©2019 by Jelle.

Cycling through the Peruvian Andes

28/7/2019

After I had finally resolved my technical issues, I could continue my way towards Argentina. I left Huaraz and immediately noticed that I hadn’t climbed for a long time, I was gasping for breath. I ended my day in Conocha, a tiny village where the Peruvian Divide route starts. This is a popular route among the die-hard cyclists and brings you over high passes through rough and unpaved roads. I did not exactly have the right setup to cycle on this terrain, but I would try it anyway.

 

 

The sun quickly burned away the clouds above the lake

 

Soon, I understood why this route was so popular. There is practically no traffic at all, you encounter maybe five cars per day. In my opinion, the road was actually pretty accessible. Sure, it is unpaved, but the gravel was pretty good! The surroundings are indescribably beautiful and the people who live in the picturesque villages are extremely friendly. The old ladies all wear these traditional clothing with skirts and hats. Normally, I tend not to stop too often to take pictures of the surroundings, but during my time on the Peruvian divide, I constantly stopped to take pictures. Armed with my phone, I tried to capture the image on my retina. The pictures are ok, but it doesn’t come close to the reality.

 

Snowy mountains in the background

 

The first day, I slept in a little village called Cajamarquilla, where they offered me a free room to sleep in. I prepared my own meal in that little room and could start the day with a freshly brewed coffee. The next day, I had to climb my way out of the village, before descending the rest of the day. You could slowly see the vegetation change, vivid above, arid and dead below. I ended my day next to a river, where I found a little sandy spot to put up my tent. The rest was full of stones, so I was lucky to find this spot.

 

Coffee time!

The beginning of a long descent

That did not seem to end

 

The arid and cactus-rich environment, down below

 

 

 

The days that followed were less pleasant, since I got sick. I had a lack of energy and didn’t feel like cycling at all. I think I experienced who it’s like to be in the menopause, because of the extreme mood changes that I had. Hot flashes were the only thing lacking! While I had to climb the entire day, an annoying voice in my head kept telling me to stop. I tried to ignore that voice and pushed on. I ran out of water and I thought I’d found a refreshing source of fresh water, but it turned out to be hot spring. Great on every other occasion, but that day it was not. At the end of the afternoon, I reached the village that I wanted to reach and I was utterly relieved that I had made it.

 

Always a sad sight

 

I decided to take a rest day, which happened to be the same day as the football finals of the Womens world cup and the Copa América. Both finals did not end as I would have wished. The Dutch ladies lost against the United States, while Peru lost against Brazil. Peru reached the final for the first time in 44 years, so it was a special occasion for many Peruvians. I watched the game in a small shop that had a flatscreen, together with 25 other locals. As a tall European, I stood at the back of the group to give everybody the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the game.

 

Half recovered, I continued my way to Oyón, another village in the mine region of Peru. Soon, my body let me know that half-recovering was not the right call to make, because I encountered the man with the hammer again. I felt powerless. But enough of my complaints, I did reach Oyón at the end of the day. I decided to take two rest days to recover completely this time.

 

I have had some amazing days at the Peruvian divide, but I had het enough of the off-road tracks. With the bicycle setup that I use, I prefer to cycle on paved roads. I took a collective taxi to Cerro de Pasco, which would have been a pain in the ass to reach by bike because of road maintenance. While Oyón is a small village in the mine region, Cerro de Pasco is considered to be the capital of the Peruvian mine industry. The yellow safety helmets are literally put on a pedestal at the main square of the city.

 

The main square of Cerro de Pasco

 

Cerro de Paco is furthermore one of the highest cities in the world, with an altitude of 4400 meter. This is especially sensible during the night, where the temperature dropped to minus 10 degrees Celsius. The next morning, I left the city in my Canada gear; thick coat, gloves and woolen socks. Two long and beatiful cycling days brought me to the city of Huancayo. What a relief to cycle on paved roads again! The road went through high plains, something I’d never seen before. It was as flat as the desert, but on an altitude of over 4 km. Really strange.

 

High plains

 

Keeping it cleannn

 

In Huancayo, I planned my next route. In three days, I would cycle to Ayacucho, yet another big city in the Andes. I had barely left Huancayo when I noticed two fully-packed bicycles in front of a restaurant. I stopped for a talk and that’s how I met two middle-aged Germans. They are ‘only’ travelling for six weeks, from Lima to Cusco. Since they were also planning to pass through Ayacucho, we decided to cycle together for a couple of days.

 

Torsten und Lutz

 

We have had some really nice days together, and my energy level really got a boost. After some lonely days on the Peruvian divide, it was nice to have some proper human contact again. In German style, we ended our cycling days with a couple of Peruvians beers. By the way, we encountered an unannounced road closure along the way. It was closed because of a land slide and falling rocks. The alternative road would have taken us two extra days, since that meant that we would have had to climb over a huge mountain to get to the other road. The other option that we had was to carry the bike and bags down to the river, over the river and via a very steep hill on the road again. And that is exactly what we did. It took us two hours, which is peanuts in comparison with taking that alternative road.

 

We passed two giants tarantulas along the way. I had never seen those creatures in real life, apart from behind double-walled glass in the zoo’s reptile house. Very impressive sight!

 

 

Danke schön Torsten!

 

 

In Ayacucho, the Germans and I went our own ways. We have already agreed upon meeting again. Next year, I want to finish my trip with a little trip through Europe. We have agreed that I will cycle pass their house in Germany before cycling home.

 

Ayacucho, located in some kind of bowl of mountains

 

The next milestone is Cusco, the tourist capital of Peru. This is another 500 kilometers and many mountains away from Ayacucho. I will write about this route in my next blog. Oh and I will probably celebrate my birthday there, so everyone who reads this is invited!

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