30th of June till 6th of July 2019.
They say that time flies when you are getting older because you are lacking new impressions. That you are repeating what you have done before, making it one blur for your brain with as a result that your brain is saying to you: this year passed with the blink of an eye. What I don’t understand is when we have now every day new impressions we should have the feeling that time is not slipping through our fingers; still again a month has passed with the blink of an eye.
Biking out of Cusco with our todo list almost completed (could not find extra Magura brakepads) we follow PE-3S. Rolling up and down hills we see a Brinks security van look-a like camper-van with a Dutch license plate and I cant resist to wave. Katja & Sven are so sweet and stop to have a chat. Real cool 4×4 camper-van which can take you anywhere. Check-out how they built their own van. https://www.brinks-on-route.com/
They are also on their way to Vinicunca, the Rainbow mountain. Their aim is to camp at the entrance of the park and beat the crowds. For us this is a bit too far for today.
After searching for the best place in the tiny town of Cusipata, we end up at Hostal Isidor. You have to warn them when you want to take a warm shower as they have to activate the system. But hey, we have our own toilet and shower. Dinner is chicken with rice and potatoes at the only open restaurant in town. Not the best but at least some proteins.
On a bus.
Our landlady suggested a hitchhike with one of the tourist buses (they leave at 3:30 from Cusco and have breakfast in this village before the final stretch up to Rainbow Mountain) for 10 sol per person, but it does not work out. After having breakfast and checking with 3 different buses we decide to charter our own taxi. Which is of course relatively expensive but we are happy we have not biked up-hill to the parking space from where the hike starts. It is a beautiful drive but the 25 km would have taken us almost a full day.
We are happy with our chosen formula: taxi drive up, hiking to the summit of Rainbow Mountain. Watching the crazy flow of oxygen-desperate tourists as the summit is at 5,000+ meters. Admiring an amazing mountain view and take the same taxi back to the village.
Understanding that the new road has opened the box of Pandora. Where in the past you could only hike here during a 5 days hike, now more than 1,000 people are dropped here every day. Locals have seen the opportunities and offer drinks, toilet and photo possibilities. Here you can take a photo with locals and lama’s on a voluntary $ base.
Should you visit Rainbow Mountain? I have to say we have never seen a mountain colored like this. Still do remember that what you mostly see on Instagram/Facebook or especially on the brochures handed out in Cusco: colors are not as vivid or saturated as people want you to believe. Do know you still need to hike from where the van is dropping you off and you should be in a reasonable condition. Do know you only see it when you are at the summit.
Don’t go if bad weather is predicted as you don’t see any colors and with rain it can become very slippery.
I hope the park will control the amount of people and ensure people will not start wandering of the main path, this is such a fragile environment. Hope people won’t destroy this precious gem.
If you are there don’t miss the hike to Red Valley. Crossing the other rim gives you a view on a different world. Speechless, with tears in our eyes we enjoy this spectacle until the next group arrives. Total hike took us 4 hours.
For the Red Valley you pay an extra 10 soles per person (same as for entrance for Rainbow Mountain).
Talking with her she says that until a year ago they were still working their land but now tourism generates more income. Madhouse. What will happen to their farming? When we drove up we could see that it would not be bad to have nature taking over. All is converted to potato farming which does not keep the humidity or the soil.
Back in the small village, just in time for a late lunch at the Mercado. As it is 15:00 before we are back in the hostal we are happy we did not push it and are staying one more night.
You also can bike the loop, recommended to leave as much as possible at one of the villages in the valley. Unbelievably beautiful blog by Mark Watson. They have traveled 1 year by bike in Peru and just completed this loop. Click on his name to discover their amazing story.
As Katja & Sven already said: try to enjoy as much of the asphalt as long as it is possible, there will be more than enough gravel to cover before we are at the end of the world. As Frank is still not feeling 100% we decide to not push ourselves and discard the bike-packing route.
Fun detail about the below image of the red abandoned house: when taking a photo a local came to us and asked for money because we were taking the photo. We asked if it was her house and she said no, but this is our village. We kindly declined with a joke.
Not pushing ourselves does not mean we are lazy. Today (on asphalt) 1,000 meter vertical incline (mainly second half of the day) and 90 km distance (at 3,200-4,200 m). We don’t want to camp as Frank is coughing. Meaning we need to continue until we arrive when it is already dark and very cold at Complejo Aguas Calientes along the PE3S.
As in Iceland and Yellowstone National park we are on a very thin crust of earth here. Here steaming hot water finds its way out. Locals have made some interesting pools with different temperatures. Their possibility to wash and soak in hot water.
The complex has started a well needed renovation and the top floor of the hostal has rooms with new mattresses. We did agree some time ago that if the conditions are not warm and there is sheltered possibility we will go for this. As it is freezing we decide to not take a dip in the hot pools. Next day before breakfast we can’t resist and enjoy really warm steaming pools followed by a fresh cold water shower. If this could only be the start of every day.
A climb confirms that Frank is not 100% and when we arrive in Santa Rosa he even can’t eat lunch anymore. I start to look for a place to rest and sleep but it seems that there are a lot of construction workers who have taken up all free rooms. We have to look for an other solution. There would be a possibility to camp and one place possibly still has a room, but the owner will only arrive late at night. Camping in Franks condition in this cold weather is not an option. I find a pick-up to take us 45 km further South to Ayaviri where we find a cold hotel with a warm shower.
The first day on the altiplano where we would definitively have been able to bike the 85 km, as it is relatively flat, we need to sit in a car. But good we did, as even when I find some great take-a-way Frank can’t eat anything. At least he has a good bed and I find a solution to get him warm. Fill a bottle with hot water at the restaurant where I got the food and tuck it at his feet and lower back. Let’s say it was good we did not camp and that we had our own private bathroom. Fun detail, small bathroom where you first have the shower (shower curtain before the door) and then the toilet.
Today Denise let us know that they will be arriving in Peru this Sunday. We worked together in the hospital in Haarlem almost 30 years ago. She has moved to Curaçao, ages ago, with the love of her life and they have two beautiful children. She mentioned a few months ago they would do an organized trip in Peru but we never discussed it again as we know how difficult it is to plan meeting each-other. It did work out last year with Ans and Henk in Panama, but absolutely not when we tried to travel together with Henk and Heidi (we were still 2.000 km away when they arrived in Peru last year).
Now looking at the schedule of Denise we are maybe more lucky. But first see that Frank is getting better.
Therefor a late start today as it is not so freezing cold when you start a bit later. Meeting biker Roberto from Italy going North and leaving us the key from the casa the cysclista in Juliaca, that he forgot to turn in.
When we arrive in Pukara we meet 2 FRENCH. It was a very short bike trip today but Frank is still not well and sleeps the whole afternoon. I explore the museum and pre-Inca site. Watching tourists being released on the town square, while sipping a perfect cappuccino. Now I understand the atmosphere on the market, why locals were reluctant and were asking money when I wanted to take a photo. I was the only tourist on the market, museum and pre-Inka site, but on hour later the small town was swamped for a small hour.
At hostal Americano it is fun to watch the local people. How busy her restaurant is, 40 chairs and at least each one has been taken 4-5 times during lunch, dinner and breakfast. With 6 soles per menu she is making a nice turnover.
Sheepskins, raw sheep meat and fresh cheese are sold next to each other at the shop across the road.
From here to Juliaca it is mainly asphalt, straight, flat, reasonable tempo as Frank still feels weak.
Out of gas.
15 km before Juliaca the gasoline war starts. In the first km there are 1-2 gasoline stations, followed by 3-4 every kilometer and just before Juliaca there are so many we lost count. Even from the same brand they are located only 500 meters from each other. Who made their business plan, how will they ever survive?
Town is one concrete jungle with almost no green and only dust and pollution. We bike first to the casa the cyclistas to hand-over the key. At the square we already meet the owner Geovanni who says to just enter the building. Big house with a small garden. The concept is that you pay for what you get when you stay ‘for free’ at the casa (house). This means that Geovanni offers his place to cyclists. Some will give 20 soles, some will give less. So you can imagine he does not have a lot of money to invest in improvements. It is a basic stay. As there is already a Mexican, 2 people from Argentina and a Polish couple the only possibility is to share a room (with nothing in it) with the Mexican guy. Shared facilities outside. As much as we would have loved to chat with the other bikers we kindly decline and look for a room with own bathroom and hot shower and a decent bed.
Even in a good hotel it is still cold but at least we can sit on our bed and read/work on the computer. So happy we do have a budget. Geovanni thank you for your warm welcome even if we did not stay!
As we both long for a pizza or other food, we take a moto taxi into town because the best food would be at the shopping mall. Real Plaza shopping mall in Cusco was nicer, with better shops and better restaurants. Here there is only junk food. We finally settle for a hamburger but are happy we don’t eat this every day. What a strange town. Seems to be the smuggling region between Bolivia and Peru.
Waiting on a friend.
Seeing friends again in real life is high on our priority list and when we discover that if we linger one day at one spot we would be able to meet Denise & Family for real in Puno. Decision is made to meet them but still follow the North loop around lake Titicaca. More remote, less traffic etc. in combination with biking the peninsula. We decide to stay at Casa Felix, recommended in Cusco by somebody we met and highly recommended on iOverlander. The ride out of this crazy town is breathtaking in the wrong way.
But biking to the end of the peninsula is breath taking in the positive way. Communities are changing. Women wear different hats and dresses. And when we see a Santos sign we can’t resist a photo-shoot.
Rosa thinks we are harassing her sheep but when we show the bikes and the sign she finds it funny. She is a shepherd but also makes woolen hats (she says..) we cant resist to buy a few, for Pheline and Dymphy (kids from Denise and Jep) and have a great laugh with the ladies. Did you know only married ladies are allowed to wear these hats?
Some small hills feel like climbing Everest but finally Felix gives us a warm welcome. And we thought we would be at the end of the world in a home-stay without any tourists? Well quite a few others also read the reviews and besides at Machu Pichu and in Cusco we had not seen so many white faces at the same spot. The great difference is that we are all like-minded and nice discussions unfold over what travels have been done and is in the planning. We meet families with grown-up children, one of the last holidays they will do together before they leave their home.
What a week again. Will we be able to meet Denise & family next week?