BOLIVIA: High altitude plains, stunning sunsets, and the poorest country yet Juliaca, Peru to Tupiza, Bolivia
Having Mango and Magoo (my parents) in Cusco for two weeks of relaxation and exploration was fabulous! And when it came to an end, we were both sad to see them leave, but happy to know we were getting closer to the end of the ride with some pretty scenic places in front of us. Thanks to parents that love us, my parents gave us a little spending money to upgrade from chicken bus to tourist bus to get back to Juliaca. And Ville's parents sent us a brand new tent that didn't leak water! Thanks Moms and Dads!
The bus back to Juliaca was way more pleasant, didn't have to listen to sales pitches and preachers the entire ride, got to recline the seat and pig out. Once back in Juliaca, we spent a day (with great help from another Argentinean cyclist, Pac-Man) changing out much needed bike parts my parents had brought to us (and thanks John and Project Bike Bend for rounding up all our parts!). Back in the saddles, heading northeast around Lake Titicaca with new friend Pac-Man in tow, we were on our way to Bolivia. Winding around the lake was beautiful and the north side of the lake made for much less traffic, but we timed it during some crazy holiday and every town was closed up save for the one tienda that had cold beer and hordes of drunk guys beckoning us to come party. Almost no one has a refrigerator at home and there isn't bars in tiny towns, so guys (because we never once saw a woman) hang outside the corner market where the beer is kept in a fridge and just keep chugging. Stacking up the empties at the curb. Makes sense right?
The border crossing was a joke, in a small village, one young kid and a toothless wonder in a military jacket checked our passports and took my $160 USD to get a damn visa, good for 10 years. Guess it's to be expected when the US requires expensive visa fees and rules on everyone else, that I get hit with it going the other way (only US Citizens have to pay for this visa, so Ville was saved), but when they began asking for immunization records I thought it was a joke. Luckily my smooth talking husband made up some "hers was stolen" excuse real quick and we got out of there quick. Now if you saw and experienced Bolivia, you would laugh too at the request for immunization records. Bolivia, really???
We opted to skip La Paz, capitol of Bolivia, because we heard it was a cyclists nightmare and took a long, bumpy dirt road detour instead. It was incredibly scenic with a giant mountain range resembling the Tetons to the east. When again hit pavement, Ville realized his back tire was out of true (wobbling). Luckily, Pac-Man came to our rescue (the guy literally carries everything you can think of on his bike) and fixed the wheel enough to continue. And after setting up to camp for the night in a field, we met another cyclist, Camilo, from Bogota, Columbia.
Now a real traveling circus, party of 4, we spent a couple days riding the flat wide open desert, fighting winds from every direction at over 13,000ft, enjoying the cool high altitude temps, and struggling to find food and water. If the Peruvian mountain people were living on the bare essentials of life, the Bolivians have drastically less. I read that Bolivia is made up of over 60% indigenous people with most people living on the altiplano and so our days were passed by waving at sheep, llama, goat, and pig herders in the fields minding and moving the flocks. Very kind people, allowing us to camp in their fields and leaving us alone, but not much else. Towns looked like ghost towns in the States, with disintegrating sand-blocked buildings, caved-in roofs, garbage blowing down streets, but with people living in them. One of the families we asked about camping we realized lived in a tiny tarped van in the yard with a handful of kids, their 4-walled house had no roof. We gave the kids stickers and wished we could give them a house.
Food has also been a huge challenge, there doesn't appear to be any except for a few of the large cities in the country. Every town we ride through, we have to stop at at least 10 different tiendas (corner markets) to scrounge up enough things to cook ourselves to eat. We basically ate spaghetti and oatmeal the entire way through Bolivia (YUMMY!!). Oruro, we all four shared a room in this dump of a city, enjoyed the hot shower after a week without one, resupplied some food stores, had a failed attempt at working WiFi, and moved on. After a four day stretch on the open plains (afternoon rain showers and thunderstorms being the norm), we enjoyed the camping, stunning sunsets, laughing at each other and made it to the Salar de Uyuni.
The night before, we chose to camp in a lookout tower with views of the salt flat (if your thinking that someone of authority might kick us out, we are in Bolivia, so not a chance), but at first light were awoken by a giant tour bus that arrived with a bus load of tourists to see the view. You should have seen their faces to see a bunch of non-bathed, stinky, pajama wearing, dirt-ball cyclists greeting them from our sleeping bags strewn about the tower! Priceless. Most opted to not even get out of the bus. I didn't blame them. The winds were freezing and good ol' Pac-Man was putting a camera in their face. Little backstory on Pac-Man, he's a character. Nicest guy, gave Ville some clothes since his are all falling apart, fixed Ville's and Camilo's bikes as they are also falling apart and shares all his food with everyone. He does have a thing for doing ninja kicks all over the place (he IS 41, not 8), has a Buenos Aires accent non of us can understand, will one-up ANY story (usually with stories of ninja kicks) and can talk an ear off of ANYTHING! We watched one night as Camilo went to his tent, turned on his music, zipped his tent closed to go to sleep, and Pac-Man didn't skip a beat, just talked to the outside of Camilo's tent. Hilarious guy. He moved on a couple days ago when we opted for a hotel and shower so may or may not run into him again.
We did spend the next day on the Salar, biking across the wide open radiating-ly white salt, taking some fun pics of ourselves and ruining my eyes with the boy's stark white nudity. Felt very lucky to get to ride on the salt (it's packed like riding on pavement unless it rains), because the very next day it rained and it was likely not ride-able. We pushed on to Uyuni (originally opting to avoid the over-priced tourist trap), but were desperate for a shower. This was where Pac-Man rode on and we got another dumpy room in a crappy town that would not exist except for the salt.
The last two days have been rough. The road that had been so flat and fairly easy miles, became more mountainous and under serious construction, where they are paving a giant road (which had previously been only dirt trails) for about 180 miles. When we had pavement, it was new, glorious pavement. For many sections, there were bulldozers, dump trucks, backhoes, and kamikaze "Too Fast Too Furious" crew throwing dirt in our faces as we tried to navigate deep sand with thin tired, heavy bikes. Last night we made it just outside Tupiza (about 55 miles shy of the Argentinean border), Camilo rolling into camp just before dark and realized Ville's sleeping pad was missing. Shit! Can't live without that. We pieced together that it must have fallen behind a giant rock Ville had set it on at lunch in the middle of a giant hail storm, he had not seen it then when packing up. We both squeezed onto my sleeping pad last night for some pretty crappy sleep.
This morning, Camilo was nice enough to hitch a ride with Ville and a coca chewing, coffee/cognac slurping, cocaine snorting dump truck driver picked them up and gave them a ride 25-30 miles back up the road to go look for the pad. I remained in camp cleaning and fixing stuff, when the boys showed up a few hours later without the pad, but with word that one of the construction guys had picked it up and taken it back to camp. We packed up, rode to Tupiza, got a hotel room, showered (this is only our 3rd shower in 2 weeks folks), caught up on laundry and the boys took a death-defying taxi ride 10 miles back up the road to camp to track down the pad. Just 10 minutes ago, Ville and Camilo waltzed into the room with pad and booze in hand!! YAY!!! They both said the taxi ride was like being in the Dakar Rally, the most dangerous thing either of them have done on this trip yet (that says a LOT). The guy drove with his foot to the floor in a little Toyota Corolla on loose gravel through streams, fishtailing, and when out of nowhere a car pulled out in front of them while doing 50 miles an hour, the guy hit and locked up the brakes and almost killed everyone. NOT sorry I missed that ride!
Tomorrow we push on. One day more (fingers crossed) to get out of Bolivia and into Argentina! Another 250 miles from there we should reach Salta. Sorry for the massive delay in a post folks, there is horse-poopy non-existent WiFi throughout all of Bolivia and we just got connected again. Hope all you fine friends are doing great, thanks to all of you who have commented, messaged, emailed, and stayed in touch. It means a lot when we feel really out of touch with everyone. Until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll!
Finally, a much needed two week rest off bikes in Cusco, Peru and surrounding Sacred Valley, with Mango and Magoo (Kristen's parents). Who knew hiking muscles were different than biking ones, so Ville and I spent a few days waddling around exploring.
My parent's had a whirlwind of flights from Bend, Oregon to get to Cusco leaving on the 16th and arriving on the 17th of October. Ville and I ended up on a circus of a bus from Juliaca (where we left our bikes at a Warmshowers house), arriving a day before my parents and wandered around in search of a hotel. After spending over 2 months in Peru in mountain towns, it was a hard pill to swallow how drastically more expensive places to stay in Cusco, Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) and Ollantaytambo have been. As in, about double what we have paid for anything else. My parents had 17+ hours of travel time and when they arrived, sadly, their luggage did not. My mom was nice enough to carry on a bag with all our bike parts we had needed them to bring, just in case they lost luggage, our ride wouldn't be screwed. And then they lost their luggage, poor mom!
Luckily, the luggage showed up the next day after numerous calls (weird, in Peru even the airlines don't call you to tell you anything after losing your luggage *sarcasm*) and we spent a day checking out Cusco before our 4-hour train early the next day to Aguas Calientes. The train was plush! And watching the scenery fly-by at high speeds compared to cycling was awesome! We got fed, watched the scenery through giant sky-windows, and even chatted with a nice guy in an "Alaska" hat, Daniel, who had lived in Fairbanks for a handful of years. When we arrived in Disneylandesque Aguas Calientes, we found a hotel room for the night and caught an early bus up the hill to Machu Picchu. The ruins were spectacular! Having seen so many pictures of them, as we both know by now from all the years of travel, pictures do not do justice to wandering through the sprawling city atop giant, lush mountains surrounded in clouds. Having talked about visiting Machu Picchu before even beginning our ride, this was a huge milestone for us to actually make it here biking the entire way from Alaska and having my parents here to share the moment! So special.
My Dad, nicknamed Mango (this comes from Chris Catan's Saturday Night Live skit), opted to hang out with Daniel (our new friend from the train) at the bar at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, while Ville, Mom, and I hiked the 1.2 mile up all steep stairs to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. When we made it back to the Lodge, Daniel treated us to a fantastic lunch, and we felt so spoiled to be among people that bathe regularly, smell nice, dress well and eating tasty food that wasn't plain white rice with chicken! Thanks a million times over Daniel for such a memorable day for our family and the company. Plan a visit to New York in the near future for sure!
The next day we puttered around the town, waiting for our afternoon train to Ollantaytambo where we found a clean room with views of the ruins and had a nice dinner at a place with American dishes like veggie burgers. This may not sound that cool to those in Canada, Europe and the US with a wide variety of food options, but for two starving cyclists who have been eating the SAME FOOD for months, it's like sex in prison. We wandered around the ruins in town the next day, climbing up and down bunches of stairs and I can't even tell you how sore my legs were from climbing Machu Picchu Mountain! One would think after biking every day for a year and a half my legs would be so solid, we could do anything. But, no. Climbing stairs uses different muscles that have apparently atrophied by now and so I could barely lift my legs to climb and waddled around like a duck. Ville faired a tad better, but was also moving real slow.
We spent one more night in Ollantaytambo before jumping in a taxi headed back to Cusco. We opted to stop at Salinas de Maras (salt mines), Moray and Chincheros on our way back to town. We enjoyed seeing the ruins, but were almost more excited to be driven there in the drizzling rain and not biking in it! Biking through the mountains of Peru weaved us through mostly very small villages and only the occasional big city, so to be at an amusement park packed full of tourists and hawkers (and this is the low season!), was a bit rough to push through and overwhelming. But winding back through the mountains and a few small villages was really fun to have my parents get to see and experience a piece of what we have been riding through all this time. After a day in Peru, my Dad was losing his mind over all the honking the Peruvian drivers love to do so much. We pointed out just how fun being in their kamikaze path on a bicycle all day for months being honked at and nearly run off roads has been. Maybe Bolivian drivers won't have horns, wanna-be race cars, or dogs. One can dream!
Back in our hotel, Retama's Hotel, we were excited to be back where Peruvians were nice, kind and helpful again. Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo have been ruined by the obscene tourism, the amount of money that circulates would have to make anyone who lives in these towns millionaires by Peruvian standards, and they talk to us only to harass us to buy crap. Once back in Cusco, we spent the last week walking around town, sightseeing, eating, latte drinking, and spending quality time enjoying my parents. Family that knows you so well, you don't have to retell your life story first while getting to know each other. My poor mom caught a bad cold on the plane that hit once back in Cusco, but she has been a trooper and walking all day anyway. Wonder where I get my stubbornness from? It has been great to be off bike seats, sleeping in, staying up late, and waking up in the same place for a while. To feel like we have a "home" for a minute.
Today is our last day with Mango and Magoo (my mom's nickname), their flight home is this evening. It will be really tough to say "goodbye," but somehow four months left of our ride feels like nothing compared to how long we have been riding. We are looking forwards to the Salar de Uyuni and lots of places in Argentina that we hear how beautiful they are. We also hear tales of working WiFi, variations of food, less garbage all over the place, and plenty of open spaces to camp without barking dogs or roosters in a far away land called Argentina. We will be taking another crappy bus back to Juliaca, fixing our bikes, and heading north around Lake Titicaca for about 2 days before crossing into Bolivia. We hear Bolivia will be more challenging, even less WiFi, remote, less food options (not sure how that's possible after Peru), and the roads in the south are all under construction with detours so...we'll see. At least it's only a few weeks to Argentina. Thanks Mom and Dad for taking the time and expense of flying all the way down here to see us and spend time together. For bringing us needed bike parts and goodies. We love you both and will see you, hopefully, in Argentina at the end!! And thanks all you followers and supporters out there for following, until next time, keep on keepin' on!
The Grand Finale of Peru: Giant Roller Coaster to the High Plains Ayacucho to Cusco to Juliaca, Peru
True story, when Ville left me with our bikes at a police hut to go get money from an ATM, I was questioned by the cops if we had kids. When I said, "no," the one cop (believing I didn't understand him I'm sure) asked if I wanted to go get beers with him and he promised he could get me pregnant.
Howdy ho good people out there! Kristen here and tis' time for a new update! Felt like a year ago from our last update, although we haven't made a ton of distance when looking at a map, we sure have put in some butt sculpting climbs and descents between Ayacucho and Cusco!! We had 5 massive nearly 14,000ft climbs in 350 miles, met heaps of super nice people, and had some good times.
Ayacucho was not our favorite town, really crowded with bad traffic to navigate by bike, but we scored a decent and cheap place near the airport (could climb to the roof and watch the planes take off) and decided to take 3 whole glorious days off because both of us really needed it. After the last stretch and bad fall I took crossing a river, my knees were pretty banged up and swollen. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure a doc would have told me to rest instead of pushing on in the Andes. The rest helped us both and once back on our hogs, we climbed up to 14,000ft in 22 miles, passing some of the friendliest Peruvians in villages along the way. We had a 20 mile flat-ish ride on the plateau (I always seem to get dizzy and space out in the high elevations so always a fun time) before a long decent on the backside. We opted to ask a few teenagers to camp who were herding sheep, and they let us camp next to their wood pile. It continually blows my mind how young so many Latin American girls are with babies strapped to their backs or toddlers in tow. I could barely put sentences together at their age, let alone have sex and become mothers and fathers at around 12 years old. God knows Ville IS still a child, so we will just stick to taking care of bikes.
In our extensive experiences in Latin America, we have found it to be culturally of very high importance to reproduce, even and especially at very young ages. From Mexico south, but especially here in Peru, Ville and I are asked just about every single day by multiple people if we have children. The most asked question is, "where are you from?" followed right after by, "do you have children?" When we say no, they are always very saddened as if it's because we cannot make them, not that we are choosing not to have them. If our choice to not have children is "different" by US or Finnish standards, it's downright blasphemy for Latin Americans! True story, when Ville left me with our bikes at a police hut to go get money from an ATM, I was questioned by the cops if we had kids. When I said, "no," the one cop (believing I didn't understand him I'm sure) asked if I wanted to go get beers with him and he promised he could get me pregnant. He was sure there was an obvious problem if we are 36 and without kids. Oh WOW, thanks for the offer buddy! Gee Goly, I've always dreamed of having unprotected sex with some random cop in Peru while my husband was at the bank, how did he know?!
Back to camp, we were struggling with our stove because it was low on gasoline (we have a canister we fill with auto gasoline and it's finicky) and a young boy came out with a bowl of fried pork and corn for us, super kind of the family! On our decent to the canyon the next day, it was apparent I was getting sick, and by the time we crossed the river and began our very long accent of the next giant mountain, I could barely make it 12 miles up to the next town. We scored an overpriced dump (shower was cold and nothing worked), and I crawled into bed with a high fever. By the next day, wanting to get out of that crappy place and make a few more miles, we rode about 7 more miles up to the next town where we got a decent room and rested some more. We had both built iron immune systems and hadn't gotten sick since Mexico, but my luck had finally run out. Luckily, the following day I felt good enough to charge on up the mountain, summit-ed, and had a giant decent to Andahuaylas.
Andahuaylas was a wealthier, more western influenced town, full of trendy clothes shops and bars. Very noticeable the changes in wealth and education as we are getting closer to Cusco, compared to the last two months of remote mountain climbing where most Peruvians are simply surviving. We had coined the term "Peru: Sticking to the Status Quo" for it seemed everyone we had met, until reaching Cusco, was just simply surviving, but not striving for any kind of change in their lives. Taking a day off, Peru's football (soccer) team had a big game between Argentina for the World Cup Qualifier and we watched it in a hotel because we were rooting for Argentina and didn't want to be hung in the square when loudly cheering for the other team. The sad tie game moved Peru forwards to the next qualifying game with Colombia and the town was wild with excitement. The next giant climb took us two days up a canyon, over another 13,500ft pass and a steep decent down to Abancay where we only paused to eat and continued up the next very steep climb another 12 miles to lessen the mileage for the next day.
We stopped at what appeared to be a very nice house or recreation site (people rent these on weekends for parties and they are all over Peru), and asked to camp. The lady next door told us it was fine to camp in the dirt driveway next to the wood pile, and as it got dark, a very nasty storm rolled in. As lightning flashed and gale force winds began to blow, our tent was getting flattened with us inside, and Ville started to stack wood from the wood pile outside to try and protect the tent somewhat from the wind (where he threw his back out and is still struggling with muscle relaxers to keep plugging along). Just then, a car pulled into the driveway and when Ville asked the driver if we could possibly camp under the awning in the yard, the owner of the house, Ronald, insisted we sleep on the 2nd floor of the house where it was warmer. This beautiful house was his second home, he lived in Abancay, and he had come up just to drop off a piece of furniture. He turned off the alarm system, set us up in the house, and left. We couldn't believe our luck! We were being blown away in our leaky tent and moments later we were sleeping in a villa, on our blow up mattresses, with giant windows and city views of Abancay. The next morning, Ronald, showed up with his friend to bring us water, snacks and give us hugs before we left to continue the climb. A million thanks Ronald!
The remainder of the climb was a tough one. Steep with non-stop hair-pin turns. As we finally crested the summit of the pass, where we were rewarded with sweeping giant snow-capped mountain views! And yet another very long and winding decent followed, where the temperature rose as we dropped in elevation to Curahuasi, a small town on the decent where it was incredibly random to see a handful of tourists. We stayed a night there before continuing the decent to the river, and as we had been so accustomed to in the Andes, crossed the river and the road followed the river upstream before beginning the last gauntlet of giant hair-pinned turn-filled climb before we would arrive on the altiplano at 13,500 ft. As we climbed, we were surrounded by farm after wealthier farm complete with more expensive homes. The majority of the homes in the Peruvian mountains are mudbricked huts, no windows, heat, running water, and with corrugated metal roofs. The homes we were now passing still were mudbricked or even brick, but with a coat of paint on the street faced side, had windows and even clay roofs. We stayed a night in Limatambo, and completed the last of the climb, reaching the high plains (altiplano) and then flying with giant smiles on our faces, (and it really feels like flying when you have done nothing but climb and descend for months) almost all the way to Cusco.
We stayed a night in Izcuchaca, just west of Cusco, and climbed to Cusco the next day with the plan to ride through the city and continue all the way to Juliaca. It was a three day ride (about 220 miles) on the high plains, one slow climb to 14,250ish ft complete with the weirdest tourist trap at the top (lots of tourist buses stop between Cusco and Lake Titicaca at this summit to buy all kinds of crap: llama fur rugs, hats, boots, blankets, clothes, basically nothing we have seen anyone in Peru actually wear, just sell to tourists at this trap) and made it into Juliaca just before the skies opened up and it poured rain. And Juliaca is a dump, where we rode past a giant dump where people lived on the way into town. Streets were unpaved, massive puddles and mud everywhere, and no real sense for a central square or architecture. Least attractive city we have visited in Peru so far. We stayed a day at a Casa de Ciclistas there where we met the coolest group of cyclists! Jorge from Sao Paulo, Brasil, Romain and Manou from Nantes, France and Geovanni who runs the place were all a fantastic group to hang with on a day spent in Juliaca as it poured rain, flooded the streets, but we were spoiled by the Frenchies who made chocolate mousse and pan perdu (french toast) and pizza from Jorge. Hoping to see Jorge in Cusco as he rides north a while and the Frenchies again somewhere as they head south. Thanks for the fun times kids, let's do it again soon!
Yesterday, Ville and I left bikes safely at the Casa de Ciclistas and hopped a bus back to Cusco where this morning we picked up my parents! YAY! Mango and Magoo have finally arrived! The bus here was an adventure, as always. Hoped to get a nice bus, got on one that, well, at least it had wheels and a driver. It took 7 hours to get back to Cusco where we were able to listen to some random Peruvian preach about some magical elixir he was selling out of his duffel bag that cures anything that ales you followed by a lady preaching about the Lord. Well thank God I had good headphones and tunes. We had a mad search for a hotel, Cusco is a massive tourist destination and so hotels are far more expensive than anything we had stayed in yet in all of Peru. Thanks to my thrifty guy, Ville found us a nice place, and we splurged the couple extra bucks to get towels, toilet paper, and soap. Only the best for the Grunds!
My Mom and Dad arrived this morning , sadly their luggage did not, and we spent the day walking in town, eating and catching up on some very needed family time. It has been hard to be so far from friends and family as we continue south moving further and further from them, so this next two weeks we are planning some fun sightseeing, time off bikes, and just enjoying having my parents here. We are hopeful their luggage will show up tomorrow, my mom was nice enough to carry on the bag with our bike parts so they wouldn't get lost and of course the airline loses their stuff. At least they made it! Well guys, thanks for continuing to follow our journey, thank you all SO very much who sent goodies to us through my parents, your kindness is always appreciated and will go a long way, and until next time, keep on keepin' on!!
The man opened a padlocked door on the side of the building and we were presented our room for the night; it was the storage room and it smelled like gasoline and mildew. Just like any good storage room that I know, this one too was missing floor boards and the roof was caving in. While pitching our tent inside the room to protect us from the multiple different spiders sharing the room with us I could hear K.G mumbling “So you had to marry a cheapskate Eurotrash…”
HOLA good people, Ville here giving you the scoop of the last week in review...
Leaving Huanuco we knew we had to climb from about 7,000ft to 14,000ft in 70 miles. We made a plan to do it in 2 days since it would be nothing but uphill to get to Cerro De Pasco, the city on top of the climb. The whole day K.G was pumping up on the continuous uphill like it was flat as a pancake, her and her bike “Blue Bullet” were a small dot in front me that I was trying to chase until it was finally late enough that she started asking if we should make a plan to where to spent the night. We looked at the map and it looked like there would be a small town in a couple of miles that might have a motel or two. When we made it to the town K.G looked at her bike computer and said “ Wow, we did 55 miles today!.” “No kidding! I said while huffing and puffing, she must of started using steroids…again.
I walked into the first hospedaje and knocked on the closed door. A middle aged lady shows up and I asked her if they had any rooms available, she looks at me like I asked if she could sell me any depleted uranium. She replied with a smile of pity “ No we don’t have any rooms, this is not a hotel”. I asked her about the illuminated HOTEL sign attached to her house. She said it was an old sign and closed the door. This is INCREDIBLY common in Peru and happens at almost every single restaurant we stop at as well. Never assume because they have a “restaurant” sign and a sandwich board outside that they have either A. food or B. any or all food items listed on the sandwich board or menu.
Okay then, next one. This place was a restaurant that also promoted rooms for the night. The owner said they indeed did have a room for us, off to a good start here. I climbed upstairs with her to check the room, it had 2 small beds and a table and the shared bathroom was down the hall. The price was around 9 dollars, which is quite a bit here in Peru for a room like this. I tried to dicker down on the price telling her that we’ve been to Peru now for a month and we are very aware of what things cost here. Dare to say we’re so knowledgeable that we would be great contenders in Peru’s “ Price is Right” game show. She wouldn’t come down in price so I said sayonara slumlord.
K.G wasn’t too understanding when I tried to explain that 9 bucks was a rip off for sleeping in a bed and getting a warm shower, we had managed to climb up to 12,000 ft that day and when the sun started to set it was getting colder. I promised her that we would find a better deal if we just rode through the rest of the town and asked around. In 2 minutes we made it through the rest of the town and realized that those two places were the only lodgings around. Schaisse! Just then I saw a friendly looking older guy coming out of his house with his wife, I proceeded to ask them if they knew a safe place for us to camp. After thinking about it for a while the husband had an idea. We followed him to a 2-story apartment building that they owned. The courtyard was full of kids and chickens. Four different families lived in the building. It seemed that most of the women did knitting and quilting that they sold in town and the men worked at an American owned mine up the road.
The man opened a padlocked door on the side of the building and we were presented our room for the night; it was the storage room and it smelled like gasoline and mildew. Just like any good storage room that I know, this one too was missing floor boards and the roof was caving in. While pitching our tent inside the room to protect us from the multiple different spiders sharing the room with us I could hear K.G mumbling “So you had to marry a cheapskate Eurotrash…” Just as we were about to lay down to read our Kindle’s before bed time there was a knock on the door. It was one of the quilting ladies, they had prepared us a dinner with coffee. We sat down to chat with them at the courtyard while eating our dinners. One of the chickens jumped into my lap and started pecking on my sandwich. Since I didn’t know if the chicken was considered part of the family I kind of softly tried to push the feathered friend off my lap. One of the ladies saw what was happening and ordered her 5-year old daughter to help the timid gringo. She ran to my help and kicked the chicken that had leaped to the ground as soon as the girl bee lined towards it. We had a fun time chatting with them about life and what they did to survive up in the mountains. We bonded on our mutual hate towards roosters, they had just eaten their last one a couple of days ago. They mentioned that the neighbor had one of those bastards and it woke them up every morning at around 5 am, they got a big laugh when I offered to go kill it. Both of us slept pretty bad that night, it wasn’t the coffee that we had with the dinner that caused it but according to my bitter wife it was the mildew that made us cough like a coal miner all night.
In the morning after the neighbor's rooster woke us up we said our goodbyes to the ladies and the kids and they took a hundred pictures of us and gave us big hugs. These moments are pretty special and make you humbly realize how many good people there are in the world, a lot more than we think. The last 15 miles of the climb we had left, took us over 4 hours due to the fact that we were pretty high up in elevation. After an hour, there were no more trees around and it was getting cold even though it was almost noon. After reaching the intersection to Cerro De Pasco we decided to keep going instead of going to see the world’s highest city (more than 50,000 habitants) even though it was just a 4 mile detour. We had heard that it is quite the dump that exists only because of the rampant mining in the area. Now that the climb was done, we were on the Peruvian altiplano (high plains) at around 14,000 ft. Even though it was mainly slight downhill or flat both of us had a hard time cycling and even the slightest headwind slowed us down significantly. We got to see our first alpacas and stopped to take some pictures and to let our lungs catch up with the elevation. By 4 pm were done for the day and excited to see a town in the horizon, none of the towns in the high plains are anything pretty and this one was no exception. Maybe it’s the lack of the trees combined with the sandstorms. We got a room in Hotel El Cheap-O. The owner was very industrious, in the garage he bought and sold alpaca hides. Our dear bikes were stored leaning on a pile of bloody hides that left them smelling like a butcher’s shop for the next few days. After sleeping like crap due to the high elevation and the fact that the shower didn’t work I got one of those looks from K.G that I’ve been getting a lot lately. At our wedding I promised to take her to beautiful places around the world, I forgot to mention it would have to be on a bike and we’d be staying in trucker motels due to the fact that I actually wasn’t part of one of the many European royal families that I had, I guess, mentioned when we met in Vietnam. Must be the language barrier…
Half of the next day we kept riding on the high plains until finally we got to the small town of Junin. The town marked the start of the long 100 mile downhill towards our next big city, Huancayo. K.G was suffering from a pretty bad headache that we’re not sure if it was because the high elevation or what. She was fine a week earlier at 16,000 ft. I asked a couple of locals how far the next town of La Oroya would be, we knew it would be around 25-30 miles. The answers from 3 different sources varied from 100 to 200 miles! We and quite a few other cyclists, have noticed that most Peruvians have no idea of distances. They know distances by time it takes to drive it, and if they don’t know the distance, they make it up. And when you say, “that’s impossible, it can’t be that far,” they stick by their answer to the grave. Most of them said it takes about half an hour to reach La Oroya, it didn’t help trying to explain to them that according to their calculations they drive to La Oroya with an average speed of 300 miles per hour. When I’m riding, I think I am hearing dynamite explosions from the many mines, but it turns out to be a 1995 Toyota Corolla station wagon with flame stickers and a trunk full of alpaca hides breaking the sound barrier.
It was 25 miles to La Oroya and we reached it only after an hour and a half of riding, thanks to the nice downhill that we were now enjoying. K.G’s headache was now getting better and we decided to get the hell out of La Oroya since it is the 5th most polluted city in the world depending on the day and wind directions and how hard the local coal processing plant is working to meet the quotas. We made 20 more miles before we got a room above a restaurant for 5 buckaroos, again the shower was not working… I’m on thin ice. The town was called San Francisco, no Google or Facebook here though.
The next day we finished our long downhill to the city of Huanuco, where we had planned to take a day off. Our first impression of the city, was the same as what you get when you visit the port-a-potty at the last day of the sold out festival. This impression stayed through until we left that city. We did take a day off just because we needed it. On our way out of the city, K.G got cut off rudely on the main drag by a lady in a hurry, we caught up to her at the next traffic light and all that pent up anger my sweet wife feels towards me was now unleashed on this lady in a silver Honda. When the light turned green that Honda took off with tires peeling and we were left in a cloud of burning rubber. Through the rear view mirror I could see the horror on her face that my little sunshine had caused her.
Outside the city we started our 10 mile climb, we were surrounded with fields and friendly farmers waving and hollering to us. After the climb, we had a fun downhill on a good 2 lane paved highway that by the time it reached the river turned into “one lane, pot holed, say your prayers fool” road that was missing guard rails, that would prevent you from dropping down 200 ft to the river. What this road was lacking in safety features it sadly made up for with plenty of crosses lining up on the side of the road. Sometimes there was one cross, sometimes there were 12 all in one spot, making us realize that taking a bus in Peru is probably a bigger adventure than what we’re on. To make the story more sad, some of the crosses had Teddybears next to them and by counting the years marked on the cross you could tell it was a school bus that went down. Maybe you’re wondering if these crosses work as a reminder to the drivers to slow down and make them get there late but alive… Hell No! Peruvians are one of the nicest people we’ve encountered on this ride, but I can’t say their great drivers. We see so many racing stickers plastered all over the backs of the cars and buses, and the driver is often a happy looking Peruvian fella chewing coka leaves while waving and honking to us from his car that he’s beating like it owes him money. That’s what we usually see before the dust cloud reaches us or before we have to turn our heads away from the flying rocks.
That night we spent in a nice little town and I scored us a nice room for $7, it even had a working shower with hot water and a cable TV! After washing clothes in the sink I ventured to the food stalls outside our lodging to get us some dinner, after the locals realized I spoke Spanish I was surrounded by 30 curious Peruvians that had seen us roll into town earlier. They were very curious what we were doing and I was bombarded with questions and by the time I was answering them the food was cold. We finished the day eating dinner in bed and watching Jimmy Fallon from one of the many channels on the TV, it’s one of the rare times we’ve found a non dubbed TV channel in Peru, in English!
The next day started with a rooster soup and slight rain. The road remained shitty, and it didn’t make the day any better that K.G took another hard fall when she hit a slippery curve where they had put a slab of concrete to prevent the road from eroding down to the river due to the stream of water running down from the hillside. She fell sideways and hit both of her knees pretty bad on the hard ground, I ran to help her and a local guy who was working on filling the pot holes also came to help her get up. After few minutes we were back on bikes, K.G still hurting but highly motivated to be done with this road that she cursed so bad that even a pirate would blush. We had high hopes to get far that day but this accident reminded us that when you do things in a hurry bad things can happen. We made it to a quaint little town that was celebrating it’s founding anniversary. Half of the town was hammered, even the old ladies were weaving all over the main street. I mistakenly asked one of the guys sitting on the curb next to the empty beer bottles about a cheap hotel, I couldn’t understand anything he said. He did though wave towards a yellow house on the corner. Sure enough the lady was willing to let us sleep in one of her rooms for $12 US, I thought that the price was way too steep and so we proceeded to venture down the street. We came to the local police station and after chatting a bit with them, they said we could pitch our tent behind the station on a field where the pigs and the dogs were. “Sounds good,” I said and when I looked at K.G…well I’m sure you can guess the look on her face. That night it rained pretty hard, our tent’s rain cover is getting so old and worn out that it won’t hold the rain out that much anymore. Some of our stuff inside got soaked as the heavy wind made the rain fly sideways, making us feel like we were inside a washing machine. We’re writing to MSR and going to see if they’re kind enough to send us a new rain fly to keep us dry for the rest of the trip, keep your fingers crossed for us. In the morning we realized that the field had turned into a mud/clay pit, as the rain continued making it really hard to disassemble our camp.
After cleaning up a bit, we went to eat breakfast in town and I also wanted to patch my flat front tire under an awning instead of in the rain. In the restaurant, we met a nice older couple from the capital, Lima. They wanted to treat us for a breakfast and chat about our trip, this event turned our gloomy minds back to positive. ‘Peru takes, but it also gives,’ is something that we experience every day. After the breakfast, we said goodbye to our new friends and lo and behold the rain ended as soon as we hopped on the bikes. We had a pretty easy ride to Ayacucho, where we are currently. Ayacucho has tumultuous history with it being the headquarters of the Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path) movement/revolution in the 90’s. This political party turned into a guerrilla group that had many bloody and violent conflicts with the government around this region. They’re still around but a lot smaller now in numbers.
K.G. and I are going to take a couple of days off here to rest and recuperate. We’ve decide to slow down and not rush since we have the time to make it to Cusco at a lot slower pace, allowing for both of us to heal from our various falls. The next 350 mile stretch to Cusco, will be an insane amount of climbs, but we are planning around 10 days to do it. We’re meeting K.G’s parents in Cusco for 2 weeks to visit Machu Picchu and to get to spend some time with family. We are both very ready to take a longer break. Boys & girls, believe me when I say that Peru might be stunning when it comes to views, but it is not an easy place to ride your bicycle! Until the next time, keep on keepin’ on!
Because of the rain, my feet slipped off the pedals, and all in slow motion, I landed hard on my bike seat, breaking my tailbone, and was thrown over the handlebars like a rag doll and my 90-pound bike landed on top of me.
Huaraz was everything we had hoped for, a hotel room to rest in. The city itself was nice, nothing to write home about, but we heard it is more a jump-off point for long and short hikes into the Huascaran National Park. After our rough stretch and Ville's bad fall on the way to Huaraz, we wanted nothing more than to sit in a hotel room, rest, and eat. And that's just what we did for 3 whole, glorious days. On our ride out of the city, we pedaled 30 miles south on pavement climbing upwards and south and then took the Pastoruri Road through the National Park heading east. We heard great things and the scenery did not let us down! The photo from above is taken in the park climbing up to the 16,000 ft/4,880m pass.
Our first night we camped in a beautiful spot along a creek, near a meadow, and looking up at these giant peaks reaching for the skies. It was already at 14,000ft/4,270m and quite chilly, but we put on all our layers and managed just fine. The next morning, after a giant breakfast of bacon, eggs, french toast, hot coffee and...Ha ha ha! Man, just daydreaming a bit here. I meant, after our hot breakfast of oatmeal with mashed bananas (had trouble getting the gasoline powered stove going at that elevation), we packed up and continued the slow climb on a very bumpy gravel road meandering up into the big mountains. As we climbed, we occasionally passed small families of indigenous sheep herders living in stacked-rock and grass huts with large braying sheep scattered over the grass lands (not much of anything grows up at these elevations). Friendly people with protective dogs, lots smiled and waved at us as we passed. We only saw a handful of collectivos (shared taxi/bus) that passed us and, for the most part, we were all alone on a single-lane dirt road in the misting/downpour rain.
As we reached the 16,000ft/4,880m pass, the rain had turned to snow and as we slowly jostled down the bumpy one mile stretch of downhill, before the road began a climb again to 16,000ft, I had a terrible and scary fall. My first really bad fall so far on this bike trip. Because of the rain, my feet slipped off the pedals, and all in slow motion, I landed hard on my bike seat, breaking my tailbone, and was thrown over the handlebars like a rag doll and my 90-pound bike landed on top of me. All I saw was stars and Ville rushed to help pick me up. I laid there for a few minutes, and managed to pick myself back up with no known damage other than a broken pannier (I guess I was super jealous deep down that Ville got to break one of his and all that attention it has gotten him), a tear in my jacket, bruises and a broken ass. Knowing personally, many friends who have been hurt doing a hell of a lot less, I know all your prayers, thoughts, and love out there is why I am still alive and biking to tell the story. I think Ville and I have an army of guardian angels out there looking after these two circus freaks, so thanks guardian angels, you all deserve medals. And maybe a raise.
After my scary fall, I climbed back in the saddle and we climbed back up to 16,000ft where the snow/sleet turned into an insane hail storm that blew through us. Not having a single car pass us the entire day, my mind was plagued with thoughts of "what if I had broken my arm, leg, or neck, how the hell would we get to a hospital?" AND I would lay there in the rain, snow and hail with no one to help us. I guess Ville would have had to ride back towards Huaraz to get help, leaving me laying on the road in the snow? Shit. Bad thoughts to be having while moving forwards on a bike tour. Ever so grateful the outcome of my fall was not worse. And also riding in the raging hailstorm wondering why someone does this for fun? After the final 16,000ft climb, we dropped down to the highway, onto real pavement and began our hairpin decent into Huallanca. Our fingers were completely numb even with gloves and riding in all our clothes and we had to brake the entire way down for fear of our fingers not braking and flying off the road. Once in Huallanca, we got a room at a hotel with a promise of a hot shower, and I almost cried when I stood there naked in the shower shivering and the water was cold.
It took most the night wrapped in all my clothes, puffy jacket included and sleeping under 3 wool blankets to get my core body temp back to normal. We had a quick tasteless breakfast and agreed to head north on the 3N "Highway", instead of the direct route, because it was "pavement" and I couldn't take any more shitty, gravel, potholed, washboarded roads. Oh, Peru, you and your sick sense of humor. The decent out of Huallanca was incredibly beautiful along a river with giant, steep rocks engulfing us. As we rolled through La Union, the town was a giant mud pit mess after two straight days of rain and it continued to come down. The "pavement" disappeared and we climbed up out of the gorge in the pouring rain covered in mud. We discovered Ville's squealing front break was because his break pad had disintegrated, changed it on the side of the road for over an hour (discovering now that the bike shop in Orange County had, along with putting all the wrong parts on our bikes and having to change them twice, had put the wrong rotors on and now our brake pads didn't fit and had to be doctored with the Leatherman to make fit), and continued the climb shooting for Chavinillo but decided to ask to camp in a small village 6 miles short.
The nicest people were all gathered around, enjoying Drunken Sunday, and let us sleep in a small room at the school/football (soccer) field. When we pulled out our stove to cook some pasta, a bunch of the locals came to watch us like it was a circus performance. I guess we are circus freaks so it's fitting. A bunch of the kids showed up with footballs (soccer) balls and game on! Only a few of the locals spoke Spanish, most spoke Ketchuan (spoken by indigenous Incan people) and it was so hilarious how the ladies huddled around Ville giggling like school girls with googlie eyes at him. Not sure they see many blonde-haired blue-eyed x-semi-pro football players come strut the schoolyard. Think there may be some inquiries on my position :)
The next morning, we packed up and decided to wait to Chavinillo for breakfast. On the way up, we passed a super cute 9-year-old boy, Eduard, walking to school and I asked him if he wanted a ride. He said, "sure" and hopped on my back rack and off we went. A ways up the road, he pointed to his mom walking on the side of the road and I dropped him off, she thanked us, and as we chugged away, Edu came running after us asking if we wanted to eat some picante de cuy (guinea pig in spicy sauce with white rice). We had been wanting to try it, but just hadn't ordered it yet and agreed. Edu's mom unwrapped a giant colorful blanket tied to her back, pulling out multiple Tupperware containers full of food she was taking to sell at the school. Edu's mom was dressed in very colorful indigenous Incan dress and is one of the majority of people we pass here in Peru climbing in the mountains. They are very "poor" in global standards, growing and eating what they need to survive; pigs, chickens, sheep, burrows, herbs, veggies, turkeys, grains, corn, and guinea pigs. They live in very modest mud huts, with tin, grass, or clay roofs, toilets are a shed separate from the home usually, laundry is washed in buckets, rivers, or a sink outside. Some of the crop is gathered in the morning, tied into brightly colored blankets tied to the ladies backs, sometimes a burrow carries it, and they walk miles to the nearest village to sell their wares. We pass most people all day walking to and from villages on the roads we are riding, or kids walking miles to school and back (what the helicopter parents of America would think of that!), and we are always smiling, waving and saying, "buenos dias." Having only the basic necessities allows for lots of time and happiness, it seems, in the people we pass. Traveling in this manner, by bicycle being a part of the communities of people we pass, quells even the smallest desire to yearn for more material things in life.
We paid Edu's mom $2 for two breakfasts including a giant pitcher of hot tea she poured into our Vargo Titanium Cups (thanks sponsor Vargo!) and the cuy was delicious! Looks like chicken with a tiny arm poking out and tastes like pork. Fed the bones to some dogs (let's get that sweet dog karma back up) and inhaled the food to get Edu to school on time. About a half mile up the road, we dropped Edu off at school and I gave him a package of cookies as a treat. Such a sweet kid! (If your wondering why I am always giving treats to kids, it's because I have willpower to save them for these instances with kids that arise and Ville eats all his treats before we even leave town)
The day was beautiful, had full bellies, the sun was shining, and we met some incredibly kind people. Yes, THIS is why we do this for fun. The experiences and the kind people. If every day was sunshine and we didn't fall off our bikes, what a boring time it would be. Like watching a golf tournament. The remainder of the climb wasn't too bad to Corona Del Inca (The Crown of the Inca) and as we began the 35+ mile decent, the patches of pavement in the mud disappeared completely and the road turned into the worst road we have seen so far on the bike trip. It actually made Honduras's patchwork of bumpy pavement look like a dream! And to top it off, there was a decent amount of traffic flying by us on the single-lane road in their crappy white Toyota Corolla Station-wagons. The Vin Diesel wanna-be's in Peru are basically a cross on the side of the road waiting to happen. In Latin America, when someone dies, usually going off a cliff driving too fast, they put crosses up next to the road. Sometimes with a picture, candles, sodas, memorabilia to honor them. These are all over Baja California and also Peru. Actually, I wonder what the requirements for getting a driver's license even are in Peru? And if most drivers have one. Well, we had to wear our Buffs (thanks sponsor Buff for saving us from 10lbs of dirt in the lungs) over our faces and sunglasses the whole way down which made us look like cranky dog-chased ninjas bouncing down the road. We did have a great stop at a couple's small house/restaurant mid-decent which pulled us out of our funk and they had the cutest little puppy to play with! Awwwwww.
As we neared the bottom of the canyon where it emptied into the valley of sprawling Huanuco, we hit REAL pavement a mile from town and we both yelled shrill screams of joy we were so happy to get off that road and onto flat pavement again. We found a decent hotel, with the little "Peruvian twist" Ville likes to call it when we get a room and the toilet floods water all over the floor, sink doesn't work, shower pressure is a trickle, you know, the usual. And the solution to the flooding toilet is, the nice lady hands Ville a mop. Ha hahhhahah! Not "Oh, gee, the toilet is flooding buckets of water all over the floor, let me call someone to fix it," nope. Here's a mop cutie. Well, it's got working WiFi and we are taking a day off because we both need it! Tomorrow we climb. Word on the street is, it's on pavement. I'll believe it when I ride on it. Until then good people praying for our butts to stay in the saddle, keep on keepin' on!!!
Near Fatal Blow to the Bike Tour: Dog Attacks Ville and Threw Him From the Bike. Huamachuco to Yungay, Peru
Just as I yelled, "DOGS!", Ville rounded the corner and smack into this pack of vicious barking dogs. One of the medium sized dogs lunged at his front tire as he tried to brake, slamming straight into the dog and threw Ville from the bike as he skidded down on the pavement on his knee, side and elbow. I heard the crash, threw my bike down and ran back up the hill to chase off the two remaining barking dogs throwing rocks and screaming. Got Ville up off the road, he was bleeding everywhere, and said he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
The last section was beautiful, had some great experiences with the local Peruvians, some amazing kids, but we also despised the last stretch and you couldn't pay me to bike it again. I would drive it in our old Landcruiser, MAYBE bike it on a mountain bike with fat tires if I was paid, but not bike it again on our heavy, narrow tired tour bikes. Not ever.
After leaving Huamachuco, we had a decent 10 miles of patchy, potholed pavement before we took the only road south keeping us in the mountains and not dropping us west to the coast, unpaved and a total mess of sand and boulders. First, our bikes are heavy. Like around 80-90 lbs. loaded and we have 1.5" tires. These are wider than the standard Tour De France bike tire, but not a mountain bike tire and the tread we have is for road riding. Not a sandy beach. So we had about 65 miles over the next couple days to push through major climbs and descents on these crappy roads. We also lack shocks, so all the boulder riding chatters out your teeth and eyeballs. We made it to Cachicadan by 3, ate at a bar, and decided to push on because the locals said the road to Angasmarca was only a little up hill and the rest down. Not quite. It took us three hours to climb up over the pass and drop into Angasmarca, just at complete darkness and the full moon rising. We got a $10 basic room (this is actually pricey for Peru in the middle of nowhere town), but had a scalding hot shower and I have never loved a shower so much because my hands were frozen and I was SO sore from the road. The next morning we pushed south and up, heading towards Pallasca (only 38-ish miles away) but was even tougher than the day before.
We met a giant group of school kids in a one-building town and they were asking heaps of questions and taking lots of pictures. The landscape was beautiful, giant grassland rolling hills, lots of small villages of sheep and cattle farms. All with only a dirt road and hardly any cars passing through. The cars that did pass were 4-wheel-drive and tore up the roads pretty bad leaving us peeling out and pushing through deep sand on some extremely hard hills and descents. We agreed that it was likely worse than the Dalton Highway and maybe even the southern Ecuador stretch because of the climbs and distance we had of sand our tires were not equipped for. In a small town just before a giant descent and climb into Pallasca, we hit glorious pavement again and squealed like school girls we were so happy! We made it to Pallasca again right at dark on a steep climb up into town and got a shitty room at a Hospedaje, too tired to shower and just crashed. The next morning we rode out early PUMPED for the day's extreme downhill descent along the canyon for 50 or so miles! Sadly, didn't end up so great.
On the steep decent, all trees, brush, signs of life, fell away and it looked like the surface of Mars. Hot, wide-open desert. The side of the road was littered here and there with vacant houses crumbling and looking abandoned. The road was a single lane, dropping off with no guardrail in many places way down to the river cutting the gorge below. As I rounded a corner passing an abandoned looking shack, I heard a pack of dogs, I had just alerted in my passing, begin barking and charging behind me. Just as I yelled, "DOGS!", Ville rounded the corner and smack into this pack of vicious barking dogs. One of the medium sized dogs lunged at his front tire as he tried to brake, slamming straight into the dog and threw Ville from the bike as he skidded down on the pavement on his knee, side and elbow. I heard the crash, threw my bike down and ran back up the hill to chase off the two remaining barking dogs throwing rocks and screaming. Got Ville up off the road, he was bleeding everywhere, and said he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
LUCKILY, he was able to limp over to a well and we washed off his wounds, picked out a bunch of gravel, and a lady from a couple houses up the hill walked down to help. She was nice enough to offer to have us come to her house and clean Ville up, but being that he could barely move and the bike was in a heap, I just pulled out the medical stuff we carry and covered everything with Antibacterial Hand Cleanser (Ville screamed like a big baby) and then coated everything in Antibiotic Ointment. His knee was really swollen, but nothing appeared to be broken, and the dogs (because Ville had hit the dog square in the side coming down the hill, it died pretty quick), the others continued to bark at us from the porch. After a bit more rock throwing and yelling, the owner, a young girl probably scared to death at how pissed I was, came out, laughed, and took the remaining dogs inside. The bike had to be tinkered with to get it riding straight again, and one of the pannier's clips is broken, so we roped it on and Ville was able to get back on and we continued down the hill. As we came to the bottom of the canyon, we hit an insane headwind that was rushing up the canyon and made for some pretty rough "downhill" riding. When we came to the intersection at Chuquicara, we ate at a super dumpy town and decided camping was better than staying there, and started biking east and southeast up the canyon towards Huaraz. We made it 10 miles before dark and stopped at a house along the road with an orchard (an oasis in a sea of sand) and a group of incredibly sweet kids came out to greet us and help us find a place to camp in the yard.
Ana and Sammy were sisters, and Paul and Maricielo were neighbors. They were SO excited to help set up the tent and were really worried for Ville after seeing all his gaping wounds. I pulled out more gauze, bandages, tape and ointment and they went to work doctoring Ville up. They helped set up the tent, blow up our mattresses and then asked if they could sleep with us. Our 2-person tent would not accommodate 4 extra kids, so they sadly went in the house to sleep, but were right there peeking into the tent first thing in the morning (after the roosters woke us at 4 am). We gave them cookies, stickers (they held these like they were the most special thing they had been given ever), I wrote them papers of Spanish-English words to practice, clipped their nails with my nail clippers (they asked me to), oiled them with some peppermint oil I carry for headaches, and gifted them with some red tail hawk feathers I prized from my collection (I collect feathers on the road and tape them to my bike) and they couldn't believe they came all the way from the United States! Ana and Sammy were so cute, they collected some chicken and duck feathers from the yard and gifted them to me for my bike. I will cherish those poopy feathers forever :)
As we waved goodbye to our new friends, heading south up the canyon, we struggled through around 30 miles to the first town to eat some lunch and made it only 8 more miles to Huallanca where I begged Ville to get a room as the temps hit nearly 100 in the afternoon heat and we were desperate for a shower, to clean up Ville's wounds, and rest! We were both so worked after the last few days. We found another crappy, overpriced dump to stay and got cold showers and a bed to rest. Heading out early, we were able to climb in the coolness of the morning and passed through Canon Del Pato, the tunnel section, which was spectacular! Tunnel after tunnel (35 tunnels in all) cut into the rock with the road winding up the steep rock gorge and the river raging below. The route had numerous waterfalls cascading down over the road or across the gorge, and by the time the sun reached up high in the sky, we had climbed a decent amount in elevation, to about 8,000 ft, so it was much cooler. We stopped in Caraz for lunch, a jump-off point for tourists doing hikes up into the snow-capped wilderness above, and decided to continue to Yungay where it may be a bit cheaper.
As we rode into Caraz and beyond, the steep rock canyon has opened up to a lush valley green with farms and fields. We saw a woman on the side of the road roasting quinoa, and she asked us for some water for her kid who was baking there in the sun while she worked. Giving her a bottle, we felt bad for how hard so many of the people we pass work in the fields, bent over, back-breaking labor for barely any money. Almost all of them women. The men are the awful bus, taxi, collectivo and moto-taxi drivers. We have had the few super nice drivers who give us room and wait for a passing truck to go around, but for the most part, as the road is getting more busy (tourist areas), the drivers have gotten worse and worse. Yungay is a small nice town, haven't seen any tourists yet, and a nice place to relax a bit. Tomorrow we will ride the 35 miles south to Huaraz and take another day or two off there depending how the town is. Word on the street is it's nice.
Thanks all for the outpouring of concern for Ville. It was really scary and we are both thrilled he is ok, with minor scrapes, a bum knee, and a cracked rib. It so easily could have ended our ride. And possibly him. So happy to walk away from it, and although we had some great suggestions of pepper spray, bug spray, bear spray, guns, etc. we are in a third-world country still where it is challenging to find a toothbrush let alone sprays for animals. We had a pepper spray we had to ditch on the flight to Colombia and we really could use it now, but we will just ride slower, and are getting better at rock throwing. This is where fences in the U.S. are much appreciated. Dogs can bark all they want, chase up and down a fence, but they can't get at you. We haven't had this bad of dogs AT ALL in any other Latin American countries. Only southern Ecuador and Peru. Hoping the problem gets better as we go south, but talking soothingly to a pissed, vicious, protective dog is like trying to do that to a mother bear with cubs in Canada. Good luck with that! The bears were actually nicer, and so are all the people luckily. People in Peru don't mean to have vicious, attack dogs, they just want protective animals in a country lacking alarm systems and enough police protection in rural areas. So many people offered to help. So thanks everyone for checking in on us. I just told Ville, "Suck it up you big, fat baby!" and he said, "who you calling fat?" So we will keep on keepin' on and those dogs better back off! This traveling circus needs to make it to Ushuaia, Argentina in one piece!!!
Riding downhill at 30mph on a fully loaded bicycle and a pack of dogs lunge out of nowhere at your front tire, when they barely miss throwing you from the bike they run next to you (now that you slowed down to keep from falling) and snap at your leg with fangs at the ready. Rabies, anyone?
This last week and a half has been one scenic and wild ride! We heard rumors of the hill climbs that awaited us in Peru, but hearing about them and then climbing them on fully loaded bicycles is a whole different thing. Unlike Colombia and Ecuador that built insanely graded roads straight up mountains, Peru has very gradual roads littered with switchbacks making the climbs much easier than the last two countries. We spend entire days climbing, but also hours of winding descents in some of the biggest mountains we have been in since the Himalayas in Nepal. And our trust steeds, Blue Bullet (K.G.'s bike) and Rufio (Ville's bike) are still plugging along.
From Jaen (a dump of a town) to Huamachuco, it has taken us ten straight days of riding, with a half a days rest in Celendin. We had multiple days of camping in yards, porches, a school yard, soccer field and even the most scenic cow pasture where I hope when I die I come back as a cow to hang out in. On our first night out of Jaen, we asked an incredibly kind couple to camp who had a very modest home and tire repair shop on the side of the road next to a big river. After setting up our tent in the tire shop with the chickens, the mom invited us right in and cooked us fish and rice for dinner. In the morning, she made us heaping plates of rice and eggs before we pushed off. I have carried with me a bag of We Lost The Map Necklaces, handing them out to those that have gone out of their way to help us and who would not accept any money. The look on her face when I gave her the necklace was priceless and just the fact this couple had SO little, but made sure we were fed brought tears to my eyes as we rode on.
A few days later, we rode up a gravel road three and a half miles off the main road to Cocachimba. There we booked a room and hiked up to the 3rd or 5th (depending who you ask) largest falling waterfall, Gocta Falls, at 771 meters/ 2,530 ft. In the photo below, this is only one of two tiers of the falls you can see. Being drunken Sunday, we watched a local football/soccer game that we agreed must be played by Andean Rules because they had a very interesting style of play, rules, and even stray dogs and kids that just randomly wandered through the field. The next day we arrived at the y-in-the-road where we could climb up to the large city of Chachapoyas, but having no interest in stopping, but needing an ATM, I stayed with the bikes and Ville hitched a ride up the hill with a guy driving a dump truck. Right about that time it began pouring rain and after I was soaked, some nice cops let me inside their hut to get out of the rain. They were super kind, but were trying to talk me into joining them at the next town to drink. When I declined, they asked if they could get the Facebook names of my American single girlfriends. I gave them tons of names of fake girls that I promised loved drinking and Peruvian cops. When Ville arrived back and we continued on, he updated me on his adventure chewing coca for the first time with the trucker and finally finding the very last ATM in town that worked. Guess he had a stressful, buzz, of a good time as well.
After passing Leimebamba, we had a spectacular climb up the mountain, summitted at about 3,650 meters/12,000 ft for one of the most epic 38 miles of single lane winding gradual downhills of all time! We stopped on our way down to camp in a school yard, not wanting to ride in dark on this guardrail-less road or camp at 1,000 ft at the bottom in scorching heat. After crossing the river at the bottom of the gorge, eating a bunch of cheap mangos, we began the 28 mile creeping, switchback road in the blistering heat up the mountainside. By the afternoon, my migraine was in full pounding mode (I just can't seem to stay hidrated enough in heat) and by evening Ville found us a nice cow pasture near the top of the climb to camp in. When we woke up, the sun rays were just peeking through the clouds down into the valley below and the farmer was slowly making his way down the hill with his cows from above. It was a spectacular spot, with epic views, no barking dogs OR crowing roosters! Heaven!
The next morning we completed the 11,000 ft climb, and dropped into Celedin where we got a hotel room to wash the sweat off, crash in a bed, and I even splurged and payed to get my clothes washed instead of handwashing them in the sink and hanging them all over the room as we always do. The next day was a breeze after the climbing we had been doing, and we made 65 miles fairly easy. Of course, the following day was an entire day of slowly climbing up, up, and up where we made it just before dark to Huamachuco, where we currently are. Yesterday being drunken Sunday, we had a handful of drunks yelling at us and even had a guy throw oranges at us, but for the most part, everyone has been very nice in Peru. I would say far more reserved than the countries before, but when we make the effort to say, "Buenos Dias" they respond. Kids yell "Gringo" everywhere, but we hear it is a term of endearment, so we keep telling ourselves that. We do get lots of kids waving as we pass which is awesome!
As for the dogs and roosters, they are pure evil. I wish I were exaggerating, but everyone, and I mean even in the big cities and nice hotels they have roosters. And unless we camp in a cow pasture no where near anyone, we will inevitably be woken up throughout the night by crowing roosters. And the dogs are horrific. I like dogs, even had a dog and dogs when I was growing up, but the dogs in Southern Ecuador and Peru are vicious. They are not treated super well (PETA would have a field day in Latin America), but they think their job is to protect the person who throws them scraps, and their farm, which includes the road in which we are riding on. For a month now, I carry a big stick and Ville carries rocks in his pockets to throw at them. Sadly, we lost our pepper spray on the flight to Colombia where we have now needed it most!
Before you go and judge, let me paint you a picture. Riding downhill at 30mph on a fully loaded bicycle and a pack of dogs lunge out of nowhere at your front tire, when they barely miss throwing you from the bike they run next to you (now that you slowed down to keep from falling) and snap at your leg with fangs at the ready. Rabies, anyone? Owner? They usually don't give a %uck, and if they do, they are throwing rocks at the dogs themselves. Unless, you throw a rock and make contact enough to get a YELP, they will keep charging until we are far down the road. On multiple occasions I have stopped the bike, thrown it down and took off running after the dogs I am so pissed to have them nearly throw me from my bike. Bastards.
Food and hotels are cheap. That has been very helpful with our budget, but the food has been getting very old (first world problems). Vegetable soup, rice and chicken/pork for every. Single. Meal. For months. Ville is tolerating fine, but I am beyond over it. I have lost about all the weight I can lose, my boobs are nearly gone, I have a solid 6-pack and Ville said if my butt dissappears any more he is gone too. So you ladies out there looking for a good diet plan, Ecuador and Peru are for you! After my bitchfest, we truely have been enjoying Peru. Spectacular views with some cool sights to see along the way. Tomorrow we continue south, with about a week to Huaraz, where we will take off a few days to hike. Thanks all for following along! PLEASE write us, comment, let us know your out there still reading so we know its still worth our while tracking down an internet cafe and struggling through crappy WiFi to keep these updates coming. Until then, keep on keepin' on, yo.
For those interested, here was our stops:
Jaen - Jamalca District - Pedro Ruiz Gallo - Cocachimba - Yerbabuena - Collonce - Cow Pasture - Celendin - Cajamarca - La Grama
Helped Along by Locals, Hardest "Push" Through Southern Ecuador into Peru : Cuenca, Ecuador to Jaen, Peru
Literally pushing fully loaded tour bikes up sloppy, muddy, rutted, bolder littered single lane "road" with the rain pouring and soaked through, one would have to wonder, "What in the hell are we doing here?" Guess we both are, truly, clinically insane...
Cuenca was a touring cyclists dream! Really stunning Colonial architecture, large enough to score dishes of Indian food, liters of real gelato ice-cream (oh yes we polished one off together every day we were there), pizza, but not so large we were lost in the chaos. We ripped off the Band-Aid and loaded up and headed south. Back on the road, ready for what was next around the bend. It took us about two and a half days to roller coaster the hills to Loja. The scenery was pretty distracting, even while climbing. Our first night out, we found a great spot under a giant tree a little ways from the road to camp and watched the sun set and shadows creep up the giant mountains in front of us. We scored breakfast at a gas station/restaurant in a small town the next morning and continued south stopping just before dark near La Chorera. We were struggling to find a place to camp as the hills had become so steep there was not good flat spots well hidden for a tent. As we chugged slowly up a hill, there was a family waving at us from their yard next to the road.
Ville rode over and asked if it were possible to camp in their yard and they welcomed us right away. The older couple, who's modest home it was, told us to sleep on the porch under the roof in case it rained. Sadly, we timed most of the ride in Ecuador through tons of wind and rain, so it was a challenge for our night camping as well as days of being soaked. The couple's nephew, his wife, and their two young kids were there and it was really special to be able to chat with them and get to know about their village. Then the local priest arrived and we were invited to Catholic mass down the hill, which of course we accepted. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as we sat in our pew with about 15 people from town, right next to 3 young boys trying so hard not to stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at us. They were so curious! And when I asked their names, they became so shy they cowered behind each other.
After mass, we were given fresh, hot home-made tamales and coffee and watched the firework show in celebration of Virgen De La Cisne. Getting to play with kids and be treated as friends was incredibly special and both of us were so grateful (as we repeatedly are on this journey) to meet so many kind and generous people. Even though, by both our countries standards, these people were very poor and had "nothing", the feeling of community, love, and acceptance of each other was felt very deeply while we were there. The kids were happy, kind to each other, and looked out for one another. The mothers gave them the space to play without helicoptering around their every move. The older ones took care of the younger ones. Watching people, families, and communities and questioning "normal" is one of the greatest gifts of travel.
Early morning, as we waved goodbye to the family and up into the mist, we had a long day of misty, wet riding that took us by noon dropping down into Loja. We checked into a hotel, got showered and were slightly disappointed to discover Loja was not quite what we hoped or heard about as a city. It had been compared to Cuenca, just smaller, but was not at all as cool. It did however have a newly built castle that looked eerily like the one at Disneyland on the way into the city. We spent a day and headed on our way, not having great expectations for the next stretch to the boarder of Peru. We had heard from two separate cycling friends that this next stretch would be rough and it far exceeded those terrible expectations I'm afraid.
You know it's going to be bad when the "Road Construction Update" billboard on the side of the road is super faded as if it was thought about and long forgotten. That being said, the traffic began to drop off after the Gringo-filled town of Vilcabamba (yet another "eternal spring" cities that claims everyone lives forever) and we got a cheap room in a local woman's house in the tiny town of Yangana. The next day we climbed up into the National Park Yacuri, the scenery was fantastic and we were almost all alone in it! As we reached the top of the park, birds, waterfalls, butterflies everywhere we had to stop to take in all the views. Followed by a thrilling winding downhill that took us way down, down, down a canyon as the road slowly began to disappear and magically turn into not-car-graded gravel and dirt steeps. After again struggling to find a good camp spot with such steep hills, we pulled over to chat with a family in a three house, one church town, Canada.
The father, Stalin, was kind enough to open up the church and let us sleep inside. We enjoyed chatting with his three daughters, whom all helped grow, dry, and bag coffee beans. I got in the habit long ago of carrying everything from lollipops to cookies and stickers for kids and was able to share some with the girls and they were super excited. They were very shy around us, but were so cute running and playing with each other. All I could think was what a horrible little fighting sister I was and that I had not realized at their age how lucky they were to have each other. They obviously realized it.
Feeling good, with Google telling us we only had about 22 miles to the border, we rode out early all pumped and ready for Peru! Well, well, well, that's not quite how smooth sailing it went. First the pavement disappeared after a mile. Then as we crested the hill, the downhill was the the steepest we had yet experienced on this ride, stopping multiple times to give our hands a break from breaking so hard, fearing hitting boulders that would throw us over the handlebars, the occasional passing truck kicking rocks into our faces, all to look straight across the mountain at the jagged dirt road cut straight up the side of the mountain across from us in the baking sun. And, yes, that is where we crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon, kicked down to our lowest gear, and cranked for over an hour to get up the hill. By the time we reached Zumba on the other side of the mountain, with just over 22 miles for the day, nowhere near the border, and a splitting migraine, we had to get a hotel room and re-hydrate.
(STAY TUNED FOR MORE PHOTOS, WIFI IS NOT COOPERATING)
For some terrible reason, I have taken to getting migraines a lot and especially when I'm dehydrated. After wringing out my Buff a handful of times of sweat, it was apparent we were not taking in enough water for as much as we were losing and stopping was a great plan. I crawled into a dark room and we tried to get some sleep. The next day, my migraine was still full-on, it poured rain all night making the dirt road sloppy, and we contemplated staying put another night. Wanting so much to get through this nightmare and get to the promised land, Peru (where we heard rumors of pavement and normal grades again), I downed a bunch of Aspirin, ate some crappy food, and we saddled up.
We had a rough day of two more big hill climbs and descents in the pouring rain, a handful of times we had to literally push our bikes up sloppy, muddy, bolder-littered single-track "road" with flashbacks of the fun-filled Dalton Highway in Alaska in our memories from so long ago (if you missed that, read it HERE). Brakes squealing, we came straight down the hill into the border of Peru. After an easy stamp out, bike across the river and stamp into Peru, we were thrilled to discover the rumors of pavement were true! We got a room to dry off and clean off the mud in Nambale, 4 miles from the border. The prices in Peru have been some of the best we have seen, $3 for both our lunches and $6 a night for a hotel! And the people are super friendly here as well.
We had a glorious next day climbing to San Ignacio on pavement, followed by a giant sweeping downhill into a wide open valley, bright green rice paddies with giant mountains in the backdrop. And where the road in southern Ecuador went straight over mountains, the road in Peru followed rivers and canyons allowing for pretty sweet biking grades. The scenery in Peru was a full day of fireworks and as the sun began to fade, we pulled over at a small cafe on the river to get dinner and ask the super nice couple, Jose and Melva, who owned the place if we could camp. They were kind enough to let us camp on the floor of the open air cafe (there was not a sole there) and I was able to play with their baby chicks that were running around the place. Awwwwwww cute. Melva made us a giant rice and eggs breakfast and waved us on our way. We had a a pretty chill 40 miles today, hot now that we have dropped down and are hovering around 2,000 ft., but enjoyed a stop at one of the many roadside fresh-squeezed juice stops, and arrived in the busy city of Jaen.
We checked into a nice hotel, $11. Got showers, food $3. Getting blogged up. And planning a day off tomorrow to rest, recharge, catch-up with parents, and then we do what we do, keep on keepin' on! Oh, and in case I forgot to tell, my parents, Mango and Magoo, have airplane tickets booked and are meeting us in Cusco, Peru mid-October. We are PUMPED to get some family love and to get to check out Machu Pichu with those two recently retired wackos! YAY! We recently connected with our good friend, John, who has opened the coolest and best bicycle shop in Bend, Project Bike, who will be our go-to shop for goods and is sending some much needed parts down with my parents. If there is anything anyone wants to get to us. Like, maybe a motor for my bike, a pony, or a Farrari, please get in touch with us or my parents and they can bring it when they come. All right ya'll, off to bed. Thanks for following and being a part of our journey!
Flying down a hill enjoying the bright green patchwork hills littered with black and white dairy cows and local farmers working the fields, when a streak of brown fur latched onto the back of Ville's shoe and clamped down hard. When Ville tried to shake it, it went for his heel. That's when Ville lost his temper...
Hey folks! Ville here, I'm giving K.G a break from writing so she can enjoy her ice-cream here in Cuenca, Ecuador. Like she declared in the last post, we did go hike the 2 mountains Pasochoa and Ruminahui and what a fun, exhausting time it was!
The first mountain, Pasochoa, we tackled around noon after heading east out of Quito with our good buddy Freddy. We reached the summit using a different route than most of the people climbing it use. Freddy is like 'The Godfather' in the mountains, and he knew a farmer who let us hike through his property. The farmer was excited to see Freddy again and we tipped him about the location of one his runaway cows. Both K.G and I were a bit worried about how our bodies would deal with the high elevation (4,200 meters / 13, 779 ft ) but were happy to discover that our bodies had already acclimatized after a week and a half in the high country. The entire way to the top and back Freddy explained us things about the local flora & fauna while we bombarded him with questions about his expeditions to mountains like Denali and Aconcagua. And when we arrived at the summit, the clouds parted for us to look down into the giant crater of lush green native plants.
After reaching the top and spending few minutes soaking in the views and taking pictures we headed down. Freddy had reserved us tent sites at a nice hostel in the foothills of Pasochoa Mountain. From the hostel we had great views of one of Ecuador's highest peaks Cotopaxi ( 5,897 m / 19, 347 ft ). A couple of years ago the mountain/volcano became active again so at the moment you can't climb to the top. It's not spewing lava, but it's creating some pretty dangerous gases that could kill the happy climber, similar gases can be found in one of the gas station toilets along the Pan American Highway.
The hostel price included all the meals, which were fantastic. We've been eating a lot of chicken, rice and beans lately so it was nice to get dishes like quiche and hamburgers. The next day we took off to summit Ruminahui ( 4,721m / 15,488ft ), unfortunately the first few hours of the climb we were inside the clouds and could not see more that 60 ft in front of us. After getting closer to the summit it started to clear more and now we could see more of the amazing views. Getting to the top required some scrambling and on the very top we were almost bouldering. Reaching the top felt pretty amazing, we were happy to be there with a great friend like Freddy whom we owe huge thanks to showing us around in his country and taking us to these places that without him we probably would've never seen.
Getting down the mountain proved out to be harder than getting up it, as some of you know I've had 5 surgeries done on my knees thanks to soccer/football so to say the least I was the slowest one coming down. After getting back to the hostel, Freddy and K.G headed to the natural water jacuzzi while I took a shower and studied the guidebooks for Peru.
The next day was a rude awakening getting back on the bikes and continuing South, the last few days of intense hiking had taken it's toll and we were hurting on the uphills. Luckily day by day the views were getting more and more amazing enabling us to to forget our achy legs. The towns and cities along the way were almost as beautiful as the surrounding landscape they were in. We stopped in places like Ambato and Cajabamba where we were definitely the only "Gringos" in town judging by the looks we got, the looks were not negative like a lot of the ones we got in Central America but more curious and friendly.
One of our favorite places between Quito and Cuenca was the small town of Cunchi where we got to enjoy some amazing views of the clouds below us and the sun setting behind the mountains. The downtown area was beautiful and the people extremely friendly. Al the these amazing views did not come for free, it's been constant up and down. Some hills are steeper and some more mellow graded but none of them are small, they're all 5-20 miles in length. To add to the work out, Mother Earth has given us some intense and cold headwinds to battle with complete with mist and rainshowers! Oh boy!
Now that I've told you guys all the positive things about Ecuador I have to be honest and say that the dogs have been the worst on the trip so far. There is a lot of them around, some of them are stray and some have a collar. The stray dogs don't seem to care too much about us, they might have gotten beaten up too many times that they seem pretty timid, or they are too busy scrounging for food to waste energy on us. The worst ones we have problems with are the ones from people's yards, a lot of the times they chase us and try to bite our tires or even worse, they jump in front of us when we are bombing 40 miles per hour downhill. Most of them are not small ones either since they are used as guard dogs, they don't look like they ever get petted or loved a lot, just thrown in the yard to guard the place. Man's best friend here is something else, not the cute mutt in the yard.
Yesterday we passed a house while slugging slowly uphill and a dog took off after us, in a few seconds it was biting the heel of my shoe and it had a pretty good hold of it. I freaked out because if it would've gotten hold of my Achilles heel with it's razor sharp rabies infested teeth that would've been the end of the trip for me. I kicked the dog the best I could once it lost it's hold but that only got him more angry. I stopped the bike and picked up a rock the size of my fist, as soon as I did this the dog started running back to the yard. I ran after it with fury, once I got inside the yard there was a small girl looking at me with eyes wide open and full of fear. I tried to explain to the girl that the dog attacked me and now it was time for him to learn a lesson about biting passing cyclists. The girl ran inside the house and left me standing in the yard feeling bad about it. The dog was standing in the doorway and I swear it was giving me the middle finger.
The rest of the day I carried 2-3 rocks at hand all the time, I'm planning to make a stick out of some limber sapling so I'm ready the next time when overly aggressive Lassie wants to chew my leg. We've seen all kinds of protective gear against the dogs among the cyclist that we've met, anything from pepper spray to a full size whip ( or maybe that was for the bedroom?)
We made it to Cuenca yesterday and we are planning to take couple of days off here. It seems so far like a really cool city, we've heard that there's a lot of retired Canadians and US citizens living here. Like Cuernavaca in Mexico and Medellin in Colombia, Cuenca is also called the city of eternal spring due to it's temperate climate. We're staying with a warmshowers host Jacobo who is originally from Venezuela, his place is on the outskirts of the city but there's an awesome bus system here so right now we're sitting in a cafe sipping coffee and telling stories to you fine folks. We're planning to continue south to Loja on Sunday and after Loja we're heading to the border of Peru. Right now our bodies are aching from all the climbing we did on and off the bikes here in Ecuador so we'll be taking it easy here in the eternal spring. Until next time, as Ron Burgundy says it " You stay classy San Diego!"
Ville couldn't refuse the opportunity to pluck one of the giant, wiggling, 4-inch-long live larvae from the bowl of squirming critters and stick it in his mouth, biting off the head, chewing the meat and swallowing it down alive...
Pasto, Colombia was a great stop for a couple days rest. We stayed at the Koala Hotel in downtown and although on the high end of our budget, the couple that own and run the place are incredibly kind and made some tasty pancakes complete with diced fruit to give us some extra juice to continue the climb south. We also met a super nice French couple, Leo and Virginie, whom we ended up riding on and off with on the next stretch to Quito, Ecuador.
Riding out of Pasto was a short long climb, followed by a gigantic easy, "whatcycling dreams are made of", downhill for 15 miles! Where Pasto was rainy, cold and chilly, we dropped all the way down to sunshine and some warm weather again. The road then climbed ever so slowly up along a meandering river in a deep gorge and we took in some stunning scenery the entire day to Ipiales. Ipiales was another crappy border town with not much to see but a place to sleep. We and the Frenchies woke up early and were at the border by 6:30 am only to find that the systems were down and with a gigantic line already waiting to get in or out of Colombia. For those not following the news, Venezuela is in a pretty chaotic state right now and two days prior to our arrival at the border, Colombia granted temporary visas to Venezuelans, making for a complete chaos at Immigration and a complete shut-down of the systems. Really sad and sorry for all the struggles the Venezuelan people are going through and have been struggling through! To lose everything you have worked so hard for in your life and to have your money so devalued you can't even buy food, is a very sad place to be for so many of these people.
After 5 hours of waiting in an ever increasingly agitated line, ONE AGENT WORKING even though there were 7 booths (inefficiency at it's finest), locked gates to keep the hoards of people outside until they could be filtered into the line, we made it to the front of the line and got stamped out of Colombia. Yipee! And biked about 100 yards to the Ecuadorian Immigration were we were stamped into Ecuador in about 2 minutes. Loving Ecuador already. From the border we could already tell the roads were amazing, multiple lanes, recently paved, and decent biking grades. We stopped at the first overpriced restaurant we could find to get lunch together and then pushed on up the hill passing rolling hills of green checkerboard pastures littered with colorful cows. It was beautiful, very similar to the countryside in France the Frenchies said.
First night in Ecuador we spent in San Gabriel, a decent sized little town high in the mountains with a cute central square, beautiful old buildings and a long walking street market. With the change in elevation (hovering around 9,000 ft/ 2,750 meters roughly), we have been biking in pants, layers and rain jackets for the mist, but very much enjoying the biking in cooler temps. Nights drop in temps enough to get to sport our new puffy jackets (we picked up warmer puffies in Bend to tackle the Andies). From San Gabriel we continued southwest through some beautiful misty countryside and even had the return of pretty extreme winds (we haven't had wind like this since Baja!). As Ibarra came into view, we were confused but excited that the elevation chart must have been wrong because we were almost in town and had a decent day of riding, until the road took a sharp left turn into a switchback and we began to climb. Luckily, the climbs in Ecuador have been really easy grades with switchbacks so far and we were in Ibarra earlier than planned. Debating to push on, we decided to get a room and have time to put our feet up and relax a bit before pushing on.
From Ibarra we had a very scenic and easy day of oscillating hills where we came around a turn to see Cayambe's snow-capped Mountain reaching into the clear blue skies. We find ourselves stopping constantly to get pictures or video of the scenery here in Ecuador it's so beautiful. In the early afternoon we passed Otavalo, a small town in the Andean highlands surrounded by volcanoes and where traditionally clad indigenous twonspeople sell colorful textiles and handicrafts. We stopped and sat to have some coffee while the world walked by, but are always so sad to not have the room/space to buy anything to pack along. Somehow , with the roads easy riding and the climbs easier to tackle than Colombian roads, we managed to get all the way to Guayllabamba, one long climb (and only 15 miles) away from Quito.
With an early start, we pushed the long, slow climb to Quito and met our good friend Freddy, whom we met just before beginning this bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, in Myanmar while traveling. What a great feeling to see an old friend after so long on the road! Freddy took us to his beautiful home right in the heart of the city and convinced us to drop our stuff and head with him on an adventure. Freddy is one of the oldest and most fantastic trekking/mountaineering guides from Quito (http://sierranevada.ec/en/home), and who has traveled all over the country and world climbing mountains. Freddy had to drive over 5 hours to the Amazon to pick up some students and bring them back to the city, but had a great plan for us to drive up into the mountains to Papallacta where there was hot springs to soak and stay the night in a hotel, then continue to Puerto Misahualli the next morning to pick up the students in the Amazon and drive back to the city together. And who is not more down for a fun adventure than these two wackos?!
First, we headed out of the city to drop down an insanely steep road into a ravine, cross a river and then climb all the way up to 12,000 ft over the Andean Pass and then dropped down to a beautiful lake where we found a hotel with thermal pools in back all to ourselves to relax and soak our soar muscles. The next morning, surrounded by the Andes, we could see Cotopaxi covered in pure white snow towering high above us. Back in the car, we dropped far down along the river and eventually turned up another highway climbing up and winding into the cloud forest. Having loads of rain, many places in the road had been previously washed away or were still scattered with debris. Lucky for us, Freddy is a sure-footed driver and we dropped back down as the heat and humidity of the Amazon Jungle engulfed us.
In Puerto Misahualli, we stopped for a quick lunch and to stretch our legs, where one of the local ladies was selling giant LIVE larvae to eat. Apparently a local delicacy, Ville couldn't refuse to try something that crazy, and picked one out of the bowl of squirming, wiggling 4 inch long critters and popped it into his mouth! I was so disgusted by them, I try a lot of things, but there was no way I was going to eat one of those! I took the video instead. We managed to find the two students, pack up their things, and back up the way we came we headed, arriving back in Quito around 7 pm for a walk around the hood, a bite to eat, and crash.
While soaking in the hot springs, Freddy had mentioned he really wanted to get to go do some hiking with us while we are here, and so this morning we laid out some plans. We are planning to leave tomorrow morning up to the El Boliche National Recreation Area to hike and summit Pasochoa Mountain (4,200 meters/ 13,779 ft.) and then camp at the base of Cotopaxi, summitting Ruminahui Mountain (4,721 meters/ 15,488 ft) the next day. From there we will get ourselves back to the Panamerican Highway and continue south towards Cuenca, which will be our next planned stop. Freddy has to come back to Quito for an appointment, but is hoping to meet us on the road with his bike to bike a few days with us. Very excited to have such a fantastic friend in Ecuador wanting to show us his beautiful country! If you have any interest in outdoor adventures in Ecuador or beyond, we very highly recommend Freddy at Sierra Nevada Expeditions (his website). Until next time ya'll keep on keepin' on...
K.G. & Ville
Crossing into Argentina! The final frontier.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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