Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tricksey Bolivians

(La Paz - Rurrenabaque - Potosi, Bolivia)

We have managed to fill the last 10 days with more dust, mud, rain, and adventure than expected. From alligators to un-controlled intersections, icy roads and piranhas, it's been some kind of fun. Let me tell you our tale.

We left La Paz and headed Northwest toward Rurrenabaque and the wild rivers and jungles that awaited us there. It was two days of driving on unbelievably dusty roads, twisting and turning their way through the continuously warmer mountains. By dusty, I mean two inches of silt that filled the air and coated every part of us, the bike, our ridng gear, and everything underneath. We had dirt circles where our sunglasses had been. Each bus we passed caused such a stir that we couldn't see past the front tire. We decided to leave the main road to explore the downward slopes of "The Most Dangerous Road in the World," but I think we both agree it didn't hold up to it's name compared to some of the roads we've come across in Peru, nor the road that came a bit later in the day. Suddenly the buses and loaded semi-trucks are driving toward you in the wrong lane! Turns out, fully loaded cargo trucks come up from the lowlands to La Paz, and due to the narrow roads and perilous dropoffs they hug the mountain side of the road. No problem, but they don't provide signs. By the afternoon we were stripping off our multiple layers of clothing, and spent a lovely, warm night in Palos Blancos.

The next day we arrived in Rurrenabaque in the afternoon and found ourselves a comfy room at Hospedaje Santa Ana and signed up for a tour with the Amazonicas Tour Company for a three day, two night excursion into the Pampas starting the following day. We were prepared for tropical air, swimming, hiking, boating and nature watching. The next day our group of eight loaded up in the safari-style jeep and rode four hours on dusty roads to the river bank where we loaded our gear, the guide, the chef, and the food into a long lancha (open wooden boat) for our four hour ride to the campsite. Dry season means the water is lower, exposing muddy banks where alligators and caimans (three times the size of alligators) sunbathe on the shore and beautiful birds (such as cranes, fishing eagles, and loons) decorate the trees. Pink dolphins crest the surface with soft exhalations, and are gone again before a proper photo can be attained.
We arrived at camp, ate our dinner at the long picnic tables, sat around a bonfire, and settled into our comfy cots with our mosquito nets draped around us.
At five AM the rain started. It pounded on the tin roof, thundered on the leaves, and turned the clay ground into muddy goo. We awoke and ate breakfast, hopped across little rounds of wood to get to the toilets, watched The Italian stand in one of the water-filled boats to fish for piranhas, and stood around on the narrow porch waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't.
Finally, at a loss, the guides (there were two, one for each group of eight) decided that we should proceed with at least a part of the plan. They had us pick out rubber boots (several people ended up with two Lefts, and the rest of us just dealt with the holes), layer up with whatever rain gear we had (I used a black plastic bag) and eighteen booted folk tromped out through the jungle and the wild marshes of the Pampas to see what they could see.
We had hardly begun before we were soaking wet from head to toe, our boots had begun to fill with water, and four of us had fallen behind. The rest of the group was soon out of sight, but we were with our guide Domingo (who was actively searching for Anacondas among the trees). Soon we saw him heading off into the forest, so we stopped and waited. Fifteen minutes passed, and we realized he wasn't coming back so we decided to try and catch up with the others. Adam and I were in the company of Gíl from Israel, and The Italian. The four of us happily tracked boot prints and followed muddy puddles, to no avail. At last, the rain coming down with fervor, we realized we'd been "tracking" for nearly 1 1/2 hours, and as the hike was supposed to
take about 3 hours we decided to give up and try to find our way back to the camp on our own. Easier said than done.
The rain had by now washed away any boot prints (even ours) and the muddy puddles had settled to look like the hundreds around them. At one point The Italian picked up a long stick, flung it into the air and declared that wherever it pointed when it fell would be our course. It did not point the way we wanted to go. Due to our incredible skills, we managed the last hour and a half through the jungle, guided by familiar looking trees and mushrooms to the edge of the Pampas where we were a bit stumped. The high grasses stretched out before us to more jungle on the other side of about two football fields. We couldn't remember where we'd come from, although I thought I recognized a white-ish tree across the rainy expanse. We headed out into the black mud, our feet sinking, our boots filled with muddy water, and soon discovered that the trail we'd followed was a cow path. Hoofprints, not bootprints. It was then that the rain started coming down with renewed strength, and the wind started up. I decided to try and intersect the path I hoped was heading for the white-ish tree. It was! We sloshed the rest of the way to camp, arriving just 10 minutes before the other group. The guides were quite irritated at our disappearance, although I have to say I disagree that they had the right considering it was they who lost us in the alligator/anaconda/cobra infested wilds. Domingo asked Adam, "Didn't you hear that bird?"
"I heard a bird," Adam replied.
"Yes, that was me," said Domingo, shaking his head in irritation that we hadn't known to listen for wild bird calls in the jungle. Just a thought, Mr Guide Sir: When searching for lost turistas in the jungle, it might be a bit more productive to call out in a human voice or yell Like A Human. There are a lot of birds out there, we might not know it's you.
We poured the black water out of our boots, hung our soaking clothes out to dry, and scrapped together what clothing we could to keep warm in the chilly evening air. Everyone went to bed early except for the Irish who sang pub songs and eventually lulled us to sleep with their renditions of Van Morrison songs.

The next day as we took the boat ride back. Adam jumped into the river to swim with timid pink dolphins as alligators slipped from the shore into the water nearby. At last we were back in Rurrenabaque, where we found out Michael Jackson had died. We met up at the popular Monkeys Bar for Cuba Libres and Caipirinas and with the rest of the group listened to the DJ spin out MJ classics. It would be one more day before a Bolivian metal worker would ask me why Michael Jackson hadn't recorded any Spanish music. All I could think to say was, "Because he couldn't speak Spanish?"

It took two days to get back to La Paz, and after all the rain the once-dusty roads were now slick with silty mud. It was nearing the end of our first day of riding when we lost control on a particularly slick corner and the bike slid out from underneath us, leaving us splayed out on our backs in the middle of the wet and rocky road. No harm was done although we were a bit sore the next day. We took a short break to gather ourselves and clean off the mud and got back on the road.
The following day we came upon an accident which included a cattle truck-turned-bus fully loaded with people charging off a cliff and dropping into the jungle below. Children with bloody faces were sitting along the road as men with ropes worked to haul up the rest of the passengers. Needless to say we were a bit shaken up, and more than happy to offer some of our water to a man bloodied from the fall. Taxis were being loaded with the most seriously injured, and we raced ahead to get help from the nearest Puesto de Control.

Back in La Paz, we had new brake rubber bits (Pastillas) added to our bare brake pads as a parade of wildly dressed women and men danced by in glittering costumes with bands following behind and playing enthusiastically. Later that night we were downtown and noticed bright rainbow flags decorating the main street. I thought they looked a lot like Gay Pride flags, but we've come across Peruvian and Bolivian rainbow flags before than represent different Indigenous groups so I was surprised to find that the parade winding by was filled with beautifully costumed Transvestites! They looked impressively like the women we'd seen earlier in the day, and were even accompanied by bands playing the same music. Bravo, Bolivia. I wouldn't have thunk it.

Adam got The Bug, and from La Paz we ended up in Oruro splurging on a $14 (100 Bolivianos) room at Hotel Bernal with hot hot water and cable TV. I tucked him into bed and weathered the freezing air to fetch dinner and sprite for his tummy. He's feeling much better but not quite 100%. In other news, the weather is cold. Icy cold. We've both had to purchase extra layers, new gloves, scarves, a poncho, and I even got some sweat pants. Yesterday I realized I was wearing six layers of pants, and I was still cold. Yarggggh!
We arrived yesterday here in Potosí, where, amazingly enough our room has a heater in it, and our shower water is gas heated (which means hot water). Today we took the Cerro Rico Mine Tour, purchasing Coca leaves, cigarettes, soda, and dynamite for the miners (who were hard at work as we wandered through their dark domain in our ridiculous yellow outfits and construction helmets with lamps). Adam helped put together a nice little stick of dynamite, and we were up close and personal when our guide, Johnny, lit the fuse. Two minutes (and a safe distance) later, the explosion made us all jump.
Then we toured the Museo de Moneda, where Bolivian money was minted on incredible machines using horses and pulleys and wheelie things that were very impressive. Potosí was the silver capital of the world, and the richest city in all of the Americas (and some say the world) in the mid-1700's.

Now for a bit of motorcycle information: Things have gotten interesting.
After passing 20,000 mileson her odometer, pretty Peter has started to fuss a bit. Adam has been hard at work repairing a broken tail light wire, a crack in the air box (on top under the seat) that he has sealed with silicon, reattached a severed starter cable, and shortened the chain (new as of Cali, Colombia) which had stretched about two inches.

Okay, I'm done. My fingers are sore and I need some dinner. Tomorrow we head down to Uyuni to meet up with Woody for our ride through the incredible salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. We've purchased an extra gas can for the vast expanses ahead as gas stations are few and far between and are often out of gas anyway. Just two weeks to fill up before we reach Buenos Aires, and we're doing our best to do it right.

All the best from this cold little corner of the Americas,
Grace and Adam

And thanks for the title Bethany, here are some pics!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fork Seals and Dried Lambs.

(Arequipa, Peru - La Paz, Bolivia)

I must backtrack a little bit to Arequipa where I was invited out to lunch by Rachel and Hannah, two English girls who were very sweet and fun and had some seriously ridiculous stories about ending up in a Peruvian prison after a wild night of partying and shortly thereafter waking up to a strange and large Peruvian man taking his boots off in their hotel room. Later that night we actually "went out" in Arequipa with the girls and two other guys from our hostel. We managed to stay out till 2am after dancing the night away (or at least a few hours) at a club filled with an English tour group who had managed to party it up much harder than us. It was a good night.

We headed toward Puno after Arequipa, stopping at the incredible Incan Tombs at Sillustani along the way. Three little girls approached us and offered to charge us money for letting us take a photo of them with their little lamb. We succumbed, and paid 1 Sol (about 33cents). The view was amazing, and we sat around on the rocks appreciating it for a bit.
From the ruins, we headed into Puno where we met up with Woodie, again. His motorcycle was parked right outside our hotel when we came back from dinner. He´d had his own adventures with the roadblocks from Cusco to Puno but luckily hadn´t been riding the bus! He had some Danish friends who´d had to get off their bus in the middle of the night, walk with 60 or so other white tourists through the roadblock pretending to ignore ugly stares from the disgruntled protesters, and after an hour or so (carrying their gigantic packs) they were picked up by a cattle truck that had been rented by the tour company.

We crossed the border into Bolivia pretty smoothly (other than the $135 USD per person to enter, of course) and enjoyed an evening in Copacabana on the edge of Lake Titicaca. As I mentioned before, the colours were spectacular.
Bolivia's population is 96% Indigenous and it´s wonderful to see the women in their colourful, layered skirts and little black caps. The fabric is sometimes neon pinks and bright reds that seem to glow as they tend their flocks and harvest their crops.
The road from Copacabana is smooth pavement, and eventually ends in the lake. Yes, we had to take a boat across, which cost just about $1.50 (10 Bolivianos). That´s our second riverboat crossing of the trip.

La Paz has the cleanest air I´ve ever seen in a large city. It is built into a volcanic crater, apparently by many people feeling very confident in that volcano not erupting again. Ever.
The streets are lined with people selling fruits and vegetables, dried lambs (literally small dried lambs, furry, small, lambs) bright woven fabrics and clothing, millions of potatoes, and one of my favourites, stacks and stacks of beautiful, fresh eggs. The women wear long, vintage-looking aprons to protect their pretty skirts.
We are staying in a little place called Hospedaje Jimenez, which is next door to a great cafe (tasty chicken sandwiches!). The bathrooms don´t seem to get cleaned, and there´s no toilet paper or soap, but we´ve got our own and the beds are rather comfy. I think I may save my showering for our next stop tomorrow. Is that gross? Not anymore.

We had one of our rare Quiet Nights last night, ate silently and got into our separate twin beds to read. Sometimes, it´s just necessary to keep to yourself for a few hours, appreciating your book, giving each other a little space.

This morning we headed out to Nosiglia motors, a motorcycle shop that is renowned for being very helpful to travelers. They helped Adam fix the front Fork Seal, by stretching then cutting the spring to tighten it. We hope that will be the end of the red fork oil spraying out of the shock.
Then we came back to our little street where Adam parked in the shade and started to work again on the electrical problems we´ve been having. He discovered a wire that had broken, and as far as I know he fixed the problem. We´ll see. The fuse keeps blowing, and we´re not sure why. By "we" I am including myself due to my being very supportive and interested, though absolutely clueless.
I think I could probably change a fork seal, now, though.

While Adam was working on the motorcycle, he had some young helpers, including a little girl who was very excited to help clean up the lights with a little orange rag. She came into the internet/tour company (where I was slaving away at our update) to tell her mother "Mama, él dame una tela y yo limpié las lúces! Estoy ayudando!" I absolutely apologize if that is completely mis-spelled. (Basically, "Mom! He gave me a rag and I cleaned the lights! I´m helping!"

Tonight is a huge fiesta at the ruins about an hour west of here that consists of freezing temperatures, lots of booze, and all night live music and fireworks. They don´t suggest that you get a hotel, but just take a nap in the bus if you need to. I think we´re gonna miss out on this party. Instead we´re going to have some dinner and try and figure out our exciting Bolivian jungle trip. It will most likely include pink freshwater dolphins, piranhas (hopefully not at the same time), searching for anacondas, and staying in a lodge. We´ll be taking a nature hike, and trying to spot exotic things hiding in the foliage. Sounds fun, huh?

As always,
Grace and Adam

More Photos!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bolivia We Salute You.

(Sicuani, Peru - Copacabana, Bolivia)

We just crossed the border into Bolivia today, and with our friend Woodie who turned up at our hotel last night.
We are in Copacabana on the shores of Lago de Titicaca, which is a fantastic blue surrounded with shimmering golden wheat fields.
We need to figure out what to do with our time here, but are thinking of exploring the mine shafts in Potosí, then heading into the Bolivian Amazon, and seeing if we can find a few parts for the motorcycle in La Paz. We have about 2-3 weeks here before heading across Argentina. It´s strange to feel like we´re short on time, and yet we still have two months!
The air is COOOOOLD. We´ve decided to ride only between the hours of 10am and 4pm due to the fact that the alternative hours are so cold. We´ve discovered Maté de Coca (tea made from the Coca Leaf) is quite tasty, and we´ve been trying to keep warm with that. It supposedly offers alleviation from altitude sickness symptoms, too.
Nowhere has heating. I sleep in thermal pants and a wool pullover. Sometimes wool socks, too. Removing any layers just seems silly, let alone removing all layers for a shower. The tile bathroom floors hurt to walk on, and it becomes a race to see how warm you can get in how quick a time (before the hot water runs out as it seems to do with me), then towel off and get your clothes back on before you´re freezing again.
The border crossing went pretty smoothly, although this was the first country to ask for our immunization records, copies of those, and oh, yeah, the $135 US per person for entering the country. I believe it´s reciprocal, as our country requires the same of Bolivian citizens. As the boys got all the paperwork put together for the motorcycles, I chatted with the local police on duty who were asking about the bikes and what repairs we´ve had to do along the way. Can I just say that I´m pretty excited to be able to have that conversation in Spanish!?! They were also curious to know which countries had been our favourites, and when I didn´t include Bolivia they wanted to know why. Well, we haven´t seen it yet!
Now to find out...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The trip has now Officially gone South.

(Sicuani, Peru - Arequipa, Peru)

So much for the good times...

Two days ago our morning began on a bit of a sour note. A loud and angry mob was blocking our route to the South with a 3 foot pile of rocks spanning the width of the road. There was no getting around it and, as is generally the case with angry mobs, there were a few bad seeds in the crowd. In this case the ¨Bad Seeds¨ were a small group of women brandishing 4 inch safety pins who kept taking quick steps towards us, arms extended, threatening to poke holes in our tires. In retrospect I couldn´t really say if their wide eyes, crooked toothed smiles and maniacal laughter were more comforting or scary. In any case we quickly made it clear that we had no intention of crossing their blockade.
Not an altogether unpleasant experience, we made friends with a number of drunk men and were eventually cheered over the wall and on our way after I hefted a couple big rocks from the ravine out onto the road and added to their pile.

Riding was smooth for a few hours... and then we ran over a dog. We were cruising around 50mph when the little mut darted out from the road side and dove head first into our front tire. It did not survive and we were both pretty shook up, to say the least. We decided not to turn around and investigate. In general you do NOT want to put yourself in a position where you have to apologize and compensate an angry and armed farmer for the death of his beloved pet.
It was a surreal event to say the least. We have encountered somewhere on the order of 10,000 anxious dogs on the road sides throughout our travels, many of which enjoy running up to us and barking at our boots. It´s to be expected. In this bizzare case however, the dog had absolutely no intention of changing course and clearly wanted to either tackle us or commit suicide. He did not tackle us.

The next morning we discovered that the dog had broken off our PVC tool carrier and highway foot pegs which are mounted just behind the front tire. We drove back up the road to try and find it and found nothing but a cute brown puppy soundly sleeping on the roadside.

We had a generally pleasant start to the following day driving through the Cañon del Colca (arguably the deepest in the world) and watching a family of Condors glide overhead from a well known lookout. We stopped for lunch in the central cobblestone plaza of Cabanaconde and made friendly with a couple of locals when... the bike suddenly, and without explanation, lost balance and crashed down onto its side! My helmet visor was scratched up, the wire to the helmet cam was severed, and the aluminum knuckle guard was bent inward, preventing operation of the brake lever.
Fortunately I was able to bend the handle back into place and we were back on the road after only a short delay.

We were running slightly behind schedule as we headed down the woefully pot holed road towards Arequipa when tragedy struck YET AGAIN... flat rear tire!
We were an hour out of the city and we had an hour and a half of daylight left. I had the tools and the spare but not the time. I pulled a two inch nail out of the tire and swapped out the tube but by the time we were finally back on our wheels and ready to go, darkness had arrived.

As a rule we try to avoid driving in the dark, we were not however prepared to spend the night on the side of the highway at 13,000 feet so we climbed aboard and prepared for a slow ride into town. That´s when... the headlight stopped working!
You think I´m kidding don´t you. I wish I was kidding. We´ve been having some intermittent electrical problems which I honestly thought had been resolved. Apparantly not. It turned out we had blown a fuse, which I quickly replaced, only to find it blown again. It was getting cold out and I was in no position to troubleshoot an electrical short so we set off in search of the nearest hospitable accomodations sin headlight. Our brake light was still working, which I felt would adequately indicate our location to vehicles approaching from the rear, and our blinkers were able to provide a surprisingly acceptable yellow strobe to light our way ahead.
At 10 mph we had no intention of driving all the way to the city and neither of us were sure just how far we would have to go before finding a place to stay. Luckily, it only took about 15 minutes. We pulled up to a remote truck stop where we were waved to the side of the road by the police officer on duty. He started out by telling us how unsafe it was for us to ride without a headlight (Thanks) and asked us a bunch of questions about what we were up to. It turned out that there wasn´t a hotel for many miles and, after conferring with his partner, he invited us to park the bike inside the police station and sleep in the dorms by candlelight.
They provided a stack of blankets and showed us around the place. My favorite part of the tour was when they opened the door to show us the bathroom. Turns out it was also the rear entrance to the building. In any case, we were warm and safe and I gave them $10 for generator gas before leaving. We slept until 6am and hit the road to Arequipa. It was unbearably cold outside and we were thrilled when we finally pulled into town and stopped at the first cafe we could find to warm up with coffee and hot chocolate.
We subsequently found a hostel, got cleaned up, dropped off our laundry, and are now working on a plan to get the electronics and fork seal fixed before heading on to Bolivia.

For those of you who don´t have the attention span to digest the entire post, allow me to recap. In the last two days we have dealt with; an angry mob, a dead dog, a lost tool carrier, a broken helmet cam, a bent handle bar, a flat tire, a leaking front fork seal, malfunctioning electronics, being stranded in the mountains, and riding on the brink of frost bite.

Stay tuned for a (surely) more positive update.

Some of the photos are sad...

description of the photo

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conquering Machu Picchu

(Cusco - Machu Picchu - Sicuani, Peru)

The night before departing Cusco for Machu Picchu we wandered into the main Plaza in search of a restaurant and were treated to an impressive firework display on the Cathedral steps. A band was loudly trumpeting Andean music as a team of drunken ¨technicians¨ carried 4 enormous firework laden bamboo structures out onto the steps and set them ablaze. It was quite a spectacle to behold, sparks and flaming pieces of bamboo showering the crowd in what surely would not have been permitted in such a responsible country as the USA. Booooo!
At one point Grace screamed, ¨lookout!¨ as one of the towers began to collapse just behind me, and with the reflexes of a frightened possum I screamed like a girl and ran for cover. No harm was done, and the locals had a good laugh.
Afterwards we enjoyed a couple tasty beverages and an incredible shepherd's pie at Paddys Pub just off the square. A bit spendy, but in our opinion, well worth it.

The following day took us over the hill from Cusco to the tiny Incan village of Pisac where we were lucky to visit on a Sunday which is market day. We wandered along the cobblestone streets and through the colorful bamboo stalls for a couple of hours and picked up a few souvenirs, which I´m sure Grace can´t wait to share with you all, and then enjoyed a wonderful food cart lunch of chicken, stuffed peppers and pasta for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 dollars.
From there we headed to Ollantaytambo where we intended to stay the night. On a tip from Grace´s Auntie Palma, we stopped in at El Albergue Hotel to say hi to a distant acquaintance and what a fantastic stop this turned out to be. The incredibly generous hotel manager and son of the owner, Juaquin, invited us to stay, not at the hotel, but in his home, free of charge. He also joined us for dinner and filled us in on a lot of the local flavor, as well as let us play with his awesome doggies. A couple Pisco Sours, a bottle of wine, an incredible Alpaca steak and homemade Asparagus soup for dinner and we called it a night.
Thanks again Juaquin!

Getting to Machu Picchu on the cheap!
It costs $100 per person for a round trip train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu. From Ollantytambo, the half way point to which you can drive, the round trip train ticket costs $62 per person. This is in addition to the $40 per person entrance fee into the actual ruins that you pay once you arrive. Not surprisingly things can get pretty expensive and that´s why we decided to save some dough and have a little adventure.
It turns out that it´s actually possible in 4 1/2 hours to drive from Ollantaytambo, over the hill and around the bend to the tiny village of Santa Theresa. From there it´s a mere 2 1/2 hour hike down a set of active train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
The trip is fantastic and I recommend it for anyone with the means. Unfortunately for us, after a somewhat heavy night of drinking (not really, but considering we are averaging a beer a week, it doesn´t take much) and a long motorcycle ride, by the time we stumbled into Aguas Calientes we were seriously pooped and Grace was NOT feeling well. It took an hour longer than our return trip, and it was dark by the time we arrived. We were welcomed by the twinkle of thousands of lightning bugs as we finished. We stayed in the fantastic Hostal Chokra and set our watches for an early wake up call. Grace didn´t get much sleep that night.

It´s hard to put into words our experience at the Ruins of Machu Picchu so I´ll let the photos do most of the talking. We were in line for the bus at 5am and passed through the entrance gate to the Ruins within an hour, plenty of time to see the sun crest the nearby peaks and light up the ancient city. The day began with the city shrouded in a thick and fast moving fog, but as the hours passed the sky cleared and the air became warm and comfortable. Due to Grace´s low energy we decided not to summit Wuayna Picchu and instead enjoyed a full 4 1/2 hours of wandering about the stones and listening to random tour guides explain the details. We were back at the hostal by Noon and ready for a nap. We stayed the night and headed out in the morning, once again along the train tracks. It wasn´t easy, but we had conquered Machu Picchu and it was spectacular!

We re-traced our route back to Ollantaytambo and then on to Cusco, a full 10 hours of travel. It was at lunch that day on the side of the highway that I met the pepper that nearly ended my life. You should understand that I´m not in the habit of biting into Serrano or Habañero peppers and so am not accustomed to the body's reaction to this type of event, but when I picked up what I thought was a seemingly harmless appetizer and sunk my teeth in I swear I almost threw up out of fear that the feeling wouldn´t pass. The pepper had been spat, drink had been drunk, and the burn went on for what seemed like an eternity. Grace got a good laugh and some fun photos of the experience. Suffice to say I eventually got over it but it´s certainly a lesson I won´t soon forget.
On the way home we also ran into our friend Woodie who was heading in the opposite direction, on his way to Machu Picchu. We traded stories from the last time we met in Ecuador and made plans to meet again in Bolivia.
After a long day we pulled into Cusco just as darkness settled in. They had a room for us back at the Pompawasi Inn where all of our gear was stored and we got ready for a restful night. A light meal at a nearby cafe and a little ¨Anger Management¨ on the Teli and we were out cold.

Grace was still low on energy this morning, so we had a late breakfast and I cleaned out the air filter while she kicked back. We left Cusco around 12:30 with the modest goal of spending the night in Sicuani, only 2 hours away. This turned out to be surprisingly optimistic as we soon learned upon arriving at the first of many road blocks. Three years ago Matt and I spent the night on a bus on this same road due to similar road blocks. The locals in this area are apparently often upset with government actions and decide to carry massive stones out into the street and make their point by blocking traffic in both directions, generally for a period of 24 hours.
We politely parked the bike and inquired as to the cause of the discontent as well as the expected duration of the blockade. For the most part everyone was very friendly and we were allowed to pass through the first 2 blockades without delay. The next two, however, required a bit more persuasion. On both occasions Grace waited with the bike and I went and made friends. About 20 minutes of talking with a group of surprisingly drunken protesters and answering all of their questions about our adventure, we were let through. What should have been a 2 hour drive became 4 hours and we were happy to make it into town and settle into our hostal for the night. Two twin beds with a shared bathroom and no shower for $5. What a steal.
We later learned that, as a rule, motorcycles are allowed to pass without delay, yet another reason to travel on 2 wheels.

**Grace´s Note:
I would just like to thank Adam for trying to be gentle in regards to my general state of being over these last few days. I can´t recall ever feeling so sick and yet accomplishing so much (3 hours of railroads, 5 hours on Machu Picchu, 2 1/2 hours back on the railroads). He´s been a great nurse, and let me sleep this morning while he cleaned the air filter. The night before Machu Picchu I was literally awake every 45 minutes or so till 4:30a when we woke up to head out. Monty´s Revenge, indeed.


FYI: All future photos will be loaded into a new Picasa Web Album, Two for the Road Two. This means that if you want to view any earlier photos you need click on the link for Album #1 at the top left hand side of the blog :-)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Piggies! Part Two

(Huancayo, Peru - Cusco, Peru)

At last we have a chance to post those baby pig photos I promised. I am starting to seriously contemplate procuring one when I get home and having it for a pet. Is there anything cuter?

Two more big days of riding, stopping one night at Hostal Los Libertadores in the town of Ayacucho. We made a dramatic entrance by ramming the motorcycle´s steel underbelly into their doorstep leaving a large dent in the shiny metal step protector. Though the young men working there tried to knock it out with a hammer, it was to no avail. We left our mark in Ayacucho.
It was a fantastic place for $10 (30 soles), except that we shared a single bed for the night. Tiny, tiny blankets! After cleaning off the dust from the road (but not changing out of our riding/travel clothes) we wandered down some great walking streets and found a restaurant that served up some delicious lomo saltado and chicharron de pollo. These are two very popular dishes, the first being fried potatoes with vegetables (mainly tomatoes) and beef strips sauteed in a tasty sauce, served with rice. The second is breaded pieces of chicken, fried and served with fries and three types of sauce that taste vaguely like mustard, mayonnaise, and spicey ketchup.

The next day we hit the road at about 9:00am, waving farewell to our hosts who had kindly washed and dried the motorcycle which ended up very clean on one side. I even spied one of them attempting to polish the spokes!
It was a long day. It ended at last in Andahuaylas where we promptly ate dinner downstairs and went straight to bed.
Again we were up and out the door by 9:30am. Breakfast was Pan Comón (common bread) which is a tasty, hollow roll. We bought 8 for 1 sol, which is about 33cents.
Our ride started with three rugged hours on mountainous, silty, dusty roads looping up and down canyons and heading toward the turnoff where we were excited to finally hit the autopista (paved two-lane highway!). From there it was another four or so hours to Cusco, where we found a room at Hostal Pompawasi for $17/ night just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas and a whole lot of restaurants, clubs, bars, and shopping options for the hordes of travelers. The city´s population is about 600,000 and as you walk around you can spot Inca foundations on which the Spanish conquerors built their huge (and rather pretty) churches.
Arriving on Friday night, the city was alive. The plazas were filled with people, stages with live Andean music, busy restaurants, and fun people watching. It was also very cold. We are both pretty well adjusted to the altitude after our time in and out of the mountains but still can get pretty winded after walking up a long hill. I also noticed that after only about 3 ounces of wine (possibly less) I was feeling pretty loopy.
We had a rockin´good Friday night, and were in bed by 8:30p with our books. I have to add that I am very pleased with our blanket situation in that they are warm and soft and drapey, and large enough that they hang over the edges with no room for icy air to creep in.

Today we ate breakfast at a fantastic little place called Jack´s Café Bar. Adam and his brother Matt ate there three years ago when they came to Peru to hike Macchu Piccu, and though Adam usually likes to try out new places we headed there anyway. The food was great, but I have to say that it was the first place we´ve been in a long time that was pushing for turnover! There was a line out the door which made eating quickly seem like a good idea.
After breakfast we headed to Moto Row, where we managed to find a new rear tire and have it replaced within about two hours. Now we´re ready for the road South!
We also visited the ruins close to town, wandering around looking at the huge rocks which are perfectly fitted together and, well, amazing. There are lots and lots of tour groups wandering around, and we chatted with one couple who were also counting edges to see if they could find one with more than twelve. The famous one with twelve is down near the plaza. We took photos of ourselves next to it.

From here we head to Macchu Piccu, South to Arequipa, on to Lake Titicaca, and then to Bolivia! We have so much to see still, it is a bit strange. Our trip has been so full of sights and new places, and there are so many more ahead.

Happy Birthday to Kyle, Sandra, and Mum.
Happy Graduation to Kevin!!

Much love,
Grace and Adam

Our latest...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two Part Pig Heaven

(Huaraz, Peru - Huancayo, Peru)

It is apparently baby pig season in Peru, and I have spotted several little troops of the cute and tiny piglets from my back seat view. I couldn't help but wish that I could hop down off the motorcycle, plop myself in the middle of them, and play! Sort of like in Guatemala when a young mother handed over her baby boy, and in Panama when I was suddenly surrounded with little Wuonan children. Once I get excited about something it can get a bit ridiculous. For example, the squeals that escaped from my mouth yesterday when we rounded a corner high in the mountains and there were SEVEN tiny baby piggies trying to hide in the bushes. No Mama Pig around, and they were being very smart staying all together and running off the road when they heard engine sounds. What followed is definitely a highlight of my trip so far, and to understand I bid you wait for Part Two, which has to wait till I can get access to a computer (I'm using the iPod right now). In the meantime, I will add a bit about our last couple of days.

We officially rode very very high, 4,720 meters or 15,486 feet!!! We've been all layered up, trying to figure out the best distribution of clothing, and managing pretty well. We haven't had to pull out all the long underwear yet, but we did find ourselves shopping for outerwear. A new scarf for Adam and a fleece jacket for me. Because the road takes us up and down continuously, at least a few times a day we pull over to add or remove layers. It can be impressively cold up high. We left Huaraz and made it to Huanaco where we stayed in the Hostal Las Vegas. Tiny sheets that exposed the mattress weren't our favourite part. Dinner was grilled chicken with fries for me (I am loving the thyme-flavoured mayonnaise!) and Mollijas for Adam. We don't know which part of the animal it was, but aside from a bit of cartelage, was quite tasty and the texture was like a less squishy scallop. Hard to describe. Today took us South along a lovely if slightly less interesting paved road to Huancayo. Let me just say that trying to tell people where we've been lately and where we're headed has been a bit difficult considering this: Huallanca, Huaraz, Huanaco, Huancayo. Try keeping those straight! Also, each has a very specific vowel emphasis. Anyway, we are staying in a big lovely old house called La Casa de La Abuela (Grandmother's House) which seems to be empty of other guests. We have bunk beds in the dorm room tonight, and are settling in after a scary movie at the Cine Planet. Shockingly, we ate Pizza Hut and Burger King, and liked it. We should be in Cuzco in the next couple of days, looking forward to it! Check back soon for photos of little piggies. Oh, and besides a little bruise my foot is doing just fine.

Sweet dreams,
Grace and Adam