From Pisac we headed south….but not for long. As we reached the small community of Urcos, Vanna started protesting. It was the same intermittent problem we had had since Colombia. But this time she stopped and refused to move. Thanks to the iOverlander app we could see that we were close to a recommended vehicle repair shop. After a rest, Bob coaxed her the few hundred meters up the road and then down an incline into El Tigre. Over the next few days we worked with the owner, Cero, and his crew of mechanics, to get Vanna running properly.
Suffice to say we spent the weekend in a hotel in Urcos.
Our room had a corner view of the square. The town seemed dead and we resigned ourselves to a boring weekend. Sunday morning the street noise woke us early, like 5 AM early. When Big Ben in the square announced 7 bells, I finally got up and took a peek out the window. Surprise. A market had sprung up on the side street right below us. Blue tarps were strung up with string and sticks, and underneath each sat a seller with their wares. We had to take a closer look.
As the day went on the market got busier. People arrived in the back of 3 ton trucks or squished into colectivo vans in traditional dress. This was not a tourist market, as we saw only 2 other gringos all day. Several blocks long, the market had the usual fruits and vegetables and open air meat.
One group of women had a long row of flowers with huge red roses. We saw sheep’s heads for sale, and tiny live chicks. Stacks of eggs, huge baskets of fresh bread and lots of socks and underwear. Some women were selling towers of round white cheese. We walked around until I found a cheese woman who was not sitting right beside a raw meat stand. Turned out that we really liked the cheese as it tasted like feta.
Everyone ate lunch at the market. We chose seats near our hotel where a woman was offering a platter for 5 soles (2.50 Cdn) Another woman sat behind the table and peeled potatoes for the fries. Rice, fries, a wiener cut in fringes but held together at one end, a fried egg on top and a tasty tomato cucumber salad. Everything but the rice and the salad was cooked in a small fry pan over a propane burner on a table in front of us. There were three stools.
As we ate two young girls came along with their dolls. One doll in a stroller and the other wrapped in a pink blanket and carried over the shoulder. They ordered fries and we all laughed when they pulled out little pink wallets and counted their coins on the table. For their age they had a pile of money.
That evening there was a parade. We could hear the band playing from our hotel room and we hurried down to the square. First came a float covered in balloons and carrying the winners of a pageant. The young prince’s sported black suits. The princesses wore satiny dresses with wide winning ribbons wrapped across.
Following the float was a school band, kids with drums, saxophones and trumpets all dressed in colourful costumes. The short stocky bass drummer just whacked that drum, and even though he was constantly turning to look all around, he never lost a beat.
For the next hour we watched dozens of different school classes, or clubs, parade through the square. Carrying home made banners, each group had a different costume, an unusual hat or headpiece, and performed a unique dance.
Some kids pranced like horses, others twirled and jumped, some had a little shuffle forward and back. The crowd loved it and so did we.
After several days of running around, and thanks to Mike from slowcarfasthouse for providing the correct model of fuel pump assembly, the guys at El Tigre had Vanna up and running. She now sails up the hills without complaint.
Leaving Urcos late in the day, we headed south on PE3S and stopped at a small hotel run by a friendly family. For safety, the kind owner insisted we bring the bicycles in to the main floor restaurant for the night. His wife ran around bringing us an extra pillow, then toilet paper, then towels – items that aren’t usually in the room here when you arrive.
The next morning we decided to have our breakfast there. What were they serving you ask? Caldo de Galina. A large bowl of flavourful chicken soup, including a boiled egg, a small purple potato, a small yellow potato, a chunk of yucca and some part of a chicken. Coffee was also unusual. First they gave us a thermos and Bob poured out two cups. But it was just hot water. Then they brought a glass carafe of coffee. We thought “OK here’s the coffee”, and poured the hot water back into the thermos, then poured ourselves two full cups of coffee. But the coffee was cold. Light went on. You pour half and half. Then you have hot coffee. Don’t ask why, just drink the coffee. And then eat your soup.
Rainbow Mountain had been on our mind since our visit to Peru last February. And now we just happened to be close to where an access road had been newly constructed. It was a 2 hour hair pin drive. But spectacular.
Surrounded by mountains, red soil, and sage colored vegetation, we drove up and along a mud colored river as it raged downwards, through small villages, past small corn plots. Alpaca everywhere.
The road was narrow and if I put my hand out I could easily touch the rock faces as we squeezed by. There was no room for 2 cars to pass by but fortunately this new route had little traffic. Because of all the bends we could see a car coming which gave us time to find a spot to pull over and let it by.
When we reached the higher level parking spot there were only a half dozen other vehicles there. We left Vanna and started the hike. It was gruelling. Take a few steps, stop, gasp for air. A young couple descending stopped to give me a sniff of Muna oil. Thanks folks, that helped considerably.
An hour and a half later Bob and I stood at 5,036 meters, staring across at Rainbow mountain. Stripes of greens, reds, golds, greys and teal run down both sides of the peak making a V-like formation that is captivating.
Along with 100 others who were on tour from Cusco, and had hiked up from the other side, we stood in the icy wind, and were awed by this Montana de Colores. Struggling on the way up I had asked those young people “Vale la pena?” (Is it worth the trouble) and the answer returned was “yes”. Now at the top I definitely agreed.
That night, by accident, we stayed in a lovely refurbished colonial hotel in the town of Sicuani. I had read the reviews and read “40 soles” but when I went in to the reception, she said 140 soles. Oops. But having spent most of our Anniversary lolling about a mechanic shop, we were due for a splurge. The hotel had beautiful wood doors, tiled staircases with wrought iron railings, and a common area with fireplace.
Our room had a sitting area with a comfy chair and a proper hot shower. Dinner in the restaurant was excellent, and in the morning the included breakfast was not chicken soup.
On Friday we opted to visit a UNESCO grass rope bridge, a little off the beaten path. It turned out to be one of the most scenic routes we have ever driven. From Sicuani, we drove north to Combapate, then west on PE34F to Queswachaka (the rope bridge) and then south on CU130 to the town of Espinar. It took 5 hours.
The wide valley vistas were incredible. We drove through sleepy adobe villages, past of cattle, sheep, llama and alpaca accompanied by shaggy black sheep dogs.
Women in wide red skirts and leggings were hoeing or seeding or sitting on the grass watching over their flocks. We waved, they waved, young children ran to get a better view of us, then shyly waved. We saw a few discers attached to tractors but most work being done was by hand.
There were only a few other vehicles all day. But there were thousands of potholes to drive around. Some were too wide to straddle and we had to dip carefully down and across . Average speed 15 km/ hr.
In one small community we passed a group of school kids dressed in yellow soccer jerseys waiting at the side of the road. A few adults, maybe their coaches, waited with them. They yelled, and whistled at us as we drove by.
Most towns were quiet, but one we drive through was celebrating. Throngs of men in leather cowboy hats and women in sparkly top hats were getting on or off transport vans, climbing in and out of the back of trucks. Good in baskets and canvass bags were piled everywhere. Main Street through town was closed to construction and the detour was choked with Tuktuks, motos and 3 ton trucks. We inched our way past.
At Queswachaka, the grass rope bridge was impressive. Acknowledged by UNESCO, it warranted a National Geographic article in 2018. Yes, you can find it online.
A community undertaking, the art of traditional bridge construction has been passed down through generations. This last remaining Inka rope bridge spans 120 feet over the Apurimac River. Renewed each June, it is made by twisting ichu grass into different thicknesses of rope.
For 10 soles ($5 Cdn) you were allowed to walk across. On my journey both the bridge and I were a little shakey. The thin loose ropes on the sides provided no sense of security. If you lost your balance I am pretty sure those flimsy side strings would not hold. You would soon be on the last unaided flight of your life. Anyway, I walked across and back, and didn’t die.
The bridgemaster told Bob and I about how he learned from his father and that his 2 sons also now help. He said that at one time this bridge was used to move sheep and llama across the canyon. Although that was hard to visualize. Wouldn’t those tiny hooves break right through the holes in the mat?
After we left the bridge, we drove through more lime and lemon colored grass hills with tufts of spiked grass. Winding tight turns, and the relentless dodging of potholes.
Large dark clouds were accumulating and after 5 hours on this road we pulled into the small town of Espinar. Another hospedaje and cheese sandwiches for supper.