I crossed into Peru next to Lago Titicaca, but the riding really didn’t allow access to the lake. At that point I was on somewhat of a mission anyway to get to Arequipa for a flight abroad for a wedding and was pleased with the fast paved riding. I gave myself plenty of time to get there and ended up needing all of it.
Just before the border I crossed paths with Flavia, a Brazilian friend from Patagonia and we set off to Perú. We rode together to near Juliaca, where she continued North in search of National Parks and I turned off for some remote riding through high altitude pampas to Arequipa.
The route to Arequipa was difficult and spectacular, the wind rivalled that experienced in Patagonia and going was slow for the most part. I ended up shifting my routine and trying to bank kilometres in the morning when it wasn’t so bad. It was also cold, I camped most nights through the pampa and woke up to frozen water bottles each morning. I left Imata on the final day at 8am to find the descent to Arequipa, I began with water in the bottles but before 8.30am the water had frozen. I didn’t get to drink it until after 10.30am when the sun hit it. For the first time in Peru I clocked some serious distance, skirting volcanoes and big skies for the morning before locating the 70km long descent to the city.
I arrived after dark and sat in the most beautiful plaza de armas I’ve seen while demolishing some skewered kebabs. When I finally set about finding a place to sleep it was late and I ended up in a brothel, a very cheap one with huge rooms – my home away from home.
I used Arequipa mainly as a base to get some things together before heading to Europe for a wedding. The main plaza is a beautiful white marble masterpiece adorned with palm trees and fountains, and I spent most of my time there people watching. I was interviewed by a group about my thoughts on Peru, not sure where that will surface but I hope to find it one day.
When I returned from Spain I tended to some bicycle repairs before starting the gruelling climb back up to altitude. As it turned out, rested legs allowed me to ascend too quickly, and the first night up high was spent throwing up out the front of my tent. I hit some new altitude personal bests on bike through some very cold and difficult riding. The few days back to the main highway in Peru were a bit of a haze, battling headaches and altitude sickness and cold nights in the tent. I pushed the bike up past 4900m and found a great descent to Sicuani.
Shortly after this I ran into Flavia again, who had been exploring the beautiful mountain landscapes around Cusco. Our posse grew larger with the introduction of Renzo from Uruguay, and then Jen and Dave with their dog Sora from the US. Together we hauled our stuff up into the beautiful valley past Pitumarca on the way to climb to Rainbow Mountain. Camping and leaving our things in Hanchipata with some very kind locals, we ascended to 5040m to see the colour streaked range, we had it to ourselves since we’d left a little later in the day. It was beautiful, but the trek was crowded and the colours were obviously wound up a lot in all the photos that I’d seen.
After returning to our bikes we spent a few days in Pitumarca, sorting a few things out and helping Flavia adopt a street puppy before heading towards Cusco. Cusco has a Hostal de Ciclista’s called Hostal Estrellita, which is the claimed hub of bicycle and motorcycle tourists in the city. It was a spectacular place to call home with new and inspiring riders arriving daily and always keen for a chat. I found a duo of cyclists from Chile and Colombia and we rode off to Machu Picchu for a few days. It was a bit of a mission to get there, heading up and over some small mountains before descending into the sacred valley at Ollantaytambo. From here we ditched the bikes and plodded along 30km of railway track to Aguas Caliente where we could climb to the ruins. A lot of people pay a lot of money to get there by the Inca Trail or the train, but we managed to arrive for the princely sum of S/.3 (about 1 USD), the cost of getting a minibus to the train tracks. I was a bit uncertain about whether I would visit the world wonder, and my riding mates echoed this, so we were happy to arrive there with limited outlay.
Machu Picchu was as everyone had promised me. A surreal and quiet (early in the day) place which seemed to breathe an effortless energy. The craft of the Incan’s was unrivalled, with rows of perfectly layed out walls and stones each telling individual stories. In short I’m particularly pleased I went in the end, perhaps a nicer way to arrive would be by any number of treks which weave their way to the site – I’ve heard the Salkantay trek is beautiful.
Returning to Cusco I made base again for a few nights before navigating my way back towards Pitumarca with Jen and Dave and Sora to hike the highline around Nevado Ausangate. The Ausangate massif stands at 6384m and the trail that circles it flitters around 5100m and 4700m continually. If it was a flat hike it would be difficult with the altitude, but the terrain is relentlessly steep as it works its way through the mountains. We walked about half of it, opting to start on the backside of the trail and work our way to Tinqui. On approach to Abra Campo near 5100m we were briefly caught in the snow, and the locals forecast was enough for us to find a descent option pretty quickly. We lashed our bags to a horse and even with the weight off our backs only made it to a tiny pueblo well after dark, exhausted.
The small house where we stayed ended up being a bit of a blessing, with our hosts immediately bringing us popcorn and tea before whipping up a simple and vegan friendly pasta for Jen and Dave. The following morning they made us pancakes and inviting us to a hair cutting ceremony for their granddaughter. We whiled away the morning soaking in some nearby hotspring’s before navigating a collection of buses and taxis back to Cusco again.
I was stoked on arrival to find two friends from home had arrived, and I ended up spending a week there this time, celebrating my birthday and eating way too many pastries from the French bakery next to the Hostal.
When I left I learned a painful lesson, if Bolivia was a country with sandy, rutted roads, then Peru was one of climbs. Shortly after leaving Cusco I was belted by a series of long, long ascents. All paved and never that steep, but often it felt like I would spend a full 2 days climbing in order to be rewarded with 3 hours of downhill. Rinse and repeat, it happened over and over again. The landscape was wild and breathtaking however, and the traffic wasn’t so severe.
After Ayacucho I opted to drop into the jungle. Most cyclists stay in the mountains, either on the paved route heading North to Huaraz or via the Peruvian great divide for more demanding riding. Having had enough of hills for a change, and aware that the snow capped mountains would continue well to the north, I decided to head off the well worn path and to the Amazon.
On the descent I stopped by a group of men drinking beer by the side of the road and cheekily threw out ‘¿Hay una cerveza para mí?’ I was quickly invited to sit down and join them. It turns out that they had lost their cargo of the local pilsner on a tight turn, and after cleaning up the broken glass were cleaning up the unopened bottles. They grabbed me a few they had chilling in the river nearby and I drank away the afternoon. When I left they filled up my bottle holders and I drank all the way down into the valley, arrived in the dark, drunk and shirtless because it was so hot. I went out and was treated to one last beer by a very drunk chap who rattled on about the Sendero Luminoso in the area in the 1980’s and showed me a plethora of very socialist tattoo’s he had.
Nursing my head for the next 24 hours, I eventually got back on the bike and half rode and swam through the humidity up the river to Puerto Ene. The roadside was littered with old women lopping coconuts open with machete’s and cacao pods sown next to banana’s. Killer combination.
When I made it to Puerto Ene I was able to find a boat heading North along the river to Puerto Ocopa where I found some locals to drive me through some very dense jungle over towards Atalaya, I’m pretty happy I found these guys because even with the poor light, I’m not sure the road was passable by bike. It was only 150km long but took 8 hours by car. I camped with them 30km short of Atalaya and rode the rest of the way the following morning before rapidly finding another boat headed to Pucallpa along the river.
The boat left at 1am in the morning and within an hour we were docked by the shore as a collection of thunderstorms rolled overhead. All the tarps were drawn and I used the opportunity to find a dry patch and get some sleep which I’d been lacking for the last week or so. When we finally got going again the sun was almost out. The river was a great way to head North, the shores were dotted with bananas and coconuts and cacao. We stopped at a small house for lunch and monkeys were running all over the place, I also spotted what I’m pretty sure were dolphins or porpoises bobbing about the boat which was a huge surprise to me.
I didn’t take many photos’s because I was so awestruck at everything I was seeing.
I’m now near the edge of the jungle and my intention is to head quickly back to altitude to escape the most energy sapping humidity I’ve ever felt. The Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash is particularly close, somewhere I’ve been looking forward to hiking since well before I began this journey. North of that is an area of Peru I know nothing about, and afterwards Ecuador and Colombia, which similarly I need to read up on – I’m certain it will all be beautiful.