Sunday, 27 July 2014

Cusco to Nasca and beyond

By Mark

After a relaxing afternoon at the hot springs in Santa Teresa giving our aching muscles some much needed attention we left for Cusco again for a quick stopover to get the usual washing and so forth done before making our way to Nasca which would take us a couple of days.

The road to Nasca is a great road for bikes, shame we had to share it with all the other trucks and buses. In the morning when we first found ourselves heading down into a deep valley we constantly had kamikaze truckers riding our arses less then 2 metres from our rear tyres breaking heavily just before corners and even swinging out beside us through corners before pulling back in behind us before they cleaned up some other poor soul coming the opposite direction. We kept at it until we came across road works which has become a very common occurrence now in Peru and we snuck all the way through to the front. Like always they never let bikes through so we had to sit in line as everybody around us got more and more agitated waiting for the road to open. This when we realised we should have just stayed at the back. When we were finally allowed to go it was every man for themselves and watch out bikers because if you get in the way you will be run down as one particular car driver came ever so close to Sanne and I. I was pissed off but not as much as Sanne who chased this one car down the road constantly honking her horn and trying to get his attention, in all of this frustration Sanne took her mind off the road and next thing I see her trying to take a sharp bend but she was never going to make it. I looked ahead and see a bus coming the opposite direction and all I could think of was the worst possible scenario, Sanne going straight under the front wheels of the bus. Luckily for her the bus driver was on his game and had slowed and pulled over as she went straight off the side of the road. Still shocked I spoke with her and tried to calm her down at the same time hugging and kissing her and was very happy I still had a girlfriend.

A few more kilometres down the road we took an early lunch break (Mary Jane popped by as well with a calming word or two) and talked about what we needed to do to survive the horrible drivers here and to also let all the other traffic pass us. This is where my bike started to want to play funny buggers and blew a fuse for no apparent reason then going on to not always wanting to start. Great, now I have a starter motor problem. Luckily the bike starts 95% of the time and the other times a light tap on the starter motor and Tortuga fires into life. Yes, I have now finally got a name for my bike, after so many years and kilometres on the clock I have decided to call my bike La Tortuga (the turtle)

The lunch break was the best plan of all as after we finished, the road was much quieter and we had an enjoyable ride from there on in stopping late in the afternoon at a great little spot by the river to camp. Thinking we would be OK there the night we set up camp, cooked dinner and retired to bed early thinking how great it was to have this place to ourselves, that was until about 9.30pm when a truck drove down to where we were and started digging up sand from beside the river and loading the truck. We both thought great and what are the chance of this happening. I stuck my head out of the tent and said hello but they were not interested one bit, just said "Buenas noches, amigo" and went back to digging, well at least it was not a grave they were digging for us, half an hour later they were done and gone thankfully.

The following day saw us climb up and down the mountains again reaching above 4000m which just seems to be the norm these days. The only difference was the landscape slowly changing to a drier and more arid landscape and by the end of the day I found what has to be one of the best wild camps we have ever had. We set up camp on a sand dune over looking the rolling mountains only 30kms from Nasca. It was quiet and nobody around, no late night visitors until Sanne got paranoid thinking she could hear someone or something walking around the tent, it wasn't until the next morning she worked out that it was just the tent making noises in the light breeze!
We rode on down into Nasca and was surprised at the fertility of the soil as there were all sort of crops growing everywhere through the valley which changed the landscape enormously from its barren brown and grey colours to rich bright greens which casts a huge contrast to the backdrop of the mountains and the worlds largest sand dune, Cerru Blanco at 2078m.

After getting another flat tyre the day previously I stopped at the first bike store to pick up a new tube. Ever since I bought the damn second hand tyre in Chile and fitted in Argentina I have had nothing but problems and constant punctures, something that was wearing very thin with me. We booked straight into a very basic room in town, fixed my tyre and booked a flight to fly over the well known and famous Nasca Lines. We had read that there had been problems in the past with flights going down and also that if you have a problem with motion sickness then this would not be highly recommended so Sanne was sitting this one out. We also read that you should not take a flight that costs under $80 but our hostel was selling tickets for $70 and after looking up the company's history it looked like I should be safe, cannot say the same for my stomach.
Early next morning we were off to the airport, for the first time I can remember I felt a little nervous before the flight but I had nothing to worry about really, it was all just a question of when are we actually going to take off, so after about an hour or more we were off to board our new plane. The plane I took was actually one of the largest in Nasca seating 12 passengers, yes huge I know but considering most planes are only 4 seaters this was much bigger.

We took off for our 30 min joy flight banking to the left and right so that passengers on both sides could get a good look at the lines. The first thing I noticed was the amount of lines, they are everywhere criss-crossing the land in numerous directions not really making any sense of it all, the next thing is trying to spot the actual formations which at times was not very easy, then getting a good photo was even more difficult. In no time at all we were headed back to the airport and well, I felt a little disappointed in it all. Basically you take off, go straight to the images in the dessert, fly by twice to get a really quick look and move onto the next and behind you the next aircraft is doing the same thing. Five to ten minutes more would make a big difference to the experience. The best thing about the flight was that all the noisy Mexicans that were on board had all gone very quiet after about ten minutes in and you could actually take it all in with a little more peace and quiet. One thing to report at least that there was luckily know one throwing chunks while on board.

After my flight we headed back to the hostel, packed our bikes and headed just up the road to what is meant to be a nice relaxing little oasis in the sand dunes which surrounds a lagoon, Huacachina. Well it was not the quiet haven we were expecting with V8 dune buggies hooning around the sand dunes killing any peace and quiet that we were after. With no decent camping options and the sand dunes way to soft for our heavily loaded bikes we opted for a hostal for the night.

From here we wanted to head back into the mountains and we had heard about a beautiful mountain range we wanted to ride through, of course our lazy arses were not going to hike through them. We stopped by one last town on the coast which was meant to be a nice little haven but we did not get this feeling at all and with the heavily overcast and hazy day we headed back inland for the mountains. We could not wait to get off the Pan American highway, it is so boring and monotonous and we do not understand why anyone would want to ride the entirety of this road. We have now been on it three times and each time we could not wait to get off of it. Enter more road works which ended up delaying us and we had to ride into the night to our next destination which ended up being in some small town where we set up camp in the grounds of a hotel.
The next day was still hazy but in no time as we climbed up out of the town we finally were able to see the landscape again including a beautiful mint green coloured river running down through the valley. I was riding along enjoying it all until I started to feel a very slow and heavy feel in the front end, great just F@#King great! Yes you guessed it, another puncture. I completely lost my shit by the road side throwing my gloves and kicking anything that was in my way. By this stage it was no longer funny and I have all the experience I need now in fixing punctures. So after my huge dummy spit which I think Sanne thought was over the top and  uncalled for, (well she doesn't ever get flats or has to fix them so I think it was completely called for) I finally got around to fixing it. Back in La Paz I bought a new tyre which was meant to be for Sanne's bike but with the on going problems with my crap-tastic tyre I took it and put it on my bike leaving the old tyre by the road side for some other unlucky fellow to think he has scored well with a good tyre, huh, never! While repairing the tyre three young guys from Lima stopped by to ask if we were OK and needed help and proceeded to hang out with us until we were done and back on the road. We spoke to them about the horrible drivers here and they just agreed, good. At least it is not just us who thinks it is bad. They also gave us some bad news that the road would be closed in an hours time for a car rally.

Well, the road closure was a blessing in disguise as we found a great place to sit by the road side and have lunch and wait for the rally to come through, three long hours later and they were through and we were back on the road. One problem, so was everybody else and it was wacky races time again. The real problem was that we were on a very small road where most of the time the road was only wide enough for one car so at every corner you are honking your horn like mad to let other drivers know you are coming. A few close calls later I had found another wild camp by the river and we sat and chilled by the river for the rest of the afternoon.

The next day we were headed for Huanuco, nothing of any real interest here but just a place to sleep the night and look for new tyres for Sanne's increasingly worn tyres on her bike. The ride to Huanuco was awesome. Riding through the valley that just kept closing in on us all the time until we were riding through what felt like natural caves ever climbing up the mountain until we hit over 4300m before descending again and onto a main road which was chaotic and heavily potholed. Late in the afternoon we finally arrived and straight into peak hour traffic grinding us to a halt. Well at least we found all the bike shops easily, shame the same cannot be said for finding tyres. We were the talk of town and had many locals stopping and chatting with us. We might go as far as saying we hate the Peruvian drivers but off the road they have to be some of the nicest people we have met on the trip. They always want to stop and talk to us and ask what we are doing and where we are going, always happy to answer any questions and help us where they can. One guy gave is directions to a hotel that he knew had parking and was cheap so we headed there after having problems in the city to find a hotel with parking.

We really didn't think much of Huanuco so we left the following day for a possible 2 day ride to Huaraz, trekking capital of Peru and known as one of the best places to hike outside of the Himalayas. Well we didn't make it far, we got about 50kms out of town where we were stopped once again by road works. This time it was going to be a long wait. We arrived at 10.30am and the road was to be closed until 5pm! All for a 2km stretch of road. Ridiculous! We spoke with the locals and the road workers but there was no way they were letting us through and there was no way we were going to wait until 5 and ride in the night again as we had no choice as there we no villages for quite a distance. We checked the map and with no other choice than to go back to town, that's what we did! At the hotel that night we figured out a plan of which way to go. Instead of the direct ride of 350km's we now had a detour of over 600km's to get to the same place - great!

Part of the Cordillera Vilcabamba just outside Cusco  

Another beautiful camp spot, however some strange goings on in the night

While stopped waiting for me to repair my puncture we had some curious on lookers

Cerro Blanco, the worlds highest sand dune

30km's outside of Nasca we found another incredible spot to camp

Nasca city and one of many replicas of the Nasca lines

30km's south of Nasca we visited an open gravesite where many of the bodies, whats left of them are mumifed

What I would look like mumified!

One of many lines I saw on my flight, this one is the Colibri (Hummingbird)

Known as Manos (hands), not sure what the rest is meant to be

Mono (Monkey)

The noisy Mexicans, love the pose on the guy?

Enjoying a cold beer at sunset in Haucachina

These mad hatters were doing a marathon through the sand dunes while we enjoyed our beers

The eerie haze we woke up to after pulling up to camp in the night

My discarded tyre

Our view after having to pull up to wait for the rally to come through

Creative selfie

This landscape reminded me of riding through the Elqui Valley in Chile

This is how much the valley closed in on us as we climbed up towards the pass

Awesome rock formations

It got slightly chilly up over the pass

 No shortage of these guys around, I don't know how they handle the cold!

I guess if I had a coat like this I would be pretty warm

This is part of the Cordillera Yauyos

Looking back down the valley towards Haunuco

The end of the road for us, a LONG wait for everybody else

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