Table of Contents    |    Chapter Eighteen    |  |    Chapter Twenty

The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"Avoid hidden agendas... they only lead to seething resentments." - Brian Tracy

Chapter Nineteen

The Road To Cuzco

From Puno I cycled to the next big city called Juliaca saying my last good by to lake Titicaca as the road turns away from the lake here. Its about 30 miles on good flat paved road, but after only 4 hours of cycling I felt like 12 hours. Exhausted I checked into a hotel. The man at the desk only had one leg, but with the use of a crutch scampered up the stairs at twice the rate I could. I think he felt more sorry for me than I for him. I think that's because he knew the shower and toilet didn't work and the only window was locked in the percent open position, with night time lows averaging minus 8 C ( about 17 degrees F. ) I paid for my room the usual $1.75 and too weak carry my fully loaded bike up the narrow stairs, took off all the bags and did it in 4 trips. The one legged man even carried a few things, I felt pathetic. Desperately wanting a shower, knowing tomorrow I start a 200 mile stretch of potentially nothing, to Cuzco, I venture slowly into the bathroom only to find a waterless shower and one empty flush toilet. Being resourceful, I lift up the lid of the toilets holding tank and yes, its full of water, my bathtub. I didn't actually jump in, but with a washcloth and some soap, and a little splashing around, I was as clean as any 5 star hotel shower could get me. After my outer purging it was time for some inner filling, so out into the cold night air I went to score some chicken feet soup with some fried tripe and rice. Sounds foul, but to the trained pallet ,a hungry budget traveler or the average Peruvian, its a delicious delicacy.

In the morning still with no sign of Arturo or his cycling friend I thought I would Leave a message at the hotel (an agreed meeting place) and one at the post office for my friends before leaving town. Because very few people have a car, no one could tell me the way out of town, everyone just points to the bus station. Without the aid of signs, I performed trial and error. I looked at the sun, determined north and after 3 wrong turns found my self on the road to Cuzco. The air in cities undeniably awful, the trucks and busses use an 81 octane leaded fuel, which appears to come throw exhaust right out of the engine block, no filters. You can hardly see through it , and breathing is right out. I stopped for some fruit and snacks on the outskirts of town and a few miles later the traffic was at a comfortable one car per 30 minutes and later dropped to one per hour, my kind of cycling. Most of the traffic out of Juliaca goes south to Arequipa or back to LaPaz. The tourists en route to Cuzco travel by train, the tracks of which closely parallel this road all the way.

We hear talk of a global economy which I personally find hard to comprehend without a global rise in average annual income. I say this because most of the products that are available in the United States are also available here but at a slightly higher price, which doesn't help the average Peruvian out much earning 6 dollars a day. And imagine driving a car if a gallon of gas cost one third of an entire days wages. Life is tough here for the would be consumer. Coke costs one dollar for a liter, OK fine, but If you only earn six bucks a say, it suddenly becomes a very expensive soft drink. I don't know how they do it, but they drink a lot of coke here. Not everyday like we do, but at least twice a week. They also are starting to buy televisions and VCRs, creating the same financial stress as an American buying a used car. I guess there is just no stopping the superstition of materialism, as the road to happiness.

The road between Juliaca and Cuzco is about 240 miles long. and runs at an average altitude of 4000 meters ( 13,200 feet ). Its paved all the way except for a short 20 mile section near the top of the pass where the road turns to a trail of loose softball size jagged rocks. The climb to the pass is gentle and the scenery captivating consisting of sporadic clusters of foot tall grass with a yellowish hue lying in a sand and rock garden up against a background of towering mountains. I stopped on top of the pass 4321 meters (14,000) feet, looked over my shoulder and gave a farewell salute to the vast altiplano, that stretches from here to the Argentine boarder, as well as to all the people with the courage to call it home.

From here its all down hill to Cuzco but into a steady 15 mph headwind, which blows almost year round from the North, Northwest. The wind reverses on the coast, and from Ecuador all the way south to Santiago Chile the wind blows from the south at about 15 mph. So word of advice to future cyclists, ride south through the mountains and northward along the coast. Also meteorologically speaking in the tropical latitudes (23 degrees of latitude north or south of the equator), the rain generally follows the direct rays of the sun. North of the equator say the rainy season is May to September when the direct rays of the sun are in the north, and December to March in the southern tropical areas. And in the higher latitudes because of the shorter distance between cold and warm air, the cloudy, stormy season tends to be in the winter months. An example being in July, the temperature in Canada can be the same as it is in Florida, where as in the winter, temperature extremes can occur over short distances. This FYI weather minute was brought to you by the folks at" who cares incorporated".

Temperatures are still well below freezing at night and 50s and 60s during the day. I decided to camp and cook my own food on this stretch and to cycle 8 hours a day and sleep and rest the other 16. Turned out there were several large towns along this road, Santa Rosa has several thousand people, but outside the towns tundra like waste land. Just down from the pass I stopped at the hot springs near Sicuani, not too hot, not too clean, but a nice place to have a bath. From here road drops 3000 feet over 120 miles and meanders through an ever increasingly green valley. The headwind counteracted any benefit from the down hill, but the scenery is very attractive. In three days I was in the town of Urcos. Here I took a hotel where my room over looked the beautiful Vilcanota valley as well as a courtyard where I did my laundry and shared with pigs, chickens, goats and several ducks. I never asked what was for dinner or where it came from, but it sure tasted fresh. I ate my meals in the hotel restaurant, great 3 course meal including beverage for 50 cents. I spent 2 days here just relaxing and enjoying the pleasant atmosphere. I later learned that I was the first non Peruvian to stay at the hotel, I guess its not on the tourist trail.

It was here at the hotel in Urcos while staring at the map of Peru that I up with the idea for another Jungle detour! The people at the hotel were saying its far, its bad road, it will be an awful trip, which meant to me, it must be fantastic. I suppose that's my philosophy in regards to just about everything in life. So I left all of my stuff except for some camping gear and food and a change of clothes and headed up over the ridge and down into the Peruvian jungle. I won't go into too much detail for the experience was very similar to the Bolivian jungle with a few exceptions. The mountains near the pass were very steep, sharp, jagged and brilliantly white with glaciers. The road was terrible but with very little traffic thus far fewer accidents. The road dropped very quickly from high in the Andes to the jungle, but because of the bad road it was necessary to go very slow, meaning hours of tightly gripping the brakes and frequently stopping to let them cool. Why is it that the quality of the scenery is inversely proportional to the quality of the road?

There were towns spaced every 30 miles or so, making it possible to always have a hotel and a hot meal in a restaurant everyday. I don't think there is any stretch of road in the world that offers more stunning, and amazingly varied scenery in such a short distance. Cycling this challenging labyrinth of switchbacks made me think about leading small tours through various regions of Peru, for I'm not aware of any company that offers such an option. I suspect that Americans are unrealistically afraid of South America, because throughout 9 months of travelling, I only met a hand full of people from the states, but countless from Europe and Canada. I don't know the reason for this but hopefully the story of my trip will help to eradicate some of those unfounded fears.

It took me about 6 days to cover the 200 miles, down into the town of Puerto Maldonado which is the jumping off point for tourists wishing to take excursions into the amazon jungle. Most arrive and leave by air, for the 60-80 dollar airfare is well worth it, to avoid the 2 day long agonizing bus ride. The first thing I did upon arriving in town was check into a hotel, shower, then popped downstairs to the restaurant for a cold drink. Here I saw a guy with a tattoo and a sailors cap on at the bar, an unusual appearance for a jungle out post, so I asked him what time it was. Much to my surprise, his response was, "time for you to have a drink with me", said with a slight slur of the words. I thought to myself swell. But low and behold you can never judge a person by their facade. Turns out Philipe is a pilot who used to be a riverboat captain on the Amazon, with an encyclopedic mind on Amazonian trivia. He poured me a glass of wine than began his 2 hour monologue of fascination. Some of his stories resembled scenes from the movies like "Anaconda" or "Emerald Forest" but what enthralled me more than his tales, was his zest for life and the intimacy with humanity that he not only spoke of, but actually lived.

Some interesting statistics from my conversation with Philipe. The elevation here is approximately 700 feet above sea level, yet the rivers here flow another 3000 miles before reaching the Atlantic. The Amazon river dumps 1.5 million tonnes of sediment into the Atlantic every DAY, some of it actually coming from here in Puerto Maldonado. A few hundred miles down stream from here there are native tribes that have never had contact with the outside world, the invisible people. Another interesting note is that near the mouth of the river lies an island in the middle of the river the size of Denmark. few hundred miles down stream from here were tribes of natives who have never had contact with the outside world. the invisible people and how much some day

Later in the conversation I learned he was flying back to Cuzco in the morning to pick up some tourists. I immediately asked if he could squeeze me and the bike on for 40 bucks and another bottle of wine. He threw a big smile at me and said only if you share it with me Mr. gringo man. Its amazing what happens and what you learn when you ask what time it is, of which I still don't know.

I showed up at the airport at 7am as requested, and sure enough as promised a sober Philipe appeared, said buenos dias, tu listo ( you ready?), then just grabbed my bike, wheeled it out to a single engine 6 passenger sardine tin with wings, stuffed it in, closed the hatch, then him, me and surprisingly two non-tourists got in and away we went. The first part of the flight went smoothly but when we got into the mountains I felt like a piece of popcorn in an air popper. The scenery was as unbelievable as the turbulence and although I didn't think it possible even more beautiful than from the ground. For some reason we flew southeast first till we crested the Andes than flew northeast over the mountains into Cuzco. After flying over the Peruvian Andes as well as cycling through them I have become convinced that the name "Peru," is an old Indian dialect meaning 'UP AND DOWN'. I can't believe I'm seeing such beauty for only 40 bucks and with out all the hassle of the airlines. I knew it was worth it to carry this horseshoe with me,

We landed in Cuzco with out any trouble, Philipe handed me my bike, but had to scamper off quickly to meet a group of tourists, so I thanked him, and headed off into town. I headed up to the Hostel San Christobol half way up the hill in the city. Interestingly enough this is the hotel where I'm supposed to meet my friend Christobol from Santiago Chile. We chose this hostel so he couldn't forget the name. By the time I checked in it was only 10:30am plenty enough time to cycle the 25 miles back to Urcos to get the rest of my stuff, and to tell my over worried advisors that I'm back safely. I also want to tell them that they were right about the route to Puerto Maldonado was bad, but wrong about it being an awful trip. It was fantastic, but probably far more interesting by bicycle than by bus and perhaps safer too.

It was well after dark when I arrived back at the hostel Cuzco, just enough time to cook up some dinner and fall into bed to reflect on this most memorable day. In the morning I met a couple who were leaving for Lima and had not used their entrance ticket so they gave it to me. There are about 15 Inca ruin sites within 30 miles of here, all require an entrance fee. For 10 bucks you buy a card good for all 15. Originally I didn't plan to visit all the sites but with this incentive, I left all my stuff, everything except the handle bar bag containing munchies and a clean pair of cycle shorts and set off on a 3 day loop.

The people at the hotel San Christobol are the nicest hotel owners imaginable, they hold your stuff as long as you want, for no charge and no security risks. I handed the lady at the desk three burlap sacks, about 35 pounds each and said Ill be back in 3 days....maybe 4....maybe more?

The road out of town was steep but paved with little traffic. The first stop was the Jesus statue over looking the city, every town seem to have a Jesus statue watching over the people. The next stop was the ancient ruins of Sacsayhuaman with its 60 foot high,2000 feet long defensive wall, built to protect the fortress. Some of the stones weigh 300 tons and cut with as many as 30 different angles. All are placed into perfect position as if it was just one wall with lines drawn in it. They say it took 100 years to build this wall involving 20,000 men who would drag the stones from over 20 miles away. The funny thing about this area is the more modern the construction the more primitive the design. The newer buildings have been rebuilt several times this century due to earthquakes, but despite several 8.0 earthquakes or stronger this wall looks like the day it was finished, over 1000 years ago. Anyone interested in more detailed information on this subject should read the book "LOST CITIES OF THE INCAS" by Hiram Bingham.

From here the road climbed up 1000 feet and down the other side into the Urubamba Valley. I rolled into the town of Pisac and visited the ruins after I had secured my bike at a hotel. The steps up to the ruins were carved into the side of the mountain and at the top, you really had to put your imagination to use to visualize the guard towers, the living quarters and the temple because only the base of the walls remained. I was amazed at the impeccable workmanship of the walls. The stones were cut and laid so precisely without any bonding material it was impossible to fit a piece of paper between the rocks, and yet they were all odd shaped and irregular. It must have taken years to craft the walls with such precision.

As luck would have it, I had arrived in time for another festival. There were a lot of performances and ceremonies with traditional costumes, music and dancing. The crowds were gathered around the town square to watch the performances and the surrounding residents would cook in their homes and bring the food out into the streets to sell. I feasted on a delicious stuffed peppers that were stuffed and cooked with rice and vegetables, then rolled in cornmeal and deep fried. It was so delicious, and the whole meal cost no more than about 30 cents. Because of the festival, I was unable to get a hotel room so I cycled about 5 miles down the valley to the town of Calca where I was fortunate enough to find a modern, new hotel and successfully convince the owner that 10 dollars is too much for a hotel and that 3 dollars is better than having the room go empty.

The next day I continued on another 15 miles to Ollantaytambo where the road simply comes to a dead end. This town was laid out with the old Inca design with narrow streets, no more than 5 feet wide built of large cobble stones with a aqueduct channel down the center of the road to distribute the water. The town was like a museum with the men and women dressed in colorful traditional costume and animals roaming freely around the streets. Since this is one of the typical guided tour stops, there were a lot of souvenir booths set up with colorful cloth, pottery, small instruments, sweaters, blankets and fresh juices. I asked the local people to direct me to a non-touristy hotel and they took me to an unmarked old villa. You'd never know that it was a hotel and it wasn't mentioned in any of the guide books. It had a courtyard that was like the garden of Eden with vines and flowers everywhere and parrots that would come right up to you and sit on your shoulder while you were sitting in the courtyard. When I looked at the guestbook, I was amazed to notice that my friend Cara, who I had been horseback riding with in Los Antigos Argentina, had also managed to find this hotel only a few weeks earlier. Funny what a small world it can be sometimes.

The hills rose steeply from the edge of the town with terraces carved into the hillside: 100 feet long, about 10 feet wide and 5 feet high. The Inca village perched at the top of the hill, surrounded by the famous defensive walls. I found this site to be the most visually interesting of all the sites on the tour.

On the road back to Cuzco I was thrilled to find the old familiar warmth from people along the way. Once again they were waving me in to visit and join them for a drink of Chicha made from a fermented fruit mixture that was thick, milky-pink and somewhat bitter. I personally didn't care for it but they were so excited about it I had to join them in a glass or two. Even with all the visits, I still managed to make it back to Cuzco in one day, a climb of about 3000 feet along comfortable paved road with gorgeous sub-tropical scenery. The valleys were a lush sub-tropical zone with view of the snow covered peaks off in the distance. As the road circled down into the city of Cuzco, I was screaming downhill at about 45 mph in the darkness and people were crossing the streets ahead of me. I couldn't change my course and so I was shouting at them to get out of the way. Most of the people moved aside, but I narrowly missed one woman by no more than about 5 inches, and in that split second that our eyes met, you could see the look of horror on her face. If I had hit her at that speed, it would have been a really bad thing. After the narrow miss my legs were shaking and I found a moment of sanity and slowed myself down.

In the kitchen at the hotel, I met a fellow named Lucas and we combined our resources to have a sumptuous meal together. He insisted that I had to come out with him to the only Irish Pub in Peru so that he could buy me some Guinness. He kept insisting that he had way too much money and couldn't possibly spend it all on this trip and he wouldn't let me pay for anything. The Pub was very authentic with Irish music playing and traditional Irish decor on the walls. There were a lot of tourists in the pub and I was lured into a drinking game with a group of British tourists. The next day, I certainly regretted my luck at the game because I wasn't feeling too sporty. Considering that I was already starting to feel run down, it probably wasn't the most prudent of decisions.

Having the energy of a slug, I spent the day slowly moving around the city stopping in at the museums on the ticket. The last site was the famous cathedral and I stopped a woman to ask her which building was the cathedral. Nicole was from Germany and had been working and living in Peru for several months. She commented that she had meant to see the cathedral but didn't have any money. I convinced her that she should come along with me, so she chatted with the attendant and convinced them to let her in for the donation of a candle. She quickly zipped across the street to buy a candle and we went in together. The inside of the cathedral was as big as a city block covered with frescoes and illuminated by what seemed to be a million candles. I couldn't imagine what they were going to do with Nicole's candle. I would have liked to have spent more time asking her about her experiences in Peru, but unfortunately she had to leave to catch a night bus back to Lima where she was working.

Still not feeling well after the binge the night before decided to make it an early night to conserve some energy for the trip up to Machu Pichu in the morning.

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