2nd till 8th of June 2019.
Flying high again.
Do you know the phenomenon when you start with something new/different you first go through the euphoric phase, followed by the a low after which you should climb out of it and reach a higher level of experience/contentment? They even have a name for it: the expat dip.
I think we have gone through one of these. First being happy that everything was OK at home, so we could leave again. Happy to be on the bikes again. After a few weeks wondering why we are doing this especially when it was physically very challenging. Happy to say that even if the roads are relatively flat, we are climbing to a higher level.
Sunday is about enjoying the luxury of a western city life with washing machine, home cooking in a real kitchen and shopping mall frenzy with Starbucks coffee and meeting interesting people.
For the first time in 2 1/2 months a real supermarket with almost everything we would have in Europe, including the European pricing. What we found shocking is that meat was wrapped with an anti-theft system.
How sad that all shopping malls around the world look, feel and smell the same. Good thing is that you know you will find what you are looking for, or almost.
Sun is shining.
I need to replace my Oakley sunglasses as they start to delaminate, changed them for a 3 euro pair but they are not quite the same. Found a store that could arrange to send lenses to Cusco but will try to look if Oakley can arrange something as replacement lenses would be more expensive here than new sunglasses.
Did you know Peru has more than 3,800 different species of potatoes? Different colours and taste.
After having gained at least a kilo with all the vegetables and smoothies, our week starts with a nice climb on a good road with a perfect shoulder.
So hot so fast we can take off all the protecting layers until we are getting higher. Wide pampa and downwind forces us to ride alternating ahead and put on layers of protection. At a hidden bent in the road we can eat lunch lightly sheltered from the cold wind.
Quinoa and potato harvest is ongoing.
At almost 4,000 meters even trousers and extra gloves are needed to speed downhill.
View from a bridge.
When we are almost at Izcuchaca (still dressed as bright yellow westerners) we meet for the second time in 2 ½ months a bike packer and our 3rd Belgian in 2 years (remember http://www.workingonmycalves.com ). Klaas is travelling by bike from home to Spain, crossed the ocean and biked from Ushuahia to here, Klaas needs to catch a flight on the 12th from Lima to the USA and needs to speed-up and cover 80 km per day, amai. Young lad, on his own, camping as much as possible. Tough cookie. What must he been thinking when he saw us coming down the hill in our goretex wear while he was going up-hill in a t-shirt?
Well I have to say when we landed in Izcuchaca, all protective layers could be removed! After checking out the two possibilities we end up in the most rustic but amazingly located hotel. We can’t resist to take the opportunity to have a room with a balcony overlooking the river and the ancient bridge.
A village with potential nested in the curve of a steep canyon with a beautiful square, church and hotel located next to the railway. The railway is still in use but only a few times per year.
Next day the railway is never far away and we understand why Klaas was only wearing a t-shirt as the road follows the canyon created by the constant force of Rio Mantaro (PES3) where the asphalt gets backed by the sun.
Further downhill from 3,200 to 2,400m over mostly smooth asphalt but also enough gravel where landslides have been cleared but asphalt has disappeared. The river is at several places emerald green and strong until it loses its force as it gets stopped by a dam used to generate electricity.
Car wheels on gravel roads.
The road is 1 ½ lane wide, sometimes narrower and tightly curved around the steep walls of the mountain. We can hear cars coming, only they don’t see/hear us. I need to be more careful speeding downhill as with the wind in your ears you don’t always hear upcoming traffic. After 84 km we reach the Evangelistic town of La Esmeralda where I get some fruits for free in the grocery store. So sweet (the fruit too). You could camp along the river as rainy season has stopped and the dam should be regulating the flow but places accessible from the road are used to collect stones and sand and are visible, so we opt for the basic hostel in town.
Next day continues on the road glued to the cliff high above the riverbed, getting lower, dryer and cacti join in the dryer vegetation. At a gas station we ask if they have coffee, but they can only offer warm water. We share our coffee and have a nice cup together with them, talking about the low amount of traffic and that it is not easy for them to survive. In the half hour we are chatting they have had one customer who only bought 3 euros worth of gasoline.
The steeper the mountain, the more landslides, the more clearings and gravel. At one of the bends we see a van approaching with bikes on the back and know they are world travelers. Brazilians Fernando, Danielle en Isabella travelling north, aim is to reach Colombia.
As Isabella is blond and her parents are not, people ask them if they dye her hair…
The area becomes dryer and dustier.
After 45 km we pass a lovely located recreo site El Payapal. Recreo sites have sheltered tables and often a playground or football field and are mainly used in the weekend by city people to enjoy the breeze and freedom of being outside. The owner offers us to camp if we use dinner in his restaurant. An offer we gladly accepted. Beautiful walk to the river, seeing the sun disappear behind the hills. Enjoying the sun without the need of extra layers!
A little too late.
The cook is not so happy that she needs to cook for us and even if we pre-order breakfast for 7:00 (all food paid by us!) she finally says at 7:45 that it still will take some more time to finish. Sorry, but we have to leave. Luckily we still had some old bread which we eat next to the road a few kilometers further on. I can’t start the day without food in my stomach, can you? Note from Frank: studies have shown that you actually perform better on an (almost) empty stomach. At 9:00 we pass a restaurant which is open and we can’t resist to have a second breakfast. Alberto just opened this place 3 months ago after he had had a restaurant in Lima for years. After the last time being robbed at gun point, he decided to change to this remote but peaceful area and he has no regrets!
I designed the route for today and instead of a 15 km loop decided on a 5 km shortcut. White road on MapOut means gravel and most of the time in such a condition that only 4×4 can drive it. On iOverlander people had written that there were a “few” steep sections. The understatement of the month. In the sintering heat even Frank needs to push! Decomposing smells accompany us when passing the garbage belt. This would not be a road I would recommend when it is raining as you would not be able to push your bike uphill. Passing through a very poor, shabby village. Would not want to bike here at night (or alone during the day).
In Luricocha we follow AY100 which is still gravel but at least better maintained. Late start, extra breakfast and steady climbing with steep sections, then twice a police control (carrying machine guns), where we of course need to have a little chat to get the confirmation everything is safe, make progress very slow. After that we still had a long chat with some teachers, enjoying a beer, during a water collecting stop.
Underestimated the availability of water and food, only some cookies and instant noodles to be had in the small shop. At 14:00 we only covered 20 km and if we want to reach a bigger village, which is the only possibility to find a flat piece of ground to put up our tent, we would need to cover another 15 km and 800 vertical meters. At 15:30 we see a sideroad to Paccahuaycco and decide to try our luck there. 10 houses of which only a few are permanently occupied, others are only used to store the harvest before transport to a bigger village. We ask if we can set-up our tent in front of the church and the lady agrees. In the evening we get corn in leaves as dessert while we share our pasta with sardines. Amazing starry night as the electricity in the village does not work!
We notice we prefer to sleep in “the open square” in a small village when there is no sheltered possibility, over sneaking away in a corner next to the road. Mountains are so steep there is no possibility to find a hidden spot off the road. The uphill struggle continues on a very dusty road. Every 10 minutes a crazy pick-up passing us. After the rim of 4,000 m it is a slow downhill as with loose gravel, traffic you need to give way to and hairpin corners you don’t go faster than 10-15 km average.
When we reach the lowest point we find a place that serves pachamanca, a lovely dish with pork or chicken cooked under hot stones, in a hole in the ground with many different potatoes and vegetables. Portions are huge and we take the leftovers with us as we don’t know what we will find tonight (and we try not to waste food even if it is not really wasted here but fed to the chicken or pigs).
Our aim was to reach San Francisco tomorrow evening as this will be the only place (hopefully) with WIFI. We need to conquer again 1,000 vertical meters to reach the next village. By now we know this is impossible in an afternoon on a bad, small gravel road with traffic.
We consider hitch hiking and 5 minutes after we decide to try, a van stops which is happy to take us to the top. What would have cost us a day is now covered in an hour, a narrow road with speeding traffic and several stretches we would have needed to push. I don’t mind that we have chosen to hitchhike. We do pay a bit for the gasoline and the service and say thanks at the top to our driver, who is travelling this stretch every week. Funny that we are now in such a push mode of having to reach a village to be able to post at least on Sunday. Wondering if we will be able to let this go and would not mind adding the story on another day.
Chilly and windy we follow he downhill gravel between bare mountains.
Sun is still giving some warmth when we reach Carhuahuran. We don’t see any signs of a hospedaje, no church with a flat piece of land and you see that the village organically grew after the road was constructed. Kind of a strange vibe but we know we need to find a flat spot here as the hills don’t offer any space for camping.
Frank chats with a local who confirms that there are rooms for rent and that the owner will come soon, but after the sun has disappeared behind the mountain it is getting colder and there is still no solution. I try with two women and they first want to offer a bed, but then decide not to. I see a flat space behind a house and ask if we could camp there. No is the answer, we could set-up our tent on the road (with cars passing 30 cm from us) which we kindly refuse. Frank checks at the medical center but they can’t help. We finally decide to setup our tent next to the closed school but when Frank is asking for permission the guard offers us a room in a building next to the medical center. Looks like the school for nurses. Good to be able to sleep behind closed doors. Strange feeling in this area. As we don’t have a key we can’t leave everything behind to find diner and cook in front of the door. One of the nurses of the health center passes and offers us a vaccination for the flue. Everybody from the age of 3 gets it! Flue and anemia are devastating for the kids. Seems that low resistance is due to the anemia which is due to poor nutrition, carbs and processed food with almost no vegetables as they are too expensive.
Next day there is market and to suppress my FOMO I walk around while Frank prepares breakfast. I buy some stuff and want to take some photo’s, but they are against it or ask way to much. The spot on the road which was offered for camping is now covered by electronics for sale. 😊
Great ride with gravel and asphalt, lots of downhill! Friendly people offering potatoes, one lady asking for the flower on my handlebar bag, which I gladly gave away.
Just 20 km before San Francisco the road turns into big loose round rocks, I pity the bikers on narrow tires who would have to uphill.
Just when the sun is setting, we arrive in San Fransico and decide on a hotel at the outskirts of town, which should be quiet.
A great week in which we were able to cover some miles, it was cold, hot and cold again, camped before a church and in a nursing school and a hotel with a balcony.
Wondering if Saturday night will be a quiet night.