August 20, 2011
Saturday morning I woke very early knowing I might have a very long day. Alex called the previous night and explained how they could not wait any longer to leave for the 5-day motorcycle/scouting trip he and Gabe had planned. The point was to ride into the jungle and do research for points of interest and accommodations for future Rustic trips. My 2-week holdup in Lima messed everything up. So I had to make it to Cusco by Saturday night. I knew it was possible but an incredibly long ride.
I was on the road by 6:30 am. My first stop was gas and the attendant commented on my Spanish, saying it was very good. I’m not agreeing, but that was a good way to start the day. The sun started off right in my face, but the steep mountains helped to block it out most of the time. The ride began with two hours of the most incredible twistys I have ever experienced. They went through these low, rounded hills and just kept rising higher and higher. There were many trucks, but they were easy to pass. Eventually I made it up to 12,000 feet and the view was amazing. Haha, I thought it was the best view I had seen in awhile, little did I know what was ahead.
Huge trucks trying to pass each other
Twisty mountain range
I was worried about the motorcycle performing at high altitude; it is one thing I couldn’t prepare for living in Michigan. The bike was a bit sluggish, but did just fine. Essentially, the rest of the morning was a series of twisty climbs that opened into unbelievable views of valleys, followed by a decent down to cross a river into another climb. I had to stay focused on the road while constantly being distracted by the beauty that opened up following every hairpin turn. There were herds of llamas and alpacas, locals in traditional dress, a semi turned over on its side, and not too much traffic. Eventually, I made it up to 15,000 feet on a long plateau. All of a sudden, in front of me was the most brilliant color of blue I had ever seen. There was a large lake (turned out to be series of lakes) along the top.
Lake at 15,000 feet
As I traveled along that desolate stretch at 15,000 feet, I wondered who would live in the occasional dwelling I passed. I also saw one lonely girl on the side of the road who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. I am sure she was in charge of the grazing alpacas, marked as hers with brightly colored bits of string tied into their hair.
Finally, the biggest decent began. The drop into the valley was over 7,000 feet. Wow. It is so interesting to travel on a motorcycle because you can see everything. In the States, the 1600 miles from Michigan to Texas felt like I was grinding it out to get to a destination. It was largely long, flat, and boring. But now that had changed, the motorcycle became the point of traveling. The means became more important than the destination. Time passed quickly as I stared at the splendor constantly before me. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom driving along the river and gearing up for another climb.
Yogurt and granola bar break
Finally, at 3 pm, I arrived in Albancay. I had to make the decision to try for Cusco or stay there and leave VERY early in the morning to catch Alex and Gabe. I was told it was a 4 hour drive, and it gets dark at 6 pm. One thing I never want to do is drive at night, there are just too many variables. But I didn’t want to miss out on the trip, so I went for it.
The climb out of Albancay was more hairpin turn craziness. But driven by the nervousness of being caught out in the dark I absolutely hauled the mail through the turns. I made it back up to 14,000 feet and looked out at the most stunning view yet. It was 40 miles across a valley, with snow-capped mountains on my left. I didn’t have time to stop for a picture. At the time I was disappointed about this, but once again, little did I know better views were to come later. My rear brake started to get very soft, I realized it was overheating from the constant braking and accelerating around the endless curves. But fortunately I made it through the valley back into the climb on the opposite side.
Nightfall descended just as I arrived on the outskirts on Cusco. I felt more comfortable now that I was in a city that I partially knew. My GPS was useless in guiding me around the city, but I eventually pulled up in front of the cathedral at 6:30 pm. I’d been riding for twelve hours with breaks only for gas, bathroom, and pictures. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting on my motorcycle in Cusco. I made it. Next to the cathedral is Norton Rat’s Tavern, named after the motorcycle that Che used on his famous ride. It has been visited by multitudes of adventure motorcyclists. I could now count myself in their number.
Made it to Cusco
I loaded my stuff into Gabe’s apartment and a group of us grabbed dinner. They built a campfire as I fell immediately asleep. I’m glad I found out so early in the trip what my limits are. I could handle a monster day, feel fine physically, and be ready for more…