I arrived in Cusco along ,with my fellow cyclist Knute from Norway, about 6am on Sunday morning after a 10 hour bus ride from Andahuaylas. We were both really fried when we arrived and just wanted to get some rest. I described my earlier Peruvian bus experience in a previous post. This bus was a double decker, lots of glass, but we were traveling at night. We were disappointed at traveling through the night as we couldn’t see anything but, as it turned out, what did we know. I settled into my seat for what I hoped would be about an 8 hour nap. An older Peruvian gentleman was in the aisle seat next to me and was resting his eyes when I took my seat. Knute and I had had trouble finding our departure point as they didn’t seem to find it necessary to light the area or post their sign outside. Each company had their own departure terminal. We kept asking people and they kept pointing to the left. Finally someone pointed out that we were now here. We looked through an opening and sure enough there was a waiting area and several further entrances. Good. Nerves settled, we were in time but just. The bus itself was older but seemed comfortable. Off we go. I notice early on that it’s quite warm on the window side of my seat. The heat had no control and stayed on full the whole trip. More than a little uncomfortable. I stepped over my neighbor and checked with Knute – his was stuck on full too. Nothing to be done, I settled back into the seat. About a half hour into the ride, one of the crew came by and handed out barf bags to everyone in the bus. This is not good. I’m still sick and now they hand me this. What I discovered is that each ascent up the narrow winding switchbacks in the tall bus leaves your stomach either a few meters ahead or a few meters behind the bus as it navigates those sharp turns. You just hope you can catch up to it before it heads the other direction or that bag is going to be a real part of your world. The full on heat only adds to the sport. Downhills were not as bad for some reason. On neither was it a good idea to look out and see oblivion on the downhill side. The buses serving these mountainous routes used to have blackened windows and curtains pulled. I could see some of the blackened material still there. Several times during the night the bus had to stop to remove rock from the roadway or maneuver with another vehicle to pass each other. There were no passenger stops for eating or banos. There was a urination only bano on the bus. 10 hours on a bus is a long time. Discomfort was just part of the experience – one the Peruvians just seemed to accept as a way of life. My neighbor in the aisle seat slept the whole way to Cusco.
So, we stepped off the bus relieved that it was finally over.
I took a taxi to meet JR at a hostel next door to the one Bike Dreams will be using upon arrival. We are located just a block from the Plaza de Armas (main plaza) in Cusco. Knute dropped off at a hotel he had picked for some “luxury” living while resting here. JR is a friend of mine from Anchorage, Alaska and is meeting us here in Cusco to bike the rest of the Andes Trail. He and his wife have been here for two weeks so he could acclimatize and they both could sightsee. Wife Jeanne got an email announcing her father had passed on and had to return home immediately just a couple of days before I arrived. JR was a member of the Buck’s Hardware XC Ski Team (Alaska contingent) several years ago. Some of the Grand Marais team and those up there would ski the Anchorage Tour race then party afterward. JR and Jeanne had been doing some trekking, traveled to Machu Picchu, and toured the floating islands at Lake Titcaca where they stayed with a local family. Great experiences. JR has been an active outdoorsman all his life – biking a big part of that – and is looking forward to this trip. He is semi- retired from his work as an ER nurse.
One notices right away that this is a different Peru. More upscale (for this part of the world) restaurants and shops that reflect tourists needs, not locals. No longer 3 pharmacies on every block or brightly lit Claro phone stores repeated again and again. Now it’s more cute little shops with outdoor gear, clothing, and tour operators. But the most startling thing to my 5 week old Peruvian eyes is the presence of gringos (white people). They are seemingly everywhere in this now touristy Peruvian background. Cameras. I’m hearing smatterings of English and it’s not our Bike Dreams compatriots. We have been traveling the back roads and highlands of Peru. I could count the number of gringos we had encountered on one hand. Two English bike riders, a couple from Germany, and maybe one or two others in five weeks of traveling in this country. I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. Where is my Peru? Where are my 12 sole entree local cuisine restaurants? Why are these people accosting me in the street, imploring me to buy this, go there, or give them that? I’m feeling pushed and shoved a little. A little jangled.
I should feel comforted by the presence of people similar to me -I’m a gringo – but instead I kind of resent them as walking into my dream. Stepping on my stories and squeezing the reality out of them. I selfishly want the experiences I’ve had through Bike Dreams and my fellow bikers in “our” Peru to remain ours and ours alone. I don’t want to have an altered Peru; I want an unadulterated Peru. Apparently I’m still feverish.
On Wednesday about 35 of us from Bike Dreams will spend two days at Machu Picchu. Cusco was the capital of the Incas and is famous in its own right. It is a beautiful city, at least the area I’ve explored. However, the real reason it is so full of tourists is its proximity to Machu Picchu and the beauty and mystery of this magnificent ruin of a once glorious civilization.
I do look forward to this next experience as well.