Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Altiplano: Nazca to Cuzco - Nov 18

We planned on leaving Nazca at 5:00 to see if we could reach Cuzco in a day. I was going to go with Doruk and Patricia, the Turkish/Peruvian couple staying at my hotel and riding the Chinese bike with the disappearing parts. It seemed like a good plan... after all the man at the hotel said it was light by then. Of course, I don´t think he was ever actually awake (or sober) at that hour, so why did we believe him? We finally got going at 7:30 when it was light, and pretty much had no chance of making Cuzco in a day.

I had read that the road from Nazca to Cuzco was one of the best motorcycle rides in South America, so I was really looking forward to it. It was a great ride... after the first 100 miles of pure crap and construction. It took us almost 5 hours to do the first 100 miles. We were told that the road was closed on the way to Puquio, but fortunately we were able to get through. We had enough delays without that.

THEN the road did get good. In fact it became fantastic. From Puquio we started climbing, and climbing, up to the altiplano (high plains) at more than 15,000 feet. This picture is some of the scenery in the lower altiplano... where there are still trees. Eventually these give out and there is nothing more than some small scrub and grass.

We passed through one of the national reserves at 15,000 feet, land only suited for llamas, alpacas, and vicunas. We saw herds of vicunas, and had to keep a sharp eye out to keep from hitting them in the road.

Between the very high altitude and lack of sleep, at one point I was feeling VERY tired. It was becoming impossible to concentrate on the road, and I know that at that time I have to stop for a while. I told Doruk I needed a 10 minute nap. He said he wasn´t tired and would just sit and wait for me. We pulled off the road and laid down on the dirt. Within about 2 minutes all three of us were sound asleep. Patricia woke first (after about 45 minutes) and said that cars -- the few that there were -- were honking because they thought we were dead at the side of the road! At that altitude there is about 40% less oxygen, and it really takes it out of you. My bike also feels the altitude.

At about 5:30 we stopped for gas and I decided to stay the night in Chalhuanca. Doruk and Patricia went on, as she wanted to visit her ex maid in the next city. I had no interest, and didn´t want to be driving in the mountains after dark.

The next day was more beautiful scenery. While the altiplano can really appear (and often is) bleak and barren, it can also be absolutely spectacular.

At one point I was pulled over on the side of the road having a drink and another motorcycle went by. He turned around and came back to say hello, and it turned out it was Fraser, a Brit I had been corresponding with by email, but had never met. Small world. We rode on to Cuzco together and spent the next two days together while I waited for Karen to arrive.

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