Monday, April 27, 2015

Cusco to Lima via Nazca

Getting out of Arequipa was an hour long nightmare of crazy drivers and smoke belching diesel buses and trucks. I let the GPS take me to Cusco which in hindsight may have been a mistake. The first clue came at a 'road closed' sign. The watchmen confirmed it was indeed the way to Cusco and I would be fine on a motorcycle. The road was gravel and rough in places where rain had washed out sections but the real problem was an apparent lack of towns with gas pumps. In the end and after 250 k of gravel I cut my losses and hightailed it to the sealed road coming from Puno and Lake Titicaca. All the same I got into Cusco at 8.30 PM, in the dark and despite knowing where the accommodation was, it took ages to get there because of road closures. I was relieved to see the bikes of Colin and Robin already there. They had arrived earlier in the day. The next two days for me were effectively rest days while Colin went up to Machu Pichu. Robin, Dianne and I had already been to Machu Pichu on previous visits to Peru so did not go this time. I bought a painting or two for my sister and that was really about it.
Cusco has been the standout town in South America so far. It is clean, safe and picturesque. The people all have clean shoes and walk with the heads up. They look proud. The town is also chocker block with tourists and there is even a pub devoted to motorcyclists - the Norton Rats Tavern.
The next few days for me were to prove problematic. On the 660 km ride to Nazca my bike broke down. We think it fried the alternator, a problem I now find not uncommon to the wee-strom. The ride to Nazca was over 12 hours with stops and 660 km of twists and turns up and down mountains. A sports bike heaven and not bad for us either. My bike finally conked out right outside a motel so the decision as to where to stay was made.
Next day we took an 8am flight over the lines in the desert the town is famous for. This was really well worth doing because you would never have seen them from the ground. In the afternoon we did our best to get my bike to Pisco, a city on the coast, and once again it conked out right outside a motel. That evening we had a nice meal and toasted all the old soldiers with Pisco Sours - in Pisco on ANZAC day.
Saturday saw us tackle the 220 km to Lima. By now the bikes battery is struggling to keep the bike fired up and it stalled for the final time in the hotel forecourt - we had made it.
Look closer. They are LLamas not sheep.

The courtyard of our hotel in Cusco. Quaint old building. 

No sports shoes and jeans for these two old guys. Cusco.

Hmm! another church. It probably has a name but we are slightly over church's. Cusco.

Excellent coffee and cake in a funky upstairs cafe. Cusco.

Traffic police woman. She has a gun also.

Not an uncommon sight in Cusco.

Kids playing with toys in a dirty puddle.

Hah!! I'm not the only one with short legs.

Machu Pichu is why you come to Cusco. From an earlier trip.

5 Soles per picture please. You can hold the baby Llama for free.

660 kilometres of this to get to Nazca from Cusco.

Here we go - life in hand.

Not all the "lines" are animals. Some are just lines.

This is the monkey

The bird

The hands

We loved this guy. We were recharging my battery from Robins bike and had to move when this guy came along to water the grass. Note the rope from the truck to the orange cone and tyre.

Some Observations of the Desert

In the 1880's through say 1930 Chile became very rich from the revenues derived from the nitrate mining industry. With the development of synthetic nitrate the industry collapsed. The mines were simply abandoned and some are now tourist attractions. In this area there is Humberstone, which is in very good condition, and Chucabuca which was on my route. Chucabuca was the largest of the mines and at the time used state of the art processes but it too was caught in the decline and abandoned around 1940. In 1973-74 it housed 1800 political prisoners from the Pinochet regime. Today the site is in ruins. It's a hot dusty place completely lacking in charm and would have been intolerable for the prisoners but for me it was an hour well spent.
Just south of Antofagasta there is a large sculpture of a hand in the desert and it appears in just about every adventure riders story of the Pan American highway. After three trips to Chile it now appears in mine.
As I ride north, to the left of me is the Pacific Ocean and to the right is the vast Atacama desert. And it is vast, taking in northern Chile, southern Peru and extends way out into Bolivia as the altiplano. Though largely barren, there is a certain charm from its mountains, vast valleys and patchwork of colours. There are parts that are said to having never seen rain and others none in years. It's hot in the day and cold at night. Despite all of this there are people trying to scratch a living from it and it is busy with traffic. The traffic is a function of the need to traverse the desert if you want to drive from Chile to Peru. Every now and then there will be a cluster of home-made buildings representing, what seemed to me, to be a last ditch stand for somewhere to live. To call the buildings houses is to take a very liberal interpretation of the word because they are tiny and are constructed from every imaginable material. Some are made from "reed" mats and appear to have no roof. The inhabitants of those by the sea presumably fish for a living but those further inland appear to have no means of surviving except for what they can sell to passing motorists. They cannot or at least do not grow anything and as a result there is no livestock either save for the ubiquitous dog. There is litter everywhere and a complete lack of civic pride. Finally there is the usual smattering of broken down and derelict vehicles. Some of the settlements have names or at least there is a road-sign declaring such but for most there is nothing.
The major Chilean towns on the coast such as Antofagusta, Arequipa, Tocopilla and Arica are commercial ports once the gateway for the export of Spanish booty then nitrate but now are somewhat seedy. Despite this most have high-rise apartments overlooking the sea but are surrounded by the squalor of the poor. Just north of the city of Tocopilla, a horrid place I spent the night in, is the Tocopilla Golf Club. It sits between the road and the beach and there is not a blade of grass to be seen anywhere. The only thing green are painted stones. At least some try and make sense of their situation.
In crossing from Chile to Peru nothing much changes. The town of Tocna was not so bad but Arequipa would have to be the worst place I have ever stayed in. It was truly a dump but with the most magnificent central square - go figure. I got a Chinese meal here for 6 soles or around $2.50.
From my comments so far you might conclude that I found the desert to be rather uninspiring and dismal but not so.  I enjoyed my time in the desert because it was so different from anything I have so far experienced. And it's not over yet because after Cusco we are heading to Nazca and the lines in the desert. By Lima the desert will be pretty much a memory.
Abandoned adobe village. It was flooded at some point.

Adobe construction.

A traffic jam in the middle of the desert.

Abandoned phosphate mine at Chucabuca.

Political prisoners were housed here in 1973-74.

Phosphate is gone but other mining exists.

My hand in the desert shot. Took 3 trips to Chile to get it.

The road north.

Tocopilla Golf Club

Not sure what this is about but in the after-life he has his booze, TV, smokes and his favorite hard hat.

Beach front high rise apartments.

Climbing from the coast road to the inland route and Arica in northern Chile.

Humberstone. Abandoned nitrate mine.

Not much to see  --

which ever way you look.

salt encrusted tundra. 

An example close up.

There are lots of these on the side of the road but this one was the biggest I ever saw.

Just the desert.

A 180 degree shot.

Huge valleys

180 degree shot of above

The driver beware message is pretty graphic in Chile

Ya gotta have a shot like this - yes?

Some sort of settlement in a valley

Typical cluster of dwelling next to the road.

Real estate agent: "You have an uninterrupted view".

"Each section is surveyed and clearly marked"

"First you need to build a straw house"

"Getting from the highway to your street is still a work in progress."

"But we have erected street signs and entrance identifiers"

"A few sections have already been sold."

"Second thing is to build a fence to keep out those pesky neighbours."

"As your wealth increases you can convert to brick over straw."

"Or you could move into a gated community."

"Unfortunately you are some way from the supermarket."

"But the driving experience could be a highlight."

This strikes me as a good use of the desert.

Quite why the air base needs such a long fence beats me.
 It's not like the neighbours over the road are a problem

Add water and the darn place turns green.

Litter, litter everywhere. These are piles of broken glass fizz bottles.