The rains have definitely arrived with force. Unlike the folks in parts of Europe and New England who are currently buried in snow, this rain here is expected as such every year. What this means for me is that I zip myself up in my rain gear and ride on. It reminds me of my bike commutes in the wet Seattle days to Garfield HS and then Pike Place Market to bake some “unnaturally large bagels”. Though in those days I just tied plastic bags around my shoes and let Nirvana play from my Walkman.
The path to Cusco was many, many things, but flat it definitely was not. Much of it was also not paved which made the 30 mile descents most exciting and body shattering. When I reached pavement just before the city of Abancay, I dropped to my knees and kissed the ground. The two policemen at the intersection were entertained:
One rainy night I stayed in the village of Ccotaquite behind one of the brightly painted houses where the sheep and horses graze. There, the Spanish is broken as Quechua is the shared language. Runasimi pisillata rimanim. I speak very (very, very) little Quechua. Nonetheless, the children of the village helped me set up my tent and blow up my air pillow. A bit later, I sewed up a gaping hole in the pink pants of one of the smallest girls while they admired my tiny sewing box. The matriarch of the patterned house came to me after I’d tucked myself into my sleeping bag and asked if her three daughters could share the tent with me that night. This was quite the request. I said no. As nicely as I could. The next morning, we had a conversation in which I acquired the following view into her world:
The mother is 21 and her oldest of three daughters is eight. She, along with everyone else in the village, does not want pictures taken of them because they believe that the gringos return home and sell the photos. I had heard the same from others before. There was nothing I could say to convince her otherwise and so took no photos. Her mother tells her to throw stones at those who attempt to take photos. She knows that the people in England all have houses underground to prepare themselves for the end of the world. Gringos are moving to Andahuaylas and Cusco in droves and will soon start a war, bringing their problems to the land of Peru. Rice is too expensive and so they eat primarily potatoes. The family also sells potatoes at the market, but does not sell their cows, sheep and chickens which they use to feed themselves. There is a new mine being dug upstream and a road being blasted into the side of the mountain; I could see it ascending behind us. She says it is already contaminating the river and the fishing is not as prosperous.
She made it clear that she, too, wants to travel to Ecuador and Bolivia. I left her with what I could, although I didn’t feel that it was enough: Encouragement to find a way to travel, warm wishes and many, many thanks.
I’ve asked many children and teenagers if they enjoy living in their towns and usually hear the same response: “Yes! I love being with my family and the air here is very clean.” Only from one teenager have I heard the answer you’d expect to hear in the States: “It is a little boring.”
On Christmas Eve, I arrived in Pucyura, a muddy town just north of Cusco. There, I once again stayed with the bomberos, firemen, who treated me to paneton (similar to fruitcake, but much tastier), hot chocolate and Latin hip-hop videos. One of the firemen also doubles as a rock climbing tour guide and so on Christmas Day five of us went out in their fire truck for some good climbs and even better rappels. The firemen, Giovanny, Bill, Alex and Rafael, all wore full uniform in order for the excursion to be considered an official “training” and therefore be legitimately allowed to use the truck. The four fellows climbed clad in red uniforms, large helmets, thick gloves and heavy boots. From the top of “el catedral” as the rock is called, we could see Cusco’s suburbs sparkling in the distance while the cows and dirty sheep grazed in the field below. We also saw the $500-per-passenger Hiram Bingham Train pass by heading for Machu Picchu.
On the 26th, I rode the final 13 miles into Cusco and found the cyclist-renowned Hospedaje Estrellita, whose price (15 soles a night – about $ 6), breakfast, use of kitchen, comfortable beds and company cannot be beat. There are currently five other cyclists here, four from France and one from French Canada. As I write this, all of them sit in the kitchen reading different sections of Le Monde, the French newspaper that was freshly flown in by some other French travelers. That will just have to be the next language I learn. Too bad they don’t speak it in New Zealand…
Usually, as I ride by, people remind me that I am, indeed, a “gringa”, although they do so nicely. The best greeting I’ve had recently came from a teenager pushing a truck tire up a hill. As I passed him, he looked over and called out “ra wa wa ra ra wa” with a perfectly pronounced American /r/. Although he didn’t say anything, he had a charmingly authentic accent.
The mom arrives early tomorrow morning. Let the bike collect dust and let us be proper Tourists!!
Happy New Year and ra wa wa ra wa,