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!
K.G. & Ville
Crossing into Argentina! The final frontier.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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