14th till 20th of April 2019.
How do you know that you still will have to bike quite some steep part up-hill? When oncoming motorcycles have switched their engines off.
We leave the neglected town of Zumba and follow the unpaved road to La Balsa. The big project of connecting Ecuador and Peru through this road has stranded while there is still public transportation organised at this side of the border. From open buses which give you a great view and enough fresh air but no comfort at all, to (2) luxury touring cars pass us today on this very narrow road with several stretches of +20%. The bus even has to pas through the river (opening photo) which must cause quite some challenges.
This part of the road has not yet been well engineered and the during the last day of biking in Ecuador we can’t escape pushing.
Frank getting ready to help me push my bike.In the beginning we bike-push but at one moment it becomes so steep we need to push each bike with the both of us in blistering heat. Beautiful lush green surroundings present enough distraction, talking with locals and getting freshly picked oranges make us smile.
At the military checkpoint they say there is only one more small hill, …right.
Reaching the top with amazing views makes up for all the hard work.
Put a motor in yourself.
With a view of the river which separates Ecuador and Peru, Matthias on his BMW GS 1200 overtakes us. Followed by Felipe from Argentina on a 200 cc Rouser. I would never be able to handle any of these bikes on these roads. What if you get stuck mid uphill or fall over. I would never be able to lift it up. Still one of my dreams is to know how to control a light off road motor bike and travel the dirt roads of Spain. If you want to know to which countries Matthias has traveled here is his blogpost.
Wondering how this road will be for Fernanda with her heavy load.
The border crossing at La Balsa is one of the more basic ones. Mud in the streets, only one person before us while checking out from Ecuador. Not the only two countries divided by a river. Easy way to know where the border is.
Be sure that you have proof of yellow fever injections and for the younger generation for measles, if you can’t proof it, you can get your injections here or you will not be able to cross the border. Simple and swift we can leave while the boys need to wait until their motor is accepted.
This is one of the few border crossings where we are not hassled by people who want to change money or sell you stuff. We don’t have to look for them as we have the Soles (Nuevo Sol) we got through Henk & Heidi. Easily entering country number 11, only thing missing is a welcome sign.
When we arrive at the first village, Namballe, village of one thousand souls, it is already 16:00 and we don’t feel like camping. For the first time a village square without a church. A village with no-potable water, cold showers (hot enough outside) and no wifi at any of the hostals. But very friendly people and for the first time different food, kind of fish soup at the best restaurant in town.
My starter won’t start this morning.
Next day escalates a bit after 1 hour biking. I find I am doing OK, considering the constant up-hill and the oppressing heat which has me dripping of sweat, but Frank is angry because he speeds off and has to wait for several minutes for me at one of the curves. Seems that even after 20,000 km he still does not know I am a slow starter and up-hill is not my strength. He only calculates that we have 10 hours of light and with 3-4 km per hour we will never reach the next settlement. I am more relaxed as there seems to be enough natural water when we would run out of it. And I can’t do more than what I can. So yes we do sometimes have an argument 😉
I still want to be able to stop for pigs or to chat with people.
Meeting Maria who is drying cuy dung to fertilize coffee plants. She gives us oranges and invites us for a drink of chicha, a fermented non-alcoholic drink of maize. She is as old as I am and loves chatting with bikers. We give bread to her grandchild and one of our pot holders as a thank you. Stopping for lunch at the road side, of the perfectly constructed road as Peru kept up to their part of the deal, a few kids pass by. As we carry enough bread we share all of it.
Bit further we meet Kira carrying a rooster that will be used in the soup tonight.
Taking in the view.
Shopping for a SIM card can only be done at the brick city of San Ignacio and because it is almost our birthday we take a room at the best hotel in town. 20 Euro for a good bed, clean towels, best shower in a very long time and small breakfast. As a pre-birthday dinner we enjoy a 180 degree view from the highest restaurant at the top of the square. El Mirador deserves it’s name and the rest is not worth mentioning. Peru is better organized concerning registration of phone numbers as finger print and registration of passport is required before you get a SIM.
Look at the traffic light and the seconds counting down. I have also seen them in Turkey, but not yet in The Netherlands or Belgium.
Fun part next day is half an hour down hill which gives us cool head start. From 1.500 to 500, and over a good road with almost no traffic! We follow a beautiful canyon, carved by the wide and sometimes wild Rio Chinchipe. And the bag at my handlebar is old bread for pigs or dogs (only if they don’t bark).
Out in the fields.
The small canyon becomes wider giving room to vast bright green rice fields. Feels like being thrown back in time, corners looking similar to our time 25 years ago in Indonesia. Did you know that 18% of all agriculture areas in Peru is dedicated to rice, they use it not only as daily food but also to feed livestock and making alcohol. I think we will see a few more fields before we leave Peru.
A gallon of gas.
As the whole area is agriculture and we don’t really see a camping opportunity we oppt for the only hospedaje just before Tamborapa (Hospedaje Estefania). And we splash again. We take two rooms! As each room only has a 1.20 m wide bed and it is bloody hot we are happy we can spend per room 2.65 Euro, shared bathroom with cold water cools us off.
Hope the two gasoline tanks below us are not fuming too much…the red towels are used to filter the gasoline which is transported from the barrels in the house to the motorcycles/cars via the small canister.
Next day we still stay on the HWY! As I want to reach Bambamarca for our birthdays. But the fun is over. Today is mainly making miles.
There is more traffic and for the first time we even are overtaken by a few trucks with container loads. No fun as each car/truck/motor driver uses his horn when he thinks a fly will maybe want to cross the road, or just to warn that they are up-coming, or just to say hello. And you all know by know how stress tolerant Frank is for this type of noise. The closer we get to Jaen the more large construction works are ongoing.
In Jaen we shop for a different SIM, we first had Movistar but this gives almost no coverage, Bitel is much better (hopefully). And we change all our remaining dollars, this short stop cost us 3 hours. Maybe good as it prevents us to bike in the heat of midday.
Outside the city one of the temples of Franks sunglasses breaks off. Discussion if we need to return to get a replacement or continue going. Of course we continue as we need to start looking for a place to sleep. As we decide to take the left loop to Cajamarca we pass Chamaya. Which is only a few houses along the road. On iOverlander there is an indication of wild camping a bit outside of town.
Is she weird.
We find the steep road to the river and follow till we find the access as described. An abandoned house with a flat piece of concrete could do the job. But a guy/girl is squatting some 50 meters away and when we wave and call we don’t get a reaction. I hike 500 meters back to the last houses and ask if it is OK to camp at the river access, and if the woman (we think it is a woman, but it is hard to tell) walking around should give no problems. They assure me there should be no issue. Back at the site Frank has given her some bread and an orange which she shyly accepted and then moved to the other side of the house. We never got a word out of her. We are so happy we now have our stand-alone tent as we can use the level concrete floor to set-up camp. As we have descended so much today we are now at 300 meters, nice and warm, high humidity ensures that you need to protect against all kinds of biting creatures. Especially the tiny black flies which bite away a bit of skin are spoiling the fun of a warm environment. Even if we spray on our cloths Frank still gets several bites. Through his clothes!
When we are cooking our pasta a mototaxi arrives with 3 sparely dressed guys. They are from Chamaya and want to try to catch some fish. They ask us to watch over their bike 😊. No luck for them as the river is to high and wild due to previous heavy rainfall and all fishes are hiding.
In our tiny tent it is even too hot to sleep on our sleeping bags and even with one of the side panels open we still melt away. As the air was heavy with rain and we already had a light shower we don’t want to sleep without the rain fly. Still a good night sleep after the 66 km we have done today.
Alarm at 5 really wakes us up, dark outside and we see the light slowly getting stronger while cooking breakfast and leaving no trace.
I don’t know why we ever thought we could do 92 km with climbing from 300 to 3000 meters. Maybe because on my mapout it showed as a orange road which should be with asphalt. Good thing was that we left at 7:00. Bad thing was that Frank had his first flat tire.
Good thing was that the first 25 km were rolling with some steep short climbs awarded with some fun downhills. Bad things was that Frank got bitten by a really aggressive dog. You can only chase so many away if they attack you with a few at the same time. Photo was 2 days after the bite. Positive is that the orange road seems to be a yellow one which ensure less traffic as these are in worse shape. Hold on, is this a good thing if you want to do a lot of miles? No. Bummer!
At noon we even have not done half of what we wanted to do and the worse is still to come. It is a beautiful ride through a side canyon but the road is getting worse and worse. Canyon is steep and flat pieces are almost not in sight. Discussion if we will find a place to camp or if we should pull a Najal. What is pulling a Najal? We met Najal and Rozemarijn from the Netherlands in Mexico and they explained they often took a ride up the mountain to escape struggling up because once up there it is still challenging enough. We decide to try to pull a Najal and if we do not find a ride by 17:00 look for a campsite. There seems to be a small village in between here and Cutervo but no info available if there will be a place to sleep. We still need to get used to availability and google maps or bookings.com only shows info for the larger cities.
We continue biking and if we see a pick-up struggling up the mountain we stop them to see if they can offer us a lift. All of them are full as they bring their loads to Cutervo. Interesting situation. And the most interesting is if we would have set our mind this morning on again wild camping after 40-50 km we would have been in a total different mindset. Finally Campos stops. He is from bit further than Chamaya and brings 400 pineapples to Cutervo. In a very old Toyota pick-up. We already say that it is not possible to add 2 bikes, gear and people. Bit he sees an opportunity to earn a bit more money and we agree on a fee. Our bikes find a smooth surface on the pineapples and we squeeze in on the front seat with the 3 of us . He drives each week with such a load to the city and will sell a pineapple for 6 sol where in his village he would only get 5 sol and is having more competition. The last 40 kilometers are covered in 2 hours and we wonder if we would have ever made these 40 km in 1 day. By the way, we see in the small village which we pass, Santo Domingo de la Capilla, a hospidaja, if you ever are heading that way and you don’t want to camp you will find a place to sleep.
We are happy we get dropped at the Mercado of Cutervo and we head to the city center. Here it is nice and cool, at 2,600 m. You see and feel that not a lot of tourist are heading this way. We find a basic but very clean place with hot water and can fill our empty stomach with some soup and rice with meat, meat being a big word, everything gets used here (and eaten by Frank).
It is always amazing how quickly you get out of these small cities in Peru. Within a few streets concrete turns into dirt road and we have one of the best rides in a very long time. In the first photo do you see the tiny yellow spot? That’s me!
Even if it is at one moment wet en windy the vistas and orchids are amazing. Climbing above the tree line, meeting sweet people and almost no traffic on a road which has no steeper incline than 15% is great. Later, when I have up-dated my map out maps the orange road seemed to be a yellow one. PE 3NG, hence why it was all gravel. But compact gravel!
Fool in the rain.
We arrive reasonably in time in Chota but first we are drenched to the bone when the last hour a heavy downpour starts which turns the last hills into flash floods. You see people wonder why we are out in the rain, we hear them laugh because they can’t understand why we continue biking in the rain. Just when we are in the center downpour turns into a drizzle giving us the opportunity for Frank to wait with the bikes while I check-out a few places. I could not imagine to camp in this weather when there are dry clean places to choose from. Only bummer is that the only hotel which can store the bikes downstairs only has rooms on the 5 floor available and I have not yet seen an elevator in Peru. Next day starts with a bright blue sky.
Last day riding before our birthday stop brings us to Bambamarca. No other reasonable opportunity than to follow the PE 3N, black top with more traffic but still reasonable as it is. Climb and decent, no remarkable issues only that you see tiny bathrooms with shower and toilet scattered around the country side, sometimes next to houses but not always. Provided for each home by the government. I was allowed to use one and they have a shower, toilet and sink.Seems not to be connected to a sewer system but to a septic tank, which only needs to be emptied every 10 years, excess water runs into the hills. We find out that the region we are now travelling through is the poorest in Peru.
We love to stop en chat with locals, the old lady walking down the road to buy bread (we gave her a few of ours), the gentleman just acquired a pig for 260 Sol. The ladies have a different level of crochet. Working on a blanket for the youngest daughter on the left. The weaving of one poncho takes a weeks and she sells it for 20 sol (6 euro).
Entering Bambamarca looks like again a brick city without much.
But we are mistaken as we can enjoy already on Saturday evening the Easter fire. Also here we are the only foreigners around.
What will we do on our birthdays when I turn 54 (born in 65) and Frank turns 65 (born in 54) the day after .
Find out in next weeks blog.
I’d like to have that one back.
Elections in Peru, even if internet says there is only minor illiteracy, they work here with pictographs and indicate how to choose the right major, elections were held last autumn but houses will only get new painting when there are new elections.