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!!
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“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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