Goodbye to Bolivia
I'm walking along a hustling La Paz city street one day and two overlander-dudes riding KLRs are stopped in traffic. So I wander over to shoot the breeze and talk KLR mechanics and parts until the lights turn green and they’re consumed by the traffic and off once again. It’s forgotten until a few days later while getting lost on my way out of town I see these same guys on the side of the road getting chain-lube so I pull over and before you know it’s me, Paul the US Doctor and Laurent the Belgian Insurance Salesman all travelling together northbound, hooting our way round Lake Titicaca’s twisty- scenic-roads and getting-on famously. Instant motorcycle-posse just add trail-magic.
Copacabana is nestled on the shores of the world’s highest navigable lake in the middle of which are Islas Sol y Luna, according to Inca the birthplace of the Sun and Moon. You won’t argue either when you see the place. The question for me then becomes do I stay-on here in this magical spot or is it the season for producing some northbound miles and besides which the next day’s ride includes the border-crossing into Peru and perhaps pushing-through my hopeless bike-paperwork will be easier with the company of my two-new-spanish-speaking-compadres.
It turns out to be an excellent-call, as next day the first thing the Peruvian-border-guard says when he sees my hopeless bike papers is that it’s just plain impossible for him to let me through but then you almost feel sorry for the guy when his tiny little customs office is packed til bursting with helmets and bike-gear and three-gringo-motorcyclists and resolve. I’m walking out of the customs office with my entry-stamps thinking that was too-close and I’ll probably need to get some kind of a photoshop solution to help me out with my subsequent border-crossings.
Sometimes you pull into a town and if first-impressions are anything to go by you’d keep right on riding to the next dot on the map and this is definitely the case with welcome-to-Peru village Puno. But then this place is the stepping-off-point for visiting communities in the middle of the lake living on islands made of floating reeds, so we stay and take the tour.
Islands of floating reed villages, complete with 'authentic' local villagers - cjG.
Next day we're packing up our shared hotel-room for Cuzco but then I'm like, fellas I gotta sit-this-one-out as I’m popping antibiotics and staying within a 50m dash of the hotelroom-bathroom. And really, after 4 months on the road one day holed-up watching movies as you wait for confidence to return to your pants is a pittance-to-pay compared to the amount of very suspect street-food that gets consumed during lunch-stops and sampling the local markets. A day later I’m just-confident enough to make a break for Cuzco and catch back up with the crew, which although we’ve lost Laurent due to his crazy-tight-itinerary we’ve added Josh the 22-yr-old version of Ewen McGreggor but much looser riding a Suzuki from the 1980s which is running much better now after the last crash.
On Missions & Outdoing En Zed for Lord-of-the-Rings-Scenery
The merest suggestion by some waitress is all the convincing we need to attempt to ride our way to the gateway-to-Machu Picchu-township of Augas Caliente, a long roundabout route through the Sacred Valley and jungle hamlets and a traffic-roadblock that’s only open for an hour around midday and it sounds like a helluva mission and we’re up for it. So we pack lite, leaving the rest of the gear at the hotel, and rise-and-shine early out of Cuzco in order to make the roadblock-window and before long things turn absolutely, stunningly, magical. Beautiful, Inca-era terraced hillsides and perfect twisty mountain roads so exciting we’re all hollering and man-hugging at the top of mountain-passes.
We even make it to the traffic-roadblock with time-to-spare and from there it’s dirt-roads to even smaller towns and it just feels like we are riding through a Fairytale. So agonisingly-close we can almost taste the celebratory-beer we’re stopped by park guards at the entrance to the Machu Picchu National Park and though we plead-at-first then pseudo-demand to be allowed to ride the last 7kms to Auguas Caliente we’re shit-outta-luck today and we’re forced to lock our bikes together at a local Senora’s shack and catch the train, yes train, those final seven clicks.
But it doesn’t matter. We’re up head-achingly early in the morning to queue for buses heading up the cliff to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu and the best call of the day was to make the hike up the steep-hour to the mountain-lookout behind the ruins where we’re three of only a dozen people looking down and out across I dunno how to describe it; Majesty? Suffice to say I kinda get why the Incas were so into this ridge-top they decided to carve a city out of it. It is all Very. Nice. Work.
Over looking Machu Picchu at sunrise, July 2010 - cjG.
Ancient Inca ruins explored, we train back to the Senora’s shack, push-start Josh’s bike, ‘cause like I say it’s from the 80s, and we’re back out the way we came in, pushing hard into dusk to give us a shot at making that section of roadblock the next morning before it shuts again until the midday opening. Which necessitates another horrifically-early wake-up, but Doc's jokes make for a hilarious alarm clock. And then we’re back on the bikes conducting what amounts to night-time white-light-close-formation operations up a misty-mountain-side. And by the time we make it back to Cuzco we’ve spent two hours crashed-out asleep in a cafe garden-courtyard and seen more jaw-dropping scenery than anyone can really remember. It all gets aptly recounted over beers to other travellers that night as the Experiencing of Epic.
The crew through Peru, stopped at some mountain-saddle for high-fives - cjG.