My current desktop

5 12 2009

I was looking at some of the pile of photos I gathered from South America the other day. Yes, it has been 2 years and I haven’t done anything meaningful with them. If there is anything meaningful to be done.

Some of them made it onto the desktop. This one is there currently:

The gunmen

The gunmen

I did add the black/white effect. But it doesn’t really need it.

This was an interesting moment. Want the story? Too bad, you’re going to get it.

I was quite deep in the mountains of Peru, on the way to Ayacucho (at a place called Astobamba). I was crossing the highest road pass in South America (5,000m!). At least I thought I was – it turned out just to be a high pass, the highest is in Bolivia or Argentina somewhere. The altitude was 4,400m (I know that because I had camped at 4,093m in a disused railway tunnel, the hammock laid out on the ground, the night before, and climbed up a few hundred meters to this place in the morning, and the map says so). I was half a days ride from the nearest large settlement – a day and a half from the nearest town of any size. It was 9am, I had passed nothing but llama (or vicuna) all morning, and only abandoned buildings. Breathing was kind of tough – although you get somewhat acclimatised, it is still hard at 4,000m+. A pickup drove past. Nothing exceptional. This one was full of men in balaclavas. Full. Interesting. There was a guy on the back holding a machine gun. I think it was an AK47, but it would have had the same effect if it was a WW1 rifle. It’s fine to be academic about guns in the safety of civilisation; It was a gun. If his mates had a toothpick, I was still out-gunned.

Mind suddenly focuses on the reason you are way out here alone, on a bike, going from one place you’ve never heard of to another. Suddenly lacking a reasonable explanation, I stopped and my jaw hung open as they drove past. I gathered my courage (rapidly returning since they didn’t look like stopping… or shooting) and snapped a photo before they rounded the bend. I wont lie, they were a fair way away when I took this. I wasn’t giving them to many excuses to turn around.

I wasn’t much of a target, and they were obviously organised (I think I would have been in more danger if it was a guy alone who decide to cause trouble). I guess the balaclavas were because it was cold. The guns as a show of force to dissuade people attacking the mines (some precious metal mines around the area).

All’s well that ends well, but this certainly focussed the mind. I wonder what Afghanistan is like this time of year…


5 11 2007

Another town. We had planned on riding across the border today, but the altitude took it’s toll on Rahel and we made it about half way. Unfortunately, that dumped us in Juli – billed as Peru’s small Rome. It’s not. It has an unusually high number of thumping great churches (four we found), but in no other way resembles Rome, or indeed Europe.

My advice: skip it. Unfortunately the ‘Planet doesn’t offer the same advice.

At least don’t stay the night here. Thankfully few do, but the witch at the only hostel in town is determined to squeeze every last dollar out of us. After an extensive search for dinner we settled on chicken, with chips. This place is original.

Tomorrow, for sure, we’ll be in Bolivia. Please?

Lago Titicaca

4 11 2007

This is getting more and more complicated. We’ve taken a full day off to update the internet today – by the time we’ve burnt a CD of photos, updated the Google Map, uploaded some photos, replied to the odd email, and finally blogged… I hope someone back home apprecates this ūüôā

We left Cusco. Florian, Rebekka and Chan (remember them from north Peru?), arrived just before we from Machu Picchu, so we had to hang around for a day to say hello. Poor Florian was really sick (quick visit to the hospital and all) but he was on the mend when we left – hope he’s ok! Good thing we did stay, because we were able to spend a bit more time on the pepper spray project, and found success – watch out thieves now! We also now have a full compliment of spare parts, brake pads, cables and tyres; filled up with pancakes, ice cream and Alpaca… and more ice cream. I think I’m going slightly crazy – Joerg caught me trying to be a Kangaroo.

The asphalt road from Cusco goes in more or less a straight line to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The first time in a while I have used straight to describe the road.

Even with an extra day I still found a host of things to do at the last minute (why did my bike computer choose that exact moment to have a flat battery?). So we left in the late morning – just as the rain started. Not a good start with our nice clean clothes – and nice clean bikes! The new chain lasted minutes clean. Passed an old Inca Wall dividing the two valleys. Another pile of rocks.

Three days of gently up surrounded by mountains. I passed 4000km and Rahel and Joerg hit 21000. At the same time. Almost at the top we came across a hot spring (under-commercialised in our opinion) and jumped in. Unfortunately the water was too inviting (first bath since Cusco), the water was warm to hot, the outside air temperature was cool (it was over 4000m) and the sun was strong. We got sunburned. But the water was good – and the scenery amazing. 10km further was the top, it rained on us again, and we barrelled down to Santa Rosa. The tail wind and scenery helped us make the decision to press on. The wind swung around and the valley widened significantly, making the last few hours (40km) painful into Ayaviri – we arrived on dusk, and literally minutes before a downpour. Lucky.

Entering Juliaca was an experience. Crazy drivers – I almost got into a fight with one. The combi drivers have a attitude that involves owning the road and only getting out of the way of big trucks, which leaves us little room. The road leaving Juliaca to Puno has to be the most dangerous so far. Lots of vehicles, and far less of the normal courtesy we have come to expect from overtaking cars. Too many people, and too many gringos – me thinks.

I had hoped to skip Juliaca completely. I hated the town as soon as we entered (that may have been because of the near dust up with a combi driver after he pulled out in front of us) – the name was the only nice thing about the town. But after lunch it was clear that we were done, and another 45km was not going to happen. So we found a hostel, and bumped into two Argentinian cyclists also staying there. Paula and Santiago are on their way north before completing a rather complex figure eight that will see them travelling for quite some time. Their gear looked like mine almost was, before I scored a set of panniers in Quito. Good luck to them.

A turn off along the road to Puno was Sillustani, written up in the ‘Planet and recommended as a site to see. Another pile of rocks – ths one mostly falling down (They were funerary mounds of the leaders of an ancient tribe, the Colla people – I had to see them at least!). It would have been more impressive if we hadn’t ridden there – full of tourists. The lake behind (Lake Umayo) was most impressive, however.

Up and down into Puno. A city firmly on the Gringo trail. Lots of foreigners, and a place to take a day trip onto Lake Titicaca. The lake looks, from the north, like someone pulled out the plug and left mud flats, but reveals a big lake as you rise into Puno. We donned our tourist clothes and jumped on a boat early in the morning. We were shipped out to the Floating Islands of the Uros people. Unfortunatley with hordes of other tourists. We’ve developed an appreciation of being more or less alone for most of the trip, and times like this (and Machu Picchu) grate on our nerves. Being told by an American who saw us cycle “You guys are awesome!” doesn’t really help.

But the idea of living on a pile of rotting totora reeds was quite a good one – both for avoiding being taken over by the Incas and making lots of tourist dollars a few centuries later. The ‘Planet describes them: “The unique floating islands … have become shockingly commercialised, though there is still nothing like them anywhere else”. Enough said. A few photos (strangely angled…) are on Flickr.

The day trip then continued (painfully slowly) to the next tourist infested island, Isla Taquile. This island is really quite pretty (when you ignore the German and American tourists thronging about the market). We found a quiet place off to one side and managed to appreciate the beauty of the place. The views out over the lake (which is huge) toward Bolivia, and its snow capped Corderilla Real were quite stunning. Again ignore the tourist boats in the foreground. For some reason it sprung into my head that this must be several million times better than working (sorry to all those that have to). Chilling on the top of an island, looking out over a lake, with nothing to worry about but where to get the next feed of Alpaca. It’ll be tough when the money runs out. Perhaps I should eat less Alpaca, and help the money last a bit longer.

The experience was slightly dampened by the tortuous ride back to Puno – how can a boat go so slow? But the day of high and lows continued – we found a parrilla (bbq grill) restaurant to sink out teeth into some real meat – first time for a while!

We’ve got around 130km until we hit Bolivia. Yippee! I can’t wait to change maps (actually I can’t wait to get to Argentina, but we must experience Bolivia first).

Machu Picchu

28 10 2007

Veni, Vidi.

The pile of rocks didn’t need to be conquered.

After a reasonably spirited go, the fake student card was abandoned. Too hard¬†to organise in Cusco, and the forgery streak in me doesn’t run very wide.¬†I was keen on the idea because the entry fee to MP is ludicrously high, and rising by the month (but is half for students – which is a more reasonable price). The town of Aguas Calientes is served by a train, but no roads. Hence the train ride is also expensive (monopoly).¬†There is an option to take a much, much longer route around, mostly by bus. This involves catching a bus to Santa Maria (6hrs), then a collectivo to Santa Teresa (4hrs)¬†and then the hydroelectric station (1hr), and finally walking (2hrs) the remainder along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu village).

Aguas Calientes is possibly the most overpriced and touristy town I’ve seen – instant dislike. The bus timing is less than ideal, an involves traveling all night to arrive about 7am in Aguas. So we found a hostel, and we slept all day. I surprised myself by sleeping so long, but I think the body needed it – after arriving we all had splitting headaches, caused (we’re convinced) by the ludicrously bumpy ride in the collectivo bus. We slept all night as well.

At 4:30 am we left to walk to the entrance of MP, which guaranteed us entry as the gates opened at 6, before the first bus of the day, and the arrival of the hordes. Dawn is before 6 but due to the mountain range to the east, the sun doesn’t hit the site until after 6, and we saw the sun rise. The first few hours were quite good – few tourists around and clear sky. We got some good weather (obligatory photos on Flickr). We walked up the mountain behind M.P., Huayna Picchu, and got some good views from there as well.

2007_10_24 06_35_52

The city was¬†impressive. No doubt. It is smaller than the classic postcard photos might have you believe, housing around 1000 people at¬†it’s peak. The stonework is also quite impressive –¬†the builders went to some lengths to make the stones fit exactly into the walls. The Inca had no steel or iron, but they did have bronze (and gold, but that wouldn’t be much help shaping stone). Wikipedia tells me “The rocks used in construction were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower rocks made them extraordinarily stable.” There you go. It must have taken a fair amount of effort.

As I said, the site is impressive. It’s location as much as anything. It is surrounded by steep mountains, almost invisible from the river below, and perched on the top of some serious cliffs. The site on three sides was all but impenetrable to a normal human (some modern climbers with modern gear could get there easily enough, but forget about getting an invading army in, 500 years ago).

Later in the day the hordes arrived, and made it horrible to be there. We left. Next day we returned by the circuitous route, and partly due to the bus having three flat tyres, and the road being cut by road works from a landslide, took all day (from surise to after sunset) to get back to Cusco.

And now we must think about getting back on the bike. The holiday from the bikes is over.

Well, maybe one more day with civilised food. On that note, I had Alpaca steak tonight. It’s good (but expensive) – it could also be that it¬†tasted good because I haven’t had a decent lump of meat (other that chicken) for some time now. I’ll keep an eye out for some more along the way.


19 10 2007

We made it! Up and down and back again. Cusco has been a target for some time, so now we are here and putting our feet up for a few days.

The road from Curahuasi began promisingly. Down hill on asphalt is always good fun. At altitude 1800m we found the bridge, and then climbed. Stopped for lunch in Limatambo (found a place that sold HUGE chicken schnitzels – with rice). Altitude and feasting are continuing to play havoc with my digestive system, so the remained of the climb to the pass at 3780m was accompanied (assisted?) by gas escaping from all orifices. Near 2000m climbing for the day, and 100km across. Possibly the last such climb for a while.

After a relatively big day up and across, we rolled into Izcuchaca (there was a town with the same name a few weeks ago). The day was capped off by being greeted by ‘¬°gringos!’ screeched at us as we entered the (only) hospedaje in the pueblo. So we shared a room with the mice (it looked like there could be some around, but we didn’t actually spot any). I scored an upstairs room (difficult with the bike) because… I’m still not sure why I couldn’t have one of the other three empty ground floor rooms. Perhaps it was just an attempt by the owner to be unpleasant. The other hostel in the pueblo couldn’t give us a room because the woman who ran it wasn’t in town today, and the guy left in charge didn’t want to give us a room. At least we didn’t need food – the chicken was still reacting nicely.

A short climb into Cusco and we’ve definitely hit the gringo trail. Despite the huge number of tourists the town isn’t too bad – we’ve worked out how to keep away from the majority of them. Prices are certainly higher, and the amount of English spoken is greater, although it is vaguely insulting (especially to the Swiss) to always be labeled as American by the locals – even before opening your mouth.

This morning we had a long chat with two Austrian cyclists who are going north – comparing roads and routes. There is a lot of country coming up! Hopefully with less altitude gain per day though.

The Macchu Picchu problem is currently taking up a fair bit of thought. We’ve worked out how to get there without taking the outrageously expensive tourist train (taking the best part of two days), but we’ve still got a way to go to get student cards and reduce the similarly outrageous entrance fee. This could take some effort. But it’s a break from the bikes which is good for a few days.

The five passes: Road to Cusco

16 10 2007

The road is asphalt. The mountains are just as high. The river just before Abancay was at 1800m. Today we just tipped 4000m, before sailing down the other side. Yes, that is over 2000m vertical. And guess what? We go down to 1900m tomorrow, before… Yes, another pass, just shy of 3800m. But Cusco isn’t far now, and the prospect of doing a bit of touristy stuff. Maybe even a few days off the bike.

The road has surprisingly little traffic (at least today), considering this is the Panamericana, and the main road from Nasca (and Lima) to Cusco – Gringo central.

I wonder if I should have stuck to catching buses around here. Nah Рthe view tonight was again very good, and who would stop in Curahuasi if you were on a bus to Cusco? The climb today was pretty good really, despite taking most of the day. The clouds were covering the mountain tops when we were at the top of the pass, but they cleared for sunset Рagain the mountains were on fire. Burnt orange everywhere to the east, and a spectrum of colours on the snow capped peaks more to the north (come to think of it, they may be the same snow capped peaks we saw the other day for sunset). Anyway, it was great.

Sleeping with the scorpions

15 10 2007

You’ll never guess what I found in my hotel room this morning. Only small, and probably not poisonous, but I don’t really want to sleep with scorpions. Spiders are bad enough.

Start of the Passes

12 10 2007

Woe is me. I just opened my collection of photo CDs to find then all cracked in some way. This is distressing because it means I have lost more photos (the set from Huancayo to Ayacucho I made two copies of – both cracked). But it is also indicative of the roads I have been traveling the last few days. To call them bad is an understatement. According to the map, the road I am following is one of the “Carreteras Principales Del Peru”. Main roads. Huh! Yesterday, while going up, I tried an experiment. On the side of the road, which was reasonably smooth, but nothing like asphalt, I could get up to 9 kph in the short section available. On the road, I was averaging 6. It’s a game of hang on, even with front suspension (which is rapidly dying).

The last five days we have managed a total of 255km. We’ve also climbed almost 5000m. (Oh, and yesterday I reached my 50th kilometer of altitude gain – a good reason for pizza tonight!). It feels like a fair bit longer however. This is a tough section of road. And we’ve only crossed two of the 5 passes on route to Cusco! Luckily the last two are on asphalt road, so they wont be quite as taxing.

The first night out of Ayacucho we made it to near a small town called Acocro. There is pretty much nothing there, and that includes hostels. With a storm bearing down on us, we asked a passing local what we could do, and he suggested sleeping in his shed (along with the sheep skins, potatoes, piles of junk and god knows what else). It was a fair offer, with the wind howling, and rain incipient. As we were moving the bikes, he had a better idea: how about in his restaurant! Errr, ok. So we had soup, Rahel and Joerg set up their tent in the restaurant and I slept on a bench. It kept the rain off, and we were warm. The only problem was the owner decided to watch TV at volume (everything is done at volume here) at some ungodly hour in the morning, possibly as an attempt to wake us up.

The next day we climbed up. And up. Took most of the day to climb about 40km and 1000m. Sounds like slow going, I guess it was. This was the top of the first pass. Then we got to go down. I didn’t measure it, but the descent was roughly 20km, and took us the best part of 2.5 hours. Yes, thats right, down hill 20km took over two hours. This was the worst road so far, constantly riding the brakes, and times traveling less then 5kph. Thats me, the crazy one in the group; Rahel and Joerg were even slower. Maybe I’m going on about this, but the road is horrible. I have visions that the Carretera Australis wil be like this also. I hope not.

The road continued in this vein the next day, although slightly faster, until we couldn’t descend any further and we hit the river (which is quite obvious on Google Earth, see the map page if you’re interested). That was at 2050m (we had come down from 4090m). The only benefit was the temperature climbed as we descended. Although it didn’t stop at a reasonable value, and we were suddenly roasting in 42¬įC heat in the valley.

Once you hit the bottom, you go… Up. Of course the road was hardly better, despite the promise that it would be. On top of the road condition, the afternoon storm returned with a vengeance. Part way up the hill, we donned coats. Shortly after Rahel was literally blown backwards while walking and pushing her bike. I was stopped short and had to use all my strength (ok, no jokes about how weak I am) to go forward. Even with the wind howling, light rain being driven into us, and elevation above 2500m, the bugs were still biting (they stop biting when… not sure, but on the top they don’t seem to be there). On that note, I’m constantly itchy at the moment, and have a few nice holes in my legs. We finally found shelter in Chincheros, and had the ice cream that we promised ourselves in the river valley (despite the fact that it was now drizzling and we were wearing jackets against the nights chill).

I reminded Rahel and Joerg that we had all quit our jobs, and sold out things to come here and cycle up this, in this. It wasn’t appreciated. I maintain it is still better than work (and to be honest was still having a good time – I know, masochist you might say, and Joerg often has) ūüôā

Continuing up the mountain the next day, started steep and continued. The road was also so bad that Rahel managed to push her bike more than ride it. It was slow going.

If you’ve slogged through this whole piece, with no photos, until now, then you’re getting to the point of it. I’m not just whinging at how hard this is.

At the first intersection, really just a place to sit for a while, we had lunch. Sitting on the grass, some animals wandered over. Some pigs and a horse started chomping their way through something (grass I guess). A piglet came over to see what the gringos ate for lunch (and managed to get some off us). Sitting there in the sunshine, blue sky, with the animals and mountains around us… it was a pretty good place for lunch.

But the climbing hadn’t been completed, so we set off again, for 20km to the top of Abra Soracocha. At least the road wasn’t quite so bad. From the top (and from quite a few places along the way), and down the other side, the view was absolutely amazing. One might call it breathtaking. In fact one will: It was breathtaking – possibly helped by being at 4270m ;). It is a little hard to describe, but it was like being on top if the world (again). Looking out I could see mountains in all directions, with deep river valleys causing the irregular bumps of mountains, and giving some sense of scale to an infinite view (although the scale was hard to adjust to, those valleys are 2000m deep!). To make it better, it was late afternoon, the sky was blue (there were a few clouds), it was cool, but the sun was warm. I wish I were a more accomplished wordsmith to describe the scene. Four days of adventure (aka struggle) to get here? Was it worth it? Hell yes! The one view may have been enough, but I have failed to mention some of the other good things that have made it worthwhile (the friendly guy who let us sleep in his restaurant, the group of kids we talked to in the river valley, the views everywhere). Taking a bus would never allow you to enjoy the view as much. Even if it stopped at the top to let you out, the feeling, breathlessness and scale isn’t the same.
But it was late afternoon, and we still had a way to go to camp (I’m not keen on sleeping above 4000m!), so we descended rapidly (on much improved road) to the tiny pueblo of Chicmo. We had sunset while we descended. Apart from the obvious (it got dark), it was a great thing. The few clouds lit up, the hills mountains looked they were coated with gold, and the road looked smooth! It still felt bumpy though¬† maybe I just could no longer see ūüôā We rolled into Chicmo with the head torches on (it took a bit longer than I expected as we had a flat to deal with).

The locals gathered around (a normal occurrence), and stared (normal). The police I asked for help to the nearest hostel was most unfriendly, as was his gun (not so normal). No one wanted to help, insisting that the only place to sleep was 20km further down the hill (possibly fun if I had my bike lights and we hadn’t already ridden a full day over a pass – certainly not an option at that point). So we had dinner (pasta, potato and rice – mysterious absence of chicken, but carbs? All at once?). Rahel looked around, and found an ally in the centro del salud (local health center / community hospital). It was a small room, with only two beds (and a cot) – luckily they had no patients.

Today we completed the descent from the second pass and got stopped by the prospect of pizza in Andahuaylas. Which I am late for now.

Only 120km until the asphalt that will take us all the way to Cusco (and further almost to the southern border of Peru). Yippee!

Indicators and driver training

7 10 2007

There is quite a lot that can be said about the cars in Peru (like how they carry animals in the taxis and people in trucks), and probably will be in due course.

Special note must go to the indicators or flashers or blinkers or whatever you might call them. I have slowly gotten used to ignoring then completely. It is too difficult to work out quite what the driver intends to do just by the indicators.

For example, a flashing left indicator can mean:

  • I am turning left (the only usage common in developed countries, hence what I am used to – but the least frequently applied here);
  • I am turning right (god know how they came up with this piece of brilliance – but it’s true);
  • There is danger (ie cyclists, a parked car, a hole in the road, whatever)¬†to the left of me up ahead;
  • There is danger to the right up ahead (most likely me as I turn right with the left indicator flashing);
  • You can overtake me on the left now, it’s safe (the definition of safe would not be quite what you might expect)
  • I have forgotten to tun off my left blinker,
  • or (and this is probably the most frequent) I have tried to turn on my hazard flashers (for any number of random reasons) but only the left blinker works.

Of course there are the same number of possibilities (which are identical) when the right is flashing.

The only real constant is the use of the horn. This means absolutely everything and anything. Seriously, anything. I think some of the time they use it gratuitously, just to be loud – with no need to attract attention.

We think we’ve discovered the major points of the cirriculum¬†of the driver training school for Peruvian drivers, with roughly equal time given to each point:

  1. Here are the keys. Look they jingle.
  2. This is how you work the horn.
  3. This is how the radio works. Note that increasing the volume is easy, decreasing is frowned upon.
  4. There is the road. Go. Find a place to put your car and do it as fast as possible. Bonus points for making lots of noise.

Since we haven’t been hit (yet), this is probably a little harsh, but honestly some of the crazy stunts they pull make you wonder if they have any¬†training at all.

On the top of Peru

25 09 2007

So much has happened!

Sorry, this could be a longish post. Catherine, make sure Rachel is settled. Of course, Congratulations to Kev and Catherine on the baby girl! Kev, you’ve clearly got nothing to do now, so you can read it too ūüôā

It seems so long ago that I was in Huaraz. We tried to have a rest day on a Sunday (a rest day meaning “sleep in, then run around madly cleaning/fixing the bikes, buying food, eating, preparing for the next section”. It turns out to be foolish – not everything is open, and at the end of the day the only goal that could be said to be complete is eating. Ice-cream mostly. So we took another day to actually get ready to go.

So we took the easy option – a short ride form Huaraz to Caraz. And slept in relative comfort for the night. The next day was fairly long – leaving at 6:30 we braved the 4¬įC temperature and finished the last few km’s of bitumen before turning left toward the pass. This was the same road that Ol, Jess and I took for ice climbing in July. We climbed from 3500m to just over 4800m in a day. The scenery was great – even though I’d seen it before from a speeding taxi. (see photos on flickr – adding them to this page is possible, looks slick, but takes ages – I’d rather see the city than a computer screen all day – sorry). The road could have been a fire track straight out of the Flinders Ranges – steep, rocky, basically bad (there is much worse to come).

Since we weren’t quite acclimatised (well at all) the rise hurt. Rahel suffered early, but picked up later, I suffered in the early arvo, and Jurg didn’t really enjoy the last bit. But we all survived, and set up camp in a small stall just below the glacier at the top of the pass. I abandoned the hammock and stayed in the small tent with Rahel and Jurg (thankyou again!). It turns out I would have survived anyway, it was an overcast night and the shelter took the wind and snow right out of the equation. Ie it was warm (well considering the altitude anyway). The only part of me that was cold was my feet!

Although it was warm, we all slept poorly. It was 4800m after all! Our heads hurt – mostly due to dehydration it turns out. Drinking is not easy when the water is cold, really cold. We all woke several times, so when it was time to get going (at sunrise), we took a look out at the light snow falling and wordlessly decided to sleep in. So it was cold, but had stopped snowing, when we headed off at 10:30. The morning tourists had already started to arrive to do a bit of ice climbing. We didn’t tell them about the person who was evacuated yesterday with a laceration to the neck, and a pretty well busted ankle after falling from the glacier.

We hit the first pass almost straight away (only a small climb). Took a photo and moved on – was still pretty cold and windy. Then sailed down in to the high region between the two passes. Without panniers, or a fairly strong need to be conservative with the wheels, this section would have given exceptional riding. The road was good enough to get a fair speed up, but bad enough that it required constant attention (except with the heavy bikes we took it easy). The terrain changed 3 or 4 times, with grand mountains, grand valleys, and lots of plain grandness. The scenery was great – most of the tourists get to the glacier and stop, but just over the pass the scenery is ten times better. The only real problem was the weather. Starting overcast it cleared before turning nasty as we hit the second pass (a lazy 4880m according to the satellite gods – or GPS). Lots of wind, a bit of snow – enough to see me hiding in a fortuitously found cave by the road. I think we were lucky though – the opposite side of the valley turned white on about 10 minutes. I think they got a serious amount of snow over there.

After the worst had passed, we headed down the hill, only for me to discover I’d left my glasses in the cave. So back I climbed. The glasses were gone. I knew no-one had been there, so I took of my helmet to look around. Ah ha! Found them – between my beanie (a Nana’s special) and the rain coat hood. No wonder the helmet didn’t feel right…

200m down the road (vertically) we go to the asphalt, turned left and shot down the road. The problems encountered: dogs (bloody dogs) and cold (4¬įC racing down a hill cold enough for ya?). Gravity was assisting as much as it could though.

Cold, tired, hungry, bitching about dogs we rolled into Huallanca and initially liked the place – friendly people and houses that looked warm. After about an hour of searching for some where to sleep and being told they were all full (rubbish they just didn’t want us for some reason), we took a really crappy room without a shower (a cold shower counts as no shower above 3000m). The price was about right – S/ 6 (a bit over A$2). The pizza restaurant we went for dinner had a menu that consisted of chicken… and rice. We decided we all hated this place and on no account would we be staying here another night (not that we had planned on it anyway). Our feeble protest at the hoteliers friendliness (or lack of). To be fair, the owner of the place we stayed was quite friendly, but this didn’t make up for the rest of the town.

Since we weren’t on the top of the world any more, we managed to sleep pretty well, and got out early as we’d promised ourselves. After the pretty ordinary afternoon yesterday, today was great! Continued downhill, through a narrow canyon. We met first a truckload of people who stopped us for photographs. We thought they wanted us to take a photo of them… but the all poured off to take photos of us! A strange experience. Down in La Union we were again the center of attention with a crowd of Peruvians around us for quite some time (while we ate second breakfast – the bread was pretty god here). At one point Rahel asked me if I was married yet – a couple of girls had sidled up and giggling asked for a photo. (The answer is no).

Down the wrong side of the river, on a very poor, but scenic track. We finally found a foot bridge after 2km and went straight past the hot springs. The shouts of so many children from inside didn’t sound like much fun to us). And then the downhill ended, and we had to climb into Pachas. Ate lunch – guess what? yep, chicken (and rice). Then we got to go down again. If all this talk of up and down is repetative, I hope you can bear with me. I am cycling in/across the Andes, and one big feature of this is the changes in altitude. Also remember that the highest peak in Oz is Mt Kosciuszko at 2228m (although the National Mapping website informs me that the real highest point is Mawson’s Peak on Heard Island at 2745m, and even higher points in the Australian Antarctic Territory – but come on thats splitting hairs).

Where was I? Yes, down into Tingo Chico. A small place, only of note because it was 4 hours ride to the next Pueblo (village). About half an hour after we decided to stop for the night, a thunderstorm broke. Again, same time as yesterday. This little village contains possibly the worst hostel in Peru. It cost S/5 each (about A$2) for the night, and we consider that expensive. I wont go into a description of the toilet facilities. We normally ask if a room has hot water for a shower – we didn’t bother here, but were a little surprised by the lack of any water, or electricity. But in reality this is how many Peruvians (and others) live every day.

It rained for about 2 hours. During that time we had dinner – at the only restaurant. Pescado Frito (fried fish) was on the menu, so Jurg and I jumped at it (it wasn’t chicken) – and it was the only thing on the menu. Rahel, wished us good luck when she saw it arrive. Jurg as me how my battlefield was going part way through. It was that sort of meal (but actually tasted pretty good, and I’m still alive now).

From the locals we got various reports that this was the first rain of the year, and the 4th day in a row. This happens often, we’re still trying to work out how to sift through the crap and work out who is telling the truth. It’s especially frustrating with directions and distances.

The next day we rode up a valley to Chavinillo. It wasn’t far, but it was up, on a really crap road, made into a mud pit by the rain yesterday. I’ve named the Valley “Valle de los Perros” – Valley of the dogs. I had a dog stick nearly all day and the next, and had occasion to wave it at many, many dogs. I’m also losing my reluctance to throw stones at dogs. It seems to the best way to get them to back off. At one point (out of the timeline I’m afraid, but on topic) Jurg got bitten on the leg and panniers (not badly, but enough to scare us all) when we both had sticks in hand and were threateningly waving them at the dogs. This should not attract the damn things. We threw a few rocks at that one.

So we reached Chavinillo, at only 1pm, had lunch, looked up and decided to stay. Again, another good call, the thunderstorm broke after we’d moved in to the room. It looks like the wet season is approaching (bugger), thunderstorms every afternoon. We had a shower here though – the water was, unlike the promised hot, warm, but sufficient to shower. We decided we’d have to get to the bitumen tomorrow – the road so far has been really, really bad.

14km to the top, and we saw the Cronos del Inca (Crown of the Incas). A big rock formation that looks startling like a Tiara on the top of the hill. The people on the top of the hill looked different to the people of the valley, and were much more friendly. They live at 3900m. Tough people.

Around the corner Jurg got bitten, and we started the hardest descent so far. 2000m down, and all of it constantly on the brakes, dodging rocks and hanging on. 5 hours of riding took us about 50kms. It was a bad road. Again without panniers, or the necessity to keep the wheels round it could have been much faster and more fun. As it was I discovered a new muscle in my hand, the one you use to brake all day. It complained loudly to my brain this it shouldn’t be used this much. Jurg discoved the sand has a tendency to throw you off your bike. The dogs kept up the reputation from the previous day, I ended up with a supply of rocks in my raincoat pocket in readiness for the inevitable attacks.

Thuderstorm on cue just before 3 (after rain again about midday). We shook into Huanuco (why do so many Peruvian towns start with “H” when you don’t pronounce it?). We ignored the historical monument – too tired and battle worn from the shaker-shaker road and calls of “gringo!” to deal with it. I ate a Chifa (Chinese Fried Rice), or rather inhaled it, in the rain, in a little park in the city. The city started out badly, but we found a room easily, the pizza restaurant two hours later, and crashed.

At the pizza restaurant, Rahel and Jurg bumped into some other Swiss, who turned out to be living here and working (I wont go into details), The up-shot is the next day we spent all day in their compound cleaning the bikes (they needed it), having a feast for lunch of Swiss cooking (yum) and being eaten alive by bugs. We’re either freezing to death (altitude) or being eaten alive in this place.

I shouldn’t leave the updates so long. This sounds like a “today we did this” without time for thoughts. And I wouldn’t have to sit in the cubicle next to a girl singing karaoke for so long. You must all appreciate the photos though. I had to sift through 190 (in only a week!) to find the few good ones.

So far Huanuco has been eating and sleeping. And typing while the day disappears. The next section is on Bitumen. Yippe! The map shows a lot of 4000m+ coming up. I hope the wet season gives me just a bit more time to evacuate this area.

I’ve sniffed out the Restaurant Govinda here. The local Hari Krishna Restaurant. I think we’re in for some Vegetarian tonight. Followed by a monster fruit salad; I may have got carried away at the market, sp now we have to eat our way through a Pineapple, Papaya, 1kg of mangoes, two hands of bananas and a liter of yoghurt. Wish us luck.

Huaraz… Again?

15 09 2007

Well we made it to Huaraz.

From Chao the Pan Americana heads south (and north if you want to look at it that way). The wind wasn’t so bad, but we left the bitumen after about 15km – so we didn’t give it a chance. The private road we’d been told about was exactly where it should be, and thank goodness. The short cut of 55km meant that we didn’t have to go south to Chimbote, and then back again (saving quite a few km’s). The private road is for maintenance of¬†a canal that brings water from the other side of the Andes (the Amazon side) for all of the irrigation on this side of the mountain range. That’s quite a project, boring a hole through the Andes for water. But they make use of it – huge areas of sand support crops around Trujillo. Even some crops I didn’t expect – sugar cane, artichokes, asparagus, corn, grapes, and lots of others. All sorts are grown in what must be essentially hydroponic conditions. The sand is deep (judging by the depth of some of the sand drifts) and I can’t see that the crops get any sustance that isn’t supplied artificially. But back to the road.

Back on the public road we had bitumen again. Sometimes you count your blessings, and little things make it in, like a paved road. Now was one of those times. A short vertical distance later we were in a tiny little place called Chuquicara. A truck stop really. We ate in the restaurant, and took the room out the back of the petrol station. The beds weren’t too good, so we set up tents inside the room (I strung my hammock from the roof). For dinner I had chicken and rice, it was either that or rice and chicken – but I had that for lunch.

The next morning we headed further into the river valley, which is really a canyon. The road immediately changed from Bitumen to something out of a horror movie. The corrugations and rocks meant that the average speed was somewhere down in my socks. The going was tough. The clouds also cleared, and allowed the sun an unobstructed view of us. This wasn’t too bad, the traffic was light, and we even manged to get a jug of juice from a small restaurant when we were thirsty. Soon the restaurants petered out, the rocks stayed just as big (or possibly got bigger) and a passing car asked Rachel if she wanted a lift.

Rachel was clearly for the idea. I was intially against it, having begun the ride up the valley, I wanted to finish it. Despite having caught a bus down this valley already (a month or so before) and having seen all of it, I was keen to see it again by bicycle. However, we were travelling as a group, and it really didn’t make a lot of sense to torture our bodies and bikes given the state of the road. The option of riding while the others got a lift was quickly dismissed – the food and water had been planned as a group – I could have gone it alone, but I guess I didn’t really want to. So we piled our bikes into the back of the ute, jumped in ourselves and tore off. Tore off being the operative words. Turns out the driver was Peruvian; ie as soon as he got behind the wheel, he was a maniac. I think we all came out with bruised backsides. There were a few times where we almost came out of the tray altogether, after hitting larger than expected rocks! There was one particular spoon drain that almost claimed us all. Embarrassed the driver enough to stop and see if we were all right.

So we saw the Ca√Īon de Pato, slightly faster than expected. The driver was actually quite kind, and stopped a few times for us to take photos. But it did chop 2 days of riding down to half a day, and an hour or so of hanging on in the back of a ute. We were let out in Caraz.

Caraz is a nice place. I can vouch for the two restaurants we ate (or possibly gorged)¬†at and the icecream place. Since we had little else to do, we ate. So much so that I was completely full, possibly for the first time in a while. And the effect carried over to the next morning, I was still so full that breakfast was a non event for me, and I didn’t really need anything for lunch. Of course I was recovered by dinmner tonight and downed my fair share of pasta.

The road from Caraz to Huaraz was mostly up (the lift we got up the canyon helped with some of the altitute gain, but there is plenty more to go). But Bitumen the whole way. In fact this section was almost perfect, sun shining, cool air, mountains everywhere you look (some with snow), slight breeze, smooth road, swiss cyclists to talk to, and cars shooting past at ungodly speeds. Pity about the dramatic increase in traffic. And we had a run in with a farmer who seemed disproportionally upset with us taking a photo of the hillside. In fact it looks as though too many Gringos get to these parts – some people are still friendly, but many seem to have had enough of foreigners.

And now I’m back in Huaraz. We found a cheaper hostal in a much better location (I’m beginning to like the Footprint guide book possibly slightly more than the Lonely Planet). We’ll take a rest day here. We probabaly don’t need the rest as much need to acclimitise again. But there is lots of food here, and the road goes up (significantly) to the south.


12 09 2007

From the valley, we continued downhill (fighting the headwind) for a few days through progressively more and more barren terrain, and made the coast. We turned left after some discussion Рleft was south (which was good) and also the direction the wind was coming from (clearly not so good). Riding north would have been easier Рbut that way is currently welcoming winter. Stuart tells me Winnipeg is already freezing over. So reluctantly we turned into the teeth of the wind.

The following day we beat the wind by rising at 4:45. Is this mean to be a holiday? Probably, but it is the only sensible thing to do – the wind appears somewhat magically just before midday and proceeds to blow into the afternoon. The coast was a roughly even mix of desert, fog, sun and wind. The possibility of some mariscos (seafood) kept me going.

I have developed a nickname from my Swiss companions¬†– Panini (ok, so it’s from Italian, but it sounds close to the Spanish ‘Panicito’). I’m eating lots of bread. It’s normal for me, but obviously of note.

And then we were at Trujillo, after a reasonably long day. I seem to remember being here before… twice. Due to the road layout in northern Peru, it turns out that you would have to be rather mad, or a long way east to not go through Trujillo. There is one road through the mountains,¬†but the number of passes looks obscene. Cunning planning by the Trujilloites. Luckily, Lucho, a Peruanian cycling champ runs his ‘casa de ciclistas’ here. After adding one (number 867) and reading (some) of the log book entries I am feeling suitably humbled – there are many, many very long distance cyclists coming through here. Just now, there are couples staying in the house traveling for 6.5, 2.5 and over 1 years. My poultry 2 months seems fairly feeble against this. But he’s a nice guy, lets us stay at his place, and I needed to do some washing. I also needed a new bottom bracket (turns out the bike sold to me as ‘total shimano/deore components’¬†has some¬†super cheap parts that are becoming evident about now – after only¬†about 2000km). The hubs also needed new cones/bearings, and that took a full day to complete (with meals as well ūüôā ). Food was partaken. Sufficient quantities (of variable quality) to replenish the body.

This morning, Rachel, George and I said a good bye (or possibly a see you later) to Rebekka, Florian and Chan. Rebekka or Florian occasionally write quite a detailed and lengthy story on their blog, and this time it includes me! So be sure to check it out at and keep up to date with what they are doing.

The goodbye was¬†extended, so with our tardy start we¬†manged to turn at “lets get going at 7am to beat the wind” into a struggle out of town at 11. But we’re back heading south, stopped tonight in a small place called Chao – my last hope of Mariscos (mmm, seafood) until… Chile? Somewhere a while away anyway. So with the coast so close, what did we eat…? Chicken. What were we thinking? At least there was no rice.

Next few days is up a hill. Toward Huaraz. Currently on the coast, so that means it will be up. And up. And not likely to have internet, so bye for now.


6 09 2007

A town with the most unpleasant hostel owner/operator I have come across (we only used this hostel because there as a garage for the bikes). Otherwise it is quite pleasant here. And a good days ride from Cajamarca.

I’ve updated the map again, and it is clear that the last section has been rather difficult (ie the dots, indicating nights,¬†are much closer together). Today was a retun to the bigger distances.¬†Once we’d climbed to 3200m¬†again, it has been all downhill. At times rediculously steeply downhill, I don’t wish to come back up this road.¬†More of the same coming up by the looks – down to the coast and then turn left toward Trujillo and Chimbote.

We’ve heard through various channels that the road just out of Trujillo has been the location for several robberies of cyclists in recent months. We have asked for an update from a local, and may resort to catching a bus/truck to bypass this area. The problem (or potential) has been a source of much conversation, and more than a little concern for the last few days. Hopefully it turns out to be nothing.


5 09 2007

I predicted two days, and it was. The pass from Celendín took us to the highest point on the ride so far, 3760m (despite what the maps say).

We camped just under the final pass overnight, which meant it was rather chilly, but the views were spectacular. Matched only by the friendliness of the chickens and rabbits.

From the top there is only one way, and yes, it is down. In a stroke of luck, the road is currently being widened, from a dirt track into a multi lane highway by the looks. In two years (so they tell us) there may be some tar on some parts of the road from Celend√≠n to Cajamarca. I wouldn’t hold my breath. The luck comes in a little further down the road, afterthe road works, where the tar really begins! And the map showed another 30km of dirt. We were clearly happy, and may have taken a few photos to celebrate the event. It made the second half of the day much easier, and far, far faster (bombing down dirt roads can be fun, but it’s much more efficient to hurtle down freshly paved roads – top speeds are much faster on tar).

And so we reached the outskirts of Cajamarca, a place called Ba√Īos del Inca. Lots of history, lots of slaughter (bad Spanish) and hot springs. A rest day has been taken, but we voted with our feet, Ba√Īos didn’t hold that much attraction, and we’re now in central Cajamarca. Cajamarca likewise holds little attraction, and I think we’ll escape to the nicely paved road ma√Īana.

In fact Cajamarca is probably a nice place, but my experience so far involves lots of noisey traffic (and crazy drivers), and searching for a hostel. It took us damn near 3 hours. I doubt it’ll get a rave review from what I see in the morning. I have to say there is a¬†good vegetarian restaurant here. And lots of Internet caf√©s.

That was a big hill

2 09 2007

Ok, so I left Chachapoyas, and the last tendrils of civility (or internet anyway) a looong time ago. Well it feels like a long time. I rode down to Tingo to look at the wonderful ruins of Ku√©lap (second only to Machu Picchu so I am reliably informed). They were pretty good, but I don’t have time for a write up here, see the Wikipedia page if you’re interested (ie click here).

And then I sort of blasted across the landscape, in chase of a couple of Swiss cyclists I knew were in front of me. I lunched at Leymebamaba, and then tackled a pass of 3600m. Coming down the other side I finally caught the Swiss, but they had turned into a family of three (with a three year old in a trailer) and another couple. So the couple were suddenly five. But so far they have let me hang around, and the company has been great.

The next morning we made our way slowly down the other side of the pass – 3600 to 900m really does take some time on these roads. Unfortunately it took us even longer to come back up the other side. The road was absolutely attrocious, I don’t know how they can get away with calling it a road. So it ended up taking an afternoon, a full day, and this morning to climb out of the valley to 3130m. That is one serious down and up. But really picturesque, and worth every drop of sweat. And camping for three nights. Unfortunately the road held me up more that I expected, and I’ve missed ringing home for Nana’s birthday, and Fathers Day. Woops, and sorry. I’ll try to find a phone around here somewhere later.

So now we (I say we as the group is still together – they haven’t sent me off yet:)) are in a reasonable sized town called Celind√≠n. Only 100km or so from the big smoke of Cajamarca, but thet’ll probabaly take two days. We have supplies for three in case the road is bad.

Pity¬†I can’t upload photos here. I have a few good ones from the last few days. When I can I will.


28 08 2007

Yesterday was a pretty big day. I came out of Ja√©n and turned left. I could have gone right, and although it would have been hilly, I would have ended up at the coast and reasonably fast (but boring) travel south. Instead it looks like I’ve chosen a route through the mountains – not boring, but extremely… mountainous.

Yesterday was neither montainous or overly entertaning. All day I travelled first down, and then up two rivers.¬†Similar terrain to¬†parts of the Flinders actually, except the river beds were full of flowing water.¬†Down, it should go without saying, was reasonably easy. Up on the other hand… I didn’t get in until after dark – and wasn’t expecting that.

So today I thought I’d just hop a short distance to the regional Capital of Chachapoyas. Up a lovely river,¬†in a steep sided valley. Quite scenic. The brand new tar helped for the first 20km,¬† and it was dirt from then until the road went seriously uphill (at about 45km, where I got tar again). I studied the map over lunch, and have come to the conclusion that I will need to descend that same section of tar to get out of here. That’s 1.5 hours of climbing to be undone in the morning. I couldn’t face going back tonight, so I’m holing out in Chachapoyas hoping that the roads will realign overnight and down isn’t necessary.

If nothing else, the view is good, and it’s done my legs some good. And I get internet today. I guess it’s not all bad then.


26 08 2007

Well I got here, despite the lying map (and the diarreah, which I am over talking about). The damn map showed me going up hill, along a ridge, and down and up a few valleys. I expected to be reasonably punished. What happened was: I went up and then down to a rather hefty river, and followed it all day. Since I was going down stream, that = down hill. Brilliant plan of mine. There was still a few ups, but the major hassle was the weather. Although it was overcast, down here (only 800m above sea level) it is rather warm – today tipped 42¬įC. Dehydration is definately my biggest worry at the moment.

Sickness (and cheating)

24 08 2007

So it turns out I really really should have spent an extra day in Palanda. I woke with a slight fever and thought I would be ok. I talked to the locals – the road to Zumba is all downhill – confirmed by the map. The fact that Palanda didn’t have internet sealed the decision (what was I going to do all day?).

So I left. I wasn’t feeling great, but 50km, downhill – how hard can it be?

Let’s just say it wasn’t one of my finest decisions. It turns out that a map with a contour interval of 800m (I previoulsy thought it was 600m for some reason) can hide some seriously big annoyances. I walked up the first. Struggeled up the next few amd ended up climbing over 800m before practically passing out, 5-10 km from Zumba. The original plan had been to ride until the bike broke. Well, today the body broke. Anyone who’s whinged about having diarreah on a bus should try it on a bike. True, you can stop as often as you like, but in the jungle, for goodness sake, avoid the stinging nettle.

I hitched a lift up the last 4-500m piece of hell (or hill in other languages). I stashed my bike and bags in the back of a Coke truck, and sat up front in the cab, trying to stay consious and talk to the driver. So, for those with bets on, I’ve failed – already.

In Zumba, I ate a little, and passed out. Later that arvo I drank a few litres, was completely hydrated, but had a massive headache. A 2¬†Panadol headache, with another later¬†(and for those that know me…). I thought maybe I had somehow got Malaria (still had a fever)¬†and realised it was too quick in the jungle.¬†Then I fantasised about some type of Encephalitis – yes it really hurt that bad. In the end the only thing I could do was sleep, so I did.

I didn’t die (well not yet). I slept most of the next day in the (very warm and very sleepy) town of Zumba. No internet here either (until Tuesday I was assured). So read all day, and most of the night.

Woke up this morning realising that the Diarreah still hasn’t gone (I thought it had twice, but then realised I just hadn’t eaten anything more than bread for a day or so). I think it might be Giardiah. The stomache cramps and flatulence¬†seem to fit the bill, but I think I’ve lost some weight – I can’t honestly tell if my stomache is swollen and tight, or if that’s just my abs in the way (wow, that must sound conceited – ladies! feel my rock hard stomache!).

So I jumped on a bus to get into Peru. And here I am. No cycling today. Pity – the road today looked like a¬†nice section to ride… if you are a masochist. The Ecuadorians think that contours are for Peruvians, and the Peruvians think that road maintenance is for Equadorians. I hope they can get it together when I get back on the bike.

I’ll give the sickness a few more days, and then BLAM! I’ll hit it with both barrels of the chemical warefare I’m carrying around in my first aid kit. If I can get off the computer (here in San Ignacio Internet is fast, and only 1sole (US$0.30) per hour – cheap except I have bugger all cash left¬†and the next ATM is – hopefully- 125km down the road – the real reason I left Zumba on a bus – I would have prefered to ride)

Escalada de hielo

25 07 2007

He he. That was fun.

Yesterday Ol, Jess and I spent the best part of the day at 5000m, climbing the face of a glacier. Luckily it was only a small glacier, but bashing up it with the ice tools and crampons is fun. But that was on top rope – who knows how much I’d enjoy it leading a few thousand meters off the deck. Perhaps we’ll never know. It was fun anyway. If I manage to get to Canada for winter, I may have found something to keep me entertained.

And Ol and Jess left last night, for skiing further south. Hopefully they enjoy that – no doubt they will. And thus ends phase II of my trip. (phase I was pre Ol and Jess, phase III will be getting to Iquitos). So on that note I’ve got a ticket for tomorrow morning out of Huaraz. I’ll go back to Trujillo and then mosey north.

I can’t be too quick though, today is the celebration of 150 years since Huaraz was founded – hence there was a bit of a party last night. After climbing and being up early, I crashed at 12:30, but I got woken by the fireworks at 2am. Pity I missed it, it sounded like a hell of a raucous… But I think one party that cannot be missed is the Peruvian independence day on the 28th – all the locals have been preparing for some time for this one – painting buildings, etc. A big town is in order in a few days time.