What a brilliant ride. Peru has such a HUGE personality!! Puquio is rustic. There don’t seem to be a lot of tourists at all, but as seems to be the rule, they are delightfully pleasant.. I love talking to the people in the market. The fresh cow cheeses are remarkable… they sell them everywhere.
I get a room for $7. No wi-fi, no hot water… no water at all, actually. I have to ask reception to turn it on. It takes about five minutes for the water to reach the tap… There is definitely no hot water.
The next day I roll the bike out into the street. I haven’t loaded the bags yet and there is something up with my clutch lever. I kneel down and inspect the problem… I am shocked to see that it has been gouging my engine case… it is adjusted poorly. I reach in and give it a tug. It comes completely off in my hand!! The pinch bolt had worked loose a while back.. I should have looked at this weeks ago!!! as I’m tightening the bolt, a local fellow stops me and asks where I’m going. (He’s got a KLR too) I show him my route on the phone.. and he waves his finger. No, no. You can’t go that way…. well, you can, but it is dirt and it will take days to get to Arequipa. .. and there’s no help if your bike has a problem. “Go to Cusco!”
Shit. I keep getting pushed North.
As much as I want to go through Cusco, I really need to be on the coast to make the best time to Chile.. I’m way behind schedule, and worry that I won’t have enough time to sell the bike.. I’ll be in a financial crisis if I have to ship the bike back.. via any route…
The turn off is here in Piquio. I decide to look at the road. Sure enough, it is going to be a slow go. Maybe not as bad as he says, but if I have any kind of trouble with the bike, I’ll be down for a good long time.
I really don’t have time for dumb mistakes. I opt for the long road to Cusco, Puno, Then back down.
I stopped here because I was a little hungry and needed some caffeine. She had cookies, Red Bull and knitted goods. I bought a fantastic cap with a geometric design and earflaps.. It’s Cold here in the altiplano!
Here’s the brilliant thing. The ride is a buffet of wide, epic, storyland scenery… It’s all postcard.
The whole way. Every bit. I smile a lot… in spite of myself…. in spite of a worsening case of what I’m beginning to suspect is amoebic dysentry.
I arrive in Cusco at dark. I stop at the first likely place. I am pale and obviously sick. I get the bike parked and the receptionist offers me some tea. I know I really need to hydrate and quaff a couple cups of the steaming, pleasant liquid. I feel a little better. I head straight up to my room. A couple hours later, I am feverish and camped in the bathroom. The altitude (11,000 ft) isn’t helping anything. Every effort is an act of valor. I dig in my bag for the last of the antibiotics. And pop a Cipro.
I sleep a full 12 hours and don’t feel appreciably better but the fever is gone at least. Check out is at ten. They don’t have room for me for a second night. I have to change hotels. Maybe I can make it to Puno.. I wrestle my bags down the three flights of stairs, It is 9:45. I am going to make it out in just the nick of time.
I turn the key and push the little red ignition button. The starter groans. And quits. Again, I press the button. A little less now. Blast. The battery is dead. I need to go get a new one or get it charged at least. My energy is very low and I’m exhausted already from bringing the bags down. I begin taking the motorcycle apart. The receptionist wants to know why I’m still here. She is a little pushy, but there is nothing I can do.. I’d really rather just lie down on the floor here and sleep.
Half an hour later I wrench the battery out from it’s secret hiding place under the seat and walk out to get a cab….
but the streets are empty. Uh oh, Something is up.
I walk for 15 minutes and ask a couple locals where a garage might be… where the taxis might be.. nobody has any good answers…. “not today” is the general answer. Finally, I discover there is a public transportation strike.
I almost crumple in dismay.
Another ten minutes, I find a scab taxi driver. I wave him down frantically. He stops and I get in with my battery and the lump in my throat.
I tell him to go to the address of a moto shop on the other end of town. He can’t help, but he gives us the address of another who thinks can. To the next place, with no help either, but there is a dirty locked shack on the opposite side of the road with a huge dog.. I ring the bell and the dog goes crazy, but a little rumpled woman comes to the door with a smile. She CAN help. It’ll be an hour until she gets a charge on the battery. I’ve made it just in time before the lunch siesta. Even better, It is within walking distance of the hotel.
I slump into a couch to wait and slurp another of the delightful teas.
Battery recharged, reinstalled, bags loaded, it is too late to leave town, but it gives me enough time to find a place for the night.. I first find a small hostel, but they have no water… or wifi (that works). and they are raising guinea pigs. It gives me the creeps.
I find another one shortly.
I check in, park the bike and crawl under the covers until hunger wakes me. I don’t want any thing I haven’t actually watched cooked, so I make up a couple of Ramen soups right in the hotel room. It feels healthy and nourishing. I drink two bottles of water, pop another cipro and burrow back under the covers.
Cusco is beautiful… and it looks really fun. Hundreds of little shops with food, curiosities, markets, architecture, history… flying.. everything you’d want in a tourist city.. and cheap! I want to come back and explore for a few days… It’s on the list for next time for sure.
The road doesn’t stop giving up better and better photos until I see a big black rain cloud. As I get closer, the rain starts… then my face starts really stinging.. I have to slow the bike.. until I realize it’s not rain. It is half rain, half hail… little bb sized pellets of ice.. I have to cover the bottom half of my unshielded face with my left hand. There is nowhere to hide.. and I can see clear sky somewhere in the distanace beyond this cloud.
I have a scenic and windey ride until Juliaca. I see a big traffic jam… and a bunch of rocks strewn in the road… then more.. The rocks got there because protesters put them there. Lots of them. For miles. The road is mostly blocked.. Vehicles have cleared a tiny path through the debris… I ride behind a huge line of traffic for nearly an hour. A guy yells at me from a truck.. “It’ll be two or three hours at least..” “You should turn around!”
As we near the town, there are clouds of smoke and a horrific smell coming from stacks of burning tires.. my skin feels prickly. Big piles of rocks two to three feet tall.
Broken glass everywhere. It looks like a war zone.
Finally, we come to the town. There are no more rocks but the road is slippery and muddy from the rain. I assume I’m past the problem. I start breathing a sigh of relief as I begin to exit the town… And then I see them. Maybe a hundred riot police. They have shields and batons.. All dressed up, but they are just standing together. Waiting. I stop and watch. No one is going through.. Several busses and cars stop and turn around. There is a mighty crowd ahead of the police… I feel worn out. I stop the bike and watch. A guy comes by and asks if I’m going to Puno. I say yes and if there is another way around. He shakes his head and tells me it might be an hour. Maybe longer. Much longer.
I watch the crowd. They don’t seem violent… it looks that way, but there is something… The riot police are smiling at me. It makes me a little angry… what the hell is there to smile about?? I drive forward into the crowd and the mess. I can’t see the ground in front of me, there are too many people…. Someone kicks the bike. Some empty water bottles hit me, but there is no fire in the pushing or throwing.. another shove from the opposite side and plenty of yelling and jeering, but I am finally through. The other side of the protest looks exactly the same, lots of rocks and glass but there is almost no traffic in either direction. It is very creepy.
I zig-zag through the debris and finally make it out to clear road.