Dakar 2012 Highlights Video: Featuring Darkcycd
Check out this video clip featuring Robb Rill and the Darkcyd Racing Team in South America for the Dakar 2012 edition. Shot and produced by the Dakar organization and features an interview with Robb prior to the start of the race. Good stuff.
For the first time on this nearly 10,000km journey, the Darkcyd Racing Team rose at near sunrise and calmly and collectively packed camp and headed out of the Pisco Bivouac before the last of the cars and the trucks. I’m sure many on the team would confess relief, excitement and express jubilee as the end of this long trip was just a few hundred kilometers away. However, I’m sure that most would hesitate to reveal a certain post-Dakar disappointment or depression settling in. To be sure, no one will miss Bivouac food, gnarly and questionable shower and toilet facilities, wind, biting sand and the roaring and revving of engines all night long. But we’re at the end.
The Dakar competitors still vying for a position on the podium have other things on their minds. For the bikes, I have to admit that it’s over. Despite my finger-crossing, wishing and positive thoughts going out to Marc Coma, Cyril Despres walked away with the #1 spot on the podium Troubles with Coma’s gearbox cost him yet another penalty, this time one-hour. Though I felt a little tingle today as Portuguese rider Helder Rodrigues riding on his Red Bull Yamaha grabbed the top spot on Stage 13 and beat Despres by just :47 seconds. So, maybe I just don’t prefer riders on KTMs, though I was rooting for Coma. By the time we rolled into Lima Despres had it locked in with Coma and Rodriques taking 2nd and 3rd positions accordingly.
While my allegiance to Coma for the bikes met with disappointment , I was more disappointed by the ending results for the cars. I know this is a French-run race and that the French have incredibly capable and professional motorcycle racers and car racers, when will an American walk away with the top spot on the podium for cars? Robby Gordon had set his team’s sites on #1 and #2 for 2012. But he too fell short. Before taking off yesterday morning Gordon was rather vocal that he’d take the (13th) stage away from the ‘sissy’ Minis. But he pushed too hard. After getting stuck in the sand and seeing Peterhansel pull away before he got out, he floored his special-built Hummer and drove it a bit too hard as he tried to talk Peterhansel, he hopped over a small dune and landed a tad cockeyed and flipped his Speed Energy Hummer and landed on the roof. The locals quickly got him on his way, but two flat tires cost him more time and he never caught the Mini’s.
On the podium we watched corks flying and champagne spewing. Flags waving and happy finishers grinning ear to ear. For those who made it this far, now was time for their glory.
But on the final stage, a short 29km run into Lima, Gordon showed once and for all who should be boss and he won the final stage by just 21 seconds ahead of Ricardo Leal Dos Santos, though not enough to make a dent in the standings. So by the time the he rolled into Lima, Gordon ended up with a respectable, but not desirable, 5th place overall position. He guaranteed the Mini’s and the crowd that he’ll be back.
Our Canadian teammate David Bensadoun driving the banana colored Desert Warrior became the first Canadian to ever complete a Dakar and took 40th place, though he was 30 hours behind the winner Stephane Peterhansel. And the only other Americans to finish the race behind Robby Gordon, Darren Skilton in a Revolution VI buggy and Ned Suesse, from Colorado Springs and riding a KTM motorcycle in his first attempt at Dakar finished 53rd overall.
When it comes to Dakar, finishing is winning. And though the Darkcyd Rally Racing Team’s Desert Warrior didn’t finish in the strict rules of the event, it made the journey and logged over 5,000 miles from Mar del Plata, Argentina to Lima, Peru. There was no cheering on the podium and the somber mood that hung over the team earlier in Argentina had dissipated by the time it was greeted with enormous fanfare staring some 100 miles south of Lima where Peruvian fans had lined the roadsides, crowded the overpasses and steps of bridges all the way to Lima. They whistled, the cheered, they raised there fists high and echoed excitement — excitement that lasted for hours as we rolled into Lima in classic celebrity fashion: with a siren blaring and lights chasing Police Escort.
Darkcyd Racing made it to Lima. Our mission was to get to know and reconnaissance the most grueling and difficult race on the planet. As I watched the faces of its teammates, I could see they all were happy to finish and that they all harbor a desire to come back.
The fans lining the bridges/overpasses was a site that can barely be described using words. It warmed our hearts and sparked our imagination. We’d never see anything like this in the United States.
On the podium we watched corks flying and champagne spewing. Flags waving and happy finishers grinning ear to ear.
For the Darkcyd Racing Team, the Bivouac behind them and traded for 5-star digs in upmarket Mira Flores. With a Starbucks walking distance and the golden arches glowing, it does seem we’ve come a long way. But rather than gravitate to an American safe haven, the team opted for the culinary creations of a traditional Peruvian restaurant, Pampas del Amacayaes, just a few blocks from our hotel.
There was still business in Lima, however. The T-5 support vehicle and the Desert Warrior were delivered to the docks at the shipping port near the Lima Airport. A bit of bureaucratic runaround made for just one more exciting South American adventure.
And then there’s the bicycle. Remember the bike Robb purchased in Arica? Well before taking the Desert Warrior to the port, an eager youngster, handicapped with just one hand, had been gawking and eyeing the race cars and support vehicles all morning while details for shipping were ironed out. Robb singled him out and before one more Lima Police Escort to the port, Robb handed the young boy the bicycle. Tears nearly fell from his eyes as he caressed the bike and expressed thanks. It makes all of us wonder and wish we all had bicycles to give the needy. For those things that sometimes seem meaningless or are taken for granted are so much appreciated and coveted here south of the border. Sometimes we fall victim to our own greed or desire for something just a little better. A dose of reality like watching the one handed boy glee and smile brings everything in perspective.
Dakar may be over. But much work needs to be done.
I’m sure the last thing Raff and Bill wanted to do last night was to remove the transmission from the Desert Warrior. Sure, if we were still in the race and the clock was ticking, that’d be the norm. As spectators and assistance and mired in our ongoing challenges—remember, the T-5 Chevy 2500 has transmission problems of its own—but considering this would be the third time clutch issues with the Desert Warrior had to be addressed. Robb wondered if we were still in the race, would the clutch issues have hampered and caused further problems and prevent Darkcyd’s likely finish. But that’s just hypothesizing and a waste of mind space.
Fact is, when the Desert Warrior rests on solid ground in the USA, the clutch, brakes and differential issues will be a high priority. And not because the team is planning another race for the Desert Warrior, but because the techs need to get more comfortable and intimate with the vehicles idiosyncrasies. But for now, the Desert Warrior had to make it to Lima—preferably under its own power and not behind the battery and transmission challenged RAFFmobile Chevy 2500 T-5.
I combed the passenger compartment of the Desert Warrior and familiarized myself with the safety equipment and nearest exits, but there was no barf bag in the seat pocket. – Allan KarlWe’re just one day out of Lima. Today would be my last day to log some miles in the Desert Warrior. Though yesterday too many hours under the beating sun and a case of indigestion spurred by Bistro Bivouac, I was feeling a bit worn, tired and under the weather. The prospect of climbing into the passenger seat of a race car while in the driver seat sits a zealous and anxious and certainly frustrated race-car driver, I wondered how I’d fare. I combed the passenger compartment of the Desert Warrior and familiarized myself with the safety equipment and nearest exits, but there was no barf bag in the seat pocket. And the pilot had no initial support on how to adjust the five-point racing harness, but it was clear the prior co-driver was quite a bit larger than moi. After some adjusting and support from Raff, Robb and I took off.
It was the earliest departure time on record for the entire Dakar 2012 for the Darkcyd Racing Team. Why? We were anxious to get to a media/press viewing area so we could see the leaders race deeper on stage than we’d seen before. With GPS coordinates locked and a working yet still temperamental clutch, we set out about 6o kilometers to the turn off that would take us another 10-12 kms off road and along yet another set of dunes. As we raced through the sand the Desert Warrior competently squirreled and swerved in the sand. We climbed small dune-ettes and after about 20 minutes we spotted the viewing area. As we approached we could see a spewing trail of dust approaching us. It was Robby Gordon. The race had started.
At barely 8:30am the sun was already unbearable. Dressed in long sleeves and donning a special sun hat, I was loaded with camera gear. I fitted Robb with my spare “Buff” for sun resistance and we headed out to the dunes to watch Dakar action live and up close in the sand. Rather than explain the adrenalin and excitement from watching the race out in the dunes, check out the photos below for the up close action.
Due to our early start, we actually made our arrival to the Bivouac the earliest of our adventure. With the sun still high in the sky, and the dining hall not yet open, we were able to enjoy culture, appetizers and a taste of Pisco Sour in the host hospitality tent. Each country hosts a hospitality tent where, if you are early enough, Dakar bivouac dwellers can get a hint of what the host country offers from a culture, tourism and culinary perspective. Like the rest of our team, hough I’ve been on the road for about two weeks, I’d never made to a bivouac host tent. After today’s experience, I wish that I had.
For the most part, I feel that yesterday’s sun stroke was compounded by today’s dune dwelling photo session—rather than complain I just hydrated with liters of water and though I felt my appetite had escaped, the Peruvian stuffed potatoes, pork filled empanadas and rice with milk settled nicely. We were treated to music and dance from the locals and overall I could sprawl out on a somewhat comfy sofa that was sand free and under the shade of a massive tent. Yes, it feels we’re getting closer to Lima.
The Peruvian bathrooms in the past bivouacs have been perhaps the cleanest, as well. Several attendants rush to the door once you leave a porta-potty and they clean and sanitize the cozy cubicle before another enters. But unlike other bivouac portable potty boxes, the attendants here were committed to almost a Stalinesque-approach to rationing—toilet paper rationing.
The first time I retreated to porta-potty central in Arequipa, I opened a half-dozen doors only to find each void of toilet paper. After the fifth or sixth I barely heard this meek voice from across the yard, “papel? papel?” It didn’t register at first, but then it fell on me like thunder. I nodded, “si, papel, por favor.” She had a stash of pre-rolled toilet paper sheets, perhaps 10-12, and handed me my thin ration. Geeez, I wondered. I know the dining hall crew can be stingy on the good food nights, but 10 sheets of toilet paper after a dinner at Bistro Bivouac? I grabbed my ration and applied a conservative and sustainable approach to my toilet paper usage.
Back at camp I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only person in camp Darkcyd to have been rationed. I guess to gain a little, as the old marketing adage says, you’ve got to give up something. I know Tara gladly gave up the toilet paper rationing — because she always keeps a secret stash—and always a supply of the legendary Action Wipes — oversized and all natural towels for keeping clean and when the showers are just a little to scary — her savior and certainly a life savior for the rest of us as we brave the harsh conditions of Dakar the Desert and the Bivouac.
There are things to learn here in Peru and on the Dakar trail. Toilet paper strategy has been earmarked for future reference.
It’s a race to the finish. That is, who will finish.
With the partial results floating in, the German x-Raid team of Mini Coopers and BMW’s are still holding strong with Peterhansel’s nearly 4 minute jump on teammate Coma in Arequipa, the Frenchman sits 22 minutes ahead of his teammate and more than 2 hours ahead of Robby Gordon who has now slipped to 4th place due to problems with his suspension on the 10th stage.
But the motorcycle battle rages strong here at 2012 Dakar With Cyril Despres winning his 4th stage of this year’s rally and gaining even more time over Marc Coma. Despres now holds the magic number of 2 minutes and 22 seconds ahead of Coma.
With Robby Gordon, Darren Skilton and Ned Suesse the only American’s still competing in the Dakar 2012 Edition, our sights and vibes are set on these teams. Skilton’s team showed their raggedy and tired edge in the Bivouac in Nasca. They were out all night, had no sleep and had to jump right back into the race this morning. I’ve wandered the bivouac for days, and while I’ve seen Suesse on stage, I haven’t been able to find his camp in the bivouac. While I’m sure Gordon is upset about his current 5th place showing, and Darren and team are frustrated with the Revolution VI buggy and the problems that have plagued them, they are proving that the race isn’t always about winning, it’s about enduring—and finishing—ervery stage along the way.
But today it’s all about dunes. The motorcycles get a big of a break after their long stage yesterday, but the cars and trucks will have a total of 657km to run including 245km of special stage — most of this through dunes, some topping over a mile high. Our team and convoy of three vehicles continued our crusade up the coast toward Nasca, famous for the Nasca Lines (sometimes spelled Nazca) a series of ancient geoglyphs stretching for miles in the Desert that shares its name. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the lines are made up of undress of geometric shapes and dozens of zoomorphic designs of animals including a monkey, llamas, condor and more. Discovered in 1927 by a Peruvian archaeologist, they are best seen from air, though they were discovered when the archaeologist was hiking nearby hills.
The Dakar Rally won’t be raging across these mysterious ancient lines, rather they’ll cruise along the cost and then topping those massive dunes. Since Dakar moved to South America four years ago, there have been nothing like these dunes seen by the competitors. Talking with many of the drivers who’d competed in both Africa and South America, it was unanimous that these dunes were closest to what the teams face in Africa — if not even bigger.
The section of massive dunes is continuous for more than 20 kilometers. To negotiate the dunes drivers must carefully perform the “Mauritanian swerve” in order to ascend, crest and descent without incident. The “curve” requires ascending the dunes at an angle and then navigating into an ever so slight decreasing radius, giving driver and co-driver alike a chance to read the opposite side of the dunes. The whipping winds cause these dunes to change in just a moment, so reading the dunes is the most important aspect to successfully navigating without getting stuck, rolling down them or end-overing a vehicle after cresting the opposite side.
We almost had a four-alarm fire when Tara declared an emergency when she discovered her coveted bag of make-up was missing
The route for Dakar changes every year, but the terrain has been fairly consistent. Those who have raced before are well familiar with Argentina and Chile. But this is Peru’s debut, and nobody knows what to expect. While cruising along the cost we passed through the tiny town Tanaka where locals have thrown up an ad-hoc sign stating “Dakar Afraid of Tanaka Dunes.” I decided to stop to learn more about this strategically placed sign that shared a view of the rugged coast and and endless sea of dunes.
It’s possible that A.S.O. considered Tanaka for a dune stage of Dakar, but opted for dunes closer to Nasca. The locals believe that Dakar chose, perhaps, easier and a shorter distance of dues more north. Perhaps feeling stilted or not having the opportunity to host the Dakar competitors, the locals have decided to make a statement. As we gazed out on the dunes, the shapes and windblown geometry reminded me of the Sussevlei dunes in Namibia in southwest Africa.
A rambunctious group of locals, several who’d already had a bit too much to drink this afternoon, were happy to see that we stopped, communicated and inquired. The usually cadre of photographs and autographs followed with a constant reminder that “Dakar is afraid of the Tanaka Dunes.” Harmless and passionate, we bid our friends farewell and cruised up the coast, all along flaking dunes or one type or another. A few hours south of the Bivouac we regrouped with our entire convoy and shared yet another box lunch of questionable “cat” food, chips and more. Peering over the cliff of our lunch spot we noticed a sole shack, a dog and man wandering about. Prime ocean front real-estate we all agreed. But I wondered if raging winter storms wreak havoc on the feeble shack. We waved and cheered and tried to egg the dog to climb the 200 foot cliff to greet us. Didn’t happen.
In the bivouac we had a bit of business to take care. First, Tara determined to make the most of the bivouac and to show up all the women who send in photographs to the editor of Glamour Magazine to share just where some women go with their Galmour Magazine. According to Sara, most contributions are lame and hardly interesting. How many women bring Glamour to Dakar? I can say that last week we almost had a four-alarm fire when Tara declared an emergency when she discovered her coveted bag of make-up had gone temporarily missing. It was an emergency and all hands had to focus on recovering the coveted bag. Turns out the bag wasn’t far at all and this was just a fire drill. But the Glamour Magazine? Always secure and we took advantage of a sunset photo opportunity here in Nasca to capture the essence of Dakar and the contrasting beauty of Glamour.
While we were shooting, I pulled out a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc that our Chilean Fixer had left me for just such an occasion. We pulled the team together and celebrated the countdown to Lima and a sweet taste of a grassy Sauv Blanc.
It’s true. Just one more day and we’ll be making tracks to Lima. The crew, it seems, is ready. The race is winding down. Attrition continues to take its toll on more cars, bikes, trucks and quads. We share the road with trailers hauling broken, beaten and battered vehicles. Inside I wonder how many will be back to try again.
There are a lot of reasons to visit Lake Titicaca. Perhaps you want to find out the truth as legend dictates that in dividing up the lake between the two countries it’s proudly asserted by the Peruvian people that Peru got the titi and Bolivia got the kakka. For me, it’s an all of none experience. Eager to cross the border into Bolivia and explore the lake from that perspective, but rather than jump the gun this morning, Jeremiah and I decided to take a boat ride to the infamous Islas Flotantes (floating islands).
While the floating islands have arguably become Lake Titicaca’s number one tourist attraction, behind the parade of tour boats and staged tours, they are an amazing anomaly and mind-boggling sight here high in the Andes. First, Lake Titicaca has the reputation of being the highest navigable lake in the world, and at 12,500 feet it never freezes because it’s too damn big. Way before the Spaniards came tromping through the region the indigenous Uros started building these islands centuries ago from reeds found near the shore of this massive lake. In their desire to maintain their culture and to forebode the aggression of the Incas and the Collas they isolated themselves on these floating islands. Mind you that the reeds have a rather short lifespan so the reeds on the top are constantly replenished making walking on these unique islands bouncy and mushy. They anchor the islands with the reeds to plants and rocks in the water and as the weather and water levels change they move their islands at will.
Even more, the houses on these islands are built of the tortora reeds and the reeds are also used as a staple food and for boats which they use to fish and, of course, to harvest more reeds. Today more than 300 families live on the floating islands. Some islands refuse to accept tourists while others are happy to share their lifestyle and let you romp around the small islands.
A few hours after our island hopping excursion we were passing through the Peru/Bolivian border and heading into the tiny town of Copacabana, Bolivia – a base-camp for exploring other fixed and permanent islands of Titicaca. Jockeying through crowded market streets of yet another cobblestone colonial town we manage to find our way to our preselected hostel only to find they are sold out. So more jockeying through dark alleys and torn up streets until we found an acceptable place to rest bods and bikes.
Winding my way up and out of Cusco I let my mind drift. Drifting through the history of this Andean city, wondering how life was during the Incas and how things changed after the Spanish Conquest. And then how Cusco was practically forgotten for hundreds of years as the sea-faring Spaniards found Lima to be a more suitable capital and point along the colonial trade route to Quito and Cartagena. I think I gave Cusco my best, but still feel I could have spent more days there enjoying the good food and colonial and Inca architecture by night and cruising the Sacred Valley of Rio Urubamba by day. But I must press on. Already caught in the Andes in the middle of the rainy season, I don’t want to jeopardize my goal of reaching Ushuaia before bad weather makes this an impossible goal to attain safely.
We hoped to make it to Bolivia today. But the gentle curves and fairly good condition of the road that passed through tiny villages, hot springs and along a river where the locals were bathing, doing their laundry and otherwise making a riverside celebration. The colorful clothes laid along the riverbank and the tiny naked bodies of children wallowing made for a peaceful and serene scene as we cruised along. Rolling into the small pueblo of Quiquijana a couple hours south of Cusco, Jeremiah signaled he was feeling a bit drowsy at the wheel of his Dakar so we pulled into town amidst a market day.
A lot of bustling about by the local people, mini-busses dropping and picking people up. Dozens of people milling around the covered yet open air market. Looking for a cold drink we quickly learned there was barely a refrigerator or ice in town. With our bikes parked in front of the busy market I had a good feeling and sensed that our bikes were safe. Far from anything that resembled a tourist stop along the highway toward Puno and Bolivia, Quiquijana is perhaps mostly viewed by travelers through the scratched windows of a bus, but traveling with the freedom of our own transport our time in Quiquijana turned out to be quite interesting.
Sucking down the last drops of Fanta orange soda and a few crackers from a nearby store, I tried to engage in conversation with a few people who stopped to look at the bikes. Most simply didn’t take notice and moved about their business. I found the people hesitant if not unfriendly at first. I pointed to a gentlemen’s baseball cap which sported the team logo of the Boston Red Sox and told him in Spanish that this was a famous baseball team in the United States. Then the convergence started. A small group gathered and just watched. A few men engaged in conversation. And the crowd grew larger. Soon it was spilling both into the market and out into the street. Enough that busses and cars had to slow down and jockey to let vehicles from the other direction pass. I mentioned that I really loved the hats the local people wore. A few “hatless” folks gestured that they didn’t have hats because they were from the town here and that the local people from the villages in the hills wore hats.
Next thing I was handed a very decorative and intricate designed wool hat adorned with beads. It took the man more than a month to make this hat. I tried it on but it was a bit small. Everyone laughed. The crowd grew to a huge circle of 7 or 8 people deep and surrounded us. Another hat was tossed my way. This one a bit larger. But I expressed that I must have a big head. More laughter. Then the questions came flying. I guess my initial impression was wrong. It just took longer to break the ice with these friendly people than others I encountered. But like all good things, this time too had to pass. We started up the bikes and as if on cue the crowd opened a pathway and we cruised on amidst a mass of smiles, waves and cheers.
Several hours later at the border of the departments (like our states) of Puno and Cusco high at more than 15,000 feet we shared another lengthy encounter with locals who set up shop high on this pass to sell to busses and cars passing through but taking the time to gander and enjoy the beautiful vista of snow capped peaks and green valleys. We’d passed through the Altiplano to get here and climbed. Most of the livestock in the lower highlands were sheep and goats. But as the elevation grew we encountered more llamas and alpacas. These vendors were selling sweaters, slippers and other souvenirs of alpaca – a type of llama differentiated by the softer coat and smaller ears.
Each of the vendors wanted to have their photo taken with the motorcycle. And even high in the mountains at 15,500 feet and hundreds of miles from the larger towns of Puno and Cusco did one of the vendors have an email address. Photos were promised. One gentleman wanted to trade slippers or a sweater for my camera, my iPod or just about anything else he could spot that was impossible for him to find in his remote location. But traveling light I just didn’t have anything extra. Nothing to trade.
We never did make it to Bolivia. But rolling into Puno along the grand Lago de Tticaca (Lake Tticaca) we settled into a nice hotel where I almost took out the glass doors as I hopped two large curbs to get the bike into the lobby and losing balance and letting the bike fall gently into the door frame. Close call. Nearby a pedestrian street catering to tourists venturing onto the lake called our name as we dined on llama filet and listened to live music from an excellent band — ahhhh Music from the Andes. This is Peru.
Like all plans, the one we thought was locked and tight was subject to change. It was time to give our Dakar’s a bath. Washing the bikes periodically is important because if you do it yourself (as you should) it provides an excellent opportunity for inspection. Always checking for loose bolts, dangling parts, something odd and and the overall condition of the bike. As I handled the super-powerful sprayer watching layers of mud, tar and junk fall off the bike, I noticed something about my rear tire that didn’t look right. Without going into the minutiae, suffice to say that I wouldn’t feel safe about taking the 500+ mile to jaunt to Puno or Copacabana (in Bolivia) today on the rear tire.
So the scavenger hunt began. I’ve read horror stories about trying to find a decent 17″ rear tire for the F650 in South America — or in Africa, too. It’s an odd size for the rear tire of a dual-sport bike. As such, motorcycle shops and dealers in small towns such as Cusco don’t tend to inventory them. For example, Jeremiah in his search to replace a bent rim from the rear of his Dakar, it took him nearly 3 weeks and dozens of phone calls before one was found and trucked in from Lima. I noticed on the way to the “lavenderia” we passed a string of motorcycle shops. There was a KTM dealer, Honda and parts store and more. So after buzzing out of the car wash I hustled up the street and pulled into the first motorcycle shop — a Honda dealer.
We pawed over a dozen tires when peeking out was a decent looking Pirelli MT60. To my luck it was the exact size I needed. After some quick negotiations and the exchange of about $78 I got the new tire and installation performed immediately and on the spot. Now this Pirelli is a Brazilian made which means it’s not “really” a Pirelli MT60, but it was there, the price was right and would be much safer than ride on a tire that is questionable.
When the mechanics at the shop pulled out a couple strips of rebar to pull the tire off the rim, I knew it was time to pull out my AeroSTICH Titanium tire irons, which they were so happy to see and even offered to trade the rebar for them. The entire job was done manually as if I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. They even used a bicycle pump to inflate the tire and without a tire gauge they got it spot on at 32 psi.
I’m not familiar with this tire, but just a half-mile down the road I was following Jeremiah back to the hotel when riding across the cobblestone street the rear tire slipped out from under me forcing me to counterbalance with a long leg extension and toe tap on the pavement. Scared the crap out of me as I felt the bike go nearly perpendicular to the lane I was riding. Jeremiah saw it in his rearview and though I was going down. But somehow I was very lucky. Especially given that only protective gear I was wearing was gloves and my helmet. My guess is that the new tires were just not hot enough and didn’t have the grip. I think I ran over a groove in the pavement that might have spit my tire sideways a bit and then threw me into this precarious position. I was shaking at the next traffic light. Wanted to get off that bike immediately.
When my nerves chilled and I stopped shaking, we decided to take a short ride just outside of town to check out some colonial ruins in Chinchera. Stopping along the way we ran into a group of native/indigenous people who were packing up their portable stores on this dirt road next to a bus stop. We took pictures and started chatting with these women who were incredible cheerful and flashed big smiles, laughed and truthfully were having fun with me as I suggested I help them carry this huge sack of product down to the road. Even better, most of the native people top off their colorful wardrobe with a fedora style hat. It’s the coolest but strangest thing I’ve ever seen. These hats sit precariously on top of the women and men’s heads and when riding through a bustling market in a small town I’ve seen hundreds of people milling about all wearing these hats.
So it was natural that I wanted to try one of these hats on for size myself. This drew more laughter from our new friends. But let me tell you I’ve never lifted something so heavy on my back before that I was blown away that this tiny seemingly frail little women would carry this massive load every day to this bus stop and try to hawk here wares. She sells 2 or 3 items on good days. Sometimes nothing. I had to put the sack down and acknowledge that she is better suited to carrying this sack and I’m better suited to riding my motorcycle.
i know these ladies will be talking about this day for sometime, as it will be a favorite in my repertoire of stories of my time in Peru. Damn those smiles! Tomorrow it’s Puno or bust!
(R) Supporting the local people with a good luck wrist band purchase. Worth the smile any day!
For nearly 400 years while the Spaniards in their ‘great’ conquest of South America, Machu Picchu lay buried beneath the growth of the jungle high on a mountain top just 50 miles or so from the great city of Cusco. Perhaps lost. Perhaps forgotten. But Machu Picchu and much of the Inca history may be lost forever. For while they were very good at stonework, terracing, agriculture, calendaring and the like, jotting down their history wasn’t a strong point.
Machu Picchu was rediscovered by an American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. While it’s the most famous of all Inca ruins, it is as noted the least understood. As I rode the train along the mighty Rio Urubamba through the Sacred Valley to this mountain top wonder, I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps better stated, my expectations were set for me. I’d seen 100’s photos of the site in history books, tourists pamphlets, motorcycle travelers websites and more. I knew it was perhaps the most dramatic archaeologic site in the world with its Andean setting, raging river and remote location. But nothing really could prepare me for my visit after taking a 30 minute bus-ride from the sleep touristy Agua Calientes at the end of the train line.
Only approved tourist buses can make the climb to Machu Picchu so it was decided to leave my motorcycle safe in Cusco rather than tempt the “bad” people who prey on the tourists making their mecca to this magical and mythical place. I was part of a cattle call type of tour, so I took every moment to escape and just stare in wonder at the hundreds of terraces, marvel at the stone work and imagine the Inca elite practicing their rituals and celebrating their festivals high in the clouds. Even though it’s the rainy season I was blessed with great weather today. Just enough clouds to keep the high altitude sun from wreaking havoc on my scalp but providing adequate lighting to make for an interesting morning and afternoon of photography.
Many people come to Peru to visit this site by taking a 4 day trek along the Inca Trail. For me and my race to get to Ushuaia before winter sets its nasty dose of weather not favorable to motorcycle travelers, I decided to take the day to ponder, meditate and shoot pictures while capturing a bit of the history, layout and architecture of Machu Picchu. For tomorrow I look forward to making my way towards Puno and Bolivia.
Once the epicenter of the Inca Empire, Cusco today is a wonderful city lined with cobblestoned streets, colonial buildings built atop fantastic Inca stonework and an international flair brought by the influx of thousands of tourists each year who come to explore this city, the Sacred Valley of the Rio Urubamba and Peru’s, if not South America’s, number one tourist attraction — Machu Picchu. Sitting high in the Andes at nearly 12,000 feet , Cusco is home to about 350,000 people today. It doesn’t take long to get comfortable in this city as the architectural and natural beauty of the city and the plethora of activities, good food and drink will inspire one to settle after the long journey to get here. Of course, those who arrive by plane really will have no understanding of the splendor or the remoteness of its location. But to each his own.
With the hordes of tourists comes the inevitable predators. Within minutes of stopping and parking my motorcycle on the busy corner at Avenida del Sol near the Plaza del Armas, two woman pointing at their eyes while approaching me waddling across the street in their heavy coats. “You can’t park here,” the shorter woman tells me as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. They didn’t look like police officers, but maybe they didn’t want me to get a ticket. “There are bad people here in Cusco,” she explains. “you mustn’t leave your things here.” It came clear to me that she was using the international symbol for watch yourself when pointing to her eyes.
Over the next few moments they helped me locate the hotel where Jeremiah was staying, even helping hold up traffic as I hopped the curb and scooted down the narrow alley way to the hotel. Once again, the kindness of strangers makes me wonder where ARE all the “bad” people that I’ve been warned about. I learn later that two other motorcyclists were mugged near the Plaza but made a narrow escape as someone tried to rip the backpack off their backs. Jeremiah’s wife fell victim to a pickpocket thief who spit on her jacket to distract and disorient her as they fished a pocket electronic translator from her pocket. Of course, this is every city in the world. Nothing special about Cusco. You could be in Rome, Paris, Stuttgart or Shanghai and the same warnings are to heed. Fortunately, I’ve only been showered with kindness, friendship and generosity — smiles.
With their amazing stonework and masonry it’s a wonder that the Inca Empire lated about 100 years. Cuzco was founded in the 12th century by the first Inca, Manco Capac who was charged with the mission to find quoq’o, Quechua for “naval of the earth” where the Inca’s settled in a small modest area near the city. But by the 15th century with neighboring tribes battling and threatening to take over, the ninth Inca, Pachacutec, strengthened the Inca army in 1438 and rallied the troops to conquer their enemies. For the next 25 years the Inca’s took over most of the Andes. Not only a strategic warmonger, Pachacutec is credited for designing and building Cusco and devising the city’s Puma shape while diverting rivers across the city.
As the Inca empire grew to Ecuador and Colombia, in 1463 Pachacutec appointed his son, Tupac Inca Yupanqui (the 10th Inca) to head the Inca army. Yupanqui fathered 6 sons who all could have fallen heir to the Inca Empire. But the Europeans began their Conquest of South America bringing with them diseases which the Inca’s had no resistance and others which wiped out hordes of indigenous people including Yupanqui and his eldest son (Ninan) who was heir to the Empire. Hearing of his brother’s untimely death in which no successor had been named, Huáscar took advantage of the situation and waged war on his brother Atahualpa. Unlike the Spaniards who had clear delineation for successor’s to the throne, with the Inca’s it was the strongest who shall survive and inherit the “throne”. Successful in a three year war to beat his brother, while marching to Cusco to claim his throne Atahualpa encountered Conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Refusing to yield to the Spanish presence in his land by saying he would “be no man’s tributary,” which led Pizarro and his force to attack Atahualpa’s army in what became the Battle of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532. The Spanish were successful and Pizarro executed Atahualpa’s 12 man honor guard and took the Inca captive who later was convicted of killing his brother and plotting against Pizarro and his forces, and was executed in 1533 when Pizarro finally took over the spectacular city of Cusco and ultimately leading to the end of the Inca Empire. Writing to King Charles V of Spain, Pizarro said this about Cusco:
“This city is the greatest and the finest ever seen in this country or anywhere in the Indies… We can assure your Majesty that it is so beautiful and has such fine buildings that it would be remarkable even in Spain.”
The Spanish eventually destroyed much of the Inca city, the the stonework, streets and design of the city was so strong that much of the Spanish architecture evident today is built atop Inca foundations. Walking through this grand city it’s amazing to see the contrast between the work of the Inca’s and the shoddy craftsmanship of the colonial Spaniards, who eventually tired of Cusco’s mountainous location and eventually moved the capital to Peru’s central coast in Lima.
High above the city is one of Cusco’s most impressive Inca ruins, Sacsayhuaman a huge zig zagging structure high atop Cusco in what the Inca’s called the head of the Puma, referring to the Puma shaped design of the city. Some of the stones on this massive fortress are twenty feet high and reportedly weigh more than 300 tons. Yet they are so precisely shaped and set into place, it sends my mind twirling trying to figure out how they built this place. While the Romans may have built some amazing structures, nothing I’ve seen in the former Roman empire compares to the size, scope and beauty of the work here in Cusco.
As far as Machu Picchu goes, the Spaniards never found this mountain top city. And it’s a good thing, who knows what would be left today. Little is known about the lost city of the Incas, but I hope to learn more when I take a train ride tomorrow morning and follow a precipitous switchbacked road to Machu Piccu.
My alarm blares in my ear. It’s 5:20am and I’m in Puquio, Peru. The segue from last nights chilling ride to this morning’s alarm was way too rough. I peer through the blinds out the window. It’s dark. It’s raining. And it’s foggy. Good god. Not again. It takes about 5 long minutes for the hot water to trickle out of the shower. At nearly 12,000 feet Puquio is cold and my guess always is cold.
I pack on the layers as the sunrise does nothing to brighten the day. Thick fog, rain and men and women slopping around the muddy streets. I dread these type of days. My savior is either racing the weather, descending to warm weather or praying for a break. Doc is temperamental this morning and takes several minutes to start. With a throaty echo of my exhaust in the garage I pull onto the muddy streets capturing the bewildered stares of locals bundled in blankets, boots and rough and warn faces. It’s almost 7am.
For the next three hours I climb through twisty switchbacks. I feel warmer than last night, but I don’t care. It will take all day to get to Cusco. And at this rate, maybe all night, too. With limited visibility and pelting cold rain I’m frozen in my position to my handlebars and seat. There’s no making time in this weather. Just waiting.
Patience prevailed finally. Climbing up past 15,000 feet I descended into vast pampas. The rain slowed to an irritating drizzle and the fog and clouds hung on the hills below me. In the distance glacial peaks peered through the clouds. The road was straight, long and easy. Occasionally rays of sun would wash hillsides or if I was lucky the road. Thousands and thousands of llamas grazing in all directions. I passed a construction crew painting lines on the road — by hand. I cranked up the speed. Relief.
Passing through the most remote villages I’d seen in a long time. Thatched roofs, mud brown stone walls surrounded by short brush with some fences holding sheep and llamas. No trees. The is the scenic Peru I’d imagined. The weather, or I should say Pacha-Mama ( the Quechua/Inca word for mother earth) decided to give me a break late this morning. Cruising high in the Andes hundreds of miles from anywhere I enjoyed my reward for braving Pacha Mama’s weather last night and this morning.
Soon I was following a raging wild river and passed through a series of small settlements. I gasped at the scenery of this small villages tucked into a tiny gorge when three men strutted onto the pavement leading a pack of 30 or so llamas. Soon I was cruising through the bustling university town of Abancay, through more scenic valleys, rivers and grazing llamas and finally through a long fertile green valley until I rolled into the great Inca and then colonial city of Cusco at about 4pm. It took a bit of negotiating the cobblestone roads and winding around the colonial plazas until I found the hostel where Jeremiah has been staying. We enjoy a reunion as it was in Oaxaca around Dias de las Muertas (October 31st) when we parted company.