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Month November 2013

the major fix

The handling of Lucinda’s two major problems by BMW Lima wasn’t the greatest. Repeated fails have caused them embarrassment and me frustration. So they’re coming down to Arequipa to fix her once and for all at their cost. We hope it’s the end of the issues.

Alvaro stays another day to watch what’s going on and to help with the more advanced Spanish bike discussions. Not only this but Alvaro has set up plan B with an outstanding mechanic that he knows in Antofagasta , Chili, which is just down the road a bit. After a few hours he heads off back to Lima. We’ll be riding together soon. We have a great deal in common, share similar visions and are both solo riders. He swears he’s going to join me for a leg. The one that appeals to him most is Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq. But maybe something sooner. Anyway amigo, thanks for everything.

Poor Lucinda
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Soon she’s in pieces
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For the next two days they work for a few hours, then I test ride her for a few hours. One time I take her for a tour of one of the many huge mining operations around here. As big as a city and surrounded by whorehouses
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Tour the burbs
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And after a few days we’re 50% confident that things are well. I won’t go into the details because there’s still some controversy. I’m doubting a coincidence that needs to be overlooked for this to be over. Lucinda is not convinced either. I like it that she always agrees with me. So we’re going to cast off knowing that there’s someone excellent not so far away. But it will change the plan. Let’s see how it goes.

Colca Canyon 2

Two days.
The first day’s track to the canyon
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On the track you’ll see an upper leg. That was me sending us off in the wrong direction. I had used the ‘go to’ function on the GPS and it picked a  goat track. I should have checked the path on the unit before we left.

Anyway, off we go in the right direction on the wrong road. We cross a river first
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There’s a great footbridge
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Back through a small town. All the towns in the valley have a similar feel. Some of this
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And some of this
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Then we’re off into the valley headed west on good if sometimes sandy or rocky dirt. Sometimes it does the Peruvian cliff-edge thing which is always fun. If you want to watch a good video of what riding around these villages and roads is like, it’s to the left. Me in front, Alvaro filming (click, enlarge and click HD). Alvaro’s testing his GoPro but it keeps getting dusted up here.
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It feels a bit like Italy
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At one we round a corner and there’s a van stuck. It takes about 30 minutes for him to get started again
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We hang out and talk to a local. The valley is a network of aquifers and troughs moving water around in concrete or stone. Where we’re waiting water comes down a ramp beside us
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Under the road. You have to watch for these as you’re riding – some are much bigger
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And off to a field on the other side. It’s all very nice
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Great country riding
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It’s not long, an hour or so, before I figure out we’re on the wrong road. They take small tour buses up the Colca and it’s fairly obvious they’re not coming this way. So we reverse

I see the other road and we head there. It’s dirt too. We pass another bullfighting ring. Now I’m looking for them, they’re everywhere
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We ride along a ridge road that looks over the valley. If you click to enlarge this you’ll see literally thousands of terraces built over many centuries  by the Incans that recede to the far mountains. It’s the biggest terrace display I’ve seen in two months of Peru
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The road gradually winds towards a canyon
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In this pic you can see the road in the ridge cut to the left and a big fire on a valley wall to the right
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A screen shot  on this road (from an Alvaro video) showing the typical Peruvian epic drop-offs that are so much fun

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A couple for hours later we turn a corner and we’re in the Colca Canyon. You need a different lens to show the truth of this staggering place. It’s the home of the great Andean Condor.

The condor viewing platforms
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Giant walls opposite
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It’s 13,650 feet deep. This photo is most of that. We’re late for the condors. An indigenous woman says it’s too hot. We wait for an hour, enjoying the views. Then empty-handed but not unhappy we head back. We stop at this village
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We have a cactus juice at one of the four our five stalls in the market
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People watch
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A llama and a peregrine tied to a post
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An old bird man is walking through the market with another peregrine.
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For a few solas Alvaro poses with it. A beautiful bird, in pristine condition.

We met some German riders in the village. We’d seen them before up at the viewpoint. They’d rented bikes in Arequipa and were on a guided tour riding Peru for three weeks.
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They’d seen the condors. Arrggh. Oh well, next time. We headed back to our hotel on the river and talked business over beers
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The next morning we resumed our business chat until the days’ ride back to Arequipa was going to have to be a very fast one. We started off with construction delays. Bikes to the front, as always
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Llama delays
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They’re everywhere
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Up close
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Then back through the burbs into Arequipa. It had been a very fast ride.
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Colca Canyon 1

The first day’s track of three to Colca Canyon and back
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We’re headed over a high corner of the altiplano. This will be my fourth time. The elevation profile – we top at nearly 16,000 feet
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It’s a late start because of the military parade. We climb the cactus covered hills out of Arequipa. Alvaro’s bike is the all-new 2014 1200GS, watercooled and packing 135hp. He painted it a metallic brown before taking delivery, it’s sharp. A twenty-mile surround of Arequipa is dust and dirt – climbing out of it is a relief
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As the chart shows we’re climbing constantly
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Past 20,000 foot peaks
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At about 14,000 feet vicuna are grazing on tough alpine plants. They’re extremely beautiful animals. Leaner and more athletic than llama or alpaca
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An exotic landscape that can change rapidly. But the consistent thing is how vivid the color and definition is in the clear air at this altitude
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We round a corner and incredibly, there’s a huge marsh and a small pond
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It’s very cold
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Up against a small hill there are ancient walls. Everywhere we’ve been in Peru there are ancient abandoned settlements at high altitude, and always near water with the exception of outside Nazca. A flock of long-beaked birds patrol the shore for whatever passes for food up here

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I disturb them with as little fuss as possible to see them in flight. Oh well, it’s worth the shot
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Ducks with huge blood-red feet chasing each other
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Further along are more of the giant Andean geese
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A huge escarpment with hoodoos stands alone. You see a unique feature here for a few minutes and then everything changes. The constant is the intensity of the sunlight
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With a small village at its base. Being a sea-level city boy I really haven’t given a damn about UV or other hocus-pocus radiation talk but everything up here is fried
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Nearing the top
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The landscapes are huge. Those cliffs are miles away
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At the summit are huge clumps of Raoulia and little else
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In no book have I seen such gigantic specimens. They must love the baking. Alvaro and I talk about the effects of being at 16,000 feet. The climbers I know of following this blog will laugh at the relative lowness of this but you do feel it. I bring it up now because I wandered off to get the below picture through the soft sand aways and by the time I was back I was noticeably shorter of air when I climbed back on the bike
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On the descent we see huge herds of llamas in the valleys. The higher we get the more we see. Click to see them
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Giant black bluffs on the western slopes. The road ahead cuts across the lower flank
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Down much further villagers wait for rides. Alvaro talks with them while I take photos. It’s interesting watching a Peruvian businessman from Lima chatting with his countrymen from the extreme opposite social environment
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Then we can see the first village in the valley below, thirty miles away from the Colca Canyon
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The good fast road down
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Under a stone arch announcing the village of Chivay. We pass through three villages with these arches in this valley
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We stop for lunch snacks
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And head into one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen (better pictures taken the next day)
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And around the river becomes oasis-like
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Terraces everywhere built by centuries of Incans
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The road turns to dirt and we head down the valley to the town of Yanque. It’s still the volcanic base rock that turns to dust instantly
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And park the bikes for the night. Lucinda is not well
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Arequipa

Arequipa is in the southwestern corner of Peru. It has a population of about 1M people and my friend Alvaro tells me that the people are the subject of cruel jokes by the rest of Peru – the equivalent of Newfies in Canada. But as it happens I really like the Arequipans and I love their city.

The Plaza de Armas is one of the most beautiful in Peru
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The Plaza has large covered walkways on three sides
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The sun is intense here and the shade is appreciated
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The atmosphere in the park is constantly festive. You can always see kids taking photos of themselves. I don’t think it’s my imagination but after a couple of months in Peru I think the Arequipans are more extrovert than elsewhere. They appear to be homogenous and local. Although Arequipa is on the visitor’s trail you don’t see many tourists
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And on the weekend there can be several couples taking pre-wedding shots. It’s a wonderful place to hang out and people watch
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It’s called the White City. Nearly all the structures are cut out of the light grey volcanic rock
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Which looks like this close up
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Fabulous architecture everywhere. This happens to be a great restaurant where your food comes out roasting on a hot stone, like in many places
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Houses over the river
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We go to a couple of museums. This museum, Museo Santuario, houses perhaps the most famous mummy in Peru. Except she’s not a mummy because she isn’t embalmed, but I don’t know the correct word
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We’re not allowed to take photographs. I stole this pic off the web. Her name is Juanita and her story is both hugely inspiring and tragic.
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Then we go off to Museo Arqueologico. Again no photo’s allowed. This houses a large collection of textiles. Fabulous
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One of the reasons I’m hanging out in Arequipa is to receive a front brake pump which is being shipped here, together with a mechanic from BMW Lima. They’ve not done a great job previously so they’re re-doing it here at no cost.

While I’m waiting I get an email from Alvaro in Lima. I met him at the Touratech dealer in Lima and rode down the coast with him a few weeks ago. He’s in his mid-thirties and’s a successful businessman in Lima.

He wants to know if I’m in Arequipa and if so he wants to know if I want to go exploring while Lucinda and I wait. We decide he’s going to ride the 1000K down and we’ll head off to the Colca Canyon. Great idea.

Talking about businessmen, I was searching for BMW Motorrad bike service earlier and here’s what the BMW cars pages look like here in Peru. Fully armoured, and as they emphasize, AK47 proof. In this ad they emphasize how they’ve dealt with traditional vulnerable spots
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3cm bullet-proof glass comes standard. Nice
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We go out on the town the night Alvaro arrives and are set to leave the next morning. But the hotel is a block off the Plaza de Armas where there’s a military ceremony, so we watch for awhile. Two sides of the square are filled with hundreds of soldiers
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They represent the three districts of the Army – jungle, altiplano and ocean. Jungle
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Ocean
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And altiplano
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The altiplano troops are more indigenous than the others, and thus shorter, and much younger. Some of them don’t look like soldiers at all. But I’m assured that not only are they skilled, but they’re fully able to support the government no matter what uprising occurs
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Finally and separately are the police. I’m told they’re 90% corrupt and that in a pinch money reliably talks. And not much money
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There’s an inspection of the troops by the Chiefs. Airforce, Army and Navy
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And in case you don’t think they’re equipped, the papers today announced more MIGs
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The marching style of the forces is strident and impressive. See the video to the left.

There are security forces carefully watching the crowds. See the other video for a serious badass on the alert. A drunk older but otherwise presentable man forces his way to the front of the crowd, right beside me, and starts yelling something about how they lost their last war with Chile. The crowd around us isn’t uncomfortable. The security badass gently and very respectfully escorts him away.

I had to think about this for awhile – then it came to me, another Peruvian penny drops – the family extends to all here.

In the side streets school kids are practicing their marching too. They’re enjoying themselves. The girls
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The boys are just goofing around because the girls are watching and it’s clearly not cool to be too into this
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City officials wait with the beautiful Peruvian flag. Although it shares much with the Canadian flag their flag’s proportions and red intensity are different and the result is bolder
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Our Ottawa boys figuring it out. I love this photo. If I’m in a grumpy mood I can look at it and laugh for hours
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The night before we’ve bribed the parking lot attendant to come and unlock the armoured gate on a Sunday, telling him to be here at exactly 10:00 am but there’s a glitch. A truck pulls up and dumps troops that line up right in front of our parking lot
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But it all works out, as it always does, until it doesn’t
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Peru’s altiplano

Spectacular

The day’s track
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The elevation profile
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First, we have to reverse course and get through Juliaca again before heading west. Not any noticeably poorer than anywhere else, just completely hyper and lawless. I had a bit of difficulty finding a way through for a few minutes, due to GPS map shortcomings. Which brings me to a point that’s well illustrated here.

Garmin is the world’s largest provider of consumer GPS systems and supplier to virtually 100% of the long distance riding community. Not only is the hardware not sufficiently stable but the maps are a problem. For instance, their South America map ($99) is incomplete. You have to dig down beyond the sales pitch to find this out. But it’s there
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You can see that when you cross from Colombia to Ecuador, the Garmin goes dark. From Ecuador into Peru you get ‘partial’, then into Bolivia dark again. So what everyone does is download open source maps. This isn’t difficult but neither is it easy. And open source maps are far from perfect. So going into Juliaca here’s Garmin’s ‘partial’ coverage (I’m the light green line getting tangled up). Three versions of the same area
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OK, we know that there’s poor Garmin coverage. So we’ve been using an open source map, and the newest version available. That was just for illustrative purposes. The open source map:
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You can see as I came up from the bottom right I couldn’t find a way through if I followed the recommended route. Which brings me to my main point. Here’s the same area on Google maps. You can see there’s a road just south that could have taken me through, but I couldn’t see on my device.
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Complete, sexy, up to date. But you can’t run it on a GPS device, such as a Garmin. You can run it on a smart phone but that doesn’t help. Of course these things never stay unresolved. Someone will give us Google maps on a travel device, hopefully Google themselves, and Garmin can escape consumer product and concentrate on probably higher margin Marine and Avionics. At least that’s my prediction. Lucinda agrees. In the interim it’s a curious situation.

However, earlier long distance riders would laugh at all this. They remind us that in their day they only had a compass with a broken needle, a pencil stub, the stars and hand-signals from cannibal tribes to go on. In fact my friend Helge’s book Ten Years on Two Wheels might have been titled Three Weeks on Two Wheels if he had the tools we do.

Anyway, through Juliaca again. Everyone’s in the process of stealing somethingDSC02924

At one point we went along an affluent road, so here’s the flip
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We get stopped at a roadblock for the first time in Peru. But they just want to talk about Lucinda. She doesn’t mind
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The gradual climb from 12 to 14,000 feet
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A virtually empty town
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Next to the park a very nice armoured vehicle with a machine gun platform. No one around it
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A few villagers sit unmovingly in the sun
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This is extraordinarily beautiful and we struggle for description. But it’s the most perfect place

This is Laguna Lagunillas at 13,600 feet, 1000 feet above Lake Titicaca (which gets all the press because it’s navigable by ship)

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And at last. The most amazing thing
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Flamingoes!
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An Andean goose flies across the flats
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After the laguna we climb further to around 14,500 feet and all hell breaks loose. There’s a crosswind of at least 50 mph and we’re having difficulty staying on the road. Hard work for over an hour
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A rapid descent into Arequipa. The city is built on a volcanic rock called sillar that rapidly erodes into various grades of rock, sand and dust
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If you live in Arequipa you’re subject to the highest levels of solar radiation in South America
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Into the beautiful city. Volcan Misti dominates
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through Juliaca

(brief posts and few photos due to slow wi-fi)

It’s a long way to Colca Canyon where we hope to see condors. We’ll ride along the Andes then back towards the Pacific for the third time. And on our way, one of the most spectacular high-plains in the world, mostly two days from now. It’s a relief to be leaving all the people. Lucinda time. And also an opportunity to see how she likes riding at higher altitudes.

The day’s track
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Reversing our way out of the Sacred Valley we ride the valley bottom alongside the Andes peaks
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Good crags on our way
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It smooths out as we gain altitude. Past a lake and a town
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Past an Incan barrier in a small valley
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Past the last organized agriculture
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A glimpse of high peaks. We topped here at about 14,000 feet
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We followed a river. There’s been so much beauty in Peru we run out of things to say, so we’re hoping the photos are sufficient. This altiplano (although we’re only on the edge of it) is a destination in its own right. It’s very dry – there’s no moisture in the air to obscure seeing huge distances vividly. The colors are intense. The silence is total
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occasional homes.
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The women are out on the plain with groups of 30 to 50 sheep
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A small village. The roofs are metal to reflect the sun
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One small town in a long day
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Lucinda and sheep
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Moments later
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There was about a 30 mile stretch where the roads had been sanded heavily. This didn’t make much sense until we got off the bike and noticed the road tar was melting. The temperature was about 65F so ultraviolet damage we’re guessing. So far both Lucinda and myself haven’t been feeling any altitude effects in Peru, other than both suffering slight power loss
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Then, the city of Juliaca. This was the town that Hans had identified on my map as the worst town in western South America. And yup, pretty rough. The streets were dirt and in the country would be semi-technical riding. Potholes a foot deep, concrete blocks, lengths of rebar, unbelievable. Hell actually
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I didn’t stop for many photos

The day’s elevation profile
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Interesting because we’re at 12,506 feet, Lake Titicaca. Not staying though, we’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

Puno
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Down at the waterfront
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Sunset
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the Sacred Valley

We’re off to see one of the 7 wonders of the world. I’d threatened to skip this but during a Skype my eldest daughter accused me of ‘stupid positioning’ or something I didn’t really understand. So off we go to keep the peace. (this is a three-day post)

The first day’s track
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First, bleed some bubbles out of my front brake (new pump a few days out)
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Then leave Cusco. Not the easiest town
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Across the valley
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Then down the dirt option to Ollantaytambo
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Stopped by construction after 20 miles
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Pick another one by a lake and trade mud for potholes
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Through a few villages. The brown mud and stone are a big change from the cinderblocks of the last 10,000 road miles
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Up onto some hills to the town of Urubamba. Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen a blue roof for the hockey arena
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Through the town and up the valley. There are terraces both modern and Incan on both sides
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Through a kind of gateway
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Into the famous village
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The valley narrows here
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The streets are super-narrow
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Both Incan and Spanish structures on the cliffs. I was surprised. These are Spanish
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I was determined to catch up on a few blog posts while I was here and found Ollantaytambo was no-or-slow so headed back to Urubamba in the morning. It turned out to be a good decision because next morning it was market day
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In this valley tall white hats are the thing. It changes from place to place. They look so good and strong no matter which way
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Chaos and mototaxis
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All the side streets
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Primary colors. Someone send this to Jonathan Ive. iPad OS 7.0.4 is color inept
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The beautiful children. They’re either very happy or very tired
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Next morning it’s off to Machu Picchu. Here’s how it works. I took my GPS so I could see the famous bus-route track after-the-fact
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You get the train from either Ollantaytambo or Urubamba to the town of Aguas Calientes the top right corner of the track. 3 hours from Urubamba. Then you get a bus for about 20 minutes to the top of the mountain (the straight line, then the switchbacks) then you’re at Machu Picchu. To the left is me walking around the site.

I sprung for the fancy train as I’d left the planning too late. A great ride through a tight pass with a few views of the Andes. I think the rule is anything with snow is above 18,000 feet
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Off the train at the station a hundred yards after this, if I’ve got my photos in order
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Then change to the bus
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The ride up is hilarious
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The faint of heart struggle to keep their composure up the super-tight unpaved switchbacks and drop-offs. There’s only room for buses coming down about 50% of the time, so there’s some maneuvering which is cool. Lucinda would have loved this.

At the top you walk through a gate and Machu Picchu hits you full in the face. It’s shockingly awesome. The placement of the site on a high ridge between two peaks with epic drops to the sides has to be seen to be believed, and I was wrongly convinced 50 years of photographs had prepared me. A bit stunned, I had enough fight left in me to not take the usual photo so wandered off to the opposite side
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Somehow our train had got in almost first. Not many people yet.

A lizard
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In no particular order. The dramatically steep terraces at the sides. Peruvians, and I’ve seen this many times in a couple of months, are super-bold. Terraces right at the edges work for me
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A small pea relative. Except for the foliage
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The stonework isn’t ultra-precise like at the Templo del Sol in Cusco. But the construction according to the 3 worlds and dualism are everywhere to be seen
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Another example
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A pure red Geum grew in a few terrace walls
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The most extraordinary piece was the Intihuatana stone. The top piece doesn’t cast  a shadow at noon, just for a moment, at either equinox. The way the emerging rock of the mountain forms the base and the 13 degree angle (necessarily the latitude of Machu Picchu) of the top stone – the piece is hypnotic in its beauty
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I really wasn’t interested in what structures did what, the mechanics of how the city (of 700) functioned, or its history. I came here with a little bit of knowledge of Pacha from Cusco and took a particular interest in the outermost terraces (perhaps the margin between the here and the below), the here (the Pacha in the stonework), and the higher world (the sun on the Intihuatana stone). How I cooked that shit up I have no idea but it made sense at the time and there was so much to see, and only 3 hours, you had to focus a bit.

Than back down to Aguas Calientes, threes everywhere. Saludos

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Cusco

The Incan empire ran almost the extent of the west coast of South America. Looking at a map Cusco is about midway from N to S. It’s a pretty city. The main square
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Some streets look like this, very narrowDSC02708

Some are malls
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Lots of peculiar hybrids
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Wooden balconies everywhere
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Which we’re partial to
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The opening photo was taken from the balcony underneath the right-hand clock.
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Entering the church camera in hand the lady said ‘Sir, it’s not possible to take photographs in the church, but from the balcony it’s OK’. But despite her fears the photos inside turned out fineDSC02633

After being so impressed by the Lima Larco I headed off to MAP, the Museo de Arte PreColombino
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The front desk. Something familiar about this, but it isn’t coming to me
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Stunning and ceramics focused. Here’s the kicker: as far as I could see the entire contents are on loan from the Larco in Lima. I’ll definitely have to read more about how one man went about collecting an entire culture’s collateral.

I don’t want to be a bore and use words that are too strong but it’s said some artisans within the Mochica, as it’s called by Larco, but more commonly referred to as the Mocha civilization, somehow achieved genius. They have an excellent Henry Moore quote in the reception that nails it and has been the backbone of at least one corporate success story I can think of:

…this is an art not yet suffocated by meaningless ornamentation and false glitter; an art in which sheer inspiration is still innocent of technical artifice and intellectual lucubration…

Anyway, I wrestled with getting into this or not and that’s the short form.

This may be the greatest of the Mocicha pieces here. A stunning display of confidence. The gallery description beside it was over-enthusiastic reading as well, much to my relief, so you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s from about 1 – 800 AD and I badly want it.
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A corn toaster
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A bottle
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Here’s a figure from the Cupisnique culture from 1250 BC to 1 AD that needs more than a glance to see
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I think I photographed half of the gallery and spent most of the day there. And ceramics aren’t my thing at all.

As said before Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire. So off we go to Qurikancha, El Templo del Sol. Here’s the building, a mix of an ancient Incan temple, a Spanish public needs church, and a Dominican monastery. A part of this, that you can’t see from this, was the most important building ever built by the Incans. When the Spanish first saw it the floors and walls were covered in gold sheet. The gardens were full of life-size solid gold animals and personages. They called it ‘opulent beyond belief’ but that didn’t stop them from promptly melting down possibly the continent’s greatest ever achievement.
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On a lighter side, the best example of precision Incan masonry is here and there’s lots of it. The Incan’s had useful architectural design constraints based on their beliefs. Units of 3, three worlds, and 2, duality. In this photo there are two ‘halls’ with a space between. The first is the temple of the rainbow, the middle space (don’t need to explain) is for water ceremonies, and the second structure is thunder. This is the core remaining structure of Qurikancha and all you need to see if pressed for a visual Coles notes
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The secret to the precision masonry: of the three social classes, the third and the bulk of the population paid taxes in the form of labour, for six months a year dedicated to the state. So it’s all about sheer man hours, maybe numbered in the thousands for a single block of stone. You can lift it off and dial it in a bit better countless times. The slippage in the corner of this pic here was caused by earthquake. Incredible
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Inside the walls are staples and various other techniques to add stability, beyond the trapezoidal construction.

Same as the MAP description above, just a few photo’s and none of the actual story yet as we’re still way behind on posts, thanks to wi-fi weakness even in decent places. Things seen and done are missing.

Lucinda is still not well. No immediate fix is on the horizon for the ignition gremlin and we’re going to have to work out a delivery and installation location for the new front brake pump. We’re hoping both will be resolved in Arequipa.

Saludos
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