Our last days cycling in Peru


We arrived in Cusco at the beginning of September ahead of schedule. We were pretty exhausted from 2 months of intense cycling in Peru so decided to spend a week relaxing in the comfortable surroundings of our couchsurfer host Juan Carlos’ house. He has been the perfect host and we have really enjoyed our time with him. During our time in Cusco, I had to make an unexpected trip to the dentist having dislodged half of my tooth as a result of eating a toffee. What initially seemed to be a bit of an inconvenience has in fact turned out to be quite a positive thing. We are now both getting a full overhaul at the local dentist at a fraction of the price of back home. A trip to the dentist in South America is an experience and has made us realise that we have both become quite accustomed to the latino culture and their quirky ways. Everyone in latin america seems to be addicted to TV soaps, and to our amusement this includes dentists while giving fillings and talking on the phone while a dental nurse rattles on incessantly about needing a holiday. I had to go back for several appointments and made an appointment for a Saturday night .. when I turned up, I was informed ‘oh come back Monday, the dentist has gone home’. It was only after leaving that I realised that it is fully acceptable to make an appointment even though the dentist has no intention of being there on a Saturday night. This is the latino way which we have now become to accept!

We had a really nice week in Cusco and had some nice nights out with our new amigos Juan Carlos and Kelly discovering the local nightlife.

Martin looking like a pop star on one of our nights out ..

As we are awaiting the arrival of our friend Simon from Newcastle (who will now arrive tomorrow), we decided to clock up some miles on the road and get as close to the Bolivian border as we could as we had time on our hands. We set off on a three and a half day cycle to Puno located on the shores of Lake Titicaca and considered to be the cradle of the Inca civilization. From here we planned to visit some of the islands on the lake.  

We set off on the road for Puno last Tuesday morning. We weren’t long on the road before I got a puncture … and then another .. and then another. Despite a day of constant repairs for my bike, we met some lovely people en route.

We came across some pre-Inca and Incan ruins at Pikillacta on the road from Cusco to Urcos and while fixing my puncture, we got chatting to five Chilean motorbikers who rode from Chile in 5 days and were headed to Cusco. We exchanged tips and stories before hitting the rode once again.

Two locals working as tour guides at the ruins gave us a hand to fix my second puncture and were constantly joking with us. I think we brightened their otherwise dull day in the heat and isolation of the site. People here are always so willing to help out.

We eventually got back on the road and put in a big day of 101km. It was getting dark and we still had 20km+ to go when suddenly my gear cable snapped! I never had as much trouble with my bike in one day! The next day as we were riding out of town we spotted a bike shop. Although the bike mechanic was not familiar with the type of gears on my bike, he did an excellent job to fix it and charged the equivalent of 50p for 40 minutes labour. We gave him a big tip and went on our merry way.  

As with all of Peru the scenery en route was full of superlatives .. 

We followed the train line for much of the route .. 

We also passed some interesting market towns. Below locals gathered on the church steps and women with traditional flat-topped hats with lampshade-like tassles. Great fancy dress outfits. We affectionately call the mountain people the Umpa Lumpas as they remind us of the characters in Willy Wonka.

A selection of herbs from a local market ..

It has struck me that there are so many parallels between the Andean (Quechua) people in Peru and the Incas and they are in fact direct descendants. They have kept the ancient language of Quechua alive which was also the native tongue of the Incas, are highy dependent on llamas due to their ability to survive at high altitudes. They like the Incas are mountain people and employ terracing methods to farm the land, are incredibly hard workers and are very close to nature. Cycling through the Andes in Peru this past 2 months has really brought the Inca civilisation alive for me … the Quechua mountain people of Peru are for me the modern day Incas and it makes being in Cusco even more special as this was the centre of Incan civilisation.  

I can’t imagine things have changed that much in the Andes for many hundreds of years. Everyday agro scenes highlight this …

A man working hard ploughing the land

An elderly couple sowing seeds

Some curious looking llamas look on as we cycle by. The Incas called the llama the "silent brother" and were highly dependent on them for food, clothing and blankets and as a sacrifice to the Inca gods. 

As we approached Abra La Raya at 4338m, a gentle pass leading to the Altiplano  a sense of relief washed over us as this would be our highest point cycling for a while. We approached the altiplano. It felt strange to cycle on flat ground so high in the Andes. It was cold, isolated and windwept.

The next day we had our longest day on the trip and covered a distance of 141km at an altitude of almost 4000m. It was tough going as we had strong head winds and the road was sometimes in poor condition but we knew we would appreciate it in the morning as the ride to be Puno would be a short day for us. 

We had an early rise the next morning and on our approach to Puno, we had our first view of Lake Titicaca with its amazing dark cobalt blue color.

Lake Titicaca: some stats …
Located at 3800 metres above sea level. Claims that it is the highest navigable lake but we in fact discovered that it is in fact Lake Junin ,also in Peru and which we cycled past weeks ago.

The lake is 176km long and 50km wide. 60% of Lake Titicaca is in Peru, 40% in Bolivia

According to the Incan mythology, this is the place where the world was created and has long been considered a sacred place among indigenous Andean peoples.

From Puno we took an early morning boat to the Uros floating islands and Isla de Taquile on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.

The floating islands are inhabited by the Uros Indians and they have created land for themselves in the quite serene settings of the lake. The foundations of the islands are made from blocks formed from the roots of the totora reeds.  

Some scenes from Lake Titicaca..

The island we visited housed seven families. The islanders seem to lead a peaceful and simple lifestyle. They eat local birds, fish and bake their own bread which we sampled. The houses are made from totora reeds harvested from the lake. They also use the reeds for cooking and to build their boats. The women weave and cook. They even sang for us in Spanish, their local language Quechua and in English … a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star which sounded a little odd! Although a bit of a tourist trap, I did not mind as we were a source of  income for these very friendly and welcoming people.

Quirky facts ..

The floating islands do in fact float. If there are any disputes on the floating islands, they simply physically cut the islands to separate the fueding families. 

On Isla de Taquile the men can be seeing walking around knitting.

A President is elected on the island and is recognised by wearing a black hat. He has to be married though as it is deemed a married man is more responsable.

On Isla de Taquile their dress is highly symbolic and the colours on their hats highlight their marital status.

The next island we visited, Isla de Taquile, is located further out on Lake Titicaca and is not made of reeds. The Quechua people that live here are also very friendly, and have a collective community. Again they put on a spectacle for us and we were treated to their local dance, tasted their local foods, and had a demonstration on how soap is made from a local plant to clean the wool for weaving. You never know when this could come in handy in the future! Again a bit touristy but it is nice to be a tourist for a day from time to time!  

A man making detergent and woman weaving

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