The weather in Cusco on the day of my departure was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the last chapter of this six-month cycling extravaganza did not get off to a very good start. Within blocks of leaving the hotel, I hit a parked car. Luckily, this resulted only in a bruised thigh and a broken shifter (a part of the bike, not a part of me), plus a very loud car alarm that brought everyone’s attention to this foolhardy cyclist. Then, 20km later, I witnessed a horrible accident between a cyclist and a van. After the ambulance came for the cyclist and thinking I was ready to ride, I continued on before beginning what turned into a long, hard cry in the parking lot of a gas station. During a subsequent online chat with my friend Greta, she helped me decided it would be best to stop riding for the day and I found myself a quiet hotel to rest.
Fortunately, the remainder of the ride to the Bolivian border was blissful. I met Steve, a retired Brit who is spending six months of each year on his bike in a different part of the world; I met Shane and Paul, two bikers (the “cheater” bikers – the kind that go vrooooom.), who pulled off on the side of the road to say hello and then took me out to dinner once I arrived in
Puno the next day; and I met young Vincent, a Belgian cyclist who was heading north and whose bike shorts were decidedly too short. (I have a photo for those who request proof.)
The high plains nearing Lake Titicaca have been wonderfully flat and the winds have been agreeable, meaning tail, tail, tail! I’ve had the pleasure of staying with a family who was shearing and sorting sheep wool in their courtyard, of being invited to spend the night in the guest room of a church, of witnessing a freak hail/snow storm in Sicuani and – after 5 days of either cold or no showers – staying in a luxurious hotel in Puno and visiting the floating islands of Uros and the famous knitting men on Tecate Island.
My departure from Peru was mysteriously magical. The grandmother at my final hostel gave me an unusually heart-felt farewell, blessing me, wishing my father well, my mother well, my aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters well and giving me a surprising kiss to finish off her speech. Then, just 15 km from the border, I stopped for a snack and once I had made myself comfortable in the grass under the warm sun, I looked up and saw that the alpaca in front of me was standing next to her newly-birthed baby. A toothless campesina came over and told me that mama alpaca had given birth that morning. She then laughed and said I should give her a bit of money in return for the many photos I had started taking. For the first time, I happily obliged.
Now, three weeks after Bolivian President Morales gave his citizens the Christmas gift of significantly raising gas prices (to match those of neighboring countries), resulting in huge protests in La Paz, I find myself two cycling days away from this very capital city. I am on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca in the touristy town of Copacabana (not to be mistaken by the Copacabana of Brazil nor the bar in New York sung about by Sinatra). Here, what I find rivals the amazing sunset view over the lake, is the event that takes place every Saturday and Sunday in front of the cathedral Basilica de la Virgen. I attempted to figure out on my own why the streets leading to the cathedral – at 8am – were packed with every kind of vehicle one can imagine, all decorated with flowers. And why was everyone standing around with liters of coca-cola and jugs of beer and wine? And these priests? I had to ask a local. It turns out, in truly amazing South American
form, that all were waiting for their vehicles to be blessed. Bolivians come here three times a year from throughout the country to visit a priest, who receives 10 Bolivianos (around $1.40) for each car, truck and van he blesses. Holy water, coca-cola, beer and wine are sprinkled and sprayed over each car, protecting it and its passengers from harm. Considering Bolivia’s miserable driving record, I would imagine that driving in a safer manner may be more helpful than spraying large quantities of soft drinks.
The anticipation of arriving in La Paz is rising and, with glee, I await the dis-assembly of Mi Burro and his careful placement in a box addressed to San Diego.