06 April, 2007

Curiosities in Cusco

I took a day to acclimatise to the altitude so I explored the town and what there was to do. Lots!! I hadn't seen quite so many tourists for some time. I organised a city tour for the next day and investigated the possibilities of visiting Machu Picchu. Very expensive and I wondered how I could justify the cash.

The walking trek along the Inca Trail was booked up until May, so that was out. The least expensive train trip I could find was almost US$200! I was beginning to get disappointed and question the wisdom of coming at all when I went back to the hostel to see three more bikes parked up next to mine! Two surprisingly had British number plates. They were BMW 650s too, but the more modern, single-cylinder 'F' versions.

I went along to Norton Rat's and Jeff introduced me to Will and James, two 22 year old English lads on their way to Alaska from Buenos Aires via Tierra del Fuego in the far south. They must be the youngest overlanders in history, or at least at the present time! They had been on the road for two months and have another four to go. They were in company with Gert, a Dutchman who owns another motorbike bar in Sucre, Bolivia - the Joy Ride Café. He was riding a well-worn Honda Dominator, also of 650cc.

I enjoyed my trip around the city and learned a lot about Inca culture as well as how things became the way they are presently. That trip wasn't overly expensive and I was in very good company all day, as I got to know Canadians David and Daniella. David stands straight as the walls slant inwards for strength against earthquakes. The Inca foundations support much of the more modern Spanish architecture. During earthquakes the older foundations won't move while the Spanish buildings wobble and sometimes fall. One other interesting fact was that the figure of Christ with his arms outstretched over the town (a smaller version of the one over Rio) was gifted to Cuzco by the Palestinian Community of Peru. We don't hear about things like that often enough.

That Saturday evening was one of the Sarahs' birthdays and so we all went out on the town. It was the Sarah on the left's birthday. I left my camera in their flat (thankfully) but met several other Scots, attracted by my kilt (any excuse!) during a wilder than usual night out which didn't end until 6am with the sun coming up over the hills. I slept well into the day. I found out how to listen to Radio 4 online. This and the internet took the place of what, at home, would have been a quiet Sunday in front of the fire with some marking and the newspapers.

There was an enormous parade on the Monday when the people of Cusco paraded a statue of the Lord of the Earthquakes (Señor de los Trembladores) around the town. This took hours but the main square was packed for some time before the statue arrived back at the Cathedral. This practice comes from an old Inca tradition when the Inca himself was paraded around to remind his people who was in charge. The people themselves weren't called Incas, they were the Quechuan people and they still survive today, their language, Quechuan, being spoken by as many as 25million people. We had a prime view of the procession and its finalé in the square from the balcony of the Rats.

Gert had arranged for us to take some scrambling bikes into the hills around Cusco. This was a fantastic day enjoyed by all. He had arranged a very trick competition 250cc bike for himself. At the Norton Rats we had found a temporarily dismounted Australian biker called Glen who decided to hire a huge 650cc Honda and tag along. It matched his size, which would come in very useful later. We three Brits were given XR400 Hondas that were well up to the job. First we rode up a rutted road to a scrambling track. Of course, I managed to very lightly crash mine on the way up this road as I wasn't yet used to the controls of this strange machine (and other excuses). Nothing serious, it just rode itself up a wee embankment and left me to step off the back. We weren't going very fast and there was no damage. Glen was playing the good shepherd at the back behind me and soon gave all the advice I needed to get on my way again.

The scrambling track was great fun and Gert gave us lots of useful advice about how best to get round it. He races round such tracks in Bolivia. We slowly improved at this before going further on our way, into the mountains. I couldn't believe some of the tracks Chris, our guide for the day, led us up. Precipitous and very scary were the easy ones. We looked back to see James being picked up and put back onto his bike by Glen. He'd only momentarily looked up to see where the rest of us were! Eventually I jumped a wee hillock which just happened to have a front-wheel-sized ditch on the other side. Slipping my thumbs out of the way, I executed a perfect forward roll as the bike stopped dead, its front wheel catching in the rut. It sat there upright above me laughing in that snidey 'I'm-better-than-you' way bikes can. I wish I'd got a photie but Glen was too quick, dragging me to my feet before pulling the bike out. The views at over 5km above sea level were breath-taking in more ways than one. At some stages even Gert and Chris struggled as we all worked together to overcome obstacles.

Will and James had met up with some of their friends from University (L-R Sally, Will, Pauline, Emma and James) and we took them on wee runs around Cusco between bigger adventures. Dave from Cumbria, bravely backpacking the world alone, appeared from nowhere with tickets for the big game. The locals Ciencuero (the Red Furies) were to play Argentina's famous Boca Juniors in the Liberators' Cup - the equivalent of Europe's Champions' League. Since the once great Maradonna had played for Boca, they are probably the most famous team in South America. Had to see this. More tickets were found and off we went. Cusco's emblem is a rainbow and two of these appeared to supervise the kick-off.The first half was fairly lacklustre but things began to move after the break. In the end Ciencuero won 3-0 and Dave got an excellent video on his camera of the last goal. He's promised I can upload it here, I'll try and see if I can whenever he sends it to me.Another big party in the main square with us at our usual vantage point.

On Thursday we went to Machu Picchu on the train and bus. More people had made bargaining so much easier and the price reduced with numbers. Getting there took forever but was well worth the effort. In fact, we felt as if we had cheated a little when we thought about those who had taken the four days to walk there. It seemed that the more effort put into reaching a place, the more you might appreciate getting there. It's difficult to get a proper idea of just how high in the Andes this ancient city is. Incredible place, of course, and fantastic to see for real, but you can find better writers to describe its wonder.

It was getting towards time to leave but we still needed just one more day to get the bikes, laundry and postcards ready. I had originally planned to go around by Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, but was assured by my new chums that this would not be worth the effort unless I crossed over into Bolivia. I was also getting tired of the cold and the struggle with everyday life at this altitude. The bike struggled on every upward incline and I could have some valuable and useful company if I went north with these guys.

We found an excellent café to flop around in. All the profits go to children's projects in the area and the place is like a huge play area, without the children! Cushions and games and stuff everywhere with strawberry pancakes and ice cream drizzled in chocolate sauce, hot chocolate and cakes. Top!

Next day, we were ready to go.

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