Begin: Abancay, Peru @ 9:30AM
End: Cusco, Peru @ 4:00PM
Distance: approx. 208km (~130mi) in 6.5 hours (~32KMH / ~20MPH average)
Average Gas Mileage: ~60MPG
Stopped by Police: 0x, waved through 4 checkpoints with a smile
I woke up today, Thursday, April 21 and went looking to buy a SOAT, which is insurance required by law in Peru and without which I had been continually hassled over the past week of travel in Peru. I located a place that sold it and found out it was closed. Then I was shocked to be told that it was a holiday until Monday and that almost everything would be closed!
I’m sure you can figure this one out – when I travel I become so disconnected from dates and calendars that it didn’t even occur to me. This weekend was Easter, a hugely critical holiday in a predominantly Catholic country, as I was told Holy Week here is considerably bigger than even Christmas (and most people only get one day off for that in the US!). So without much to be done I decided to head off for Cusco and see how things were there.
The drive to Cusco was accompanied by a bizarre sort of déjà vu as I ascended the mountain road out of the city towards the top of a nearby crest, watching the city of Abancay expand below me. “Oh, there is where I got pulled over last time!” and “Hey I think this is where I had my flat tire…” From here until somewhere around Uyuni (Bolivia), I would be driving roads that I had driven a year and a half ago on the first Mototaxi Junket.
I climbed out of Abancay, intending at every corner to stop and take some photos of the city but this road had absolutely no room on the side to do so. Before long, I had ridden high up into dense fog and the city was lost beneath me. Thankfully this did not last long before I crested the mountain and began the long, long descent into Cusco.
For hours I rode back and forth down the mountain into a deep valley, then followed the river in a mostly straight line in one of the most untaxing and fairly boring days of the trip so far. The entire road between Abancay and Cusco is covered with farming communities, so there was never a moment without houses or people around and no opportunity for any great photos or video. Almost before I had even realized anything as changing I found myself ascending into Cusco.
The day ended as it progressed – a simple, boring descent into Cusco followed by a quick search for a hostel. I found myself able to navigate fairly well from memory in spite of only spending a day here over a year ago and before long I was circling the Plaza de Armas and checking into another Pirwa hostel, this time into a shared room for four at a cost of 28 soles per night. They had no parking, but I found a nearby garage and ended up shoving my moto in at a cost that ended up almost matching my hostel!
I finished the night by eating Mexican food (sort of) and deciding to stay for a bit in Cusco, since there’s not much point in moving on towards the border before Tuesday.
Days 8-9 (Rest)
Location: Cusco, Peru
I spent the next two days basically sitting around the hostel watching tv on my laptop and talking with my best friend back home over google chat. In fact, the second day I spent half the day helping him migrate a mysql database and wordpress setup to my VPS where I host all my stuff, an interesting technical challenge that proved I can still handle that kind of stuff even though it hasn’t been my focus for awhile (and I’ve barely done anything technical in 1.5 years).
Saturday night I met up with a friend I met in India and another from Easter Island and treated them to an awesome gourmet meal complete with a bottle of wine, mostly because I was desperate for company and a real conversation. I had a minor migraine during the meal but otherwise it went well and we talked long into the night.
At some point, I’ll explain why I didn’t do much else in a separate blog post, the short of it is that I can get incredibly lonely in places like Cusco watching all these adorable couples on vacation together and I’d just rather not deal with it – plus, at some point, I want to come back to Cusco as a couple myself, and I’d like to see everything for the first time when I do. I know, a bit weird for a solo traveler, but you’d be surprised how much of my travel in the last year and a half has been scouting for locations I’d like to go back to when I can share it with friends…
I also found out a SOAT would cost me nearly 700 soles ($250USD) because my bike is registered in Lima. Knowing I was only two days of travel away from the border I decided to see if I can get by without the SOAT until I make it out of Peru… meaning more potentially negative confrontations with policia.
Begin: Cusco, Peru @ 8:30AM
End: Puno, Peru @ 7:30PM
Distance: approx. 403km (~252mi) in 11 hours (~36KMH / ~22MPH average)
Average Gas Mileage: ~54MPG
Stopped by Police: 1x, waved through 5 checkpoints with a smile
My luck held fantastically today! I don’t know if it’s because it was a Sunday or just that the policia along this route are more laid back, but I drove by almost every checkpoint smiling and waving and was only stopped once! Leaving Cusco there was one of the standard huge road blocks with tons of policia stopping everyone, so I wasn’t surprised when they stopped me. I was, however, surprised and thankful when one of the higher up officers took my registration card and driver’s license for only a few moments, then handed them back to me wishing me a good trip and never once mentioning the lack of a SOAT!
Leaving Cusco itself was pretty hilarious. Peru’s cities are designed in this bizarre fashion where the main roads that connect them will just sort of dump you somewhere at the edges and leave you to fend for yourself navigating to the other side of town where, if you’re lucky, it starts up again. This makes every town a pain to navigate, and as such by far the most common sentence I have used in Spanish on this trip is “donde esta la ruta a (cuidad)?”
When I finally made it out, I was struck by something a bit strange – I didn’t do a lot of climbing. In fact, the entire day I rarely seemed to climb, certainly with almost none of the dreaded constant switchbacks. Instead, everything was a slow low grade until before long I was well over 4000 meters up and still climbing. Last time I made this trip was in November (summer) and we ended up stopping just over halfway to Puno after night fell and it came unbearably cold.
My Honda moto definitely held up better than my Lifan, however, because I was still able to fairly consistently travel at 60-65kmh and made much better time than I did last year. The altiplano unfolded before me for a few hours until around lunch time I realized it was heading straight for a notch between two mountains ahead of me – and that notch was filled with evil, evil clouds.
As I started to ride up into hail, I stopped to put on my rain gear and upgrade to some of my cold weather gear. By the time I had it all set, the temperature had dropped below freezing and hail was accumulating on the side of the road. Nothing for it but to go ahead, so I cranked some tunes and jammed my way through hail, freezing rain, and a minor amount of snow until seeing a sign on the side of the road that said I was going through a pass at nearly 15,000 feet up! No wonder it was so cold!
At this point, I took a photo of the road in front of me realizing that it was the exact same point I had taken a photo a year and a half ago! Weird, déjà vu again. The road descended quickly from the pass down to a more sane 13,000 or so feet and opened up onto a huge altiplano covered in beautiful green grass with grazing animals everywhere. Even better, I outran the clouds trapped over the pass and shortly made it out into bright sunshine.
I stopped along the way to grab some video then decided to see if I could make it to Puno tonight instead of stopping somewhere random. I knew navigating Juliaca at night would be a pain (it was a nightmare in the day), but somehow I made it through the entire town without having to ask for directions once! I just kept following the flow of traffic and somehow guess right. Suddenly I was spit out in pitch black from the town center onto a huge six lane highway with signs towards Puno and off I went at full speed, hoping to make the remaining 40km before it got too cold.
This was, perhaps, quite silly… the sun set at 5:30 and by 6PM it was pitch black and the temperature was hovering just above freezing. My gear held up well and I picked a line on the side of the road that allowed traffic to pass me with care and forced me to trust in the quality of the road (since there was no time to see anything – at one point someone left a huge rock on the side and I smashed into it with no warning). It’s hard to explain how black it can be out here when there’s no ambient light and lots of cloud cover…
Then, suddenly, I was ascending again! I remembered this road! Oh man I should have done this in the daytime because… there it was, Puno laid out in beautiful shining lights beneath me. In the daylight there is a fantastic view of Lake Titicaca here, but tonight I just worried about heading into town. In the dark. In the cold. On a Sunday night. On a holiday weekend.
Let’s just say almost nothing was open. I stopped at a Pirwa hostel that I had a mind to stay at (since I’d already stayed in their hostels in Lima and Cusco), but they could only put me in a room with a group of five girls. Many would jump at this opportunity, but I knew it would just make things worse so I headed towards downtown. Suddenly everything around me is familiar and I knew exactly where I was from my four day stay last time. Wait, I even know the hotel we stayed at last time has parking, and where it was!
I parked outside and talked to the guy for a bit, brought in all my stuff and put my mototaxi away. He handed me my room key and I thought “wait a minute… 204.. isn’t that…” and I went up to go into my room and sure enough, it’s the exact same room I was in last time! Freakin’ bizarre.
Some things have definitely changed around here since my last visit though, some of the shops and different and it’ll be interesting to explore. My plan right now is to stay here until Wed in order to ensure I have all the maintenance I need done finished with in Peru, stock up on spares, look into some customizations, and get everything prepped from a paperwork perspective for crossing into Bolivia.
Boring stuff for the next few days, but once I hit Bolivia it’s going to be a week of intense horrid roads in the middle of nowhere before I hit Argentina, so… let’s enjoy civilization for a bit.