Leaving Puno behind we climb high into the Andes again, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and active volcanos. The roads are a motorcyclist's nirvana, as we sweep through so many switchbacks on our way down into the town of Chivay, an entry point to the Colca Canyon, popular with hikers.
Here I undertake a task on the bike that I should have done in the comfort of my workshop back home. The starter motor has begun to squawk. It’s a known fault that the starter motors are assembled without enough lubrication in the end bush, and while I undertook many preventative maintenance issues at home, this one I overlooked and now it has bitten me in the arse. However the job goes well and we’re soon on the road to Cusco.
Cusco is located at an altitude of 3,700 metres and I often find myself struggling for oxygen. It’s a strange feeling, but once I recognise it for what it is, I stop and take a few deep breaths and the symptoms are soon relieved. My hostel is high above the city centre and the stroll down into town is pleasant enough, but I must take the climb back up again in stages, stopping to regain my breath.
Cusco is the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu, and the historic centre is full of touts selling tour packages. The city centre is quite attractive and has some great restaurants and bars.
On the menu was guinea pig, but I’d seen them in the market earlier and was not at all tempted.
I was however quite taken with the female police officers, two-up on their little Honda 400, replete in their jodhpurs and knee high leather boots. Cuff me now!!
Along with the hawkers and touts the city centre also has its share of money changers. Just what I’m looking for, as none of the banks or money exchange businesses want to exchange the last of my Bolivian currency. Thankfully this guy was happy to do so.
It’s a full day's ride to Nazca and we lose over 3,000 metres today. There are still a lot of climbs during the day but on our final plunge down into Nazca the bike feels decidedly sprightly. We have returned to the altitude its carburettor is jetted for and the difference in performance is quite noticeable.
The landscape surrounding Nazca is so different from the landscape high in the Andes, here we have an arid environment with high, moving sand dunes.
Nazca is famous for its Nazca Lines, and I strike gold with my accommodation, meeting Jesus. No, not that Jesus… this Jesus:
Jesus and her husband David run a small AirBnB on the outskirts of town. In an otherwise dusty and bustling market town, Jesus’ place is an absolute haven. A lush green garden and courtyard envelop and refresh me.
Nazca seldom sees rain but sits above a huge aquifer fed by the Andes, and David has tapped a well into the aquifer (just as the ancient Nazcas did) to supply water for their little paradise. Exotic fruits abound. Citrus, passion fruit, and custard apple, along with so many flowering plants.
I intended to stay just one night but end up staying three.
David is a wealth of information. A former university lecturer on anthropology, he has so much information about the Nazca Lines and the pre-Incan, Nazca people, along with his very own private collection of ancient pottery and artifacts. He takes a day with me to wander the city and show me around. We end up spending hours at the market.
In the afternoon we spend a few hours in the local museum while he carefully explains to me what I’m looking at in the glass cases.
I’m amazed at the level of skill the ancient Nazcas had, and their use of metallurgy for both weaponry and jewellery.
David has little English and I have little Spanish, but he is very patient and I usually get the message in time. I’m happy to pull out my cell phone and use Google Translate to ask a question, but he despises cell phones and the control they bring to our lives, and every time I pull the phone out of my pocket, he spits on the ground! It’s the same if I mention Chile. I never did figure out the reason he feels that way about Chile, but the mere mention of that country solicits the same reaction. Funny guy!
We stroll the markets the next morning, and we lunch at his local. Fish Ceviche (raw fish and onions), super spicy.
We were drinking what I thought was some kind of berry fruit drink, but it turned out to be made from black corn. Surprising but very nice.
As with all of South America that I’ve seen so far, security seems to be a huge concern. Every home is locked away behind bars and high security gates.
I assume it’s necessary, but I haven’t seen any type of security threat since I’ve been here. I’ve not heard a cross word or seen any sign of violence. I’ve walked poorly lit streets at night and felt no threat. When I arrived in Santiago and mentioned it to the guy from Denmark who’d just done 12 months here, he said he thought the people here were paranoid, but I’m sure there must be more to it than that.
When buying from the local dairy, you must stand outside and ask for what you want, then pass your money through the barriers before your goods are passed back, along with your change.
Is this what we have to look forward to in New Zealand? With the recent spate of ram raids and retail theft, is this our future?