Our guide on our mountain bike trip was a wild man named Omar. We
stood around his office for 30 minutes waiting to catch a bus to the
point where we would start biking when all of a sudden he yelled
'Vamos!' hopped on his bike, and sped off into the chaotic streets of
downtown Cusco. We scrambled onto our rented bikes, fumbled with the
strange gears and took off after him. We hadn’t even had a chance to
test the brakes before we were flying downhill into the busy Plaza De
We made it to the bus station intact, and loaded up for the 45 minute
ride to the Alta Pampa, the high plains above the Urubamba river
valley. We cycled for hours surrounded by the awesome peaks of the
Andes and the humble villages hunkered in their shadows. Although the
ride took us generally downhill, the frequent uphill portions were made
brutally difficult by the high altitude.
Along the way we stopped at two unique archeological sites. The first
was an area of ancient circular agricultural terraces where the Incas
experimented with different crops.
After a brief stop at the agricultural terraces and a Coke in the town
of Maras, we cycled across the vast plane descending towards the
Urubamba river. By this point in the day our arms were as tired as
our legs from the pounding vibrations.
The second archeological
site of the day was the ancient salt pans. Spread along the far wall of
the canyon were hundreds of small white pools set in uneven terraces
reaching from halfway up the canyon wall to the valley below.
The path followed a narrow ledge cut out of the canyon wall and our
exhausted arms battled the rocks and rain-cut channels to keep us from
plunging over the edge. We walked our bikes over the roughest patches stopping occasionally to
look at the lengthening sunlight reflect off the salt pools.
Omar guided us down to the Urubamba valley and we rode
alongside the river on the paved asphalt. The last hour was spent in stop-and-go agony as I crawled along the small undulating hills in the valley cowering as
packs of large busses raced along besides me carrying tourists
back to Cusco after their half-day tours of the valley.
After breakfast, of fresh juices in the Urubamba market, the next day
was spent riding along the Urubamba river through small villages,
fields being prepared for the next planting, and alongside yards filled
with drying corn from the last harvest. At one stop Omar bought a
cupful of the local grain alcohol, Chicha, and offered us a taste. It
tasted of fermentation and sugar and packed a mild punch. A very drunk
local woman watched in amusement as we took our small, tentative sips.
We arrived, dirty and sore, in Cusco later that day and checked back
into our hotel for one day of rest before setting out on the Inca Trail
to the mystical Inca city of Machu Pichu.