Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Abancay to Cusco


Mako and Fumy


11:00 p.m.

A slow start this morning, still not feeling well to travel. But this town (and hotel) holds little attraction, so I’m eager to depart. "Aquiles" (the fellow who helped me get my bike situated in the courtyard last night) gave me directions to a hotel in Cusco, the "Colonial Palace". It is 72 Soles per night, and he said I could give him 20, then pay 52 when I arrived in Cusco. I politely declined, saying I wanted to see the hotel first. (It probably costs 52, the 20 being his “commission”.)

Stopped for gas at a station staffed by attractive young women who do the pumping. I immediately recalled the passage in Odyssey to Ushuaia where the author stopped at such a station in Mexico. While attempting to distract him, one young lady pressed a button on the side of the pump that ran the meter, without dispensing gas. He caught them in the act.

Here, the pump appeared to work correctly, though the price was a full Sole (30 cents) per gallon higher than it should be. (Maybe that's what they're supposed to distract you from?)

Less than a mile up the road, I passed Mako and Fumy’s Kawasaki parked outside a restaurant. I turned around and pulled in behind them. I have to say, they are good at finding obscure little restaurants! They were seated at a table in a room behind the country store. They invited me to join them, but I could only stomach some beverages. Tried a yogurt drink after someone posted on my website that local yogurt helps fight “travelers’ runs”. Worth a try.

Less than two miles up the road, with Mako and Fumy leading, we were waved over by a Highway Patrolman. After some chit-chat about where we were from and where we’re going, he pointed to the 35 Kph speed limit sign ahead and told of locals forcibly stopping a speeding gringo. He conveniently pulled out a neatly-folded tabloid front-page article describing the incident. Okay, we’ll be careful to watch our speeds, Mako told him. He asked for our documents.

Then he pulled out his booklet of infraction fees and pointed out the cost for speeding. I was slow, but it was starting to dawn on me. “Are you going to write us citations?”

“Si.”

“For what?"

He pointed to the sign again.

"We weren’t speeding."

"Si."

He said something about us doing 50. Mako was saying that he wasn’t going to issue citations and carefully took my license from the officers grip and handed it back to me and motioned that we should leave.

Then I heard the familiar phrase “gaseosas, bebidas” – he just wanted some money for drinks. He gave up his efforts, as it was clear we weren’t falling for the ploy, and three other officers were approaching him, coming down the road on foot. He probably didn’t want to get caught fleecing tourists.

One of the few things I fear on this trip is police and military abusing their power. It’s a sad state of affairs. Mako later said that only in Peru have they run into this.

Followed them up into the mountains. We kept a very moderate pace, rarely exceeding 50 mph (By the way, today the speedometer is working!)

Fumy, riding behind Mako was constantly photographing the scenery, and a couple of times took photos of me.

Quite chilly over the higher passes above 11,000 feet, then we dropped into river valleys where it became uncomfortably warm.

Reached Cusco around 3:30, stopping at an overlook to take in the panorama of the city, before dropping into the crazy congested brick and cobblestone streets. Mako suggested I follow them to one of two hotels they were considering. If I liked it I could stay there, otherwise I could move on.

Stopping frequently to ask directions, Mako led us to a small hostel on Tigre street, actually just a cobblestone alley. The hotel was a dark, rickety and not very clean establishment.

A long gray-haired American, named Christian, a former hippie and Vietnam veteran, now dressed in colorful local garb asked if I needed a hotel. He took us around the corner to another hotel. This one, though they had an interior lobby to store the bikes, was too costly for Mako and Fumy, and at $15-20, not airy enough for me.

Mako quickly found a room at the "Hostal Rojas" around the corner. About $7. I needed to read more of my options before looking further. I said "good-bye" and they invited me to join them for dinner. They would wait until 7:00 at their hotel. If I didn’t want to join them, no problem. But they would wait.

I saw three hostels in the guide that sounded interesting. I couldn’t find any of them. The street names are well-marked, but they’re the recently-adopted Quechuan names, not the former names my map shows. So in this ancient city, where there are no “grids”, my American sense of direction was totally flummoxed. To me, this place was pure chaos.

I spent two hours driving around, trying to orient myself in the process. Not very happy with my lack of preparation, complete confusion, poor maps, fading daylight and rising anxiety. Looked at a room in the "Hostal Familiar". It was decent, for about $10 (only a couple blocks from Mako and Fumy.) But the front steps presented a challenge. The curb, then three steps up into the entry, followed closely by two more. And a bus was parked at the curb, the sidewalk barely wide enough for the bike to fit between the bus and steps. I couldn’t figure out how to get it up there. So I passed and moved on.

In the "Hostal El Balcón", high up a quiet alleyway, I thought I had found a great refuge, with some nice views of the city. I asked the price. $35. No mas bajando (nothing cheaper)? "That’s the tariff." The man's indifference turned me off completely.

Returned to "Familiar". The bus was gone, so I at least could make a run at the steps from the street. I took a room, unloaded all the luggage. They brought out a short ramp and I charged the first three steps. No problem. The next were trickier, as their was no room for the ramp, and no room for a rolling start, so with me driving and others shoving, we got the bike up inside the courtyard.

Settled in just in time to hurry off to meet Mako and Fumy at their hotel. It was surprisingly clean and quiet. A Slovenian woman seated inside the courtyard pointed me to their room. We learned she was in a tour group whose plans were disrupted by the current rail strike. She invited Mako and Fumy to visit her in Slovenia.

We wandered toward the Plaza de Armas, besieged by people with menus trying to lure us into restaurants (they’re paid on commission). Wanted to survey the entire Plaza area before deciding. The Plaza is quite beautiful at night: clean and well-lighted, bordered by the cathedral, several churches and many colonial façades with balconies. Spotted "Norton’s Grill". That sounded vaguely like the place Brad had frequented and where he was going to leave my brake pads. Went inside and met "Geoffrey", the owner, who is originally from Ohio. He had the pads. Brad just dropped them off on his way out today.

Fumy and I both had headaches from the altitude, so drinks were out of the question. Settled on a pizzeria, "El Sabor de la Nusta". Only foreigners here – obviously too pricey for locals. Ordered a family size "Bolognesa" pizza, soup, mate de coca (which tasted like tea made from dried grass), "Coke" (a 2.25-liter bottle was delivered to the table!) Good food, not great. An "Andean" band came in and started to play for us. In the small, intimate space the band was, for me, not welcome – it simply overwhelmed conversation. I hate being a captive tourist, and refused to even acknowledge them, or pay a tip ("ransom" is a more appropriate term!)

Later, two children barged in and started playing a New Year's tune. They were quickly shuffled out by the servers and I heard one of them scream a short time later. The little rascals.

Mako and Fumy retired to the hotel, feeling tired. I returned to "Norton’s". Tried to order a coffee with "Bailey’s" and "Gran Marnier", but it was going to cost as much as my hotel, so I declined. Leaving, I passed a group entering. I glanced at one fellow who look familiar. He glanced back – it was Michael, the New Zealander from "Flying Dog" in Lima. Caught up with him briefly, then returned to my hotel. Quite chilly out tonight – 50s probably.

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