Through the Andes, to Cusco

Leaving Arica, I passed through the Chile/Peru border post, which took quite some time due to lengthy queues, and stopped in the city of Moquegua for the night.  As it turned out, it was for 2 nights, as the hotel high on the hill above the city was extremely nice, and only US$28 per night, and with WiFi in the lounges and lobby, so I revelled in the luxury a day longer than I should have.  The bike was parked on the driveway outside reception, under the watchful eyes of the 24 hour gate guardians.

Off to the east, to the city of Cusco, stepping off point to the ruins of the famous Incan city of Machu Picchu. But it was a long way away from Moquegua, so I hit the road.  Desert, then desert mountains of rock, climbing and climbing to the altiplano, the plateau across the top.

I saw two altitude markers; the first at 4540 metres and the next at 4610 metres, so it was fairly high up and as a result it was lovely and cool, almost cold at times.  Again, it was glorious scenery, a spectacular new vista around every twisting corner.  With very little traffic, I didn't hesitate to stop on the road to take photos. 

And I saw my first solitary vicuna, one of the four camelid species native to the Andes.  The camelid family consists of:  the largest animals - llamas; almost as tall, the wild guancos I'd seen in Argentina and southern Chile and infrequently found this far north; then alpacas in all their colourings; and finally, the vicunas, a wild animal, and the smallest of the camelids, like the guancos in that they are not farmed as are the llamas and alpacas.

A good three hours to cross over the Andes to Desaguadeno, the border town where one can cross into Bolivia.  Bolivia was almost close enough to touch, but I resisted.  Needing fuel, I rode around looking for a service station.  Silly me!  They don't have service stations up here!  They have people clustered near the market area, with myriads of dirty 20 litre plastic drums containing fuel.

So I pulled up next to one chap, and asked for 3 gallons (yes, Peru uses gallons, for some reason).  He fiddled around, then came back with a drum, a long shaped funnel, and a clean cloth to put over the funnel as a filter. His young daughter came over, not at all shy as are most children here,and leaned on the bike seat, watching proceedings, so I reached into the tankbag for the camera.  She was delighted and grabbed repeatedly at the camera.  I calmed her down, took the photo, then showed her the result.  Many giggles emanated from her little mouth.  Probably the first time she'd seen a picture of herself, so I had to show it to all the bicycle "taxi" drivers who were nearby, and her mother sitting in their van out the back of the fuel stash. And I couldn't resist a photo of the refuelling process - I had to get a photo of this!

But time was passing, so I pushed on as far as the city of Puno, on Lake Titicaca, through which runs the border with Bolivia, stopping along the way at a roadside stall to buy some fruit for dinner. Chanced on a decent hotel on the main road, so checked in and had an early night.

On the road early, as I discovered that I'd somehow gained two hours, possibly Peru being 2 hours ahead of Chile, I now rode north along the shores of Lake Titicaca, seeing the famed reed islands, although I didn't do the "tourist thing" of going out onto them.  Next time, perhaps!

The city of Juliaca was huge, 350,000 people, a University city.  It took almost an hour to cross from the southern edge to the northern edge. It was market day, and the streets were clogged with people surrounding the many stalls selling all manner of goods; with bicycle taxis; with cars, and diesel trucks, all belching filthy, black, smelly fumes.

I was gagging a bit, with both the fumes and the lack of oxygen, and felt a bit light headed. On the outskirts of town, I almost got through a police check, then a young guy threw out his arm and pointed for me to stop. This I did, as he came up and said "licencia" amongst other things I couldn't understand, naturally. As he babbled on, I suddenly got the feeling - he was on the take, and kept saying he wanted a dollar for gasolina for his moto.  But this is a no-no, giving bribes like this, so I just didn't understand anything, did I??  But the time spent acting dumb was taking its toll on me, as it was quite hot, and I was sweltering standing there in my jacket, so that I started to feel as if I might faint from the heat. Luckily, he was giving in, realising he wasn't going to get his bribe from this silly foreigner who couldn't understand him, and reluctantly handed back my licence as I reached out for it. I was on the bike and gone, in a flash, back into the cooling breeze.

It was a rather appalling road through this section, extremely rough and full of potholes, so it was slow going.  In a tiny village, whose name I never learned, I noticed some interesting church spires, so pulled off the highway into the dirt streets, up to the town square and the church. Just my luck that the village market was outside the church, so after taking some photos of it, I wandered along the stalls, succumbing a little, buying a few items as gifts and an alpaca ear-muff hat for myself.

As it was hot, I was drinking a lot of water as I was riding, and had depleted my supply in the tank pannier bladder.  I tried to buy some in a tiny store in the village , but they only had "Con gas", not "Sin gas".  Con gas is "with gas", or soda water as we know it, whereas sin gas is "without gas", or normal bottled water.  So I had to go without, and kept riding through the heat.

But Cusco eventually appeared.  What a schmozzle it was, riding round and round, dodging the myriads of people, looking for a hotel or hostal with parking for the bike, made even more difficult by there generally being nowhere to park the bike, to go inside to enquire.  I gave up after an hour or so and several circuits of the Plaza de Armas, and headed south to the "expensive" hotels area, but again, nowhere to park the bike outside while enquiring, and when I finally did get parked, the hotels had nowhere to store the bike safely.  Apparently everyone flies into Cusco, when going up to Machu Picchu, therefore the hotels don't waste precious space on parking garages. I was even thinking of leaving town, so headed south again, and happened upon a hotel with a garage gate beside it.  Beauty!  On with the flashers this time as I pulled up outside on the main road, and into the hotel.  Yes they had a room (US$80. Yikes!!) and yes, they could store the bike undercover around the back.  So I rode around and into a SINGLE parking bay inside a locked rollerdoor. I wasn't worried about the hotel rate - I had a bed, and secure parking for the bike!