The Lesson of the Machu Picchu Ticket

I will always look back at this trip with fond memories of our nine weeks in Peru.  When we entered the country, we had no idea of what we would like to see or do, other than we had to see Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, but what about the rest?  Well, as you have read, once we began to look around a bit and talk to locals, we had no end of options to check out.  But once we came out to the coast, we realized that we needed to get to Lima for badly needed bike maintenance and repair chores, buying spares and supplies, and just a rest in a nice place.

It took us two days to ride down the coast.  As we had seen to the north of here, the coast is a dry desert environment, but has a wonderful beauty in the forms and colors along the way.  It’s such a yin-yang thing, so much water on your right, and none at all on your left.  You can get off the bike, stand and face due east, and never be able to imagine that if you simply spun about, all that you would see is endless ocean.  Now try to imagine that behind you is the dry, lifeless face of Mars.  For folks from the rainforest coast of the Pacific Northwest, it’s a bizarre world.

A snapshot from our ride down the coast to Lima.

Lima hove into view by gradations.  It’s a big city, with 8.5 millions souls there.  I had some need of help with bike issues, and so I had made contact with Felipe Miranda at Motos del Peru through the Horizons Unlimited webpage.  Though he owns a Suzuki shop, he agreed to round up all the spares I needed, and to let me use one of the service bays for doing my own work.  In return, I bought all supplies through him.  He and his crew were terrific help to us.  We were able to repair Jalene’s badly leaking fork by wet-sanding the chrome tube, and it seems to be holding still over a month later after the roads of Bolivia.  Both bikes received a thorough once-over, oil changes, cleaning, electrical repairs, brake pads, a new tire for me, etc.  We received some personal maintenance in the form of some needed rest, food, and good company.  We stayed at Backpackers Hostel in Miraflores, just a few blocks from the beach area, and it’s lovely parks.  People here really seem to use these parks, and we saw lots of families and groups of friends out and about.  Remember the swing sets and monkey bars that were everywhere when we were kids?  They’re still here – nobody seems to worry about the occasional broken arm in the growing-up process, and you can find all sorts of fun adult size exercise equipment, too.

Lima is written about as being a culinary mecca these days, and we saw some evidence of that.  Just around the corner were a few fancy places on the roundabout, and the prices warned us of the good food to be had there.  We walked on a few doors and found a cheaper place owned by a couple from Spain, and had a terrific meal for much less.  Later, we went back to the upstairs bar nearby and got a real education on Pisco Sours from a local bartender with only two customers to entertain, which proved handy in the days to come.

Motos del Peru was about a 6-7 minute ride from our hostel, and we also ventured out to Touratech and other shops.  Big city traffic in Peru is hard to describe, but easy to learn.  Many smaller intersections are totally uncontrolled – no signs or lights.  First come, first served.  If the race to the crossing is a tie, then tonnage wins the day (pedestrians are nothing).  If you are on a moto, the bus will majestically steam into your lane, and you will become flotsam in its wake if you don’t find another path.  The courteous taxi driver will wave a lazy hand out the window just before turning left from the lane to the right of you.  Don’t get angry.  We’re still alive and we all got there, didn’t we?  On the other hand, on a moto you can do things unheard of in any western nation.  One-way streets?  Lane-sharing?  For that matter, what’s a lane?  The number of lanes corresponds to the number of vehicles that can fit in the street.  Push to the head of the line at a light.  To make a left, cars going both straight AND left will gas it on the green light.  After everyone slams to a halt, whoever got furthest into the intersection is allowed to proceed.  Turns across multiple lanes are common, and nobody seems upset.  Many say that drivers in Peru have a suicidal gene, but there is a method to the madness once you “learn” it.  Gone are the days of Mexico, and orderly traffic patterns.

Southward along the desert coast again!  We took off refreshed and repaired and made our way out of the traffic and noise, and found the dry desert so peaceful and quiet.  We found a spot in the beachy town of Paracas and checked into a hostel with a pool for a couple of nights.  With no secure parking, they ushered us with our bikes poolside, where we parked them and relaxed a bit in the warm sun.  Jalene took a boat-tour to see the bird sanctuary offshore and came back with some great photos and tales of fun.  Not me, I’m done with saltwater boating for now.  Good ceviche and cheap ice cream kept us going, and after surviving two days of this, we continued south.

Poolside in Paracas we celebrated 1 year on the road!

Poolside in Paracas we celebrated 1 year on the road!

Ica is a town in vineyard country, and we of course had to find out about this.  A visit to the Tacama winery, the oldest vineyard in South America, gave us a great education in local Peruvian winemaking and, especially, the distilling of Pisco.  A beverage much like grappa or cognac, Pisco is a strong grape liquor enjoyed straight or in a Pisco sour.  We had enjoyed Pisco sours already in Chachapoyas, and those continue to be my favorite.  At Tacama, it seemed a shame to leave without a Pisco sour from the heartland, and so we enjoyed refreshing afternoon drinks that left us absolutely smashed in their wakes.  I have never had a single 8-oz. tumbler leave me with a hangover the next morning.  Caution is advised, but I would never discourage you from trying one at Tacama.

The next day we took a short ride south to Nazca.  Sure enough as we neared the fabled site of the Lineas de Nazca, the land opened out onto dry, rocky plains.  The surface was quite flat, and covered with dark stones.  Just under the surface is light-colored substrate, and the lines are formed by scraping away the thin dark surface layer.  From ground level, one can see nothing to suggest any designs or geometry on this vast canvas.  There is a single tower beside the road where one can climb up and see two figures directly below, but we passed it by and headed for the town of Nasca, hoping to catch a flight and see them from the air the next day.  As we checked into our hotel, we learned that flights in the morning are often delayed unpredictably by fog and poor visibility.  The afternoon was perfectly clear and the wind low, so we purchased tickets immediately.  Our flight took off at about 4:30 pm, and in about 40 minutes we saw 13 of the classic figures and many, many geometric designs and lines that stretched for miles and miles.  Most are not as large or easily visible as I thought they would be, and the pilot did a great job of circling with the end of the wing pointed exactly at the target below, so we touristas didn’t have to search to find it.  As with many things found by archeology, we know how and when the figures were made, but the why is still evasive.

Seeing the Nazca Lines from above was spectacular!

Seeing the Nazca Lines was kind of expensive, but it was one of those things that we didn’t want to pass up and regret later.  “We’re never going to be here again” is how we decide whether we really want to see or do something, or are just checking off the box on a place we were told (expected) to see.  Machu Picchu was also going to cost us the equivalent of many days of gas and accommodations, but we both agreed that it was something we wanted to see for ourselves.  What we didn’t realize is that, due to demand, we needed to buy our tickets in advance.  Jalene searched and found tickets two weeks out, and so after hearing tales of having to buy two months in advance by others, we felt lucky and grabbed them.

This led to an important new lesson about life on the road.  Once you have a location and a firm date fixed on the calendar, everything suddenly revolves around that, and options start to disappear.  Suddenly, that flexibility you took for granted is compromised.  Now we must make firmer plans than before, and you may not be able to just stay another day “because you like it here.”  Suddenly the motos MUST make it to Machu Picchu on August 26th.  So many times we started to say something, and the other would say “But we have tickets for the 26th…” and that would end it, or we’d decide maybe we could figure out how to do it afterward.  We came to hate having that limitation imposed by the date and place we had to be, and vowed never to do that again unless there was no other way.

For months before this, we had become excited about the prospect of having others come see us and share a little of our travel life.  We had started to make plans for some of our family to meet us in Buenos Aires in spring of 2017.  But, with the Machu Picchu ticket lesson learned, we began to think twice about this.  We would have to be in Buenos Aires to meet them, and would have that date out there for six months, influencing how we traveled through South America.  Plus, at that time, we would be concentrating on returning home, shipping bikes, re-entering the job market and life at home.  And besides, we would be seeing them once we were back in the US, anyway.  There was disappointment for all, but in the end it was the wise choice to cancel the idea.  Now we are free to make this trip whatever we want it to be, and can travel unhindered by dates and commitments.

Selfish?  Yeah, I guess so, but this is an extraordinary time in our lives and we want to give ourselves the freedom to fully experience it.  Let’s go to Arequipa tomorrow, and see what’s there.  We can stay as long as we like – no, wait, we’ve got tickets to Machu Picchu on the 26th!

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Take a look at the photos connected with the stories in our Gallery and Jalene's post about the dip in our trip.