Updated: Dec 12, 2020
The next morning in Chalhuanca, I awoke to a freezing cold room and overcast skies.
My gear was still wet from the previous day's soaking and was excruciatingly cold to slip into for the hotel breakfast, which consisted of a piece of bread, butter and jam. It didn’t help that the staff were frying eggs in the kitchen for themselves and as I sat pitying myself, Ed texted he was having breakfast in town. I said I would hit the road at 9 because it showed to be another long day to Cusco.
There lay breakfast, a scant 15 yards away from my hotel balcony. If only I had a .22 rifle and a fishing rod with a treble hook...
After loading, I swept as much water off the bike as I could and got it fired up, I rode down to his hotel and spotted Ed and the Romanian rider on the DR650 in the gated parking lot. The Romanian guy was changing a flat and apparently had left Nazca the day we did. Ed wasn’t ready to go, and was planning to ride with the DR650 rider. I was glad he had a partner to ride with for the day.
The rain began as I left town, something that had become a plague on my trip through Peru. I had barely seen any blue sky other than on the coast and it was frustrating. I was still hungry and stopped a few villages away where the rain had abated to find a snack. The roadside tienda provided both food and information on the rain. The girl who ran it said rainy season had begun in January and would last through Marzo. Though in Spanish, she looked up at the mountainsides and said “muchas piedras” indicating the rainy season brought a lot of danger and potential death from rockfall and landslides.
The sun began to come out while we spoke and I peeled out of my rain gear before I got completely soaked from sweat.
As I continued up and down the switchbacks of the highway, enjoying the sun and beautiful vistas of blue and green and wisps of clouds, I was almost hit by a bus flying around a switchback too fast and too close, the rear end moving towards me and again I barely missed it. Sheesh. It was very, very close and a reminder that in Peru they don’t give a crap.
After the close call I focused on the skies and mountains as much as I could until again the rains came again, forcing me to stop and suit up just in time for a downpour.
After another hour, the sun had shown again and I stopped in a village on the roadside where some vendors were selling lunch to the locals. It was here I had my first ancient Incan traditional meal of rice, green onions, roasted chicken, chopped up hot dog wieners, french fries, and spaghetti, all smothered in ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.
One thing I'd learned in my travels was to eat where the locals congregated, and there had been along line of folks waiting at her kiosk. The line moved quickly and I was expecting roasted guinea pig stuffed with quinoa or some other traditional Incan fare, only to watch in fascinated terror as she covered the bottom of the plate with brown rice and green onions, then a piece of roasted chicken, smothered in french fries, chopped up hot dog wieners, then smothered with a huge spoonful of water and spaghetti onto the pile, then huge slathers of mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup.
I'd have thought it was a joke on the gringo, however the local women in tall hats and old men continued to line up at her cart.
That afternoon, and honestly for days afterward, I mulled over what I'd eaten, and even why I'd eaten it. Only once before, when in Alaska, had I had a similarly interesting meal. In that case, it was my moto-traveling Czech friend Kachka, who'd been excited to discover tortillas thanks to me, and had made breakfast burritos the final day of our parting ways, handing me one excitedly as I conversed with a Swiss couple, to which I noticed the tortilla had been filled with peanut butter, canned corn, chopped up wieners and tuna fish. She was so excited to have made breakfast and stared at me while I ate it, which of course I had to. She ran back and made a second one for me. I hate to admit it, but that tuna-peanutbutter-corn-wienie combo was better than the Incan fare.
Cusco was still about an hour away and I enjoyed the scenery until I made the city. My old friends Christine and Jules were there in a pricey hostel and we looked forward to seeing each other again. They’ve become family to me. I did want to find a cheaper place however, and scoured the map, finally getting some cell data after horrible internet the previous night. One hostel touted motorcycle parking, however when I stopped and inquired, the front door was up over a 12” curb, then had a 16” wall blocking water from running into the lobby, followed by an entry of about 4’ width and 6 ft in length, probably 18-24" below the threshold level. I told them there was no way the bike could get in. He produced a 1x4 about 24” long and insisted we try. I tried to ‘splain my bike wasn’t one that could be carried like one of the little 100’s running around but he never understood. I finally had to just tell him no and leave.
This was followed by attempting to make my way to another hostel, ending up coming into a tiny street at a sharp angle… the problem being that the city dug a deep trench down the center and there was no way I could get my front wheel out of it once in. For that matter I wouldn’t even be able to get the bike into the trench at the angle I was. I managed to get the bike onto the narrow strip along the edge and of course they had planted light poles on that side, surmounted by getting off the bike, standing in the trench and leaning it towards me to clear the poles every 30 feet or so. After that fiasco I was tired and gave up, plugging in the coordinates of the hostel where my friends were and reversing a couple of miles before reaching it.
The secured parking was uncovered and of course, the rains came. I covered the dash area with a plastic bag to try to quell the ingress of water since the lights had been having major issues. The hostel had a great view but no heat, and that night it got very cold. Christine and Jules had left that morning for a Machu Picchu tour and were due back the next night. The rains came heavy and the internet didn’t work either that night, or all the time spent there. Ed texted me later that evening that he’d arrived and was staying in the worst place he’d ever stayed.
The next day the rains remained, pouring heavily, so I stayed in the room under the blankets trying to post a blog report. Foolish, but I had to at least try. After several hours I’d uploaded not a single photo.
The next morning at a frigid breakfast, Jules and Christine showed up to see me, looking haggard, beaten and derelict. They’d arrived at four in the morning, probably the sounds that woke me at that time. They were delirious from fatigue. We greeted each other and they ate breakfast but were planning to head straight back to bed. Their expensive, marathon trip had resulted in hiking in solid rain to the top, only to see pouring rain and thick clouds. It was a complete bust, other than to say that they’d been to Macchu Pichu. Disappointing. The forecast for the next 10 days showed 100% chance of heavy rain in the region.
For some reason, I hit another mental wall in Cusco, feeling drained physically and emotionally. The lack of oxygen, constant cold and seemingly endless rains probably added to it, but I just had no energy or desire to do anything. Macho Pikachu didn’t interest me due to the intense rains and the idea of spending a lot of money for a tour and effort to stand in pouring rain and spend an additional 2 or 3 days of time didn’t make sense, not to mention paying for hotel rooms both in Cusco and Aguas Calientes simultaneously. When I looked at it, there was no way I’d be spending less than a week in Cusco, and I was feeling under pressure for time after Cuenca. I’d been looking at the routes and how far was left, considering I was now about to enter February, the month I needed to reach Ushuaia and hadn't even made Bolivia or Chile, much less Argentina.
Due to the repairs, I had been forced to skip exploring Ecuador and now even Peru, my routes being driven by locations of repair shops in cities. I was getting very frustrated. Bolivia was next on the list and I was hearing from riders ahead that it was raining in many places and the famous Salar, the highest desert salt flat in the world, was now deep in water and mud. The conditions were so bad even a stage of the Dakar race there had been cancelled. I had received plenty of pictures of travelers ahead with their bikes buried to the skid plates or deeper on the flooded Uyuni.
My poor luck of having been in a constant state of rains almost the entire way through central and south America was getting old. Friends ahead of me had generally had good weather. Due to the unnatural heavy monsoon rains ahead of me in Bolivia, I seriously mulled over the idea of skipping the country and heading for Ushuaia as fast as possible, then returning back up through Argentina to Bolivia and Peru to explore these places in better weather - without time pressure. The flipside of that coin, was that if my money ran out, or the string of bad luck continued to expense me, I’d have missed Bolivia on this trip, one of the top places I wanted to see.
After 2 days, the rains stopped and I was able to leave the hostel and head down to the main plaza of Cusco. The street from the hostel was extremely steep going downhill, but worth the effort, as Cusco is one of the prettiest colonial cities I’ve seen. The old churches of stone are beautiful, as is most of the architecture. Despite hordes of tourists, it was still a nice place to be and despite the rain showers I enjoyed being there.
Suzie and Kelvin had contacted me about the package I was bringing them and we planned to get together the next day. As it turns out, while walking across the main square, I bumped directly into Liwia and Sebastian, a Polish couple I’d met in Cuenca at Cristobal’s shop. They were traveling two-up on a BMW F650 Dakar and we’d connected on WhatsApp. They had briefly met Suzie and Kelvin, as well as Michnus and Elsebie earlier at a hostel in the past and were excited to connect again. Christine and Jules had also met Suzie and Kelvin and Michnus and Elsebie somewhere on the road.
We all met the next day at the main square just as a rainstorm hit and we found a coffee shop for the meeting of the minds. Ed dropped in as well and we had a great time that evening sharing stories and laughs. Another of Liwia and Sebastian’s friends, Johnston Julao was there also. Everyone’s information seemed to match up about Bolivia and the rain issues, and most of the group said they were skipping the country and going for Chile. It didn’t sway my decision, but confirmed the feeling I needed to skip Bolivia and get going southward. I hadn't gotten any responses from Ron since the 2nd day of travel and Ed informed me Ron had taken his moto to a KTM dealer which had taken a few days to repair due to lack of parts, then his bike had failed again on the way to Lima. He was now stuck in Lima awaiting more parts for the KTM. It was unfortunate to hear, the "KTM's aren't reliable"curse hitting him squarely between the eyes and since leaving Ecuador, his trip had been nothing but repairs and failures. At least it was good to know he was safe, though sad to hear what he was going through.
Christine and Jules
Liwia and Sebastian, Johnston and Kelvin
Suzie, Liwia and Sebastian
I didn’t really want to skip Bolivia, but I had to make realistic choices and get the Ushuaia weather deadline off my back. Inside I just felt strongly I needed to head south quickly, and despite rationale and questioning, I made the decision to turn away from Bolivia for Chile.
Ed planned to head on for Machu Picchu the next day, despite the rain forecast, and had actually bought a fake North Face rain jacket, God bless him, the town being rife with counterfeit outdoor gear in the shops. As it later turned out, he too was swamped in rain for his view of the Pichu.
Tomorrow my destination is for Puno and Lake Titicaca, then south for the Chilean border.
Chalhuanca to Cusco