We had only been back from Morocco a week . That’s how long trip blues takes to set in! So I set to looking for the next adventure. South America seemed so mystical and appealing. 2 days later and I’m trying to convince fern that $40 a day for an XR 250 on a Dakar route was cheap. I just hadn’t told her the flights were £700 each yet. ‘Come on fern we need to do 3 to get material for the blog’ I quipped.
We set off at 2pm to collect Fern from work to go straight to the airport. We needed to maximise the time off work by getting a night flight and using the bank holiday. We fly to Bogota (incredible coffee in the airport!) first for 10 hours before changing planes and landing in Cusco 3 or so hours later.
Along with booking flights we had contacted a few bike rental companies. First place was to far north and ment a few crazy days in the saddle to reach Machu Picchu, so we plumped for a guy in Cusco. Victor had good reviews and though slow at first to sent me the receipt voucher for the 50% cash deposit, came good in the end. I was nervous sending $400+ via western to a guy I had not met.
Accommodation was as usual not pre-booked as we had no idea where we would end up each night. Or even which tracks we would take to get there. As in order to qualify as an adventure in my mind it must have an unplanned theme to allow for the take up of unforseen opportunities. Sure, we have a list of things we would like to see and do but we hadn’t got time to visit them all, so just rode south letting local Intel, nature & fate decide our path.
We had already arranged to meet Victor first and drop all the bike gear off so we could visit Machu Picchu before setting off on the bikes. So after a day acclimatising to the altitude in Ollantaytambo we go round Machu Picchu for the day.
What a day, started with rain and ended with a parting of the clouds to see the citadel in all its splendor. We made the decision to come back to Cusco that night so we could have another day relaxing prior to collecting the bikes.
After connecting our GPS devices to the bikes, Victor marked up our paper maps with suggested routes once we told him where we want to go. We set off out of town heading for Acomayo, a small hamlet in the mountains. Very soon after leaving the city of Cusco and traffic behind the road turned into a nice graded track of bright red dirt. After 2 hours of riding we pull up and I notice the altitude when moving Ferns bike by hand. Very out of breath and tingling fingers. A plane appears, flying along the valley, level with us on its descent into Cusco Airport. These must have been the mountains we saw on the way in from the plane.
We pulled in to a village for lunch but after being told by a Spanish NGO worker that there was no food as they had to feed the whole village at the restaurant we left . The owner came out and called us back inside for rice, chips and egg. Upon leaving a local warns us the road is dangerous and impassable by car gesturing we might have difficulty. Thirty minutes later on a winding broken tarmac road, hugging the side of the mountain, we hit a water crossing. I wade in and am nearly swept off my feet, it’s moving too fast. There is a huge drop off where it flows across the road and disappears down the side of the mountain, becoming a water fall.
We turn back and take a steep dirt road thirty minutes back down the valley. The next water crossing was not so fast and didn’t have the drop off. So we pushed the bikes through, nearly losing mine as the water dragged the front round. Thankfully we managed to drag it back to the edge, correct our stance and try again. I’m slightly anxious at the thought of any more fast flowing water crossing and because we only had a few hours of light left. luckily there were no more water crossings just half cleared landslides, leaving the track rough and boggy. After climbing to over 4000m we had a long descent into Acomayo, the track turned into tar 20km or so before the town. We rode into the square and asked some children for a hotel, in English. They pointed down a road lead off the square and said left. We found hotel Monte Carlo quickly and arranged a double room for 40 sols without breakfast. That evening we ate at a tiny hamburger shop back on the square. The walls adorned with naked ladies posing with power tools, and pictures of Jesus.
Up early the next morning for coffee, bread and jam. On the way out of town rocks littered the road, some the size of microwave ovens. Picking my way through I’m now acutely aware of any overhanging ledges. It rains a little but stops shortly after. We go over several water crossings. But after yesterday’s experience gained they were not as anxiety inducing.
We cross the river on a new steel bridge and park up. We walk down a steep path with rock steps to a rope bridge across fast flowing rapids below.
The Indiana Jones like construction can carry upto 10 people and It’s replaced every June by the villagers. A ranger explains that to preserve the structure only one person can cross at a time. They asks us to write our name and passport number down in a big book. This kind of put me off crossing and Fern took the lead. Photos and videos complete we set off in search of lunch taking a dirt track short cut to the town of Quehue. The heavens opened and within 20 min my arse was wet. Not ideal when you have waterproof trousers on. We stop for lunch but are stalling setting off again. It gets heavier, we have to get going soon as we still have a long way to cover. We decide to get on a main road and ride as quick as we can to Espinar as we seem to be taking so long to cover the distance here, compared to home. We are so cold we stop for coffee. The owner has to go out and buy condensed milk and instant coffee. We get a second helping if just to warm our hands and nothing else. Off again in torrent, only an hour to Espinar. We arrive at the hotel just as it’s getting dark. Fern opens her bag containing her laptop, clothes and a puddle of water. We hang everything on every available edge after wringing it drying. Quick fried rice with meat and veg, 7 sols from opposite the hotel. Still feeling damp we go straight to bed slightly disheartened.
The next morning the light streamed through the hotel windows and we could see the snow capped peaks in the distance. The clothes are still damp but wearable. We collected our bikes from a separate lockup around the corner, 5 sols per bike. Leaving on the bike from this mining town was difficult. The sat nav couldn’t keep up, roads were closed and being dug up as well as when the sat nav did work it sent us up one way streets, the wrong way.
Eventually we found our way out of town and through water crossings along a dirt road to Tres canyon. This was beautiful trail riding along the river like something out of the wild wild west. The landscape started to turn lunar as we climbed to a plateau, Llamas grazed in the distance. We picked up a dirt track through a high mountain pass of some 4600m.
I stopped checking the big puddles after a while and just rode through, eventually coming to rest, water passed my over my knees in one. I jumped off the bike it splutters but remains running. It sounds rough as I push it out the water. For the next 50 km it runs badly, only hidden by fact it was mostly down hill. We stop for lunch only to be told ‘sold out’ but luckily get a seat down the road a little. Feeling knackered by the altitude we tuck into chicken, chips and coca tea. Reinvigorated we cruise to Chivay, Ferdie’s bike still playing up. Once at the hotel quick a call to Victor who fixed it on the phone. By getting me to reset the sensors. That evening we had a nice little meal in Chivay plaza, a walk around the market and a early night as we were visiting the Colca canyon tomorrow. The night times very very cold, from 3 to 6 celsius. The guesthouses provided mountains of heavy thick Alpaca blankets, but no heating. The restaurant we found had a gas heater to Fern’s joy and free refills of coca tea.
We weren’t in a hurry, we had missed the 8am best time to view the Condors. We set off but I had to pull over to take my liners out. Its was warm. We passed through a long tunnel and started to climb up. We were stopped by park rangers and had to pay 70 sols each to access the canyon. They showed us were we could ride in the canyon.
Just 5 mins after setting off, fog, dense fog blowing up from the canyon below. I laugh a tell fern on the radio that this is why the check point is set up there. We come out of the fog to see Condors dog fighting beside us. We follow them round the mountain and pull up and watch for a moment. We ride down in to Cabanaconde and have lunch on a terrace. We consult the maps and plot a route on GPS devices down in to the canyon.
It was 17km of switch backs down the side of the canyon from were we turned off the road on to the dirt track. Snow capped peaks around us, one with gushing water high in a ravine. We are cautious as we encountered some traffic coming up the single track. In the bottom the water looked like an amazing white water raft ride. As I looked up I could see the switchbacks scaling the side of the cliff we had just come down.
Caught a rain storm on the way back to the hotel. Later that evening we decided to stay another day and visit the hot springs close by. I couldn’t get warm, our bodies had taken a battering over the last few days with the wet, the cold and the altitude. A proper day relaxing without the bikes would be nice. The hot springs were nice no smell of sulfur and 6 or 7 hot pools varying in temperature. The big outdoor being the hottest. It seemed to zap my energy and I felt exhausted after 90 mins in the pool. We got a Colectivo (like a tuk tuk) back to town and napped before dinner.
The next morning we decided to take the highway to Arequipa. This road leads up over a 4910m pass and cuts right through a belt of volcanoes. The air definitely felt thin as we got off our bikes and walked round, our gps indicating a little lower than stated.
This road was fast but we stopped for llamas a few times. Soon joined by petrol tankers and lorries from the mines. Arequipa is a funky town, or it felt like it after all the little villages we had crossed in the mountains or the Inca capital of Cusco.
It was warm almost 20c and traffic just got crazy. We hit the outskirts of Arequipa and grid lock. We fought our way through thankful we had the intercom to watch each others backs.
The hostel was nice and fairly central to the Plaza de Armas. It was £11 a night with breakfast, secure bike parking in the garage and plenty of western backpacks to chat to. We’re told of a supermarket around the corner so we pop off for lunch and investigate. Ferdie is excited at the sight of a buffet and crams his plate with as much as he can get on to find they weigh your plate at the end and charge accordingly. We sit and are surprised how quickly we cover the distance using fast roads this morning 3 and a bit hours with photo stops. That evening we saw a a Holy Week religious procession through the main square. 30 people bearing the weight of a big religious statue on a platform on their shoulders, and hundreds of devotees walking by candlelight, with brass bands parading.
Again we decided as we liked the place we stayed another night and visited a high altitude salt lake in the Blanco National Park.
You got the sense you were riding up the side of the volcano. After getting lost leaving Arequipa with the same old gps can’t keep up thing we passed through a rubbish dump out of town. Lots of poor housing that surrounded it clung to the incline. The road turned to dirt track and as we climbed up clumps of mist descended and it became cold and eerie. Out the other side and on to the open plane we passed by some road works with a big grader and eventually reached the lake. White flashes of salt could be seen.
Herds of Llamas played in the scrubland. A quick sighting of rare Vicunas as they are not as brave as the llamas. We stopped in dusty small village at the edge of the lake. I motion to the owner to ask if they have any food. They shake their head, coca cola and inca cola it is with a cereal bar out the tank bag. We ride back down and its became dangerously foggy. I noticed rocks on the road that were not there before. A sign ‘fall rocks’ and shrines at the side if the road to the fallen. This bit of the mountain appeared very unstable with rocks barely clinging to the ledge. We descended quickly as it started to rain. We found our way back easily into Arequipa without the trouble we had getting out.
We set off for Cusco 500km on the main road from Arequipa. Tar most of the way, until the road just ran out and turned to dirt track about 60 km from Espinar. We approached a long line of about 100 plus mining trucks and buses pulled over against the road. We rode to the head of the queue and I was stopped from going any further by workman. A landslide had blocked the road and trucks, a roller and a grader were trying to fix it. 1.5 hours later with dark rolling thunder and lightning threatening over head and we were on our way to the overnight stop in Espinar. We got a different hotel this time as we arrived in the daylight and there wasn’t the urgency as it wasn’t raining. The hotel was plush 90 sols for a double room and 10 sols for breakfast and what a breakfast feast it was. Eggs, omelettes, meat, cheese, cereal , fruit and bread with plenty of coffee to go round.
It was the penultimate day and we had to be back in Cusco for tomorrow to the hand the bikes back. We rode the 225km to Cusco with ease stopping at the most spectacular church I had even seen in Andahuaylillas adorned with gold and paintings. Just as we came in to Cusco the heavens opened and I mean opened. Huge thunder and lightning crashed above us and hail and torrential rains fell. The main dual carriageway in the city quickly turned into a river. A vehicle coming the other way splashed through this water and set it flying towards use of the opposite carriageway. We were lucky to stay upright after getting hit in the face with that amount of water. It stopped as quickly as it started as the highway came to an end and gave way to the congested streets of Cusco.
Fern had been looking on the ‘ I overlander ‘ App and had found a cheap gaff in the centre of the city with bike parking thats frequented by overlanders. We on the other hand are Fauxverlanders but still qualified as we had bikes….
We met a lovely bunch of travellers that had a ridden over from Bolivia’s death road and were going back up along the west coast toward America. We shared a meal and exchanged experiences of our recent journeys. While we swapped bits, cable ties, energy bars and a windscreen extender of all things.
For the last day on the bikes we combined shopping and riding visiting a market in neighbouring Pisac to buy alpaca jumpers and gifts for the family.
Taking the bikes back to Victor he was pleased we hadn’t damaged them and gave us back the $500 deposit for the 2 bikes. A few last buys before getting a taxi to airport to start the long 21 hour journey home.
Total km covered in 9 days riding with 1 day off. 1625km
30% off road / tracks 20% poor tarmac 50% main roads.
📆 17 Days
✈️ £680 flights return to Cusco (via Bogota) from London
🏍️ £300 per bike. XR 250’S (10 days) ($250 deposit)
🛒 £20 per day per person expenses
📄 £30 travel insurance
💸 Total £1500 approx including a rather expensive visit to Machu Picchu, once you factor in the entrance, guide, train and buses (£170)
Thinking about travelling to Peru?