Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Walk Through the Andes: Part 1

Upon reaching Cusco, the air about the city is that of Incan history; of great architecture and great lore. It was hard to be in this once capital of the Incan Empire and not think about the eventual visit to Machu Picchu. It was, after all, the great South American experience and demanded nothing less than the extravagant. So we decided to walk.

Well, mostly walk it. The first day of our journey we mounted our "brand new" bikes and headed down the ridges of the Andes Mountains. As the rain poured down, our brakes squealing as a result, we hydroplaned around and around the peaks with our rickety bicycles threatening to fall apart.

Racing down, our pedals served no purpose other than foot rests and our raincoats and water resistant hiking boots were nothing more than resistance training devices for when we do this dry. Gravity pulled us faster and faster closer to sea level and we tried to avoid its easy solution of a steep drop off on one side side of the road.

Zipping down at, sometimes, uncomfortable speeds, wearing our water drenched clothes due to the unstoppable, blinding rain, rain the size of watermelons or cantaloupes, we passed through rapids pouring down the mountain eating away at the landscapes. The torrent of water that splashed us struggled to find a dry place to soak.

As the sheets washed down from the clouds five feet above our head, the ground beneath our feet was feeling soggier and looser. Then there was the landslides; giant masses of earth displaced from it's home somewhere up the mountain now occupying the entire width of our path to somewhere dry. With cars stopped and their drivers scratching their heads and slipping on their poncho's, we test the structural integrity of our bikes over used shocks. The mud lifts itself to our boots and splatters and dots the cuffs of our jeans, but does little to change our heavy our legs feel.

After two hours of fruit-sized rain, landscape changing landslides and bicycles unfit for use as spare parts, we found ourselves upon a roadside tienda. A one-woman shop with a tarp as a roof. Underneath the the wapping of water hit the tarp from above, we, the insane group, sat on waterlogged wooden benches with our tea, coffee and warm beer. Not a dry spot in site. Maybe it was the conditions of nature or conditions of mind, but our manual travel was done for the day. The bus would carry us the rest of the way to Santa Theresa for a warm meal, warm bed, and a line for our wet clothes.

To Be Continued...

Travel tip: When embarking on a tour, ask about the weather for the duration of the trip and about the availability of food and water. It can get cold and tiendas are sparse in the jungle!

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