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 for themselves and as I sat pitying myself, Ward texted he was having breakfast in the 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 and a fishing rod with a treble hook...
When I swept as much water off the bike as I could and got it fired up, I rode down to his hotel and spotted Ward and the Romanian rider on the DR in the gated parking lot. He was changing a flat and apparently had left Nazca the day we did. Ward wasn’t ready to go, and I was glad he had a partner to ride with for the day.
The rain started 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 stopped 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 as we spoke and I peeled out of the rain gear before I got completely wet 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 by “I don’t know how”. 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, forcing me to stop and suit up again 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 wienies, french fries, spaghetti and all covered in ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. I’ll admit to expecting roasted cuy stuffed with llama and quinoa or something similar, but what was I thinking??
I'd have thought it was a joke on the gringo however the local women in tall hats and old men were lined up at her cart.
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 like family to me. I did want to find a cheaper place however and scoured the map, finally getting some 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. 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 on 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 my friends hostel 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 Machu Picchu and were due back the next night. The rains came heavy and the internet didn’t work that night, or for all the time spent there. Ward 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 report. Foolish but I had to at least try. After several hours I’d uploaded 7k of a single photo.
The next morning at a chilly breakfast, Jules and Christine showed up to see me, looking absolutely beaten and derelict. They’d arrived at four in the morning, probably the sounds that woke me at that time, and were delirious. We greeted each other and they ate breakfast but were planning to head back to bed. Their expensive marathon trip had resulted in hiking in solid rain to the top, only to see rain and clouds. It was a complete bust other than to say they’d been there. Disappointing. The forecast for the next 10 days showed heavy rain in the region.
For some reason, I hit a wall in Cusco, feeling drained physically and emotionally. The lack of oxygen, cold and rains probably added to it, but I just had no energy or desire to do anything. Macho Pikachu didn’t interest me and the idea of spending a lot of money and effort to stand in pouring rain and spend an additional 2 or 3 days of time didn’t make sense, including 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 and was still not even in Chile.
For some time, and with all the delay and expense related to equipment failures, I was running out of time and patience. I wanted to make Ushuaia in February and was now looking at mid to late March at best, if I continued at this pace. 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 Salar was now deep in mud, even a stage of the Dakar being cancelled. I had plenty of pictures of guys ahead with their bikes buried to the skid plates or deeper on the Uyuni.
I seriously mulled over the idea of skipping Bolivia and heading for Ushuaia as fast as possible, then returning back up through Argentina to Bolivia and Peru to explore these places - without time pressure. The flipside of that coin, is that if my money ran out or the string of bad luck continued to expense me, I’d have missed Bolivia, one of the top places I wanted to see.
After 2 days, the rains stopped and I was able to head for 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 an 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. Ward dropped in as well and we had a great time that evening sharing stories and laughs. Another of Liwia and Sebastian’s friends, Johnston 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 deep feeling I needed to get going south.
Christine and Jules
Liwia and Sebastian, Johnston and Kelvin
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 need to head south quickly, and despite rationale and questioning, I made the decision to turn for Chile.
Ward planned to head on for Machu Picchu the next day, despite the rain forecast, and actually bought a fake North Face rain jacket, the town being rife with counterfeit outdoor gear in the shops. As it later turned out, he too was in rain for the view of the Pikachu...
Tomorrow the destination was for Puno and Lake Titicaca, then south for the Chilean border.
Chalhuanca to Cusco