Summary: I had visited Peru with my wife Jill in 2008 and thus knew of its many fascinating places. Cycling from Lake Titicaca to Cuzco was a real highlight; it also led over a 4338m high pass, the highpoint of my cycling. And with Cuzco being the city with the richest history of my entire journey, I gladly spent a rest-day there while trying to get my bike brakes fixed for the mountains ahead. The biggest challenge of my stay in Peru, however, was the climb of Nevado Pisco and later Huascaran from the mountain town Huaraz, a mecca for outdoor aficionados. After the successful expedition to Huascaran I was glad to ride once again; I followed the stunning road through the Canyon del Pato down to the Pacific Ocean again. With the acclimatization advantage the oxygen-rich air at sea-level felt fantastic and made me cheer even through the fairly desolate coastal desert stretches up to Trujillo. From here I took another series of buses to get to Quito to meet up with Jill for a final 2 week stay in Ecuador.
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Thursday, May 20
Copacabana to Puno, Peru
139km / 19359km; 7.5h / 1086h; 900m
What a day! I just got to Puno, after 140km, a very long day, crossing from Bolivia to Peru and riding along Lake Titicaca for a while. In the beginning riding was nice; lots of harvesting going on along the Lake shores, sweeping views East across the Lake, good road and moderate traffic, even slight tailwind! Things turned worse after Llave (50km prior to Puno): There was a 25km construction area with gravel on top of a rough surface (and passing trucks sending the gravel flying), and due to limited daylight I couldn’t take a break for the last 3-4 hrs or so. Then there were some thunderstorms in the area and I was concerned I would get rained on. Once about 25km before Puno I got some raindrops, but the main cloud was over the mountains, so I was lucky. Then I got to within 5 km of Puno and it got really dark and low black clouds. I could see the bay of Puno already. Riding around the bay to the town center would have been another 5km or so. Then a thunderstorm let loose, with stormy winds blasting all kinds of dust and dirt in my face; riding the last 2 km was extremely cold and hard. It was about to start raining heavily, when I noticed a large building on the left – a 4-star Hotel (Jose Antonio). To seek shelter from the starting cold rain I moved in there with my bike. Those people were stunned – they had not seen a bike like this before, much less a biker in these weather conditions. So they allowed me in and moments later it started raining very heavily – I was so lucky to get here dry! At the reception I think they took pity on me. First they mentioned a room rate of $100, which was about half of what they had on their price sheet. I said – still exhausted and trying to catch my breath – that I had’t spent that much for all of last week in Bolivia. Then she checked in the back and came back with an offer for $70 / night, which I accepted. This is pure luxury here, with Internet in the room, very nice bathroom, big towels and all toiletries, two double beds, and a view across the entire bay which is just stunning. I just took a much needed hot shower – I had gotten really cold in the push to get here through this weather. Now I warmed up and life is good again.
Friday, May 21
Puno to Juliaca
53km / 19412km; 2.9h / 1089h; 240m
Half day today due to various reasons: a) yesterday was hard and I can’t go this hard every day; b) I paid top dollar for this luxurious place so I might as well enjoy it while I’m here; c) the remaining distances from Juliaca to Cuzco are three 100km stretches, so good distances.
After I stayed almost until noon at the 4-star hotel I leave amid a mix of sunshine and growing Cumulus clouds. After 6km I reach the center of Puno, the Plaza de Armas. There is some event going on, so traffic is a nightmare and I often need to push my bike through pedestrian zones. I get some cash from an ATM and also find a bike mechanic next to a large market; there I can tighten the central bolt of my frame which had come somewhat lose and was creating screeching noises especially when riding uphill.
Then around 12:30pm it gets really dark over Puno and I decide to head for the ride. First up some 200m, about half the climb La Paz to El Alto. Within 1/2hr I get honked at 17 times, Peru really is home to the craziest drivers when it comes to honking. Almost getting a few raindrops, then with tailwind and downhill escaping from the local rain shower.
The next 25km or so are great with good tailwind. I drift between cells of thunderstorms and stay dry. Then the wind shifts to the right (East) and it gets much colder and slower. I get to a little village 8km prior to Juliaca and wait out a thunderstorm there while buying some Coke and two pieces of remarkably good marble cake. After 1/2 hr the sun comes out again and I finish the rest to Juliaca, now into the wind. Still pretty dusty, despite the fact that it just rained! The first two Hospedajes don’t look very inviting at all; so I try a bit more upscale, the 3-star hotel Don Carlos. That looks good for $40; I’m happy I found a good place with WiFi and got here dry.
After a hot shower and some email I go for a walk; Juliaca is a very busy, loud and dusty place. I definitely wouldn’t want to live here.
Saturday, May 22
Juliaca to Ayaviri
99km / 19511km; 6.2h / 1096h; 450m
Early start at 8am after hotel breakfast due to concern about thunderstorms in the afternoon. First 30km nice smooth road and no wind; it’s rolling nicely and the temperature is pleasant with the warming sun.
Then the smooth road turns to the East and the road North to Pucara continues in very bad shape: Lots of cracks, holes, patches, bumps – a horrible road, perhaps the worst paved road I have ridden on in South America! Even trucks go slow as it rattles so bad. Then the headwind sets in and increases in strength, so fairly slow going and low morale. Once in Pucara (65km) I have lunch – a big bowl of soup followed by some ceviche with chicken. Then I roll to the central plaza and take a nap on one of the park benches there in the sun. This helps a bit, but by now at 2pm the headwind has increased strongly and is blowing at 30km/h. Very slow going, very frustrating; today is just not my day. I have only 35km or so to go, but it seems to take forever. I stop at 80km and sit in the grass, trying to enjoy the scenery around me. Then another hour or a bit more, before I finally get to Ayaviri. I ride to the central plaza, and I find a big festival going on there. I also check in at a Hotel Luminosa, according to my bike book a good choice. (Well, it’s not new and clean anymore, but still cheap.) thankfully the shower is really hot and so I clean and warm up at the same time. Some email and then Chinese rice for dinner.
Sunday, May 23
Ayaviri to Sicuani
110km / 19621km; 6.5h / 1102h; 500m
I get up early to take advantage of the calm morning hours for riding. Just a few cookies and I’m off riding around 7:30am. And it is cold this morning, too cold for the way I’m dressed. I need to put on an extra layer under the long bike jersey for the first 10km. So nice to ride the flat roads in the calm hours with the sun climbing higher and warming the chilly morning air. At 30km around 9:30am I feel the first wind, the last couple of km to Santa Rosa are already into considerable headwind. The scenery changes a bit, with snow-capped mountains lining the valley on both sides. Quite beautiful landscape with the yellow brown colors against the white blue sky.
I stop in Santa Rosa for a real breakfast (veggie soup and egg sandwich with coffee). Nice little sleepy place, perfect for a half hr break.
Now the serious part of the ride lies before me: 30km up to the Abra La Raya, some 350m vertical, but gentle slope. The altitude and vertical gain is not the problem, though; the headwind is! Even on level sections I need to ride in low gear and just slowly grind it out. The last 7km to the pass take a full hour (30km in just under 3 hrs). It’s agonizingly slow progress, but somehow one still gets up there into the wind. At the pass I take a few photos – at 4338m my new personal best, never cycled this high before.
The downhill is very loud and cold due to the 30km/h headwind; I need to dress up with GoreTex jacket and ear warmers. Very hectic, not much time to focus on the scenery, also need to pay attention at the frequent railroad crossings. Soon I reach the thermal springs “Aguas Calientes”; I had thought about staying here perhaps, but now I’m too cold and too late in the day to stop and later continue, so I just keep going. It obviously helps a lot that I’m descending almost 800m over the course of 40km to Sicuani. The headwind is still annoying and slowing things down, but the slope is gentle and steady downhill, so I cover the first 30km down from the pass in little more than one hr.
There is more green in the valley, some large Eucalyptus trees and more farming here – definitely a bit milder climate than on the altiplano.
About 5km prior to Sicuani I notice a very nice restaurant below the street. In what amounts to a split-second decision I stop here and plan to have an early dinner. Turns out to be a really good choice, with Quinoa soup and trout and desert (for about $8). Then at 4:30pm I continue the remaining 5km or so to Sicuani. I ride past an unassuming building advertising a 3-star hostel, so I stop to inquire. Turns out it’s a very nice compound, with little rooms spread out amongst a very well maintained garden. With private baño, WiFi and breakfast included for $16 – why would I bother with my tent under those circumstances?
After a hot shower I skype with Jill and catch up on the Giro d’Italia. Then I decide to go to town for a Pizza – getting there and back in one of those 3-wheeled moto-taxis, fun. Buen provecho!
Monday, May 24
Sicuani to Urcos
98km / 19720km; 5h / 1107h; 740m
Breakfast at 7am and relatively early start around 8am. Still cold in the morning, but pleasant since no wind and slight downhill following the big river valley. First 40km in under 2hrs. Passed Raqchi with its ruins which Jill and I visited back in 2008. I ride until Cusipata (60km) where I stop for lunch. It’s fairly warm and I plan to relax somewhere along the river to digest the big lunch and just enjoy the scenery. The road has a lot of up & down in this area; fortunately it’s more down than up, but still quite strenuous. Also the headwind has set in again as usual, except down here in the valley with the road following the undulating river the wind is not such a big factor.
After my 1/2 hr slumber at 80km I decide to ride the rest in one piece. Unfortunately there is a 100m hill towards the end which kind of hurts a little bit. Here near Urcos departs the Interoceania Sur route to Puerto Maldonado and then on into Brazil and across the Amazon; the traffic sign reads Sao Paolo 4615km or something! That would be quite an adventure to follow this road!
I reach Urcos and check out at least 5 hostels, most next to the central plaza. None are great, but I finally resign myself to one night here and check in with my bike. It’s about 4pm so I have another hr of daylight. I sit at the plaza and type these notes. Then I walk to a restaurant for a cup of coffee. Thereafter I stroll around the village; I discover a little lake and walk around it during sunset and dusk. Somehow I enjoy walking, moving without the weight of the bike and luggage. I walk through the busy streets with all the little shops and sidewalk-food-stalls. At the main plaza I watch how they prepare a bus which is then taking off to Puerto Maldenado (over a 4800m high pass then down to 300m asl). One of the crew sleeps in a baggage compartment below – haven’t seen that before!
Then I have some chicken dinner for $3 and finally sit at the plaza again. I feel tired; my skin is peeling on my nose, my lips have blisters, my bike needs repair – I just feel tired. 7 days since La Paz without break and lots of climbing and headwind. A good indicator of my being tired is if it annoys me when passing drivers honk at me; I’ve been annoyed quite a bit these last couple of days… Hopefully a day or two of rest in Cuzco will get me into the groove again!
Tuesday, May 25
Urcos to Cuzco
45km / 19765km; 2.75h / 1110h; 510m
I get up around 7:15am as the honking of taxi drivers trying to attract customers is just incessant and very annoying. I don’t think I’ve ever heard as much honking as in Peru. I have some Coke and a few cookies as breakfast substitute and then carry the trailer and bike and bags down the two levels of steep stairs. Then I start riding at 8am. It’s uphill over the little crest next to the Laguna Urcos. 500m after I start I have to get off and push, so steep is the incline in the village. Then it’s better and I can ride and warm up. At 10km there is the village of Andahualilla (?) with its famous church. While it’s a bit off to the side I decide to take the detour as this church is said to be extremely richly decorated inside. There are also many tour buses, so in a way that’s a good sign. Despite it being renovated the church is open for visitors; unfortunately no photography allowed. But very impressive, they call it the “Sixtine Chapel of South America”. I also chat with a German tour group who film me and my bike; they appear to be very impressed with my journey!
I continue and feel pretty good, given that today is only a half day with maybe 3hrs of riding, but quite a bit of uphill. My legs feel good as I ride up the hills, slowly but steadily. I can already see the commercial jets fly in low over the hills – I remember flying very close to the hills when landing in Cusco 2yrs ago coming from Lima.
Past 30km I already see a big sign “Welcome to Cuzco”, similar to those in Puno and Sicuani. The road climbs steadily as it reaches the Cuzco metropolitan area. And again, hundreds if not thousands of people greeting, shouting, honking at me and my bike. The level of attention is incredible; this morning I’m not so tired yet so it doesn’t bother me. Then I stop at a nice Panaderia for a coffee and some fresh bread and pastries – a real breakfast so to speak. I also
type these notes.
At noon I continue heading to the center. The road continues uphill, but soon I reach the historic center. Memories of our visit in 2008 come up. I stop and chat with two New Zealanders who are also travelling by bicycle. Then I reach the Plaza de Armas and take a few pictures. I ask for directions to the Valle San Blas and go there to check the Hostal Amaru. To my surprise, they have a room for one night and so I check in at 2pm. After a hot shower and an email check I bring my bike to a nearby store to get the front brake pads replaced. I also drop off some laundry and relax a little bit. Later I walk to the Plaza de Armas again and look for a Pizzeria as I’m quite hungry.
Rest days in Cusco
Friday, May 28
Cusco to Lima (by bus)
Saturday, May 29
Lima to Huaraz (by bus)
May 30 – June 10
Expeditions from Huaraz to climb Nevado Pisco and Huascaran.
Friday, June 11
Huaraz to Huallanca
111km / 19891km; 6h / 1118h; 500m
Saturday, June 12
Huallanca to Santa (by bus)
this has been one of the craziest days. I boarded the bus in Huallanca; they threw the bike, the trailer and my two panniers up on the roof – I was concerned that with those bad roads these items might not survive the trip unharmed. And what a crazy trip that was: Down 1400m vertical through a sheer endless canyon, with gravel road barely wide enough to let the bus pass; Ioften looked out and down the window, but couldn’t see the road, just the raging river way down below. The driver was going way too fast in my opinion, occasionally blowing his super-loud horn as to indicate that whoever would be around the turn better get out of the way because we could never have stopped in time… After a while I figured that they go here every day and so they probably know what they were doing. But still, according to my understanding of the laws of physics this was a really dangerous trip.
Then we get to the intersection to Chao, where Iasked them to drop me off as I didn’t want to go South to Chimbote – a not so nice large city and the wrong way (as I need to go North to Trujillo). So there is the damage: My trailer rear reflector broke off and one of the two hitch pins ripped away. I figure I can ride without the red rear reflector, but not without the pin. However, I remembered that I have a spare, so I dug that out and I was good. The bike itself seems to have survived intact.
Then I wanted to turn on my SPOT. Errr – where is the SPOT? Ah shucks – I forgot the SPOT on the roof in the Hostel in Huallanca. After 20.000 km on the bike I finally managed to forget the SPOT! Darn. So I thought about what to do. Taking the 4hr bus ride back tomorrow and then again that would be extreme. Instead I went to a phone shop and asked the friendly lady there for assistance. We looked up the phone number of the Hostel from the phone book – had to ask some locals though as they only listed last names, not hostels, and of course I didn’t know the last name… Then I talked to the owner and described where I had left the SPOT. He went to look for it and found it. I called again 5 mins later and now that he had the device we agreed that he would give it to the bus driver of the bus tomorrow; I can then pick it up in Chimbote tomorrow afternoon. So I will have lost one day, but hopefully get my SPOT back!
What a day! Not quite sure where to stay tonight, probably right here in Santa – some 20km North of Chimbote. Tomorrow I will then have all day to get to Chimbote and find the Yungay Express bus terminal and wait for my SPOT to show up…
Oh boy, well, if all I did was to lose one day, then I can live with that.
Sunday, June 13
Santa to Chimbote and back
31km / 19922km; 2h / 1120h; 100m
I ride South to the port town of Chimbote where I hope to find my SPOT at the bus terminal. It’s not a pleasant place, with the fog making it a bit gloomy, and the fish meal industry waste polluting air and water adds to the doom and gloom here. Unfortunately the driver of the Yungay Express shows up without my SPOT, so I return with a mix of disbelief and frustration, both about my own mistake of having forgotten the device in the first place as well as about the lack of common sense of the driver to take it with him.
Over dinner I contemplate my options. In order to not lose more time just sitting around and waiting for the SPOT to arrive I decide to continue cycling to Trujillo tomorrow. From there, I could still take a bus back to Chimbote the next day and try one more time to retrieve my SPOT at the bus terminal.
Monday, June 14
Santa to Trujillo
125km / 20047km; 7h / 1127h; 700m
Long ride starting early. Stretches through harsh coastal desert, with the occasional car wreck rusting alongside the road. At one point 400m high sand dunes to cross, which slowed me down quite a bit in the heat. Second half a bit more inviting due to plantations and more irrigated land. Nice long lunch break. Then a momentous occasion as the 20.000km mark rolls by! Hard evening ride to make it to town before sunset. Then challenge of finding Lucho’s famous bike place in a city of one million people. Once there, I am happy to sign the guest book and chat a little bit. However, there is no water or shower at the place, so I decide to move to a nearby hotel, and Lucho graciously guides me around a few corners to find it.
Tuesday, June 15
Visit to Huanchaco (by bus) and then drive back to Chimbote (by bus) to finally retrieve my SPOT.
Wednesday, June 16
Bus transfer to Guayaquil, Ecuador and on to Quito