Riding a Trinx Striker from Cusco to the Sacred Valley of the Inca

After 13 years in the big city we recently moved out of Cusco to a house in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We live near Calca now, about an hour away from Cusco by car. The Sacred Valley isn’t comparable to the truly rural villages of the Peruvian Andes but it’s still relatively “country”. A world of difference from the city for sure.

No need to congratulate me on the new house, it’s just another rented place. Once I win the lottery I’ll actually be able to buy or build a house, with the way the prices of land are here. But I digress.

First order of business once moved in was to get some new bicycles. In the city of Cusco it’s next to impossible to ride a bicycle but here in the Sacred Valley riding a bicycle is perfect for short hops to town or the store, or just to ride around with the kids. We didn’t find any bike stores in Calca so we bought a machine for my son Milan (more on that one later) and a full-size Trinx Striker mountain bike in Cusco. The former fit in the back of the car to take to our new house in Calca but the full size bike didn’t, so I decided to ride it from Cusco to Calca.

How hard could it be? I used to ride 100+ kilometers in a day when I was younger. I hail from the very same country as Eddy Merckx and I owned a bicycle as recently as 1994. There’s no sarcasm in that, for middle-aged guys like me 1994 does seem recent.

I personally haven’t seen the inside of a gym since high school but a friend of mine who ran marathons told me that the secret is to not exert yourself. If you exert yourself, you’ll get tired. If you don’t exert yourself – he said, run at a pace that allows you to talk without being short of breath – you won’t get tired but have all the endurance you need.

The ride from Cusco to Calca starts of with about an 1,800 feet (550 meters) climb, starting around 10,800 feet elevation up to about 12,600 feet elevation. From there it’s downhill to about 9,800 feet (Pisaq) and about 20 more kilometers relatively flat to Calca.

I heeded my friend’s advice and rode as effortlessly as possible up the hill leaving Cusco. About halfway up the hill a bunch of really cool mountain-bike pro dudes came flying down the hill and gave me a friendly wave. I could tell they were cool and professional by the expensive bikes and fancy gear they were using. I told myself I was even cooler because I was actually riding up the hill, not just down the hill.

About 60 percent up the hill I noticed a distinct weakness in my friend’s “don’t exert yourself theory”: namely, if you don’t exert yourself the darn Trinx doesn’t move up the 12,000 foot hill. About 80 percent up the hill I seriously considered waving down any station wagon taxi (there’s a lot of them in Peru) pay them a hundred Soles to take me to Calca and another thousand Soles to swear to everlasting secrecy. Proud to say I managed to get up to the top of the hill without having to walk or hang on to the back of a car. I wavered a few times on my friend’s “don’t exert yourself” theory but I mostly stuck to it and in the end it paid off.

From there it was literally all downhill. I had firmly committed to riding downhill with extreme care, as a responsible father of 3 should. However the flesh is weak and after the first two curves I got the Trinx up to near-supersonic speeds, brake discs glowing red all the way down to Pisaq. In Pisaq my better judgment returned and I decided to take the back roads from Taray, not the main highway through the Sacred Valley which has too much traffic. I’ve got a Trinx and a bottle of Gatorade, 20 km of dirt roads can’t hurt.

As soon as I got to the house in Calca my very understanding family immediately asked me to take them for a ride, accompany them to their friend’s house, walk the dogs, fire up the grill and a few other minor things. Just another day 🙂

Peru coup update

Manuel Merino, the crooked bully who orchestrated last Monday’s illegitimate ouster of Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra has this morning resigned as interim president.

Initially the thug appeared to have support of the Lima oligarchy and the military but widespread street protests ensued. The Peruvian national police (PNP) repressed the citizen protests with excessive force, allegedly on orders that “nothing is off limits”. Last night 2 protesters, Jack Bryan Pintado Sánchez and Inti Sotelo Camargo, were killed. All indications are they were shot by police.

Subsequent to the deaths of Jack and Inti the Peruvian political class massively abandoned Manuel Merino. My guess is he’ll seek exile in Brazil before sunset tomorrow.

Peru is still in the midst of its most severe constitutional crisis since at least the beginning of this century but the people of Peru stood up and drew a line in the sand for the thugs and oligarchs. Sadly 2 young men paid for it with their lives. I hope Manuel Merino rots in jail for the rest of his days.

Coup d’état in Peru

I suppose I owe a follow up to my cryptic post of yesterday. Although I’d been meaning to write about the deterioration of the Peruvian currency (PEN – Peruvian Soles) for some time, the world headline news of the ousting of President Martin Vizcarra saw me throwing up a cryptic one-liner predicting swift demise of the PEN.

First things first: we are all fine and daily life has been mostly normal this morning. But to be abundantly clear: there was a coup d’état in Peru yesterday whereby a bunch of thugs in congress effectively voted themselves into the executive branch.

All the talking heads are talking but any time you take power of your country outside of the established constitutional order, it’s a coup d’état.

Ostensibly congress impeached the sitting President, Martin Vizcarra, on corruption allegations. Legally, congress in Peru has the authority to impeach the president but legal and legitimate are 2 different things. The big rub in this case is that Martin Vizcarra was governing without vice-president due to the political turmoil of the past few years. Without any vice-president in the executive branch, the president of congress was next in line for the presidency.

In other words, congress was the judge, jury, executioner and most importantly, the direct beneficiary of impeaching Peru’s legitimate President Martin Vizcarra. The thugs in congress trumped up some charges against the President and in a few hours of open and shut debate, voted to throw out Vizcarra and take the keys to the executive office. There is no defensible argument that it was a legitimate impeachment, the Peruvian congress voted out Peru’s president because they could and because they would be the immediate and immense beneficiaries.

The details really aren’t important. What matters here is that the constitutional order in Peru is flimsy at best, and deteriorating. Peru today is not really a constitutional democracy, its system of governance is a ruling class comprised of oligarchs and thugs under the guise of a democracy.

Just because people trot out to vote every X years does not mean the country is a constitutional democracy. Unfortunately many ordinary Peruvians simply don’t have the level of education or understanding to make the distinction between a true democracy and marking a ballot every so many years.

As for the Peruvian Sol (PEN) there are many underlying issues, from populist policies across the board (printing money) to demographics (young population) to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic but all of those things are relatively not as important as the underlying constitutional order.

My life is perfect

The other day I got up. That’s always a good thing. Mamacita Linda looked even more beautiful than normal but unfortunately she didn’t have time for, you know, the thing we never have time for.

We took a drive out to the country side to look at some land for sale in Ccorao but it was too expensive. I mean, we don’t need much. Just a small house with 4 bedrooms, a workshop for Mamacita Linda, a small office, maybe a play room, a guest room for the baby sit on weekends and an in-law apartment. That’s all.

We drove on to Calca and had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. A friend of mine was there but he didn’t recognize me. I think he was with customers or something so after saying hi about 2 or 3 times I gave up, didn’t want to insist. He was in his own world. Or it could have been my new pandemic look, either way, it was a weird experience.

When we got back home the kids watched a Dwayne Johnson movie on the tube. I’m sure there is a good reason why I pay for satellite TV, Netflix and a half a dozen mobile/internet subscriptions. I don’t know exactly what that reason is but let me know if you figure it out. Anyhow, my son asked “Papi, why don’t you go to the gym and work out so you look like him?”

Yeah, my life is perfect. Just perfect.

Pandemic look

Singrenacocha turquoise lake

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Inca princess. She was known throughout the Tahuantinsuyo empire by her 18 ounce turquoise necklace, bestowed on her by her father the Inca.

On her 21st birthday the princess hiked with 20 of her best girl friends to Apu Ausangate as was the tradition for Inca princesses. The hike was hard and the elements harsh. Turning back without completing the hike would mean she had to give up her crown and forego her spot as the next ruler of the Inca empire to a stronger and more determined princess.

The princess and her friends soldiered on and upwards. One afternoon when their feet were hurting so bad that they were about to give up, a humming bird appeared and told the girls to chew on coca leaves as this would give them the strength to continue. The girls did as they were told but unfortunately the princess chewed on a spiked coca leaf. Around the camp fire listening to Neil Young the princess had a really bad trip and in a vision appeared her country anio 2020. Shocked by the utter incompetence of the ruling class she saw in this vision the princess asked Neil Young, “This can’t really be happening? This cannot be my country in the year 2020?!”

Alas, Neil Young shook his head and said it was really so.

The princess decided if that was to be the future of her country she would have no part of it and could not be the ruler of the empire. For the first time since she was 9 years old she took off her necklace that symbolized her status as a princess, and in a whim, threw the 18 ounce stones in a nearby lagoon. She got on the next plane to Canada and lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately the princess never looked back, she never saw the water of Laguna Singrenacocha turn colors. The tears of the princess had dissolved the stones and the water of the lagoon has remained a stunning turquoise color ever since.

Depending on the screen you’re using the color of the lake may or may not appear true. I took these pictures on my iPhone and they are unedited, as are all the pictures on this blog. I do not know how to edit pictures nor do I want to know. I want real, raw, unedited reality. With the naked eye the color is stunning, an absolutely unrivaled view.

Needless to say, the above story is totally made up, although it might very well be true if it were possible. I suppose there is a scientific explanation for the color of the water, possibly related to the snow from the nearby mountains? Fellow blogger Jim R might know, he knows about science and cosmic explosions and stuff like that.

The time George Harper rode the train to Washington

When President John Kennedy set a goal to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, airlines were still flying DC-6s and Constellations. Few people knew anything about jet propulsion, leave alone rocket propulsion. Aside from the design of the actual spacecraft, a huge effort was required to build the launch pads at Cape Canaveral in Florida. None of the infrastructure existed to support the type of launches that would be required for such an ambitious project.

This was long before urban sprawl in Florida, much of the state was still swamp land. It’s hard to imagine now but Central Florida was barely a blip on the map. Before Disney and the Apollo program, there were no interstate highways in Central Florida and the city of Sanford was bigger than Orlando. Launch pads should be as close as possible to the equator to take maximum advantage of the rotational speed of the earth, so Wernher Von Braun & co chose Florida.

George Harper was one of the earliest and biggest contractors on the building of what we now know as Kennedy Space Center. Miles and miles of pipes and all sorts of mechanical construction was required for the fueling and launching of the spacecraft. The construction of the Space Center was a huge effort. Thousands of workers from “up north” migrated to Florida. I was told on some days highway 50 – the only route from Orlando to the east coast of Florida at the time – resembled a parking lot.

Soon the construction project ran into trouble. Workers from up north still had strong union ties, which were blamed for the delays in the project. Work stoppages and labor unrest ensued. The space program was so important to the government of the United States that President Kennedy dispatched his brother Robert to Florida to resolve the labor disputes but he was unable to do so. In the end Robert Kennedy told all of the major contractors on the project to get on the next airplane and fly to DC to meet with his brother, the President of the United States. Or else.

All of the major contractors, knowing well who their paymaster was, agreed and jumped on the first airplane to DC. Not George Harper. He was afraid of flying and would not get on any airplane for love nor money. But his work was so important that he could get away with it. He told the President’s brother: “You can fly up there and wait for me. I’m taking the next train up and I’ll talk to your brother as soon as I get off the train in DC.”

* * *

When I was younger I spent a lot of time in Florida and knew some old Apollo program veterans. I buzzed the Space Shuttle landing strip with students when it was still allowed prior to 9/11. I’ve watched the space shuttle launch quite a few times, flying just inland of interstate 95 in some raggedy old Cessna to get a good view. I knew a few rocket engineers, fixed some of their airplanes for them. I knew George Harper personally, the story above was told to me by a close friend of his.

My kids are studying space, environment and NASA in school this virtual semester. My oldest daughter is thrilled. She looks at stars at night, we watched Apollo 13 together and I told her to read about Margaret Hamilton. She asks all sorts of questions about physics and flying and spacecraft.

I don’t like to talk to my kids much about my previous life, before marriage, before kids. A lot of adventures but some years were rough. Today I sat down with my Brianna, I felt for once I had to tell her a story about my previous life.

You see, the kids in 5th and 6th grade were supposed to have an interview with a NASA engineer today. In the end the interview got postponed but all the kids were super-excited. Of course not everybody can talk at once, so a few kids were chosen to ask questions. Not to be all sour grapes but yeah, as usual it was the same kids again. The owners of the school’s kids and a few other super-special favorites. Again.

Brianna took it in stride (her mother not so much) but I pulled her aside and said, “Let me tell you a story, a true story nobody else in your class knows about NASA. I’ll tell you about the time George Harper rode the train to Washington.”

Flying over Florida Keys

Over the Florida Keys, on my way to somewhere.

The time I took a swim in Laguna Asnacocha

It’s the last Monday of the week. The world is in a world of hurt and you need a cheap laugh? Preferably something authentic not from a meme-porn mill? Well lay your eyes on my swimming adventures in Laguna Asnacocha. Watch all the way to the end.

Laguna Asnacocha is over 3,800 meters (~12,500 feet) elevation. There’s a nice area where you can see the bottom and then a steep drop where the bottom completely goes out of sight. I’m a pretty good swimmer but as a semi-retired ferry pilot I’m well aware of the dangers of cold water. Even without the – ahem – encouragement of the public to return I wasn’t about to go swimming much further 🙂

Matico: herbal COVID-19 treatment with benefits

The word’s on everybodies lips here in Cusco.


Matico is a tropical tree which is believed to have healing characteristics by the native people of the Amazon jungle in Peru. In recent weeks word has been spreading like wildfire throughout the Cusco region that Matico prevents and heals Covid-19. I was going to write about Matico, take some nice pictures, make some silly jokes. Matico is also believed to be an aphrodisiac. Origin of the rumor on Facebook. Quarantine, aphrodisiac, Facebook, you see where that was going.

Alas there will be no silly jokes, just a picture of a glass of Matico drink and some lines of Go code. The healthcare system in Cusco has collapsed, all the news is bad. Decades of institutional failure have caught up with Peru in the Covid-19 crisis and frankly I find work the easiest thing to deal with right now. The time just doesn’t seem right for silly jokes.


I’m not into herbal supplements but if you are, you might try my friend Colin at Peruvian Naturals. All legit too.

Iquitos Peru possibly the first region with demonstrated herd immunity (Covid-19)

Excellent report in La Republica today. The results are preliminary but there appears to be a strong degree of confidence:

  • 71% of the population show presence of Covid-19 antibodies, 22% IgM (active infection) and 49% IgG (previously infected).
  • Hospitalizations have dropped 90% from the earlier peak of the crisis in Iquitos.

Other areas of Peru, including here in Cusco, appear to be just now entering into the worst of the Covid-19 crisis, which is noteworthy because containment measures have been the same throughout Peru but the epidemic appears to have moved in waves throughout different areas of the country.