Day 6 Thursday March 29, 2012
Woke up at around 7:50 this morning after a fairly restful night. At a little before 5:00am, what sounded like a trash truck slowly made it's way through the neighborhood and had music BLASTING. I wonder if this is a regular occurrence here. I hope not for the locals!
I got up, took a shower and packed. I knew that the market had a large juice area, so I decided to check it out and grab some breakfast. For S5, I scored fresh squeezed orange juice mixed with fresh pineapple juice. The woman first manually pressed the oranges, 6 of them, on one of those cheap plastic pressed. She then dumped the fresh juice into a blender. She turned the blender on and started to chuck two pineapple cores in with the orange juice. After blending it all, she poured the juice through a strainer and into a plastic measuring cup. She poured a glass, and then handed me the glass and the remaining juice in the cup. It was great, and a lot of juice. So tasty.
I walked around the market again briefly and gradually made my way back to the hostal. I finished packing, checked my email one last time and jumped on the bike around 10:45. I filled up the tank and began towards Maras to see the salt mines, 15 minutes away from Urubamba. A few kilometers from town, traffic was stopped by a landslide that was being cleared. I breezed my way up to the front of the queue, only about 6 vehicles deep when I arrived. After waiting over 20 minutes to be allowed to pass through, I eventually made it to Maras.
I blew right past the sign to the salt mines, and rolled into town. I drove through town, following the main road and these red arrows that were painted at each intersection and stopped to take some pictures just past town. A car with a white couple drove past me just as I was sticking my camera back in the tank bag, so I followed them for about 15 minutes down a rough dirt road. I suspected that they too were headed to either Maras or Moray, and they were. The stopped the car just past Laguna Huaypo, and I rolled up next to them to talk.
They confirmed that they were headed toward Maras but suspected that we were headed the wrong way. I got out my map, and the map confirmed that Maras was North of town, and we were South of town now. We turned around, and made it back to town. My map showed the road to Maras straight north of the main square, but the turn of was actually about 3 kms before entering town. The couple stopped and asked some construction workers, and they pointed us in the right direction. I rolled up to the gate, paid my S5 and made my way down toward the mines.
Everyone always says that pictures of the mines is deceiving, and it is absolutely true. The salt pools are much greater than expected. They stretch out over a much larger area than I expected. The pools are all fed from a single tiny creek that slowly spills over each layer. It's a very neat layout, and impress to see.
After exploring the mines for about an hour, I climbed aboard the bike once again, and pulled out the map. It was 12:45 and I had to be back in Cusco tonight. Dark settled in around 6, so I had just over 5 hours of time left on the bike. I was considering going back to Urubamba and then heading east to Pisac via the north route. Several people had told me that Pisac was worth the drive out, and there was a native market hear as well that I would have liked to seen. Unfortunately, I had a loaded bike, and no idea as to whether it was safe to leave it parked there while I took in the town. I also was not sure how long it might take me to get there and then back to Cusco.
I knew that the road I had followed earlier and gotten "lost" on was fun, and it would be nice to get off pavement again for a while. I could take this to Izcuchaca and then on to Cusco. If I arrived in Cusco early enough, I could drop my bags at the hostal and then take off toward Pisac. I hadn't traveled on most of the roads in this plan either, so that is always a plus. I headed south and the road quickly degraded. It was extremely potholed, and rough to ride on beyond about 35-40 kms per hour.
I was offered great views of the lake, farming plots, and locals out grazing their animals. It quickly became apparent that not many foreigners traveled out this way as I rode past two women while standing on the pegs and their mouths literally fell open when, I think, they realized I was white. Sort of weird, but cool to think that I was off the tourist trail. It was a very nice area, and as I neared Poroy the dirt road made several tight switchbacks that were interesting. I honked around each corner, but I would hate to meet another vehicle head on here. I arrived in Poroy, and back to pavement quite a bit sooner than I expected to, and suddenly wished I had my GPS working to check out several other places out this way.
I eventually reached Poroy, and suddenly it began to look dark above me. As I snaked my way back into Cusco, things suddenly began to look familiar, and I ended up on the main road in Cusco. I first saw a sign for the Plaza de Armas before I saw the road that I had taken previously to the hostal, so I decided to detour. Just as I passed the central market, which I had been within a block of previously, but never seen, it began to rain. I snaked through the historic district and found Nuevo Alto again, the road to reach the hostal. I got back to the hostal around 3:00 and it was still raining. I didn't think I had enough time to reached Pisac, explore, and get back to the hostal before 6, so I decided to get off the bike and take a shower. Instead of visiting Pisac, I decided I would see the main market in Cusco.
I called Victor, unloaded the bike, took a shower and set out to find some food close by. I hadn't eaten all day, just had my juice this morning, so I grabbed some papas fritas from the local polleria "Starlet." They were the best I had on my trip. Hot, crispy and delicious. They came with 3 little plastic baggies of condiments, mustard, spicy green salsa, and what I think was mayonnaise. I enjoyed the green and yellow stuff, and another Inka Cola.
After getting the bike checked out by Victor and everything finalized, I made my way to the market. I loved the market at Urubamba, and this one was even bigger. I wandered around taking pictures and checking out the wares for about 40 minutes, slightly amused that there were 9 key makers in stalls next to each other, next to 3 basket makers. I don't know how any one survives when competing with 8 other vendors immediately next to you with the exact same services. Earlier, when I rode by, there was some sort of local dancers at the main entrance, but I was bummed to see them missing now.
I decided to see the Plaza de Armas again and scope out anything happening there. As I wandered toward it, I passed a native crafts market. I did not really have room for any additional gifts, but I always like to see locally produced goods. As I rounded one stall, two American woman were looking as scarfs at another stall. My wife likes scarves, and I heard the vendor say that they were S10. I decided to buy one, surely I could shove it some place.
As I was purchasing my scarf, the women and I began chatting. They had been in South America for 18 days and were headed to the Galapagos and Ecuador for the next 20. They told me this crazy story of a miner's strike in Arequipa that they got caught up in on their way to Nazca. Sounded nuts!
As I approached the Plaza, it was obvious that something was happening there this afternoon. As I reached the Catedral, a dance troupe began performing. It was quite impressive. It appeared to be a competition and several groups were staged to perform next. Each group performed for about 6-8 minutes and represented a different area; each had different costumes and hats. It was very amusing and I'm glad I got to see it. I watched 4 or 5 groups perform and then took a lap around the square.
As I passed "tour row", the section that arranged a bunch of daily tours to various sites, a woman was handing out pamphlets for massages. I declined, but half a block later, I passed a massage parlor. I was pretty stiff and my back hurt some, so I figured "why not?" I paid S30 for a 45 minute massage. Seems like a deal to me! I had never had a professional massage before, but now I know why my wife is always trying to talk me into going with her to the spa. Holy crap, I felt GREAT when I left. Possibly the best $15 I spent on the trip.
As I left the masseuse, it appeared that the dance contest had just wrapped up. The last group, very elaborate and with a 20 piece marching band was slowly making their way out of the plaza, playing and dancing.
I was getting hungry by now, and it was starting to get dark. I knew that there was a vegetarian restaurant near here, but it had been closed my first night in Cusco. As luck would have it, El Encuentro was open this evening. They served vegan and vegetarian versions of Peruvian classics, so I ordered the Lomo Saltado, which is stir-fried vegetables (peas, peppers, onion and tomato) with marinated seitan. Homemade papas fritas are tossed in at the end, and it's served with rice. I believe it to be a modern dish mixing Chifa (Peruvian Chinese) and Peruvian cooking. It is GREAT, I really liked it and it totally hit the spot.
I wandered around the Plaza again taking some evening photographs until it began to rain again. I headed back to the hostal, watched some (bad) Spanish TV, and went to sleep.
The rest of today's pictures and video: