Saturday 12th may.
We left the belly button of the inca world, and headed off towards Nazca over 500 miles away. We were due to split the journey at a roadside lodge after 285 miles. Our route passed through the valley of the incas, taking in many of cusco's attractions on the way. This was to mark the beginning of the end of the high Andes as we dropped from over 3800m to a negligible 500m at Nazca.
We left Cusco by winding up over the top of its surrounding hills towards the amazing Inca site at Sacsayhuaman, and heading off toward Pisac, another ancient conical heap. We were in company with Kevin, Mike&Di and Julia, and had managed about 20miles, within sight of Pisac (worth seeing), when a text came in from Alan, (vanman). DB had managed to fill his tank with diesel and would therefore be "slightly delayed". Cue tearing of hair. Depending on the damage, this could be the end of the trip for yet another bike. Eek. Kevin turned around and headed back, while the rest of us moved on to the main plaza at the village outside Ollantaytambo fort and waited for the news. It turned out that "diesel" Dave was a lucky man, and the bike was rideable.
In celebration we drank surprisingly perfect frothy coffee and weighed the balance between the huge entrance fee for the inca fort versus the equally surprising entertainment value of watching a live show given by the locals, for their mums, (this being the day before mothers day) who were sitting, shawls and hats clamped firmly on, in their hundreds, grimly waiting to be entertained. The prize act seemed to be a stirring oration from a man with a magnificent elvis quiff, and a singing session from a series of strangled cats.
I decided to go for a reccy, and wandered around the side of the fort, idly taking photos and mysteriously found myself further and further up the side of the mountain, until I found myself in the main part of the fort surrounded by tourists. I'd done it. I'd broken into an inca fort! It dawned on me that the conquistadors subjugation of the massive inca empire may have been a touch trickier if someone had locked the back gate. I descended in triumph, only slightly undermined by the need to scuttle ignominiously out the front door when the doorman's back was turned. Our friends would have been suitably impressed with my tale of derring-do but for the fact that most had already left and the few left behind were wearing earplugs trying to muffle the sound of the cat stranglers' who were still serenading the mothers mafia.
We left Ollantaytambo in good shape, confident we could make the lodge at the mid-way point in plenty of time. However maps can be highly deceptive, particularly in south america, where to save ink, they avoid indicating fiendishly windy roads by just connecting the first and last bits with a straight line. Going round these curves felt good at the time, where the steeply rising passes could be attacked with some vigour, but slowed progress quite a bit. Especially due to my habit of going "wow" at every new turn, and stopping to take a photo. This annoyed my passenger, who developed a habit of squawking long and loud every time she detected me slowing unexpectedly. This reflex seemed to kick in strongly very early in my unbiased view - after only about 30 or 40 photos - Twisty bits in this case took us up over 4000m again for a "zone de neblina" where clouds slowed our progress to a crawl before descending again via another tortuous series of switchbacks.
We eventually cleared the pass and began our descent into the city of Abancay. This seemed to be a working city that got round its limited aesthetic appeal by setting up its very own Tourist Trap, and populating the place with mental dogs prepared to give everything for the chance of some juicy biker leg. In this case the Trap looked suspiciously like a full blown manhole, minus cover, which left a full sized hole in the middle of the road. Slightly freaked and lightly chewed we continued.
The light was starting to fade rapidly, we had another 85miles to go according to the route notes, along the bottom of a mountain gorge to our lodge. We'd seriously misjudged the light, and the surrounding mountains cut it off quickly, leaving 80miles of jet black mountain gorge to negotiate. Most severe corners were well marked with cats eyes, unlike the scattering of rocks in the middle of the road, partial landslides and not so severe but completely unmarked "normal" corners. The miles ticked down very, very slowly, with a horrible tension between wanting to get there quickly, and not wanting to die horribly. I was very conscious too, of my wonderfully enhanced uk-legal headlights that did a pretty good job of blinding any oncoming trucks outside the uk. This excitement aside the highlight was probably a large landslide blocking 95% of the road, leaving a small passable chunk about a metre wide, that could be passed easily in good light, on a 4x4, but not so easily at night, on 2 wheels, when bug eyed with fatigue. We'd got about 15miles to go, and Alan had decloaked behind us, when some random strangers ran out into the middle of the road trying to flag us down. Luckily this was the globebusters crew at the lodge and not some horde of random nutters - These were our nutters! I braked so hard that I forgot to put me feet down and we toppled slowly over. Adding another graze to the left hand pannier, and yet another bruise to my ego, but sod it, we'd made it. Darkest Peru indeed.