Saturday 18 July 2009

Cuzco to Cerro Janko Janko (Bolivian border)

We left Cuzco at first light on a grey cloudy Sunday morning. Heavy traffic for the first 40kms. Mostly descending on a sealed road, then short ups and downs.

Pikillacta - Huari/Incan ruins on road from Cuzco to Urcos.

Cycling through the Vilcanota valley on a Sunday was lively and colourful. The towns along the highway all had their weekly markets and the locals were all out in their finery.

These photos are from Urcos - women with flat-topped hats with lampshade tassles, the men in cholas (woollen alpaca beanies) with pom-poms.

A bike laden with corn stalks. Everything imaginable is carried on bicycles. Farm crops, cow hides and dead pigs, all travelling to market.

After the colour of the markets faded away, we got very tired and bored of the sealed main road - too much traffic and uninspiring scenery. So, after a long day of 110kms, we left Combapata at first light the following day and climbed out of the Vilcanota valley back and onto the vast pampa.

Rocky road out of Combapata. Smooth river stones embedded in concrete make for delicate riding and rough bum massaging.

Lake Pampamarca, totora reeds and Andean coots. One of 4 lakes in the area. Plenty of birdlife around the lakes and puna - Andean lapwing, puna ibis, and Peruvian sierra finch.

It was a sealed road to Yanaoca. We found a hotel at 10am and Judy decided to have a rest day while I made a solo ride to Q´eswachaca, an Incan rope bridge over the Apurimac river, which I´d read about in Cuzco. It was a tough ride even without gear, possibly the worst road of the trip, over 70kms return on a stoney, steep trail, but well worth the pain.

On the pampa over a 4100 pass adobe/ichu thatched houses with unusual chimney structures, typical of this region.

Winding road from 4100m, looking down to the Apurimac river at 3600m.

Q´eswachaca bridge spanning the 15m chasm across the Apurimac.

Rope stays at the head of the bridge complete with original Incan stone structure.

With a strong wind blowing up the canyon it was frightening to cross the bridge as it swayed and trying to gain balance with hands and feet was a real effort. I didn´t make it to the other side but turned around.

Close-up of the rope. There are 6 thick cables as the grass is twisted and spliced to make a strong stiff fibre. It is made from a local pajabrava grass, choya in Quechuan. The bridge is rebuilt every year and the local Quechuan communities have continued this unbroken tradition since the Spanish conquest over 400 years ago. Six villages, who use the bridge, participate in the bridge construction, which lasts only 3 days in mid June, followed by a festival. The fibres disintegrate in the elements and is unusable after 6 months.
There´s an interesting video by Alejandro Guerrero which shows how the bridge is constructed. Well worth viewing (in 2 parts).

Peruvian trackworkers on the job. This is one of my two occupations in Tasmania (I'm also an ESL teacher) and it was interesting to see the Andean stonepath techniques. Unfortunately, the fine Incan stonework hasn´t carried on through the Quechuan generations as concrete and mortar are used and it´s pretty sloppy work.

View of the bridge from other side of the canyon.

The canyon upstream from the bridge.

I had only 3 hours to get back to Yanaoca to beat nightfall. On the way I met very welcoming and curious villagers, remnants of Incan roads (see below) and sacred caves and grottoes pockmarking the limestone outcrops.

But as the light faded and the road deteriorated I had to make haste. Here is a section of the road, very rocky with some steep climbs. It really shook the body about and as I bounced along the road I was reminded of the Irish satirist Flann O´Brien and his Third Policeman. He had a theory where the cyclist and bicycle are shaken so much on these boney trails that parts of man and machine become one in a strange metabolic transfer. Well, on this road I thought the screws and plate on my collarbone from my operation last year were about to pop out and the crowns set by a Cambodian dentist, Dr. Teith, in 2006 were about to bite the dust. In bicycle terms, my bottom was a bracket, my head wasn´t set properly, my chain teeth were cranky and my rear rim was cracked. The following day I really felt the effects of this ride - my shoulder was really painful, both knees were acting up and my left ankle (from an earlier climbing injury in Tasmania) was under strain. I must stop this body abuse!

The ubiquitous curious and timid camelids.
Who´s the prettier boy, then? Al Packer or Kerry Packer?

Up at 5am again for a hearty breakfast and off by dawn (around 6am). Another climb on a dirt road, with sore and weary limbs. Met this old man near the pass (4200m). I asked him how old was his antique and beautifully-woven poncho and he replied, "No recuerdo, pero bastante", "I can´t remember, but it´s quite old".

From the pampa, we dropped quickly into a quebrada and joined a sealed road back to the main road just beyond Sicuani, a large town famous for unruly demonstrations and roadblocks. Evidence of the recent unrest lay on the roadsides - burnt tyres, rocks, uprooted trees and broken glass. We were lucky to miss all of this, at both sides of Cuzco. Other cyclists weren´t so lucky.

At the head of the Vilcanota valley at about 4000m hot spring water gushes out of the earth. Here at Agua Calientes we had welcome hot baths at 40 degrees- a welcome soothing of aching limbs. We camped here for the night, had a delicious trout meal and a large bottle of beer at the restaurant and had our own security guard on hand.
No charge for camping- just 3 soles for entry into baths. I got up early and had another warm soak (outside temp. below zero)

At dawn, two tame Andean geese, or huallatas, enjoying the hot steam through their plumage.

At the springs, cooking Porridge for breakfast with my mate Ronnie (aka Barker).
Mr Barkwright!!

Our panniers with their entrails spilled on the grassy campsite. 75 kgs in all.

At Abra La Raya at 4335m, a gentle pass between Cuzco and Puno departments. A Swiss cyclist joined us at the pass and took this photo.

I´ve crossed this pass twice before by train (1985 & 1993) and here is a tourist train heading across the puna towards the pass. Beyond the pass we followed a sealed road along a bare altiplano, with few towns but plenty of traffic.

Pedaltaxis are common in the towns here and are convenient for ladies out shopping.

Everything bar the kitchen sink.

After a night in a noisy hostal in Ayaviri and heavy, speeding traffic, it was time to get away from the ugly towns and off the highway. We took a dirt road to Lampa climbing a small pass lined with groves of native queñal trees. Lampa is a charming and well-preserved colonial town set on a broad plain- the cleanest and friendliest town in Peru.
On the altiplano we´re in predominantly Aymaran-speaking country and the Aymaran women wear distinct bowler hats, a tradition carried on from colonial times. Here a woman is resting on the colonial stone bridge outside Lampa.

I took a ride 5kms out of town to La Cueva del Toro (the Cave of the Bull) to see some ancient petroglyphs carved into the caveside. Unfortunately much of the cave is now full of modern pornoglyphic art and many of the images (mostly llamas and other animals) have been been painted on or damaged.

Lampa is called La Cuidad Rosada or pink city because of the local rose-coloured stone. This is the imposing church La Immaculada (built 1675-85) with its amazing interior of carved wooden altars and pulpits and copy of Michelangelo´s Pieta.

Ornate doorway of a Lampa dwelling

Typical empty street of this sleepy town.

Arrived in the dirty and noisy city of Juliaca. I´ve never liked this place and I was robbed here in 1985. We had to go to Puno to get exit stamps from immigration so we could cross an obscure and little-used border (no immigration on either side) on the east side of Lake Titicaca. So we left bikes and gear in Juliaca and took a bus to Puno and the immigration office 45kms away. Next morning off early out of this ugly city. Just beyond town we rode for 3kms beside the local unofficial garbage tip. Reminded me of the rubbish piles of Ecuador.

En route from Juliaca to Huancane saw lots of people wandering home from the city. Here an Aymaran woman sets off from the road across the empty and bleak altiplano.

The traffic was quite heavy for such a minor road and we encountered a lot of signs of accidents. Judy has taken up a morbid fascination for the countless roadside memorials to accident victims. While I´m counting sheep (and llamas), she´s counting the countless. On the road from Cuzco they were every 2 kms but on this 54km flat straight sealed road there were 65 in all.

We came across these friendly Aymaran men from nearby Taraco who were just finishing the concrete shrine to one of their relatives, a woman in her 40s who was run over by a speeding bus 2 days before. The concrete was still wet and their sorrow still raw. They invited me to have a beer with them and the ceremony involved spilling some beer on the earth and throwing coca leaves to the wind in respect to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. They said this would protect us from ill fortune on the road. But only 2kms down the road a bus almost cleaned me up. Crazy bastards!

In light of all this carnage on the roads it´s sad to see tourist agencies running downhill bike rides down the infamous "El Camino del Muerto" (or Death Road) outside La Paz. Young backpackers with adrenalin shortage and testosterone overload hurtle down this so-called ´most dangerous road in the world´ and get a T-shirt at end of it. It´s a real fad and a must-do for the backpacker set. A young Australian was bragging to us in a bike shop in Cuzco that he´d descended 20,000 vertical metres in Sth America on his downhill bike. In a flat reply, I told him I´d climbed almost 100,000 metres. He just shrugged and walked away.

Strange lumps beside houses in the altiplano. Like on the Tibetan plateau, firewood is non-existent so they have to use animal manure as fuel. These pyramidal structures are called putucos, and are used for storing dung.

..and animal dung drying in the sun.

We passed through Huancane, an unexciting place but 4kms down a very bad dirt road we came upon the sparkling blue waters of Lake Titicaca. This is the remote and less-visited east side of the lake. Lost tourists go slong the sealed west side. 20 kms later we turned off the dusty bumpy road and onto a smooth quiet gravel road passsing through picturesque villages. The Aymaran people in this region are very chatty and friendly. In one of the villages, Jaco Paru we found a grassy trail, leading down to the lakeshore so we went in quest of a campsite. We found a small beach near some fields but we also had half the village trailing behind us, curious as to what the gringos were up to. A glorious sunset capped off an interesting day.

The next morning some local lads came down to watch us pack up camp. They were very quiet and polite. Th elder one, Miguel took me up the hill to show me a chullpa, one odf the pre-Incan funerary towers which are found scattered all over the Titicaca area.

The birds along the lakeside were a real thrill. Here a dainty yellow finch skits on the water for insects with rippled totora reeds as a stage prop.

Puna teals with unique blue beaks.

Cuñata flowers, which are used in ceremonies and decorations.

Totora reeds line the lakeshore and the young reeds are used by farmers to feed their animals. Here a man is rowing through the reedbed.

The trail down to our beach and campsite.

The next morning´s ride was the highlight with spectacular views high above Lake Titicaca, with fingers of land falling into the water. Impressive skyline and cloud formations too.

Riding over a small pass at 4000m. The lake sits at 3820m. It is like a vast inland sea punctuated by dry rocky islands.

We had a short riding day as the scenery was so delightful. If you are cycling this route take the turn-off to the right at Jipata and follow the sinuous and hilly route around the coast. It´s longer than the main road to Moho but the road is much better, with almost no traffic and fabulous coastal scenery.

3kms outside Conima we saw a pink sand beach below us and we had to camp there. A difficult place to reach and get out of. If you´re a cyclist on this route leave the road just after the 2km roadmarker and at a large culvert. The rough route goes through a eucalypt grove.

A great little campsite, with clear water and interesting birdlife. But,it was a cold windy night and the next morning evidence of snow across the distant cordillera.

Just before Titali and the Bolivian border I met this brightly dressed and animated little Aymaran boy. He was on his way to school to participate in a pantomine. His costume consists of a real cow ´s head with horns, typical festival poncho and cuñata petals draped across the horns.

At Cerro Janko Janko 4000m asl, the border between Peru and Bolivia. An obelsik marks the frontier, so Pete is in Bolivia and Jude stands in Peru. This is a very tranquil place with exceptional views, one of my favourite border crossings, no immigration, no customs, no rip-off merchants. Just the two of us and 2 countries between us. It´s a bloody steep climb from the lake though - 200 vertical metres in 3kms on a rough track, mostly pushing!
But on Wednesdays and Sundays this is a raucous and busy smugglers market where Bolivians bring up cheap goods to sell on the Peruvian side.

The road on the Bolivian side wasn´t in too good a nick either. The scenery behind us was excuse enough to stop and rest to glance over the azure waters of Lake Titicaca.

The road down to Puerto Acosta - a rocky and steep affair.

Jude´s not sure whether to ride or walk this section.

We are in La Paz now. We left our bikes and most of our gear with the police in Puerto Acosta and took a minibus to the city. We´ve been here for 3 days, getting our Bolivian entry stamps and buying supplies for the next stage of the trip. We´re off tomorrow morning (Friday 24) to pick them up and head into the mountains on backroads. Charazani in the Apolobamba region was our favourite destination in Bolivia in 1993. We hope to do a remote loop from Charazani-Apolo-Mapiri-Sorata. We want to avoid riding into La Paz, so from Sorata we´ll shortcut to Chile and the SW salt lakes by following rough dirt roads across the altiplano. My next post should be from Sorata in 10 days or so.


Tim said...

Hi Pete and Jude

Loving the pics of your journey, thanks for posting them up on a regular basis. Hope all is going well. We are having a very wet winter, not much snow yet but so much rain, just like the winters we used to get.

Stu has put in for redundancy from Parks. Dick Smith's money is coming online for Frenchmans and I may be project managing the work this year, though I disagree with what seems to be a fait accompli from Parks that we must use mini excavators. Stu agrees with me and has said machinery is totally inappropriate for the job. We'll see. I feel I don't want to be involved if they insist on a excavator but on the other hand it could be a real disaster if who ever ends up doing it doesn't have the minimal approach.

Have fun



boracho said...

Its beatifull !
we love your smaile.

by Satoshi

This Meridian Heat said...

Absolutely fascinating--well written and beautifully illustrated. For those of us who can't go but would love to, this is the next best thing. Thank you for taking the time to preserve your experience for the benefit of others.