Cusco was once the capital of the Inca empire and it’s where most tourists fly in to visit Machu Picchu. There are several options to get to the famous site – with most tourists taking the train – but we have decided to “ride” – as close as we can! After a very wet night in Cusco we head out of town – past the beautiful green patchwork fields of potatoes and quinoa on the Chinchero plateau.
We drop down in to the Sacred Valley and follow the Urubamba River to Ollantaytambo – another “tourist” town full of large, slippery cobblestones!!
The road from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria is an absolute highlight – perfect corners as we climb up and up through spectacular scenery yet again!
At Santa Maria we make a decision not to ride the stretch to Santa Teresa – it has been raining solidly for many days and this road is for the adventurous at the best of times. We store the bikes at a friendly local hotel and take a “collectivo” – a privately-owned small station wagon – with our “load” including two adults in the front, us and another adult in the back, two women and three kids plus lots of bags of food in the back!! The cost for us “gringoes” is AUD$6 each!
The road is unpaved and full of massive deep potholes – like small lakes – then it climbs and becomes narrow, with deep precipices and several “dodgy” river crossings – in parts the road is just chiselled out of the rocky mountainside! In the dry season it would be manageable but we are happy to “bump” our way along for 40 minutes on this slushy road. We walk to Aguas Calientes and feel a sense of awe – we have arrived at one of the world’s most prized wonders – it’s right above us – waiting to be explored! The road goes straight up the sheer mountain in a series of switchbacks with views out to the valley below.
Sunrise shots are out of the question in the wet season but there is a magical feeling as we start to climb the stairs in the mist and rain.
Historians believe Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries and was abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction. This is the time the Spanish started coming but there is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop. However, some have suggested that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic!
We come down the mountain and it’s time to leave – the images of this “wonder” and the emotion we feel being at this iconic landmark will stay with us forever! We leave Santa Maria in perfect riding conditions with a clear and dry ride over the 4300m pass – it’s a total joy to do this road again. Once we get past Urubamba the road opens out onto a large plateau – with views to snow-capped peaks and wide open spaces.
We come down in to Puno on Lake Titicaca and the weather is perfect – so we organise a late
tour to the “floating” Uros Islands – which sit a few kilometres offshore. The islands and the buildings on them are constructed entirely of reeds that grow in the lake.
We listen to a talk on how the islands are constructed and are offered their handicrafts to buy – it’s all clearly a big “show” – but it allows them to keep their traditions and if it wasn’t for the tourists, these people would be much poorer and would probably have had to move to the mainland.
Crossing in to Bolivia is easy and we stop for lunch at Copacabana – with perfect weather for the ride around the lake on a magnificent stretch of road!
We press on to La Paz – where the roadworks are relentless and the city is huge – time for oil-changes and a day off!
On Two Wheels
We met Kalil and Hans at the border coming in to Peru, met up for a few beers in Trujillo and find Kalil again in La Paz. They came through the massive roadworks to the north of the city during a storm and Kalil’s bike takes in water driving through a flash flood (the air intake on the BMW is just above the piston and only half a metre from the ground)! The water causes his connection rods to bend – which means a full engine rebuild – time and money – and that’s if you can get the parts to Bolivia! So Hans moves south on his own and Kalil finds a buyer for his bike…and a change of plans for his continued holiday!
Tip of the Day
If you fill your bike up in the woop-woops on a Sunday – realise that sometimes the parents have gone “walkabout” and left the kids in charge of the pumps!!
Story of the Week
We have opted to come to Machu Picchu the long way – storing our bikes in Santa Maria and taking a “collectivo” to Santa Teresa – but when we arrive in the tiny town our driver discovers the raging river has taken the bridge out which we need to get across to get to the train station at Hidro-Electrica!! He takes another road, down to the river and we meet up with a chaotic crowd of tourists – some making decisions and some not – but it seems a throng of people are walking through the bush to the river, so we follow!
They are letting three to four of us at a time over a footbridge, then up a steep, muddy bank to some more “collectivos” that have been trapped across the river – with another sludgy shared ride to the train station.
The ticket office closes as we approach the train and they won’t let us on – no amount of cajoling is going to work – so it leaves the station! We have no choice but to roll up our trousers and walk the fifteen kilometres to Aguas Calientes!!
We pass many backpackers going both ways and finally the day dies and we are in the pitch black with several very wet tunnels to go through – thank goodness for the phone torch!! The lights of the town suddenly appear and we feel like we’ve arrived in an oasis – it’s another “tourist” town with all the trimmings! We find a reasonable hostel and decide on a celebration meal with a bottle of red – this is momentus on all accounts – we have reached one of the great wonders of the world – and in a challenging way to boot! Should we have just caught the train from Cusco? Not on your Nellie – it’s all part of the adventure!!