Cusco's city center: as dense as it gets.
We can bask in the mystical atmosphere of this compound for days, but we have work to do, and the next morning, our small caravan rolls out among the Inca stonework of Cusco along cobblestone streets. Traffic is manageable, but we're filled with an air of urgency; it's over 400 miles to Arequipa, and back in 1995, the road out of Cusco was mostly dirt. Throttles pinned, we speed through farmland before heading back onto the barren Altiplano. It's cold and overcast up here, but by the time we reach Sicuani we find the sun...and the last place I saw Father Gio before he died in 2001.
Hogar or Bust
The direct route remains mostly dirt, with few services along the way, so we decide to hit the paved roads toward Lake Titicaca instead. Alone again on the Altiplano: harsh and beautiful in equal measures, this enigmatic slice of geography reminds me of the Scottish Highlands.
The statue in Ollantaytambo, where you catch the train to Machu Picchu...
Descending off the Altiplano this time, we aren't feeling any ill effects, and while I wouldn't want to drop and do pushups, it feels good to be functioning somewhat normally again. By late afternoon we are positively flying down the helter-skelter road leading to Arequipa. Riding toward the historic city, flanked by two large volcanoes while watching the sun sink, is like being in the middle of a huge 3D postcard.
The chaos and confusion of that first day in Lima is gone from my mind. The traffic moves in a predictable way now, and we have fun blasting down the tight, narrow Arequipa streets, laughing and waving. Three Gringos on large dirt bikes in adventure clothing is something different here, and the townspeople are having fun with us.
Starting the day in a small cafe with the sight of the mountains offering a dramatic backdrop to the city, the mood is perfect. We mount up, and the sun is shining, the temperature is just right, and here at sea level, it's like someone bolted a turbo to the old XRs. We practically fly through the twisting canyons before leveling out on the desert floor.
and Aguas Calientes, where you disembark.
With Moquegua in reach, we settle into a steady 65mph rhythm and make miles across the desert. In the fifteen years since I last visited, somehow this worn and dusty country has been burned into my soul. With its beautiful people, its rich culture, and some of the most stunning scenery in the world, it's no wonder I keep coming back.
After two thousand kilometers of the wildest terrain in Peru, Hogar Belen, in the remote southeastern desert, marks the physical endpoint of our journey (but certainly not the emotional end). A sea of brown eyes and squirming, shrieking, laughing bodies brings our bikes to a halt; it's taken five long days in the saddle of our XR600s to get here, and now we will spend some time with the abandoned children of Moquegua at Hogar. It may not be the Altiplano, but with eyes burning from the tears rolling down my cheeks, I find that it's equally hard to breathe here too.
This orphanage situated on a run-down farm, has been run by 78-year-old Sister Loretta Bonokoski for the last 40 years. It's hard-and humbling-to conceive that this quiet lady has raised over 1200 children, with extremely limited resources. Sr. Loretta invites us in for lunch and gives us a forum to relive our journey. We talk about Father Gio with mixed emotions; it was through him that I learned of the orphanage and its plight. But soon we are laughing and joking as we remember Gio's boisterous behavior and infectious wit. Over the next few days we show the kids photos on our laptops, take a thousand more, and marvel at the beauty and joy in these little urchins' souls.