While in Cusco, the members of my party and I were trying to figure out the best way to get to the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. It’s only about 35 to 40 minutes away from Cusco but a more convenient place to stay since we were heading to Machu Picchu the following day. The idea of renting motorcycles arose and I told the two guys I was traveling with to not worry; I had motorcycle experience and I would be able to keep up.
Now, my “experience” was riding around on a 50cc in the backyard when I was 10. So I’m not sure why I was so adamant that I possessed the required skills needed to maneuver a motorcycle, especially since the only notable thing I did while riding it was crash into our basketball goal. *bows head in shame*
After a short morning flight from Lima, we sat down in a café off the Plaza de Armas where we drank pisco sours and I coaxed the guys for nearly an hour, willing them to have a little faith in me. The café had several different pisco sours and the more flavors I tried, the more confident I became but they were not having it; especially since I kept asking them to ‘just remind me how to shift gears.’ After trying some cuy and alpaca dishes, we finally came to a compromise that required me to take a test drive in front of them so they could evaluate my capability of handling my own bike.
Satisfied with that decision, we all left the restaurant to begin our Peruvian adventure by walking up to the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman. The hike was about a 30-minute walk to the top of a hill that overlooks the city of Cusco. The path opens up to a large expanse and is surrounded by terraced Incan walls that are assumed to be part of a fortress. The sun had just set by the time we arrived which cast a purple hue across the ruins. We climbed around the ruins examining the stones and the precision in which they are spaced. The stones are so precise that a single piece of paper cannot fit between most of them. We made our way over to the largest of the stones to admire its impressiveness and headed back to town for the night.
The next day, we walked through the Incan walled streets of Cusco to a small bike shop off the plaza. When I saw the motorcycle, it was not the small sports bike I expected but rather a fully-fledged off-roading monster. We were standing in a narrow side street with zero traffic and I was instructed to ride down the street, turn around and come back.
The guys stood there with a tiny Peruvian woman in a woven skirt who obviously wanted to watch the impending catastrophe. They watched in anticipation with their eyebrows raised. So, I clamored on top of the bike preparing to prove them wrong. My toes were barely touching the ground and my courage faltered as I realized just how big the bike was, but I turned on the engine and took off down the cobblestone street anyway. The weight of the bike made me wobble for the first few yards and I noticed that the street was hardly wide enough to take the nice, big turn I originally intended. I neared the end fearing that I wouldn’t be able to make it and alas, as soon as I turned the handlebars, the bike went down. Being able to foresee my collision with the cobblestones, I threw my body off at the same time in order to spare my leg from getting crushed.
The bike hit the ground and I tried to heave it back up but my lack of muscle did not work in my favor. I left my dignity on the floor with the bike as the guys walked towards me. I was greeted with looks that said, ‘now that we ALL know what the rest of us already knew, can we go now?’
I was tossed on the back of one of their motorcycles like cargo, disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to participate in this little adventure. I was still humiliated, but as we rode through Cusco, I started to notice how many obstacles the guys had to maneuver around. There were Peruvian women walking alpacas across the streets, big trucks that didn’t stop even if they saw you, children running about trying to sell handmade scarves and pedestrians crossing every which way. I was suddenly glad I wasn’t responsible for avoiding everything. Instead, my attention was diverted to the old Incan walls that formed the city and the Spanish architecture on the buildings.
As I pulled out my camera to start taking some pictures, I realized that I had the much better deal: I got to enjoy the scenery without the added anxiety. Except that when we left Cusco and entered the country, our first stop was a terrifying decision to launch myself into outer space by means of the Human Slingshot (more on that later).
When we were back on the road, we encountered beautiful rolling hills, quiet towns, a sparkling lake and a pit stop where local Peruvians were roasting cuy (guinea pig) on a stick. We took a few detours to ride through the towns and stopped a few times to take pictures and explore. The wind was a little chilly while riding and at that point I was glad I had been resigned to the back of the bike.
Before driving into the valley, we pulled off the road and stopped at an overlook with a small shop that had handmade sweaters and scarves. I bought two sweaters made from alpaca hair and the shop owner was so happy that she gave me some gloves as well. We thanked her and stopped at the edge of the shop where we had a beautiful view of the Sacred Valley below and on the side of the mountain next to us were Incan ruins. As we stood on the edge overlooking the valley, my cheeks still tingling from the cold and my hair in a mess from the wind, I couldn’t help but think that this was how it was supposed to be seen.
Though this view would have been the same had we of driven to it, being exposed to the air and the surroundings as we drove up was much more…freeing. And I felt like we had experienced the journey rather than just getting to the destination.