I kept a Moleskine journal, writing every night while on my trip in Peru. This was taken from the day when I rented a motorbike from Perumototors.com (semi-shameless plug) but they were fantastic and I would highly recommend.
Anyway, it's a little bit of a ride report and my experiences of driving in a 3rd world country, some ruins, off-roading, and general feel for the country. Nothing is edited, it's rough and I'll even include the errant swearing that I for some reason pen down when making a mistake.
Hope you enjoy.
- 12-NOV-12 Day 4
I woke up feeling like crap. My head, nose, throat, all stampeded by an angry alpaca train shod with steel. I really exerted myself yesterday with all the walking, exploring, and one too many Cusquenas on the patio and after finally making it out of bed I saw the toll of what the sun *fuck* gave me as well. Razor sharp lines of red around my neck from the T-shirt I was wearing, and a white halo on my head from where the sun couldn't reach. Fuck it hurt. At such altitudes ~11k ft, Cusco has UV indexes of 11-14; ultra high.
My Ride a Honda NX400 Falcon
After a LONG shower, I had to rush to breakfast & make my way to 578 Saphi & Peru Moto Tours. Today I *damn tenses* took a solo guided *fuck* guided motorcycle tour. Just me and a personal guide, Frank. Frank was scrawny, almost rat-like in appearance; lighter complexion but a native of Cusco. He had the glazed look of a hangover as he showed up 10 minutes late, but Goddamn could this guy ride! He on a Honda CRF 250 and me choosing a Honda NX400 Falcon (I wanted to ride something not available in the States, with my other choices being a CRF 250 or a XR650.)
After filling up for 75 Soles = fucking almost $30USD, I quickly realized this was not going to be some run of the mill tour with a guide more concerned about pleasing old, fat, geezers, but actually riding. Within the first couple of blocks I had already broken 3 laws; running a red light, passing on yellow, and well.....ok maybe just 2 laws because the speedometer on my bike didn't work. Ignorance is bliss right?
Let me try to describe to you what it's like driving in a busy 3rd world city; Throw out any rules. Basically you have where you are and where you want to go; the game is to get there however you want, alive of course, and in decent time. The only time people pay attention to traffic signs is when there is a policeman on the corner, other than that, anything goes. Lane splitting, running lights, swerving around animals, passing on the dirt shoulder, passing on yellow, passing on curves, passing on the sidewalk. ANYTHING! The only problem is; everyone else is going it as well! You have got to be absolutely aware at all times and absolutely aggressive, otherwise you WILL get run over or run off the road. There's no sense, whatsoever, in being a pacifistic bitch about it and there is no one to care when you get cut off. I have never had so many close calls on a motorcycle then in just driving around the city. I have also never felt more alive on a motorcycle than in the 15 minutes it took us to get out of Cusco and into the countryside and mountains. Ridiculously scary, yet so much FUN!
We made our way out of Cusco, me trying to keep up w/ Frank, swerving and twisting through traffic. Just minutes out of Cusco, we were headed east to Pisaq & climbing. Surprisingly, the roads were not as bad as I expected, in fact most of the paved roads were equal to or better than some roads back in the US. The road twisted and followed the mountain, rising steeply & cutting lines with unapologetic intent.
Traffic had thinned and we were into the country. The roads lined with small huts, trash, and people going about their lives. It wasn't far out of Cusco that, and not that Cusco is incredibly clean, but the smell of burning trash began to pierce my nose and throat. It was inescapable, and such a distinct smell.
The Sacred Valley, a few miles outside of Cusco.
On the left and right, animals grazed or just meandered down the road unattended, almost as if they inhabited the towns rather than people. We passed through multiple villages until reaching an overlook providing a breathtaking view over the Sacred Valley, and after stopping for a pic, I was more than taken back by the scenery. The valley was so green and speckled with the colors of a village in contrast to the rusty mountains.
Ruins at Pisaq
We continued on in to Pisaq, slaloming traffic, animals, and people running across the road. Once at the ruins, I explored a bit walking through the stone building that hug the mountainside tightly with each room and building contouring the change in geography. Past the first structured groupings an entire draw of the mountain was dedicated to terrace farming. From the saddle, sweeping down nearly the entire length to the valley were terraces, ~20 ft wide, each with a few feet of stonework supporting the sod before the next terrace jutted out of what would have been a slope. It almost didn't seems real, like I was looking at a giant postcard, something that I should be seeing on TV and not in person. That line between reality and a TV image would be all but indistinguishable if not for the smell of earth and mud, moss and running water. The brisk breeze coming off the mountain and the dust and dirt in my mouth from riding the twisting paths through the Andes.
Overlooking the modern Pisaq village.
Leaving Pisaq we continued to the town of Chinchero. Down in the Sacred Valley, the road straightened and wound very gently, giving you time to take in the mountains with less of a concern to misjudging a tight curve and careening off the side of the mountain. Through more outlying villages, harming trash smog, and roving packs of dogs, we passed through Urumbamba and to the ruins of Ollantaytambo.
Another massive structure built right up the mountain. However, here the stones were so big, it is hard to comprehend how the Inca brought them up to such heights. Stones as big as small cars were stacked upon each other, or stood on end to form walls taller than a standing arms reach, with just one stone! What seemed like an endless staircase took me to the top of the ruins, granting another great view of the underlying valley. The climbs are tiring, up & up, step after narrow step, but luckily the views were more than worth it!
Leaving Ollyantaytumbo, we headed northeast for Moray. Through more countryside and small villages, Frank made a sharp turn onto a dirt/gravel road after my question of any off-road prospects at our previous stop. Frank was a little more tame on speed through these dirt/gravel roads, but still a decent effort on my part to maintain with him.
We rode for miles, twisting and jumping through the dirt; occasionally passing farmers in their colorful dress working the fields with primitive tools. Entire acres of the rusted soil had been plowed by hand and they toiled as we passed, not even looking up. Nothing they hadn't heard before I suppose, despite it being a sight I has never witnessed. I couldn't quite tell what crops were in the fields as our bikes kicked up more dirt, but earth, moisture, and the spirit of the mountains were in the air as we continued on.
Following Frank through some sharp turns and alleys in a village, dodging a couple buses and cars careless of our position on motorcycles in regards to their cages, we arrived @ Moray.
Distinguishing itself from the other ruins previously visited; the Inca ruins at Moray, though terraced much the same, spiraled down in concentric circles into the ground. Each ring of terrace smaller in circumference, about ~30 in total, until the bottom where a ~30ft diameter circle completed it's end.
Steps at Moray
Frank informed me this site was a dedication to one of the three animals the Incas held sacred; the snake. He also enlightened that because of the differences in height of the terraces and their relationship to the weather; subsequently, the Incas were able to grow different kinds of crops on the differing terrace levels with their changes in climate.
Again, the view was something surreal and takes you back in amazement. The circles seemed to draw me in, down in to the ground, each of their rings a magnet to my imagination. Wonder and awe at the sight before me. The wind would gust occasionally up at the top, completing the tempt to fall into the circle in one of those 80s movie montage spirals. The steps going down in to the terraces were just large rocks jutting out and down the sidewall of each terraced circle, some steeper, some smaller, all requiring sure-footedness that I have begun to see and appreciate from the Incas.
We left Moray and headed on more gravel/dirt roads back to Cusco, the long way it seemed, this time dodging wildlife in the road and an errant farmer on donkey or leading ass.
We traveled some of the same trails back to the main paved road '28' I think, and back into the outskirts of Cusco in 1 hour. Minutes outside of the city, the hectic and weaving traffic picked up and only intensified again in Cusco proper. More close-calls, passing and swerving around cars, animals, and people that Frank deemed to be going too slow for 'our' enjoyment. We came to one particular jam at an intersection and a complete stop for a few seconds, nothing obscure in the states, but here Frank would have none of it, and he quickly dipped onto the adjoining sidewalk and began going down quite a steep grade of steps alarming people, dogs, chickens, food, and even the policeman further down at the main intersection.
I just watched, we were almost back and I wasn't going to risk dumping the bike with an admittedly fun looking stunt, just minutes from returning the bike. Oh well. I've got it in my mind & on video for memory and that will serve me well!
The day was fantastic and well worth the $125 to be just Frank and me having reckless fun through the Andean high, low, and Inca ruin country.
We returned ~6 pm, I was spent from the full day of playing catch-up and hiking through ruins. I'm sitting on the patio from my room, a room-temp beer in hand that tastes about as good as any I've had in a long time. The sun is quickly falling and the voices in the street are becoming the primary noise to a city beginning to die down. Today was perfect and there's no other way to put it. Fucking perfect.
...So, that was it. Overall an absolutely fantastic experience and totally worth the little bit extra money to have a personal guide keen to giving insight to the ruins and specific notions of the indigenous people and culture.
Here is a video I put together quickly of a little bit of riding through Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and to some of the ruins.