Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The road to Cusco

The Cordillera Blanca
The next few days were a pleasure, not that they weren’t tough going with plenty of climbing but it was all on paved roads so I felt like I was finally making progress.
I managed a half day on the bike after a late departure leaving Huaraz. I had been between two minds as whether to take the dirt track up through the National Park Huascaran via a route I had already been on whilst visiting the glacier a few days previous or whether to take the 40 km longer paved route that skirted around the edges of the park. 

Sign at turn off for Pastoruri

As coincidence would have it I got a puncture at the turn off for the dirt track. By the time I had the puncture repaired and the bags all back on the bike it was starting to lash rain so I decided to call it a day and took shelter with a family who didn’t mind me “camping” in their front room. The Marceliano’s were lovely people and I had great fun walking their little daughter around the room that evening. I think a days cycling in Peru is less tiring than entertaining a one year old for an hour or so!

The two lovely ladies in red

The next morning, after the photo shot, I hit the road going for the paved option. It was a lovely sunny morning and it felt great to be spinning my wheels on a normal road with little traffic and spectacular views of the Cordierlla Blanca to my left. I wild camped that night half way into a big climb wedged in a valley with big mountains on either side. I spent most of the following day climbing the 27 or so kilometres up to Punta Union (the pass) questioning whether I should have taken the shorter unpaved route but the views were fantastic so it was all good. I layered up at the top of the pass and belted out twice the distance done until then with the luxury of a paved downhill to bring me into the town of La Union. I camped that night in the kitchen of la policia in La Union. 

The following day was a biggie as I tried to make a push for the city of Huanuco. It will be a day that I shall never forget and one that has a very big impact on Peru not being one of the favorite countries of the trip. Although it was paved the climb was on a narrow, very windy road with a lot of heavy goods traffic. Despite all of the blind corners and trucks going in opposite directions this didn’t stop them driving at speed or driving on the wrong side of the road. To compensate they blew their horns. They really blew their horns. It is very difficult to imagine coming from Ireland or probably most western countries the extent to which they like to blow their horns in Peru in general. In all the various countries I’ve passed on this trip I had not experienced anything like the horn honking of Peru but this day was the worst of all. Big truck, fog horn type blasts lasting for several seconds at a time going every minute. To say that I was at my wits end would be an understatement. At one stage I was so wound up that that I decided I needed a break and to have a few deep breaths, deeper breaths than the ones I was already taking cycling uphill at altitude. I said my prayers for the rest of the afternoon with the words “Forgive those who trespass against us..” swapped for “Forgive those who honk their extremely loud horns incessantly at us”. The dogs were also up to their usual tricks of barking insanely and chasing anything that moved. Far away hills (or mountains) are always greener as I dreamt about those peaceful days lost in the middle of northern Peru, miles from anybody pushing my bike up a stoney river bed!

Corona del Inca
I knew it was going to be a big ask with the first 80km mostly uphill.  I wound my way up and up and eventually got to Corona del Inca which is a famous rock formation that is said to look like an Inca crown. Not far past that was the pass which I hit at about 5.30pm. Knowing it was still probably about 50 km to Huanuco I asked at a police check point who confirmed that it takes about an hour by car to get there. Right, time to belt it. I was cycling downhill for 50 km. Suddenly, as I sped around this corner and that, I was hoping AND praying that those insane truck drivers were going to honk those horns if they were coming around a corner at me, how I had changed my tune!
Windy road
The reason I had decided to make the push for Huanuco in the dark was good coffee. I knew that the Operation Mato Groso Italian community had a place in Huanuco so I was hoping that they may have been able to help me out… again! I hadn’t realised that Huanuco is a city, which I arrived into well after dark on a Saturday night. In fact it was the biggest city I had been in so far on my bike in Peru. Being a Saturday night there was a real buzz to the streets and being a city meant it took a while to track down the OMG community. Graziano came out in his jeep to take me to the house and however bad I felt about dragging him out I felt slightly worse when I discovered that OMG in Huanuco consists of Graziano, his wife Rocio and young daughter Isabella. It is a supply base for some of the isolated village communities that OMG serve. Thankfully Graziano and Rocio were extremely welcoming and were quite happy for me to stay. Grazie mille!
Graziano, Rocio and Isabella

Over the next week I got plenty of climbing in passing from one spectacular valley to the next. I spent one of the nights in Cerro de Pasco which at 4,300 metres is one of the highest cities in the world. It is also a major mining centre but not much of a city to look at.

Open mine almost in the centre of Cerro de Pasco
Cerro de Pasco, highest city in the world

I had to get this digger to stop for a few minutes while I lifted my bike over the rocks on the road below.
Cars had to wait a few hours to pass
Not ski lifts but coal mining lifts

The very helpful Policia in Junin, also my first sighting of Christmas decorations..
Step into my office.. they even gave me my own room with a desk
Hop on, plenty of room
One of the main pedestrian streets of Ayacucho
On the 9th of December I arrived into the colonial city of Ayacucho as night was falling. Upon asking at the Bomberos (Fire station) I was told no for first time of the trip. Apparently a few cyclists had passed the year before and left a big mess behind them. After a bit of chat and assuring them of how clean I was they agreed to let me stay – phew!
After some time off in Ayacucho I knew from researching the route that the climbs got bigger as I pushed for the last 500 or so odd kilometres towards Cusco.

These kids doing their good deeds for the day were filling in the pot holes with clay and sticks
Time for a rest

Plenty of mountains and valleys to keep me going.... slow.
The landscape seemed to get greener and more agricultural as I got further south

Best shopkeeper ever, he ended up giving me two free delicious avocados not to mention sharing
two shots of rum with me, just what I needed in the heat.

The paved roads certainly helped me to feel like I was finally making progress even if I was still pretty exhausted by the end of each day. Another difference that I noticed was that the scenery seemed to be greener so although it was still relatively slow going it was good to see some alternative landscape.
Much and all as I try to stay focused on the day that’s in it or hitting the next stop over in the coming week I’d definitely be lying if I didn’t admit that I was looking forward to making Cusco from a while back. It is the main tourist city for visiting Macuh Picchu and it’s a place that I’d been hearing about from friends who had travelled South America over the years. As I said Peru had been by far and away the most challenging country of the trip to date and it even managed to surprise me, particularly up north. I knew that Cusco would be touristy but to be honest I was almost looking forward to catching up with some fellow travelers, treating myself to a half decent meal or two and kicking back for a few days in a fun place for Christmas.
I had been racing against some dirty black rain clouds all afternoon and they caught me about an hours ride from the city. But I didn’t care, I knew I would soon be getting my second shower in a week and that a decent hamburger wasn’t far away! On the evening of Saturday 21st of December, I had made it to Cusco. 
I spent the first night in the Bomberos where they were having their Christmas party and the next day moved to Hostel Estrellita which was a bike friendly hostel recommended to me by Martin, my Austrian cycling buddy.

Mural at the back of the fire station in Cusco

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