Since we were engrossed in the movie, we hadn't noticed anything weird (not even that our sleeping pads began to feel like a water bed), until I went to get up to pee and looked out and my shoes were floating away! We sat up and the water was at the very top of the waterproofing of our tent, just about to spill in at over 5" deep!
We finally limped into Mendoza, Argentina and are excited to check off that 1/3 of the country is now finished! As Ville posted in the last update, this last month has been really tough. Since we left my parents in Cusco, Peru just over a month ago, we have struggled with food challenges, a wide open spans of desert allowing for hellish headwinds and lacking water, pushes of 75-85 miles between town stops (that is a LOT of miles for loaded touring bikes), no showers, no affordable accommodations resulting in one day off in over a month, and a deterioration of our bodies. I quit writing my doctor back home because the list of my health problems has grown so large I know she will highly suggest I rest (not possible) or quit riding (also not possible), so we are pushing on and hoping to get to Ushuaia in one piece. That's the plan anyways.
After riding with Kungfu Ninja PacMan from Buenos Aires for almost two weeks, listening to his incessant, "well, in Argentina" this and "well, in Argentina" that we had gotten our hopes up so high that we almost believed by simply crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina we would enter an oasis never been seen or felt before. So that was a gigantic disappointment when we crossed over, the road went from a giant 4'+ bike lane/shoulder to none, the more well-off Argentinians drove more cars at much higher speeds right next to our ears without a care of moving over, the headwind went to barely able to pedal forwards, and where we once could ask to camp anywhere with, "sure. no problem" we had to ask multiple people with "No. Can't camp here. This is private property." It reminded me of the scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber, where a giant bus of Hawaiian Tropic Girls pull up to Harry and Loyd and say they are looking for 2 oil boys to grease them up before competitions and the boys say, "well, your in luck! There is a town, 10 miles that way where I'm sure you'll find 2 oil boys there." We would ask an average of 7 different farmers, ranchers, even a cop! that we were tired and needed a place to sleep and were always directed up the road a ways. Great, thanks for nothing.
At least the grocery stores are stocked with more food. That's a plus. If they are ever open. Usually not. We pack a lot of food with us and make lots of sandwiches and pasta. We have FINALLY begun to meet nice people along the way here in Argentina. We met a nice couple who owned a hostel in a middle-of-nowhere town along Route 40 who gave us some wine they had made and treated us like their kids. Then, just north of San Juan we were desperate for a place to sleep out of the rain and two extremely nice construction workers welcomed us into their field station to sleep. We asked to camp under an awning with road equipment and they showed us into their barracks, gave us beds and a shower and even shared food with us. I was SO thrilled I think I made them uncomfortable with how many times I hugged them! The night before had been very eventful so maybe I was still traumatized.
The night before, the manager at the gas station in Jachal was nice enough to let us camp in the yard next to the station. The last few nights we had thunderstorms, and a big one was brewing. As we pitched the tent near the back of the property, away from the street noise, and climbed in to watch the movie Spinal Tap on Ville's cell phone, the storm hit and it POURED. Since we were engrossed in the movie, we hadn't noticed anything weird (not even that our sleeping pads began to feel like a water bed), until I went to get up to pee and looked out and my shoes were floating away! We sat up and the water was at the very top of the waterproofing of our tent, just about to spill in at over 5" deep! Histerically laughing, we hiked up our pants and slogged through the water carrying all our stuff to higher ground. Guess we had pitched the tent in the lowest spot in the yard where all the drainage pipes dumped out. Oooooops. Thankfully we had just been given a new waterproof tent from Ville's family and so the water had actually stayed out long enough for us to move to higher ground. Thanks Jokinens!!
In San Juan, we were desperate for a break and we looked at "the cheapest place in town" which was an eclectic room that smelled like cat pee for $45/night. Pass. We opted for a hostel for $35 and took a day off because my back was beginning to seize up from all the headwind. It would be our first full day off the bikes in a month. And the first night there, we met a group of Argentinean dudes from Buenos Aires, Tucuman, and San Juan, who worked in the mines up in the mountains as environmental scientists and were on a few days break. They rolled in with one of the biggest hunks of beef we had ever seen three guys plan to eat at once, stick it on the grill and after 3 hours and multiple beers and stories later, we feasted at midnight. And then they left us the leftover slab, with bread and these two thrifty bikers made it into sandwiches for lunch the next day. Thanks a million boys for your kindness!!
The red rock canyon between Salta and Cafayate was beautiful. And there was a lush green tropical forest beteen Jujuy and Salta, but otherwise, the scenery has been drab. It has allowed tons of time to zone out and actually remember back to countries, places and people we have met, enjoyed and loved along the way. I often wish we would not have committed to biking all the miles from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia and would take buses through the boring or challenging stretches, but then, it makes the great stuff really great. When we biked through 3 straight weeks of rain in Oregon and Northern California, it was the pits, but then when the sun came out finally in Fort Bragg, man was it surreal! We know at the end of this painful desert, there will be beauty coming soon. Actually, when we finally dropped down from the high plains of Bolivia to some greenery in Argentina, we could smell the plants and life growing out of the dirt. It was wild!
San Juan is a big city with 105 miles to Mendoza, also a big city. Of course there was no shoulder, but a lot of very fast, very unfriendly traffic killing everything from dogs, donkeys, owls, etc lying bloating in the sun along the road. There was a bit more greenery along the road and we are staying with Mauro and his brother Nico, Warmshowers hosts, who are awesome! Mauro just returned from a year long bicycle journey in Europe 3 months ago and has been a great guy to chat with about the trials and tribulations of cycling. He even just handed me a new t-shirt after seeing the 30-some odd holes in mine. What a guy!
Ville and I are planning to take at least 2 or 3 days off here. We desperately need the rest. And Ville's back rim is all bent up. The last month put a bunch of strain on it and we are having to wait and try and replace it with something that will make it the rest of the journey. A massive, heartfelt thank you to my cousin Jeff and his wife Vikki for their kind donation for our ride. The money is going to fix Ville's bike, pay for the renewal of this website and to take a few days much needed rest. Your generosity has helped us more than you know!
We had originally planned to bike over to Santiago, Chile to see a friend, but realized we don't have time. We are now pushing south to meet up with our friend, Robin, from Bend in El Chalten to backpack together. For us that is 1,650 miles and a month and a half away. It will be a push, but we are really excited to see a friend from home who is making the journey down to see us! Thanks so much everyone for writing us, following us, supporting us, and just being so rad. We love you all. Until next time, keep on keepin' on kids!!!
By the way, how would you say one rides a train on these tracks? Thoughts? Suggestions? Food for thought.
Hola good people, Ville here bringing you the next scoop on our Northern Argentina adventures.
For our last full day in Bolivia we had a clear plan: ride till we got close enough to the border of Argentina to cross it early the next day. The first half of the day was spent cruising slightly downhill in a beautiful river canyon, the second half was spent climbing for 15 miles back to the high plains where the winds were ripping. We camped before dark in a giant open sand pit on someone's big property and I got a flat tire from the many thorns everywhere. While patching my tube I decided to change my tire since it was getting pretty bald. I had gotten a new tire in Cusco thanks to the good people at Project Bike Bend for tracking down my size and a huge thanks to K.G's parents for bringing it to me in Peru! I gave my old tire to our friend Camilo, he's been dealing with multiple broken spokes since we've met him and we were hoping my wider tire would help him.
The next day we scarfed breakfast and raced the remaining 10 miles to the border to get to the promised land! We had heard so many great things about Argentina and to be honest Bolivia was not our favorite place. Bolivia has a couple of things that make it hard for touring cyclists : Numero uno, it doesn't have a lot of options for food (rice & chicken or chicken & rice IF you can find a food place in the ghost towns we seldom pass by). Two, the distances between towns are long so you have to haul a lot of food and water with you. Three, It's not that special when it comes to the views, sure Salar de Uyuni (World's largest salt flat) was nice but that's pretty much it.
When we were crossing the border we noticed one thing that bothered K.G and I quite a bit:
When we were greeted nicely and welcomed to Argentina with open arms and big smiles, our Colombian friend Camilo got the third degree from the Masters of the Stamps. " How much money do you have? What do you do for work? How long are you going to stay in Argentina?" We got none of these questions. Camilo is an engineer from Bogota, Colombia...to be honest he's way less of a bum than we are. It's crazy how many more doors a blue or a burgundy passport opens.
On the other side of the border we immediately sensed that Argentina is different from Bolivia and Peru. Less hassle, less animals running around the streets, less honking of the horn, more detail in the architecture (K.G. noticed right away that the windows here are glass set into wood opening windows in contrast to Peru and Bolivia's non-opening glass windows if they could afford the glass), more food and more education. The first thing we needed to find was a bank to get some local currency and so we proceeded to ask some teenagers since they know everything...or at least I did when I was their age. The answers we got were finely articulated and you could sense that the level of education was higher here. After a quick run to the ATM and pockets full of bills( Argentinian fiscal history is a roller coaster) we were heading out of the border town, La Quiaca, since the towns close to the border are pretty dumpy. From the first mile on we were met with an intense headwind, we had to fight this bastard for the next 250 miles until Salta. After a few miles, we took a break at a bus stop and lit some fireworks that I had purchased in Bolivia to celebrate making it to Argentina. As we were lighting them I could sense that this was no longer the part of good old South America where one could do anything and no one would say anything even if you were shooting your automatic rifle into the air.
Argentinians have declared themselves as the Europe of South America...as a European, I have to disagree. Don't get me wrong, they're doing pretty good in South American standards, but there's a lot of room for improvement. Maybe better roads with a shoulder for starters. Roads are better in most parts of Africa. Argentinians seem to trash talk a lot about their neighbors and have their nose up in the air, but right now there is not a lot to boast about. In 2 years the Argentinian peso has lost half of it's value against the mighty US green back. Even Greece has a better central bank! Hopefully I didn't hurt too many feelings in Argentina or Greece.
Our first 12 days in Argentina have been filled with the most boring/repetitive/long/terrible riding of our entire trip, but for the next few paragraphs I'm going to try to focus on the positive things. It's not Argentina's fault that the Northern part of the country is filled with nothing but desert and headwinds from hell. Not bad if your in an air conditioned car driving at excessive speeds, but horrid if your on a bicycle moving as fast as a snail.
Before entering Argentina, our friend Pac-Man (aka Ninja Kicks) and many other Argentinians told us about how much meat they eat and how cheap it is, this has proven to be true. Even if you don't visit the restaurants to see it for yourself, you can witness it on the peoples bodies. Argentinians got way more "Junk in the trunk" if you know what I mean. This has been good and bad for us. We are not border-line starving anymore, but there's only so much red meat you can eat! We're dreaming of salads and seafood but they seem to be only a myth here.
A lot of the towns we've visited seem to be centered around areas that have water, usually we spot the towns from 5 miles distance because they look like an oasis with tall trees and green areas. The small town of Cafayate, south of Salta, was one of these places. Littered with vineyards and cafes that cater to the many passing gringos traveling by car or motorcycle. Since then, Chilecito, was a decent sized town at the base of a giant mountain with year-round snow, so a pretty cool town with water and over-priced hotels. We have struggled with the increase in prices for hotels and hostels to get showers, so we have occasionally opted for the expensive campground (they cost around $12, what we use to get a hotel room for in many other Latin American countries) and have opted to mainly stealth camp in scrub brush sin showers. Sometimes we bathe in gas station sinks. We have also been pushing way too many miles without rest trying to make it through this desert stretch and our health has been suffering.
And my final rant, Argentina, how do function when you are NEVER OPEN??? Literally, we are constantly told that something will open at 8 am. Which is a total lie. We have been lucky if we find anything open by 9 or 10 am. This includes all breakfast places, grocery stores, and the like. Just tell us the truth, that you will roll in and open your shop whenever your butt rolls out of bed. If they are open, breakfast is a tiny grilled cheese sandwich on white bread for over $5. Then, we continually hit towns looking for a place to get lunch or even lunch things, and they are closed for siesta! What hours are siesta? Well, seems like anytime from 1pm-6pm. You want to eat, better save your appetite for after 6pm when things begin to open for the day. Then stuff your jowls with a bunch of meat, hop on your motorscooter that looks like it's being eaten by your ass and head home for your night siesta.
Are we ready for some rest, less sun, less heat, more lakes, rivers, towns and healthy food or what? We plan to hit Mendoza in a few days, hope to take a day off at a Warmshowers host's house and then begin the climb west over the Andes (again and right next to the highest point in the Andes) to drop to Santiago, Chile. Hope that by our next post we have heaps of great things to say about the views, open shops, less heat and water! Until next time, stay classy!
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!
K.G. & Ville
Resting in Mendoza, Argentina.
“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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