Sunday, October 30, 2011


October 25, 2011

Monday night was goodbye to the girls. Wow, it was way tougher than I thought it would be, and I was only leaving for a week! I am already dreading December when I have to say goodbye for good.

Tuesday morning I set off on my trip to Chile in order to get my $1000 deposit back for leaving the country with the motorcycle. It began with a beautiful ride through the Sacred Valley. It just does not get old.

Good morning Sacred Valley

Cool reflection in the lake

I liked the bridge in this one

I chose this day to leave because Jake (Alecia’s son, Ana’s brother) and his friend Kate were here visiting from the States. They planned a 4 day tour of southern Peru and I thought it would be a great idea to travel with them and see parts of Peru I have never seen before. Plus, I am pretty sure a 16-year-old college student, a 19-year-old PhD holder, the mother who raised them, and a robotics engineer would qualify as the smartest group of people I have ever hung out with. I was really looking forward to being the dumbest person in the room for a week.

They purchased a bus/tour ticket to Puno. Every few hours the bus stops at different locations and visits ruins. I thought it would be cool to tag along on the bike and see them as well. That turned out to be a GREAT idea.

I met up with them at the first stop in Andahuaylillas. There is a church there called “The Sistine Chapel of Peru”. Alecia somehow got me an extra pass so I could visit everything all day for free. Nice. The ceiling there was pretty cool but I think that comparison was a stretch. One interesting thing was when you leave the church, you have to choose an exit, each one with a beautiful painting on the wall. The left side depicts an open gate with pictures of hell and demons and fire. The right has a closed gate and pictures of angels and heaven. It is supposed to represent how you are going to live when you leave. Haha, yes I did exit out the left side.

The second stop was a famous temple to the sun god of the Incas. Only a part still remains, but it must have been darn impressive back in the day. I walked right in and they gave me a ticket. Yes, two free tours so far.

Free ticket

The next stop was a buffet lunch. Since there were multiple buses doing the same route and stops, I just walked right in and had lunch. I parked my bike around the corner at a guy’s house. We had a nice chat, and he kindly reminded me to drive safely.

We then started to ascend into the mountains. It was beautiful as usual and we made it up to a 14,200 foot pass. I missed the next stop because I wasn’t really paying attention to my gps. It turned out to be a good thing because it was a museum and they counted each person that entered. But I did pick up a hitchhiker, a woman who needed a 20 minute ride into town. I also had a lot of sign drama, there was a ton of construction so only one lane was open. There is a sign person at each end, but they didn’t seem to work so well. Sometimes they weren’t paying attention, sometimes they BOTH let vehicles pass, so it was a fun game of chicken. I was so glad I was on a motorcycle (the shoulder is always open) and not in a car.

Into the mountains

Raya Pass

The descent

The open road...

Bathroom break

I gassed up in Juliaca, a huge, dirty, ugly, industrial city. Fortunately I made it around without too many problems and headed into Puno, the city on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The view was impressive, and I stopped at a crossroads to wait for the tour bus. I chatted with an older gentleman, which was nice. He told me to see the Uros Islands, the floating islands made of reeds. It sounded pretty cool.

View of Lake Titicaca from above Puno

Monday, October 24, 2011

One Pretty Crazy Morning

October 22, 2011

Remember to click or donate for our fundraising campaign! Thank you. And pictures are coming for this one too.

Friday night at the volleyball game, Fiorela (Nohemi’s older sister) was there and we chatted a bit. She asked if I could give her a ride home the next day. I had told her previously I would do it if she ever needed it because I know how far away Socma is and she studies in Cusco during the week. I said it was no problem, so she responded with “I’ll meet you in the plaza at 5 am.” That is a little early in my book, but I figured watching the sunrise on a motorcycle in the Andes Mountains was probably worth it.

We set off and it was beautiful to see the sky light up as we twisted up the steep path to Socma. We made it in 25 minutes. Wow, what a difference from that treacherous hour long ride in the overfilled truck from my previous trip. Her family invited me in for breakfast. We chatted about the dorm, her family, the upcoming festival in Ollanta, her studies in Cusco, and other small talk. Her dad is a great guy and I enjoyed talking with him.

At about 6:30, he said he needed to get to work. Well, I wanted to watch Bianca play soccer in the semi-finals at noon, so I had time. I offered to help. The task was hauling big stones up the steep road in front of his house; he said he was building a store. Good physical labor and an easy job made me happy to help. I was also able to carry a few really large ones that no one else could handle.

After working for an hour, Maria Elena came over and invited me to her house. I hadn’t been there yet so it sounded like a good idea. I sat and chatted with her father, sister, and little one-year-old niece for awhile. He asked me all sorts of questions, many of them about the motorcycle. I learned that she is the youngest of 6 children, but there were 4 older ones that all died of a disease years ago. After about an hour, he dropped the big question, “Would you like to be my grandchild’s godfather?” Remember, Alex is Maria Elena’s godfather and the reason Sacred Valley Project was started in the first place. But I am not ready for that kind of commitment and politely declined. I was honored, but at the same time I had known him for an hour. I sensed a bit of feeling like a rich foreigner lotto ticket and not so much a close friend of the family who deserved that title. We were then served a bowl of potato, rice, and egg soup. It was really good. As I sat there in that little one room adobe brick house, with flies everywhere eating out of a cracked bowl sitting on a broken stool, I thought about how strange it will be to return home at some point to eat a variety of well-balanced meals in a nice, well-furnished house with clean utensils and no flies. It will be tough reverse culture shock. But actually who am I kidding, it will be Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, and Wendy’s on my couch. Still, different though…

I digress. I left her house and returned to Nohemi’s. I told them I needed to leave, but they offered me a soda. Considering how I am constantly thirsty in this country, I accepted. We chatted some more about life in the United States and education in general. Then, Fiorela jumped up and said, “The motorcycles are coming.” What? It turns out the motorcycle relay leg of the big race that day was passing right through Socma!

Ollantaytambo sponsored the first annual Massive Relay Race that day (no idea what the real name was). Teams were made of 8 competitors, and each person had to do a part of the relay. The different legs were road biking, motorcycling, steep hill sprint, downhill mountain biking, horseback riding, half marathon, swimming, and rafting. I kind of really wanted to do the motorcycle leg on a team, just to see how my bike matched up with the ones in Peru. But at least I could watch it.

Four men came up the steep hill, but it was only to check out the route. They returned back down the mountain. I asked what time the race was, and she told me 11:00. It was 10:15, so I told them I needed to leave quickly to avoid running into all the racers. As I left town a man flagged me down and asked for a ride down the mountain. Sure, why not.

We reached the bottom; I dropped him off and then rode over to the group of 12 motorcycles waiting by the bridge. I got to chatting with them and it turns out most of them are from a motorcycle club in Urubamba. They invited me to join! So now I am a member of the Inca Racing motorcycle club. They also invited me on a 2 day ride to Quillobamba in the jungle in a few weeks. I might take them up on it. Then, they asked if I wanted to race. Heck yes! There were two other guys without teams so it was all good.

But now, several police officers had come to block off the road and check the list of the participants. They handed out numbers for the bikes and chatted with the group. As this was happening, someone broke out 4 bottles of beer to pass around. How ridiculous it was to see motorcyclists drinking, in front of cops, before a race! Not my favorite. And of course I was forced to drink some. Fortunately there is a tradition in Peru of pouring out the first liquid on the ground for the Pachamama. I poured out a lot for her. I then did the old “pretend to drink then pass it around” trick. The three of us without teams left first in a cloud of dirt. I took off my heavy side cases and left them below to make the bike more maneuverable and lighter. I had forgotten how fun it was to drive without all that extra weight. I stayed right up with the other guys and finished second to Socma. We stopped there to wait for the racers.

While we stopped, I talked with Nohemi’s dad again. He told me it was Eleazar’s birthday, one of the cooks from the summer. He was the one who helped me carry Maya down the mountain when she was really sick and needed to go to the clinic. So I popped over to his house. (It is about 11:45 at this point.) He was already completely wasted, there were two 50-gallon drums of checha, and of course there was a mug of it in my hand before I could say anything. We chatted for a bit, then I sat down with his friends and family. The hyuano music was blasting. I drank very slowly because there is no such thing as an empty cup of checha, only full and about to be refilled. But, it backfired. When I was about halfway done, his wife grabbed my glass, poured in back in the drum, and refilled it with the fruity checha in the other drum. She thought I didn’t like the taste. Arg. I drank that one quickly and politely left. Fortunately the cup was very small and the fruity kind is alcohol free.

Outside, I realized I missed all the racers. The other two guys told me to hop on the bike and continue the race. Alright, I was excited because the road ends in Socma. To continue, we took the same 2 foot wide path that I hiked with Alex on our previous trip. I wanted to try it on a motorcycle. It was tough but fun, I think that crazy drive on the jungle path months ago really helped. We went up more of the mountain, then turned around at the relay exchange. Everyone else returned the entire way to the bottom, but I stopped in Socma again to eat lunch with Nohemi’s family. It was rice and chicken. I didn’t stay too long because I had left my cases at the bottom and I knew that no one was going to stay and watch them.

About halfway down, I spotted a man trying to work on his bike on the side of the road. His chain snapped, and there was damage to the bike. He was bleeding in his hands and legs. I offered to help, but we needed tools. I told him I would be back in 15 minutes while I went to get mine. At the bottom, I reattached my cases and headed back up the mountain for a third time. An old man asked if I would give him a ride up, so I welcomed passenger #3 of the morning.

I was able to help the guy fix his chain and gave him some bandages. But it only held for about 100 yards. You can’t really fix a chain with a cotter pin. But, I had a tow rope in my jacket pocket. I offered to tow his motorcycle down the mountain and along the long flat road to the main paved road. I was a little nervous, and I thought to myself, “only in Peru”. Anyway, it wasn’t that bad, and I am glad I now have the experience of towing another bike. About halfway, we passed some other men and he waved at me to stop. They chatted for a bit, then one of the men got on his bike!! Wait, wait. You mean I was using my motorcycle to tow another broken motorcycle with not one but two men on it? Yes. Exactly.

We finally got to his house (which involved crossing the train station and six sets of tracks) and I wished him luck and that he should clean up his wounds. He then asked me to wait, he really needed a ride back into town. Hey, why not. So he became passenger number four that day and we headed into town. I was pretty happy at this point since I had not spoken a word of English the entire day. Maybe I’m starting to get this language after all.

I dropped him off and headed to the big soccer stadium to watch Bianca. Unfortunately it was 2:30 pm by now and she lost in the semi’s. The finals had just started. I didn’t stay long, however, I just wanted to head home for a nap and shower.

On the way back I stopped at Heart’s CafĂ© for a beer and a chat with friends. The sun absolutely beats down in the afternoons on those tables there. So I was sweating in the sun when all of a sudden it started pouring rain and hail. It was intense, yet since the sun was on an angle, it continued to be as bright and sunny as ever. What a strange paradox, yet seemed like a fitting end to a crazy morning.

Welcome to Peru.