Valley of pleasure: Urcos to Cusco - South America: a first time for everything - CycleBlaze

September 9, 2013

Valley of pleasure: Urcos to Cusco

Daniel - riding uphill in the lion's den
Heart 0 Comment 0

"EVERY DAY," Daniel says, "I wrote in my diary that I´d climbed for 45km. Every day, the same. In the end I just stopped writing it. I only wrote if I´d gone downhill."

Daniel is from the Segovia area of Spain. He says it Ségovie from Franco-Spanish politeness, adding he liked French people because they didn´t make a lot of noise, "unlike other nationalities."

He has been on the road for a little less than three months, starting in the capital of Ecuador and needing to clear Peru in a few days before his visa runs out. "Otherwise I have to pay money."

We meet in a long descending valley - uphill again for him, of course - of enchanting and changing greens, towering mountains jagged at their top and chanelled in vertical waves on their sides. As so often when cyclists cross, Daniel braked and looked across to see if we were doing the same. He´d seen the others in our group but they´d done no more than wave, a disappointment for him, he said. He didn´t say but we sensed that so naturally a conversational man travelling alone yearned for encounters with fellow travellers.

We meet in a glorious and (for us) descending valley beside a chattering stream
Heart 1 Comment 0

"What do you think of the drivers here, eh?" he asked, although it wasn´t a question.

"They´re not used to cyclists but we´re finding them all right," Steph answered. I add agreement but say we´re tired of the tradition of sounding a long blast on the horn before and sometimes during overtaking. It´s not aggressive but it´s wearing.

"I ride just on secondary roads because of that," he says. "Once I try a bigger road and it was..." - he puffs his cheeks in exasperation.

We´d ridden 25km when our paths crossed. Our day started by retracing the last hour of yesterday´s ride. I got up at dawn and found the market already starting.

The town at dawn
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

The first stallholders were setting up, school bus drivers were sounding their horn persistently to persuade recalcitrant students out of their homes, and an army of women in blue were starting a balletic routine of brushing the streets with water pouring from a tanker handpainted with the name of the local council.

The morning washer-women start their balletic and watery sweeping
Heart 0 Comment 0

"This is the real Peru," one of our group had said the previous evening as we walked through market stalls of food, plastic buckets, secondhand books and even cycle wheels. And I thought the same as I sat on its edge this morning drinking what tasted like thick and sweetened grapefruit juice and eating a scrambled-egg bap. Mine was the only white face.

We ride over the hills that had been descents yesterday and then turn into Daniel's valley. The traffic vanishes and the road drops lazily as it follows a chirruping stream. Sometimes we are pinned between high walls with long descending fronds and sometimes the valley is airier.

Bliss on two wheels
Heart 0 Comment 0

We stop for a drink in Caicay, one of only two villages. A woman stands in the street in front of us. She is young but looks old. Her two children, one in a papoose of varied colours, take a shy and then a smiling interest when Steph pulls faces and plays peek-a-boo. But they too have been worn down by life.

It isn´t easy here. When the elder boy smiles, he shows a mouth of rotten teeth ground to a point.

Waiting for the collectivo
Heart 0 Comment 0

The mother and her children are waiting for a collectivo. Trains no longer stop on the line that runs beside the road and through the heart of the village. The bus arrives, packed and crouching on its springs. Two people get off and four get on. A boy runs from the bus, buys a drink from the shop and gets back to the bus before it starts again.

When he smiled, his teeth were rotted to points
Heart 1 Comment 0
...just like his brother's
Heart 0 Comment 0

Across the road a row of disappointed women sit outside shipping containers turned into shops and painted scarlet with the Coca-Cola logo on their side. They had been hoping for a rush of passengers and they´d got none.

We watch as they go back to their three-legged stools and wait for the next bus, the next chance of a few coins. We ride on and leave them to their hopes, their hard lives and perhaps to their empty stomachs. They smile and wave as we pass. But they - and we - are conscious we have done nothing to make their morning better.

A bit of wayside flagellation to cheer up our day
Heart 0 Comment 0
Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0