You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers

Tacna, Peru

I feel like I often have an inverse relationship between what I am supposed to feel when encountering a major sight and what I actually feel. This goes for things like natural phenomena like a panoramic vista of the Grand Canyon as much as remarkable man-made constructions. That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate them – it’s just that when I lay my eyes on them, I tend to feel a distinct lack of rapturous euphoria which has been suggested as appropriate.

As such, I steeled myself for lack-of-enthusiasm-to-mild-disappointment for that modern wonder of the world (excuse me: New7Wonder), Machu Picchu. While I maybe didn’t go weak at the knees (altitude-induced weakness excepted), I gotta say, it was pretty fantastic.

And I wasn’t alone! The day after I made it up to Cusco, Brother Noah arrived, and the day after that, my parents. As I alluded to in my last post, I’d been getting a bit stir-crazy for lack of company, and their arrival was one I had been looking to for a long time.

Unbeknownst to us, the day Noah got to Cusco was the final celebration of Carnaval, and unbeknownster that this is celebrated with a city-wide water fight, augmented with spray canisters of foam. We were first clued in while walking towards the main square when a small girl assaulted us with a blast of foam to the face.

A foam blast

At the square, it was a full-on melee, with no one safe, least of which those who looked like they really didn’t want a water balloon to the dome or a bucket of water down the back.

Foam a-flyin Shortly after getting chased down by a unapologetic girl with a water balloon

The next day, the parents arrived, and began acclimatizing to the altitude, which at 11,000 feet is no joke. Our first outing was checking out ruins near the city with a guide named Alaín, who would finish each factoid with “…which is very interesting.” On a hill just above and overlooking Cusco, the ruins of Saqsaywamán were pretty neat.

Zig-zag walls of Saqsaywaman

We also met and learned how to differentiate the camelids of Peru: the llama, the alpaca, the vicuña and the guanaco. I have already completely forgotten.

Who can say?

The next day, we did a pretty substantial hike in the Sacred Valley, partially on an Inca trail and going through the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo.

Inca hike

From there, it was a train to Aguas Calientes, the small town whose sole raison d’être is servicing tourists visiting Machu Picchu just down the valley. And it did so admirably, and the next morning we were there.

The fam

Like I said, it was pretty fantastic. Worth it.

Classic Machu Picchu The terraces From on top of Huayna Picchu

Back in Cusco, it was a few fairly low-key days involving more Inca ruins, poking around the city, and generally taking it easy. It was all a pretty great time, and incidentally the longest I’ve been in one place since I left, but now Noah went back to Dublin and the parents went off to Lima and it is time for me to go home. By way of Santiago, Chile, 2,000 miles to the south.

My last time crossing the Andes on this trip, they weren’t going to let me go without leaving me a few more memories. Yesterday I made my way uneventfully to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and then today first crossed the altiplano, and summited a pass that’s the highest I’ve ever ridden (or been, for that matter): 4,592 meters or 15,065 feet.

The altiplano, extra alti The pass at Abra Ojelaca

Not too much further down the road, over a pass only a few feet lower, I ran into a sudden storm. First came hail, which quickly turned to sleet. The road got really slick really fast, so I pulled off.

Hail on the road

This is right around when the lightning started, and being on the top of a mountain with a motorcycle had me thinking how other hypothetical situations would probably be comparatively safer, and just then a bolt of lightning struck close enough to really put the fear of god into me. I had seen a minibus pull off just up the road, so I ran over to it and was warmly welcomed inside by a crew of 14 construction workers on the way to their worksite. As the sleet continued to rain down and turned to snow, they distributed lunch, with an extra portion for me, noodle soup and chicken with rice. By this time, a couple inches of slushy snow on the road, traffic on the pass came to a stop, with semis and buses giving up and parking in the middle of the highway. Not much to do but make a snowman.

A top-notch snowman

The skies eventually cleared, and the slush eventually melted enough that I could ride very slowly along the tire tracks to safe haven. 15 minutes later and lower, it was green and sunny.

The calm after the storm

An hour later, I was on Tatooine.

The desert outside of Tacna

Anyways, some of the best moments of this trip have been receiving the kindness of strangers in moments of vulnerability. I’m lucky I got one more.

Me with my crew