Thursday, 28 July 2011

THE NAZCA LINES










Yes, I'm in Nazca Peru, famous for the ancient lines in the desert. But first I had to get to Nazca from inland where I posted my previous report, and that is what this story is about. From the town of Abancay I first dropped down to 2000 m before gradually climbing up the Apurimac river gorge. Along the way I camped in some nice places, and I also stayed in very basic accommodation reminiscent of Ethiopia or India. Then I climbed steeply to a long plateau which varied in altitude from about 4200 metres to over 4500 m. There were some interesting geological features, as well as salt crystals formed by the mineral water dripping down the roadside embankment. In the late afternoon somewhere along the plateau I found Pampamarca village, where I spent the freezing night in an unhygienic mud-hut room at 4200 m. The following morning I was not at my best, I felt sluggish, and not in the mood for uphills. In the past couple of months I'd spent a lot of time at high altitude, so I was not too concerned about my health. However, immediately after leaving the village the road climbed again, much to my discomfort. Soon after checking my GPS at 4560 metres it hit me - ALTITUDE SICKNESS. The dull headache I'd had all morning turned nasty, I felt nauseous, weak, and shaky. The day turned into a miserable, drawn-out effort. For the next 50 km I somehow managed to drag myself along that desolate undulating plateau. The herds of llama along the way with their comical faces no longer interested me, and when scarce wild Vicuna's crossed my path just metres ahead I couldn´t even be bothered to take a picture. Fortunately, somewhere on the subsequent 45 km downhill to Puquio I miraculously recovered, and as a measure of comfort I booked into a nice room in the town. I walked around the bustling streets and bought all sorts of goodies at the markets for my dinner. Later, after a long hot shower I was sitting between clean sheets watching TV - and try as I might, I couldn't re-create the misery of the day in my mind, I was just too far removed! The following day I again climbed to a high plateau, where I camped for the night at over 4000 metres. Except for the cold, I felt strong and healthy (I had to keep my drinking water in the tent with me to prevent it from freezing). The following morning while I was packing my bike 2 Swiss cyclists arrived from the opposite direction, having taken 3 days to cycle the 100 km from Nazca. It took me only 3 and a half hours to reach Nazca (including taking lots of pic's and repairing a puncture). After a gradual descent along the plateau I suddenly dropped off the edge of the World! I descended the 3500 metres from desert mountain to coastal desert in a hair-raising winding dive of about 60 km. So, now I get back to Nazca, famous for it's ancient lines in the desert. I probably won't be seeing those lines, as I draw the line on extravagance before taking an airplane flight to see lines on the ground. When I leave this town I'll cycle past a viewing tower, but apparently even from there one has to use your imagination in order to make out the figures represented by the lines. On the bright side, I haven't been down at this altitude since Eastern Bolivia, and it feels as though I'm breathing pure Oxygen and bouncing around on springs! I'm not yet at the Pacific Ocean, as the road now runs parallel to the coast for a while, but I'll get there before my next report. Daily distances cycled since Abancay have been: Santa Rosa 72 km; Mt Stream Camp 85 km; Pampamarca 51 km; Puquio 108 km; Pampa Galeras Nat Pk 64 km; and Nazca 98 km. The total distance cycled in South America so far is 13 882 km, and the total distance I've cycled on this trip is 80 369 km.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

THE GRINGO PEDALS PERU









PLEASE SEE PREVIOUS POST FOR MACCHU PICHU. In Africa I was a Mzungu, but in this region a foreigner is referred to as a Gringo. Since my last report "The Gringo" left Lake Titicaca into the cold breeze along the desolate Altiplano - at least for the first few days. Along the way I met up with Israeli´s Amit and Shohan, and I was mostly in their company until we reached Cuzco where their South American cycle ended. In the process we crossed the La Raya mountain pass at 4360 m, before descending to Cuzco at 3300 m over the next couple of days. Shortly after the pass there was a rustic hot-spring, and it was quite enjoyable to float in the warm pool while admiring the surrounding snowy peaks. Cuzco is a very touristy city which was initially the Inca capital before being conquered by the Spanish - which gives it a rather European colonial character (and there are perhaps more tourists than locals). I stayed at La Estrellita, a cheap hostal popular amongst cyclists - and there were a number of us in residence. Of course, the renowned Macchu Pichu Inca ruins is not far away from Cuzco, and I too was compelled to visit the site (SEE PRVIOUS POST REGARDING MY VISIT TO MACCHU PICHU). I was planning to return to Cuzco, but I found a small dirt-road shortcut which linked up with the route I was planning to cycle, so I gave a second visit to Cuzco a miss. At the end of that day I was checking out a camping spot in the twilight, when I discovered 2 cyclists already camping there - Austrian/Swiss couple Hannes and Annelies. We´ve stayed in the same places for the past couple of days, except for one day when I had 5 punctures and camped alone up in the mountains. There are big mountains to cross, and I´ve now dropped and climbed more than 2000 m at a time. There was an added amount of excitement coming down the 35 km zig-zag decent yesterday from 4000 m in the rain with hardly any brakes left. Now I´m in a room in a big local town called Abancay, taking the day off to do this "Internet Thing", which feels like a job at times (I hope someone still reads this). When I leave here tomorrow I´ll be on my own again, as my 2 companions will be taking a different route. Daily distances cycled since Puno have been:- Juliaca 44 km; Pucara 65 km; Santa Rosa 75 km; Sicuani 72 km; Urcos 99 km; Cuzco 49 km; Ollantaytambo 86 km; Limatambo Mt Camp 62 km; Rio Apurimac 57 km; Curawasi Mt Camp 39 km; and Abancay 53 km. The total distance cycled in South America so far is 13 404 km, and the total distance cycled on this journey is 79 891 km.

MARCHING TO MACCHU PICHU





Afer leaving Lake Titicaca and the Andes Altiplano, the road led me to the touristy city of Cuzco. This city was the centre of the Inca Empire before the Spanish conquered it and erected their own colonial city on the Inca foundations. The Spanish used rocks from Inca structures to build huge cathedrals, and there is one around every corner. Some of the steep narrow streets in the city are still lined with Inca-built stone walls, and there are some ruin-sites around the area. However, possibly the biggest tourist attraction in South-America is Macchu Pichu, the ruins of an Inca citadel high up on a remote mountain - and re-discovered exactly 100 years ago. It seemed to me that it would be a disgrace to be in the area and not pay a visit to THE PLACE. However, we are now talking about "Richman" tourist territory, and I´m hardly in that class. The only access is by train (fancy trains run the 110 km route all the way from Cuzco, and cheaper trains run the 40-odd k´s from the end of the road - although none of them are cheap). There is also, of course, the Inca Trail and various other costly ways of getting to Macchu Pichu. After consultation with various other economically challenged people, I decided to do the "Poor-Man´s" Inca trail. I cycled from Cuzco to the end of the road at Ollantaytambo where I left my bike (Old Saartjie) in the hostal where I spent that night. The following day I packed a backpack and walked along the railway line to the touristy town of Aguas Calientes down in the valley, where the railway terminates and all the tourists must pass through. I was under the impression that the walk would be twenty-something km, but it turned out to be at least 40 k´s. Initially I enjoyed walking through the villages, and there were even a few Inca ruins along the way (free, and no other people). BUT WHAT WAS I THINKING!? For more than 4 years I have hardly been on my feet! After 10 hours I hobbled into the terminal train station, having struggled along the tricky line for an hour in the dark - dodging trains and trying not to disappear down the eroded embankment into the raging river. In the station the platform guard demanded to see my ticket (if I was feeling any stronger I may be languishing in a Peruvian prison right now). First thing the next morning I went to enquire about a return train ticket, as I hadn´t been in such self-imposed physical distress since my ultra-marathon days. While I was standing at the ticket counter debating the dilemma, the big blister under my foot burst, making for an easy decision. The train ticket costed the equivalent of 6 days accommodation, and I had to stay for another 2 days for the next available seat. At least that gave me a day to sit with my feet up before I climbed the stone stairs up the mountain to Macchu Pichu early the following morning. The entry ticket to the site was also quite costly (the whole thing seemed to be a big tourist trap). Anyway, once through the entrance gate I felt a sense of anticipation, and it was quite exhilirating to round a corner and catch a glimpse of the famous ruins through the early-morning cloudy mist. At that stage there seemed to be an eery dignity about the place, and there were not many people there yet. The site was bigger than I´d expected, and I wandered around amongst the ruins for a couple of hours until the sky had cleared enough for a photo of the citadel from the high terraces. However, by that time the trains had been rolling into the staion down below, the busses had been snaking up the mountainside, and the crowds had been pouring in. There were traffic jams, marshalls were blowing whistles to regulate crowd flow, and the atmosphere was that of a football match. I regained my composure in the forest on my way back down the stone stairs. I felt an intense longing for Old Saartjie and the rest of my worn-out belongings. After the train trip the following morning I was pleased to find everything just as I´d left it, and I spent the rest of the peaceful day doing laundry and re-packing my bags.

Monday, 4 July 2011

HIGH TIDE











Lake Titicaca, which straddles the Bolivia/Peru border, is the world`s largest high-altitude lake (also referred to as the highest navigable lake). The lake located towards the NW end of the Andes high plains, and is at an altitude of over 3800 m above sea level. After the climb out of La Paz city back up to the Altiplano, I made it to the lake shores by evening. Since then I`ve cycled more than 200 km along the lake, taking one of the many suspect-looking ferries over a channel along the way. There are a couple of decent hills along the way, taking the road up as high as 4300 metres (good views of the Andes peaks in the background). On the first day along the lake shore I didn`t make much headway, taking photo`s but there was also some festival going on in a number of the lakeside villages. The festival involved a slow parade in the street, with elaborately dressed groups of women and men doing "Square Dancing", and followed by a brass band as they slowly moved along. I knew there were some big hills after the ferry crossing, and as I was already struggling to breathe I stayed over in San Pedro village where the ferry dropped me off. The local population around the lake shore consists mainly of smallish-built indigenous people (see the size of the door in my room - and I´m by no means a giant, to say the least!). My last stop-over in Bolivia was a relaxing couple of days at the lakeside "resort" town of Copacabana, with it´s Moorish-style cathedral. After an effortless border crossing into Peru, I´ve cycled along the seemingly colder Western shores of Lake Titicaca up to the interesting touristy town of Puno. It´s supposed to be the dry (winter)season here, but on my approach to Puno I cycled through some freezing cold sleet, and it´s been raining on and off for the 2 days that I´ve been here. Puno is the favourite place for tourists to visit some of the interesting lake islands (such as the floating grass islands), and the small harbour area is crammed with tourist craft. As I´ve mentioned it is rather cold here, even the moto-taxi`s are covered. I also bought a local knitted cap which makes me look a bit silly, but it keeps my ears warm and has a double layer - handy if it starts to look a bit grimy I can just turn it inside-out! I suppose I can´t hang around here forever, so even if it rains tomorrow I´ll head towards Cuzco and the famous Inca-ruin region. Distances cycled since La Paz haven´t been phenomenal, but at this altitude one is held back by a limited oxygen supply. Those distances are:- Huarina 78 km; San Pedro 40 km; Copacabana 41 km; Juli (Peru) 63 km; and Puno 84 km. Total distance in South America so far is 12 703 km. Total distance cycled on this trip is 79 190 km.