Juliaca to Cusco: Cicalistas en la berma

21:03

The sign read: CUSCO 244.60km. Such confidence to use two decimal places! I'd left Ayaviri and had put in sufficient distance to warrant a biscuit stop. Whilst I was sat leaning on a fencepost, munching away, swigging coke and reading, a cycle-tourer pulled up.
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Mike started his trip down in Puerto Montt and will finish, albeit a little reluctantly, in Cusco. We pressed on together with mountainous scenery on the horizon looming ever closer. Gradually, the road climbed and, by lunchtime, we found ourselves at the top of Abra La Raya: a 4338m pass. Here you can purchase a great variety of tourist-tat, listen to poorly played flute or take photos of a lady in traditional costume with a vicuna in tow. A bus load of tourists were hoarded out for these purposes. As we lunched we were pestered by a maniacally grinning barefoot village idiot.
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We rolled down the other side into a superb valley. Coming the other way we met four Ecuadorian cyclists. Their trip will take them from Quito to Iguazu. Along the way they are visiting the most dramatic waterfalls. Especially of interest for me were their homemade panniers made from old barrels. Very tough, very waterproof and very cheap, but perhaps a bit heavy. I am always impressed with the resourcefulness of South American cycle tourers. Basic mountain bikes, cobbled together racks but they are off and doing it!
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We turned up in Sicunai in the middle of a parade of school children, all in sports kit, blowing whistles as they were an army of tiny lunatic referees. Weird. We got a hospedaje and went out to get fried chicken and chips and be interrogated by a plastered Peruvian.

"Where are you from?" he asked us.
"England," we told him.
"Argentina?"
"No, England. In Europe," we persisted.
"Ah," he seemed to comprehend. Then, as an afterthought, he asked, "Where are you from?"

In the morning another parade. This time a mile long cacophony of those tuk-tuk type things, with balloons and decorations, all beeping their horns.
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More peacefully, our day's cycling took us through a valley of small villages with terracotta tiled roofs. The steep-sided mountains around us were lush green and here and there were signs that they were once terraced for agriculture. We had lunch in a cafe looking out on cobble streets and bell tower of a colonial church of the village plaza. Then we got ice-creams.
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Disappointingly, our downhill day was thwarted by a strong headwind. Nevertheless, we arrived in Urcos. Particularly nice was a bedsheet depicting an owl, polar bear, fox, leopard, seal and penguin. In the plaza we found a nice place with chicken being roasted over an open fire for dinner.
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With only a short hop left to Cusco we climbed out of town. We passed several more typically Peruvian villages. There was a lake where some children were rolling out clay into a frame to make tiles. Black smoke rose from a shack that presumably was a kiln. Goodness knows what they burn. Later we passed a curious structure, perhaps dating back to Inca times. I think it was an aqueduct but it may also have been some kind of fortification as it was at a strategic location close to Cusco and at the top of a small pass.
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Cusco is a big city. After passing the "Bienvenidos a Cusco" banner we still had another 40 minutes of cycling through suburbs and outskirts before we arrived in the historic centre. It started to drizzle. Pulling up in front of the cathedral we took photos in a brief respite in the rain and then went for a big pizza dinner.


For a different take on the last few days, a lot of terrific photos, and a rude comment about my hair...take a look at Mike's post.

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