Argh, the air up here!

7 10 2007

The main problem is there is much less of it.

Rolling out of Huancayo wasn’t a good day for me. I lost my sunglasses (at the hairdressers), and we wasted hours trying to get them back. Lucky I carried a spare pair. Five km later, I broke a(nother) spoke on the rear wheel. This time it was on a straight, flat, bitumen road. No stupidity, nothing. I don’t hold out much hope that this wheel will make it the distance (whatever “the distance” is). But we’re getting better – a replacement was fitted in about 10 minutes. Since bad things come in threes (or so I’m lead to believe), that night, one of the starps snapped on one of my panniers. Sewing needle out (yes, I can sew if I have to) and it’s as good as new again.

But apart from the inconveniences, the day was great. Up hill for most of it, in great weather, to about 3900m. Had a picnic at the top (bread, chocolate and banana, mmm), and remarked at how travelling by bicycle is the only way to have experiences quite like this. No other way do you get the smells, sounds, the slowly changing landscape, interaction with the locals/farmers (and dogs) and still make a reasonable distance (you could walk I guess, but that would just be silly when there is a road).

And then down. And steep. Part way down, Rahel and Joerg (I’ve finally worked out how to spell Joerg’s name correctly), hit 20,000km. In 1.5 years. I have only 3,000km (which is still a fair way, it might take you from Perth to Adelaide – except I’ve also climbed about 42km in the same time – no possible correlation with Australia there). A minor celebration was conducted on the road side – followed up in Ayacucho a few days later.

That night I had another attack of stupidity. The guide book told me that the highest drivable pass in the world was ahead, and of course I wasn’t about to pass up that bragging right. Except 10 seconds with Google and Wikipedia have since told me otherwise (try Tibet, and 500m higher). Pity I didn’t check this in Huancayo. Rahel and Joerg decided to take the river valley (a most sensible decision) and I decided to try and be a hero. So we split in Izcuchaca, after a meal of chicken and rice – I’m sure you guessed it.

The road along the river looked quite pleasant as I climbed the alongside, but up. In some ways it was good to be travelling alone again – I could go at my own pace (yes it is a little faster), but the company is good, as well as the added security of traveling in a group. Everything is just easier with other people – even stopping to buy a drink is much easier when there is someone else to look after the bike. Also, alone I was again forced to use my Spanish, which is (slowly) coming along – which is a good thing.

Fortunately the road to Huancavelica has been recently paved – so recent that there were people painting the lines as I rode past. The good road meant that despite the climb (of over 2000m) I could make the distance to Huancavelica, and go slightly beyond. I was heading for the small pueblo (town/village) of Lachocc – which featured on my map. The people in Huancavelica told me there was bugger all in Lachocc, but I didn’t believe them. About 5km short of the village, with the sun setting, I stumbled across a railway tunnel that looked inviting. Of course at 4100m, there are no trees for the hammock, and staying in a tunnel would protect me from the majority of the nightly chill. The danger of course is that a train might come, but hey, this is Peru, right? The train timetable works in days of the week, not times of day. So I chanced it. On closer inspection the tunnel was clearly abandoned, the train tracks ripped up and taken away, and the hill had started to collapse to reclaim the tunnel. As a camp site it was perfect, but the removal of the trcks diminishes the quality of the story. I still bivvied in the hammock to keep the bities out. I hit 3,000km right on camp. No celebration yet – just some dried figs for dinner (I had a reasonably big, late, lunch).

The next morning I left camp wearing damn near everthing I had. It was cold. At Lachocc, I was suddenly grateful that I had camped in the tunnel. Lachocc is nothing, not even worth slowing down for – there are plenty of ruined houses to see in other places. But the altiplano behind was worth a look. It held lots of Alpaca, and is allegedly one of the highest habitable altiplanos (but I now know more than to trust that guidebook about altitude records). So I bashed and gasped my way along the dirt road to the other end of the altiplano. I thought I was acclimitised, but as the altitude climbed toward 5,000m, I was certainly feeling it. I took an hour detour to reach the pass at 5,059m (according to the GPS it was a bit lower, but in this case I’ll believe the sign). Gasped a lot. Took some photos. Did a handstand (I finally remembered to do one at the top of something). And then got the hell out of there. As soon as I was going down I could breathe again. The change is amazing.

I then looked to the left. A mountain that was there a minute ago had gone. Someone had hid it behind an ugly black cloud. At the same time my rear tyre decide to go flat. So I pumped up the tyre, and (pump in hand) raced the cloud to the next thing approximating shelter (a pueblo at Choclococha – say that three times fast). I needed to pump up the tyre three more times to make it, but It was better than changing the tube in the snow. i made it, just as the snow arrived. I gratefully bailed myself into the only restaurant, and requested lunch.

The woman looked annoyed to be disturbed from her kniting and grudgingly informed me “I’ve only got eggs, and you’ll have to wait while I prepare them” (in Spanish of course). You can imagine that filled me with joy (especially if you know how much I like eggs). But it was food (it came with rice! oh the joys! – no chicken!), and I was able to stay dry and warm as I fixed my wheel and the storm passed.

The storm had cut into my riding time, but I wasn’t keen to sleep above 4600m, so I hurried down to Santa Ines, and then Pilpichaca (I don’t know why I write the town names, no-one back home will have ever heard of them, or be able to locate them). I was stopped short at Pilpichaca by another storm, and decided to hole out here for the night. It was a hole.

This left me with a 150km trip to Ayacucho the next day. Quite the longest day so far, and including three passes, and the majority of the riding above 4000m. But I decided I could do it, and of course I did. I was a little surprised, I thought the trip would take four days, but I managed the 340km (ok, only 110km was dirt), with 4,800m climb in 23 hours of riding over three days. Hardly iron man material, but a pretty good effort – if I do say so myself.

Knowing I had a big day ahead, I left at 6, but luckily the snow on the surrounding hills had melted overnight. I don’t know how thought – it was below zero (according to the computer) for the first 15km.

And then after four days of being, and needing to be, perfectly healthy, I was sick again within hours of arriving in Ayacucho. Does my body store these things up until the food suddenly has the option of variety? I hope to recover without drugs (at the risk of offending Richard by not taking his advice 🙂 )


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3 responses

7 10 2007
Holly

Just discovered your blog and am fascinated! Let us know if you need anything when you get to Argentina…

7 10 2007
Steve

Steak. Lots of it. We will be hungry by the time we get there.

And sick of Pollo. Already.

13 10 2007
Holly

Steak in Argentina? I think that can be arranged.

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