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Altitude is Interesting

***New Photos Posted***
***New Google Earth KMZ file*** File opens in Google Earth

It’s been almost a week I think since my last update and coincidentally my last shower! I write this in Cusco in my icebox room (this part of the building really never sees the light of day) dressed in long underwear, pants, a tee shirt, two long sleeve shirts and a Patagonia Micropuff jacket. Oh, I forgot the hat and the fact that I’m under the covers in bed. Besides not having plumbing system that you can put toilet paper in no one here has heat. The plumbing I can understand these building and sewer systems are old, but no heat? It’s COLD!!!

I left Curahuasi with assurances that it was all down hill to Limatambo. Let’s just say that contrary to popular belief, the locals actually do ok on distances, but terrain is a completely different story. It may be since most of the travel is done in these crowded little buses that will take you from anywhere to anywhere. In a car no one really pays attention to the subtleties of terrain anyway. People only notice a lot of up or a lot of down. Gradual inclines and descents are ignored except by truck drivers. The descent continued into the Apurímac Valley towards the river, a view which apparently (according to my footprints guidebook) inspired Thornton Wilders’ The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I can believe this vista has inspired a book, imagine the Colorado wilderness without the development. A huge snow-topped peak in the background, a winding river below and lots and lots of nothing else.

And then I was riding by the river, or actually below a little branch of it. There were little channels of water carved out in red soil within the rocks that made up the river bed. This must be a sight to see in the summertime with the rains. Now it it all dried up and people have made big triangular mounds of rocks - like Andy Goldsworthy – but with less attention to gradual change of color. This is where the gradual uphill nature of the rest of my day became apparent. Since the descent had taken me quite far down out in altitude, the heat of the day was more intense and there ware no cooling effects of elevation to ease the midday heat. Instead, there were insects.

My favorite bug of the day was a biting black beetle looking bug. This creature is at first just vaguely annoying. The bite doesn’t really hurt – less than a mosquito - but it leaves this tremendous mark that changes over the course of a few days. At first there’s nothing and then a few hours later there is a little pin prick of blood with a rosy circle around the bite. It still doesn’t itch. Then a few days later the rosy part becomes quite red and finally it itches a little. I’m sure that if you were actually warm these would itch quite a bit more. After a few more days they look like quarter inch sized red blotches. If these are bad would someone please tell me? My legs are covered with them.

Finally, I arrived in Limatambo after pushing my bike up that last hill right as school was getting out in the afternoon and with assistance found the one and only hospedaje in town. According to the little boy and girl I was conversing with later in the evening, there is one hospedaje and four restaurants. It’s a little intimidating walking into these places (this one happened to be attached to a one of the thriving restaurants) at the midday meal and ask for a room. There is really no need to ask the price or whether there is a window or not or all those things books tell you to do because there is only one place in town, it is usually clean albeit cold, and it is usually pretty cheap. In this case, it was s/. 10 which is about three dollars US. I parked my bike by the slab of beef hanging up in the back courtyard where everyone was running around dealing with the lunch crowd. I focused on not dropping my stuff into the blood on the ground and getting my gear up the steps. It takes 4-5 trips now including the bike which some places let me take to the room and some don’t.

I had a great afternoon in Limatambo eating egg sandwiches and walking around. Egg sandwiches – what a great concept. Cheap and with some protein and relatively easy to come by – makes for a great lunch or breakfast. The main square is undergoing some renovations currently with new pavement going in. The neat thing about Limatambo is that most of the roads are paved with good sidewalks and there are even benches on the sidewalks here and there. The square and church are well taken care of and obviously used. On the way back to the hospedaje there were a group of girls playing a jumping/clapping game with string so I asked if I could watch and one brought me a seat.

It was fascinating to watch this game both because of the amount of exertion needed at altitude and the variations. It is played with two girls standing across from each other essentially holding a loop of string up with their ankles. The string is held at various levels on the body: ankle, calf, knee, hips, waist, arms, shoulders, neck, eyes, above head with hands. At each level there is a different series of jumps/claps and chants to say and if you step on the string, do the wrong move, or say the wrong word your turn ends. The levels as I recall are: three motions jumping, 11 motions jumping, 16 motions jumping, two variations with the head, three motions clapping, clapping reciting vowels, clapping reciting full name, clapping reciting days of the week, and clapping reciting months of the year. Pretty cool. The crazy thing is after doing this for about an hour they all ran off to play volleyball for two or more hours. I took a nap.

After the side of beef incident I decided that chicken was more the dinner for me that night and set off to find it in one of the three remaining restaurants. I know that all the meat that I eat comes from stands on the street and is carted around in wheel barrels and the like, but I just wasn’t in the mood to be confronted with the meat that evening. It turns out I had this great polenta (or maybe quinoa) based soup and pollo dorado - chicken in a red sauce – with the ubiquitous papas and rice. It hit the spot and was following by a cup of mate. Off to bed for me as the second pass was loomig.

I’ll shorten this a bit. The ride up the second pass was much nicer as the grade of the road wasn’t as steep as the first pass. I rode up most of the pass and was followed for a bit by a really evil looking stinging insect with what looked like an inch long stinger nose. Saw a man hit his wife who was arguing with him – felt bad, but stayed out of the way. To her credit, she deflected the blows and just kept badgering him. Passed a Frenchman who has been on the road for three years and was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I guess I would be too if I had been riding for three years. Towards the top of the pass saw no people and two goats which I’m not sure were domesticated. Towards the top of this pass there were no more houses, farms, stands, anything except a mining operation and a bus now and again. The winter sun plays tricks on your eyes as it seems like the sun is setting, but really it is only 1pm. It is very low on the horizon and while it doesn’t set until 6pm or so seems to go down much earlier. This was one occasion where the locals got the distance wrong. There was a small pre-pass that I think they were all thinking of when I got distance estimates, but the really pass was a good 5-7 km beyond. Maybe they just don’t go that far often.

Something here about maps. This pass, Abra Huillique, is listed on the maps as being 4100m which is pretty high. In reality, this pass is about 3800m and the other one from Abancay has it beat by 200m. Why this is shown as a pass and the other isn’t is a mystery to me. I was planning on a really rough day and it turned out to be hard, but not nearly as difficult as the other pass. Also, they don’t mark the passes like we do in the US – you just have to guess – or use a GPS. Once over the top I stopped at a toll booth and chatted with one of the operators and his two sons. He kept calling me Jennifer Lopez once he learned that my name was Jennifer. That joke is growing old, but it is a cross-cultural one. He tried to get me to adopt one of his sons. And so off I went.

The stark change from barren rocks to beautiful fields was an odd switch but it was a beautiful afternoon and it was an easy 15 km ride into Anta in a huge glacial valley wehre everything was green and gold and you could see a huge peak in the distance. Once in Anta, a taxi driver showed me the two hospedajes in town and while on the way to check in I was almost accosted by an enthusiastic Brazilian who said that he too was cycling around Peru.

So this Brazilian was my first brush with the type of traveler who will take you for all you’re worth if they can. At first, the enthusiasm was great. He wanted to go here and there and had been here for two years when he was only planning on being here for a month. Then the stories began. His bike and all his money was stolen (two years ago) and he worked really hard to get a second-hand Peruvian bike. Then his newly recouped stuff was burnt when the house he was staying in was set afire by kids lighting fireworks at Christmas. So now he was working for a “national champion” bike racer who was a bike mechanic now in Anta. The guy really did race bikes, but I question the national champion bit. He apparently had an awful accident and did a pretty bad face plant. That ended his bike racing career. I watched him unbend a crumpled wheel and begin to put it back into shape. Most people will tell you that the wheel is not longer sound or safe, which may be true, but when you don’t have enough money to buy a new wheel you get this guy to fix your old crumpled one.

Then the Brazilian started asking me for my maps. Long story short, he started asking me for all my stuff “when I was done with it”. The GPS, the maps, the guidebook, because it would really help out his research for his book. Come on, the GPS? He was starting to act as if because I came from the US where a moderate income in US terms equated to a fortune in Peruvian/Brazilian terms that I could just give him what ever he wanted. That’s when the warning bells that were already ringing started clamoring. The next morning he actually asked me to buy him a GPS, just a $200 one and then asked me to write to companies to get sponsors for him. I, in my oh, so tactful way, told him to write to the companies himself. “I don’t have the addresses,” he said. “They are on the internet which you’ve already told me you are more than proficient with,” I responded. So on that note which, was still a good one, we said our goodbyes and I rode off into the morning light up another big incline towards Cusco.

I think I’ll save Cusco for another post as my fingers are pretty cold and I’m getting hungry.

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Take care everyone come visit Peru!

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