28 March, 2007

Lima to Cusco 17,197miles

Lizzie and I went for a last wee trip inland over my final weekend in Lima. She wanted out of the city and I wanted to see how the bike might perform at altitude. The bike struggled up into the mountains and so I removed the pot-racked luggage in the hope that it may have been restricting the already thin air flow to the motor. This seemed to make a bit of difference, although it was difficult to tell. Freezing temperatures over this 4814m pass meant this photo was taken without feeling the camera. I had to watch what I was doing carefully so as not to drop it! Lizzie had arranged her woolly hat to go round her face to keep some cold out.

After the high pass, we smoothly coasted back down to the coast! This was very strange - going from freezing temperatures back to the sweltering heat of Lima in just a few hours. I wondered how our own bodies were coping with all this expansion and contraction in such a short period of time.

The longer I stay in one place, the longer it seems to take to gather together all my kit and get it back into the right spaces on the bike. I spent all of Monday doing this. Lizzie had a parents' night that night so she didn't get home until 10. A haggis she'd brought from Scotland was ceremonially consumed with the accompanying champit tatties. Luckily, neeps are a delicacy unknown to the Peruvians as they are unloved by me.

She had a late start in the morning so we were able to share a light breakfast before saying our goodbyes. Setting off was a little bit more difficult than usual for several reasons. Lizzie was the first old chum I've visited and during my longer-than-planned stay here she'd been an extremely useful interpreter and go-between. The other main reason was that I sensed that I was going the 'wrong way'. For the first time, I wasn't heading home. If continuing my trip, I should have been going north, not south. This seemed a bit like a daft detour, especially going down the Pan-Americana, back through the desert and over some fairly uninspiring terrain. The road was difficult, there wasn't much scenery, just that barren, dry desert which becomes quite depressing after a while. The only plus points were that I found some excellent headphones for the iPod and I sensibly bought a 'cruise control'. This allowed me to set the throttle on the boring straight bits so that I could reduce the strain on my wrist. I could do things with my right hand at last! It took a bit of getting used to, but it is useful and much more relaxing.

The bike seemed very happy. Plodding along quite the thing. Suddenly there was something of a wee sand-storm which whipped up and lashed the right side of my face as red as ever! This lasted for about half an hour - very painful! The roads were quiet and there were a very few twisty bits to make things more interesting. Very heavy skies welcomed me to Nazca. A lad appeared as I stopped on the outskirts of town to rub my eyes, foolishly wiping some of the dust in, before checking the guidebook for hostels. Since I was having bother reading that, I followed him to decent and very friendly hotel, even if the rooms were tiny.

There being little to stop for I hadn't got off the bike since Lima, 284miles ago! I'd stopped twice for fuel but hadn't needed to get off since the petrol attendants do all the work. This can be useful, but I find that it means I miss out on a short but very welcome break. Also it's an even chance that the attendant will spill petrol all over the top of the tank! On the first day 'back in the saddle' it's normal for me to do around 150-200 miles, just to warm up. But there isn't really anything at that distance from Lima in this direction and so I just had to make it all the way to Nazca.

Next day I climbed rapidly into the Andes, coming to a plateau after about 50 miles. The air was very thin again and I stopped to rearrange the luggage away from the pot-racks. Then I began fiddling with the mixture screw. I had been told that cv (constant vacuum) carburettors wouldn't be overly affected by altitude, but this clearly wasn't the case. If I opened the throttle too much the engine seemed to die, instead of accelerating away as normal, it seemed to be flooding the engine with too much fuel. This made some sense to me since the surrounding air was a bit thin on oxygen, which every motor needs to mix in the carbs with fuel to make it go. I reckoned (probably wrongly) that if I reduced the flow of fuel, it might match the lower oxygen.

No amount of fiddling with the mixture screw in either direction made much difference. It was during all this stop-fiddle-start carry on that the engine suddenly died altogether and I thought I'd killed it with my stupidity. I unpacked, got out the tools and removed a sparkplug. A good spark, and the other cylinder even fired up on its own! This bike was laughing at me! I consulted the manual but it couldn't tell me much. Some wild llamas (there were hundreds roaming around) came over for a wee look at the daft mechanic. I had only done 149 miles since the previous fill up but I tried the reserve tank anyway. It fired up!! This meant I'd gone on to reserve 50 miles too early! Is it the altitude, or just poor fuel quality? Any answers gratefully received. Now I would have to make sure I filled up every 100 miles or so, just to be on the safe side.

I managed to get some low (84) octane fuel from a wee cafe nearby and went on my way.

Later that day, freezing cold and desperate for somewhere to stop, a wee hailstorm started. Luckily this one came from the left side to even up the redness from yesterday's sand-blasting! I was crossing what looked like an enormous Rannoch Moor - bleak, windswept, unfriendly and entirely inhospitable. I began to think about what might happen if I really did break down up here. A night in the tent would be possible, but not very comfortable!

There was an escarpment to go down. It was the steepest thing I'd ever seen! This was really scary stuff. I'm not normally afraid of heights but the sight of a 2000m drop on my left made me wobble like a granny coming home from the Co-op on her Passola (if anyone can remember the days when grannies weren't to shy to ride shopping-trolley mopeds!). I don't mind admitting that I was getting a big feardie!

Then the road found a river and followed it, sweeping gently down and down. Since the bike wasn't under any load it was loving it. You get roads like these in Europe but never, ever to yourself. They're always clogged up with tour buses, caravans and motorbikes trying too hard to get round them. In a hundred miles I counted about twenty other vehicles, half going the other way, the others easily overtaken.

I had to pay close attention to the road signs though. When they said "falling rocks", you could expect big, wheel-smashing boulders in the middle of the carriageway. When they said there was going to be a ford, the fast-moving water could sweep my wheels away if I went too fast. When there was a sign about cows crossing, Daisy and her pals were always waiting, often leaving slippery deposits in the road! But when there was a squiggly line to tell me of "bends", I knew there was going to be some fun ahead!

That couldn't last, of course, and eventually the road began to rise again. This time, as if on cue, whenever there was a particularly precipitous bit of road to one or other side, a dense fog appeared to block out both the view and the road! Handy for prevention of fear, but now I really had to concentrate on the light grey strip in front and forget everything else. Strangely, my sunglasses were better left on!

Then another plateau, the land flattened out and I arrived over a hill and there was Cusco, looking like a smaller version of Addis Ababa, lying in its own wee bowl. A really pretty town, more Quechuan than Spanish. But you can read about how pretty Cusco is elsewhere.

While I'd been in Lima, two lassies from Scotland had stayed over at Lizzie's, waiting for a connecting flight up here, where they were coming to study for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). I did TEFL when I lived in Portugal. It isn't highly paid, but it is something of a ticket to travel all over the non-English-speaking world. I checked into a hostel and e-mailed them.

Both called Sarah, we all met at a legendary motorbike bar called Norton Rats. Very civilised and run by Jeff, who has a Norton Commando, of course, and a more modern Triumph Speed Triple for everyday use. He also has a book which has been signed by just about everyone travelling by motorbike through South America!

I also met a Dutchman who was less pleased to see me. Jan-Willem had been waiting six months (yes months) for his bike, a BMW R80G/S, to clear Peruvian Customs. They say it's too old! It was built in 1994, mine was built in 1981. He wanted to take my bike to photograph it in front of the famous cathedral to prove to Customs there was an older bike in Peru. But mine is only temporarily imported, he wants to live here with his! I gave him the keys and read my book, trying to acclimatise to the altitude.

The altitude makes you woozy and quite lazy. There's a slight flu feeling. It's good to be cool again, getting a good sleep, all snuggled up under the covers instead of kicking them all off sweating. I just wish I had a bit of energy to do more. I wonder if the people who live here get any kind of ill effects whenever they go down to sea level?

If anyone's got a copy of the AMH, (Gavin, Helen?) I'm in the same hostel as in the photo there. Only my bike this time, so far!

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