The Road to Cusco
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there who celebrate it! Even though it's another year where we're unable to eat turkey with family, at least we are in the beautiful and historic city of Cusco, the old capital of the Incas.
Cusco itself is an incredible destination, but the journey here from Lima wasn't half-bad either. Like usual, we didn't take the normal route or main highway, and instead opted to journey through an area of cascading waterfalls, snowy peaks, and wind-carved canyons. It's a national park with a name I can never remember nor pronounce: Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos-Cochas, and if you are ever in the area, I highly recommend this gorgeous ride.
The road between San Mateo and Vilca rose in altitude and wound between mountains that were covered in snow at their peaks. Herds of llamas and alpacas watched us pass with their long-legged babies keeping close to their sides. It was unpaved, but definitely a doable road with only a few steep rocky switchbacks that brought out the wobbles and even tipped us once, breaking our windshield (we got a new one in Huancayo).
When we arrived in Vilca, we were greeted with cascades of turquoise water flowing between the green hillsides, and it was so stunning, I thought, “Why is Vilca, Peru not a major tourist destination?" Maybe the remoteness of its location keeps it hidden, but Vilca wasn't even the star of the show as the waterfalls just got bigger and more impressive as we made our way toward Tomas District.
After less than a day of riding, I felt like I had left the snowy alpine world of grazing llamas and entered a tropical realm of crystal waters. The river just kept toppling over rocky ledges until it led us into the enveloping walls of a narrow canyon striped in many layers of different rocks. It's called Uchco Canyon, not a very well known place, but I think it should be on anyone's Peru ride list. And if you were to go north instead of south like we did, you would be heading opposite to the river and facing each and every gorgeous waterfall and tumble of the river.
We eventually reached the city of Huancayo where we got a new front tire, windshield, and witnessed a cultural parade of traditional costumes and dancing.
The plan after Huancayo was simply to get to Cusco. Again, we didn't want to take the main road, so we chose a parallel route and ended up waiting at road blocks until night, almost got run off a cliff by angry drivers in the rain, and then the next day dropped our bike in a river crossing. All ended up well, but I don't think that road was worth it, and would advise people to just take the highway and find your off-road adventures elsewhere in Peru, of which there are plenty.
The main highway turned out to be paved, fast, and a real breeze. We even met up with a fellow motorcycle traveler from the States, Will Buckner, and had a blast zipping through the countryside with him before we had to part ways.
At long last, we arrived in Cusco, the historic capital of the Incan Empire. It has been a dream of mine to see this city since childhood, when I'd first heard stories of the famed Incan stonework and winding streets between gloriously-decorated Spanish churches. And now that I'm here, I will say that Cusco does not disappoint.
But to go along with all of Cusco's grandeur and spectacular sights are a whole lot of tourists. I feel that Tim and I have been in such remote areas of Peru, places where we feel as if we are the first foreigners to ever step foot there, that this cosmopolitan concoction of people from around the world speaking in all sorts of languages, wearing backpacks and with blond hair, it's a real culture shock for us.
And because of all the tourism, Cusco is expensive compared to the rest of Peru, as a meal can cost twice or three times the price here. But sometimes it's worth it, as I'm not going to complain about the sushi bars and French bakeries that we have stumbled across.
We still have a few things we want to see here before we head into the Sacred Valley and finally get to Machu Picchu, but I'm already feeling the excitement of being in the land where the Inca reigned, as their presence is still felt, not just in the stones, but in the faces of the people, the colors of their clothing, and the smells of incense wafting through the air and meats cooking over the stove. It's a heady vibe to be here, where civilizations and empires have come and gone, and we are certainly enjoying every second of it.
Until next time.
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