“Frio, no?” My fingers numb and teeth chattering as I tried to find a warm spot in the La Estancia eatery in the southern highlands of Peru. The owner and her son huddled around me wondering why I didn’t dress warmer. The biting cold and stinging rain were unbearable enough just walking through this muddy outpost, but the ride here was one for the record books.
I left Nasca about 4pm for the so-called short nearly 100 mile ride up the mountains to Puquio. Two and half hours locals told me. No problem getting there before nighttime. One thing I must keep reminding myself is that locals have no clue how long it takes to drive anywhere. My GPS has been actually rather informative. Punching in my destination the GPS gives a round number of miles and time to the location. It’s not perfect but provides a good gauge given that somehow it takes into account road condition and elevation. But today I had a different experience.
Rising quickly out of the desolate arid dry desert of Nasca through rocky mountains, it was clear that the clouds and the weather they behold began the race to Puquio a couple hours before I did. Rock-slides spilled out at nearly every corner as the dry desert flatlands turned to desert highlands. Through a short stretch of pampas, I pass through a national reserve of Acunas (a kind of Llama nearly extinct), four startled by the sound of my engine risk life and jump in front of me and then scatter into the brush.
Switch back after switchback combined with loose rock and gravel challenged my skills as I dodged trucks making their way down the mountain. Then the fog and clouds rolled in. My visibility sank to only several feet. And then the rain started falling. Doing everything I could to keep my face-shield clear of rain. But these efforts were futile as the diminishing sunlight and thickening fog reduced my visibility to practically nil. I remembered the sheer several hundred foot drop offs I passed when I could see. I slowed to a crawl. My altimeter read 8,000 feet, then 9,000 feet and soon I was hovering between 10,000 feet and still climbing.
At 6pm my GPS registered about 33 miles to Puquio. I was riding less than 25-mph. As I braved the pelting rain and dense fog I kept an eye on the GPS. It jumped up to 36 miles away. Then quickly to 31 miles. For the next 10 miles or more it hovered at 30 some odd miles. Like me, and the locals I’d inquired it had no idea exactly how far Puquio was. My fingers were freezing. I was now riding at 13,000 feet and braved a short section of chilling sleet. Nice sound on my helmet. I battled with the notion of stopping and putting heavier gloves on, but I didn’t want to waste the time. Bear the pain and get there, I thought. I kept rounding darkening curve after darkening curve. No sign of lights. No sign of other cars. I was getting higher in the Andes but Puquio still alluded me.
At just after 7pm and without a hint of daylight remaining I spotted a swath of lights. Puquio! Thank god! For the next 10 miles the lights played tricks with me appearing then disappearing. Finally I rolled into Puquio just as the good pavement ended. Dirty mud, rocks and potholes riddled the main drag heading into town. I watched the beam of my headlight dance on the faces of huddled together locals layered with colorful blankets walking down the road. One gentleman frantically waves his hands trying to get me to stop then pointing to the sign above his business: hostel. Standing on the pegs I watch intensely the road change from rut, to mud to rock and dirt.
At an Internet café just off the central plaza I’m told after two aborted efforts to send Jeremiah an email letting him know I’m safe and getting closer to Cusco, they tell me that the fog and rain has caused their internet connection to slow. Slow? More like crawl.
The nice gentlemen at the Las Andes Hotel and his son set me up in a $6 room and send me for a good home cooked meal here at La Estancia. Sopa gallena, sort of a chicken soup with a bowl of large corn kernels and a 1.5L of beer all for $3. I grasp the edges of the bowl of soup to calm my chilling and numb fingers. It’s the best soup I’ve ever had. They lock the door of the restaurant behind me and direct me through the maze of alleys back to my hotel. Back at the Las Andes I spot a decal on the office window — UltimateJourney — I guess Chris and Erin must’ve stayed here on the final leg of their world motorcycle tour.
Damn I’m cold. Where am I?