20 December 2012

Peru - December 2012

18/12/2012

Today was my last in Bolivia and it could not have come any quicker. I felt rather rough after last nights shitty ‘sleep’. Worse, the rain had intensified and there was no electricity. Bags packed and Chancho loaded, I made my way down the paths and steps for breakfast. Wasn’t really hungry, but forced myself to have some slices of bread and even some banana slices! Just before leaving, I glanced out over Lake Titicaca to see a huge front moving in. I sat tight for a while and waited for the monsoon to arrive and dissipate - turned into an hour long wait. 

The rain having sated itself, I set off for the 8km cycle to the Bolivian/Peruvian border. A few more spots of rain and some hills to climb. To be fair, these hills were only minor climbs of a 100m or so. They felt like mountains though, the complete lack of oxygen up here turns every form of exertion into a painful experience. Arriving at the border, the formalities were processed quickly enough on the Bolivian side - I was now in no mans land for a few hundred metres. I wondered what would have happened if I had taken both my passports and set fire to them in the middle. I figured I would finally become a ‘free’ citizen of the world and not the property of any particular state. While this notion fascinated me, I also acknowledge how most of the world are ‘tick box nations’ as my former boss used to refer to the UK. There would be lots of head scratching with little actual thought input. Can’t tick that box, then what to do? I decided not to burn any paper and continue onwards as a citizen of two countries, mutually unknown to one another.

The Peruvian side was just as simple - I was the only person passing in the ‘other’ direction. I had read in Lonely Planet, that it was possible to get a 6 month Visa - something that would save me an expensive flight out of Lima in order to renew the standard 3 month. So, when it came to stamping in, I asked and received 183 days. What a bonus, one of the biggest headaches and expenses taken care of simply by asking.

Very happy with my efforts, I got back on the bike and started my trundle to Juli some 50km’s away. It also dawned on me that I had an extra hour to play with as I had now moved back another hour. The cycle proceeded with much huffing and puffing, but the views of Lake Titicaca were rather spectacular. It was difficult to comprehend my position, for everything looked and smelt like a seashore rather than a lake almost 4km above sea level. I started to flag at the 40km mark, the powers that be delivering me a multi-pass 8km climb to finish with! There was to be lots of pushing and pausing for breath.

The last kilometre was a merciful downhill into the small town of Juli, surprisingly not on the lake shore. Fart around for an hour trying to find the hotel I had sent an enquiry to. Finding what I was looking for, it came as some surprise that I was expected. Outside of Argentina, email response or acknowledgment is considered a job for the fairies. Checked in, but all advertised features like hot water, WiFi and the restaurant were out of commission - the low season apparently. Eventually got taken upstairs to the only hot shower in the building. Still, this was better than most of the places I had stayed at in Bolivia - the owner was very friendly and despite the lack of advertised amenities did his best to help me out. 

Tried to get into an internet cafe for an update. Despite having at least 5 such cafes with 20odd computers crammed in, this turned out to be impossible. Every single computer was taken by school age kids. Again, what a marked difference to what I have seen everywhere else. Even Argentina did not have this type of technological attendance by the youth. Perhaps they are only playing on social networking sites, but at least there is a generation coming through that will be technologically adept. Good for Peru!

Dinner was taken in a small restaurant where I was having a decent soup, until I saw the chickens feet. More chicken for mains, but it was roasted not bloody deep fried for a change. Still have to get used to the new currency. I handed over 20sols to much amusement - getting 10sols plus more change back. The Boliviano traded at around 6.80 to the US1, the Nuevo Sol trades at around 2.50 to the US1. So I can start looking at prices as if I was shopping in the UK. 

Got to bed, then realised I was an hour early as I had not changed my Mac’s time zone. Not that it mattered, I was quite bushed and had a long cycle to look forward to tomorrow. 

19/12/2012

Up at 07:00 to get on the road early, but the now ever predictable early morning storm and rain put paid to my plans. Eventually got going just after 08:00, knocking out my first sector way too quickly.  With all the intent of slowing down, I still finished way ahead of schedule. A slower second stint got me to Ilave where I stopped for breakfast. Breakfast in Bolivia normally consisted of a stale bun and coffee, but here it was a huge plate of chicken and vegetable stew, bun and a bowl of soup. I declined the soup, but stuffed myself with the lovely stew.

I pushed two longer stints after Ilave, passing two young women cyclists going the other way. Friendly buggers - the first fellow touring cyclists that have not stopped for a chat. I suppose I am smack bang in the middle of the cycle touring route, so it doesn’t pay to stop and chat. Rhythm is very important at this altitude too, I find it a massive struggle for the first few km’s after stopping. Either way, I still found it interesting that two young women were out cycling - perhaps this part of the world really is safe enough to do so. One thing I couldn’t get around was their lack of clothing - just a t-shirt and cycling shorts, while I was loaded with full Skins, cycling shorts, long trousers, extra shirt, jacket, beanie, neck scarf and woolly socks! Then again, I am just a ‘little person’ as one of my friends used to call me. Despite two months of shite deep fried food and carbs that I had in Bolivia, I seemed to have lost more weight rather than gained. Though I still can’t shake the tiny amount of fat clinging to my stomach - there is a multi-pack in there if I hold my breath, just can’t get it quite right yet.

The Puno region is not particularly fascinating or interesting - just a flat intersection between Andean ridges, so small distractions keep one’s mind occupied for a while. My cycling improved somewhat, especially when I saw the darkening clouds sitting over Puno across the bay. While I could see Puno, I knew it was still 10km’s away. I pedalled much quicker, arriving in town with enough time to fart about trying to find yet another non-existent location. My hostel turns out to be located behind a rusty door in some small nook of road that only a Latino driver could get any form of motorised transport through. Inside things don’t necessarily improve much, but I have good WiFi for a change and hot water. Within minutes of arriving, yet another mother of all thunderstorms erupts. Cue a massive downpour and plenty of electric discharge over the hills surrounding the town. Unlike Bolivia, the electricity and WiFi continues to work - the town is not thrown into pitch darkness. 

By all accounts I am rather more enamoured with Peru that I was with Bolivia. One particularly notable feature is the marked friendliness of the indigenous people. If you read my blog regularly - then you’ll know what I am talking about with respect to the large majority of Bolivians. However, not everything is rosy here - Peruvian drivers are equally rubbish and more irritating. Almost every driver that passes in either direction sits on their hooter. They may think they are doing me a favour, but my ears suggest otherwise. Have considered carrying rocks for particularly irritating sods. However, having cycled in Brazil and Bolivia I am used to dodgy drivers - I can deal with them. 

What has gotten right up my skirt is the locals incessant shouting of ‘Gringo’ at me. This happened once or twice in Bolivia, but I didn’t take much notice of it. Here, almost from the moment I crossed the border I have been called ‘Gringo’ by the old people, kids - the lot of them. I have held my tongue so far, for there does not seem to be any pejorative inclination - in fact most of the kids and even most of the adults have had half a smile and raised a hand in greeting while saying so (the kids go positively loopy). While this feeling has held my tongue for now, it won’t last for long. I just wish I had the capacity to sit and chat to a few of the kids and explain why this might be considered insulting. I don’t want to shout insults back, for that would not help them understand anything and only make them grow up hostile - but it has been tempting.

Something else that has fascinated me is the marked difference in sexual equality here. In most of the countries I have travelled to, the men outrank women completely. I cannot remember speaking to a female local in Bolivia for example, and I only saw one women driver there. In Argentina and Uruguay some form of equality was noted in the larger cities, but the more rural one went, the more domineering the men became. Anyhow - here I was cycling past a small village and a small group of school age girls suddenly burst into typical girl giggles shouting ‘Hello, how are you?’. This didn’t happen once, it is now something quite typical even over my short time here. Young males on the other hand say nothing at all. Seems as though the tables have turned completely, at least amongst the youth in Peru - and what a good thing that is!Went out for dinner, but for some inexplicable reason was short of cash! Had to take a walk to the local ATM and draw money to pay the bill. Strange, haven’t done something like that in years. Caught up on the blog writing and got to bed early. Day off tomorrow before some long stints all the way to Cuzco. 


20/12/2012

Wake up at 08:00 - remarkable given my tendency to rise early - never mind the early morning arrivals, lights and noise in the dorm. Must have needed a good sleep - and for the first time I did sleep properly. Perhaps I am getting used to the massive elevation. 

The tasks for the day were limited. Complete my blog, upload some photos and then attempt to get yet another Sim card later on. Knock off a few mugs of coffee while sorting my blog out before taking a leisurely stroll into town to see what I might arrange for my phone. I try a few shops, but they are mostly shut for lunch. So I take lunch too - a simple lasagne.

After 15:00, I am back at the Claro store for a Sim. I get nowhere initially, they try to sell me USB modem - but I point to a lack of slots on my iPhone. They reckon that what I want is impossible - and this is the official distributor for Claro in Puno! I wander around town, thinking I might try Movistar instead. Just then, I find yet another ‘official distributor’ for Claro - but this actually looks the business. I explain what I am after and the chap has no hesitation in collecting a Sim and explaining the legalities. As with most of Latin America, you cannot simply buy a Sim, it must be registered and all that malarky. As a foreigner, I do not have a DNI number (must be a form of ID). No bother he says, he’ll register it in his name - which is very kind of him, saves me trying to track down a friendly local to use their details. We go through registration and all is good - now I only need to get the Sim into the phone and Bob should be my Uncle. I have yet to find a micro-Sim anywhere on my travels, so it has become quite customary to cut the full size Sim down. I even come prepared with a paperclip to get the Sim out and my own sharp scissors to cut the Sim. 

Sim cut and in she goes. My phone will not recognise it though. Try shaving this way and that, but nothing works. Eventually we give up, but I still have to pay the S15 for the card. I suppose I cut the card, so there are no complaints. I get back to the hostel and retrieve the other 4 Sims I have. I check them over to find that some of the metallic strips are large and others are small. The card I have is of the smaller variety, comparable only with my UK chip. Upon close inspection, I see that the metallic strips are not aligned. This now calls for some card building as opposed to cutting. Out with some old cards and the super glue. Thins strips get stuck the relevant ends and after some delicate shaving, I have a card that replicates my UK Sim perfectly. Only it is not read either. So after 2 hours of frustration I give up, chop the Sim in half and lob it into the bin. I’ll have to try again in Cuzco. In the interim, I decide to try my Argentine Sim which is also part of the Claro network. At least I know that my phone is still working for it registers without complaint. 

Dinner back at the same restaurant as last night before hitting the sack for another decent sleep. I plan on leaving a little earlier tomorrow - that is if the habitual rain does not wreck my plans.

21/12/2012

After a relatively frustrating rest day, it was time to get a move on towards Cuzco. Today was another 80km day, the first 45 to the large town of Juliaca before heading off the main motorway to Lampa. 

I was packed and ready to go by 07:00, oddly there was no morning shower. The first business of the day was to climb out of Puno. This started with a steep push out of the town itself to the motorway. Once up, I could just about peddle the rest of the climb. I didn’t stop too much, and even though I was cycling up hills - I felt much better than previous days. Perhaps it had taken a few days of hard cycling to acclimatise to this altitude. 

>Short aside. I have just about had it with Yankee audacity. I speak and write in proper English rather well - it is not often that a spell checker flags my written word. However, whenever I use the words ‘grey’, ‘colour’, double L (pedalling, travelling etc) or any word ending in ‘ise’, I get red bloody lines everywhere. Then I remember that I need to switch my default spellchecker from American English to English (for some reason you cannot change the default on a Mac?). This would be fine, but the audacious buggers have me selecting ‘British English’. No, it is not ‘British English’, British English is de facto English - not that they’d understand such terminology. Instead of listing their deviation as American English - how could it be anything else? It was not as if the British took to borrowing the American’s language after they had conquered the New World now was it? In order to cover for this crap, they list multiple other forms of English, including Canadian and Australian. Last time I checked, the Canadians, Australians, Indians - in fact every other nation in the world that speaks the language, speaks what the Yanks would call British English. You lot speak you own lazy, phonetic version of the language all you want, but label it correctly. In fact, since you are such a lazy, phonetically orientated nation, why do you not call it Inglish and be done with it - then you can drop consonants, change letters and use ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ all you wish?> 


Cresting the pass involved a long and very cold 5km descent back to lake altitude. The sun was out which meant I could finally remove some of my baggy clothes. I started to cycle with some gusto, clocking around 25km/h without loss of breath. It would seem that not only have I acclimatised, but my breathing has synced with my pedalling. I reached Juliaca, a horrible, pussy, pimple of a town in an otherwise scenic part of the Puno. Managed to get caught in heavy traffic which involved much hooting and shouting. Barged a few bicycle taxis out of the way and jumped a few red lights to get out of the mess. At the perimeter of town I stopped for breakfast. A huge bowl of soup filled with various vegetables and a decent portion of beef. I am a much happier camper in relation to food options here now. It beggars belief how bad the Bolivian diet is when one considers that this section of Peru is exactly the same as the altiplano there. I don’t think most Bolivians would know what a vegetable (barring the ubiquitous potato) was if it hit them in the face. 

Takes a while to get all this down, but feel very refreshed for having done so. Fluid intake is tricky to get right at this altitude and weather - I sweat very little/noticeably and rarely feel thirsty. These hot soups are just the tonic to keep me hydrated as well as fed. So far, the food has been perfectly identifiable, I am looking forward to a Peruvian speciality called ‘cuy’, better known to everyone else as Guinea Pig. I know I am hammering the point home here, but if 4/5 of your meals was deep fried chicken, deep fried plantain, deep fried potatoes and a kilo of rice - you would too. I have received a huge psychological boost from knowing that I am eating nutritious food again - I might even put on some weight as unlikely as that seems. Not only is it nutritious, but the Peruvians rather like their spice and chilli too - which very much suits the gastronomic heritage of someone who grew up on proper Indian food in Durban. I found myself bobbling my head and whispering ‘jollygood’ to myself this evening while plying into what looked and tasted like a spicy peanut chicken curry. 

>Those worried about my allergy to peanuts can rest assured that my allergy was only to that GM/insecticide laced rubbish they serve in Britain/Europe. I was never allergic to peanuts until the day I arrived in England, and have not been allergic to them since I left. <

I think it is fair that I point out at this stage that I do not mean to be disparaging of Bolivia. I am only using Bolivia as a yardstick to describe Peru, for it seems most similar. There would be little point in comparing either country to say Argentina or Uruguay. The Bolivia that I have experienced over the last two months will not be the same place that anyone visits in a few years time. Development is moving ahead with much speed, but as they say, Rome was not built in a day - and nor can Bolivia wave  wand and create countrywide infrastructure. Bolivia has for most of it’s history been ruled by a small plutocratic elite, plundering the countries resources for their own gain. So for most Bolivians and the country in general, they only emerged from the stone age fairly recently when for a change they managed to elect a leader who intended for everyone to benefit from what natural resources they have. Thankfully the USA has been rather too busy warmongering in the middle east to bother toppling a democratically elected ‘left wing‘ leader in what they generally refer to as ‘the back yard’. Luckily, the majority of Latin America has started to stick two fingers up to the USA as of late. If only they had had enough gumption to follow the lead set by Cuba over 50 years ago, they may well be many decades ahead of where they are now. 

After a superb lunch, I felt ready to tackle what I expected to be 35km’s of dirt road. However, the asphalt continued kilometre after kilometre. Actually it went all the way to the small town of Lampa. What a difference this is - Bolivia cannot connect it’s major cities with asphalted roads yet, whereas in Peru they connect tiny villages and towns. Despite some more hills and a little head wind, I still made excellent time arriving just after 13:00.

I had been dithering about staying an extra night here to bird the surrounding hills and forests, but I now had the whole afternoon to get going. Wasting no time, I found a small ‘hospedaje’ (essentially just a bed and 4 walls) for S20 (about US$6.00). Unloaded my gear, dressed and off to the hills. Unfortunately the directions I had were rather duff, and I walked around rather lost for an hour or two. I gave up on trying to find the locality and simply birded the habitat as best I could. A stiff wind meant that bird activity was low, and I was too far from the forests to walk there. Never the less, there was little of interest to me in the forests and I knew I was going to go through some tomorrow on my cycle out.

Of the few birds I did see, an Ornate Tinamou stole the show. The Tinamou family (think of a toned chicken) are generally very difficult to see. Despite their large size, they are hideously difficult to see even when calling only a few feet from you. This individual decided to move while I was stationary, I even managed to get off a few shots, although none without some bit of grass in the way. Dark clouds and stronger wind started to move in, so I gave up on my target species for the day. [I consulted the guides to see where else I might find this bird in Peru, only to find that the bird occurred nowhere near (1000km’s give or take) to my current location in the first place - the editor of that duff information will be getting an email from me]

It was still fairly early, but I thought it best not to take chances with meal times. I left Argentina where dinner is typically eaten after 21:00, to getting hurt in Bolivia where the kitchens were normally shut before then. So I figured I would get dinner done even at the early hour of 18:00 until I had worked the timings out. Tucked into the rather tasty, aforementioned peanut chicken style curry. Of course I made it slightly less tolerable by emptying the ‘spice accompaniment’ in too. It looked as it it was just red onions and vinegar, but it must have contained some hitherto invisible chilli sauce or battery acid. Perhaps the waiter saw my pain, but he deliver me a steaming hot mug of tea - a flavour I had yet to sample and cannot quite describe. It did the trick with respect to the burning tongue though. 

Back to the bedsit for some list updating and the start of another blog section. At least that was the plan, for things took a nose dive shortly after I had finished with my lists. I had updated and converted a number of documents into PDF, files I copy across onto my iPhone’s Kindle via iTunes. I do this almost every day, but on plugging my iPhone into the Mac - I noticed a distinct lack of buzz. iPhone users will know what I mean, for everyone else, the phone gives of a vibration/buzz whenever it starts to charge. This was odd, just to makes matter worse my Mac became intolerant to any form of action. I have never had a Mac freeze or get a blue screen - the thing you get a few times a day on a Window’s Machine. Unlike a Windows machine, a freeze on a Mac is such an unlikely event that they did not program the Ctrl/Alt/Del keys to get you out of your misery. I normally reserve hard shutdowns for Window’s machines, for I hate them thus. Now I had to do the unthinkable and perform a hard shutdown on what has become a part of my own being. This heartache went on and on, to the point where I was not even able to access my home screen. I tried repairing the drive - no luck there apparently my drive was so buggered it was beyond any form of repair. The only option available was to format the drive and reload your backed up data. Hmm, my backup was 5 days old, how much stuff was I going to lose? Not that anything could be done about it, so the drive got formatted and my 5 day old data was reloaded. It was getting on for 22:00 now, and the reload would take a good three hours. I figured it best to get to sleep, setting my alarm clock for 01:00 in order to check on the progress and switch things off once complete.

Woke at 00:45, switched my Mac off, reset the alarm for 05:00 and went back to sleep. All sorts of thoughts running through my head about what my course of action would be if Mr Mac refused to work. I had gone so far as to think about how much data I could store before reaching Lima and flying to the US to get another Mac. It wouldn’t work, I would have to fly immediately from Cuzco to Lima and onwards to the US to get a new machine - more than 5 days would be impossible. Sleep eventually came, but it was a struggle. 

22/12/2012

Woke just before 05:00 and started to pack the remainder of my gear away. My poor Mac went into the bag, it’s future still uncertain. I would have to forget about it until I was able to take a closer look at how the reload worked. Out of town and off towards the next town of Pucara, some 45km’s away. I knew from sitting atop a mountain yesterday that the rest of the road from Lampa to the motorway was dirt, better still there was a long and steep climb to conquer first. 

Dirt road it may have been, but it was a cracking piece of engineering - this dirt road might as well have been asphalt. The first 6km’s progressed easily enough, but then the stiff climbing started and I spent as much time off my bike pushing as I did on it suffering. Not that I was overly concerned about having to push - I wanted to bird this entire section, so I had my bins hanging from my neck while I pushed. Birds were very disappointing. Even my forays off the road and higher up the mountains into the forests provided little. 

Onwards and upwards I went until I was just about to crest the pass. I decided this was as good a spot as any to have a quick snack and a sit on my rear. While chomping away, I caught site of some birdy activity and in short order picked up some real gems - Thick-billed Siskin, the endemic Rusty-fronted Canastero, the near endemic Dark-winged Canastero and a cracking Sapphire-vented Puffleg. That would do very nicely - although a few of the other hummingbirds would really have made my day! As I started the descent, some very cold wind and rain began to batter me. I was about to make a 180deg turn, which meant I would have the chance to outrun the impending deluge. I made no bones about it, flying down the steep dirt road at over 40km/h. It briefly crossed my mind that my helmet was not attached to my head, rather the back of my dry bag. Oh well, it had been there for the last three days of cycling in any case, shortly to be ditched completely I would think. Just don’t fall off, simple. I beat the rains down the hill, where they seemed to stay. Now it was some flat riding again through typical cattle and llama farms. There are next to no fences here, the animals either walk freely or are tethered to a spike in the ground. 

One of the advantages of cycling on motorways is the lack of dog attacks. Any dog still alive neat a motorway has learnt in any number of hard ways that chasing moving vehicles is detrimental to ones health. It is rather depressing in some ways to see the number of dogs that I do, hopping about on three legs, with disfigured heads, squashed tails etc - injuries testament to overzealous chasing of vehicles. On the other hand, even the ones dozing next to the road don’t tend to even look at me, let alone chase or bark. Out on rural roads where I ride free of vehicles, I am almost constantly under attack from the hound population. In Bolivia this did not present a massive problem as most of the dogs were of small stature and either emaciated or infected with some disease. It was not difficult to either outrun them or scare them off, even if feigning to throw a rock. 

In Peru, the dogs don’t seem to be 100% part of every mongrel breed available. These dogs are clearly working dogs and are looked after. They mostly resemble a known dog species, all of the larger variety. Now, it is also no secret that I very much like larger, intelligent dog species such as German Shepherds, Huskies, Border Collies, Rottweilers & Dobermans. I positively hate small dog breeds as well as those larger dogs with the brain of peanut such as labradors. In other words, I have a streak of unbridled cruelty for a large number of the dogs that have attempt to attack me in any case. I tend not to bother with dogs that run behind my rear wheel barking, it is only when they attempt to get cute and run alongside me that I lash out. Barking dogs running next to me are close enough to either bite my legs or cause me to crash - so if they get within range they receive a thump to the head from my SPD’s. That is easy enough with the small shit, but trying to kick a full grown Malamute would necessitate something akin to a fly kick from the saddle. Chances are good that I would come off second best. Not that I am all that keen on even attempting to kick or hit such dogs. However, they also have a penchant for attacking in groups. My general MO is to get off the bike, pick up stones and start pelting the oncoming pack. This has always worked well, but today this method not only failed, but reduced me to laughter too. First one stone, the dogs ran, but came immediately back with much more barking. Then another stone, same thing. Bright buggers had taken a form of punishment and turned it into a game. They were not running away from the stones, they were running after them and then with tails wagging, came running and barking for more. We played this game for about 5 minutes until they were worn out and I could cycle on without further harassment. In case any one thinks I should simply cycle faster - I have tried that, even going downhill at 35km/h is not nearly enough. An old Husky had little problem in running with me for a good kilometre. 

I was given some good ideas by Bryan, the chap I met in Cochabamba, Bolivia. When I get to Cuzco and have some time, I am going to modify a typical squeezy tomato sauce bottle to spray a chilli/vinegar mix. This should cause no long term damage to the dog, nor will I have to continuously stop to pick up stones or cause myself to unbalance when trying to kick one of the buggers. 



With the dirt road ending and the main motorway starting again, I could bid farewell to the dogs and start the remainder of my cycle to Pucara and then another 35km’s further to Ayaviri. I never got that far though, a severe headwind had me struggling just to make Pucara. I cannot remember being absolutely wrecked by 11:15 in the morning. Worse was the feeling that from my waist upwards I was fine - had ample time in the day to do another 60km’s had I wished. However, below the waist was having none of it. I decided it was probably a good idea to have lunch now and see how I felt afterwards. Another delicious soup followed by some grilled chicken and rice. Nope, we were going no further. Pucara it was going to be, and this also meant that the next 3 days were going to have to change too. Not only was I buggered after 45km’s of cycling, I also knew I had two massive back to back days ahead of me (110km+). This was not going to happen. I now also needed to spend some more time birding Lago Huacarpay as I had not seen all the hummingbirds I had expected today. Crumbs, some time of year to be farting about with changes of itinerary. The new plan materialised fairly rapidly - it would be onto a bus/minibus taxi tomorrow (a Sunday, just days before the major silly season celebration) as far as Urcos. I would hopefully be able to find accommodation for the night, before trundling the 15km’s down to the lake. My plan was then to spend a night in the tent - for I had to wish to wake in anyones ‘hospedaje’ on such a shitty day. I might freeze my balls off, but they hadn’t been used in 6 months anyway - just deadweight that I could do without.
I figured I would take a shower now before tackling the white elephant in my head - my Mac. Got all suited and booted for a shower - only to find that there was no water pressure and what water did drip out may as well have melted straight off a glacier. Sod that, or at least words to that affect. Perhaps later when the municipal water was turned on might there be better pressure. I hand’t built up much of sweat in any case, besides, I long since lost the capability to smell myself after one day. I’d need a good 3-4 days of sweaty riding to notice that clothes and myself needed a wash. So it was back upstairs to see what had become of my Mac.

Switched on fine, loaded quickly and everything was where it should have been. My first plan was to get all the lists back up to date and then back up the Mac again before attempting anything with my external devices. I had list a fair amount of information, but luckily I tend to keep duplicates of just about everything. All my lists were back up to speed, an internet connection would provide me with a few GPS co-ordinates that I had lost, but otherwise I was doing fine. All in all, the only permanent losses were some photos. Fortunately, I had posted most of those on my blog (although low pixel quality) and many of them on Flickr (normal quality). Need to re-enter all my email and iTunes settings for some reason, but this I can only do when I have internet capacity. My total losses where small in that case, other than some time - I was happy to have my Mac back up to speed. Will now back things up on a daily basis though. 

The freezing rain and wind arrived not long after I decided to stay put, so in some respects my legs did me a large favour. It pelted down for the rest of the day, and even as I write at 19:00 - the hail/sleet (it’s been variable) continues to hammer away. Think it is now time for dinner, could do with a walk about too.

Another excellent soup (nor was it recycled from lunch either - fresh and different), followed by some steak, rice and potato. Fully stuffed with carbs, I make skip the main courses for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Remainder of the evening will be spent sorting out my gear for a bus ride tomorrow hopefully. 

23/12/2012

Set my alarm for 07:00, but woke just after 05:00 to bright sunlight. There was no way I could sleep through such a beautiful morning, so loaded my gear and walked down the road to the informal taxi rank. Actually, it was not so much a taxi rank as the only road through the town where taxis and busses stopped if they chad capacity. Most of the stationary vehicles were heading back to Juliaca, I wanted to go in the other direction. This proved to be quite a tricky gambit as the vehicles passing here were coming from Juliaca and going to Cuzco. These shared taxis don’t depart until they are full, so the only chance one had of getting on was if someone else was or had gotten off. Given the paucity of town along the way, there were few spaces and even less chance of getting my gear onto the already full roof racks. I farted about waiting more in hope than anything else for a few hours before cutting my losses and loading Chancho up. I figured it would be better to get to Ayaviri, a much larger town where I stood a chance of finding an official taxi/bus terminal. 

I wasn’t dressed to ride, but it was only 35km’s. I decided against changing, my rear end should be able to take the strain of non-padded pants for such a distance. I lengthened my sectors a little to 17km a pop, meaning just the one stop en route. My left knee has had a twinge for the last few days now, but nothing that has caused me any problems while cycling. I have tended to ignore it and get on with the job, only inclines have reminded me of it’s presence. Ignoring the knee twinge has led to another more serious problem, my left outer hamstring is getting a little tenuous. Again, it is not felt while cycling - the tendon is warm and responsive. Once stopped, the tendon cools down and walking becomes painful. Catching the bus/taxi is now a requirement rather than a little bit of laziness. 

I arrive in Ayaviri just after 10:00, but spend a good 30minutes getting directions and finding the bus terminal. It is not in the middle of town where it should be, but given taxi driver propensity for hooting - it is likely that the residents hoofed it into some remote corner in order to get some peace and quite. Got into the bus station a little after 11:00 and bought myself a ticket ostensibly to Urcos, but could continue on to Cuzco if I wished. My plan now is to depart at either Urcos or Andahuaylilas, the latter would be better as it is closer to Lago Huacarpay - I’ll ask some locals to see which has the better accommodation. I had originally hoped to be there a little earlier, I could then have ridden down to the lake and checked out the town of Huacarpay too. I am only scheduled to depart at 13:30, so my chances of reaching town early enough are rather remote. The road ahead is rather steep and windy, not something I would like to do on a bus - but little choice now. 

Bus ride takes just over 3 hours to complete the 200km’s to Urcos. I look on with disappointment at not having cycled this section - it is the first time that I have stepped on a bus through the high Andes. All the cycling I had done in Peru so far took place on the wide Puno. Now the altiplano section narrowed significantly and we dropped through steep valleys surrounded by huge snow capped peaks. As we crested the pass (4300masl), the peaks either side looked to exceed 5500masl. I will check in a few days time as tho their exact height, but there were huge, with thick snow drifts for good measure. Just before reaching Urcos, I saw a sign saying Puerto Maldonado. Puerto Maldonado is not accessible by road, it is a good 200km drive down the Manu Road before catching a boat for a number of hours. This is where I expect to have perhaps the best birding experience of my life to date. It is still some time away though. A few days in Cuzco recuperating before I take to the surrounding forests and valleys. Then I am going to hire a vehicle (bike/SUV) for 10-12 days and pound the Manu Road and the lodges along the river. 

Back to Urcos - accommodation wasn’t nearly as plentiful as Sicuani, but there were a few places to stay. The best looking place was right on the plaza, a rather noisy and smelly open market next to the main road. So I moved a little further up the road and had a look at another spot. To say that most of the offerings were dire is to understate the word. The stench of urine and mouldy walls. Water timings that I have yet to work out - so there went the shower again. Thankfully I hadn’t done much work in the saddle - but it is now a few days since I last saw a shower. Tomorrow is the limit, even if it means I have to take a dip in Lago Huacarpay. I am now about 800m lower than I have been for the last few weeks - I certainly do notice the difference when walking up stairs and small hills. I will find out how much of a difference it makes to my cycling tomorrow. Injury or not, I do need to cycle the rest. Although I could do Lago Huacarpay on the way to the Manu Road, I would rather not waste a precious day of the rental vehicle. My jumping on the bus, I have given myself en entire day at the lake, more than what is necessary to clear up I think. I will also have the following morning at my disposal should I dip on anything or have my day ruined by the weather. Another day like today would be much appreciated. 

Managed to find an internet cafe this evening, my first access in a few days now. I placed an order for some new kit from the US when I was still in Bolivia. First they put my order on hold because they didn’t like the registered address for my card (actually they never asked, hence when they tried to use my given Peru address, things didn’t work.) I found this out when I got to Puno, and emailed the women to clear thins up. While she was quick at responding to what she wanted, I never got a reply as to whether things were sorted. So  when I opened my account to find that my order was still ‘on hold’, I became rather livid and wrote a very sharp email back to this silly cow and as well as the general info email. I thought I had explained myself fairly clearly in my first exchange. If you think that ‘American Service’ is the same as you see on the tele, you are mistaken. This was the company who was supposed to have saved me a shed load of money and time, but clearly I should have taken the huge postal hit and order from Europe - at least my gear would already have landed. I have told these jokers to respond within 48 hours with a guaranteed delivery date or my order is getting cancelled.

Under a slight cloud I headed out for dinner. This evening consisted of a soup starter as usual - chicken feet again. Not sure I am ever going to get used to eating chicken legs, so I just drink the soup instead. Mains is a delicious (perhaps too salty!) roasted chicken, some french fries and heavenly spicy vegetable rice. Ends up costing an arm and a leg too, S13! Dinner sorted, I head back to the ‘hospedaje’ to sort out some final things. Then begins the task of clothes rationing, most are rather dirty already and I still have at least three more days in one set. The hostel is going to have some washing to do. I managed to come across a yellow plastic bag into which all my washing is going - a suitable colour given the bio-hazard contained within. 

24/12/2012

Left very early today - no need to stick around in this dirty and horrid room or town. It was only a 15km ride to Laguna Huacarpay, but my map did not show up the amount of climbing that would be done. Stopped along the way to bird a few marshy areas, add a couple of new species to the Peruvian list - Mitred Parakeet, Masked and Golden-billed Saltator, Plumbeous Rail and a Black-crowned Night Heron.

The hills become a little steeper, so I give up on the birding and concentrate on the hills instead. After one last pass, I have a long and steep downhill all the way to Laguna Huacarpay. After passing through the town, I head off to find the access road to the lake. Birding starts off with all the familiar Andean aquatic species - even manage a few sightings of the expected Many-coloured Rush Tyrant. Nothing particularly special, but I didn’t come here for lake and aquatic species - my targets were Hummingbirds. On cue, one of the more attractive species makes an appearance - Sparkling Violetear. This turns out to be a common species, violently defending it’s patch against all interlopers. A slow pedal around the lake adds a few other species, but the two I am really looking for (Bearded Mountaineer and Green-tailed Trainbearer) are proving rather troublesome. Every yellow tubular flower gets a cursory once over, every hummingbird calls gets investigated. 

A small rocky copse is alive with Hummingbirds, but they are all Giant. I take some grand images before moving a little further along. I stop at a local restaurant where the Mountaineer appears to be seen regularly. I am not in luck - the restaurant is not serving and there are precious few flowers. I am about to head off when I get the Trainbearer - but only an in flight whizz past me. I decide to take another trip around the lake for good luck. Despite taking even more time to investigate each bush, a few trips along side roads - there appears to be no Bearded Mountaineers. It is now starting to get hot and birding activity in general has quietened down. I decide to pass on any more searching and head off towards Cuzco.

The wind is giving it some welly - into my face as usual. A large rain storm looms ahead, so I decide on taking lunch and hope that the rain will blow over in the interim. Lunch is an interesting affair - a huge pice of dry pork crackling with roasted maize kernels. I hadn’t realised that mains were yet to come - 4/5 large pieces of pork with an entire potato, more maize kernels (boiled this time) and some salad. I attack the protein and leave the rest, I still have lots of hill climbing to do. Although the wind is gusting and the road uphill, Cuzco is one of the better cities I have cycled into - a long and secure cycle route placed on a landscaped central reservation. At least I don’t have to worry about the cars while struggling up the hills. I stop a few times at conveniently placed and covered benches. The remaining cycle up to the hostel does not take too much longer. I check in a day early, tomorrow being silly season - hopefully not too big a deal around here. 

Get out for dinner, the town is heaving but not complete chaos. Very good pizza followed by a irritable stroll back to the hostel amongst thousands of people thronging the sidewalks. Take my chances in the road with the traffic instead. 


25/12/2012

Spent the day relaxing after some heavy cycling. Yesterdays decision to proceed to Cuzco rather than fart about any more was a good one. Not sure my knee and hamstring would have coped with another days cycling. Surprisingly, the hostel has quite a few people staying. Managed to avoid any direct contact with believers of such silliness - mostly rather drunk and delinquent Australians. Otherwise have interacted with a small number of people, fortunately of like mind. Most of the days has been spent waiting for the day to end so that I can get back to the business of sorting out the details of my impending trip down the Manu Road. Emailed a few lower Manu lodges requesting accommodation - bloody dear most of them - around US$150 per night minimum. Add to that the cost of getting across the river - ranges from US$50 per way to $550 depending on your departure point and target!

The sun shone for short while today, otherwise just overcast conditions. Tomorrow I will head into town and sort out the motorbike hire. Slightly anxious, don’t have a motorbike license, have only ever ridden one for 5 minutes some 12 years ago! I’ll make it up as I go along as I normally do, but need to get away from the dealer without stalling too many times!  

A quiet night in turns into a rather long and slightly drunken one. Spent the afternoon chatting with a women from Colombia (Sandra). With both of us on our aces, we had dinner and much against my will ended up dancing in the co-incidentally named Mama Africa. I know for a fact that the last person who saw me dance was my bar manager in Fulham in 2004! I certainly haven’t improved, and can be thankful that no video footage was taken. 

26/12/2012

Today was much the same as yesterday. Arranged the motorbike hire for 12 days. Much cheaper in person than it was online - NS100 (US$40) per day. Sign off some contract written in Spanish and part with a deposit. Now the fun starts - am committed and cannot bail out. Return to the hostel to re-arrange my gear - can only carry a much smaller amount of gear on the motorbike as it is not equipped with large racks. 

Sandra and I head into town for coffee and cake to while away a few more hours. Have a drink at the Cross Keys - Barry Walkers pub (he of Peruvian birding fame amongst other things). One last run through my gear before tomorrows departure to Ollantaytambo.

27/12/2012

Bike collection was scheduled for 08:00, so had a quick breakfast and stowed Chancho with my other gear in the large garage. Watched a quick 8min YouTube video on where the  important bits and pieces of a motorbike are located. Off I went to complete the details and depart with the bike. I have rented a Honda Tornado 250cc off-road bike, replete with studded rear tyre. After kitting up in jacket, helmet and gloves, the moment of truth arrives. The bike is damn heavy - must be at least a few hundred kilograms. I give the bike a studious going over, adjusting my mirrors and checking all the knobs and dials as if I knew exactly what I was doing. I know there is no reverse gear, so I push backwards with my feet - that barely touch the ground. Right, now to turn and head up to the gas station. Manage to get away with a little excessive revving and stall only once. This seems to meet with the owners approval and soon I am far enough away to concentrate more on staying upright that merely getting away. Get to the gas station and struggle to get the petrol cap off - key has to be in the ignition and the stand has to be deployed before the cap will respond. The petrol attendant calmly lets me sort this out without interruption. Full of gas, I now need to make my way back to the hostel. I drive back past the dealership, the owner still standing outside as I ride rather slowly past in 2nd. Damn town is a one way nightmare, takes half an hour to get back to the hostel. I load up and strap my gear down securely. My backpack weighs an absolute ton. Find a way of balancing it on my dry bag strapped to the rack. Say my goodbyes and head off down the motorway. Fortunately the traffic is light, so I get to fart about with the gears and brakes a little. Stop many times to check my directions are still good. Eventually I leave the town and start making my way up the mountain and out of Cusco. The road is rather windy, so my progress is not swift. The bendy road allows me to get into the groove of swaying the bike and learning how far I can tilt. Actually, the bike rides pretty much the same as Chancho so I have no problems in that department. 


By the time I descend the mountain into Urubamba, I am feeling much happier on the bike and can now change gears relatively smoothly. I keep my speed below the limit through the town, but finally am able to gear up and open the throttle on the flat road towards Ollantaytambo. Reach speeds of just under 100km/h before slowing down to a more stable speed of 70km/h. Within a few hours of riding, I have gone from novice to impatient - zipping past busses and trucks. Soon I have mastered the South American art of honking my horn at all traffic, pedestrians and at any other time that makes me feel happy. 

Ollantaytambo is reached just as the rain is starting to fall. Glad I did not do this on Chancho as this town has borrowed the Bolivian principle of badly cobbled roads leading into the town - they are even difficult to navigate on the moto. Sit down to an oven backed pizza before trawling the town for somewhere to stay. I will bed down here for two days while visiting the surrounding forests. Find a reasonable joint that had availability. Ollantaytambo is one of Peru’s tourist centrals - the major gateway to Machu Pichu. You know you are in a major tourist destination when the white faces outnumber the locals and there are bus loads of face mask wearing Japs. 

Having dropped my gear, I head up the winding road towards Quillabamba. Given that it is already the afternoon, I decide to go only as far as Penas, about 22km’s up the road. I bird here for just over two hours before heading back to Ollantaytambo with darkness approaching. The rain starts to pour down, hopefully it will empty itself by tomorrow morning. Dinner at the restaurant across the street. Tonight I decide to give Peruvian food a full going over - so it is Cuy el Horno (Guinea Pig) with a Pisco Sours. The Guinea Pig is nothing to write home about, Cane Rat is much tastier and has more meat with less bones. Pisco Sours is rather good though - but my experience of alcohol and altitude warn me off trying too many. 

Birds : Penas - White-tufted Sunbeam, Creamy-crested Spinetail.

28/12/2012

This morning I make the long 45km trip up to the pass of Abra Malaga. Rain is in the air, but it is not particularly heavy. Above Penas, the conditions change quite drastically. I am now very high up, the air frigid with constant drizzle and thick cloud. I make it as far as Abra Malaga, but can barely feel my hands anymore. I have a bout of the shivers, something I am unable to shake for half an hour. 

First action is to hike up a fairly steep hill - all the more difficult at this altitude, acclimatised or not. The next part involves a descent along an arĂȘte, in other words I am walking along a small path at the top of of a sheer cliff. Fortunately this does not last long and I am descending further through polylepis trees and scrub. Birding is tricky, the thick fog and drizzle making for poor lighting conditions. The camera stays in the bag, which is a pity as a very close encounter with a Tapaculo would have made for a cracking record shot. I think the Tapaculo looked at my boots and thought it looked a rather good piece of mossy lichen to root about in. All was going well until it realised that this was not said piece of habitat and scuttled out of sight again. The clouds moves in banks, so for a few minutes I have decent conditions to bird in before having to sit tight and wait for visibility to return. Despite the horrendous conditions, I manage to nail most of the targeted species including the Critically Endangered Royal Cinclodes.

Happy with my efforts, I return to the moto a few hours later and start descending the pass towards the cloud forests around Canchaillo. This effort lasts all of 5 minutes before I abandon the idea and turn around. The descent is steep, the cloud impenetrable and the rain heavy. Clearly I have only been getting the left over of the rain, as the mountain has actually protected me from the full force of the downpour which is being buffeted by a heavy, horizontal wind. Sod to that, I head back down the road freezing my wet hands in the frigid air. I am stuck in a Catch 22, drive quicker and I get colder, drive slower and I have to endure it for longer. I switch between tactics all the way down to Penas where there is actually sun! How half a kilometre in altitude can make all the difference. 

I bird around Penas for the next hour, but there is little happening here. The storm clouds are now starting to appear over the ridge, so I beat a hasty retreat back to Ollantaytambo. I don’t quite outrun the rain and get rather soaked. A good hot shower has me feeling a little happier, change into dry clothes and vegetate for the rest of the afternoon. Start working on my plans for the Manu Road, but have my plans badly affected by the fact that most of the lower Manu lodges are either shut or intent on putting me off from trying to reach them. 

After much back and forth, my impatient and decisive side takes over - telling the opponent to shove it. I won’t go to the lodges, but I will do the Manu Road regardless of what they think. I stop short of linking my blog site just to demonstrate that not only can I do muddy dirt roads, I can do them on a bicycle let alone an off-road motorbike. I’d be more than surprised of the Manu Road could tie the shoe laces of the Yungas Road in Bolivia - but we shall see.

The remainder of the afternoon is spent adjusting my plans accordingly. Am going to be stopping in at the hostel to collect a few more bits and pieces as well as my food bag - will need to take all my cooking equipment and food along. Dinner across the road from the hotel, nothing fancy tonight - pasta and lime juice.

Birds : Penas - Shining Sunbeam. Abra Malaga - Blue-mantled Thornbill, Streak-throated Canastero, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, Royal Cinclodes, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, White-browed Tit-Spinetail.

29/12/2012

Sleep in a little before having breakfast. With the rain falling yet again, I have a go at finding some water proofs. I bag a red plastic poncho but only last a few minutes with it. I don’t like having flappy stuff all over me and soon tear it off. I’d rather get wet - I have the same amount of time for umbrellas, hate the dam things. With all my clothing now drenched, I decide I need to charge my batteries and get my gear cleaned and dried. Leave Ollantaytambo and head back towards Cuzco. Have to re-route via Pisaq as the bridge linking the shorter route to Cuzco is closed. It is very cold wet again. I am in an impatient mood today and make full use of the 250cc engine charging along at near enough 90km/h most of the way. Stop in Pisaq to nose about a little before climbing the mountain towards Cuzco. The descent into town is busy with traffic and my progress is slowed by wet and slippery conditions.

Stop in at the motorbike dealership to change helmets - I had a BMX style helmet with ski goggles, but this meant my nose and mouth froze and I got cold water down my neck. Changed to a proper helmet with visor - thankfully I bagged the only hemet of this style big enough to fit my head. I know I have a big head figuratively, but physically I didn’t think it was all that large - certainly not by European standards. By Peruvian standards, I take an XL helmet! Then again, I do tend to tower a good foot over most of the locals.

Back to the hostel where I decide to stay the night and have all my washing dealt with. They have a tumble drier, so my gear will be back, clean and dry by early morning. Take the opportunity to head into town and arrange for some water proofs (left mine in England by error). Also sort out a SIM card - finally have a card that works in my phone after being cut. Peru is miles ahead of Bolivia in technological terms too, meaning I can get 3G in most places. A large pizza for dinner before an early night. Tomorrow I start the big journey.

30/12/12

My one night in Cuzco was a laundry run as well as a rest from the rain. Have a few bread rolls for breakfast before collecting my dry clothes and packing the bike. I have to carry much more gear on this trip - all my cooking equipment and food must travel with. There will be few towns and places that I can afford to stay in along the way. 

I get out of Cuzco easily enough and head off towards Urcos where the Manu Road is accessed from [ed. it isn’t as I found out days later]. First stop of the day is en-route at Laguna Huacarpy. Gunnar Engblom of Kolibri Expeditions has given me some site information to find the endemic Bearded Mountaineer, the only major bird I missed here last week. I reach the lake just after 10:00 in the morning and make for the specified site, checking some small valleys along the way. I spend a good hour searching the flowering tobacco bushes to no avail. I continued around the lake hoping to replicate some of the photos that were botched last week due to dodgy camera settings. The rocky outcrop that had been filled with Giant Hummingbirds last week is dead quiet. Even the numerous Sparkling Violetears are now few and far between.


With nothing happening here, I jump back on the bike and begin the drive to the Manu Road. The first section is a massive climb, I have to get off and add a few layers of clothes as the temperature dropped horribly. I can see rain falling in the distance, hopefully it will have dissipated by the time I get nearer. The road is rather nice asphalt and I take great pleasure out of scooting up and down the roads. By 13:00, I reckon I should be about half way to the start of the Manu Road, a rather convenient road side restaurant signals lunch time. Not a moment too soon, as the rain starts to fall in earnest. I have a refreshingly hot soup and skip mains as I am not overly hungry. I have also just checked my GPS for the first time and realised that I am about 40km’s off course. For some reason, I assumed that the asphalt carried on to Huancarani. Clearly it didn't, and I now have about 40km's of backtracking to do. [ed. it does, just from a different direction!]

This buggers up my plans completely, as this will have wasted over 4 hours of driving time getting lost and re-routing. My rain gear is getting a good testing, while not heavy, the rain is persistent. I find the turnoff, not an obvious road - nor a sign. Off we go then, the bike now starting to pay back the load I have forked out for it. After 7km's, I end up at an astrological observation post where the road ends. Consult the GPS again to find that I am off route again. Back to the main road and follow the GPS more carefully. I drive over a maze of unlikely looked roads, past farm houses and fields. I reach a T-junction where my GPS says to turn right rather than what I expected to have been a left. I follow the GPS and end up at the main tar road as I had been expecting. The Manu Road could not be have such an arbitrary beginning. The tracks I had been on did not look driven for a long time. So clearly my GPS route is slightly incorrect or I am very lost. Time is ticking by, my hopes of birding the Tres Cruces area are pretty much over and I am working on a contingency. I know that if I can reach Paucartambo, then there will be a cheap place to stay not too far from the beginning of the road.

I turn around and start driving back up the road, intuitively I know I need to go this way, but am not sure at all. Time to ask for directions! I see a huddle of people on the road up ahead and reckon they would be a good bet. I slow down and retract my visor, but don't get as far as asking for directions. On the ground is some poor women, skull cracked open and litres of thick, congealing blood all over the road. I only passed this spot 3 minutes ago and they certainly were not here then. I barely stop, conscious of what I am seeing before engaging gears and heading off. There is nothing to be done here, the man standing over this poor sod fanning her may as well be praying - both equally useless, she is as dead as the rock she landed on. It does not look like a collision, I can only surmise that she was the rear passenger on a motorbike taxi that fell off the rear and landed headfirst on a large rock in the road. Such is life.
I flag down a passing taxi driver and ask him where the road to Manu. I am on it he says, keep going up. Safe in the knowledge of knowing where I am going now, I pull my right wrist back and open the throttle. I know that today is Sunday, the day that all the guide books say to avoid travelling this road on. Allegedly vehicles are supposed to travel up and down on alternate days, Sunday is the free for all in either direction. The rules of the road are simple, when approaching a blind curve, or whenever the fancy takes you really - just sit on your horn. If you get a reply, then you best slow down and accommodate whatever is coming towards you. 

The road climbs some more, before levelling off at around 4000masl. I make decent time, but cannot get any form of rhythm going as the road surface is so changeable. Hard sand, soft sand, rock, mud, water, river, waterfall and repeat - multiple times. There isn't much traffic on the road, so it is really the road surface that takes up most of your concentration. The drop offs are not overly concerning, a few hundred metres here and there. My mind wanders back to the dead women on the road, it occurs to me that it has been many years since I last saw a dead person. Also a traffic accident, outside of Durban in 1998. Driver going to quick, missed a sharp left in the road and ploughed into a telephone pole. Much the same as here, nothing to be done with an eviscerated cranium and brain matter all over the show no matter how desperate the pleas of the passengers may have been.

I reach the town of Huancarani just after 16:00. I didn't bother to make a distance spreadsheet of this route, something I would certainly have done if I had been on Chancho. Therefore, I did not know how far away the town of Paucartambo was. This was a decent looking large town, but I want to get as close to the Manu Road as I can today so as not to waste time tomorrow. All I had available to me was the apparent driving times between places - and these times seem to have been set when Michael Schumacher drove the road in the guise of a local tour guide. I guessed it would take me double the suggested time, all being well I'd get to Paucartambo just after 18:00. I had no idea regarding the lighting conditions up here either - but I figured it would probably get dark no later than 18:30, so it was going to be a little nip and tuck.

I didn't dawdle any further and cracked on. The only judge of distance I had was the shapes of the road according to what I was driving and what I could see on the GPS. The road was shot to shit just outside a small town requiring a non-signposted re-route. I didn't bash ahead on my own this time, asking for directions the moment I thought I might need them. I got back onto the main road soon enough and went up a few more climbs before starting a long descent along a valley. I knew I was getting close, which was a good thing. The light was fading and it had taken me much longer to drive the distance than expected. I rolled into Paucartambo at 18:30 exactly, the light almost too dark to see. First task was to refuel, there is no petrol gauge on the bike and I had no idea how much juice I was chewing up. I was comfortable up to 150km's, apparently I could do over 200km's - but I was taking no chances. 

The first sign of a hospedaje or hostal and I was in. Rain suit or not, I was soaking wet, cold, tired and hungry. I ended up with a half decent bed and a hot shower. Although, to make it hot enough meant turning the tap almost off such that only a small flow of water emanated. I wasn’t complaining, it was the hottest thing I had seen or felt since my soup at lunch. Cleaned up, I dashed out to find something to munch on - the only place I could find in town was a 'chifa'. I quite like these, 'chifa' from what I understand is the way in which rice is cooked here. Firstly, the cooked rice must have multiple other additives - heaps of vegetables and spices before it is pan fried in a wok. Must have been something introduced by the Chinese?, but it is popular wherever I have been in Peru - if only they would export it across the border into Bolivia! 

Fed and water, it was time for bed. Tomorrow was an early start to get up to the elfin and polylepis forests of Acjanaco and Tres Cruces - the start of the Manu Road.

Birds : Andean Tinamou, Paramo Pipit

31/12/12

I have arranged with the owner to open the garage at 05:00. The alarm goes at 04:30, but despite waking up, I put my head down for another '5 mins'. I get woken again by a knock at the door - it is 05:15. Half asleep, I race about getting dressed and assembling my gear. Bike loaded and I am off. As it turns out, in the wrong direction again. This time it only costs me 2km's, but this is getting frustrating - I'll end up being the only muppet who never finds the Manu Road at this rate. Back on course, I crack along under some sunny skies. The air is still rather nippy, so I am wrapped up like the Michelin Man. I stop half way for a break and to admire the view of the distinct peak bathed in sunshine. I finish the last 15km's and reach the park headquarters, after all my wrong turns - I am finally here. 

I get to the start of the side road to Tres Cruces, but there is  a chain across the road. Guess I'll have to walk in that case. Just then, a women from the park headquarters finds me and tells me that I need to register before I can continue along the road. I do this gladly and pay a small entrance fee to access the park. Chain down, I head off for my first morning of mega birding. The weather is still holding, but large clouds are approaching quickly. I stop half way along at some interesting looking habitat. Barely have a started birding when thick cloud moves in and obscures my view of everything. Thus I bird in patches, waiting for the clouds to dissipate for a few minutes before birding in a frenzy. Never the less, the birding when it happens is very good. I find the majority of the birds I am after, finally quitting the elfin forests when the clouds become 'stuck'. I resolve to return on the way out, hoping for better weather, but satisfied with my efforts so far.

The plan is now to head as far down as the lower cloud forests for the night. Within minutes of leaving the high latitude polylepis and elfin forest, the rain intensifies. Little changes along the way. Based on a recent report, I figure I have just over 40km's to the cloud forest and the ecological station located there. After not even half that distance, a large signpost signifies that I am now at the Wayqecha Biological Station. This cannot be right, I should still have another 20km's to go? Consulting my GPS, it does indeed look as though this is the place. Oh well, it means I have more time to bird here. I get off and walk down to the houses below. Clearly there has been some development here, for there is now accommodation and a large dining hall. None of the previous trip reports mention anything on this kind of scale. With the rain intensifying, I decide I might stay indoors tonight rather than in the tent. I find the lodge manager and enquire as to costs, 80 he says. I can stomach that, even includes food. So we look at a room and all is agreed. I head over to the main building and sort out the basics. I am looking over his shoulder as he writes down 80 and then 212 next to it. Turns out, it was not 80 soles as I had thought, rather US$80! I tell him this is way beyond my budget, what is the charge for camping instead? US$50! Sod to that, it is all too expensive for my tastes I tell him - I'll be off in that case.

Now I am not sure what I am going to be doing. I look along the road on the way down for suitable places to camp - not much unfortunately. I'll figure that out later in any case, for now I bird when I can. The two tunnels and a few bridges are the next major birding spot. Indeed there is a very colourful tanager flock, but little else. Curtains of rain fall every 10minutes or so, thus my birding time is rather limited. By the time I am finished the tunnels section, I have to make a decision. Looking back up the road to the thick cloud and rain, it seems an easy decision to forego the cloud forest for today and head down to San Pedro where there are some lodges. I have made prior arrangements with one of the lodges to camp and use the facilities for the more palatable fee of US$25 per night. I pass the famous Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge which is closed, before pulling into the second lodge. For some or other reason, I muddled up the names of the lodges that I had made arrangements with. I walked in and found the manager, asking if this was Paradise Lodge - it was indeed he said. (ed. I had made arrangements with Panticolla Lodge). 

We chatted in circles for a while, eventually I get convinced to give up on the idea of camping and stay in one of the rooms - US$150 per night. I was tired, wet, cold and confused. By the time I realised that I was at the wrong lodge, it was already too late. When I arrived here, I had US$200 and NS400. Now I had blown most of my major currency and still had another week to survive on the rest as I doubted there would be any banks lower down. I resolved to forget about the expenditure and make do. A very welcome hot shower followed by some late evening 'verandah' birding with coffee in hand. Just as dusk was starting to fall, my very last lifer of 2012 landed at a hummingbird feeder - a glorious male Booted Racket-tail. They don't come much better than that as year ending lifers go! The years statistics follow at the end for anybody interested. Dinner was a pile of rice with a few cold vegetables and a large cut of pork - quite the US$150 bloody dollars worth.

I am not the only client tonight oddly, there is a Russian couple in residence too. They offer me some champagne, but I rather stupidly decline. The generator got switched on for a few hours which allowed me to charge my devices. Then it was time for bed - tomorrow the rain would hopefully stay away for a while and I would be able to add a hatful of lifers to my list.

Birds : Taczanowski’s Timanou, Tanagers (Golden-collared, Golden-collared, Scarlet-bellied Mountain, Hooded Mountain, Grass-green, Blue-capped, Silver-beaked & Chestnut-bellied Mountain), Hummingbirds (Great Sapphirewing, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Tyrian Metaltail, Amethyst-throated Sunangel & Booted Racket-tail), Flowerpiercers (Moustached, Black-throated & Masked), Puna Spinetail, Line-fronted Canastero, Sedge Wren, Paramo Seedeater, Fulvous Wren, Southern Mountain Cacique, Andean Guan, Pearled Treerunner, Grey-eared Brush Finch, Handsome Flycatcher, Marcapata Spinetail, Blackburnian Warbler, Diademed Tapaculo.