Since our stay in Puno, our route has led to encounters with a smattering of new faces and places. One new amigo was Iñaki, a six-foot-five powerhouse biker from the region of Basque. Spain. We first met Iñaki at the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz, but didn’t bike with him until we met him again on the road after Juliaca, Peru. The fast-spoken Basque native became an instant comrade, helped us improve our Spanish, and pushed us to cover more than 260 km in two days (going from Buenos Aires to Lima in just 3 months, he is on a tighter time schedule than we are). We also had no idea how independent the Basque people are in their linguistic, cultural and ethnic identity from the rest of Spain. Iñaki is quick to correct us if we accidently introduce him as Spanish–he is from el pais Vasco–the Basque country.
The day before we caught up with Iñaki was a challenge. Starting out with a huge hill out of the city of Puno (including a vocal protest by transportation workers on the road), we were trying to reach a certain little town on our map, Caracara, by dusk. But an hour before the sunset, Abe’s keen mechanical eye noticed a slow leak in Michael’s rear tire. Daylight slipping away and gnats stinging our legs, we made the quickest tube and tire swap on our trip so far: about 10 minutes in total. We reached the fork in the road that marked Caracara on our map, but the only sign of life was a friendly 9-year-old girl next to mud-brick house who explained that Caracara was an escuelita, no más–only a little school. She ran the family store by herself while her parents were gone, and we checked another house nearby and got the same story: parents would return around 7pm from fieldwork, and took care of themselves until then. Her parents generously let us stay in their small shed used to store neighbor’s bikes, appropriately for this trip. To add to that day’s drama, we learned that diesel fuel is hard to light for our stove in subfreezing temperatures. But when it lights, it goes up quick. Thankfully we were able to recover from the brief moment of 4-feet high flames and the straw littering the mud floor never caught fire. Phew.
In Cusco, we have relaxed and been graciously well fed in the beautiful home of Cindy and John Kreider, two EMM missionaries who have lived in Cusco for the last 14 years. John administers to a number of churches and the PROMESA school, which has added a new grade about every year. We’ve also had the privilege of talking with Jon Yoder from Alabama, another guest at the Kreider’s house. Jon is a doctor who volunteers his time internationally with medical organizations such as Medical Missionaries International. You can read an article about Jon’s time in Guinea-Bissau here. During our first full day, we had the opportunity to explore the old part of the city by bike, as well as catch up with Justin Yoder, a Goshen College companion who is currently doing a study abroad program in Peru. With all the new faces and relationships, it was nice to catch up with an old friend and hear stories of Justin’s experience.
The past two days have been spent venturing by bus, taxi, and foot to Machu Picchu (“old peak” in Quechua, or as we overheard from an English tour guide, “old boulder”). Instead taking the train, we saved some coin by taking four different mini buses to a nearby hydroelectric dam and then hiking about 10 km to the nearby tourist town of Aguas Calientes. Early the next morning we climbed the 300-m elevation gain up to see the ruins. The site of this incredible Incan city was absolutely fantastic, but we yearned for some background knowledge about the civilization that Peru SSTers get from Jane and Jerrell Richer! Michael enjoyed the maze-like quality of the walls made from irregularly shaped rocks that fit perfectly together, and Abe was struck by the beautiful wildlife of luminescent black and blue birds and grazing llamas.
On our way back to Cusco, we followed the advice of another EMM doctor and stopped briefly at the baños termales (hot springs) in Santa Teresa. The warm water soothed our tired muscles and blisters after a full day of hiking. Despite the fact that we are in incredible biking shape, all of our walking worked a different set of muscles, and today we are as sore as we were at the start of the trip.
Before heading off to Abancay tomorrow, we hope to try some of the local cuisine at a cuyería for a tasty meal of guinea pig.
-Abe and Michael