Our driver picked us up near Cusco’s Plaza de Armas and we headed out of the city center. We turned and moved along the crowded Prolongacion de la Cultura then turned and drove for a few blocks through a residential neighborhood of roosters, dirt roads, barking dogs and concrete-block walls with glass shards sticking out the top. We were let off on a corner and told to wait in what looked like someone’s backyard. My son, daughter and I were here to celebrate my son’s 14th birthday, Cusquena style: riding quadrimotos (ATV’s) through the Andean foothills.
After a few minutes two young men came over and introduced themselves and we began our “training course.” Our guide Juan explained in Spanish how to operate the vehicle and told us to start doing practice runs on the small, uneven oval track in the backyard. After a half dozen loops on the oval, Juan declared us ready. My son would have his own vehicle, my daughter and I would share one and Juan and his assistant would both ride on a small motorcycle. Before we started up the nearby hill, Juan said, “Tenga cuidado. Hay muchos perros en estas calles. Cuando empiezan a correr, no reducir la velocidad.” (Be careful. There are lots of dogs in these streets. When they start running after you, don’t slow down)
I took special note of the fact that he said “when” the dogs start running and not “if,” so I made sure the kids understood this instruction. The five of us took off down the street and within thirty seconds a stray dog began chasing us, keeping up with us, but not quite fast enough to bite our ankles. My daughter raised her feet up to seat level just to be sure. In order to access the road up the mountain, we had to drive on the main De La Cultura thoroughfare for a few blocks, an activity of questionable legality. Once off the main boulevard we started uphill and saw more dogs chasing and nipping at our wheels. In all, we passed by about a dozen snarling mutts on our way to the dirt road that led us away from the residential area and to the hills.
For the next 20 minutes we climbed a dirt road until we reached a crest with a spectacular view of the Cusco valley. In another ten minutes we arrived at a higher plateau and we stopped to take pictures and I gave my daughter a chance to drive the ATV by herself. From here we followed a rutted dirt road past farms and we started to feel raindrops. Juan looked up at the ominous clouds and told us that we would have start back. As the rain started getting heavier, we turned left past a creek and my son caught a rut and his ATV tipped over. He safely jumped off beforehand but with the rain coming down harder, I wanted to get back down the mountain as soon as possible. By now we heard thunder and saw lighting flashes and the dark grey clouds that were previously down the valley were directly overhead. We were completely soaked and I was starting to worry that we would be hit by lightning. The Andes have a rugged, rocky beauty but they are not known for a lot of forests and trees. Most of the trees that I’d seen were transplanted gum and eucalyptus trees and there were not that many. The sound of thunder become louder as we raced across a treeless ridge, racing to get back down the mountain before being stuck by lighting. As the rainstorm turned into a hailstorm, I chided myself for the dangerous position that I had put my kids in.
We started our descent down the same dirt road but now it was filled with mud. The road hugged the side of a valley, so we were now protected from lightning although the rain and occasional hail continued to pelt us. The road was slippery and mud had packed into the crevasses of our knobby tires and Juan looked back every 30 seconds and motioned for us to go slowly. Juan’s tires were completely caked in mud and he was soon unable to control his motorcycle, his assistant falling off every time the back wheel lost traction. At one point it became impossible to drive with two of them and the assistant jumped on the back of my son’s ATV. We eventually made it down the hill, past the angry dogs, and back to our starting point.
We arrived back home completely soaked with our pants and shoes caked with mud. We peeled off our clothes and all took showers, the warm water getting our body temperature back to normal. It was an eventful afternoon. Aside from illegally driving on a main thoroughfare, escaping from the snarling dogs, my son tipping over his ATV, surviving the rain and hail storm, narrowly avoiding being hit by lighting and successfully navigating the dangerously muddy downhill road, it was a fun time. Fun, but we won’t be doing it again soon.
This post was part of a Blogsherpa carnival by Joe at Hello Pineapple called Scary Stories.