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 Huanaco, we hit REAL pavement a mile from town and we both yelled shrill screams of joy we were so happy to get off that road and onto flat pavement again. We found a decent hotel, with the little "Peruvian twist" Ville likes to call it when we get a room and the toilet floods water all over the floor, sink doesn't work, shower pressure is a trickle, you know, the usual. And the solution to the flooding toilet is, the nice lady hands Ville a mop. Ha hahhhahah! Not "Oh, gee, the toilet is flooding buckets of water all over the floor, let me call someone to fix it," nope. Here's a mop cutie. Well, it's got working WiFi and we are taking a day off because we both need it! Tomorrow we climb. Word on the street is, it's on pavement. I'll believe it when I ride on it. Until then good people praying for our butts to stay in the saddle, keep on keepin' on!!!
Near Fatal Blow to the Bike Tour: Dog Attacks Ville and Threw Him From the Bike. Huamachuco to Yungay, Peru
Just as I yelled, "DOGS!", Ville rounded the corner and smack into this pack of vicious barking dogs. One of the medium sized dogs lunged at his front tire as he tried to brake, slamming straight into the dog and threw Ville from the bike as he skidded down on the pavement on his knee, side and elbow. I heard the crash, threw my bike down and ran back up the hill to chase off the two remaining barking dogs throwing rocks and screaming. Got Ville up off the road, he was bleeding everywhere, and said he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
The last section was beautiful, had some great experiences with the local Peruvians, some amazing kids, but we also despised the last stretch and you couldn't pay me to bike it again. I would drive it in our old Landcruiser, MAYBE bike it on a mountain bike with fat tires if I was paid, but not bike it again on our heavy, narrow tired tour bikes. Not ever.
After leaving Huamachuco, we had a decent 10 miles of patchy, potholed pavement before we took the only road south keeping us in the mountains and not dropping us west to the coast, unpaved and a total mess of sand and boulders. First, our bikes are heavy. Like around 80-90 lbs. loaded and we have 1.5" tires. These are wider than the standard Tour De France bike tire, but not a mountain bike tire and the tread we have is for road riding. Not a sandy beach. So we had about 65 miles over the next couple days to push through major climbs and descents on these crappy roads. We also lack shocks, so all the boulder riding chatters out your teeth and eyeballs. We made it to Cachicadan by 3, ate at a bar, and decided to push on because the locals said the road to Angasmarca was only a little up hill and the rest down. Not quite. It took us three hours to climb up over the pass and drop into Angasmarca, just at complete darkness and the full moon rising. We got a $10 basic room (this is actually pricey for Peru in the middle of nowhere town), but had a scalding hot shower and I have never loved a shower so much because my hands were frozen and I was SO sore from the road. The next morning we pushed south and up, heading towards Pallasca (only 38-ish miles away) but was even tougher than the day before.
We met a giant group of school kids in a one-building town and they were asking heaps of questions and taking lots of pictures. The landscape was beautiful, giant grassland rolling hills, lots of small villages of sheep and cattle farms. All with only a dirt road and hardly any cars passing through. The cars that did pass were 4-wheel-drive and tore up the roads pretty bad leaving us peeling out and pushing through deep sand on some extremely hard hills and descents. We agreed that it was likely worse than the Dalton Highway and maybe even the southern Ecuador stretch because of the climbs and distance we had of sand our tires were not equipped for. In a small town just before a giant descent and climb into Pallasca, we hit glorious pavement again and squealed like school girls we were so happy! We made it to Pallasca again right at dark on a steep climb up into town and got a shitty room at a Hospedaje, too tired to shower and just crashed. The next morning we rode out early PUMPED for the day's extreme downhill descent along the canyon for 50 or so miles! Sadly, didn't end up so great.
On the steep decent, all trees, brush, signs of life, fell away and it looked like the surface of Mars. Hot, wide-open desert. The side of the road was littered here and there with vacant houses crumbling and looking abandoned. The road was a single lane, dropping off with no guardrail in many places way down to the river cutting the gorge below. As I rounded a corner passing an abandoned looking shack, I heard a pack of dogs, I had just alerted in my passing, begin barking and charging behind me. Just as I yelled, "DOGS!", Ville rounded the corner and smack into this pack of vicious barking dogs. One of the medium sized dogs lunged at his front tire as he tried to brake, slamming straight into the dog and threw Ville from the bike as he skidded down on the pavement on his knee, side and elbow. I heard the crash, threw my bike down and ran back up the hill to chase off the two remaining barking dogs throwing rocks and screaming. Got Ville up off the road, he was bleeding everywhere, and said he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
LUCKILY, he was able to limp over to a well and we washed off his wounds, picked out a bunch of gravel, and a lady from a couple houses up the hill walked down to help. She was nice enough to offer to have us come to her house and clean Ville up, but being that he could barely move and the bike was in a heap, I just pulled out the medical stuff we carry and covered everything with Antibacterial Hand Cleanser (Ville screamed like a big baby) and then coated everything in Antibiotic Ointment. His knee was really swollen, but nothing appeared to be broken, and the dogs (because Ville had hit the dog square in the side coming down the hill, it died pretty quick), the others continued to bark at us from the porch. After a bit more rock throwing and yelling, the owner, a young girl probably scared to death at how pissed I was, came out, laughed, and took the remaining dogs inside. The bike had to be tinkered with to get it riding straight again, and one of the pannier's clips is broken, so we roped it on and Ville was able to get back on and we continued down the hill. As we came to the bottom of the canyon, we hit an insane headwind that was rushing up the canyon and made for some pretty rough "downhill" riding. When we came to the intersection at Chuquicara, we ate at a super dumpy town and decided camping was better than staying there, and started biking east and southeast up the canyon towards Huaraz. We made it 10 miles before dark and stopped at a house along the road with an orchard (an oasis in a sea of sand) and a group of incredibly sweet kids came out to greet us and help us find a place to camp in the yard.
Ana and Sammy were sisters, and Paul and Maricielo were neighbors. They were SO excited to help set up the tent and were really worried for Ville after seeing all his gaping wounds. I pulled out more gauze, bandages, tape and ointment and they went to work doctoring Ville up. They helped set up the tent, blow up our mattresses and then asked if they could sleep with us. Our 2-person tent would not accommodate 4 extra kids, so they sadly went in the house to sleep, but were right there peeking into the tent first thing in the morning (after the roosters woke us at 4 am). We gave them cookies, stickers (they held these like they were the most special thing they had been given ever), I wrote them papers of Spanish-English words to practice, clipped their nails with my nail clippers (they asked me to), oiled them with some peppermint oil I carry for headaches, and gifted them with some red tail hawk feathers I prized from my collection (I collect feathers on the road and tape them to my bike) and they couldn't believe they came all the way from the United States! Ana and Sammy were so cute, they collected some chicken and duck feathers from the yard and gifted them to me for my bike. I will cherish those poopy feathers forever :)
As we waved goodbye to our new friends, heading south up the canyon, we struggled through around 30 miles to the first town to eat some lunch and made it only 8 more miles to Huallanca where I begged Ville to get a room as the temps hit nearly 100 in the afternoon heat and we were desperate for a shower, to clean up Ville's wounds, and rest! We were both so worked after the last few days. We found another crappy, overpriced dump to stay and got cold showers and a bed to rest. Heading out early, we were able to climb in the coolness of the morning and passed through Canon Del Pato, the tunnel section, which was spectacular! Tunnel after tunnel (35 tunnels in all) cut into the rock with the road winding up the steep rock gorge and the river raging below. The route had numerous waterfalls cascading down over the road or across the gorge, and by the time the sun reached up high in the sky, we had climbed a decent amount in elevation, to about 8,000 ft, so it was much cooler. We stopped in Caraz for lunch, a jump-off point for tourists doing hikes up into the snow-capped wilderness above, and decided to continue to Yungay where it may be a bit cheaper.
As we rode into Caraz and beyond, the steep rock canyon has opened up to a lush valley green with farms and fields. We saw a woman on the side of the road roasting quinoa, and she asked us for some water for her kid who was baking there in the sun while she worked. Giving her a bottle, we felt bad for how hard so many of the people we pass work in the fields, bent over, back-breaking labor for barely any money. Almost all of them women. The men are the awful bus, taxi, collectivo and moto-taxi drivers. We have had the few super nice drivers who give us room and wait for a passing truck to go around, but for the most part, as the road is getting more busy (tourist areas), the drivers have gotten worse and worse. Yungay is a small nice town, haven't seen any tourists yet, and a nice place to relax a bit. Tomorrow we will ride the 35 miles south to Huaraz and take another day or two off there depending how the town is. Word on the street is it's nice.
Thanks all for the outpouring of concern for Ville. It was really scary and we are both thrilled he is ok, with minor scrapes, a bum knee, and a cracked rib. It so easily could have ended our ride. And possibly him. So happy to walk away from it, and although we had some great suggestions of pepper spray, bug spray, bear spray, guns, etc. we are in a third-world country still where it is challenging to find a toothbrush let alone sprays for animals. We had a pepper spray we had to ditch on the flight to Colombia and we really could use it now, but we will just ride slower, and are getting better at rock throwing. This is where fences in the U.S. are much appreciated. Dogs can bark all they want, chase up and down a fence, but they can't get at you. We haven't had this bad of dogs AT ALL in any other Latin American countries. Only southern Ecuador and Peru. Hoping the problem gets better as we go south, but talking soothingly to a pissed, vicious, protective dog is like trying to do that to a mother bear with cubs in Canada. Good luck with that! The bears were actually nicer, and so are all the people luckily. People in Peru don't mean to have vicious, attack dogs, they just want protective animals in a country lacking alarm systems and enough police protection in rural areas. So many people offered to help. So thanks everyone for checking in on us. I just told Ville, "Suck it up you big, fat baby!" and he said, "who you calling fat?" So we will keep on keepin' on and those dogs better back off! This traveling circus needs to make it to Ushuaia, Argentina in one piece!!!
Riding downhill at 30mph on a fully loaded bicycle and a pack of dogs lunge out of nowhere at your front tire, when they barely miss throwing you from the bike they run next to you (now that you slowed down to keep from falling) and snap at your leg with fangs at the ready. Rabies, anyone?
This last week and a half has been one scenic and wild ride! We heard rumors of the hill climbs that awaited us in Peru, but hearing about them and then climbing them on fully loaded bicycles is a whole different thing. Unlike Colombia and Ecuador that built insanely graded roads straight up mountains, Peru has very gradual roads littered with switchbacks making the climbs much easier than the last two countries. We spend entire days climbing, but also hours of winding descents in some of the biggest mountains we have been in since the Himalayas in Nepal. And our trust steeds, Blue Bullet (K.G.'s bike) and Rufio (Ville's bike) are still plugging along.
From Jaen (a dump of a town) to Huamachuco, it has taken us ten straight days of riding, with a half a days rest in Celendin. We had multiple days of camping in yards, porches, a school yard, soccer field and even the most scenic cow pasture where I hope when I die I come back as a cow to hang out in. On our first night out of Jaen, we asked an incredibly kind couple to camp who had a very modest home and tire repair shop on the side of the road next to a big river. After setting up our tent in the tire shop with the chickens, the mom invited us right in and cooked us fish and rice for dinner. In the morning, she made us heaping plates of rice and eggs before we pushed off. I have carried with me a bag of We Lost The Map Necklaces, handing them out to those that have gone out of their way to help us and who would not accept any money. The look on her face when I gave her the necklace was priceless and just the fact this couple had SO little, but made sure we were fed brought tears to my eyes as we rode on.
A few days later, we rode up a gravel road three and a half miles off the main road to Cocachimba. There we booked a room and hiked up to the 3rd or 5th (depending who you ask) largest falling waterfall, Gocta Falls, at 771 meters/ 2,530 ft. In the photo below, this is only one of two tiers of the falls you can see. Being drunken Sunday, we watched a local football/soccer game that we agreed must be played by Andean Rules because they had a very interesting style of play, rules, and even stray dogs and kids that just randomly wandered through the field. The next day we arrived at the y-in-the-road where we could climb up to the large city of Chachapoyas, but having no interest in stopping, but needing an ATM, I stayed with the bikes and Ville hitched a ride up the hill with a guy driving a dump truck. Right about that time it began pouring rain and after I was soaked, some nice cops let me inside their hut to get out of the rain. They were super kind, but were trying to talk me into joining them at the next town to drink. When I declined, they asked if they could get the Facebook names of my American single girlfriends. I gave them tons of names of fake girls that I promised loved drinking and Peruvian cops. When Ville arrived back and we continued on, he updated me on his adventure chewing coca for the first time with the trucker and finally finding the very last ATM in town that worked. Guess he had a stressful, buzz, of a good time as well.
After passing Leimebamba, we had a spectacular climb up the mountain, summitted at about 3,650 meters/12,000 ft for one of the most epic 38 miles of single lane winding gradual downhills of all time! We stopped on our way down to camp in a school yard, not wanting to ride in dark on this guardrail-less road or camp at 1,000 ft at the bottom in scorching heat. After crossing the river at the bottom of the gorge, eating a bunch of cheap mangos, we began the 28 mile creeping, switchback road in the blistering heat up the mountainside. By the afternoon, my migraine was in full pounding mode (I just can't seem to stay hidrated enough in heat) and by evening Ville found us a nice cow pasture near the top of the climb to camp in. When we woke up, the sun rays were just peeking through the clouds down into the valley below and the farmer was slowly making his way down the hill with his cows from above. It was a spectacular spot, with epic views, no barking dogs OR crowing roosters! Heaven!
The next morning we completed the 11,000 ft climb, and dropped into Celedin where we got a hotel room to wash the sweat off, crash in a bed, and I even splurged and payed to get my clothes washed instead of handwashing them in the sink and hanging them all over the room as we always do. The next day was a breeze after the climbing we had been doing, and we made 65 miles fairly easy. Of course, the following day was an entire day of slowly climbing up, up, and up where we made it just before dark to Huamachuco, where we currently are. Yesterday being drunken Sunday, we had a handful of drunks yelling at us and even had a guy throw oranges at us, but for the most part, everyone has been very nice in Peru. I would say far more reserved than the countries before, but when we make the effort to say, "Buenos Dias" they respond. Kids yell "Gringo" everywhere, but we hear it is a term of endearment, so we keep telling ourselves that. We do get lots of kids waving as we pass which is awesome!
As for the dogs and roosters, they are pure evil. I wish I were exaggerating, but everyone, and I mean even in the big cities and nice hotels they have roosters. And unless we camp in a cow pasture no where near anyone, we will inevitably be woken up throughout the night by crowing roosters. And the dogs are horrific. I like dogs, even had a dog and dogs when I was growing up, but the dogs in Southern Ecuador and Peru are vicious. They are not treated super well (PETA would have a field day in Latin America), but they think their job is to protect the person who throws them scraps, and their farm, which includes the road in which we are riding on. For a month now, I carry a big stick and Ville carries rocks in his pockets to throw at them. Sadly, we lost our pepper spray on the flight to Colombia where we have now needed it most!
Before you go and judge, let me paint you a picture. Riding downhill at 30mph on a fully loaded bicycle and a pack of dogs lunge out of nowhere at your front tire, when they barely miss throwing you from the bike they run next to you (now that you slowed down to keep from falling) and snap at your leg with fangs at the ready. Rabies, anyone? Owner? They usually don't give a %uck, and if they do, they are throwing rocks at the dogs themselves. Unless, you throw a rock and make contact enough to get a YELP, they will keep charging until we are far down the road. On multiple occasions I have stopped the bike, thrown it down and took off running after the dogs I am so pissed to have them nearly throw me from my bike. Bastards.
Food and hotels are cheap. That has been very helpful with our budget, but the food has been getting very old (first world problems). Vegetable soup, rice and chicken/pork for every. Single. Meal. For months. Ville is tolerating fine, but I am beyond over it. I have lost about all the weight I can lose, my boobs are nearly gone, I have a solid 6-pack and Ville said if my butt dissappears any more he is gone too. So you ladies out there looking for a good diet plan, Ecuador and Peru are for you! After my bitchfest, we truely have been enjoying Peru. Spectacular views with some cool sights to see along the way. Tomorrow we continue south, with about a week to Huaraz, where we will take off a few days to hike. Thanks all for following along! PLEASE write us, comment, let us know your out there still reading so we know its still worth our while tracking down an internet cafe and struggling through crappy WiFi to keep these updates coming. Until then, keep on keepin' on, yo.
For those interested, here was our stops:
Jaen - Jamalca District - Pedro Ruiz Gallo - Cocachimba - Yerbabuena - Collonce - Cow Pasture - Celendin - Cajamarca - La Grama
Helped Along by Locals, Hardest "Push" Through Southern Ecuador into Peru : Cuenca, Ecuador to Jaen, Peru
Literally pushing fully loaded tour bikes up sloppy, muddy, rutted, bolder littered single lane "road" with the rain pouring and soaked through, one would have to wonder, "What in the hell are we doing here?" Guess we both are, truly, clinically insane...
Cuenca was a touring cyclists dream! Really stunning Colonial architecture, large enough to score dishes of Indian food, liters of real gelato ice-cream (oh yes we polished one off together every day we were there), pizza, but not so large we were lost in the chaos. We ripped off the Band-Aid and loaded up and headed south. Back on the road, ready for what was next around the bend. It took us about two and a half days to roller coaster the hills to Loja. The scenery was pretty distracting, even while climbing. Our first night out, we found a great spot under a giant tree a little ways from the road to camp and watched the sun set and shadows creep up the giant mountains in front of us. We scored breakfast at a gas station/restaurant in a small town the next morning and continued south stopping just before dark near La Chorera. We were struggling to find a place to camp as the hills had become so steep there was not good flat spots well hidden for a tent. As we chugged slowly up a hill, there was a family waving at us from their yard next to the road.
Ville rode over and asked if it were possible to camp in their yard and they welcomed us right away. The older couple, who's modest home it was, told us to sleep on the porch under the roof in case it rained. Sadly, we timed most of the ride in Ecuador through tons of wind and rain, so it was a challenge for our night camping as well as days of being soaked. The couple's nephew, his wife, and their two young kids were there and it was really special to be able to chat with them and get to know about their village. Then the local priest arrived and we were invited to Catholic mass down the hill, which of course we accepted. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as we sat in our pew with about 15 people from town, right next to 3 young boys trying so hard not to stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at us. They were so curious! And when I asked their names, they became so shy they cowered behind each other.
After mass, we were given fresh, hot home-made tamales and coffee and watched the firework show in celebration of Virgen De La Cisne. Getting to play with kids and be treated as friends was incredibly special and both of us were so grateful (as we repeatedly are on this journey) to meet so many kind and generous people. Even though, by both our countries standards, these people were very poor and had "nothing", the feeling of community, love, and acceptance of each other was felt very deeply while we were there. The kids were happy, kind to each other, and looked out for one another. The mothers gave them the space to play without helicoptering around their every move. The older ones took care of the younger ones. Watching people, families, and communities and questioning "normal" is one of the greatest gifts of travel.
Early morning, as we waved goodbye to the family and up into the mist, we had a long day of misty, wet riding that took us by noon dropping down into Loja. We checked into a hotel, got showered and were slightly disappointed to discover Loja was not quite what we hoped or heard about as a city. It had been compared to Cuenca, just smaller, but was not at all as cool. It did however have a newly built castle that looked eerily like the one at Disneyland on the way into the city. We spent a day and headed on our way, not having great expectations for the next stretch to the boarder of Peru. We had heard from two separate cycling friends that this next stretch would be rough and it far exceeded those terrible expectations I'm afraid.
You know it's going to be bad when the "Road Construction Update" billboard on the side of the road is super faded as if it was thought about and long forgotten. That being said, the traffic began to drop off after the Gringo-filled town of Vilcabamba (yet another "eternal spring" cities that claims everyone lives forever) and we got a cheap room in a local woman's house in the tiny town of Yangana. The next day we climbed up into the National Park Yacuri, the scenery was fantastic and we were almost all alone in it! As we reached the top of the park, birds, waterfalls, butterflies everywhere we had to stop to take in all the views. Followed by a thrilling winding downhill that took us way down, down, down a canyon as the road slowly began to disappear and magically turn into not-car-graded gravel and dirt steeps. After again struggling to find a good camp spot with such steep hills, we pulled over to chat with a family in a three house, one church town, Canada.
The father, Stalin, was kind enough to open up the church and let us sleep inside. We enjoyed chatting with his three daughters, whom all helped grow, dry, and bag coffee beans. I got in the habit long ago of carrying everything from lollipops to cookies and stickers for kids and was able to share some with the girls and they were super excited. They were very shy around us, but were so cute running and playing with each other. All I could think was what a horrible little fighting sister I was and that I had not realized at their age how lucky they were to have each other. They obviously realized it.
Feeling good, with Google telling us we only had about 22 miles to the border, we rode out early all pumped and ready for Peru! Well, well, well, that's not quite how smooth sailing it went. First the pavement disappeared after a mile. Then as we crested the hill, the downhill was the the steepest we had yet experienced on this ride, stopping multiple times to give our hands a break from breaking so hard, fearing hitting boulders that would throw us over the handlebars, the occasional passing truck kicking rocks into our faces, all to look straight across the mountain at the jagged dirt road cut straight up the side of the mountain across from us in the baking sun. And, yes, that is where we crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon, kicked down to our lowest gear, and cranked for over an hour to get up the hill. By the time we reached Zumba on the other side of the mountain, with just over 22 miles for the day, nowhere near the border, and a splitting migraine, we had to get a hotel room and re-hydrate.
(STAY TUNED FOR MORE PHOTOS, WIFI IS NOT COOPERATING)
For some terrible reason, I have taken to getting migraines a lot and especially when I'm dehydrated. After wringing out my Buff a handful of times of sweat, it was apparent we were not taking in enough water for as much as we were losing and stopping was a great plan. I crawled into a dark room and we tried to get some sleep. The next day, my migraine was still full-on, it poured rain all night making the dirt road sloppy, and we contemplated staying put another night. Wanting so much to get through this nightmare and get to the promised land, Peru (where we heard rumors of pavement and normal grades again), I downed a bunch of Aspirin, ate some crappy food, and we saddled up.
We had a rough day of two more big hill climbs and descents in the pouring rain, a handful of times we had to literally push our bikes up sloppy, muddy, bolder-littered single-track "road" with flashbacks of the fun-filled Dalton Highway in Alaska in our memories from so long ago (if you missed that, read it HERE). Brakes squealing, we came straight down the hill into the border of Peru. After an easy stamp out, bike across the river and stamp into Peru, we were thrilled to discover the rumors of pavement were true! We got a room to dry off and clean off the mud in Nambale, 4 miles from the border. The prices in Peru have been some of the best we have seen, $3 for both our lunches and $6 a night for a hotel! And the people are super friendly here as well.
We had a glorious next day climbing to San Ignacio on pavement, followed by a giant sweeping downhill into a wide open valley, bright green rice paddies with giant mountains in the backdrop. And where the road in southern Ecuador went straight over mountains, the road in Peru followed rivers and canyons allowing for pretty sweet biking grades. The scenery in Peru was a full day of fireworks and as the sun began to fade, we pulled over at a small cafe on the river to get dinner and ask the super nice couple, Jose and Melva, who owned the place if we could camp. They were kind enough to let us camp on the floor of the open air cafe (there was not a sole there) and I was able to play with their baby chicks that were running around the place. Awwwwwww cute. Melva made us a giant rice and eggs breakfast and waved us on our way. We had a a pretty chill 40 miles today, hot now that we have dropped down and are hovering around 2,000 ft., but enjoyed a stop at one of the many roadside fresh-squeezed juice stops, and arrived in the busy city of Jaen.
We checked into a nice hotel, $11. Got showers, food $3. Getting blogged up. And planning a day off tomorrow to rest, recharge, catch-up with parents, and then we do what we do, keep on keepin' on! Oh, and in case I forgot to tell, my parents, Mango and Magoo, have airplane tickets booked and are meeting us in Cusco, Peru mid-October. We are PUMPED to get some family love and to get to check out Machu Pichu with those two recently retired wackos! YAY! We recently connected with our good friend, John, who has opened the coolest and best bicycle shop in Bend, Project Bike, who will be our go-to shop for goods and is sending some much needed parts down with my parents. If there is anything anyone wants to get to us. Like, maybe a motor for my bike, a pony, or a Farrari, please get in touch with us or my parents and they can bring it when they come. All right ya'll, off to bed. Thanks for following and being a part of our journey!
Flying down a hill enjoying the bright green patchwork hills littered with black and white dairy cows and local farmers working the fields, when a streak of brown fur latched onto the back of Ville's shoe and clamped down hard. When Ville tried to shake it, it went for his heel. That's when Ville lost his temper...
Hey folks! Ville here, I'm giving K.G a break from writing so she can enjoy her ice-cream here in Cuenca, Ecuador. Like she declared in the last post, we did go hike the 2 mountains Pasochoa and Ruminahui and what a fun, exhausting time it was!
The first mountain, Pasochoa, we tackled around noon after heading east out of Quito with our good buddy Freddy. We reached the summit using a different route than most of the people climbing it use. Freddy is like 'The Godfather' in the mountains, and he knew a farmer who let us hike through his property. The farmer was excited to see Freddy again and we tipped him about the location of one his runaway cows. Both K.G and I were a bit worried about how our bodies would deal with the high elevation (4,200 meters / 13, 779 ft ) but were happy to discover that our bodies had already acclimatized after a week and a half in the high country. The entire way to the top and back Freddy explained us things about the local flora & fauna while we bombarded him with questions about his expeditions to mountains like Denali and Aconcagua. And when we arrived at the summit, the clouds parted for us to look down into the giant crater of lush green native plants.
After reaching the top and spending few minutes soaking in the views and taking pictures we headed down. Freddy had reserved us tent sites at a nice hostel in the foothills of Pasochoa Mountain. From the hostel we had great views of one of Ecuador's highest peaks Cotopaxi ( 5,897 m / 19, 347 ft ). A couple of years ago the mountain/volcano became active again so at the moment you can't climb to the top. It's not spewing lava, but it's creating some pretty dangerous gases that could kill the happy climber, similar gases can be found in one of the gas station toilets along the Pan American Highway.
The hostel price included all the meals, which were fantastic. We've been eating a lot of chicken, rice and beans lately so it was nice to get dishes like quiche and hamburgers. The next day we took off to summit Ruminahui ( 4,721m / 15,488ft ), unfortunately the first few hours of the climb we were inside the clouds and could not see more that 60 ft in front of us. After getting closer to the summit it started to clear more and now we could see more of the amazing views. Getting to the top required some scrambling and on the very top we were almost bouldering. Reaching the top felt pretty amazing, we were happy to be there with a great friend like Freddy whom we owe huge thanks to showing us around in his country and taking us to these places that without him we probably would've never seen.
Getting down the mountain proved out to be harder than getting up it, as some of you know I've had 5 surgeries done on my knees thanks to soccer/football so to say the least I was the slowest one coming down. After getting back to the hostel, Freddy and K.G headed to the natural water jacuzzi while I took a shower and studied the guidebooks for Peru.
The next day was a rude awakening getting back on the bikes and continuing South, the last few days of intense hiking had taken it's toll and we were hurting on the uphills. Luckily day by day the views were getting more and more amazing enabling us to to forget our achy legs. The towns and cities along the way were almost as beautiful as the surrounding landscape they were in. We stopped in places like Ambato and Cajabamba where we were definitely the only "Gringos" in town judging by the looks we got, the looks were not negative like a lot of the ones we got in Central America but more curious and friendly.
One of our favorite places between Quito and Cuenca was the small town of Cunchi where we got to enjoy some amazing views of the clouds below us and the sun setting behind the mountains. The downtown area was beautiful and the people extremely friendly. Al the these amazing views did not come for free, it's been constant up and down. Some hills are steeper and some more mellow graded but none of them are small, they're all 5-20 miles in length. To add to the work out, Mother Earth has given us some intense and cold headwinds to battle with complete with mist and rainshowers! Oh boy!
Now that I've told you guys all the positive things about Ecuador I have to be honest and say that the dogs have been the worst on the trip so far. There is a lot of them around, some of them are stray and some have a collar. The stray dogs don't seem to care too much about us, they might have gotten beaten up too many times that they seem pretty timid, or they are too busy scrounging for food to waste energy on us. The worst ones we have problems with are the ones from people's yards, a lot of the times they chase us and try to bite our tires or even worse, they jump in front of us when we are bombing 40 miles per hour downhill. Most of them are not small ones either since they are used as guard dogs, they don't look like they ever get petted or loved a lot, just thrown in the yard to guard the place. Man's best friend here is something else, not the cute mutt in the yard.
Yesterday we passed a house while slugging slowly uphill and a dog took off after us, in a few seconds it was biting the heel of my shoe and it had a pretty good hold of it. I freaked out because if it would've gotten hold of my Achilles heel with it's razor sharp rabies infested teeth that would've been the end of the trip for me. I kicked the dog the best I could once it lost it's hold but that only got him more angry. I stopped the bike and picked up a rock the size of my fist, as soon as I did this the dog started running back to the yard. I ran after it with fury, once I got inside the yard there was a small girl looking at me with eyes wide open and full of fear. I tried to explain to the girl that the dog attacked me and now it was time for him to learn a lesson about biting passing cyclists. The girl ran inside the house and left me standing in the yard feeling bad about it. The dog was standing in the doorway and I swear it was giving me the middle finger.
The rest of the day I carried 2-3 rocks at hand all the time, I'm planning to make a stick out of some limber sapling so I'm ready the next time when overly aggressive Lassie wants to chew my leg. We've seen all kinds of protective gear against the dogs among the cyclist that we've met, anything from pepper spray to a full size whip ( or maybe that was for the bedroom?)
We made it to Cuenca yesterday and we are planning to take couple of days off here. It seems so far like a really cool city, we've heard that there's a lot of retired Canadians and US citizens living here. Like Cuernavaca in Mexico and Medellin in Colombia, Cuenca is also called the city of eternal spring due to it's temperate climate. We're staying with a warmshowers host Jacobo who is originally from Venezuela, his place is on the outskirts of the city but there's an awesome bus system here so right now we're sitting in a cafe sipping coffee and telling stories to you fine folks. We're planning to continue south to Loja on Sunday and after Loja we're heading to the border of Peru. Right now our bodies are aching from all the climbing we did on and off the bikes here in Ecuador so we'll be taking it easy here in the eternal spring. Until next time, as Ron Burgundy says it " You stay classy San Diego!"
Ville couldn't refuse the opportunity to pluck one of the giant, wiggling, 4-inch-long live larvae from the bowl of squirming critters and stick it in his mouth, biting off the head, chewing the meat and swallowing it down alive...
Pasto, Colombia was a great stop for a couple days rest. We stayed at the Koala Hotel in downtown and although on the high end of our budget, the couple that own and run the place are incredibly kind and made some tasty pancakes complete with diced fruit to give us some extra juice to continue the climb south. We also met a super nice French couple, Leo and Virginie, whom we ended up riding on and off with on the next stretch to Quito, Ecuador.
Riding out of Pasto was a short long climb, followed by a gigantic easy, "whatcycling dreams are made of", downhill for 15 miles! Where Pasto was rainy, cold and chilly, we dropped all the way down to sunshine and some warm weather again. The road then climbed ever so slowly up along a meandering river in a deep gorge and we took in some stunning scenery the entire day to Ipiales. Ipiales was another crappy border town with not much to see but a place to sleep. We and the Frenchies woke up early and were at the border by 6:30 am only to find that the systems were down and with a gigantic line already waiting to get in or out of Colombia. For those not following the news, Venezuela is in a pretty chaotic state right now and two days prior to our arrival at the border, Colombia granted temporary visas to Venezuelans, making for a complete chaos at Immigration and a complete shut-down of the systems. Really sad and sorry for all the struggles the Venezuelan people are going through and have been struggling through! To lose everything you have worked so hard for in your life and to have your money so devalued you can't even buy food, is a very sad place to be for so many of these people.
After 5 hours of waiting in an ever increasingly agitated line, ONE AGENT WORKING even though there were 7 booths (inefficiency at it's finest), locked gates to keep the hoards of people outside until they could be filtered into the line, we made it to the front of the line and got stamped out of Colombia. Yipee! And biked about 100 yards to the Ecuadorian Immigration were we were stamped into Ecuador in about 2 minutes. Loving Ecuador already. From the border we could already tell the roads were amazing, multiple lanes, recently paved, and decent biking grades. We stopped at the first overpriced restaurant we could find to get lunch together and then pushed on up the hill passing rolling hills of green checkerboard pastures littered with colorful cows. It was beautiful, very similar to the countryside in France the Frenchies said.
First night in Ecuador we spent in San Gabriel, a decent sized little town high in the mountains with a cute central square, beautiful old buildings and a long walking street market. With the change in elevation (hovering around 9,000 ft/ 2,750 meters roughly), we have been biking in pants, layers and rain jackets for the mist, but very much enjoying the biking in cooler temps. Nights drop in temps enough to get to sport our new puffy jackets (we picked up warmer puffies in Bend to tackle the Andies). From San Gabriel we continued southwest through some beautiful misty countryside and even had the return of pretty extreme winds (we haven't had wind like this since Baja!). As Ibarra came into view, we were confused but excited that the elevation chart must have been wrong because we were almost in town and had a decent day of riding, until the road took a sharp left turn into a switchback and we began to climb. Luckily, the climbs in Ecuador have been really easy grades with switchbacks so far and we were in Ibarra earlier than planned. Debating to push on, we decided to get a room and have time to put our feet up and relax a bit before pushing on.
From Ibarra we had a very scenic and easy day of oscillating hills where we came around a turn to see Cayambe's snow-capped Mountain reaching into the clear blue skies. We find ourselves stopping constantly to get pictures or video of the scenery here in Ecuador it's so beautiful. In the early afternoon we passed Otavalo, a small town in the Andean highlands surrounded by volcanoes and where traditionally clad indigenous twonspeople sell colorful textiles and handicrafts. We stopped and sat to have some coffee while the world walked by, but are always so sad to not have the room/space to buy anything to pack along. Somehow , with the roads easy riding and the climbs easier to tackle than Colombian roads, we managed to get all the way to Guayllabamba, one long climb (and only 15 miles) away from Quito.
With an early start, we pushed the long, slow climb to Quito and met our good friend Freddy, whom we met just before beginning this bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, in Myanmar while traveling. What a great feeling to see an old friend after so long on the road! Freddy took us to his beautiful home right in the heart of the city and convinced us to drop our stuff and head with him on an adventure. Freddy is one of the oldest and most fantastic trekking/mountaineering guides from Quito (http://sierranevada.ec/en/home), and who has traveled all over the country and world climbing mountains. Freddy had to drive over 5 hours to the Amazon to pick up some students and bring them back to the city, but had a great plan for us to drive up into the mountains to Papallacta where there was hot springs to soak and stay the night in a hotel, then continue to Puerto Misahualli the next morning to pick up the students in the Amazon and drive back to the city together. And who is not more down for a fun adventure than these two wackos?!
First, we headed out of the city to drop down an insanely steep road into a ravine, cross a river and then climb all the way up to 12,000 ft over the Andean Pass and then dropped down to a beautiful lake where we found a hotel with thermal pools in back all to ourselves to relax and soak our soar muscles. The next morning, surrounded by the Andes, we could see Cotopaxi covered in pure white snow towering high above us. Back in the car, we dropped far down along the river and eventually turned up another highway climbing up and winding into the cloud forest. Having loads of rain, many places in the road had been previously washed away or were still scattered with debris. Lucky for us, Freddy is a sure-footed driver and we dropped back down as the heat and humidity of the Amazon Jungle engulfed us.
In Puerto Misahualli, we stopped for a quick lunch and to stretch our legs, where one of the local ladies was selling giant LIVE larvae to eat. Apparently a local delicacy, Ville couldn't refuse to try something that crazy, and picked one out of the bowl of squirming, wiggling 4 inch long critters and popped it into his mouth! I was so disgusted by them, I try a lot of things, but there was no way I was going to eat one of those! I took the video instead. We managed to find the two students, pack up their things, and back up the way we came we headed, arriving back in Quito around 7 pm for a walk around the hood, a bite to eat, and crash.
While soaking in the hot springs, Freddy had mentioned he really wanted to get to go do some hiking with us while we are here, and so this morning we laid out some plans. We are planning to leave tomorrow morning up to the El Boliche National Recreation Area to hike and summit Pasochoa Mountain (4,200 meters/ 13,779 ft.) and then camp at the base of Cotopaxi, summitting Ruminahui Mountain (4,721 meters/ 15,488 ft) the next day. From there we will get ourselves back to the Panamerican Highway and continue south towards Cuenca, which will be our next planned stop. Freddy has to come back to Quito for an appointment, but is hoping to meet us on the road with his bike to bike a few days with us. Very excited to have such a fantastic friend in Ecuador wanting to show us his beautiful country! If you have any interest in outdoor adventures in Ecuador or beyond, we very highly recommend Freddy at Sierra Nevada Expeditions (his website). Until next time ya'll keep on keepin' on...
Here is is for your viewing entertainment. Part 1 of our Alaska to Argentina Bike Journey. This begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends at our halfway(ish) of Costa Rica. Please comment, email us, share us, let us know what you think! We hope to get feedback for Part 2...(click link below or copy and paste into browser)
I was cycling along, minding my own business, thrilled to be heading out of Medellin on a Sunday where the city closed down two lanes of an entire highway for over 20 miles for cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, etc. when all of a sudden, I see out of the corner of my eye at the last second something large fly straight at me and landed smack down on my tongue. I spastic-ally grabbed at it and realized it was a giant beetle with hooks on its feet clinging to my tongue and by the time I ripped it off and threw it aside, my tongue had been coated with some sticky, foul tasting gunk and my tongue slowly began to numb. Oh crap.
We stayed only a couple days to rest in Medellin, spending an entire day on the blog and then a day sightseeing at the Botero Museum, downtown and the trendy Bolivariana area for beers at a newly opened micro brewery (felt like being at home). Getting the chance to go to see some of these art museums in the home countries of these artists like Botero here in Colombia and Freda Kahlo in Mexico has been a very special experience for us. It just isn't the same to only see art in textbooks at school. Heading out of Medellin on a Sunday, we had a great time with thousands of other cyclists riding on a two-lane highway closed on Sundays only to cyclists for almost the entire length of the city. Apparently I ride with my mouth gaping wide open, because a giant beetle flew straight onto my tongue and left a foul tasting stuff that numbed my tongue. Luckily it wore off after a few hours, and I was probably just drooling on myself and talking with a speech impediment for a while. Big huge thanks to Pedro, Diana, Daniel, and Manuel Gomez (our Warmshowers hosts) for having us and showing us around your great town!
The climb out of Medellin was a slow easy climb of only 3,810 ft (an easy climb for Colombian standards) and when we reached the summit, we rolled in front of a restaurant to get a snack and were given a standing ovation by a few cycling groups out for their Sunday ride. It was amazing! And they all wanted to get pics on our bikes, try their hand at lifting the bikes (Ville's bike is so heavy most people can't lift it), and the staff threw down two giant plates of food for us. Only when we went to pay did we realize one of the cycling groups had already paid for our meals and left. Colombians! What a great bunch! Thank you so much Bicicletas Ramon Hoyos & Servibike!!
We knew we had a thrilling decent in front of us, but as a giant storm approached, we opted to get a room in Santa Barbara for the night and watched as an insane rain/thunderstorm blew through and washed rivers down the streets. Our room even had a giant naked pic of Kim Kardashian over our bed, what a treat. In the morning we had a nice breakfast, (in Colombia it has been usually eggs, rice, beans, plantains, and meat with a steaming cup of hot cocoa or coffee) and had a wild decent all the way down to a giant river where the road then slowly climbed along the river and thick, green hills and non-stop road construction. The plans for road widening were already underway, but the recent storm had also brought a bunch of debris into the road and we had to stop about every mile the entire day to wait to pass large sections of road construction. Although, we had lots of road workers to chat with, and were given some water by one guy.
We made it as far as El Rodeo for the night, got a cheap $6 room in a trucker motel on the river, and headed out early with the plan to make it to Chinchina where we would stay at a Warmshowers apartment. The day was yet another insane day of climbing back into the clouds, and by the time we cranked uphill into town, it was pouring rain and we were both beat. The climbs in Colombia have been steep and long, and it has not helped that since my sickness in Bend and taking time off, we have felt in a rush to get miles in to be able to finish in Argentina in decent weather so we have been pushing hard to crank out miles. We met a sweet group of boys on the street corner when asking for directions and Ville said three of them were trying to distract him while the one boy was hitting on me (they were like 10 years old mind you). Yep, I still got it!
We decided on a day off in Chinchina only for a day to rest the legs and do the much needed research for our travel route through Peru (mountains vs coast), and when leaving the coffee shop, Stephan, the owner, insisted we pick a meal off his menu he wanted to make us for dinner for free. Man, the love we have received here in Colombia is incredibly humbling. After a day of rest and trying to pick back up our spirits, we had a pretty beautiful day of riding the "road of coffee" surrounded by coffee plantations and made it all the way into Contente (a fork in the road with a restaurant and sex motel) where we got a room for the night, complete with mirrors on all the walls and even murals of photographers aiming their lenses at us like celebrities. "Only the best for my wife," Ville likes to remind me every time we get these super classy joints. Lucky me.
The next day's stretch was a very pleasant downhill through a very plush neighborhood into the wide open fields of sugar plantains stretching for as far as the eye could see. We were passed many times a day by giant semi trucks pulling 5+ trailers loaded full of sugar cane. The drivers here in Colombia have been incredibly nice for the most part and always smiling or waving so at least if the steep climbs get you down, the people bring you up. But on the flats, we rolled through some easy miles and made it early to our Warmshowers host, Jonathan's, home just south of Buga. A Colombian who has done a decent amount of bike touring in South America, he was a great resource for info and had a beautiful home he said they rent for $500 a year! WHAT?!?! In Bend, you might be able to rent a cardboard box under the Colombia Street Bridge for $500 a month.
At a lunch stop the previous day we had met a super nice couple, Jorge and Laura, who were motorcycle touring and headed home to Cali and invited us to stay if we wanted to make the trip into the city, but hearing the horror stories of bad traffic, we opted to bypass the city and continued south to Santander de Quilichao on flat open stretches of road through "bad neighborhoods" which we just made the assumption meant that they were towns made up of lots of black people so they were bad. So this happens not just in America, but Colombia too huh? All we encountered were tons of smiles from people who obviously have less than most. We also had a nice guy, Juan Carlos, pull over and give us water, chat a bit about the ride, and pull over a second time to give us bananas and mandarins. Colombians.
In Santander de Quilichao we had a delicious dinner of chicken soup, complete with chicken feet, neck, liver and heart, followed by fried half a chicken and rice. If I weren't on a bike trip biking all day, I would be the size of a bean bag chair from all the crazy food we eat. The next day we had a long day, lots of scenery but more climbing out of the flat land and into the hills to reach Popayan very late in the day, exhausted, yet again. Even though it was again a Sunday, the traffic became intense as we neared town and knowing that Sunday is a HUGE drinking day in all Latin American countries, it is unnerving to be on the road late. Just before town we passed a huge fairground where it must have been a motocross convention or gathering of some kind with lots of crowds and then just past it, as the traffic became insane, we rolled past a huge car accident where a car had turned in front of a motorcyclist and giant crowd of people were gathered to help. The guy appeared to hopefully be ok, and having a crowd already there to help, we passed and continued to town. We found a cheap hotel right off the highway and crashed for the night.
With another early start, (we sadly didn't realize Popayan was a city worth seeing until later down the road) we made headway south with an elevation chart for the day that was so far off base it was hysterical. We imagined a day of oscillating hills that involved a large downhill and flats but instead we found ourselves climbing straight up for 5 miles, white knuckled descent for 5 miles, lowest gear climb for 5 and found the first hotel in El Bordo after a 60 mile day, to crash. Although challenging terrain, it makes for some spectacular scenery, slow moving sparse amounts of traffic, friendly small villages, and rarely seeing tourists. While passing through a tiny town at the top of a pass, we passed a small group of kids on their way to school who decided to run with us for about a mile and asked a million questions about where we were going, our names, where we were from, our bikes, they were such kind-heart-ed curious kids it was heart warming. At the bottom of one hill we stopped to try an "Energy Juice" from these kind local ladies complete with fresh squeezed oranges, quail eggs, and mystery fuel. They even gave us a bunch of oranges to carry up the climb.
From El Bordo, after Ville had to change a flat tire, we were surprised to meet another cycle-touring group from France, 3 adults and 2 kids, who were biking some of Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. We chatted a bit in the morning and headed down the road where we had a really pleasant long, winding descent into another "dangerous area" of, again, towns of black people who were unbelievably kind, chatty, waving and cheering us on as we passed. The day was amazing, slowly rolling hills ever dropping, dropping, dropping until we found ourselves in desert surrounded by flowering cactus and temps reaching over 110 degrees by noon! And then we hit more tire troubles with Ville's front tire.
After sitting on the side of the road, twice, in the baking sun trying to dig shards of metal from the tire, Ville was able to pump it and hobble into Cumbitara where there was a tire shop where we ate lunch and worked on the tire for a couple hours in the heat before Ville finally found a giant metal shard lodged inside the tire. For those who haven't toured, or not long enough to wear down some tires, these metal shards are a nightmare. They are from old car and semi truck tires exploded on the road and the interior radial of the tire is left in tiny (the size of a needle about 1/4" in length) fragments undetected by the cyclists eye on the road. They lodge into our tires, put tiny holes in our tubes, and they can only be fixed with time sitting on the side of the road, usually with no shoulder and speeding traffic whizzing by, with pliers digging out these lovely metal pieces and patching the tube. A total joy.
We powered up past Cumbitara a ways, found a room for the night in a room the temp of your oven, and had an early start to an insanely long climb up, down, and up, up, up to Pasto where we reached it in the rain and checked into Koala Inn, highly recommended by other cyclists. Absolutely stunning views on the way up to Pasto and even past a town, Chachagui, with tons of giant homes with pools and gated communities. We are taking a couple days to rest, blog-up, change cassettes and chains (so it's been 5,000 miles since the last change) before we have about a 5-day climb over the border of Colombia into Ecuador where our next stop is Quito and visiting a friend, Freddy, whom we met while backpacking in Myanmar. Although very challenging for the mind and spirit, Colombia has been a great place to bike because of the diverse scenery and unbelievable outpouring of generosity of the Colombian people. Will be sad to leave, but excited to begin yet another country. Until next time ya'll, keep on keepin' on...
As the Tour de France rages on in Europe, and Rigoberto Uran from Columbia won in Stage 9, Chambéry, after a fierce battle in three Hors-Category climbs, these two sweaty cyclists climbed up and out of the heat 7,723 ft in one grueling day of 45 miles to realize just why the Colombians are so damn good at climbing hills on bikes.
As Ville and I exited the plane on our layover in Bogota, Colombia, we were thrilled with the reprieve of chilled refreshing air at 8,675 ft. and excited to be greeted by smiling, friendly, fashionable Colombians and even t-shirts with bicycles on them in gift shops. Rumors must be true, we were already liking Colombia and were still in the airport. But we caught another plane to Cartagena on the northern coast of Colombia because we wanted to bike as much of north to south of the Americas as possible, and once we stepped out of the plane in Cartagena we were depressed when we were swallowed by the heat once again.
We tooled the bikes back together in the baggage claim of the airport, and after frantically patching 2 of my tires in the airport, trying to get to our hotel before dark, we made it to the gate of the place being rushed inside by the caretakers telling us we shouldn't be in the neighborhood after dark. That's promising. The next day we ventured to the Old Town area of Cartagena (having sailed here in 2010, we had seen some of the city then) and it was so unbelievably hot we had to hunker down in a coffee shop with A/C to cool down. We did wander the streets to see the various murals painted on buildings and in ally-ways and enjoy the endearing Colonial architecture before making it back to our "hood" to get out of the sun.
The next morning, we were back to an early 5 am start out of town, and my rear tire had another flat before we got started and another flat a mile down the road. Struggling to patch a tire as the sweat is pouring into your eyes and some street kid is trying to riffle through Ville's frame bag almost put us both over the edge. Luckily, after pulling out at least 8 metal shards from my rear tire, it held until we got to the outskirts of town and a bike shop to buy more tubes and for Ville to get a new chain. The ride for the next four days was sweltering, fairly flat riding (aside from opting for a hilly inland route because it was more scenic and beautiful) and had a total of 7 flat tires to patch, a new record! Beginning to think that Avianca Airlines also bent my rear rim, we put on my new rear tire and that seemed to do the trick. Goodbye old Schwalbe tire, thanks for the miles.
Luckily, Colombia is beautiful, the people are out-of-this-world friendly and the food is giant heaping cyclist portions of soup, followed by a giant main dish of rice, beans, eggs, fried banana, sometimes french fries and a slab of beef. I imagine being a vegetarian here would be a bit challenging, but there are worse places to be vegetarian or vegan for sure. And after riding into Sincelejo, we passed heaps of cyclists out for their weekend ride and stopped at a cafe for cyclists to eat our breakfast and enjoy fitting in for a change. The wide array of wildlife and animals we have passed so far has been crazy; a giant dead python and alligator on the road, a giant pig jumped out of the bushes and almost ran smack into us, bazillions of different kinds of spiders, armadillos, sloth signs (didn't get to see any they were moving too fast), Macaws, numerous bright colored birds, water buffalo down in the marsh area close to the coast and even an iridescent giant blue butterfly that stopped both of us in our tracks it was so psychedelic.
The roads so far have been a mixed bag, no bike lane to giant bike paths through towns, but since there is an array of cyclists, motorbikes, cars, box trucks and semis, they all seem to cohesively work together on the road and no one seems in too much of a hurry. We have had numerous motorcyclists pull up alongside us and chat about where we are going, and even the police have checked in on us to make sure we were doing o.k. There has been the ever hair raising passing of oncoming traffic here that makes me catch my breathe as we are hurtling down-hill at a car coming full speed at us in the oncoming lane to miss us by a foot or so and wave with a thumbs-up. Oh Colombians, you silly bunch.
By day five out of Cartagena, we met up with the giant Cauce River and followed it's meandering uphill flow along small houses and businesses that were strung out along the roadside and built up into the hilly, thick vegetation along the banks. We passed numerous waterfalls and pipes shooting water into the air and stopped a handful of times to cool off in the refreshing spray. As we watched a big wooden boat one morning eating breakfast carry 20-30 people across the river, one of the local dudes told us they were heading to work up the hill on the coca farms. Now we know where to score the good drugs. Ironically, Ville had thrown his back out that morning trying to carry his heavy bike down the stairs from the Hotel and was doped up on heavy painkillers, so when we saw the butterfly cross our path an hour later, he thought he was hallucinating. Good times.
On our sixth day south, we had the climb of all climbs, 7,723 feet of elevation gain in 45 miles. When we started out the day, we were both very optimistic that we would get through it no problem and hopefully by mid-afternoon. Oh how wrong we were. We started out at 5:30 a.m. and did not get to Yarumal, a mile after reaching the summit until 5:30 p.m. and in a downpour of cold rain. And the climb had numerous stretches of lowest gear stand-out-of-seat climbing sections where even the truckers gave us thumbs up and cheered. Not planning for it to be so brutal, we had not taken snacks (Snickers bars melted and were a no-go through all of Central America and so far Colombia) and we ate like champs at a restaurant in Yarumel and passed out before our heads hit the pillow all swaddled in blankets (we had actually left out hotel with air-con that morning and finished our day freezing under loads of wool blankets).
The next morning we slept in a bit to rest and had a rough day of oscillating hills, although extremely beautiful littered with farms and dairy cows, our legs were spent from the previous day and by the time we got to our Warmshowers host's house in Rio Grande only 46 miles for the day, we were both spent. Dr. Lenin and his friend Willie were amazing! Dr. Lenin's home sat on a hillside with all kinds of animals roaming the gardens and every flower you can imagine hanging from baskets or flowing from pots around the house. They insisted we stay many days to relax, but we were on a mission to get to Medellin (in hindsight we would have stayed longer if we hadn't planned and written a Warmshower host in Medellin who was expecting us). There was a small climb in the morning and then the descent-of-all-descents to reap the rewards of all our hard work. It was a wild ride down! (check out the video below)
After the rush of an insane downhill, flying by semis on the left and getting the occasional bug pelting, the road connected with a busy highway that led us first through Bello and then in through the giant metropolis of Medellin. The highway was hair-raising and we both were stressed to the max when the shoulder disappeared and the traffic was zooming inches from us at high speeds. We rode by a guy in a wheelchair on that same insane thoroughfare and when we stopped and he asked for a ride home, Ville had him grab onto the back of his bike and the guy directed traffic around them as we chugged up the hill. He stayed with us a while and then thanked Ville as he let go and headed up a side road home. (Check out the video below)
We made it close to our Warmshowers host's home and had an ice cream to celebrate getting to Medellin and await our host. Unfortunately we had mistakenly wrote the wrong date on our email and they expected us a week later, but welcomed us in and were the kindest family of fellow travelers. Manuel, the younger son, welcomed us in and even made us dinner before his older brother Daniel, mom Diana and father Pedro came home. You guys are amazing and thanks a million for your hospitality! After being so good at filtering water, we somehow managed to both get stomach sick, and I even have a rash to go along with it, but are making the best of fixing bikes and catching up on this blog while resting. With a quick recovery (fingers crossed), our next stop will be Cali in about 5 days or so and thanks so much everyone for following our journey, commenting, writing us, supporting us, loving us, and helping to make this wild bike adventure happen. Until next time, keep on keepin' on!
In hindsight, it just might have been easier to illegally push bikes with a machete and mandatory guide to get through the mountainous and dangerous Darien Gap, try and illegally border cross with no border crossing into Columbia dodging military and police and continue until we somehow connected with a road on the Columbian side, instead of boxing bikes and flying north east to Cartagena, Columbia.
Ville and my handful of rest days in Santiago, Panama spent with old friend from Bend, Devin, and new friends, Kacie, Maria, and Yoxara, were awesome. Devin works in Panama for an NGO, Bridges to Prosperity (check out the article I wrote about his work HERE) and we were able to head out on the job with him to check out the great work he and his crew are doing building footbridges for communities cut off from the outside world when rivers flood. One of the nights we were there, Maria and Yoxara, both from Venezuela, cooked us all some Venezuelan food, arepas, and even got us cupcakes to celebrate our One Year on the Bike Ride! Thanks so much all of you for a great time.
When it was time to keep on, we rode an easy 35 mile day to stay in Aguadulce with a Peace Corp. girl, Vanessa. We were able to meet a fellow teaching friend of Vanessa's as well as a couple students and appreciated very much a shower and to crash inside and away from mosquitoes. Thanks again Vanessa for hosting us, come see us in Oregon. The following day we had no plan as to how far we would make it, but had a decently flat ride to San Carlos, where the skies opened up and it began pouring like it had never poured before and we made it into town and found a Bomberos (Fire Station) that allowed us to pitch our tent under cover for the night. Completely drenched, we rung out our clothes and quietly celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary together reflecting on what a wild ride this last four years of marriage has been like!! Thanks for keeping things interesting Ville. :)
The next morning, the rains had subsided, and when we asked for a good place to get breakfast we were directed to a hamburger and hot dog stand at the corner. Not quite what we were looking for for breakfast, so we decided to push on and found a bakery complete with tons of fried food and white bread. Needing to get on the road, we downed a handful of croissants and fried meat pockets and headed down the road. As we started into our big climb for the day, the fried food was wreaking havoc with our stomachs and we rolled into La Chorrera packed with afternoon traffic and made our way out to David, another Peace Corp. volunteer's house. David got a bit held up in traffic himself and so we sat on, what we thought was David's porch, for 5 hours waiting for him and watched a giant lightning storm pass overhead. Luckily when David made it home, we were on the right porch and appreciated very much another shower and bed to crash in. Thanks David for the hospitality.
Having only 25ish miles into Panama City, we started early and hit an unbelievable amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic almost the entire way into the city. And it was even Saturday! As we crossed the infamous Bridge of the Americas, the bridge over the Panama Canal, Ville and I were yelling and cheering the entire way across we were so thrilled to be at this milestone, heading into Panama City and the end of North and Central America! We did it! And timing was perfect with it being Saturday we ran into the Saturday Cycling Group who close off a lane of a major road on the way into the city. Now we felt like royalty cruising on into the city skyline like bad asses on heavy steeds. We were pumped to be able to ride the Cinta Costera, walking/biking trail along the water front. Until it ended, and we were forced into the worst city riding we have been in yet trying to get to a bike shop, Latin Bikes. After confirming they had set aside 2 bike boxes, we had to backtrack almost 4 miles back to our super classy Hotel Latino.
We had stayed at Hotel Latino seven years prior after crewing on sailboats and remembered it being decent with a pool. Apparently the years had been unkind to Hotel Latino, and although it still had the pool, the neighborhood was a bit rough around the edges and the patrons were young partiers in the city for the weekend or ladies of the night with their "friends". We did get the chance to meet up with a Couchsurfing dude, Leonardo, who treated us to tasty pints at Buenas Pintas and took us to a place with traditional Panamanian food for dinner. In the morning, we met up again for breakfast for some more fried street food where we realized that fried everything (not exaggerating, EVERYTHING) is how the Panamanians do food. After, we checked out some of the city, rode the single line metro, and met up with an old friend, Juan Diego, whom we had met seven years prior in the San Blas Islands and had spent time with him and has family in Panama City. Juan Diego was now grown up, married and with his wife, Claudia, and little girl, Alejandra.
They picked us up and drove us around the islands outside the city and into the Old Town part of the city with cobble stone streets and beautiful architecture. A stark contrast to the giant skyscrapers, banks, and malls of the rest of the city. After, we ate at Crepes and Waffles (YUM) and Juan Diego helped us out big time working through our issue of how to get a cab big enough the next day to get our giant bike boxes and ourselves out to the airport. He was kind enough to offer to pick us up the next day from the bike shop after we would box the bikes there. So most of the entire next day was spent in the front of Latin Bikes (they had no room inside there shop with air conditioning), breaking down bikes and packing them into 2 bike boxes. Having had to do this for our flight to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at the start of the ride, we had a better idea what we had to do, but these boxes were much smaller and we had to take apart a lot more of the bikes than before and had far less packing material this time. Juan Diego, as promised, picked us up even at rush hour and we drove out to the airport around 6 pm to wait out our flight for 5 am the next day. Thanks a million Juan Diego for saving our butts with the ride and taking the time to see us with your family!
We met a super nice American couple we chatted with for a while in the airport before making a fort out of our boxes and gear under a stairwell and tried to catch some zzzz's. When we went to check our bikes in for the flight, we were informed that even though Ville had done a bunch of research into an airline that allowed our bike boxes for free up to the certain weight we so carefully packed them to, they discontinued that sweet idea in April and now charged $107 USDollars EACH to get our bikes on the plane. DAMN YOU AVIANCA AIRLINES! We reminded ourselves of all the great things that always come our way, and sometimes you just can't win it all.
First flight got us to Bogota, Columbia where we had an 8 hour layover and plenty of time to sleep on chairs, the floor, people watch and stuff ourselves with tasty Columbian coffee and cheap desserts. Bogota Airport was far classier than Panama, and we both reflected on how ecstatic we were to be finally done with hot and rainy Central America and our least favorite country, Panama. Aside from our awesome American, Brazilian, Colombian, Venezuelan and Leonardo the one great Panamanian friend, Panama was deforested, roads were shit, traffic was horrible, most people were unfriendly, food was our least favorite (fried) and Panama City was the most dangerous, deadly city we had to ride through. Colombian people were smiling, talkative, kind, the food was tasty, shops had t-shirts with BICYCLES on them, and this was all just in the airport! Man were we glad to be in Columbia.
Our last flight was delayed, but we made it before dark and after some eyelash batting and compliment throwing, the security guard lady let us assemble the bikes in the corner of the air-conditioned baggage claim. The assembly went fairly quickly, but we discovered a fair amount of bangs and bruises from the stellar crew at Avianca Airlines and were really stressing when we had my rear tire deflate twice as we were frantically trying to get to our hotel by dark. We rolled into a totally sketchy neighborhood, where a really kind man informed us we should NOT be here at dark and helped us find our hotel. The hotel turned out to be very mediocre, but was a roof over our head with a handful of locked gates and doors, and a bed to sleep. Anxious to get out and see the sights tomorrow (still hoping to find a new water bladder hose, guess they aren't as easy to find as we thought and being that I use it all day every day, I need one) and then head out south and back on the road the day after. Thanks all for reading, Happy 4th of July and until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
K.G. & Ville
In Huanaco, Peru. Battered, but still going south.
“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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