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Archive for September, 2010

Huayhuash

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Huayhuash

Huaraz, 30-Sep-2010

I went early morning for my meeting with Juan Pablo, Peru’s Suzuki motorcycle country director (Kilometer 29,958; Lima’s Derco office, 21-Sep-10 @ 10:20).  We had a very interesting and enlightening conversation about the moto industry in Peru.  It was a long meeting, definitely well worth it but it meant I left for Huaraz just after noon time.  Normally, it should have been ample time to reach Huaraz except it was raining and I was again caught up in Lima’s horrendous traffic and its many road constructions and detours.  When I finally exited Lima I was hit by a heavy fog, reducing my visibility to less than 5 meters.  An hour went by before I exited the fog only to be stopped, yet again 😦 by the Peruvian Transit Police (Kilometer 30,164; intersection with Huaraz route, 21-Sep-10 @ 15:00).  This time they had a radar and they “caught” me riding 71Km/h in a 65Km/h zone.  Great!  One cop started writing me a ticket in the crazy amount of S/.680 == U$D240!  I laughed at his face and bluntly told him this is theft and I will not pay.  Who in Peru can pay the almost minimum monthly salary as a fine?  Surprise, surprise, he then hinted that allowing me to leave depends on my “cariño”, i.e. my love.  Well, he wasn’t going to get that today.  But he was a stubborn little fellow and kept me there waiting…. enough time for me to see him stopping other cars, usually luxury SUVs, and showing them the same frikin 71Km/h radar reading!.  But these people were used to this game and their love consisted of handing their license papers with S/.10 Nuevo Soles before immediately being let go.  All this in a very ordinary and casual way, right in front of my eyes.  I guess you figured out what I needed to do…. Damn, at this rate, that little fucker can buy a truckload of chickens every day ;).

Kilometer 30,388; Huaraz, 21-Sep-10 @ 19:00: Huaraz lies in a valley between the snowy Cordillera Blanca to the east and the dry & windswept Cordillera Negra (i.e. no snow) to the west.  And what an extraordinary sight is the Cordillera Blanca.  Snow capped mountains and glaciers litter this chain, each summit more magnificent than the other.  It is home to the Huascaran, the highest peak in Peru @ 6,768m.a.s.l. and the beautiful pyramid shaped Alpamayo.  Looking at these peaks just made my heart race and I quickly jumped on the phone to call Roy:  Let’s climb one of them!  Unfortunately, Roy was getting ready for his jungle work and anyway, it was the end of the season and dangerous snowy conditions are upon us… no worries, it will be for another year.

There are still many things to do in Huaraz.: I visited Chavin de Huantar, the religious site of the “oldest” civilization of the Americas. (Side note: Caral culture is 1,500 year older than Chavin, dating back to at least 2,500B.C. (and older), yet there’s a heated debate between archeologists/researchers upon calling Caral a civilization: no major ceramics, sculptures, drawings, musical instruments, tools, weapons (hunting or military),… were found there.  I visited Caral’s pyramid complex back in January and I am no expert but to my eyes and after what I saw, Caral definitely deserve being called a civilization).  Chavin archeological site has recently been painfully restored after a mud slide in 1945 covered the complex.  Nowadays, I could visit the many ceremonial plazas, temples, the labyrinth like quarters and not to forget its many monolith and stone carving representing their gods.  I also visited and hiked Laguna Llanganuco before heading back to town to prepare for my 8 day Huayhuash trek.  This trek is extremely popular with Israelis and a group of 18 of them (most were loud and “agitated”) registered for the hike.  Ouch! That doesn’t sit well with exploring nature.  To my luck, 5 of them, extremely cool, funny and open minded decided to split from the others for exactly the same reason and hike it separately:  they too wanted to fully enjoy Huaywash, undisturbed, dwelling in its beauty and absorbing each moments and I was more than happy to tag along.  To do so, we had to leave Huaraz at 2:00AM and start our hike by 8:00AM to get a 1 day head start over the other group.  During the next 7 days, I joined Ira, Shachar, Amir and Shay to hike the incredibly marvelous cordillera Huaywash, a route lying between 4,000 and 5,100 m.a.s.l surrounded by a gorgeous mountain chain of breathtaking snowy peaks & glaciers and walking through steppe plains beside gorgeous turquoise lakes reflecting the mountains,…  Add to that we really hit it out as a group (and with Theo and Tonio, our guide + ariero) so we had great fun all along our hike (Ori, the 6th guy in our group had to drop off of the hike and return to base after the first few hours due to severe altitude sickness).  Bref, I would describe it as the absolutely most beautiful trek I ever did.  Again, pictures speak a thousand words and I’ll let you enjoy all 120+ of them ;).

And that’s not all:  As a group we developed such a strong friendship that we decided to undertake a few more activities together… read all about it in my following update.

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.

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Diversity

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Diversity

Lima, 20-Sept-2010

Peru is an amazingly rich country, cradle to many cultures, home to an incredible diversity of flora & fauna (it boasts to have 84 of the 117 recognized ecological microclimates in the world, and 28 of the 32 world climates) and is inhabited by welcoming and warm Peruvian.  So my decision was easy:  I will take the beautiful road on my way to Lima vs. the short & easy one.  I will pass by Abancay before veering north through unpaved roads and breathtaking scenery toward Ayacucho.   From there, I plan to head to Huancayo before turning west to Lima.

Kilometer 28,633; Cusco, 14-Sep-10 @ 9:45: The trip started on beautiful fresh tarmac along an undulating road passing again next to Cachora and reaching Abancay (Kilometer 28,833; Abancay, 14-Sep-10 @ 13:05).  Not much to see there, Abancay being a crossroad between Nazca to the West via an asphalted road and Ayacucho to the North via a beautiful off-road.  I kept heading north as my plan was to ride as far as possible today, stopping in Andayhualas for the night (Kilometer 28,981; Andayhualas, 14-Sep-10 @ 17:00) and reaching Ayacucho the following day in the evening.  My route turned out to be spectacular, a real sweet ride and the off-roads good enough to fully enjoy the surrounding nature.  The only hick-up were the on-going construction: some stretches were pure loose gravel & sand and many road blocks ensued.  Twice I had to ask the locals for detours and avoid the hours of blockades mandated by the construction crews.  However, just an hour before Ayacucho, a major construction site blocked the road for 1.5 hour with no way around it.  We were only allowed to continue by 18:00, sundown.  It is one thing tackling these roads during daylight but a totally different ball game to do so at night: it’s hard to distinguish the perturbing rocks popping up from the ground, the sand patches I need to slowly cross and the best/safest path for my tires to ride over.  But this is how the game is played and I’ll tackle whatever is thrown at me.  I arrived late to Ayacucho and immediately went ahead looking for a hotel with a built-in garage (Kilometer 29,237; Ayacucho, 15-Sep-10 @ 19:30).  After knocking on a few doors and explaining to the owners that I sleep wherever my bike sleeps, I finally found a hotel which allowed me to park my baby inside the main hallway, safe and dry.  They were so nice they even brought me a hose the next morning so I can clean my bike’s chain from all the sand and dust accumulated.

Ayacucho is a nice small city, with many lovely churches scattered around and a beautiful plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial buildings.  The churches in Peru and worst, in Bolivia, have unpredictable opening hours, if they open at all during the day that is.  So I long figured out the best way to visit is after sunset during the night masse: so go ahead, go confess all your sins J.  Back at my hotel, I hooked up with Jacob and Yagna, a polish backpacker couple and we decide to visit the major Wari ruins outside Ayacucho (it was the capital of the Wari state) before continuing further afield toward Quinoa.  So my bike will stay put today and we will take the combi to our destination.

The Wari culture was renowned for their expertise in urbanization and social planning.  Their cities were very tightly ordered, organized in square sectors, crisscrossed by wide streets and surrounded by high walls (sometime a double set of outer walls with a street in the middle) and harboring up to 20,000 people.  The Incas took much of the Wari urbanization expertise and further improved it, allowing them to better build and manage their cities.  Even the famous Inca roads were actually built on top of the earlier Wari roads and then further extended to cover the Tawantinsuyu (i.e. Inca empire).  Although not as well preserved (read “reconstructed”) as Pikillacta, quite a few sectors, walls and temples are marvelous to see and I spent a couple of ours just strolling a tiny part of this huge complex (estimated at 10 sq.km).  Our trip then took us to Quinoa, a tranquil little village whose inhabitants are masters of ceramic work, renowned to decorate their house’s rooftops with their sculptures.  It’s a joy to stroll Quinoa’s small cobble streets before heading uphill to the plains were the major battle of Ayacucho occurred back in 1824.  It is here where General Antonio Jose de Sucre (him again :)) fought the larger and better armed royalist forces in a final and decisive battle.  His victory on 9th December 1824 finally granted Peru it’s independence from the Spanish after years of civil war which started back in 1809 and the tide only turned in favor of the Nationalists following San Martin initial attack from southern Chile back in 1820.

Today I will head to the sea :)! …and what an exciting thought it was.  I left the Atlantic coast more than 4 month ago and now I’ll finally reach the Pacific.  All I was thinking about was the endless extent of blue sea, the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.  I decided to stay in Paracas, next to the peninsula of the same name renowned for its beautiful dunes and shoreline.   To top it all off, the excellent asphalted road from Ayacucho to the coast provided an amazing track of twisty roads that went up and down mountains until reaching Abra Apacheta @ 4,750m before starting my long and winding road down toward the Panamericana.  The strong Pacific winds met me again on this final stretch bidding me welcome back to its territories.  Just before reaching the Panamericana, I stopped at Tambo Colorado, an ancient Inca city and a major resting place for the travelers up to Cusco (Kilometer 28,543; Tambo Colorado, 17-Sep-10 @ 15:00).  It’s one of the few, definitely the biggest, Inca city built from adobe vs. the usual stonework.  But Inca signature abounds with its typical trapezoidal doorway, baths, zigzag motif and the 3 level Chacana.  The dry weather of the coast even preserved a few walls with the original red, yellow and white painting adorning the city (hence the name).

Kilometer 29,602; Paracas, 17-Sep-10 @ 17:25: To my surprise Paracas is a very touristy beach town.  In the morning, heading to the quay with July and Helen for a tour of Isla Ballestas, hordes of tourists, mostly middle aged, were waiting at the dock.  It felt like a retiree reunion of some sort and I couldn’t help but compare it to some Florida beach towns.  Here, everyone wanted to marvel at the tens of thousands (maybe hundred thousand?) of birds living on the islands.  A half an hour boat ride took us there (no one can disembark as it’s a protected area)  and I was surprised, even shocked, to witness such a huge number of birds: they were using nearly every free sq.inch of the island to stand on or doting the skies above us while flying (watch out for bird dropping!).  To give you an idea on the number of birds in these islands, the guano, i.e. bird excrement, was so abundant that in certain areas it was up to 50m deep!  The Incas used the guano as fertilizer to increase crop yield but the European only discovered its benefit back in the 1800’s.  Because of the regions’ dry weather (it barely rains) the guano preserves its properties and especially its nitrate content making it the much thought after fertilizer.  And so started Peru’s guano golden age:  from 1840-1880 Peru had a tremendous boon exporting ~20 million tons of guano and earning around U$D 2 billion in profit.  To put it in perspective, it exceeds current Peru’s GDP numbers!!  The advent of synthetic fertilizer killed this golden “fecal” mine and the birds were left to do their thing.  Guano today has a second breath as a natural fertilizer vs. all the chemicals we use:  it is harvested once every 7 year (for it to accumulate and for preservation of the environment, the birds and their habitat).

Once back on shore and after a quick breakfast with Julie and Hélène, I loaded all my stuff on my bike and headed toward the peninsula.  The scenery was high in color were dunes, red volcanic hills, sandy beaches and blue water mix.  I took my time riding this 21Km circuit and admiring its beauty.  By mid afternoon I stopped at the tiny fishing hamlet of Lagunillas where a few restaurants conglomerate near the shore and waiters fight to offer you their services (Kilometer 29,641; Paracas, 18-Sep-10 @ 14:35).  A delicious grilled fish with a Pisco Sour was to culminate my excursion and I headed (late) toward Lima.  I arrived on its outskirt after nightfall right in the middle of the drive home rush hour.  Crazy drivers & aggressive buses were my welcoming committee.  It was such a stressful stop-and-go ride that I completely missed my exit; I was more concerned about the cars surrounding me, forcefully trying to make their way passed me.  I exited the highway, did a u-turn and asked for directions.  And that’s the other nightmare: Similar to Bolivia, everyone will tell you to just go “recto”, i.e. straight.  But buddy, the roads split in a “Y”, left & right, which way?  “Recto amigo, siga no mas”.  Great… and then?  “Just turn and follow the road”…  O-Kaaay… the name of the road?  Where do I turn?  “Just turn this way” gesturing in the air.  The way I understand it is that people won’t tell you they actually don’t know the route, instead just gesture their way out of it.  You ask someone about a certain direction and just 100 meter later someone else tells you something completely different.  Even taxi drivers throw you on a zigzag trail (well, they know all the shortcuts, so can’t really blame them).  And I was asking to reach a very famous roundabout, not even the street I wanted to get too!  I played this ping-pong game (me being the ball) for a good half-hour, slowly honing-in to Miraflores and miraculously I stumbled upon Avenida Arequipa.  That’s the major thoroughfare that crosses Lima from its center to past Miraflores.  All I needed to know now was which way to head: left or right?  Once I had 3 different guys telling me the same way to go (OK, I am exaggerating now 😉 I just rode in that direction.  And I knew that I will remember exactly the streets I needed to take once I reached the neighborhood I stayed in back in January.  Sure enough, my visual memory never fails and I was happily making my way through the streets up to my hostel, Kilometer 29,939; Miraflores, 18-Sep-10 @ 19:35.

I only stayed for a few days in Lima: it was Saturday and I hit Barranco club’s street again and the following day just visited the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia.  On Monday I went to visit Suzuki Lima and managed to get a meeting for Tuesday morning with Juan Pablo, general manager of Peru’s Suzuki motos.  The plan is to continue straight on to Huaraz; the summer might be arriving into the Southern hemisphere but in the cordilleras, it’s the winter and rainy season is at the doorstep.

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.

Inti Raymi

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Inti Raymi (Sun Festival)

Cusco, 13-Sep-2010

We trekked the same road back from Agua Calientes to Hydroelectrica then after several combi and bus rides we were in Cusco by nighttime.  Next day, Carlos and I parted way: I headed by bus to Arequipa to meet my “patas” and Carlos went to Cachora to get his bicycle.  We agreed on meeting again here in Cusco to do a couple of other excursions.  As for my bus ride, well, it’s been such a long time that I didn’t travel by bus that I felt dizzy & nauseas the whole way, barely able to get any sleep.  Deliverance finally came when we arrived to Arequipa and I was so happy to get out of this “boat”.  I immediately hooked up with Ryan (US) and xxx (Arg.) who also just arrived to Arequipa from different destinations and we all headed to the same hostel.  A quick breakfast followed by a much needed power nap and it was only in mid-afternoon that we all went out strolling the city.  As for Roy and David, they were attending a climbing & rescue class to be ready for their jungle work so I could only meet them at night.  David was doing OK, life goes on as he painfully said.  Both were excited by this jungle job opportunity as it will bring in a good cash infusion: Now should they get a Mitsubishi L200 or a Toyota Hilux? :).  Tomorrow was their final exam and they had to head home early.  Not to worry, we will celebrate their success in good time :).  As for tonight, well Ryan and xxx were preparing the “pre-game” at the hostel before we hit the clubbing scene.  After a couple of bar hope we ended up at my favorite place, “Deja-Vu”, and I met with Shirley to dance the night away.   Next day, I finally hooked up with Rafa again and it was great chatting again with him.  He also helped me get in contact with Suzuki in Lima.  We headed for a quick stroll north of the city before heading out with his girlfriend for a nice lunch in a traditional restaurant around Arequipa.  We headed back to town late afternoon and hit the clubbing scene again.   And if you think that was enough, well, the following day the boys were finally free to spend the day with me.  I went rope climbing with Roy and David threw me of a bridge ;).  By noon time, we met up with the other guides, including Mitchel and Julver (from Aconcagua!) and soon thereafter the celebration started and a house party formed at Julver apartment which lasted until the wee hour of the morning.     Arequipa is one city I would love to come back to visit… or even stay in!!

I headed back to Cusco with Ryan and the party just continued there.  Carlos was back in town too and he was eager to visit the old Inca capital and its surroundings.  Cusco’s surroundings are a cultural treasure and every day we went on a different tour to explore Inca or Wari ruins or visit colonial villages before spending the afternoon in the city.  I’ll let the picture do the talking so scroll down below and enjoy.  At night, there was no lack of people at my hostel ready to hit the club scene: David and Garry also arrived from La Paz and brought it’s craziness with them ;), Davo & David were 2 Spaniards just out there to rock it all out and with Mani (Puerto-Rico), Julia (Italy) and Claudia (Arg.) the dancing was in full swing.

But as was the case for La Paz, I needed to “escape” from Cusco. But before, one final special night to celebrate my B-day :).  Tomorrow, 22 days after I arrived here I will finally rejoin with Llama and be on the road again.

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.

Citadels

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Citadels

Cusco, 1-Sep-2010

I crossed the border into Peru with a group of Italian riders on an organized tour from Santiago de Chile to Cusco and back in 21 days.  They were pampered: they had a LandCruiser with a guide + mechanic on board, loaded with spare parts, extra gas, tools and their entire luggage.  I tagged along until Puno which was my stop for the day while they kept riding toward Cusco (Kilometer 28,159; Puno, 24-Jul-10 @ 14:50). I quickly checked-in and jumped back on the bike to visit Sillustani funerary tombs (Kilometer 28,192; Sullustani, 24-Jul-10 @ 15:30).  I made it there and back by sunset including being stopped by my favorite buddies, the Peruvian Polica de Transito.  After realizing they won’t be able to extract money from me, one cop asked to be driven back to Puno as his shift ended.  He also wanted to see how fast I can go… fast enough on turns for him to scream for me to slow down 🙂

I didn’t linger more than the night in Puno.  It’s not a very attractive city and I previously visited it and also stayed in the nearby Amantani islands, plus I couldn’t hook-up with my buddy Rafa (whom I met back in January) since he’s living in Arequipa, so I just headed to Cusco the next morning (Kilometer 28,633; Cusco, 24-Jul-10 @ 17:50).  There, I settled comfortably in my hostel as I knew I will be staying in this city for a while.  I was joined by a bunch of cool French travelers – including Sarah who managed to find work at the hostel – and we spent the first couple of days doing what Cusco is known for: visiting this imperial city and partying.  Mama Africa popularity dwindled but Ukukus, Km-0, Mythology and especially IncaTeam took over harder than ever.  And if I thought to myself I will take it easy when Roy comes to town since we will be preparing our trek, I was soon corrected and put back into place.  Roy has led a group of French tourists down Colca Canyon and we met them again in Cusco for 2 nights of unbelievable party.

On Monday morning, after our second night of party and “after-party”, we said goodbye to the girls, went back to our hotel, packed our stuff, bought food for the trek and rushed to catch the bus to Cachora where our next adventure will start.  We were so tired we fell asleep in the bus and missed our drop-off point :)… but not by much and a short taxi ride corrected everything.

Cachora is the starting point of the Choquequirao trek, an Inca site little known by tourists and often skipped.  The other reason why it’s bypassed is: Choquequirao complex is nestled high up on a mountain overlooking the Apurimac river (Apurimac == “where the gods speak”), a steep and demanding trek requiring 2 days to get there and 2 days to get back.  There are no roads or train out here which is actually a great thing.  Roy and I decided to combine Choquequirao with Machu-Picchu, an 8 day trek.  This time we both agreed better to rent a donkey (not to mention the price was low) and we found Noel who will be our ariero for the trip, accompanied by Pedro (his donkey :)…  I also met Carlos, a Colombian traveler who is touring South America on his bicycle for a 2 year period:  www.pedaleandoalma.org.  His plans were to accompany us only up to Choquequirao but after spending couple of days with us, he couldn’t help but to tag along all the way up to Machu-Picchu :).  He is great company and the fun only grew, with Roy leading the way.

As we approached this majestic site, a sense of excitement overwhelmed me: Choquequirao was standing proud and strong facing the centuries and I was so eager to discover it.  The complex occupies an area bigger in size then Machu-Picchu but with fewer number of buildings and ceremonial centers than its more famous counterpart.  While it is believed Machu-Picchu was built as a ceremonial center for the Condor, Choquequirao was built as a temple for the Llama.  A tremendous count of steep terraces surrounds the complex with some of their walls having embedded white stones in the shape of llamas, a stunning sight to see.  But what rendered my visit an astounding experience is the fact that until 13:00, we were absolutely alone:  not a single soul was roaming the grounds.   We humbly wondered inside the complex, undisturbed, absorbing its mystical energy, admiring its beauty and letting our minds wonder and imagine how it could have been before.  Better let the pics do the talking.

The total trek up to Machu-Picchu was a hard one, with 2 steep mountains passes to climb (highest @ 4,500m) separated by valleys, the lowest at about 1,600m.  The sun hits so hard in this region that we used to wake up at 5:00 and start walking immediately after breakfast to skip the blunt of the afternoon sun.  But it was really a wonderful hike with tremendous views along the way.  Each day we crossed different type of climates and vegetations as we climbed up & down these mountains or being on their eastern vs. western face.  And Roy picked up the jokes were he left them back in Aconcagua so the fun and laughter joined us for the whole trip, to the great amusement of Carlos and Noel.  We arrived at Santa Teresa in 6 days, earlier than expected… we actually could have arrived a day earlier if not for our donkey Pedro being tired and needed to rest! 🙂   However the fun was soon squashed:  In Santa Teresa, Roy received some devastating news and he had to rush back to Arequipa to be with David.  After some discussion, it was agreed I would stay behind with Carlos, visit Machu Picchu and then carry all the equipments back with me to join Roy & David in Arequipa.

To reach Machu-Picchu, we needed to go upstream along the Urubamba river: a path + road takes us from Santa Teresa to Hydroelectrica before we follow the railway track to Aguas Calientes, the base village below Machu-Picchu citadel.  This route not only saved us loads of money (the train ride from Cusco to Machu-Picchu and back costs U$D71), it also an easy and nice hike along the river, walking between steep mountains and their many rock cliffs.  Not to mention we passed by fields of bananas, limas and avocados which we gladly picked and ate (plus carrying some for dinner & next day snacks).  On our route, we also met with Jorge, a very cool local guide, which not only was fun company but also found us cheap accommodation in Aguas Calientes and gave us all the information & tips needed for our majestic visit.  Not all was rosy though; the rain hit us hard during the whole way and didn’t stop for the remainder part of our trip.  Our Machu-Picchu experience was soaked.  The following day we did manage to get 3 hours of dry weather in the early morning to enjoy Machu-Picchu’s complex but by 10:00 it was rainy, foggy and cold… very miserable.  Our hike to Huayna-Picchu was also affected by the weather as the fog rendered the postcard beautiful views of the citadel (and it shape of a condor) mostly obstructed.   Few people stayed long at the site which was the only positive side of this weather:  instead of the usual 2,500 visitors, there were less than a 100 walking the site in the afternoon.  As for Carlos and I, we stayed until closing time; soaked and drenched but not ready to let go of this mystical experience.  And I thought to myself: “I previously visited Machu-Picchu under sunny and blue skies, now I get to experience its other face”.  Positive thinking… although it didn’t make it any better 😦

However, a warm bath back in Aguas Calientes does do wonders.  Not to be outdone, the hearty dinner that followed further replenished my energies and I felt satisfied.  All I needed now was a good night sleep and I headed to bed replaying in my mind this discovery adventure that started back in Choquequirao.

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.