This amounted to a very long day on the bike, in transit. We were up bright and early, and began by backtracking over the 16000 foot pass again, braving the same series of potholes, switchbacks, rock falls, tingling fingers, and llamas for maybe 40 or 50 miles. Once meeting up with the road from Arequipa again, we turned eastward and continued towards the town of Juliaca. Along the way we encountered a(nother) roadside stand of locals hawking llama/alpaca woven goods, wood flutes, etc., along with a cute pet llama.
I also went to use the facilities and found myself trapped by the door while trying to get out (full size, not “stall” sized. The door frame was loose and I became convinced that it was stuck. The man of the establishment heard my bangings and came into the stall next to mine and reached over the top with a pole and pushed on the latch in a simple fashion that I had somehow completely failed to attempt on my own. I felt obliged to tip him 5 soles (around $1.75) not only because I felt incredibly dumb, but also because it was the only coin in my pocket at the time.
This road ended at a town near Lake Titicaca named Juliaca. The description provided in advance by Klaus more or less amounted to Obi-Wan’s description of Mos Eisley: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”. Actually, he just called it “the world’s biggest shithole” but both appear to be fairly accurate. The outskirts of town had a large tent city of apparently homeless laborers or something, and the inskirts were characterized by extremely unruly traffic and entire streets where the pavement resembled bomb craters more than something you would drive on. Luckily, we negotiated our way through it without incident this time (…foreshadowing…) and made the turn northwest towards Cusco.
Once out of town, the road opened up considerably and we passed through numerous valley villages of a largely agricultural nature. This was some really nice riding with sweepers following the valley floor. After a 14000 foot pass, the landscape through this stretch grew increasingly green and pretty as the altitude decreased, and the closer we got to Cusco the more the towns seemed to have something resembling community- kids on the way home from school in well-turned-out uniforms, more substantial construction and homes, and a generally better sense of economic well being. We also passed through a few on-and-off rain showers, the first (and only) that we encountered on our trip.
As we arrived in Cusco in the late afternoon the skies opened up again, and once again we fought our way through some pretty heavy urban traffic for about 7 miles to the historic center of the city, where after a few rainy and slippery cobblestoned turns, we finally arrived at our hotel, nicely situated just across the street from the famous Qori’kancha Inca ruins, later converted to a Dominican monastery and then somewhat restored as an archaeological site.
The hotel was another in the Libertador chain of high-end hotels owned by Westin, built on Inca stone foundations and evidently occupied by Pizzaro himself at some point during the conquest. Once again we were led to a nice local spot for dinner, this time somewhat of an Italian/Peruvian mix, and the day was done. After several days of pretty hard riding we were looking forward to some time off the bikes seeing Cusco and of course, the main event at Macchu Picchu.