Saturday, December 17, 2005

Santa Teresa to Cusco, the hard way

An entire highway crew looks on. Where's the boss?

Up at 6:30 and was ready to go by 7:30. Many residents were aware of this big motorcycle in town. It's an event. Several gathered to watch as I loaded up.

Overnight, the street leading out of town had turned to mush, and I didn't make the most graceful departure. For the ride to Santa Maria, I stood up on the footpegs the entire distance. The road was much more slippery this morning than when I rode into Santa Teresa, especially in areas of red clay. But this was nothing like Panama. At least I could move through this stuff. Lots of mud and water though, with the few pueblitos being particularly messy.

I was in Santa Maria by 9:00 and it was already very warm. I was eager to climb out of this tropical air. I had no interest in going further into the jungle (Quillabamba.) I was still fatigued from all the hiking but happy to be heading back to some creature comforts, and looking forward to a good bowl of soup.

The highway in this area is hard pack rip-rap and easy riding. You could sail on this stuff at high speed (if it weren't for the many villages along the way.) But even at higher speeds, I much preferred standing to sitting. Off pavement, it's much less jarring on the body. I kept the left mirror set for the standing position, and the right mirror set for those times I sat down for a break.

Out here, you don't see vehicles with only one occupant. A vehicle's utility is maximized. If not full, you stop to pick up those who need a ride. It's simply expected.

The surrounding mountains were cloaked in rain clouds and I was anxious to get up and over Puerto Malaga as early as possible, at least before any major rain developed again. I couldn't help but think about the creeks high in the mountains. Would they be passable today?

As I started to reach the crossings, there were no surprises, until I came to the second-to-last. Here, there were trucks and buses stopped on both sides. The creek looked much fuller than three days ago. "If this one, which was a non-event the other day, is this full, what's the upper one like?"

As I approached, people were standing on either side of the creek, and they waved me on. "You can make it. No problem."

I took a look from the bike and agreed. Without stopping, I plunged in and came out the other side without incident. Turning uphill, I pulled away from the creek, but the next moment I was on the ground, my helmet firmly planted into the rocks, faceshield splattered with mud.

I stumbled to my feet, and in a kind of drunken stupor wandered about, glancing off at the motorcycle lying on its side several yards away, engine still running. I was too dazed to go over and shut it down, and instead headed off in a different direction. The motor finally died and I began to collect myself. People were gathering around and speaking, but I just looked back, confused.

I assessed the personal damage: both hands were in pain on their backsides, there was an intense throbbing in my right calf, but I was standing up, so I was pretty confident there wasn't a bone injury (I think the rear footpeg and brace had come down on it) and I felt some pain in my right ribs (from landing on my right elbow, I think.)

It became clear that I needed to move the bike, as trucks were now trying to squeeze through. Several men helped lift it and I rolled it aside.

Looking over the bike's damage, the right cylinder had taken a hard blow. The crash bar was pushed back into the cylinder, breaking a couple of cooling fins. The plastic valve cover guard had been ripped away and the cover cracked. Oil was leaking from the opening. The windshield was impacted by rocks, which pushed the supporting frame out of alignment and snapped several fasteners. The right front turn signal was broken (again.)

My new faceshield was covered with scratches from the rocks. Thank goodness for full-face helmets. Had I been wearing an open-face helmet, I'd probably be looking at some major facial and dental work!

The bike was still roadworthy, though the oil leak was a problem. But I figured that if I take it slowly, I could limp back to Cusco, topping up the oil as needed (if I could find oil in time.)

Got back aboard and continued up the mountain. I was too preoccupied to think about the next creek crossing, and when I reached it, I didn't even pause, but just charged through. No problem. But my mind was distracted and that doesn't make for safe riding. I felt like I had been tackled from behind on a rocky football field (and I'm in no shape to be out on a football field!) And I don't even know what happened. Certainly I was distracted by the stopped vehicles and people standing around, but I must have hit some slippery rocks turning the corner.

The rain was starting, and soon turned to hail, and visibility was decreasing. But I had no intention of stopping. Using much more of the road than I should, I climbed to the top of Puerto Malaga. The gate was closed, and a worker said it would reopen at noon, in about 45 minutes. It was fairly cold up here above 14,000 feet, with light rain. He finally took pity and let me proceed ahead of schedule, warning me to go slowly.

After any "incident", I find it an effort to re-establish confidence, and this time was no different. I gingerly picked my way through the construction zones. Stopped at the first camp I came to and inquired if they had some oil. My right boot was now covered in oil, and it was clear I needed oil sooner than anticipated.

The bike immediately drew a crowd of workers. One had a partial container of oil in his truck and gave it to me. It was only a fifth of a quart or so, but it brought the level up to a comfortable mid-point. The workers surveyed the damaged head and one quickly proposed a temporary patch, using yarn and super glue. "Why not?"

Peruvian ingenuity: super glue-coated yarn stuffed into my cracked valve cover

Everyone, including myself, looked on in amusement as the "Peruvian mechanic" went to work. He couldn't possibly cause more damage. After he was finished, cameras came out and workers asked to have their photo taken on the bike. "Why not?"

I stood back, while one after another climbed onto the bike, cradling my helmet and beaming at the camera. Then women with babies appeared and we were having baby-on-motorcycle-photos! Standing off to the side, I met "Daniel", who spoke a bit of English. He spent some time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, undergoing airborne training.

I finally asked, "any more photos?" But they already had what they wanted.

I was sent on my way with a dozen well-wishes, and slowly descended the pass. Revisited Inti Punko Restaurant in Ollantaytambo for another ham and cheese sandwich. (And again I watched as a young boy dashed off to borrow some ham.) I paid the 8 Sole bill with a 10 Sole note. Another runner was sent to find change for the note somewhere down the street! (How can you run a business this way???)

A few miles down the highway, I stopped for gas and oil, adding a full quart of oil. the Peruvian solution wasn't quite doing the trick.

One more stop for oil before reaching Cusco. Arrived at Hostal Familiar just as a large thunderstorm was moving up from the south. In my injured condition, I had no interest in wrestling the bike up the hostel's steps, so I found an enclosed parking lot down the street and put it to bed there.

Tomorrow I would have a better idea if any of my injuries were of serious concern. Tonight I wouldn't let it stop me from going out and having a good meal.

On the sidewalk outside the hostel, I ran into Jessica (from Machu Picchu) and just down the street, met J.D. with one of his "family", Juan Carlos.

In the Plaza de Armas, a rally was underway for presidential candidate Valentin Paniagua, apparently a local favorite. (Peru will hold presidential elections next Spring.)

Hobbled up to Jack's for some dinner. I marveled at the frequent sight of women sitting in this restaurant reading magazines. On the wall rack, 14 magazines hang. Most are fashion magazines. I don't understand sitting here in Cusco reading "Glamour" or "Bazarre" (Bizarre?)

After dinner, went to Trotamundo's to post pictures from Machu Piccchu, hanging around until they pushed me out the door at 11:45.


Dicky Neely said...

Quite the crew there! Wow! Your latest pics knock me out!
Did your improvised repair work?


Tim- great photos, all of them!....the wide angle Machu Pichu hsots are excellent!

timtraveler said...

Thanks, guys!

By the way, the patch didn't work. I needed another quart and a half of oil to make it 75 miles to Cusco.