In Ollantambo near Machu Picchu, I was hoping to make it to Puno that same day. Cusco was 2 hours south, then Puno another 6 hours.
Taking a paved road back to Cusco, I was there by 9am and I loaded my bike up with the luggage I had left at Loki Hostel. I wasn’t just picking up my luggage but also a Dutch girl I met my first night there, Eveline. She had told me she was planning on going to Puno the same day and was interested in coming with me on my bike.
As I waited for her to get ready, I went to the bar / dinning area and got some breakfast. As I turn around after ordering my french toast, I see a familiar face struggling with her luggage. It was Erin! Erin was a freind in my same study abroad program back in Chile; I knew she was hiking the Inca Trail around the same time I would be in Cusco but knew nothing more than that. Seeing her there was a crazy coincidence, so we sat down and ate our french toast together, catching up on our last couple of weeks. By the time Eveline was ready Erin was off to catch a flight to Lima. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
The first couple hours on the bike was tough, we hadn’t quite figured out how to manage all the luggage and it was uncomfortable to say the least. It didn’t help that I had my longest day yet ahead of me.
We eventually stopped for lunch in a bustling town (though not a gringo in sight) and adjusted our bags, making a vast difference in the comfort of our trip. The next four hours went by pretty quickly with only one small hiccup getting gas. I passed a dozen gas stations waiting for my tank to reach at least the halfway mark before filling up again. However as it approached that point the number of stations dwindled until there was ultimately nothing. Running low on gas and still a couple hours away, I saw a sign sticking out of a door along the road that read “gasolina”. It was definitely not a traditional gas station: my bike was filled with a funnel and a metal pitcher and all I was given was a gallon. Better than nothing I paid for it and sped off, hitting the speed bump ahead harder than I should have. As I went over I heard a noise once more that I had honestly assumed to be loud farts throughout the trip. Unsure how to ask if Eveline was alright, I left it alone until this point, when I realized the sound only appeared while going over speed bumps. Thinking it had to be more than a coincidence or poor timing on her part, I pulled over to check the bike. Sure enough, my duffle had been pressing against the back wheel and was getting chewed up. The back pocket was destroyed, but for the most part it was salvageable. I tightened the straps and that was dealt with for the day. When we arrived in Puno, it was just as ugly as we had heard. The air was cold from the lake and the sky was gray. We pulled over to a “fancy” hotel to use their wifi to find a cheaper hostel, but exhausted were convinced to stay put for the night. We got room service and booked tours to the floating islands of lake Titikaka for the following morning, falling asleep watching Pirates of the Caribbean dubbed in Spanish.
After a good nights rest we packed our stuff and kept it in storage for the day. Our tour started at 7am; we were meet at the hotel up by an antsy Peruvian woman who lead us to the street corner where we were to get picked up. Bused to the harbour, we climbed into a boat and listened to some very intense live Peruvian music that lasted a little too long as the crew got the boat ready. Our first stop was one of the floating Uros islands. The entire experience was a tourist trap, once proud locals have since succumbed to selling Chinese trinkets outside their houses, pushing for you to buy something. Still though, there is a reason tourists go in the first place. Dozens of islands were scattered around, entirely made of reeds interwoven and laid on top of each other, up to 2 meters thick. The best part of these islands was probably when I got my picture taken in a lookout tower, shaped like a fish, on one of the larger islands we visited. Like that’s pretty cool.
The second island we went to was 2 hours away and was an actual island. It was home to 2,000 people and didn’t have a single road, everything was hauled around on the people’s backs. Food was grown locally, farms terraced everywhere along the island. We hiked across it and ate lunch at one of the residents houses before concluding our tour and heading back to Puno. Not wanting to stay in the trashy city, we decided to drive on to the border and cross in the morning. I went to pick up my bike at the garage and paid the lady running the place, breasts fully exposed as she breast fed her child in a small hut simultaneously counting cash. Yup, I was ready to go. The next 3 hour drive was in darkness but we managed to get to our destination and find a hostel without problems.