Snow, across the Andes

Heading west, I stopped after about 20km and refuelled, as I hadn't seen a servo close to the highway on the way out of Cusco. By this time, the road had become a series of twisting curves, a condition which was to remain for the next 700km!  It was cool - good riding conditions, and the miles passed quickly. It was up hill and down dale, continually.  Glorious scenery, although I didn't stop too many times for photos.  Very little traffic, and only the very occasional town or village to break the peace and serenity of the ride.  At one stage, there was misty rain and thunderclouds, and I idly thought it could be snowing higher up.

Later in the afternoon, in light rain, having covered about 400km, I rounded a curve, to be confronted with a totally white landscape. There was snow everywhere, including on the roadway!  Oops! However, it wasn't all that thick, and seemed to be melting rapidly, so I carefully made my way along through the clearest sections. But the snow was only in large patches covering a small acreage, as if certain areas had been dumped on, and not others.  There were patches of snow in the vicinity of the road for about 100km. 

It was cold, and getting colder, and I had only a tee-shirt under my jacket, and summer gloves.  When I came upon a gang of roadworkers, in the middle of nowhere, sweeping the gravel from the road in a landslip area -- with brooms of twigs!!!  -- I stopped and chatted, asking how far to the next hotel/hostal, while putting on some warmer clothes and my snow-mobile mitts for warmth.  The chattiest worker wanted one pair of my gloves, although he was wearing some already. Cheeky bugger!

I toddled along, not really knowing where the next town was, until I came across a sign - 89km to Puquio.  Hoping I wouldn't get dumped on, I pressed on, as it was getting later, with ominous clouds hanging overhead. The township of Puqio eventually appeared in the valley below, so I wound my way down the mountainside, to be confronted with a "detour to Lima" sign and the abrupt ending of the pavement, as the detour wound through the most horribly rough back streets of the town.  I was following a B-double, which created huge dust clouds, making it difficult at time to see exactly how large the potholes were, in time to avoid them.

A service station finally appeared from the dust, and as I refuelled, I learned that I'd actually passed the Centro, as the attendant pointed back to the twin towers of the church on the town plaza. Back I went, dodging the many shoppers in the dirt streets, and made for the church and the plaza. I needed money, so went to the only bank in town with an ATM, only to have it refuse to give me money.  I'm thinking it didn't like MasterCard, perhaps. Hoping that I had sufficient on me for the night's accommodation, I rode around till I found a hostal sign.  Nope, no rooms available, and was told where there was another hostal, which had plenty of rooms available, and, more importantly, a backyard behind a rollerdoor, where I could store the bike.  So for the princely sum of 30 Soles (A$10), I had a bed for the night, and internet was available at the cafe next door.

I wandered downtown, inspecting the dinner offerings of the street vendors, and settled for a restaurant, where a meal of a quarter chicken with chips and salad, 2 bottles of water, 2 large mugs of tea and an icecream cone came to the grand total of 12 Soles, about A$4.00.  I didn't think it was enough, so the owner retallied the items - and it was correct! So who am I to not accept a double tallying as being correct? It's just so cheap, over here.

Leaving town the next morning,  I headed back out the way I'd gone in from the servo, expecting that I'd shortly hit the end of the detour around the town, dutifully following the fluro pink detour arrows. After 5km, with the dirt road condition deteriorating, I flagged down a car coming down the hill, and asked if I was on the right road, to Lima.  "Si, si".  How much further does the dirt go for?  Another 20km!!  Off I went, wondering how the frequent users (truckies, buses etc) put up with such horrible roads. 

A few stats:   It was 160km from Puquio to Nazca, my destination. It took me an hour to cover the first 42km, even after the potholed gravel turned to "pavement", or what passed for pavement.  It was more like potholes surrounded by varying small amounts of pavement!  The next hour was better. I managed 56km.  Speedy travel, this! It took me 61km from Puquio to hit top gear (at 80kph) for the first time, and another 30km before I could get up to 100kph, for a very short stretch of a few hundred metres, I might add.  The third hour I managed 48km, through some tortuously tight mountain terrain, coming down from the high altiplano back into the arid, barren, desert mountains of the Atacama again and down to the valley floor.  The final 15km was OK, done in 15 minutes.  What a slow day's ride!!! And this was through the same twisting, curving, up and down, mountainous terrain as the previous day.

The only redeeming feature during the morning had been when passing through a reserve solely for vicuna, the smallest camelid, which usually runs wild. There were several hundred that I saw in this sanctuary, including several tiny babies, but unfortunately, they were too far off the road to get a decent photo, and the littlies were very timid and skittish, running off behind their mothers as they heard the bike approach.

Coming down the final few km of the switchbacking, rocky, desert mountains towards Nazca, I rounded one tight bend and looked up, to see a bus which had been following me for quite a while and a semi-trailer going uphill that I'd already passed, both nose-to-nose in a tight corner, high above me.  Several corners later, I could still see them above, and I think the semi backed up a little to let the bus through, as the bus eventually appeared again, several levels above me, winding its way down the mountain.

Into town, amid the milling crowds, trying to find a hotel/hostal with parking for the bike.  No luck, but I walked past the Nazca Trails office, about which I'd heard good reports, so popped in and booked an over-flight of the Nazca Lines for the next morning, after the English speaking owner had phoned a hotel out opposite the airport, which had vacancies and ample parking for the bike. The Nido del Condor is beautiful!!  A paradise.  My lovely room overlooks the pools; my bike is parked in front of the room; there is a wonderful restaurant on site; a much needed laundry service; a gift/souvenir shop (I didn't buy anything!); large grassy, shaded areas for camping; friendly staff; a pet llama, an alpaca and a poor crippled deer which greedily licked my arms for the salt. And it's only 100 Soles (A$33 or so) per night, brekky included. A bargain.