was a pleasant hike and one of the highlights of the entire tour. After two hours we reached the station, reunited with our group, and boarded the bus back to Cusco. Adam also “vetted” the parking location at Hidro-Electrica. Indeed, as the internet reports go, there is a guy who lives across the bridge close to the mine who will watch your 4×4 or motorcycle while you walk up to Aguas Calientes.
The scenery on the drive back was outstanding with cloudy vistas, sunsets over mountain tops, and snow covered mountainsides and the driver took the death road far more conservatively, even pulling over to take his cell phone calls. We eventually reached Cusco in the dark and the temperature difference between Cusco and that of Aguas Calientes was pronounced. At more than 1000 meters higher, Jenn couldn’t seem to warm up. No wonder souvenir stands selling sweaters, hats, and mittens are so popular.
We took the next day to sort out last minute (minor) souvenir shopping and errands with the expectation that we would be leaving the following day, Monday. To celebrate our last night in Cusco we went to Norton’s Pub, our adopted local bar, for a final pint. Norton’s is fairly well-known throughout the motorcycle travel community as a must-stop in Cusco. They serve Zenith beer on tap, a local brew featuring a Blonde, an America Pale Ale, a Brown Ale, and a Porter. And they are pretty good, too.
Norton Rat’s Pub was opened by ex-pat, Jeff Powers, who rode down on his Norton from Alaska and opened the bar. Sadly, Jeff passed away in a motorcycle accident in November of last year, but leaves behind a great place for people to congregate. There are two books full of signatures by motorcycle travellers from all over the world, some of whom we know personally (i.e. Tyson and Ted, and the Duvals), and some of whom have gained celebrity status in the community. It was great to read their stories, and to add our own alongside. Nortons, not surprisingly, was our meet up point when we again rain into our friends Sheldon and Ewa, new friends David and Sam, and backpacker Esteban from Chile heading to the World Cup.
While we were waiting for Leo to come and join us, Jenn started to feel a little nauseated, and head-achy. By the time Leo arrived, not even 15 minutes later, Jenn was having hot-cold flashes, and felt very dizzy. Before she knew it, she was melting to the floor in unconsciousness. She had fainted. Oddly enough, Jenn reports that she could still hear everything around her – people talking, background noises – and feel Adam and Leo holding her hands. She came to fairly quickly, to everyone’s relief, finding herself lying on the dirty bar floor. Eventually she was able to sit up, and later sit on a chair Jenn, having lost all colour in her face, was now officially the “milkiest” person that Leo had ever seen, and he took to calling her “lechera” for the rest of our stay.
Needless to say we didn’t leave the next day. We rested and eventually took a trip to a nearby clinic to get Jenn checked out. It was pretty nice clinic and we were able to talk with a doctor who spoke some English. She asked Jenn routine questions, took her heart rate, blood pressure, etc. They also performed an EKG to check her heart for anomalies. All tests came back normal, and it probably came down to a combination of dehydration, stress, and altitude. The doctor sent Jenn away with some prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds and muscle relaxants, and recommendations for drinking more water and relaxation . The drugs didn’t seem to be apropos given that we were getting on motorcycles. A side effect of the trip to the clinic is that we got to spend some time in Cusco outside of “tourist hell” and ate our breakfast/lunch at a “normal” eatery and did find reprieve with not being pestered.
We left Cusco the next day. Although it was quite the place, it was full to the brim with tourists. It was the most touristy place that we had been to in our seven months of travel, and was quite tiring to be around so much activity. So many people trying to sell just about anything that they could, from tours to hats to weed to massages. It was a constant barrage of sell, sell, sell, complete with inflated price tags. Restaurants would post specials on their exterior menu boards to lure customers inside, only to then be presented with menus that did not have the same prices or features.
People were constantly in our faces trying to sell every little trinket imaginable, without much recollection that we had just turned them down a few minutes ago. Even at the most inconvenient times there were people there ready to shine your shoes (Keens sandals? Converse?), or ask if you wanted to take their picture, or try to sell you a keychain even at the most inappropriate of times. They were relentless, and we were happy to leave that circus behind.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of all of this was the fact that we passing through the same areas, wearing the same things (day after day) and the same people were hocking the same wares or services to us time and time again. Adam eventually was even having some fun with them, including gesturing to give the “massage girl” a shoulder massage “si! only 20 Soles”, or playing with the Chola ladies who repeatedly requested to have their photos taken with their alpacas for nominal fee – he would put his arm around Jenn, put on a smile, and put his hand out saying “photo, photo, only 4 Soles”.
After 10 days it was time to move on. With no further fainting episodes, we packed up the bikes and headed to Puno, about 400 kilometers away towards the Bolivian border.
We would like to formally acknowledge and thank Leo his genoristy for having put us up for the duration of our stay. Leo literally gave us his bed (we moved it down stairs) and slept on a mattress on the floor upstairs.
Finally, we would like to call attention to the drivers of Peru. Not all of them, but enough to make an impression. At one point in time we thought that the drivers in Mexico were pretty bad. From our experience, they were. They were exceptional tail-gaters. Passing the torch to Colombia, riding in the Colombian Andes had more than its share of “special moments”. The clincher in Colombia is that while people are behave in homicidal ways, at some level it seems that it can be explained. For example, passing during blind corners is foolish and dangerous, not only to the driver but to others around. At some level though, the poor choices in judgement can almost be explained by the fact that if one is in a hurry, one might take chances when there are no safe alternatives, say, an hour at a time.
Peru, on the other hand, is an exception. Of course, it is a generalization, and perhaps it only takes “a few bad apples to spoil the lot” but riding a motorcycle in Peru takes enhanced focus and more care than other countries. The reason that we say this that we experienced more than a couple of drivers who displayed absolutely callousness in their driving habits with utter disrespect to others on the road. We are not talking about being rude, or slightly dangerous, but senseless actions which, without our own increased attention to the road and our own instigation of collision avoidance, could easily have led to our deaths. A specific repeated example is that when a driver decides to pass he or she will rarely reverse this decision.
We are not talking about, for example, a scenario were one transport truck is passing another and the action has gone beyond the point of no return. Or that the driver takes chance at an opportune time when few exist. We are talking about straight stretches of desert highway were one vehicle begins to pass the one in front of it, and one or both of us repeatedly flash our (bright) LED auxiliary lights to warn of the danger (as is common in Latin America), and then the encroaching vehicle will sometimes flash us back as if to “tell us off” and continue on in our lane ignore our flashing while we have already instigated “panic” braking and searching for a safe section of shoulder (if any) to scrub of some (meager) speed. We understand that Peruvians are not very accustomed to larger motorcycles and those that travel at highway speeds. That said, this statement is mostly true across Latin America in entirety. Yet, Peru is the only country in which we have repeatedly almost been unapologetically forced off of the road into a stretch of desert or into field solely because the driver seemingly “just didn’t care”.
From reading this, you might assume that the “average Peruvian” was super-impatient, high strung, and a heart attack in the making. The contradiction here is that, generally speaking, Peru has been one of the more laid back countries with regards to pleasantries in the street and obtaining services. For example, eating a meal in a Peruvian restaurant is more drawn out than most other countries we have visited and people just take their time. Yet, you then take the same person, even in the smallest of towns, and put them behind the wheel and the tailgating and honking involved would make the most time pressured businessman in Manhattan cringe. Perhaps Peruvians were never meant to drive. That is all we will say on the matter. Any foul language which might aptly have been present here has already been released in the privacy of our helmets.
Oh ya. Peru. You have a real garbage problem. You might want to clean up your act. You have delicious food, though. Perhaps the best of our trip so far.
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