Cusco to Arequipa

7th September

Cusco, a busy road ride.

Today’s 50 mile cycle into Cusco was uneventful.h
We did pass into one small town looking for food only to find every shops main product was bread with several of them having open bread ovens, we are getting used to this phenomenon where every stall / shop sells identical products. We ended up buying a flat loaf and making our own sandwich.

The roads got busier as we approached the city and the city cycling was the usual hassle of buses cutting you up to pick up and drop of passengers.

It took us a while to find somewhere to stay, this time we were spoilt for choice. We are finally settled in a nice place called Los Aticos, right near the Plaza De Amas.

Ginette – we had made a note of several hostels but they all seemed full or too far out of town. This meant we ended up knocking on several doors and trying to negotiate a price in our budget. This was time consuming and not something I want to repeat in a hurry.

The city was obviously pleased we had arrived as they’d laid on a huge procession for us, loads of energetic dancers and bands strutting there stuff with great gumption.

Ginette – Cusco is a vibrant city, lots of historical buildings, restaurants and plazas, we’re really looking forward to exploring it further. It is very strange to see so many westerners and to hear english voices.

8th September

Lazy day, wandering the city. We managed to book tickets for Machu Pichu, we negotiated a deal for $90 each this includes entrance fee, transport, guide, hostal, lunch, dinner and breakfast.

Most of the museums were closed as it was Sunday but we were treated to another procession in the main plaza.

We also had lunch in the main market yum yum – seafood and rice.

9th September 

Journey to Machu Pichu.

Lots of text below, in summary a long bus ride over a mountain and dirt track and a 12 k walk. All very poorly organised and felt like we were being cattle herded to be fed and homed for the night.

Cycle tips
We didn’t cycle to Machu Pichu but it would be possible to cycle on paved roads to Santa Maria, after which the roads are not practical for cycling. If anyone does read this and fancies cycling it be aware you will have a huge climb to do and pretty steep.

We opted to not be picked up at our hostel and instead we were collected by the tour bus at 7.30 outside the booking office. The bus was nearly full but we still managed to spend another hour or so in Cusco picking up and re-fuelling.

Our bus ride was 6 hours to travel approx 150 miles, due to the terrain and road conditions. We had a huge mountain to drive up and over, this had loads of switchbacks and great views to an altitude over 4400 m. At the top it was cloudy and raining, and we could see lots of forests and greenery (some of the forests had recently been on fire on the landscape was quite black and burnt).

At the bottom of this now very green valley we turned off at Santa Marina this is where the tarmac stopped. The Unpaved road went on for miles winding up the mountain following a gorge, sometimes we were very high and on a narrow road with steep drops, quite exciting.
We were dropped of at collective Santa Teresa, where we had lunch after a somewhat chaotic queue and confusion about where we should be. There were hundreds of people all in the same position, you would have thought after all these years of operation that it would be smooth run operation but NO.

We then walked 12k along a railway line to Machu Pichu Pueblo, the start of the walk was not clearly marked but everyone seemed to find thier way. The walk was OK, we were following the track and a fast river. We had colourful birds, a hummingbird and lots of forest noise to keep us entertained. The only set back was the hundreds of other tourists walking the same route.

Ginette – Although there were lots of people around we could hear the birds and wildlife, unlike some of the tourists who talked none stop or even more annoyingly chose to play loud music whilst walking along. Why would you do that when there was so much to see and hear. 

When we arrived at the town and the main plaza there was no sign of the guide we was told to meet. We sat in a bar and waited as we had no idea what hostel we was in.
Eventually as I was pottering around taking photos I heard my name being called, our guide had arrived.

Ginette  – Gary was not happy – it was very disorganised but he was very grumpy

We were full of dread about the hostel as we had agreed to be in a shared dorm to keep the cost down, our guide was leading us away from the nice part of tourist town and into a more residential area. Luckily the hostel was pretty nice and we had a matrimonial room.
We had to meet the guide again in the plaza to be given instructions and tickets and dinner.
We did get fed and watered and discovered that we needed our passports or ID to get in to Machu Pichu (this was not mentioned when we booked the tickets)  oops neither of us had bought our passports. A call to the hostel in Sucre and they WhatsApped the copies they had taken so problem solved.

Ginette – the town of Machu Pichu is very pretty, the town had a real chilled vibe to it. I would have liked to spend a day or two there but alas as we were part of a tourist group this was not to be. Although we walked 12km to the town many other tourists caught a train or took the bus directly to the town. Whilst waiting for our guide I was disappointed to hear that you could actually get a bus to the top of Machu Pichu. I had always imaged this to be an historical sight that you had to trek to not a sight you could simply access by bus. On the positive side at least this meant everyone could enjoy one of the wonders of the world regardless of age or disability.

10th September – Machu Pichu.

A reasonable start at 7am, but when we reached the bottom of the track to the mountain we were held until 8.15 as our ticket entrance time was 10 am.

The walk up the mountain was strenuous but enjoyable with wild life calls and great views.
We reached the top half hour early so had our packed lunches.

Ginette – We have fully acclimitised to the altitude but it was interesting watching others really struggling, panting and sweating. We passed one group and a young english girl said ‘did you see those two they make it look so easy’. Another woman found it so difficult at the top that she was actually crawling up the steps. Others had to rest often to catch their breaths. I really would recommend spending several days at altitude before trying to climb stairs or mountains. 

Our first attempt to get through the gate was thrawted as we were 10 minutes early and there was no way they were letting us in untill 10am. Once through the gates we had a further 15 minutes to wait for our guide and the rest of our group.

We had 2 hours on the mountain looking around Machu Pichu which was a bit too short. We had a guide explaining the history but in the end we had to cut the tour just short or we wouldn’t make it back to our waiting bus.

Ginette – Our guide was amusing but the information provided was poor.

Machu Pichu is a great site to visit, it’s a well maintained set of ruins made more special due to its location on top of a mountain.

The crowds of other tourists made for a little queuing in places but the crowds did thin out in some areas. There is actually a bus service right to the top of this hill hence the many other tourists that were also able to enjoy this site.

During the steep walk back down Ginette developed a pain in one of her knees slowing her down a bit. We did manage to complete the 12k walk back to the bus with 15 minutes to spare so were able to have a buffet dinner before setting off back to Cusco.

Ginette just for the record I did slow down a little (my damaged knee kept getting stabbing pains and at times felt like jelly) but we were only over taken by 2 people and we made up for lost time on the flat ground. The reason we only had 15 minutes to spare is becuause we had very little time left after the tour to make it back to the bus. Two young men had to run to catch the bus they only just made it.

Machu Pichu is a great place to visit but we regret doing it with a tour company as we felt herded, under valued and rushed. If you are in the area and have the time and inclination we would recommend making your own way there, tickets are not as hard to get hold of as some reports we had heard and you can easily pick up a guide at the entrance at the mountain top (make sure you bring your passport). When we got back to the bus there we’re loads of other buses all touting for our business.

On our way back the driver stopped to wash his van so we had a short rest break during which I was adopted by a chicken, this little fella jumped up on my lap and then proceeded to make my neck and beard his home. Even when I stood to go it still clung to me till evenoI managed to convince him that we would not be good together and that due to my tendency to eat chicken we parted ways.

Gary and his baby cock

We didn’t get back into Cusco until 9.30pm, we were pleased we’d reserved a room at our hostel, it meant we could quickly drop our bags off and head out for a pizza and a beer.

11th September 

A day in Cusco and a bill disagreement

A restless day in Cusco, we had a little bit of shopping to do and some internet research for our plans for the next few months

We visited a Museum / Church which is partly Inca and partly Spanish. This was a good visit with lots of information. There was quite a bit on the Catholic Saints and I must admit I find it hard to accept the so called facts of their lives as being credible.

I took my Ukulele to one of the quieter plazas to practice, on the way a drunk, Peruvian called cheerily to me and called me Forest Gump. While sitting on some church steps practicing a group of Peruvian tourists came over and took it in turns to have there phots taken with me, fame at last.

Later in the day we was out in search of one of the many two for one drinks deals, a waiter talked us into going into his bar as it had a Juliet balcony we could sit in. He offered us a deal of a shared plate and 4 drinks for 16 sol, we questioned this a few times with him as it was a great deal. When the bill came at 60 sols we had to get the same waiter back, he apologised and blamed his bad English, however I believe he did this on purpose so refused to pay his 60 sols and left the restaurant paying 20 sols and with a bad feeling on both parties, and half expecting a chef with a meat cleaver to chase us down the road (fortunately nothing happened other than Ginette feeling guilty and wanting to go back and pay the man).

Ginette – it was a cold day in Cusco and there wasn’t much to do on a budget. I did feel bad about the restaurant experience but agree with Gary it definitely seemed like a scam. We enquired several times about the deal even asking if the 16 sold was on top of the food bill. That said all evening I felt bad about not paying the bill, the was a small chance it was a genuine error. On the upside in the restaurant we met a nice couple from Wales who were touring South America on a package deal. It was great to speak to people our age who were also exploring the world. We finished the evening in what claimed to be the Highest Genuinely Owned Irish pub which ironically did not sell Guinness but this did not put people off as the pub was heaving.

12th September

Happy 32nd wedding anniversary

Up at 5.50am to pack and have breakfast before heading to the bus station for an 8am bus to Juliaca

We had researched the bus times from a site called Rome2Rio but arriving at the bus station we could see it was not a locals bus but a tourist provider. They did have tickets but it seemed expensive 90 sols each.

Fortunately there was a local bus station just around the corner. Once there we found another bus but it didn’t leave till 10.30, we decided to go back to the first station. Once back there we then discovered that they also wanted to charge for our luggage by the kilo, with our two touring bikes this would not be cheap.

Back to the other local station and this time after some searching and a lot of negotiating on Ginette’s part we found a bus which left in half hour and took the bikes for a smaller fee of 10 sols each and our tickets at 40 sols (£2.40 for the bikes and £10 each)

Ginette – the bus company did not think they had room for the bikes so in my best spanish I had to convince them they had room. This meant taking the front wheels off the bikes, no big deal.

Once in Juliaca we quickly assembled the bikes and cycled out of the very badly congested city with its poor roads, it had already gone 3.30pm when we set off so we didn’t get very far and camped at about 15 miles out of the city.

We pitched our tent in a small sheltered walled area that is used for sheep dipping, it was very windy and we only just made it inside the tent before the rain came down. Not the most romantic way to spend our anniversary the alternative had either been to stay another day in Cusco or stay a night in Juliaca but we didn’t fancy either. On the upside we spent the night together and felt very lucky to be sharing our adventure in South America.

13th September

In the mountains kissing Alpacas

In the morning a couple of locals walked by and one farmer stopped for a chat.
For the first 20 mile I felt like I had a concrete brick in my belly, Net had not liked the porridge as it had thickened so I ate her portion as well and regretted it.

Not long after setting off Ginette had a funny turn with Peru Poo and felling dizzy and sick. The altitude may be contributing to this as we are over 14,000ft now.

We continued slowly resting often and we both struggled with the hills and there were a few of them today. The weather was contrary today with temps of 29 down to 12 degrees and even a small Hale storm.

As we crossed a bridge by a large lake we startled some pink flamingos.
We had hoped to cycle further and get under the 100 miles to our destination mark but the last 6 miles were a killer with a long steep climb. When we reached the top we could see a storm was brewing, the wind had picked up and the sky turned black . Fortunately there was a tourist cafe so we opted to camp next to the cafe as it sheltered us a little from the wind and provided stunning views of the lakes.

Setting up the tent was funny as we were joined by an inquisitive Alpaca, he liked our ground sheet and rolled around on it, settled down so we had to shoo him off, however he was not bothered by us and proceeded to hover around me and even gave me some nose to nose kisses.

Ginette –  We spent the night watching the sun go down with a rice and veg dish washed down with a bottle of red wine purchased from the cafe. As soon as the sun went down we closed the tent and huddled up it was very cold.

14th September 

Short day in the high Alto

The weather last night was far better than the dark skies promised, we only had a little rain and the temp in the night was quite mild.

Ginette – However the dogs were very noisy, one stood guard outside our tent and every time one of us moved or made a noise it barked loudly for 5-10 mins. 

Gary had an iffy tum so we cut our cycling short to only 25miles, we still climbed over a 1000ft and are now at an altitude of 14,600ft. The consequence of cycling at this night is breathlessness making even the flats feel hard work.

We stayed in a small town called Imata and booked into a hotel with no WiFi or hot showers. Taking a little walk we found a couple of ladies in the process of skinning Alpacas, it looks the meat has gone one way and the pelts another.

15th September 

No rooms at the town.

I was feeling pretty poorly again, my breakfast was just rice and banana. We had a fairly easy ride this morning with gentle climbs but we still managed to climb 1000ft.
We stopped at a mirador for a stone forest 10 miles out of Imata, Ginette walked to take a closer look but I had no energy so stayed with the bikes and made a cuppa.

Ginette – this was a sure sign that Gary was not well.

It’s a shame I was not well as I am sure I would have enjoyed this section as the terrain was flat shrub land with mountains all around. At around the 30 mile mark my body had had enough, we found what might have been an abandoned farm and sheltered from the sun in an open stable. After an hour or more I was ready to grind out some more miles.

We only managed 3 more miles, this time it was a very strong headwind that made us stop, we could cycle in it but when the trucks and coaches came by they disturbed our balance to the extent we were close to going under the wheels, we opted to walk the bikes as we could see a small town ahead.

We reached Canahaus, a very small outpost with ramshackle houses,  it had a police checkpoint and a toll booth, but nothing else.

There were a few locals queuing for a bus/ lift to Chivay, this is the town we had been heading for so we waited with them to see if we could catch the bus. Most of the locals managed to hop into the odd vehicles that pulled over included an ambulance but when the bus did turn up its luggage holds were too full for our bikes.

After trying to find a room including in the police station we opted to get a lift to Arequipa, there was more traffic going this way it was very windy and cold and pitching a tent was not a good option.

At Arequipa (North) we found a hostal then set about feeding hangry Netty

Ginette – it was like I was possessed, I was so hungry/angry I didn’t want rice or chicken and that seemed to be all that was on offer, I became really irrational and ended up with an empanada and cake.

It’s disappointing that we couldn’t ride to Colca canyon but my health was not up to the 17000ft climb, and also disappointing we didn’t ride to Arequipa as the views from the back of truck looked stunning and the road seemed to mostly go downhill. However from a poor tummy point of view it’s good to be out of the mountains

Ginette – although the views were spectacular I am glad we didn’t cycle into Arequipa, there was no hard shoulder and very big drops to contend with. It was a frustrating day, I was enjoying the cycling but watching Gary slumped over his bike for two days meant we had no choice but to catch a lift into a city so that he could recuperate.

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