Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Heading to Cusco: The Nazca Lines and Peruvian Pampas

We tried to get an early start out of Lima, but it was hard to break away from such a good time and amazing hosts.  After getting a package sent home from the post office, we hit the road in the early afternoon with our sights set on Nazca to see the famous and mysterious lines.  Again, it was another boring stretch on the Panamericana to get there, but it made for a quick day of riding.  We arrived at Nazca just as the sun was setting, and climbed up into one of the roadside view towers to see a couple of the figures in the dirt.  It was very cool, but we were excited to see more the next day from an airplane. 

After finding a hostel in the middle of town, we figured out how to book a ride in a small plane from the local airport to see the lines from the air.  The hostel owner was very helpful with booking a flight.  She asked us if we'd like breakfast in the morning and we said yes, before we left for the airport.  She said she would only make us breakfast after the trip on the plane because she didn't think we'd keep it all in during the flight. 

Arriving at the airport we waited in line for our plane,  a small one that fit about eight people.  The pilot took us up and flew us over each formation etched into the earth, letting each side of the plane see by tilting the plane sharply over on each side.  I can see why the hostel owner was worried about us eating beforehand. Every maneuver the pilot did was aggressive and actually quite fun. Luckily, no one threw up.  The grand scale of the lines and beauty of the patterns is something you can only truly experience from the air; the roadside towers on the way into town really don't do them justice.

After returning to the hostel, eating breakfast, and loading up the bikes, we took off through the desert and into the mountains, hoping to make it about halfway to Cusco.

World's largest sand dune outside of Nazca, Peru.
As we climbed in altitude, the terrain started to get more alpine and more beautiful. We passed through a natural reserve full of llamas and vicunyas (a smaller, wild member of the llama family).  The road climbed and climbed until, faster than expected, we had gone from sea level to about 13,000 feet.  We could really feel it. 

When we stopped in the small town of Puquio for gas and a quick snack, we noticed the weather starting to turn.  The clouds ahead were ominous, and we still had about 150 miles to ride before the next town.  While we tried to make the break quick, we couldn't help but ask the lady walking by with a baby lamb if we could see it, and pretty soon, all her children were crowding our motorcycles taking turns asking us questions.  

What started as a 20-minute lunch break turned into an hour and a half of entertaining all the local children in the church square.  We had so much fun that it didn't seem important that it was getting late and the weather was looking bad.  The questions the kids were asking us were really funny, and we were having too good of a time interacting with them to be able to leave.

I think kids always ask the best questions when we travel: "What do you eat?" "Do you have any pets?" "What do your pets eat?" "Do you have any children?" "Why not?" Why are you so tall?"  Things like that.  It's a refreshing change from the usual "How much did your motorcycle cost?"

After answering every question from every kid,  letting them sit on our bikes, and push every button, we passed out stickers, cookies, and anything else we had to give and hit the road. 

From Puquio, the road continued to climb.  At about 14,000 feet, we had to stop and put on every layer we had because it got so cold.  Shortly after, at about 14,500 feet, it started snowing pretty hard and the sun was going down.  Looking at the map, we still had about 500 more feet to climb before the road leveled off above 15,000 feet for another 60 miles or so.  When the snow kept increasing in intensity, we made the call to turn around and head back the half hour to Puquio.  If we had kept going, it would have meant riding for at least 2 more hours in the dark in a snow storm.

We found an empty hostel on the edge of town and got a room on the 3rd floor.  Carrying our luggage up the 3 flights of stairs at over 14,000 feet almost did us in with the elevation definitely taking its toll.

You could tell this mountain town saw no tourists.  All the buses must just blow by on their way to Cusco every day. As we explored the old town square, everyone would stop and stare at us like we were aliens.  This was the first time we had experienced this since being in China many years ago.  While everyone was interested in us, it was a friendly curiosity, and people were very nice and happy to answer all our questions.

In the morning, we will try the climb over the pass again and hope to make it to Cusco to explore and figure out our plan for Machu Picchu.

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