With Machu Picchu in the books I can finally leave Peru. Peru is a cool country, but it was slightly soured for me by police corruption, food poisoning, and a blown suspension. Charlie and I left Cusco this morning after shipping a slew of junk home from the post office. I sent my backpack, work boots, ‘waterproof’ liners, Mountain Hardwear fleece, gaiters, and a few other garments totaling 6.25 kilos. For $65 it was boxed and shipped; not bad considering DHL would have charge around $300. On top of that I left my spare oil, Pelican case, mounting rack, and a few other things I haven’t used in the last six months. All told, I think I dropped around 25lbs while making my luggage system much easier to work with given the new waterproof duffel.
Hopping back on the fully loaded bike today, I was glad I did. After 2,000 kilometers to Lima and back without side panniers I got accustomed to a super light, nimble ride. Riding out of Cusco with all my gear today felt much more like piloting a boat. Momentum plays a much bigger role. Brakes act much softer. And the power is subdued. It was a five hour ride to Puno on Lake Titicaca and most of it was straight highway above 4,000 meters. This was the first ride I’ve spent much time in fifth gear at real high altitude. The lack of oxygen in the air took a dramatic toll on my power. I had to coax the engine from gear to gear. The throttle response was muted and I couldn’t crack open the power at a moment’s notice like I’m used to. The struggle at altitude was something we knew was coming. I just cruise at 65mph now and make sure I’ve got plenty of space to slowly pass the semis up here. I’d better get used to it; Bolivia is landlocked in the Andes.
To sum up our Peruvian experience, Charlie and I were pulled over by another set of corrupt cops just before Puno. They decided that we needed insurance (we don’t). We argued with them this time. All they could say to us was that the fine was really big… I nodded while Charlie took pictures of them and wrote down their names. They never even tried to explain the classic process of keeping our license until we paid the courthouse the next morning. They just wanted us to offer up the bribe. With disgusted looks on our faces Charlie and I just sat there and argued until they’d had enough. The one in charge gave us back our fake licenses and looked at Charlie screaming ‘maybe you’re allowed to in your country, but here in Peru you do not take pictures of police officers!’ Charlie’s response was simple, ‘because in my country the officers aren’t corrupt’.
Tomorrow we cross into Bolivia over Lake Tititcaca. If we’re lucky we’ll get to see the floating villages. If not, I’ll have a reason to come back. We’ll stop in La Paz for a night or two catching up with Anna before she heads off to start he Spanish courses and we haul towards the salt flats. It’ll be a fun, although brief, reunion and hopefully she can show us some of the better parts of La Paz.
As for Machu Picchu, it delivered as promised. The train up to Aguas Calientes was a relaxing break from the bikes. Peru Rail offers a pretty good service with the train following the river up the Sacred Valley. The windows in the ceiling offer plenty of incredible views of the towering mountains overhead. It was a wet green valley leading up on both sides into the fog above. Every few minutes the clouds would break and the snowcapped peaks in the distance materialized. Aguas Calientes is the jumping point to Machu Picchu; it’s a small town that seems to be built entirely on servicing its 2,500 daily visitors. Charlie and I spent the night there after our train ride and then caught a bus up to the park the next day at 5:00am.
Unlike a lot of parks in these countries, you don’t have free range in Machu Picchu. There are set paths to follow that lead you through the park. There are plenty of opportunities to get sidetracked, but it was nothing like Tikal, where I scrambled whatever wall I wanted and bushwacked jungle the entire way. Machu Picchu is a different scenario, though. It’s too small to let everyone wander. There are also way more ways to kill yourself up there. The terracing is even more incredible than the pictures display; it is endless, spreading up and down all sides of the mountain deep into the fog. One slip and you can tumble thousands of feet down into the valley.
The remaining buildings were striking. There seem to be entire neighborhoods of walls standing on all sides of the park. The only part missing was the roofs. The stonework is unbelievable. Stones the size of refrigerators are jig sawed together tightly that there are absolutely no gaps between them, and no mortar either. It must have taken ages. The stones don’t follow a particular pattern or standard shape. Instead it’s as if they grabbed one, shaved it down to fit perfectly on top of the last, and then grabbed the next one randomly and did the same. It paid off; the walls are still standing centuries later.
On the far side of the park is Wayna Picchu, the mountain that you always see in the background of MP photos. Charlie and I paid an extra $10 entry fee so we could climb to the top and look down on the city. It was a wild hike up slippery rock to the top and unfortunately the view down below was constantly marred by the fog passing through. It rained most of the time we were at Machu Picchu, but that was alright. The rain made the rocks slippery, but also reminded me of home with all the green ferns sprouting up everywhere.
I could go on, but we’ve all seen pictures of the place. Seeing it firsthand is something entirely different, though. The scope is much more dramatic and seeing the surrounding area really brings an appreciation for just how ridiculous the idea of building a city there really was. Sitting there amongst the clouds on a saddle between two mountains teetering thousands of feet over the Sacred Valley in the middle of the Peruvian Andes… it deserves the recognition as one of the last remaining wonders of the world.
As the day wore on Charlie and I started to get tired and hungry. We had taken a couple hundred photos and were thoroughly soaked from the constant drizzle. The place was only getting busier by the minute, so by noon we were back on the bus heading back down. We caught the train back to Cusco that night and slept most of the way. Sunday I changed oil and gave the bike a good inspection, replacing several bolts that had rattled off in Peru. In the evening I went over to Norton Rat’s and drank myself into a very jovial mood as the Packers scored 25 unanswered points against the Falcons. It was great, and I paid for it today riding with a headache.