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Cusco, Peru
September 1, 2004

Nazca to Cusco

Oranges at a roadside fruit stand on my way to NazcaIn Huaraz itís the Cordillera Blanca, in Nazca itís the Lines (Nazca Lineas,) huge geometric designs the length of a football field, and which include a monkey, hummingbird, hands, a flower and a killer whale among the many. There are lines and trapezoidal figures so straight they surely must have been laid out using a laser beam; built by removing the dark surface rocks and thereby exposing the lighter-colored gypsum that lies underneath. While not many scientists agree on their purpose, there appears to be general agreement that dates their origin to a period between 900BC and 600AD. Some speculate that they represent an astronomical calendar, others that they have religious significance, and still others that they are evidence of extraterrestrial visitation on earth.

Whatís so strange about the Lines is that they are impossible to discern from the ground. So, like all tourists that come to Nazca, I make arrangements for a forty-five minute flight to view them from the air. The designs are really quite extraordinary, although from one thousand feet up, Iím quite sure that my pictures wonít do them justice.

Orange soda advertised on the side of an abandoned buildingItís a long, steep climb out of Nazca to begin the trip to Cusco some 400 miles away, and as the Panamericana Sur leads south to Arequipa, while this is a paved road, it is far from the principal road. In fact, ending just five years ago, this highway was extremely dangerous as the Shining Path guerillas, a leftist group, terrorized tourists and locals alike with robbery, kidnapping and murder throughout the late-1980s and 1990s. However, their leader, a philosophy professor at a Peruvian university, was captured and the band subsequently disintegrated. Lucky for me.

Iím about thirty miles out of Nazca when I start to doubt my direction. Since I donít carry a GPS, I rely on my (very poor) map, locals pointing the way, and my generally reliable sense of where I am, but the sun is shining over my left shoulder, which in the States in the early afternoon means that youíre headed west. The route is so circuitous that Iím sure it will turn around as it works its way across the mountains, but it never does. At about forty miles I stop to consider my options.

Figure of a hummingbird at Nazca linesThere are only three roads out of Nazca. One goes to Lima Ė the way I entered the town, and I know that Iím not backtracking to Lima. A second heads south to the coast and on to Arequipa. Thatís the Panamericana, as I just mentioned. The third goes to Cusco. By the side of the road I check my compass. Strangely enough, when I align the pointer with north, Iím going due west, and thatís certainly not the direction of Cusco. But I also know that I canít be headed to Arequipa because that road goes down to the coast, and Iím clearly climbing high into the mountains.

Iím really quite perplexed until it occurs to me that Iím in the southern hemisphere, perhaps one thousand miles south of the Equator. Please bear with me as I work through the logic. In the dead of winter in the Far North, Fairbanks, Alaska as an example, the sun barely rises over the southern horizon. So, much farther south than I am now, even two months past the winter solstice, it would lie low on the northern horizon. Then even one thousand miles south of the Equator, if the sun is not shining directly overhead, it should be to the north of me. Now I realize that my compass is pointing to the South Pole, not the North, and so the sun is properly in the north. It should be on my left shoulder if Iím headed east.

Llamas at roadside - Road to Puqio[Note: I got to Cusco, so I was on the right road. I hope my logic is correct, or Iíve just made a real fool of myself in front of fifty of my closest friends and family.]

I flip up the kickstand, alternate clutch and gear shifter through four gears and continue on the hundred miles of twisting road to Puqio, my intermediate destination on the road to Cusco.

Puqio is a very small town; really more of a large village, and even Lonely Planet holds out little hope for acceptable lodging, but lists ďthe basicĒ Hostal Los Andes. As I enter town the pavement turns to a rutted, pot-holed street, and when I ask for the Hostal Los Andes Iím led to it; almost next-door.

Puqio street sceneAn entry through the barred door leads to a small courtyard, hardly ablaze in flowers, but with a plant here and there, and acceptable for Puqio. The proprietor, I donít get his name, indicates that there is a room available, secure parking for my bike, and leads me upstairs where a dozen rooms are off a balcony over the garage below. I like the setup, particularly line of sight to the bike, follow the proprietor to the room, notice the shower and bathroom in the room and decide that Iíll stay. Quite frankly, itís nicer than I expect to find.

ďCuanto questo,?Ē I ask, inquiring of the price. ďViente,Ē he replies, and I recoil in mock horror. ďViente!Ē We move back downstairs. ďVienteĒ I say again, ďno, quince.Ē Thereís a long pause and then he agrees. ďQuince.Ē

An old lady by the cathedral in PuqioWell I immediately feel like a real heel for negotiating the price down from $7 to $5, but unpack the bike, secure my gear in the room and then walk into the village in hopes of finding dinner.

Itís only on my return from this sleepy little village when I realize that the toilet seat, shower curtain and towels apparently werenít part of the deal. The room is painted and the floor is spotless, but I roll out my sleeping bag across the covers as a preventive measure. As you probably suspected, in Puqio there is no 3-star alternative. $2, indeed!

On to Cusco

Philippe & Miriam headed for AlaskaItís Tuesday morning and after an early start Iím making good time on the great road that has started at Puqio. Fifty miles and barely an hour into my morning ride, Iím high on an Andean pass that reaches 4,300m (14,061í) on my way to Chalhuanca, the next village on my way. There is a beautiful desolation in these mountains, but it is bitter cold, and I stop to add my winter gloves and Gerbing heated jacket (it operates from my bike accessory plug, a fairly common bike accessory, for you non-motorcyclists.) Iím shaking as I change clothes, itís so cold; and barely underway when I spot two bicycles ahead, going west. Miriam and Philippe, young Swiss riders are seven months north of Tierra del Fuego and headed for Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, my trip in reverse. They anticipate that theyíll arrive at the Arctic Ocean in a year. Once again, Iím humbled.