This week’s #tbt is brought to you by the country Peru, the year 2009, and some pics of me posing with a sandboard and rusty mountain bike, attempting to look badass.
The plan: a seemingly simple-to-navigate map that outlined hike and bike paths along the Sacred Valley including the villages of Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, Maras, Moray, and Salinas, a rusty mountain bike I rented from the local hostel owner in Ollantaytambo for the bargain price of $15 a day, a rather ambitious plan to mountain bike to Maras, the ruins of Moray and continue onward to uncover the salt pans of Salinas and me, a native New Yorker and avid solo traveler, armed with a decent grasp of Español and not the slightest bit of mountain biking experience.
The first fifteen minutes of riding seemed straightforward enough, although not particularly scenic, as I cycled down a dusty, narrow asphalt road with passing trucks and cars. After passing by a number of barn-like doors and sign posts on my downhill ride, I began to lose sight of the bright blue landmark that indicated the turnoff to reach the back roads, and began to worry. Even I, as directionally challenged as I am, realized that something was not quite right and the road on which I was riding would simply lead me back to Maras, out of the way to the salt pans of Salinas. Numerous attempts to ask locals about the best way to get back on track to the Salinas-bound camineto were met with confused faces and incomprehensible Spanish/ Quechuan (the language of the indigenous people of the Andes), with fingers pointed in all sorts of directions – abajo (down there!), izquierda (to the left!) derecha (to the right!), derecho (keep going straight!). At least all confirmed that the road I was on did indeed lead back to Maras, and that my best bet was to cycle back towards Moray to orient myself.
As so I did, after about 2 hours of riding, feeling pangs of defeat, dehydration, and hunger. On the way back to Moray, I spotted something blue, but was too paranoid at this point to trust my own instincts. So instead I sat right below the blueish thing and munched on the lunch consisting of an apple and empanada I had brought with me while I gathered my thoughts and resolved, reluctantly, to return to Moray and admit to Jose that I had somehow gotten lost. Still defeated and dehydrated but no longer hungry, I rode back on the asphalt road to Moray, running into a young local boy on the way. I showed him the now-not-so-simple- to-navigate-map and he confirmed the existence of a camineto that bypassed the asphalt roads but delivered some not-so-pleasant news: there was not only a camineto, but a network of them – quite complex and convoluted to navigate, and using the trails to get to Salinas and then Urubamba would alone take several hours. The problem was that I only had about a couple to spare, as I had to get back to Ollantaytambo in the evening to catch a Macchu Picchu-bound train. When I had reached the ruins of Moray for the second time that day, Jose, my guide, was quite surprised not only to see me again but also to hear that I had trouble locating the turnoff, which he confirmed was indeed the bright blueish sign post under which I had lunched. I then relayed the story about the intricate network of caminetos that the young boy had told me, and Jose’s response, though somewhat laughable in hindsight, struck a bit of fear in my heart at the time: ‘It’s easy – just take the one in the middle. That will lead you to Salinas. Actually, maybe you should just bike back to Maras and then head to Salinas from there so that you don’t get lost again.’ Again, the determined and somewhat stubborn New Yorker in me resolved to find this elusive camineto to see the incredible salt pans of Salinas before I could throw in my bike helmet and call it a day, though the lack of time and increasingly complicated nature of the route was beginning to worry me at this point, New Yorker or not…
(Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Adventure Insider Magazine)