FOREWORD: Below is an e-mail I sent to friend. It describes pretty well my current situation in Peru and gives a sneak peek into my Chilean plans. Lots of interesting activities coming up, including National Park Torres del Paine, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, la Isla del Sol, and much more. I’ll of course write more when I find myself in these beautiful locations. For now, below I share with you a recycled e-mail to keep this blog up to speed.
All better, cured and alive in Cusco…Once again I’ve been blessed with a great Couchsurfer who is kind beyond words, has an active social life, and a warm shower to help shake my last signs of sickness. I’ve learned it’s almost impossible to find a Couchsurfing host in Cusco—there are foreigners everywhere, which means annoying requests everyday—but the afternoon I arrived I was not only given a bed but was invited to a going-away party at a bohemian bar, made part of the crew, and walked the late-night cobblestone streets passing my hands along Incan masonry as the others bounced drinking songs off the narrow alleyway walls. The next day we had a BBQ drink-a-thon at the house, which I’m sure was great for my recovering body. Thanks to a subtle comment I made the night before about my skinniness, all made sure my plate was piled high with meat, with the biggest, best portions pulled off the grill just for me. My experience with Peruvians in Cusco has been amazing so far.
I imagine the I-can-do-anything feeling I got from completing my last four bike days to be similar to what it must feel like to finish a marathon. It was by far the most challenging part of my trip. As challenges usually go, it was also the most rewarding, with off-road encounters with Quecha-speaking sheep herders and big sky views from above the clouds. More than once I had shiver fits at over 12,000 feet that made wish for tropical climates again, but threatening storm clouds snapped me back into survival mode. There were also many sweaty descents into river valleys that forced me to stop and strip layers, tying the extra clothes atop Bob to dry in the sun. I took a night bus from Ayacucho to Andahuaylas—a winding, dirt road with several extreme climbs—only because it rained all day on my planned departure. I didn’t want to take a bus through this difficult section, because as my blog says I’m biking not busing South America, but timing, sickness, and the relentless downpours left me with little choice.
Half of the other 300-some kilometers to Cusco were rutted gravel back roads that gave me a certain adventurer’s satisfaction. Very few people will ever see, for example, a stone hut nestled on a grassy patch between two jagged peaks swallowed by a cloud as it rolled up a cliff, making everything within view disappear in white. I stopped and watched it arrive in awe. The whole scene felt as if it was part of another world, an ancient world that shouldn’t exist but still does. I get the feeling this world just wants to be left alone—though the workers, herders, and elders in the fields were happy enough to share small moments with this eccentric biker.
I had some culture shock arriving to Cusco’s main plaza where trash cans are marked with McDonald’s golden arches and American hipsters act like international men of mystery on park benches. I don’t think I’m better than anyone, I don’t think I’m special for biking instead of busing, I try to be humble in the simplest ways, but seeing all these foreigners with big glasses and designer clothes was stranger than meeting a sheep herder who is stuck in the 15th century. I wanted to tell them to be humble before the great mystery before them, that if they don’t know they shouldn’t pretend they do, that their fake parade does little to bring them closer to what they’re really searching for. It may have been anger I felt at first, I’m not sure where it rose from or why, but soon it turned into a weird case study, like having different chimpanzees in a line up behind two-way glass for behavioral comparisons. A ray of compassion may have sneaked out with the initial flash of anger when I saw all the travelers congregated in the plaza, because in the end I know we’re basically the same, but it was much too small and accidental to be proud of. I’m not sure what this means exactly, but I’m slowly seaming together these two opposite worlds. Cusco really is beautiful if you can scrape off the fool’s gold with which 21st century man has painted the city.
Even when I went out with my Couchsurfer’s friends who all work in hospitality and hotels I became aware that their hotel profit and campaign strategy conversations made me feel not only uninterested but a little alienated. It’s just not my mindset right now. It’s funny how my tiny world is such a dramatic thought roller coaster. Since I spend so many hours a day with my uninterrupted mind, my reality seems to blur with daydreams, mild obsessions (like my week of studying the communist rebel group The Shining Path in Ayacucho), etc, etc. I won’t say I don’t like disappearing from the world, because I do. It just makes reality that much more hard to swallow when I return, ha….
…I’m catching the first of many buses to Santiago de Chile tomorrow evening. Forty-eight travel hours total. Today I spent most of the day finalizing my parents’ vacation plans. I reserved a room at a Dutch couple’s wood cabin get-away in the mountains south of Santiago. This same couple biked South America, bought property in the exact spot where they camped years back on their bike tour, and set up a small B&B in the untouched wilderness. The room I reserved for my parents has a roof that opens up to the stars; there is a common pool in the middle of the rustic lodges and a super secret Dutch sauna ritual that sold me completely on their accomodations. I’m going to pitch my tent out back to save my parents some cash. In a way I prefer this when in the mountains. All the above for US $40 a night.
That same weekend I rented a car to visit wineries, small towns famous for cheese, and winding mountain roads that cut through grape fields and canyons. If the dates line up we may horseback ride through sand dunes a night close to a full moon. The whole trip is five hours, three on horse, two around a beach fire with live music and a banquet of traditional Chilean foods. A Chilean friend recommended the excursion, saying more Chileans take part than tourists. Unfortunately, or fortunately, January’s full moon falls on New Years. I’m not sure I want to sacrifice one of the greatest firework shows in the world (in Valparaiso) and a night on the town with the same Chilean friend to be on a secluded beach with a smelly horse. We’ll see what happens….
Next time you hear from me I’ll be in Chile…