Gnarly Poolside Adv.
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Darnestown, MD
The final day... Lares, Calca, Pisaq, and Cusco
We were up early and were eager to leave the Lares Hot Springs. We had another big ride planned, and would be crossing the Amparaes high mountain pass and climbing to nearly 17,000 FT elevation before attempting to return to Cusco via Calca. We had more in store that day than we bargained for.
Our route for the day:
We retrieved our bikes and left the gated compound.
I was really impressed with the Falcon.
The town of Lares:
We began climbing, and I realized that I was lacking adjectives to describe the scenery.
It was hard to comprehend the vastness, almost a feeling of inverse claustrophobia.
Do you see two motorcycles in this shot?
Again, there are two bikes in this picture.
The scenery was breathtaking, but we were too often reminded that the road requires full concentration.
Llama and Alpaca thrive at high altitude.
After we crossed the mountain pass and had begun our descent toward Calca, we were stopped at a checkpoint. It was explained that there had been a major landslide, and that the road had “caído en el río" (fallen into the river). The man in charge said it may be possible to pass at 10:00 PM when the workers would be changing shifts.
This news presented a dilemma, for we were scheduled to fly out of Cusco early the next morning. We consulted with several locals and considered our options, none of which were optimal:
Option 1 – Wait and hope that we can pass at 10:00 PM, and then continue a minimum three hour ride in complete darkness through Calca and Pisaq, and then on to Cusco, dodging livestock, potholes, and unlighted vehicles along the way. If we could not pass through the landslide, it would be a difficult night at 14,000 FT elevation with depleted food and water supplies.
Option 2 – Backtrack and find paved roads to make the beeline to Cusco. This would be the safest bet, but would take two days, thus we would need to reschedule our flights (which would be difficult without phone service).
Option 3 – A few locals said that it may be possible to free-range across the mountain and avoid the landslide altogether. We studied our maps, and determined that it would be necessary to cross the mountain ridge, traverse the valley on the opposite side, and then follow a river bed that joins the Urubamba River in Calca to reconnect.
Juan, with eternal optimism, said we had possibilities.
Adventure trumped rational thinking and we chose option 3. We rode through remote, high elevation farm country, working our way toward a crease in the mountain where we thought we would have the best chance to pass. We spoke with shepherds who had heard legends of those who had crossed the mountain, some driving livestock, but none had done so personally. The scenery was beautiful, with lush greenery and icy natural lakes.
We climbed until we reached the partially thawed permafrost near the snowline of the mountain. We could see the crest, but there was no path whatsoever and we simply could not find traction. I was enjoying the adventure and am not one who likes to accept defeat, so I turned on my GPS to see if the tracks that I had loaded from Perut.org covered this area. Unfortunately not, but I did notice that my GPS registered 16,460 FT elevation. We were no longer riding; we were surviving, and could not afford to spend the night at this altitude.
Turning back, I achieved a stellar performance in leading our group down the mountain. I selected a path which led to a gap in mountain range, and our new course would hopefully bring us closer to Calca.
As I rounded a sheer vertical rock face to my left I was confronted by a large bull about 30 meters ahead. I stopped, trying to gauge the severity of the threat. He was snorting, his head was down, and he was scratching the dirt with his right front hoof. Not good. There was no room to escape to my left, but on my right were a herd of cattle. I veered sharply toward the cattle, and he instinctively ran to protect them, giving me the chance to power back to my left and speed between the bull and the rock face. It took some time to catch my breath, especially at altitude.
Our detour had bypassed the first landslide and we returned to the dirt road, thinking we had a clear shot to Calca. With throttles twisted we ecstatically descended, drifting the turns, jumping obstacles, riding way too fast, accepting unacceptable risks, and generally doing what ecstatic bikers do. But this lasted only until we reached the next landslide.
We had entered the construction zone near the midpoint between two landslide areas and the workers were quite surprised to see us. Several sections of the mountain had broken loose and had descended into the valley below, obliterating the one-lane dirt road. The workers said they hoped to establish a path suitable for crossing at 6:00 AM the following morning.
Culin befriended a stray dog, and then decided to ponder our limited options while resting.
The workers cleared boulders from above.
As the boulders tumbled, the sheep below climbed in search of safer ground.
As darkness was falling heavy construction equipment started moving through the landslide area. We tucked in between several pieces of heavy machinery and hoped to blend in with the construction workers who were arriving for the night shift. We entered the area alongside the incoming workers, and then exited with the outgoing crew.
Our plan largely worked, but navigating the landslide area in complete darkness, surrounded by dust and heavy equipment, was unnerving. Our tanks were on reserve, and we reached Calca on fumes. We refueled and continued on toward Pisaq, encountering several oncoming vehicles occupying our lane while passing. It is scary when you meet a bus passing a truck head-on; it is outright terrifying when you face a car - passing a bus - passing a truck! I reflected that we should have cleaned our headlights at the fuel stop; they were covered in mud and dust.
We finally rolled into Cusco late at night. We were exhausted, but adrenaline levels were far too high to call it a night. We decided to celebrate our survival at the infamous Norton Rats Pub, where we enjoyed food, friendship, darts, and stories at the world's highest biker bar.
After just a few short hours’ sleep we took a taxi to the Cusco airport and flew home via Lima and San Salvador, finally reaching our homes near Washington, DC. The trip had ended, but our lives would remain enriched by the wonderful people and fantastic experiences we encountered in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.