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Copacabana, Bolivia
September 6, 2004

A Day on the Road
Cusco to Puno, Peru

[Note: since I started in Quito Iíve meant to write a narrative explaining a typical day on a trip like this. So this is Saturday, September 4. Other than the police stop, it is typical.]

Itís 10:30am before I leave the hotel and even though I get up late (the biker contingent had a late dinner and refreshments at Nortonís Rat Cafť on the Plaza de Armas) itís taking way too long to get going.

Daniel Todd, on his second trip around the world, and me in CuscoWith Daniel, I have a Peruvian breakfast of cafť con leche (one part very strong coffee, three parts hot milk, and fill the rest of the cup with hot water) and a breakfast roll with butter, and once more we discuss routes, lodging and potential problems in our respective directions (we are each going where the other is coming from.)

It takes an hour to pack the bike and since I can get US dollars out of the ATM at the local bank with my debit card, I load up, not knowing whether Iíll be able to change my Peruvian soles (the Peruvian currency) for Bolivian bolivianos at the border, or how far it will be into Bolivia before I can get local currency. You can change US dollars just about anywhere, so a good supply solves many of your money problems.

Jeremy, part of the British contingent, tells me where I can get 95-octane gas (equivalent to about 91 or 92-octane in the States, I believe, at least based on how my bike runs on it) and I fill up at 13 soles per US gallon (USD $3.82 per gallon) and head for Puno, my destination for the night.

To my question ďa Puno?Ē and a hand gesture indicating the direction Iím headed, a Transito Policia lady replies ďsiĒ and with a smile waves me east on Avenida El Sol, a main street in Cusco that peters out in the suburbs to a gravel, pot-holed mess. There are no signs; there never are, particularly leaving the city. But I learned in Quito, following Ivan that even the Latinís canít find their way in a strange city without stopping every few blocks to ask directions. I do the same, but because of the language barrier, in much less sophisticated fashion.

Using my final destination, if itís not too far away, or an intermediate town if it is, I stop the bike and say ďa Pun?Ē (Meaning is this the road to Pun) and wave my hand in the direction that Iím going or in the case of roundabouts, where I think I should be going. Taxi and bus drivers are my target audience, but in their absence, any old port in a storm. Anything much past ďis,Ē left or right is normally lost on me, so sometimes itís a dozen such encounters to clear the suburbs and land on the main road. That is true today, but with fewer mistakes (Iím actually getting better at this) I clear Casco and its suburbs by 11am and Iím on my way.

The high pass (over 14,000ī) at Santa RosaPun is 230 miles, and Daniel tells me that the bus takes six hours. He says the road is excellent and that I could easily make it in four hours, although he took six; stopping often to shoot pictures. My goal is Puno before dark, so Iíve got six and a half hours to ride the 230 miles. That shouldnít be a problem.

Itís village after village for the first fifty miles, and each slows me down from the 55kph (34mph,) which nobody obeys, myself included. Itís Sunday and there are markets in progress in many of the villages, but even though I want to stop and take pictures, I need to make some time and pass on through.

The pavement is great, the villages fewer, so I start to make good speed (60 Ė 70mph) while watching for buses, pedestrians, bicycles, and animals of all kinds in my lane. I stop in Sicuani for gas even though Iíve come only eighty-five miles (and my tank will allow me about 220 miles) from Cusco. There is no lack of gas stations in Peru, although some times 84-octane leaded is the only choice, and my bike doesnít like it, so I fill up whenever I just find at least 90-octane unleaded, particularly if Iím in rural areas.

Grass with background hills past Santa RosaJust past Sicuani I begin to ascend the pass that will top out at 4,312m (14,100í) just before the pueblo of Santa Rosa. For the most part the mountains are old and rounded and the valley wide, so in spite of the high altitude the road is great, and at times I push the bike past 75mph. The miles are flying by at these speeds, and I believe Iíll make Puno by 4pm, so I stop several times to take pictures. Fifty kilometers (30 miles) past the high pass at Santa Rosa I come upon a scene so beautiful that I stop for thirty minutes and write the following text.

These are the mountains and buttes of eastern Oregon, of southern Idaho and northern Utah, except this valley is well over 12,000í high. Grass the hue of ripe wheat covers the fields and nearby hills. Ragged cotton balls of white clouds, in sharp contrast to the deep blue background, hang directly above me. At this high altitude the sky seems close enough to touch; sometimes alarmingly so.

The Andes are old here, broad shoulders of mountains rounded by the eons, although a few buttes and rocky peaks hold out against the inevitable softening of future erosion; which in this dry landscape it will take many centuries.

In the distance a scattering of adobe farm houses dot the landscape while a small herd of cattle marches in single file to a watering hole; almost dry now. At over 12,000í the sun beats down mercilessly and only the breeze picking up allows me to continue writing.

Two kids push their bikes up the hill past my bike, and a scruffy black dog, looking much the worse for wear, appears from nowhere. He sits contentedly a few feet away, lunch clearly on his mind, but he doesnít pursue it aggressively. I wrap up my writing, pull out a chocolate bar and a bottle of water for lunch and toss the last half of the chocolate to the scruffy dog. He gulps it down.

I swing my leg back over the saddle, replace the camera and writing pad, hit the start button and as I release the clutch, gain the highway. Every detail of the nearby hills stands out in vivid relief from the penetrating sun, so close overhead.

Another hour goes by when I pass two motorcyclists who indicate with hand signals that everything is fine. Five miles down the road I meet their companion, pulled off the road, waiting. I stop. They are from the Brazilian capital of Brazilia, and are touring Bolivia and Peru as well as their native country. With best wishes shared, Iím back on the road.

Farm buildings in the AndesFifteen miles from the town of Juliaca, two bicyclists are headed west Ė on the opposite shoulder, and we stop to chat. Ryan Parton is from Vancouver Island, B.C., and is seven months north of Tierra del Fuego. His friend, Kris Halderson from Winnipeg, has joined him for six weeks. I explain that a Swiss couple with a similar itinerary is two weeks ahead of them. They decline the water I offer them, but I provide the miles and road conditions to the next village, where they plan to pitch their tent for the night. We bid each other good wishes and are on our respective ways.

In all honesty, the police in both Ecuador and Peru have been on their very best behavior during this trip. Thirty miles past the Ecuador/Peru border I was stopped for a passport, tourist card and transit pass (for the bike) check, but in spite of police stops in nearly every village and town, Iíve always been waived through.

This checkpoint is different. At least a half dozen officers, with both motorcycles and cars, stop everyone. Nobody is waived through. I stop as ordered and produce my passport and transit card. The officer, in full uniform, helmet and jack boots, addresses me in rapid-fire Spanish. Although I tell him several times that I donít speak the language, each time my protests are met with another two minutes of haranguing. While I understand few of the words he speaks, his meaning is becoming crystal clear.

He points back down the road Iíve just come and pulls out his ticket book. Itís obvious that Iím about to get a speeding ticket, even though the police are not running radar and I saw the control point a half mile back, immediately reducing my speed to about 30mph, below the legal limit.

Repeatedly I ask him to return my passport, which he does (a rookie mistake on his part, I believe,) but then requests my license. I hand him the Washington license (since cancelled) from my false wallet, and he then requests my International Drivers License. I produce it. He points to my headlight as another infraction. My original Washington drivers license is safely tucked away in my primary wallet, and you can obtain an International drivers license at any AAA office in the States for $15 and a Cheerios box top, so he has nothing of value.

Now Iím normally contrite with foreign police, who have the power to lock me up, but the return of my passport has emboldened me, and quite frankly, Iím irate about the trumped-up charges. Both the speeding and headlight charge are totally bogus. ďNo, no, no,Ē I shout, pointing at the headlight, and shaking my head vigorously from side to side.

He orders me off the road towards his parked motorcycle, about the size of my luggage carriers, I mentally note with scorn. Repeatedly he points to his gas tank and to mine, and with his fingers demands money.

Obviously this is not a ticket; rather, an outright shakedown. However, itís gone on for about fifteen minutes. I demand the return of my cancelled license, and amazingly he returns it. I donít give in to his demands for money. A few more minutes pass, with us at a stalemate, and then he smiles and says, ďOK.Ē I re-start my bike, not knowing if Iíll be allowed to leave, but he holds out his hand, which I shake. He smiles and I slowly pull away.

A mile further down the highway I pull off the road to collect myself and settle my frayed nerves.

Deep blue Lake Titicaca (elevation 12,500ī) at Puno, PeruTwenty miles later I stop where the highway begins its short decent into Puno. Itís my first view of Lake Titicaca at 3,812m (12,500í) one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. In the intense sunlight at this altitude, and over a mile away, the lake is as blue as anything Iíve ever seen.

This will be lost on some of you, clear as crystal to others, but as a kid growing up in the 60s, there was always some classmate who painted a dozen coats of lacquer on his í57 Chevy, then polished it off with another dozen coats of Simonize. You seemed to look three inches deep into the finish. Lake Titicaca is that depth of blue.

With Lonely Planet as my guide I find a suitable hotel, then ride the Beemer up two steps into the lobby. Another day on the road in South America.