Day 184 – Copacabana, BO to La Paz, BO

Day 184 – Copacabana, BO to La Paz, BO 02/21/11 Mileage: 102

After tracking down some breakfast, I packed the bike and split for La Paz.

One last look around town on the way to breakfast…

Low on fuel, my first stop was at a gas station in Copacabana…but it was closed…and so was the other one. It was around 10am, so it’s not like it was too early…hmmm.

A view of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca…

I pressed on towards the ferry at San Pedro de Tiquina hoping to find gas there…but no luck.

Coming into San Pedro de Tiquina to catch the ferry…

On the ferry I met a Swiss couple, Ornella and Fabian, who have been traveling around the America’s in their 4×4 VW camper….cool!

Off the ferry I again was on the hunt for gas, but like the previous gas stations, the next 4 were either out of gas or closed completely. I had no choice but to press on towards La Paz…now running on vapor.

Sure enough in a few miles the bike started to sputter and I had to switch to the reserve. The countdown was on, I had around 40 miles of gas in the reserve tank and 1 liter in my stove bottle…which would get me another 10-15 miles. I had already dropped my pace a while back to save fuel, and now I tucked in behind a slow moving mini-bus to block the wind and hopefully stretch what gas I had left. Mercifully though, around 30 miles later there was a gas station that was open and had gas…which was in the process of being delivered by a tanker! The smell of fresh, wholesome gas pouring into my tank never smelt so good! Now with a full belly of fuel I was free to make the run to La Paz, so I cracked the throttle on the KLR and whipped up the pace. Soon I was flying by minibuses and trucks like they were in a parking lot and it felt good to be able fly again. I reached the outskirts of La Paz and El Alto and my high speed flight was over…now I was in a traffic dogfight.

The view of La Paz coming down from El Alto…

Riding in cities where there are few traffic laws and even fewer adhered to, the only way to get anywhere is to ride aggressive and use the bikes acceleration and maneuverability to your advantage.

I sliced and diced my way into the heart of La Paz and made my way to the Adventure Brew Hostal. Yep, a hostal that has it’s own brewery, secure parking for the KLR and books mountain bike trips to the famous Death Road in the mountains above La Paz…sounds like a place purpose built for me! Oh, a beer and breakfast is included with your stay too…nice.

After settling in I went out in search of some spare gas cans to strap to the bike, which I planned on purchasing here anyway despite this mornings gas shortage.

Searching for spare fuel cans in the bustling LA Paz markets…

My planned route in southern Bolivia across the Atacama Desert will exceed the range of the KLR, so I’ll need to carry extra fuel. I was also told of fuel shortages in parts of Argentina, so the extra fuel will provide a safety net there as well. Of course, finding gas cans, even in a city this large has proved difficult. The closest I came was a little old lady selling used plastic containers from a street stand. Amongst the used cooking oil jugs and gallon shampoo containers were 2 gallon size 40W oil containers. Seeing as the KLR has an appetite for 40W oil anyway, I figured any residue in there wouldn’t be a problem. So, I purchased the 2 containers for 6 Bolivianos (85 cents) and a picture with her.

Back at the hostal I collected my free beer and got it on a poker game…and promptly lost my ass. Luckily for me, there was no money involved and the first man out, which was me, got a shot as a consolation prize. After some wifi and a few more beers, I stumbled down to my room, 1 floor down…convenient!

The 4th floor pub at the Adventure Brew Hostal….complete with a great view of downtown La Paz…

Tomorrow it’s off to ride the famous Death Road, not with the KLR, but with a mountain bike!

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Day 183 – Puno, PE to Copacabana, BO

Day 183 – Puno, PE to Copacabana, BO 02/20/11 Mileage: 90

The rain was coming down in buckets when I woke up so I lingered in my room and watched some CNN…in english…a rare treat of sorts. The rain let up around 11 so I packed the bike and set out for the Bolivian border. I took the road that followed the west shore of Lake Titicaca which was scenic and a nice ride.

They say it is the highest navigable lake in the world…whatever that means…but I can say that it is for sure BIG and also high at 12,500 feet above sea level. I was started to run low on fuel and I only had 16 soles left…enough for just over gallon of gogo juice. The gas station I found would not take US dollars, so I got my 16 soles worth and continued towards Bolivia. I calculated that I had just enough fuel to get to Copacabana just beyond the Bolivian border….so I pressed on.

Passing through Yunguyo, PE

I arrived at the Peruvian side of the border and it was the usual song and dance. I was told to first go to the National Police office, but they told me to go to the aduana (customs) office first, where I was told to go to immigration first, where I was told I had to go to a different National Police office first! WTF…is this their first time doing this…don’t they do this sh*t every day for a living?! So off to National Police office #2 where the officer applied a stamp to my tourist card, then back to immigration where the official applied his stamp. Now it was back to customs to cancel the bike import permit, which he did with his stamp. I asked if I could keep a copy, but he said no and angrily rattled of some spanish I didn’t understand. Okeee, now it was back to National Police office #1 where they in fact asked for a copy of my canceled bike permit…the one the customs official wouldn’t give me. I went back to the customs office and explained that the National Police needed a copy of the canceled permit, but he insisted they did not. Alrighty…back to the National Police where I explained as best I could that customs has my canceled permit and he says the you the police don’t need it. Well, they insisted they did need it, so it was time to do what I always did in my professional life whenever people started playing the finger pointing game…call a conference. I went back and asked the customs official to accompany me to the National Police office to settle the disagreement. So after a few minutes of official cock fighting, the police got the canceled permit…after all, they do have the guns! That completed, the police let me pass (but not before asking for a tip, which they did not get) and I was on to the Bolivian border post where, I have to essentially do the whole process in reverse. Ahhh, the joy of border crossings. The process in Bolivia was mercifully straight forward…immigration, customs, national police…not too bad. The only bummer is that U.S. citizens are charged $135 for a visa to enter, making this the most expensive country to enter yet. The fee however is in reciprocity for the fee the U.S. started charging Bolivian citizens to enter the U. S…so you can’t blame them. So, with all the border formalities complete, I was set loose in Bolivia…country number 14! I decided to hold up in Copacabana just beyond the border as I liked the vibe and the town is situated in a nice setting right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I found a room at the Hotel Ambassador where there were many stickers on the front door from other overland travelers.

The Hotel Ambassador

My room at the Ambassador…not to bad…

Copacabana, Bolivia on the shores of Lake Titicaca…

I found dinner at a cool little joint called Nimbo which has unique decor and nice pooch guarding the entrance.

Tomorrow it’s off to La Paz….

Day 182 – Cusco, PE to Puno, PE

Day 182 – Cusco, PE to Puno, PE      02/19/11      Mileage: 244

After running some last minute errands, I gassed up the KLR and headed south for Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. With my late start I was more than likely going to be riding the last stretch in the dark, but the road was paved the entire way and hopefully I could make up some time. Well, you know that wasn’t going to happen and in the back of my mind I knew it too. It’s just impossible to go any kind of distance down here compared to what is possible in the US in a day…where 500+ miles, even on a KLR, is easy to do. There were some stretches of high plains where the road was arrow straight and I could open it up. But soon, the ever present rain started and I had to back off the pace a bit. With the cold and rain, I just wasn’t compelled to take many pictures, in fact I didn’t take any. All told I had to roll the last 2 hours in the dark and rain…a calculated risk for sure. After a few attempts, I finally found a room with secure parking at the Hotel Arequipa. Tomorrow, it’s on to Bolivia, country number 14…

Token picture: I warm little pizza joint with an authentic brick oven….nothing washes away 240 cold, wet miles like hot pizza and cold beer…   😉

Day 179 – 181 – Cusco, PE

Day 179 – 181 – Cusco, PE      02/16-18/11      Mileage: Local miles

The last three days were workdays of sorts as I had a laundry list of things to do…including actual laundry which I dropped off first thing. I pulled the liner out of my helmet and washed it too as I couldn’t bear to put it on again….it was like putting your head in a sweatsock after a football game.

Bit of a demonstration going on in front of the Cusco municipal building.

The bike getting a much needed bath….

The bike needed some routine maintenance so I did that in between rain showers. I also spent several hours updating the blog and returning email after a few days off the grid in Machu Picchu. Since I’m sending some souvenirs home, it was also a good time to sort through my gear and send home things that I no longer need. Thursday night I met Geneviève, the gal from Switzerland I met in Aguas Calientes a few days ago, for what ended up being a late night of drinking and smoking a hookah.

 Today I paid the price with a hangover that lasted all day. Tomorrow, it’s back on the road south towards Bolivia.

Day 178 – Aguas Calientes, PE to Cusco, PE

Day 178 – Aguas Calientes, PE to Cusco, PE      02/15/11      Mileage: 137

I decided to hike out all the way from Aguas Calientes back to Santa Teresa instead of taking the train to the hydroelectric station. So at 8:30 I started walking down the railroad tracks which parallels the now raging Urubamba River. It was a great morning free from yesterdays rain and the temperature was perfect.

The main square in Aguas Calientes

The raging Rio Urubamba

Looking up at Machu Picchu from the valley below…

Hiking along the tracks back to Santa Teresa

It took 2 hours to get back to the hydroelectric station. I had to use an alternate pedestrian bridge as the one I crossed 2 days prior had been washed out last night.

Repairing the bridge after it was washed out the night before…

 That doesn’t bode well for the streams and dirt road I had to traverse on the bike to get out of here. Farther down the road had been washed out were I had stopped to take a picture the other day…I thought the road was a bit close to the river, and apparently it was.

The road was there 2 days ago…

 I was on foot anyway, so I just climbed up the bank onto some boulders and hopped across. Back in Santa Teresa I collected the KLR and left town heading back to Santa Maria and the road back to Cusco. Shortly out of town I was stopped at the point were I had crossed the land slide 2 days ago. A bulldozer was still in the process of clearing it, but the road opened with in half an hour….great!

The rest of the road out was muddy in spots and there was some fallen rock and slide debris here and there, but it was all passable.

Clearing another fresh land slide…

This rock slide took up most of the road and it was a little dicey sneaking by it with the cliff on the right!

After topping up the tank in Santa Maria, it was back up and over the pass back into the Sacred Valley.

Another stream crossing….whitewater motorcycling?

Passing through Ollabtaytambo I saw another KLR sitting in the town square. I pulled over and the owner, Alex, came up and we started swapping stories.

 

He started from his home in Texas a few months ago and was heading for Ushuaia too…that makes 4 riders in 2 days! We exchanged emails and I continued heading back to Cusco.

Night and rain caught up to me about 20 miles from Cusco so the last part of the ride home wasn’t too pleasant, but that certainly didn’t spoil another great day.

Day 177 – Machu Picchu

Day 177 – Machu Picchu      02/14/11      Mileage: 0

The alarm went off at 4:15 and there are not many things I enjoy getting up that early for, but Machu Picchu I guess is one of them. I had to be up that early so I could be on line for the bus ahead of the crowds and hopefully get to hike up Wayna Picchu(the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu)….as they only let 400 people hike up per day. I figured I came this far…might as well try to do it all. The plaza in Aguas Calientes was empty, but as soon as I turned the corner by the shuttle buses I saw at least 150 people already in line…what time did they get up?! It was another hour wait until they started loading the buses, but I was confident that I was still going to be one of the first 400. The bus ride took about half an hour up a steep switchback road. At the visitor center there was another line and I thought I recognized a couple about 10 people in front of me. I went up and asked where I know them from, but we couldn’t place it. I asked Beto if he rides and he said that he and his girlfriend, Tracy, are riding 2-up on a KTM 990 from Colombia to Ushuaia! They also happen to be talking to another rider, Andrew, who’s from the UK riding a Yamaha XT600 and is on a round the world trip! What a stroke of luck to meet 3 other adventure riders. So enough yada yada…..here are the pics…..

Beto and Tracy

The view of Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu

Andrew, Beto and Tracy on Wayna Picchu

These “stairs” are every bit as steep as they look in the picture!

Beto, Tracy, Andrew and I ended up touring the ruins together for a while and exchanged info in the hopes of meeting somewhere down the road. Beto and Tracy went to find the guide they had arranged for and Andrew and I hiked out to see the Inca bridge.

The Inca bridge…

It was pouring at this point so Andrew and I decided we’d seen enough and took the bus back to Aguas Calientes. We were soaked like drowned rats and looking to dry out over a hot meal. We settled into a descent restaurant and chatted about our trips. Afterwards he split for the train back to Ollantaytambo and I went to get dry room as it was too late to make my way back to Santa Teresa. That night the power went out and all the restaurants and businesses were lit by candlelight which made for a very nice scene.

Even the tienda’s looked nice in the candlelight…lol

After a few drinks, light dinner, and some great laughs with a new friend, Genevieve from Switzerland, I called it a day…and a very full and rewarding one at that.

Day 176 – Cusco, PE to Aguas Calientes, PE

Day 176 – Cusco, PE to Aguas Calientes, PE       02/13/11      Mileage: 137

Motorcycle, train and an automobile…it would take me all three today to get to Aguas Calientes…the gateway to Machu Picchu. There are officially 2 ways to get to Machu Picchu, the Inca trail (which is closed due to heavy rain) and the train to Aguas Calientes. Now, I could have of course just gotten on the direct train from Cusco, but where’s the challenge or adventure in that? I had heard and read about a “back way” to Machu Picchu and that sounded like the more “fun” and interesting way. So I topped up the tank on the KLR and headed north out of Cusco. The weather was, well, not raining and that is to say it was great for this time of year in the mountains of Peru. The road was paved and the scenery was great as I passed Chinchero and descended into the Sacred Valley towards Urubamba.

Looking across the Sacred Valley at the snow capped peaks…

Looking down at the town of Urubamba…

Riding the Sacred Valley

Continuing up the valley past the town of Ollantaytambo, the road turned sharply up the mountain pass and soon I was back in the rain and fog.

The air turned cold, so cold I had to break out my winter riding gloves again…something I’ve done only a handful of times since Alaska. Once over the pass the road descended as sharply as it had climbed, plummeting over 10,000 feet into the valley below.

The road also turned to dirt, and more specifically mud in many spots so it was slow going much of the way to the turn off to Santa Teresa.

The road crossed the raging Urubamba River once more and began to climb up a steep canyon.

I had to cross a few fast moving streams, but only maybe 8-10 inches deep. But then I came to a fast moving stream where the water was over 2 feet deep. Fast moving water isn’t a problem if there’s not that much of it nor is 2 feet of water that’s relatively calm…but together it’s a significant obstacle. I got off the bike and walked across to scope it out…wet boots are much easier to deal with than a swamped motorcycle. There were some large rocks but I did find one line that seemed possible, so I decided to go for it.

Dosen’t look too bad in the pictures….  😉

I eased the KLR up to the edge of the water and then rolled on the throttle. The rear end bucked around as it searched for traction on the slippery stream bed, but was able to tractor through it and up onto the far bank. Several miles later I came upon a relatively fresh landslide. A few vehicles were stopped on either side of it and the drivers were evaluating the relative safety of crossing it. Some vehicles clearly crossed as there were a set of tracks.

I dismounted and walked it myself, and figured I could make it if I stick to the inside tire track. If I fell to the right when crossing, that wouldn’t be so bad, but if I fell to the left, me and the KLR would tumble into the ravine for sure! So after taking a good look, I was fairly confident I could stick the line, so I eased the bike up and onto the slide and with a few dabs with my right foot, I was across.

The last few miles into Santa Teresa were uneventful and I found secure parking for the bike at a small hostal.

See…you can ride your bike to Machu Picchu…    😉

That leg of the journey complete, next was to hike to the hydroelectric plant where there is a local train to Aquas Calientes. The problem was the pedestrian bridge across the Urubamba in Santa Teresa was washed out, and the next bridge across was a vehicle bridge a several kilometers away up a dirt road. I could walk it, but then I would miss the train and end up walking the entire way to Aguas Calientes. If I had more daylight, that’s what I would have done, but I didn’t want to hike in the dark. Given the few options, I hired a car to take me up the road to the hydroelectric station. The road in spots ran right next to the river, so close it seemed at times as if I was looking up at the river wave crests!

The river was right next too the road and it was swollen and angry…like a giant milkshake still in the blender.

See the BIG rock….

…..now you don’t…gone!!

If the river came up any higher, that road is a gonner for sure. I made it just in time to buy a one way ticket and hop on the train.

The “tourist” class car was really nice…much too nice for a smelly biker, but then again it better be for the 52 soles it cost. Locals only pay 2 soles…that is tourist robbery! The train left just before dark so I wasn’t able to enjoy the scenery along the way. We pulled into Aguas Calientes shortly after 8pm…so it took just over 11 hours to get here from Cusco.

In the end, was it worth all the effort and the cold, rain, mud, swollen streams and land slides…you bet.  😉