Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 12: A Mountain Bike Ride

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Our pickup was at 8:00 AM this morning. Carla met us in the lobby with the necessary tickets, introduced us to our guide for the day and wished us well. Our guide was Marco Aurelio (gotta love that; we called him our Roman emperor). Our driver was piloting a very large van, on top of which were five mountain bikes. We would be touring the countryside by car and bike and visiting some archaeological ruins along the way. Our chef, Wilbert, also rode along, as did a bike mechanic, Jonathan. Enigma does an excellent job in providing fully staffed adventures. I had no idea that the three of us would be traveling each day with so many other people to help us.

On the way out of town, we stopped at the same market as the whitewater rafting guides had used. Marco told us that it was a favorite stop of many guides because there was easy parking out front and a bathroom inside. On the drive out, Marco explained the adaptions of the local people to the climate in which they live. He pointed out to Genene that he has high cheekbones and a pouch of fat under his eyes. This helps protect his eyes from the harsh Andean sun. It was interesting to hear him discuss adaptation in terms of human beings. In Genene’s science class this year, they studied the same issue as it relates to animals. Genene loved studying about the cheetah, with its teardrop stain under the eye to help it spot prey in the strong Serengeti sunlight. It is fascinating to see how all of us adapt to our surroundings.

Our first stop on the tour was at the Inca ruins at Tipon.

We immediately saw a large hummingbird, a good omen.

 

The Inca ruins had been ceremonial place–a huaca (sacred place) for the worship of water. The terraces are fine and elaborate. Many spring-fed aqueducts were built throughout the grounds, and all are still running today. The spring runs from the sacred mountain that looms over the site, Pachatusan (in Quechua this means “cross beam of the universe.”) Waterfalls were nestled in the walls and corners, and channels are cut through the grounds. The whole place sounded like rushing water. Marco explained that the Inca did not really recognize four seasons as we do. Instead they divide the year into two seasons: 1) the rainy season, a time for planting, tending and harvesting the fields; and 2) the dry season, a time for construction. It is still so today in Peru. We are here in the dry season, and all kinds of construction can be observed everywhere. People work on the roads, on their houses, on their animal shelters, etc.

Can you see the water tumbling at the corners of the walls?
 

The woman in the terraced fields gives you perspective on how large this place is:

The aqueducts are uncovered in certain areas so that we can see how the water flows:

We climbed back into the van and headed out.

These are the kinds of hairpin turns we navigated all the time:

 

Our second stop Oropesa, a village devoted to the making of “pan chuta” breads found only in this area.

We went into a family compound through this door:

 

The inside looked like this. Notice the eucalyptus wood stacked up all around. It gives the bread a nice flavor:

 

We stopped near the oven and got a demonstration on how the bread is made.

We saw the wood burning oven:

 

The bread is put into this warm room to rise:

 

My mom has a mixer that looks about like this, just a little smaller:

The equipment was not quite state of the art:
 

We bought loaves from this lady:

 

The bread was very fine, sweet and delicious. We tried two different kinds. One was a wheat bread, only with the consistency of cake. The other loaf was more yellow, and I think a perhaps corn flour was used. Each family marks its loaves with a particular pattern of raisins, olives, slashes or other distinctive feature, so that their customers know whether they are getting the real deal. The bread is a point of family and community pride, and contests for best bread are held each year. Competition is fierce.

Breads are also specially designed for events:

Loaves are stacked up for sale:

Genene said that she wanted to have a birthday party and serve nothing but this cake. It was a geat mid-morning treat.

Marco explained that the people of this village can be seen on the streets of Cusco, selling their bread. They wear this particular uniform and hat so that purchasers may know that they are from Oropesa:

According to Marco, the people of Oropesa are “mixta,” a mix of Spanish and Inca. They bake a mean loaf of bread!

 

After this stop, we drove a little ways and parked on a dirt road and unloaded the bikes. Marco was our guide, and Jonathan rode along in case there were mechanical issues on the bike. The van shadowed us as well. We rode on dirt roads and on tarmac. We encountered people moving their cattle and sheep from place to place and had to stop our bikes until the livestock could pass. Everyone on the road wished us a good day and a good journey. Greg was wearing a GoPro, and if we ever figure out how to download it, I will do a supplemental home movie blog.

Greg is feeling much better by now. I’m glad that Carla “didn’t cancel nothing.”

 

We rode our bikes around the edge of Huarcarpay Lagoon, where we saw people fishing and many birds on the wing. There were reeds at the lake’s edge, and the sound of the wind in them rushed like running water. The total ride was less than an hour and was fairly easy, although there were a few small hills and the occasional strong wind.

We stopped at a couple of points along the way to watch the bird life:

We saw people fishing:
More fishing below. At one point on the road, we saw a young boy wearing nothing but a shirt and underwear. I think that was his “fishing attire.”
Sculling on the lagoon:
We got to our “camp” at around noon and took a short break. You can see the camp from across the lagoon in this shot:

 

While the chef fixed lunch, we rode in the car up to the archaeological complex of Piquillaqta (little city), a pre-Inca trade center. Marco explained that there was a strong, highly organized civilization before the Inca. These people, called the Huari, had controlled the area between 500 and 1000 AD, many centuries before the Inca showed up. They built much of the road networks and aqueducts that the Inca would later use, though the Inca and their descendents do not like to admit it. The Huari controlled the area and all the goods supplied. From this centrally located village, they could control the flow of goods from the Amazon, the coast, and the mountains. The site is spread over about 116 acres.

The floors and walls were made of mud and stacked stone and were covered with plaster. They would have gleamed white in the Andean sun.
Marco explained that this is the fruit of the molle pepper tree. We had several dishes that were flavored with this tasty spice. Greg was not supposed to indulge, but sometimes he did so anyway.
The Huari were an advanced civilization, but the Incas ran them over and not much is known about the Huari culture. Depending on who you ask, Piquillaqta translates as “little city” (a name the Incas would have given to minimize the Huari accomplishments) or “place of the flea.”
Can you see the horizontal lines in the side of the mountain? These are old, non-functional aqueducts:

 

By the time our short tour was over, lunch was ready. Our chef today was a genius. He made a special meal for Greg, with less oil and spice. Genene and I got the full complement of spice and grease, for which we were appreciative. There was a beautiful salad, with fresh tomatoes and avocadoes. There was a tender cooked chicken with spicy sauce, quinoa salad with carrots and raisins, potatoes and eggplant, and pasta salad with broccoli. It was all to die for. For dessert, Genene was thrilled to have the tres leches cake.

I annoy Genene again by getting her photo outside the toilet tent. Moms can be so aggravating:
Yikes. More rolls than a bakery here:
Greg won’t smile if he is posing for a photo, but I managed to catch him giggling with Genene:
My world traveler, with a map for a do-rag:

 

We felt like beached whales after that lunch. The staff rushed to pack our camp site, and we got back into the car and headed back to Cusco. I wanted to try the chicharrón, fried pork skins found in one of the villages outside of Cusco. We had passed by on the way out of town.

Marco got us a small sack full from a street vendor:

I enjoyed the snack but was surprised that Greg did not. Genene was asleep and missed the chance to savor the crispy skin, which was akin to a potato chip.

We got back to our hotel at 4:00 PM, washed up and rested.

Here’s the view from our terrace at the hotel:

Can you read the quote on our wall? It’s something akin to carpe diem, I think:

After our afternoon rest, we strolled down past Plaza de Armas in search of dinner. I took a few night shots along the way.

Everyone told us that this guy, situated outside a shop near our hotel, was “good luck.” We could have used him earlier in the trip!

The Catedral in the Plaza de Armas was built on top of an Inca palace using blocks removed from Sacsayhuaman:
 
 

Almost every night we heard fireworks in Cusco. There always seems to be a party going on.

 

Marco had recommended that we try some Chinese food. He told us that Peruvian people love to eat and love spicy things, and like in any place, even the ethnic food takes on the flavors of the area. He told us that the Chinese food would have a Peruvian twist. He recommended La China, and we had a wonderful meal there, although I cannot say that I noticed any particular local twist. It was simply excellent Chinese food. I had a salmon baked on a plank with ginger and garlic. I also had two mixed drinks called La China Hypnotica. Genene had a chicha morada, a drink that Marco recommended “for energy.” It was sugary, purple and delicious. Greg had a glass noodle dish with squid rings and vegetables. He claims it was not spicy. Genene had shrimp and noodles.

We waddled back to Plaza de Armas and headed up the hill toward “home.”
This is Iglesia de la Compañía, built by the Jesuits in 1573. It sits just across the plaza from the Catedral. It was also built atop an Inca ruin. It rivals the Catedral in beauty and prominence in the plaza, which was intentional on the part of the Jesuits. The archbishop of Cusco did not like this competitor to the Catedral and asked Pope Paul III to arbitrate the squabble. Of course, the pope sided with the Catedral, but by the time the decision reached Cusco, Igelsia de la Compañía was almost finished, and so it stands today.
You can see Greg and Genene at the Catedral here:
Can you see how the street goes sharply up, up, up to San Blas?
We stopped often on the steps, huffing and puffing our way:
Back to our hotel, carting the leftovers (because you know we are not going to waste any food!):

It was a great day filled with exploration and adventure. It was good to have Greg back in the bike saddle and feeling good again. Genene, as always, was a trooper and ran us all into the ground. I don’t know what was in those China Hypnotica, but I was feeling no pain for the rest of the evening!

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