Colored Mountains, Funerary Towers and Floating Islands

Since the Peruvian Customs went through all the trouble to inform us that we didn’t have much time left in their country, we continued south.

Two stops were planned: Rainbow Mountain and the Burial Towers of Sillustani.

We were quite keen on seeing Rainbow Mountain but didn’t feel the calling to trek for over 5 hours in an altitude between 4’200 (13’780 ft) and 5’200 m (17’060 ft). Since we had heard from a shorter access route, we were willing to try it. The turn-off from the main road didn’t look promising. Some friendly walkers on the way confirmed that we were on the right track. As far as the quality of the track went, we would never have guessed the amount of taxis, small buses and large buses we found at the end of it.

It was cold enough that we gladly wore our riding pants. We did exchange the boots for our sneakers, strapping boots and jackets to the bike.

The hike really was shorter. We needed about two hours to get to the overlook. Most of the pedestrian and horse traffic was in the opposite direction – back to the parking lot. I had underestimated the warmth and the weight of my riding pants quite a bit 😀But we made it to the viewpoint, at something over 5’000 m (16’400 ft). While we were still admiring the colors of the mountains, clouds started to move in. Our way back was a lot faster. Even though it was all downhill, we didn’t manage to escape all the snowflakes. Luckily, it was only one cloud, as always.

The Burial Towers of Sillustani are situated a couple of kilometers (or miles) from the main road to Bolivia – idyllically situated on hills at a lakeshore.
Sadly, they have all been plundered a long time ago, like most of their kind. The mummies, the relicts, everything gone.
These towers were quite widely used in some of the Andean cultures and known as Chullpas.

We still had some days left before we were obliged to cross the border, confirmed by another friendly mail from Customs. So, we decided on a short excursion on Lake Titicaca. We visited the floating islands of Uros.  These are anchored at the bottom of the lake in order not to float to Bolivia with the current. The reed, with which the islands are built, has to be cut and added continuously. The houses on the islands, made from the same material, hold for 6 months. Drinking water can be accessed through a small hole in the island that serves as a fishing hole, too. It was a strange spongy, springy feeling to walk on the reed. Ages ago it might have been different, but today it’s an extremely touristy experience. Of course, there had to be souvenir sellers as well.After this extremely touristy experience it was time to bid Peru Farewell.

Advertisements

Do you have a Bucket List and what’s on it?

There is no synonym for Bucket List in German. But that’s no reason not to have one 😉 If you need help to put one together – do not despair. “Uncle Google” has various types you can either download or read for inspiration. 😀

Me, personally, I don’t really have one. But every now and then, especially as a traveler, you encounter these “Bucket List Situations”. These have to do it moments that sometimes we can and sometimes we cannot resist; others we simply safe for in 20 years 😀

For us one of these Bucket List items that we couldn’t miss was Machu Picchu! Since we are far from the only ones with that impression, it’s no wonder that the ruins developed into a Peruvian Cash Cow that gets heavily milked.

Various means to reach the ruins exist. The most famous – and the most expensive – is by train. Cheapest option for us would have been about 150 $ per person. Or you can join a guided multiday trek – following the Inca Trail – ending at the ruins. Hundreds of agencies offer the trek in Cuzco. Joining a “cheapy” tour from Cuzco – walking 11 km along the railway tracks – is yet another option. Now, as we know, Machu Picchu is not in a village but on a mountain ledge. The train ends in the village of Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu Pueblo. 

We drove with Tom’s KTM from Ollantaytambo to the Central Hidroelectrica Machu Picchu. There, you can park the bike in a guarded parking lot for 10 Soles (1.45 $) a day. Same as the “cheapy” tours we then walked along the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes.That village is extremely touristy came as no surprise. It is the only place, we visited in Peru, where we had to pay 10% of some kind of tourist tax. The restaurants put some service tax on the bill that isn’t mentioned in any menu – in our case it was always 18%. I loved their math, too: During Happy Hour you get 4 drinks for the price of 1 for 20 Soles but one drink costs 8 Soles…

Slideshow: Machu Picchu, the Salt Terraces of Maras and Cuzco

We hesitated for a long time. At the end, we decided not to hike up to Machu Picchu in the dark but to invest in a bus ticket (12 $ pp one way). Since we had read about enormous waiting lines, we wanted to get in line early enough to make it onto the first bus at 05.30 a.m. At 4 a.m. we left the hotel, our breakfast packed in my backpack. When we reached the bus station I couldn’t believe my eyes. More than 100 people were already waiting.

Blue arrow is pointing at the bus station

If we hadn’t had the ambition to be at the gate when it opened at 6 a.m. I think the line would have been much shorter. But for once I had to admire the Peruvian organizational skills. They used every bus they had to transport the people to the entrance. Additionally, the first bus left already at 5.20 a.m.

During our first hour at Machu Picchu we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces – even less of the ruins.

Keeping us company while we wait for the sun

Then, luckily, the clouds lifted. The view of Machu Picchu opened in front of us – picture perfect! Of course, you shouldn’t expect to have the ruins to yourself. No, you will be sharing your experience with thousands of people.
Standing in line at scenic spots until everybody got their selfies. And if you want to return by bus, you will stand in line once more 😉 We walked. The rest of the afternoon we spend in the village. Next morning, we returned the same way we had come – first on foot, then riding. 

The Sacred Valley is dotted with hundreds of ruins, which can all be visited. But somehow we felt a bit deflated after Machu Picchu. Our energy didn’t even suffice to visit the ruins of Ollantaytambo. But, at least, we visited the Salt Terraces of Maras, which have already been used by the Incas. The warm, salty water emerges from the ground. Through small channels, regulated by sluices, it’s distributed into the various ponds in order to evaporate. The salt ponds can only be used during the dry season.

 

After all the excitement we needed a couple of quiet days in Cuzco. Celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a nice meal. Met up with our friends Coco, Takeshi and dog Wasabi. Explored the market one last time. And saw ourselves confronted with a small, rather loud and colorful fiesta.Quite surprised we read the email from the Peruvian Customs Authority informing us that we either had to leave the country in 7 days or bring our papers in order before then.

My inner Yogi visits the Sacred Valley

It wouldn’t hurt most people to be a bit more sportive, flexible and balanced. If there was a list of people in need I might be heading it 😀 My solution: Yoga. But I wanted to be able to do my own yoga, without attending classes all over the place. That I only had taken one single yoga lesson, up to this point, didn’t bother me at all. What a great idea 😉

We rode to Pisac in the Sacred Valley, where I would be participating in the 3-week teacher training held at the Nidra Wasi.

view from the yoga studio

In my case, the entrance to the spiritual world of the Yogis was through the spiritual world of the Andes.
We visited a farmer’s cooperation at 4’300 m (14’107 ft) and brought Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) our offering.
We learned all about the Peruvian potato and its cultivation while seaking as much shelter from the howling wind as possible. 24 sorts. No pests at this elevation. Up to 2 kg crop per potato planted. The field is tilled manually and can only be replanted every seven years.Fertilizer is alpaca and chicken manure. We weren’t too disappointed when we could escape from the wind into the dining room for a late lunch.Then, boot camp started. 6 days a week the same drill.

07.00 – 08.30 am Pranayama (breathing meditation)
10.00 – 12.00 am Teacher training
14.00 – 16.00 pm Philosophy
16.00 – 18.00 pm Yoga

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But the teacher training meant Yoga. Therefore I spent at least 3 hours a day with various contortions and endurance exercises. Some days I thought I would never make it.

Waiting for the Temazcal to start

The spiritual part of the training wasn’t my favorite either. Kirtan, the communal singing of mantras, will not develop into my newest hobby.

Slideshow: Pisac and the visit of the inner Yogi

Since we stayed put for so long, various friends caught up with us. Of course, most of them during the same weekend. First, Mandi and John arrived.

John likes this cap

Together, we explored the marketand enjoyed food/drink at “Ulrike’s”.Then Steve and his companion, Pénelope, joined us. Even John – yes, the John from Russia – visited as he was in Cusco for a day.

Pranayama early in the morning

By the end of the second week I was more dead than alive. It took all Thomas and my teacher, Daya, had to offer to keep my moral above zero. During this time we engrossed ourselves into the Andean Worlds – Uku Pacha, Kai Pacha and Hanan Pacha. We awakened the Spirit of the Snake, the Puma and the Condor.
Off time? What’s off time? During a teacher training there’s no leisure. Each minute is dedicated to training and learning. Not really the relaxing stop I had hoped for 😉 Each student had a strong personality – all between 13 and 23 years younger than me. My non existing experience bit me thoroughly in my lazy bump. And trying to keep up with 24-years old – more than ambitious.
The last week finally came around. What a relief… But with it came some progress from my part, too.

Then the last day. Test in the morning. After the communal lunch a fire ceremony
and the handover of the diplomas. WHAT, THAT’S IT?!?!

Saying goodbye wasn’t that easy. But Thomas and I had to ride on. The next adventure was waiting! So I packed up my inner Yogi
and got on the bike. Hasta la vista!

Cuzco, the Navel of the World

For many centuries Cuzco was uncontested capital of the Inca Empire. Therefore, it’s quite understandable that Cuzco means nothing less than “navel of the world” in Quechua.

Up to now we haven’t been impressed by Peruvian cities. Most presented themselves brown, monotonous and dreary. But Cuzco, the Inca Navel of the World, was supposed to be different. We gave us ten days to get a couple of things done (around town), before we headed into the Sacred Valley in search of my inner Yogi.

Once more confronted with Peruvian efficiency we didn’t manage to see as much of the city as we would have liked. But that is another story entirely.

We spent hours in search of a laundry that was willing to liberate our motorcycle gear from almost a year’s worth of dust and sweat – collected in the whole of Central and half of South America. Thomas spend some time maintaining the bikes, too. The air filters were in dire need of it.But the colonial center proved to be up to expectation. Narrow alleys where no car would fit. Plazas full of colonial architecture. In colonial architecture integrated seamless Inca walls. Nice cafés and restaurants that pleased the palate with more than Peruvian specialties. A huge market full of souvenirs, food and Peruvian cures/medicines. To top it off, we met up with various friends: Mandi and John; Donna, Okan and Indigo. Okan’s son even brought us some spare parts from the US.

From the highest Dune to the deepest Canyon of the World


A change of scenery was due. The cold to be replaced by warmth, mountains of stone by mountains of sand, Páramo and Puna by coastal plains – all of this topped by canyons. At least, that’s what I thought.

But Peru is bigger than the imagination of a small Swiss lady 😀 A distance of only 35 km (22 mi) as the crow flies can easily turn into 150 km (94 mi) or more. Turns without end, enough that the arms start smarting…

Our first canyon, the Cañon de Uchco, was already a bit lower in altitude – over a pass that’s only some lousy 4’700 m something 😉 The Uchco Canyon is so narrow and deep, that GPS reception was out for 7 km (4,3 mi).The expected gas station , one we were counting on, turned out to be a barrel.While filling up, we met two Peruvian riders touring their country for 10 days on their small bikes. Again the road climbed. A short rain storm laterand the sky didn’t invite to explore the Nor Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve. But the lakes connected by small waterfalls were a treat for the eyes.

In the life of every rider there are days that are dream and nightmare at the same time.  We had a couple of exactly these kind of days coming up. An intoxication of colors and curves, mountains and high plains,which ended in a blinding blizzard – only for 10 minutes – at over 4’800 m (15’748 ft) of altitude.Then a little less colorful and less dramatic, but still a constant up (4’600/15’092 ft – 4’800 m/15’748 ft) and down. Of course, the obligatory snow storm couldn’t be absent. The wooly bundles (alpacas) beside the road where much better equipped for this kind of weather.

Nazca – mysterious lines in the desert. Apparently the best view is from an airplane. We were quite satisfied with the watch towers. We didn’t explore the sand dunes of Ica. Biased and spoiled as we are by the Sahara, Namibia, the Oman and Jordan… After spending exactly 5 minutes in THE oasis of Huacachina, we happily turned around and rode back in the direction we came from. Reasons? 1. To set up your own tent costs more than a hotel room 2 km away. 2. A beach buggy, offering space for 12 to 15 people blasted very noisily and stinking past us – right into the dunes. Some intelligent person discovered that the highest dune in the world is in this area – the Cerro Blanco. By some definition that might even be true. But, this one isn’t even entirely out of sand!

Shortly behind Ica we were back in the world of mountains and high plains – again on altitudes that are a challenge and acclimatization is necessary(for hours between 4’000 and 4’860 m). Ha, I will never become a long distance runner around here!

Next record holder/champion: Cañon de Cotahuasi, the deepest canyon in the world. With more than double of the depth of the Grand Canyon, it’s like a nasty scar bisecting the mountains. Far away from everything, the access can be a little challenge. The vicuñas are happy about it.

Slidehow: Dunes and Canyons

Cañon de Colca was the champion of all the canyons until they rerun levels at Cotahuasi Canyon.

It’s still all about mountains

Road block – the direct access to the Cordillera Huayhuash was closed until noon. We didn’t want to wait 3 hours and risk having to ride in the dark only to reach our destination. Instead, we drove a 100 km (62.5 mi) extra to the route leading through the heart of the Cordillera Huayhuash.

The weather was – as always in the last days – nothing to rave about. But the landscape more than made up for it.The dirt road was easy to ride. And luckily, the height – for hours above 4’000 m (13’123 ft) and never under 3’000 m (9’842 ft) – doesn’t bother either of us. More of a risk to our health is the enormous weight of the woolen blankets that are needed to make a bed halfway cozy. At least four or five of them had to be suffered every night 😀 Highest point of that day’s ride was around 4’750 m (15’584 ft) – no new record.

As if the main road, PE-18 N, between Oyón and Junin weren’t spectacular enough, we had to make a few detours. Who wants to ride 168 km (105 mi) on simple, smooth, comfortable tarmac 😉 This decision was good for a few surprises. For once it wasn’t a dog or a cow that stood in the middle of the road as we came around the bend but a lama. We would have missed the flamingos, which seemed comfortably at home above 4’000 m (13’000 ft). What we did miss, by about 100 m (328 ft), was a new height record. Our hotel, the highest on this trip at 4’170 m (13’681 ft), was located in a small town along the main road. As soon as the sun was down it became real chilly. Nothing left to do but taking a hot shower and heading for these afore mentioned blankets. It was still 13° C (55° F) in the room when we went to bed but the 9° C (48°F) in the morning didn’t help getting up. But the sun was shining, more dirt called and once on the road it wasn’t all bad 🙂

The scenery wasn’t as amazing as during the last two days, still far from boring. In Huancayo, we found a nice hotel. It even boasted a parking lot where Thomas could change the oil and service the bikes – in the sunshine with nice temperatures.

Culture instead of Nature – Chavín de Huántar

If Peru has one thing in abundance, it’s archeological sites. Not only has the Inca culture left its traces, but a variety of pre-Inca cultures too. This myriad makes a choice for anybody with an average, or even superior, interest difficult.

Chavín de Huántar offered one unique aspect the other sites were missing – tunnels.

Now, Peru wouldn’t be Peru, if Chavín (3’250 m / 10’663 ft) would be reachable simply by following the main road… But that story has already been told in my last post.

Surprisingly enough, this part of Peru is observing the “Museum Monday”. Due to which the site was closed. So, we found a pretty comfy room with secure parking and spend a lazy afternoon around the Plaza de Armas.

Thomas and his favorite peruvian drink 😉

Since the hotel was quite nice, we were in no hurry to visit the ruins. Chavín de Huántar  was built between 1200 and 800 BC by one of the oldest wide-ranging civilizations on the continent. From the outside, the site proved to be nothing spectacular.
But we squeezed through every tunnel, climbed and descended
the incredibly steep stairs
all the way into the heart of the complex – to the 4,5 m (14.7 ft) high granite sculpture known as the Lanzón de Chavín.

Two big grins: Thomas and a copy of the Lanzón

Slideshow: Chavín de Huántar

Exhausted from the activities, as well as hoping for better weather, we spend an additional day in Chavín– visiting the Museum

(which was free of charge with the entrance ticket from the site) and strolling around town.