Into Peru: Bring on the Big Stuff

Prior to setting off from the UK, during the dreaming phase of the trip, it was Peru, more than any other country, that most occupied my wandering thoughts. Its snowy mountain peaks formed the backdrop to my virtual 80’s type montages, generally featuring myself triumphantly cresting a lofty Andean pass, whilst pulling a wheelie and punching the air like a hero (all to a soundtrack of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ or something equally fitting). My performance on my first Peruvian mountain pass wasn’t quite montage material as I’ll go on to explain, but I’m nevertheless pretty stoked to finally be here and heading in the direction of the big stuff…

Emerging from the muddy tracks of the Ecuadorian jungle, the smooth rolling tarmac that greeted us across the border was a welcome sensation and just what we needed given the tight timeframe for our next leg. The plan was to make it to the town of Cajamarca in under a week so that I could meet up with a couple of friends who were popping out on holiday, a bit of a mission given our intended circuitous route through the Northern Highlands. Long days were called for, kicking off with a 150km’er, and given that we’d already been on the go a while in Ecuador, suppressing fatigue became ever more challenging. Waking up feeling drained, each as reluctant as the other to respond to the alarm clock, bodies screaming for a chance to recover. Copious amounts of coffee hardly help, but when finally on the bikes the brain switches gear, the legs fire up and it’s back to the job at hand. Fatigue pushed out for now, only to creep back in when the mind lets its guard down in those final kilometres, when it becomes clear that we’re actually going make it.

Here’s a quick pictorial summary of how it all unfolded:

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They may have tarmac, but rural Peru felt decidedly more ‘rustic’. A woman walks her turkey down the middle of the road, shops are buried inside people’s houses with no signage to give clue as to their existence and buildings sport fantastic adobe walls….

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More often than not splashed in political imagery in advance of the upcoming elections. I’ve yet to figure out what the crossed out trees signify, “screw the trees, let’s mine!” perhaps?

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The American in his natural habitat. Frankly I’m amazed he could be bothered to join me on this frantic leg, but I’m glad he did. It must be all the cups of tea I constantly ply him with…

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The first two days were spent following lowland valleys, pouring with sweat and wishing we were back at altitude. Back in paddy field territory…

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And the land of plentiful coconuts.

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Boil in a bag meal? Much to our delight things are even cheaper than in Ecuador, with a chicken lunch, complete with soup and juice, setting you back less than $2.

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More political slogans in Bellavista, the village we took a dirt road diversion to reach so that we could take a boat across a river and cut off a sizeable corner.

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Inca Kola – a toxic yellow sugar hit for weary cyclists. Note slightly swollen right eye from the previous days ‘bee trapped in sunglasses’ episode.

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Tatty shoes and tired legs.

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Our first “rest day” in 8 days came in the form of a strenuous 18km hike up to the ruins of the pre-Inca fortress at Kuelap.

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Billed as the most impressive pre-Inca ruin in Peru (although I don’t think the competition is particularly stiff) it was certainly worth slog up…

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If only for the incredible views back down into the valley

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Something the resident alpacas also seemed to appreciate

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We had the place to ourselves. Machu Picchu this is not.

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Back on the road the following day we passed this beast of a bike. Possibly one for the heavily laden tourers…

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After lunch in the village of Leymebamba it was onwards and upwards to the mighty Calla Calla pass at 3600m

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A traffic free ribbon of tarmac led us up and up towards a threatening sky above. Two hours into the climb though and I suddenly didn’t feel so good. It soon became uncomfortably clear I was being ravaged by some gastro terror and the last hours climbing was a struggle to say the least.

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Shivering and feeling truly awful I dragged myself over the top of the pass, momentarily awe-struck by the incredible view that had opened up before us, before layering up for the 60km descent (yep 60km).

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We called it a day upon reaching the first small village after 20km of pretty epic descending. The weather was closing in and I just wanted to collapse. Fortunately a family offered us a room for the night, a small, lightless dungeon of a place, but at least it got us out of the howling wind. The ensuing night has to rank as one of the low points of the trip, vomiting all over your sleeping bag tends to do that. Certainly not a montage moment.

Needless to say, after this saga the prospect of dropping down to 850m only to climb back up to 3750m wasn’t hugely appealing. And given the time constraints we decided enough was enough and to try our luck with the daily bus that rumbles along this route. Bikes strapped to the roof we were soon creeping down the descent and bound for Cajamarca, effectively cutting out two days riding. It was a shame to miss out on the remainder of this insane descent, especially when we could have covered it significantly faster than the bus, but it was the right call, I was a zombie. Sam, feeling the cumulative battering of the past few days hard riding, didn’t need much convincing either.

After a couple of days in Cajamarca, watching other people suffer on bikes in the Vuelta a Espana, I’m fortunately now back in the land of the living and ready to bus it down to Lima to meet my friends for a couple of days. A trip where, at 32 hours, the total time spent on a bus may in fact surpass the time I’m actually there. After a year or so of solitudal wanderings though, the lengths I’ll happily go to to have a drink with someone are somewhat more extreme than they used to be…

2 responses to “Into Peru: Bring on the Big Stuff

  1. Reblogged this on Chirimoya Tours Peru Reiseveranstalter and commented:
    Into Peru: Bring on the Big Stuff September 3, 2014
    · by theridesouth · in Peru. ·
    “Prior to setting off from the UK, during the dreaming phase of the trip, it was Peru, more than any other country, that most occupied my wandering thoughts. Its snowy mountain peaks formed the backdrop to my virtual 80’s type montages……

  2. I love your blog! We are cycling from Lima Peru to somewhere in Colombia soon. Do you have the gpx for this stage? I am stealing your gpx tracks and reversing them 😉 Many thanks, Lucas

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