as an instant dadª, I’ve had a fast and sharp learning curve regarding parenthood. the experience is akin to barreling down an open road or snug single track with love, life, work, and social responsibilities simultaneously chasing, biting, and supporting you.
a lesson I’ve learned in this real life education regarding child rearing is this: amor solamente.
it took a while, it took effort, and continues every breathing moment. with this love, this unrequited protection, mutual nurturing, and open honoring we breathe life into our progeny. the way we approach these‡ daily and countless moments is how we shape their, and by extension our, futures.
with that being said, I see the act of sharing cycling as an act of empowerment, trust, and shear, unadulterated (lull that word around for a moment… ) joy.
my own father, a true Papa Bear, allowed me to rise, and fall, on many a bicycle-related occasion (and later followed by motorcycles, but that’s for another blog). he pushed me around on my trike, Big Wheel, training wheels, freedom wheels. we flew up hills with much needed and appreciated ‘uppies!’, and descended scary open expanses of asphalt giggling and smiling sky wide.
my father taught me the art of bicycle maintenance. or is it frustration? either way, he taught me how to true a bicycle wheel. or untrue a bicycle wheel as my first foray into wrenching went. he bought be all the protective gear my consequence unaware body could use. while I didn’t always appreciate it all (sorry, dad, for hiding my helmet under the bush at the end of our street on my excursions throughout Klamath Falls), I did appreciate his love, his passion, and the freedom he instilled and shared with me.
now, myself a proud father, am entrusted, or at least offered, the chance to share this passion of two wheels gracing Earth. I can choose to crash this inherited and bestowed gift, or I can choose to stabilize, support, and see it live on in our son and his future sibling(s).
this is what it will mean to me to ride with our child. this is what we’re crafting to share and continue. the love of human powered possibility.
cheers and keep the rubber side down (mostly).
ª my wife’s biological son is now my son. :D
‡ I actually just had to leave the computer to find out what our son was rifling for in the fridge which almost led to an experience akin to the blog Reasons My Son is Crying (http://reasonsmysoniscrying.tumblr.com/), but was quickly avoided by leading with love (and some order since he already had two filled sippy cups, and “no mo’ coco [water]” was my ruling). We ended up snuggling in the Escondido heat on the couch, numbing the torment of denial.
author note: this is a comment I left for a Momentum Bicycle Magazine online contest for a Yepp Mini front child bicycle seat. enjoy!
Last night’s fire was almost a no show. The cold temps, high altitude and lack of very dry material made ignition impossible. Thankfully, my granola had a cardboard insert which helped ignite my thirty-minutes of warmth. Once the flames retreated into the coals I headed to my tent to endure the night.
Waking up I discover frost covering everything. It must’ve dipped below 0°C during the night, as my numb toes also attest to. I’m alone, not a sound nor stirring around me. Only viscachas, small ground rodents that look like rabbits with squirrel tails, live around here. I break down my tent, brushing frosty remnants of the night away in between rounds of rewarming my hands. The sun is slow to show in my area of the mountains so I wait it out munching on bananas and granola. Breakfast finished and still no sign of the sun to warm my path, I read some of David Holmgren’s “Permaculture Essence” in Spanish.
Noticing patches of the road being bathed in light, I begin my transformation from camper into cyclist. I decide to wait to dress until I’m on the road in full sun so as to preserve what little warmth I’m managed to maintain. My knee is feeling worse and I’m concerned about the impending climbs and cuestas waiting for me.
Dressed and loaded, I mount my bike. We’re only .33km in when my knee clamors for a stop. I wrap it in a compression bandage, hoping that it’ll quell the insanity. It seems to work for a bit as I continue my climb.
Thankfully, the climb I had worried about the day before peters out into a plateau. I get to experience my first neutral to negative grade since starting my trip. The vistas are breathtaking. I’m literally on the verge of tears at the sight and beauty of the landscape surrounding me. Snow capped peaks jut out above peat bog valleys with ganaderos, sheep herders, working far, far below. The weather is perfect, no menacing clouds, only blue sky. I highly recommend driving up from Santa Eulalia to this pass and continuing on to Marcapomacocha if you live in Lima.
I pass my first humans of the day, two ganaderos and their pack of barking dogs. I get some info regarding my destinations from them and continue my descent. Ah, descent. My knee is forgotten as I blast down the roads and enjoy the fruits, and suffering, of my labors.
I get to the intersection between heading to Casapalca and Marcapomacocha. During the night I thought it’d be best to ride to Casapalca to catch a bus to Tingo Maria to wait until my knee heals and then continue on my way. But, as usual, I take the road less traveled and descend towards Marcapomacocha. The valley continues to impress with its beauty. I encounter more ganaderos, some are even slaughtering their sheep for meat and skins. I pull off the road to see what they’re up to. We chat a bit about my trip, sustainable agriculture (the younger gentleman says, “Oh, ¿agricultura ecologica?”) and the best way to travel toward Pucallpa. I thank them for their time and wish them well as I pedal back to the road.
About ten-minutes more into my ride my knee starts up again. This time the pain is growing into other parts of my joints. I start worrying about whether I can actually make it to my destination. A few camionetas pass me and I hesitate to hail them down for a lift to Marcapomacocha. My desire to continue on, unaided by outside transport is still the dominant force in my stubborn mind. However, after a terrible climb of switchbacks and a new pain point on top of my knee, I give in. I’m not thrilled about this, especially because, when healthy, I’d have been to Marcapomacocha yesterday.
I try pedaling after a brief rest on the side of the road. I’ve switched to listening to Permaculture talks to give myself respite from my usual upbeat electronic music. I hear a car approaching from behind. I look, and notice it’s a truck. I immediately wave to get it to stop. It does. I explain that my knee is killing me, and if I could get a lift to Marcapomacocha. The driver kindly allows me to put my stuff in back. Climbing in the back, I tap on the hood to signal ready and we drive off, ending my bicycle only travel.
I am a bit bummed at having to give up cycling only to Pucallpa, but between my knee’s health and pressed timeline anyway, I’m thankful to save myself the hell of trying to finish the last four kilometers into town. We arrive in the town of 200 souls and I disembark. I thank the man for his generosity, and start looking for a place to crash and eat.
Some locals show me the two options for hostels. One is a community sleeping bunk in the town plaza, the other is a white building on the outskirts of the town overlooking the lake of the same name. Knowing my knee needs rest, but isn’t ready for the short climb to the hostel, I opt for food. A woman guides me to a maroon door around the corner from the plaza. I park, knock and enter. A small woman comes out of the kitchen and tells me there’s no lunch ready. I ask if she can cook something and she says yes, trucha/trout. I’m stoked. Hot food for the first time in two days. Eating almonds and raisins can only last for so long. Just after I arrive, a family of three and a grandfather enter for lunch as well. I ask if I can join them and they happily accept.
As we wait for soup, the family and I share details about my journey and how I like Perú. The man and his father are workers for various ganaderos around the valley. They’re both from Marcapomacocha and have lived here their whole lives. We talk about la selva and my work there. The usual questions of what food I’ve tried in the jungle follow. After soup, my 10/soles fried trucha comes out and I feast. Arroz y papas and a salad side round out the offering followed by a manzanilla tea.
Satiated and nourished, I head into the plaza to finalize my boarding options. Everyone I encounter is kind and friendly, offering me detailed advice on my road ahead and the options in town. I love riding in the countryside. If you have a positive, friendly demeanor, it’s hard to have tough luck.
I decide on the large, white hostel on the outskirts of town. I choose it for their private rooms, but also because next to it is a nurse station and I want them to look at my knee. Arriving isn’t too painful, mostly due to the rest during lunch. No one is around to rent me a room, but I’m not about to go hunting for them in town. Instead I unpack my bike and haul my things upstairs to the “lobby.” The building is in various states of completion and construction. They’re adding the third floor currently, and it’s vying for the status of tallest building in town.
Stuff stashed as best I can, I limp over to the nursing station to get my knee checked out. The door is open but seems empty inside. I call out and a woman responds. I tell her about the pain in my knee and she offers me a shot in the butt. Not exactly the advice I’m looking for, but a reduction in any pain and swelling is welcome, especially since the pain has grown considerably.
The “consultation” and shot cost 5/soles. I pay and walk back to the hostel to write about my day and rest my leg until the owners show up. Thankfully, they just have. Then sun is now obscured by heavy, rain-threatening clouds, and I’m looking forward to curling up in bed to rest and recoup to see what my options for travel are tomorrow and beyond.
Distance: 29.35 km
Avg Speed: 12.0 km/hr
Max Speed: 43.2 km/hr
Riding Time: 2:27:18
_Postscript: Two days of resting in the small town, my knee isn’t apt for any mountain riding. I decide to strap my bike to the top of a rickety micro and get dropped off in Casapalca. When we arrive, I realize that catching a bus to Pucallpa is as likely as me winning a Miss America pagent, so I continue with the other passengers to San Mateo. I try, for a moment, to hail one of the hurtling buses en route to the jungle, but none stop. As the day wanes, I realize I have to return to Palle to end my cycling adventure, recoup my knee and take an alternative mode of transport to the jungle. Next time, next time.
I awake a bit on the late side in the morning. Sleeping in feels great, especially with the repeated awakenings to calf and shin cramps throughout the night. Not to mention the late night bowl movement (I’m learning the ropes of shitting in the woods; it’s all about a relaxed, full-fledged squat and a deep enough hole beneath you). The rest I’ll let you figure out when your time comes. My midnight evacuation was accompanied by the moon popping out from behind the mountainside. Like a giant spotlight, she illuminated me as I shat.
My right knee gave me grief yesterday. It must be a seat positioning issue, and I’ll rectify it as soon as I’m on the road. Breaking down camp takes a while. I’m moving slowly and repacking appropriately takes time. Once gear is in its proper place, I gingerly scramble down the mountain to my bicycle, hidden on a terrace below me. I drop off my heavy goods, grab my water bladder, UV sanitizer pen and head to the rushing river. I pass an elderly gentleman who asks if I’m cold, most likely due to my bicycle shorts. I say, “No, ¡porque estamos caminando!” He smiles and wishes me a good day.
At the banks of the fast flowing Pallca River I fill up my water reserves and spend 8 minutes purifying the bladder. It holds 6l, but I put in about 5. Each liter of water requires a minute of UV sanitization with constant stirring. I’m in the air if I should try sanitizing the whole bladder or just my bottle after refills. It’s a gamble either way given the plethora of livestock farms upstream.
Water secured, I hike back to my stash of stuff and haul it to the roadside. The bags are down on the road as I’m hiking up to get my steed when a passing truck stops and offers me a lift. As I’m lifting my monstrosity of a bicycle, I say no thanks and wave him on. What a kind person!
I’ve got my bag locations figured out, and the bladder situation on lock down. No more pop, drop and drags for that boy. My breakfast consists of granola and a grenadilla. Mmmm.
Like all of my ride thus far, the starting point is a climb followed by more climbs. I pedal, taking in the morning sun flanking the right cliffs with warmth and color. This really is a spectacular valley and would love to come climb some of the cliffs I pass beneath.
Ahead I start encountering the hydroelectric efforts outside Huanza. Workers are everywhere. Like busy bees they are building this, hauling that. My only roadside companions are them, vacas y burros. I’m greeted, by the humans, with waves, smiles and the usual, “¿Dónde vas?” followed by a slack jawed expression when I tell them, “Pucallpa.”
I’m stopping every 3km or so, depending on the grade and my knee’s complaints. I’d be chugging up the inclines much more fluidly if not every pedal stroke was accompanied by pain. I do some more seat adjustments and raise my post. It seems to help, but I think the damage has already be done on my first day’s riding efforts with my improper setup and enthusiasm.
The kilometers tick by slowly. I’m averaging 5.6km/hr which is exceptionally slow. As lunch time nears, I take break near a concrete pad with water tanks. I bust out two of the avocados, same granola and my water to enjoy my feast on the concrete pad like a lizard soaking up the sun.
The wind is starting to pick up and my sweaty body is feeling the chills. I’m at 3700m, (roughly 2000m were climbed the day before) and the temperature is steadily dropping with each gain of altitude. I swap my shirt for my black, polypro long sleeve. The radiation absorbing quality of black helps kill the chills, as does getting out of sweaty clothing. Lunch finished, body slightly rested, I continue my push towards the 5000m pass.
Riding continues to be a chore with nary a descent to rest my soul and legs. The sights are magnificent, though. Old stone walls for husbandry dot the valley with some still in use. Giant mountains on all sides change form as I lumber along. Some are black and mammoth, others are pure screed sliding down in one, smooth face. The rivers that I’m used to seeing and hearing start trading places with lakes and reservoirs. Snow dusted crags jut out signaling even cooler temps ahead.
I continue with my start/stop until I reach a company station at the head of Miloc/Milloc Lake. I’m cold and weary so I knock on the station door to see if anyone is inside. Thankfully, a worker is and kindly lets me take shelter for a brief hiatus. I find out that the nearest town is another 33km away, with pure climbs and no reprieve. It’s already past 14:00 and my knee isn’t going to take much more of the monotony and drudgery. Pulled back together and recharged, just a bit, I thank him for the hospitality and remount for more hills.
Zigging, zagging, switchbacking and resting, I push ahead. I watch the painted rocks along the roadside counting down the kilometers to something, I know not what. I try using them as mental gauges and inspiration to push on ahead. But the time is ticking on, I’m moving slower, the cold is increasing and I’ve yet to see a suitable camping spot for the night. I pass another three lakes and reservoirs when, at 7.5km to go to my unknown destination, I spy some abandoned house structures with rock walls. I look up at the various switchbacks climbing towards the snowcapped peaks and acquiesce to my knee’s request to stop and set up camp.
I unpack the bike, shoulder my heavy cargo and scramble up to investigate. The structure I spied has three walls about a meter high. It looks well protected and I think I’ll be able to string my tent on the diagonal. There are also two abandoned mine openings that I check out. The upper one drops down into a pit of water. No go. So I aim for the other one and notice the remnants of campfires and trash. This is where I’ll stash my bicycle and things.
Getting my bicycle up the loose gravel takes some extra effort. I’m beat and a bit dejected for not being able to make my destination. Slowly, I manage to get her up into the cave entrance and begin my dress down for warmth. The sun has finally passed the jagged peaks to the west. Low-lying clouds are starting to move in. It’s chilly up here at 5000m and I’m looking forward to preserving my warmth.
Setting up the hammock goes well. Thankfully a bunch of highland grasses offer their bodies for padding and insulation on the ground. I’m also thankful for the advice my buddy, Luke, gave me on increasing the viability of my hammock with extra webbing and carabiners. The additional gear helps me wrap around the corners of the structure providing me with adequate support; without them I’d be out of luck.
Now, I’m writing this in the old miner’s entrance. Feet are numb, but the rest of me is doing well. I collected what small twigs and scraps of wood I could find before sunset to have a nice fire before retiring to bed, if I can start one, that is. Hopefully the temps don’t drop below 0°C, I’ll take any warmth I can get.
Distance: 30.28 km
Avg Speed: 5.5 km/hr
Max Speed: 45.0 km/hr
Riding Time: 5:32:12
Six-months is a long time between loaded, distance touring. I’ve been active, working out, sweating on the farm, but the pain and suffering of mountain touring is a different beast. With this lull in mind and only one ride to Callahuanca followed by a killer hike into the cerros of Chaclacayo, I viewed this upcoming, multi-day adventure with reverence and respect in the hope that it wouldn’t kick my ass. Well, oops, guess I had the wrong number.
Leaving the Casa de Corazones Jóvenes Eternos organic farm* in Palle Viejo was, as usual, a bit different than the plans in my head. The day before I had hoped to finish the first cap on the clay/sand oven we’re constructing before lunch. It took us far longer due to the thickness of the walls and the oven dimension. Then, enjoying my lunch, Marita reminded me that the seamstress with my pants was closing at 6. We scrambled our things together and shot out the door to Chosica. No pants were to be had, but we killed an hour-plus doing other last minute errands. Back on the ranch I spent my dwindling energy on various trip fine tunings.
My plan in the morning was to rise, shower, pack and ride before six. That got seriously warped when I woke up at what I thought was 4:30 and showered, got dressed and looked at my cell noticing it was 2:30. Ha! Back to bed and woke up close to 5. The mad dash began and I didn’t get on my bike and out the door until 6:55. In addition, my two Peruvian parents, Marita y Rudolfo, showered me with food adding to my already ridiculous stash of dried fruits, nuts and granola. The item that takes the prize for most ludicrous item was a 3kg cherimoya that I had harvested the day before. It’s still not ripe and I have to lug it another two days before I can cut that weight from my rig. Ripening bananas, avocados, grenadillas, and a dense lunch/dinner round out my haul.
Saying goodbye, snapping photos and exchanging hugs, I am finally out the door and riding. To be more specific I’m climbing, non-stop, until I find a place to crash for the night or my legs give out.
Leaving Palle is smooth, but I feel the incredible load and its weight. I’ve looked at the route numerous times, even rode a bus from Chosica to San Pedro de Casta and have seen the road condition and grades. It’s not pretty and it’s not nice. I know I’m in for a treat in the coming hours.
My ride setup has changed. Now, I’ve got clip-less shoes/pedals and my bags are reduced to one smaller Deuter 35l pack and my previous Deuter 65l pack. With any new setup or cargo additions, there’s a learning curve for where things go and best placement/securing. My 6l MSR Dromedary water bladder proves to be the worst offender. Riding at various stages, I would sense an increased drag or the distinct sound of something dragging. Looking back, I would see my bladder dragging in the rocky hard pack, happy as a clam. Guess the reviews at REI were right, this thing is a tank. No scrapes or cuts and no leaking water. I’ve got to find a better way to secure it to my setup.
The other showcase of learning pains is my left clip-less cleat. Pedaling slowly up the mountain, I cross to ride the other track and get locked on the ridge between. Going very slow, my handling is compromised and I send the front wheel off the mini-ridge, causing me to low side. I try to clip out, but no luck! Wham, crash, shoulder to the road. Thankfully, my giant cherimoya and pack of snacks cushion the fall, leaving me more dusty than destroyed. Inspecting my cleat I find a rock wedged between it and the sole. Prying it out, I think my woes were over, but over the course of the day I almost spill a few more times due to lagging release.
But, before either of those two things occurred, I almost died. Well, it’s possible I could’ve been killed, but it’s certain I’d be in a lot of pain at the very least. Just riding along, all alone, listening to my music I am shocked to see a fist-sized rock, or larger, whiz past my head and crash down the embankment to my right. Exclaiming, “Holy shit! What was that!?” I look up the hill to my left to see an avocado farmer waiving and saying, “¡Disculpame!. Um yeah, thanks, buddy. You almost killed me hucking rocks from your orchard into the road. Shaken, and a bit in shock, I start laughing to myself and thanking the celestial sprits accompanying me on my ride.
Topping off my first day pruebas/tests, I am enjoying one of the very few and interspersed downhills of my ride when I hit a low spot and feel the sure signs of a pinch flat. I hope, as I usually do in these situations, that the inner tube survived the snakebite. Alas, when I finish photographing a sweet, old woman in a doorway, I push off to find I had flatted. Fully. Luckily I’m well equipped for such common occurrences and start remedying the situation. But the stall for repair and effort to climb the hills is putting my muscles in a weary state.
Flat fixed and riding again, I start encountering steeper grades and less hard pack roads. Boo! My thighs begin chanting, “How you like our burn!? How you like the pain!?” Trying to ignore their taunts and harangues, I pedal on in defiant protest until they burn, so much and the grade so steep, that I stop to recuperate. After about 5 or 6 more rounds of this give and pain, I decide to dive into my lunch Marita gave me when I see a lovely tree and shade high above the river.
Food consumed, I decide that a short nap would be a good use of my time. The rocks of a chacra wall cradle my body just so, the thin shade protected me from the blazing sun and I peacefully snoozed for half-an-hour with the river passing far beneath. Waking and knowing that time waits for no one, I mount my tank and carry on.
My goal for the day is to reach Huanza, a small pueblo about 40-50km, my guess from the map, away from Palle. I reach the fork in the road for heading toward Huanza or San Pedro de Casta where I spy an old man drawing on broken concrete with a rock. I ask him which direction was correct and how far Huanza is, and he replies which direction was correct, that it isn’t too far and the route isn’t too hilly. I know the latter two things to be false, based on my map, but at least I had the confirmation on where to head.
The entire ride shoulders the Santa Eulalia River. It’s constant rush and rapids make a tranquil, mesmerizing sound. The valley is shadowed by steep, green mountains (this time of year) with farms pockmarking them. It’s a magical place full of beauty. I highly recommend a bus ride (or bike if you like suffering) to check it out if you’re in Lima.
My ride continues to hurt and pain my legs. I frequently must stop due to the cargo size, road conditions and grade. One young man my age, walking down the road, asks me where I am headed and adds that my cuesta was a grand one. Sweet! His words traipse through my brain many times as I chugg along at speeds just a clip above walking.
When I finally reach Huanza, I notice that it sits at the top of a mountain, much like Callahuanca. Seeing that it was also off my main path, I decide that stealth camping is the needed action and start looking for quality spaces to hide myself, bike and gear. I wave down a passing camioneta to ask if there are any towns further ahead. He replies no, only a campemento for the hydroelectric workers 20km ahead. I thank him for the information and am now convinced I must camp. Thankfully, small groves of eucalyptus trees linger ahead offering good spaces for camping.
Pedaling along, I scrutinize each grove. It’s essential because I need trees close enough to hang my hammock, a stashing space for my bicycle near the road, and good cover to not be noticed. Passing a place that looks promising but lacks the requisite camouflage, I spy a well nestled terrace with trees perfect for my sleeping situation and offer adequate obfuscation from the road.
Despite the fatigue, I brake down my cargo setup, strap on my packs and hike to my home for the night. Bags dropped, I return to snag my bicycle and stow it on a lower terrace. The perfection of the site, the view and the setup makes me happy. This is the first time all year in my travels that I’ve finally camped.
What a wonderful way to end a truly testing first day.
Distance: __42.03 km_
_Avg Speed: 6.3 km/hr
Max Speed: 41.0 km/hr
Riding Time: 6:40:21
*they’re looking for volunteers to come work on the farm and stay for a few weeks or longer, send me a msg if you’re interested
After my Pachacamac downhilling bruising I decided to take a few extra days to heal, and wrangle with the import authorities over homemade granola they were holding in Lima. I had the granola mailed in Anibal’s name, but they decided to hold the package due to the contents.* Thankfully, Anibal, in all his pain and discomfort, came with me to Lima to rescue my care package.
While in Chaclacayo, arnica-ing my wounds, I came across some fellow gringitos in a local café. I noticed them as I walked into the establishment, mainly because they both seemed attractive, something I didn’t see often in my tourist sightings thus far. Thinking them to be on a date, and with my mind on empanadas, I continued past them to place my order. The two overheard my broken Spanish request for deliciousness, and figured me to be a legit American because, as I left, they asked if I was in the Peace Corp. Turns out the Corps holds two-week intensives for new recruits in Chaclacayo. We got to talking and they invited me to come visit them at the Hogar de San Francsico Asis.
We exchanged information and two days later I showed up at the Hogar to hang with the kids for a few hours. I brought along some drawing pens in the thought that I could teach some cartooning or, at the very least, do some drawings for them. My new friends, Sean and Amber, were in Lima when I arrived so I just started hanging out with the kids before lunch. I rolled my Big Dummy in to safely store it and within seconds two young boys begging for a ride accosted me. With no one really telling me, “No,” I wheeled my bike to the inner courtyard and did tight circles with them on board. It got a bit sketchy when I added three of them and almost spilled on the slick tile, but, luckily, I caught us and a crisis of pain was adverted.
With the bike parked and off limits, I decided to offer them tattoo drawings. A few hours later I tatted about 20 different kids with a variety of requested drawings using my felt marker. My favorites were the dragons or reproductions of my own tattoos, but the little girls with their tats was priceless!
Sean and Amber returned with the rest of the volunteers and asked me to stay a bit longer for the party being thrown for the kids. A group of university students raised money and organized a sugar-packed, clown-entertained party for them. The volunteers told me that the kids get about 1-3 of these parties a week! The kids get hyped up on the sugar and then either don’t eat their dinner or end up puking their brains out from the overload.
At the party I saw a slice of the rampant hyper-sexualism that is invading the country’s psyche. All over Peru, especially in Iquitos, there’s blatant objectification of women. Iquitos is flagrant, I believe, due to their isolated location, which limits the ability for external influences to check their behavior. Almost every ad features a woman in a thong bikini, whether it has bearing on the product or not. With the kids, this influence could be seen when a dancing skit was being orchestrated by the payaso (clown) involving the kids bumping and grinding. One of the boys, only about 8 or 9-years-old, was acting like a 23-year-old in a explicit hip-hop video. The trippiest part was the Peruvians finding his actions to be funny rather than inappropriate.
After the party winded down, I asked the headmaster if I could give some kids rides outside on my Xtracycle. She kindly obliged and I proceeded to do about four trips around the neighborhood, zipping in and out of the streets, parks and doing laps as a girls volleyball practice was underway. The kids loved it and squealed with delight. I was happy to share some adrenaline rushes with kids who’ve been orphaned, abused and/or disfigured from burns or birth.
Finally, my time had come to head off to Pucallpa. My bruises had reduced a small amount, and I felt ready to tackle the challenges of the Sierras. Thankfully, packing up was easier with my reduction in gear, but after we weighed all my gear, I was still pedaling 105-lbs of matter. Oy!
Under a grey sky (every day, now, in Chaclacayo is grey due to the haze of Lima extending its reach), I thanked Anibal for all his help and shepherding of my gear and steed, hugged and rolled off for the Panamericana.
I swung by the Hogar for one last goodbye to my friends and the kids. After the photo ops and info exchanges, I hit the road for real and begins the third leg of my cycling adventure.
My route is taking me up to the small pueblo of San Pedro de Casta which sits at the base of Marcahuasi, a national park known for its rock formations that some say have faces and animals that appear in them when looked at from certain angles. Also at the park are the ruins of a small civilization that existed separate from the Incas.
Knowing the Panamericana to be congested and filled with traffic, I planned my route to break off and head toward Parque Junin, in the Sierras. When I showed Anibal my route he warned me of going that direction and said I wouldn’t enjoy the ride. I appreciated his concern, but wasn’t discouraged in my pursuit of the road less traveled.
Riding feels good and my muscles are cooperating nicely. The climbing isn’t too much of a grade and my music is putting me in the zone. Cars, as usual, are being kind and giving me ample space. I smile at a variety of people as I ride by including a large collection of officers outside of a fancy country club.
I reach Chosica, the next town north of Chaclacayo and continue on. Up ahead I see an older gentleman on a bicycle riding in the same direction as me. I catch up to him and ask where the turn is for heading to San Pedro de Castas. He motions and says it’s a bit further up the way. I thank him and pass him. We hit another incline that makes me pedal a bit slower and he retakes the lead.
Leaving Chosica I feel that I’ve missed the turn. I start checking my map that has a useful, but not detailed, resolution. I notice that the turn was before a water crossing and I definitely crossed a river. My internal, “Her, let’s double-check this,” starts buzzing and right when I’m about to ask some official looking people I see the bicycle man, ahead of me, stopped and looking at me. He sees me notice him and waves me onward. I pull up, mute my music and he apologizes, saying, “We already passed the turn you need for Chaclacayo. Take that road there and ask people on that for specific directions to where you’re heading.” I thank him and turn around.
Heading downhill is a welcome feeling and I aim for the road he pointed to. I reach a corner and ask a young woman how to get to my destination. She and another man kindly guide me with gestures. Thanks shared, I roll on to continue my search for the side road leading to San Pedro de Castas.
I reach another crossroads with a sign detailing distances to various towns. As I scan them and find my destination, a man comes over to let me know that the distances are false in order to lure more tourists. Great! My already long day is looking to turn out longer than anticipated. In light of the news I quickly saddle my ride, thank the man for the info and pedal uphill, finally on my intended route.
Riding uphill isn’t taxing, yet. I pedal and enjoy the new scenery and sights as I ride: schools, restaurants and the foothills of Santa Eulalia. The road has already started to get worse compared to the reliable asphalt of the Panamericana, but it’s not a busted-state, yet.
Ahead of me I see a young mountain biker, decked out in red lycra, biker shorts and a backpack pedaling with way too much motion in his upper body. I fight my inner urge to catch up to him and just maintain my pace. Finally, in a hairpin climb, I’m side-by-side with him and I suggest, in Spanish, that he’s using too much energy moving his upper body around. Instead, all of his energy should be directed from the hips down, into his pedal stroke. The advice seems to resonate because I can immediately see a change in his posture. We introduce ourselves and I find out that he knows Anibal! His name is Arturo and he’s riding to San Pedro de Castas from Lima. I’m impressed at the distances he’s attempting and we ride together to Santa Eulalia.
Reaching the small town of Santa Eulalia, I need to fill up my water bladder since I’m running low on agua. I also order an empanada from the restaurant next door and Arturo enjoys an ice cream. After filling up my bladder and satiating ourselves, we press on. My pace is slightly faster than Arturo’s, possibly detrimental for my legs, but we’ll see, so I pull ahead of him. I’m not too worried since I’m sure we’ll re-encounter each other on the four hour climb to the town.
En route I stop to snap photos of various things. There are tons of little retreat restaurants and day-use facilities that feature pachamanca, a Peruvian mud oven dish of 1-3 “flavors” (meats, really) that families come to enjoy along with a dip in a pool or the river that runs through the valley.
Arturo catches up to me as I’m photographing an adorable sign advertising rabbits and rabbit guano for sale. We ride next to each other and enter the very small town of San Jose de Palle Viejo. As we pass through the town square, Arturo suggests we stop and take a break. I’m not feeling it and let him rest and instead pedal on knowing that I’ll be getting my rest with photo breaks.
Pedaling a few blocks ahead I see banana trees. The sight of them catches my eye because I haven’t seen much agriculture, nor banana trees, a staple of my time in Iquitos. I am intrigued and as I’m scanning the line of them I see a man, dressed in blue overalls and hat, standing next to one contemplating it (or something greater). I stop and ask him what he’s growing on his land. He says palta and cherimoya, in addition to the bananas. He tells me about a bicycle trip he took from Perú to Chile back in the seventies. He also shares with me his walking adventures around Perú. We segue to my interests and what I’m doing. I share with him my intention of riding to Pucallpa to study agroforestry there and sustainable agriculture. He immediately beams and says they’re practicing sustainable agriculture on their land and starts inviting me to stay and see it. He also turns and shouts out to a woman named Marita to come out and see me.
The farming man introduces himself as Rudolfo, and Marita is making her way out of the property and walking up to me in the street. As she approaches, Arturo has finished his rest and is riding past. I tell him to pedal on because I’m going to chat with these people for a bit.
Marita is a bundle of happiness when I see her. Her eyes are narrow, almost beady with a warming smile and aura of love. She immediately reminds me of my mother in certain ways; maybe it’s the skin tone, the wispy hair or the neck structure, but something is very familiar with her. We introduce and I quickly run down my list of attempted exploration and growth in South America.
I’m quickly invited in for some lunch. Knowing that every second not pedaling puts me at risk of riding at night, I’m a bit hesitant to accept. But, I do a quick gut check and decide that this is what my journey is all about: unexpected diversions and re-routing. I accept their invitation and bring my bicycle and gear inside their gate.
We sit, Ruidolfo, Marita, Marita’s son, Jean Pierre, and myself at a little, round patio table. Rudolfo and I talk about agriculture a bit and what they’re doing on the land. Marita comes back with a bowl of sopa de habas (fava beans). It’s delicious and I down it rapidly. As I’m polishing the soup off, Rudolfo goes out looking for some tuna fruit for me, and no, not fruit of the sea creature, it’s prickly pear fruit, what they call ‘tuna’ in these parts. He finds the one and only ripe fruit and brings it to me. I’m extremely humbled by the gesture and thank him for the gift. I peel it and enjoy the reach flavor of the fruit as we continue our talk about agriculture and the spiritual powers of Marcahausi.
I notice the tree covering the patio looks a lot like the inga trees from the jungle. Their pods are rectangular instead of round and smaller, but Rudolfo says their tree’s (called pacay) seed pulp is edible, too. I grab a pod and sure enough, the white, fleshy pulp has a similar texture and flavor as that of its cousin.
The hours of light are dwindling and I’m uncertain I’ll be able to make it to San Pedro de Castas. This isn’t a bad thing because both Rudolfo and Marita have offered me a bed to crash in. On top of that they want me to stay as long as I want to help them with their land and go explore Marcahuasi with them. Loving uncertainty and the randomness of life I accept their kind offer and watch as they are overcome with joy and excitement.
This is what adventure and life are all about.
Distance: 23.26 km Avg Speed: 11.7 km/hr Max Speed: 33.6 km/hr Riding Time: 1:59:00
* Note: use a vacuum-pouch sealer if you want to send your loved ones food in Perú. I almost lost two pounds to their quarantine ways, but, fortunately, my mother sealed her homemade granola using a FoodSaver sealer.
Downhill Mountain Biking
After my last post I headed back to the States to reconfigure my life. I had a wonderful time visiting friends in the Bay Area, river rafting, road tripping and getting to do the Bike the Bay event in San Diego with my family.
I returned to Perú at the end of August, stayed with Anibal for a night and caught a Star Airlines flight to Iquitos from Lima. I was going to spend two months in Iquitos, the largest city in the world inaccessible by car. Only boats and planes can reach the city in the northeast corner of the country. Not knowing what to expect from jungle life, being in a time crunch and having a safe home for my bicycle, I decided to travel without my baby. It was a wise choice given it being my first time, but my return trip to the jungle will certainly include my bicycle because it would’ve come in handy for running errands.
My two months at the Paititi Institute was wonderful. We helped construct a chicken house, bee honey processing house and cleared space for cacao plantings. If you’re at all interested in indigenous medicine or permaculture, be sure to look them up. Another good option is Eco Ola’s Mazan Permaculture Project which is kicking off this summer in July.
The next stage of my adventure involved returning to Lima to get my bicycle, hang with Anibal and possibly ride with him before packing up and pedaling across the Sierras to Pulcallpa to do some agro-reforestation with a gentleman, Limber, whom I met through the internet.
Knowing that Anibal does his Cicloturismo Perú cycling tours, I wanted to go riding with him. I let him know my intention and he informed me that he actually had a downhill mountain biking class the weekend I would be there with Perú’s world class downhiller, Wayo Stein. I was expecting some easy tour around some of the local ruins, but downhilling with a pro sounded awesome, too.
I reached Lima and took a taxi to Anibal’s house. I shared stories of my two months of jungle living, and was peppered with questions about how rustic it was. City folk have a very distinct impression of their fellow countrymen from the jungle. Everyone assumes that fried grubs are eaten everywhere, that the women are loose, and the insects and snakes work in tandem to make your life hell. After I dismissed and laughed at some of the stereotypes, we geared up for our weekend ride with Wayo.
I wasn’t about to take my Big Dummy downhilling, although I’m sure I would’ve been fine. Instead, I used one of Anibal’s hardtails while he got his dual suspension touring rig setup for Pachacamac. I knew I’d suffer using a hardtail, but, again, beggars can’t be choosers.
We loaded the bikes in his newly purchased van, got our crash pads, water and rest of the gear and drove to Barranco to pick up a buddy, Pedro. Once loaded we drove south toward Pachacamac Parque. The start of the ride began at a private resort. There were about 20 riders in the class, not including us, plus Wayo and an assistant. At $60 a head, this was definitely the upper-crust of Lima’s cycling scene. Only one other dude had a hardtail, the rest had Santa Cruzes, Specialized, Trek, etc. dualies and were dressed the part with pads and lyrca. I took a bit of pride being in my t-shirt, baggy shorts, sneakers and rockin’ a hardtail.
Wayo spent almost an hour describing a proper dual suspension setup. He went over sag for both shocks, rider position, gear and some riding concepts. I got a kick out of hearing mountain biking jargon in Spanish. Itching to be on the mountain, I burned off some energy popping wheelies and doing endo stalls when Wayo was covering topics I already knew. I quickly became known as the gringo loco. :)
Finally, we were ready to ride and took off for a long climb up to the park entrance. Once in the park, Wayo and his assistant setup some cones to practice turning concepts (like having your outside pedal down in a turn), and we all ran through the course until it seemed like most understood the concept.
From there we started our long climb to the top of the mountain. Of course, my bicycle was a tad on the small side so I climbed out of the saddle often. We came across some nomadic herders who lived in very primitive camps and tended their goats and cattle. The dry season was upon us and only a handful of these centuries-old nomads were around. The dichotomy of first-world weekend entertainment compared to hand-to-mouth living was quite palpable.
Being young and strong, I was able to thrash the climb. It made me feel good, especially considering my impending 12-day ride from Chaclacayo to Pulcallpa over 15,000-foot passes. While we climbed we got to watch hang gliders take off from the mountain and soar over the flatlands below.
We continued our climb to the top of the mountain, reaching Cerro Blanco. We ditched the bikes and scrambled up to the crest to take in the view. While climbing, Wayo invited me to tackle another ride the next day, an epic downhill four hours away from Lima. I was flattered to have a pro extend an invitation to ride with him, but hadn’t spent much time with my host and politely declined.
From the peak I surveyed the barrenness of the surrounding mountains. It was an impressive site, and made me appreciate water, greenery and the liveliness of the jungle.
Done with photos, we climbed down to our bikes and started the real downhilling portion of the ride. I forgot a snack, but a fellow rider kindly gave me a nature bar to scarf down. Wayo described the path down to the next checkpoint and we peeled off. Riding on the sloping hills was fun and not too challenging. The hardtail had proved to be useful so far.
At the checkpoint we gathered to look down a rocky, fairly steep section that intersected with the fire road about 2,000-feet below. Wayo described some techniques such as lowering seatposts and getting your butt far behind the saddle for the steep drops. I was game and excited to rip it and went first. The first section was a bit gnarly and required some guts to let off the brakes and drop in. I happily obliged and sprinted down the line. The ground was loose and sketchy at times, but I just dabbed through the turns and kept up my speed. In about my fourth turn down the mountain I felt my rear start getting squirrely. I looked down and saw my tire going flat. Still having about 1000-feet to descend I sprinted to cover as much ground as possible before I would start damaging my rim. I had to stop about four-hundred feet from the fire road and skittered down the loose rock, pushing my bike which almost put me on my ass.
I managed to reach the bottom first despite my flatting and didn’t spill on the loose, rocky ground. Luckily, the next rider down had a spare (my inner tube had blown a five-inch long gap in the side) and a pump. While the rest of the crew navigated their lines I performed triage on my steed.
Flat fixed and aired up, I watched the remaining riders pick their way down the sketchiness. Anibal was one of the last to go, and I watched him gingerly ride his line. I watched one rider in front of him eat it in a turn, but didn’t catch Anibal’s own crash. The next time I looked up the hill I saw him on the ground with Wayo and the other riders around him. I gave them a few minutes to gather themselves before I climbed up to see what was wrong.
When I reached the downed party, I asked how Anibal was doing. He said fine, a little sore in the back, but otherwise okay. I inspected his ride, checked his shifting, brakes, alignment and couldn’t find anything wrong. The other rider bent his brake lever but seemed to be in one-piece, too. Anibal asked what we were doing, which I thought was odd, and I explained we were participating in a downhill course. I offered to ride Anibal’s bike down given how sketchy it was to walk my bike down, but he declined and decided to walk it down himself.
Once we were all down on the fire road, Wayo pointed out our next single-track line and the group started down. I stayed back to see how Anibal was doing because he seemed slightly out of it. We were the last riders to head down and I suggested he take the fire road back to the entrance. He again asked me what we were doing and my own experiences of concussions flooded my mind. I started feeling empathy nausea and disorientation and quickly realized that Anibal had hit his head in the crash. I forced him to take the fire road down and take it easy. Once he was off, I took the single-track down. Being slightly disoriented from my empathy flashback I almost crashed on the steep drop in. Luckily, I caught myself and stayed upright through a sketchy 180° spin-and-dab.
We gathered at the gate after a sweet, technical and flowy singletrack and continued our way back to the private club. Anibal finally reached us after getting some juice at a corner store en route. When he arrived at the car, we inspected his helmet and found out that he split it in three places. He most definitely was suffering from a concussion and was not fit to drive. Since I didn’t have my international drivers license I let Pedro drive.
Heading into Lima, Anibal complained of rib pain, a strong headache and general aches. He also kept asking what happened and we repeatedly informed him of how his spill went. We decided to take him to the ER to get x-rays to ensure he hadn’t fractured anything. On our way there, in Barranco, Pedro somehow forgot where the brake pedal was and instead pressed the clutch trying to stop the van which, of course, did nothing and we braced for a slow-motion impact with the car in front of us. I was very glad I wasn’t responsible for driving.
We hit up the ER and managed to convince the guard to let us pull the van into the parking lot inside. An hour-plus passed while he waited to see a doctor and I guarded the van. Anibal’s family showed up to take care of him and we drove to a private ER to get better service.
At the new ER I got to know his brother, Roberto, his wife and a close friend while we waited hours to see if he’d damaged his vertebrae or other bones. For a while we were under the impression that he may have cracked some vertebrae, but, thankfully, that turned out to be inaccurate. Instead, he just managed to crack a few ribs and was released.
Not really the way I was expecting to ride to turn out, but I had a fun time tearing up Pachacamac, riding with a downhill pro and getting a few injuries of my own.
I hadn’t expected to be in Lima, mid-August and under these circumstances. Due to my relationship meltdown, my wonderful father got me a ticket back to the states to do a mini reset and recharge of my life. The only reasonable flights out were from Lima so my comfortable crawl out of Ecuador to Perú changed to a flurry of bus rides south.
After separating with my wife in Cuenca, I traveled by bus to Loja where I could catch the international bus to Piura, Perú. Loja is an OK town to visit and see, but I found it unappealing for my tastes. The tourism opportunities are lacking, especially compared to colonial Cuenca, but I also wasn’t in the tourist mood so didn’t look too hard for them.
Trying to find a hotel took a very long time. First, I visited the “hostels” surrounding the bus stop (funny how one town’s hostel is another town’s hotel) and was floored by the $45/night rates. However, even if I had been cash flush to enjoy their digs their vacancy rates weren’t in my favor.
Rounding the cul-de-sac with the clock approaching 23:00, I headed up the street to look for a decent and low-cost place to crash. Twenty futile minutes later I came across a fire station on a busy boulevard. I immediately rolled my bicycle into their garage and asked the firefighter on duty if I could sleep there for the night. Caught off guard, he paused to think about his response, tentatively saying, “Yes,” and went to get a solid confirmation from his commander that I was welcome.
My sleeping space was only slightly improved compared to the other option of sleeping in the street. I parked my bike in a lobby at the foot of stairs. I unrolled my air cushion and sleeping bag and fell asleep, or at least tried to, on the cold, hard floor. There was no door to my sleeping area. At least the bright garage lights were blocked by the wall and left me a sliver of darkness to rest under.
I attempted to catch the early bus to Piura and woke at 06:00. Everyone told me that it’d be booked and, sure enough, I had to buy a ticket for the following day’s ride south. Now, with a full day to pass, I decided to find a room with a door and a bed and then explore Vilcabamba.
Asking around at the markets for cheap hotels led me to a low-key, four-story establishment. I talked the woman into a $15/night rate for two people. Alicia had informed me that my towel was in her possession after our Cuenca reunion. I tried to get her to just mail me it to my destination in Lima, but somehow she decided that she’d want/or was obligated to, come to Loja to give it to me.
As I hiked the four flights up to our room I thought, “Alicia is going to hate this place.” Then, topping it off, the shower had no curtain or towels; the place had a very dive feel. I didn’t mind, given the cost, my efforts to find it and my previous night’s accommodations. With my stuff dropped off, myself showered and clean, I was ready to head back to the bus station to take the hour-long ride to Vilcabamba.
Originally I intended to ride to Vil’ from Loja before my time became compressed. The bus ride was very beautiful, mostly downhill and offered spectacular views of rolling green hills scattered with small homes. We arrived in the small, sleepy town to warm, beautiful weather. As I walked into the main plaza, on a flat sidewalk, I took one step that tweaked my ankle really good. I was miffed that I could injure myself, on nothing, and right before my exploration of the town. To give it some rest and orient myself, I stopped at an ex-pat juice bar and coffee shop. I hadn’t seen this many gringos in my entire time in Ecuador, outside of the Rhiannon Community.
Most of the ex-pats had a slightly hippy vibe to them. Long hair, bright smiles and airy clothing defined most of them. As I enjoyed a coffee I struck up a conversation with a gold prospector from the states. He had found a vein in the upper Ecuadorian Amazon and was gathering supplies and tools to head out and collect. He’d already been to the area before and almost lost his life after two men held him up with a knife, robbed him and tossed him over a cliff. He managed to survive the fall, and scramble out with his life. Now, recovering from his wounds and restarting, he was ready to venture into harm’s way again.
His partner showed up a few minutes later with his son. They were planning on going on a hike around the valley and offered me to join up. I was delighted since I hadn’t really planned anything. We strolled to the prospector’s apartment, left our excess gear and headed to the trailhead with a baby German shepherd scampering alongside.
Scrambling up the mountainside offered a wide view of the valley and town. In the distance a wildfire was torching some wealthy homes. From the top we hiked down to the river and encountered a variety of people sunbathing nude. Further down families were enjoying the river, albeit with clothing on. We finished our hike, gathered our belongings and returned to the square to enjoy some pizza at another ex-pat establishment.
After a fulfilling pie and some beer, I left my new friends and caught the bus back to Loja. Alicia was arriving that evening and I met her with my bicycle at the station. When I saw her she was snippety and not in a good mood. I immediately regretted agreeing to let her come down. She wanted to stay in Cuenca and her dark mood was directly related to that. I enjoyed how we left things previously and was ruing how this departure would unravel.
Her initial reaction to the hotel room matched expectations, and triggered a mini-meltdown on her part of how upset she was that she left Cuenca. Hungry, we left to find dinner. We dined in a chicken restaurant (because all the restaurants were chicken or pork themed) that had the same logo, name and layout as the restaurant exactly next door. Only in South America can you have someone poach your brand and get away with it and share a wall.
I left early in the morning without much of a goodbye due to the fog of resentment I had been under. I pedaled to the station, loaded my bike and began my 24-hour trip to Lima.
Crossing the border at Macará was a non-event. We stopped fifteen minutes away from the actual border to get lunch and do a restroom break, then headed to the checkpoint. The Ecuadorians signed us out and the Peruvians signed us in. The land around the frontera is isolated, arid and bleak. The verdant valleys, beautiful mountains and quaintness of Ecuador were traded for the dusty and hot northern Perú.
Piura was a mini adventure. I knew I needed a giant double-decker bus to Lima and started asking people in the throngs what my travel options were. Some helpful Peruvians pointed me to an orange building and said they had buses to Lima. Pedaling to cross the street was itself an ordeal, as I had to dodge and navigate the thick traffic and zippy motobicis. I managed to catch the next bus leaving in twenty minutes.
Getting my bicycle onto the bus an adventure. Instead of the other buses I was used to, with their large, horizontal storage areas, this one had a boxy room over the rear axle that was more like a closet and packed with all the other passengers’ cargo. They charged me an extra 10 soles just due to how obnoxious loading my stuff was and managed to mangle my front fender in the process.
I settled into my large, leather sofa chair and proceeded to pass out. Sixteen hours of monotonous driving, bleh sandwiches and no view meant that sleep was going to be my best option. The AC was a little on the extreme side for my taste, but a blanket helped cut the chill. The brief glimpses of the rocky, bleak countryside didn’t leave me inspired to visit the northern parts of Perú. My longing for Ecuador was quite strong and my mental haze of leaving my wife made for a surreal and depressing trip clouding my introduction to Perú.
The following morning we arrived at the for the bus line’s terminal. Gathering my things and reassembling my bike I noticed they managed to forget my box of Panamanian hats. After tracking it down in Piura, and organizing to pick it up the following day, I called Anibal and found a way to take a taxi to Chaclacayo.
Lima is a dirty city, at least the large swaths of it outside of the manicured and cosmopolitan center. There are beautiful sections for sure, but the sprawl as you leave east towards Chaclacayo and the Sierras is depressing upon first site. There is literally no vegetation on the surrounding hillsides. Only dusty, exposed, barren rock defines the landscape. Crudely constructed houses intermingle with two/three-story brick or bloque buildings. Dusty streets and constant haze/smog blanket the area lending a diffuse light on everything. Traffic is thick; drivers are brazenly rude and opportunistic. I feel very out of place, both due to the visual shock as well as the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been subject to. I’m in a slightly worried state due to all the fear stories I’ve endured when telling people about my plans to travel to Lima. Luckily, everyone was kind to me and helpful en route. After haggling over the price to drive to Chaclacayo, about an hour drive east, I managed to get my Big Dummy loaded into a jalopy of a taxi. I thought we’d never make it in one piece, especially since I could feel every pothole and we stalled out at almost every stop.
We reached Chaclacayo, safe and in one piece. Anibal greeted us and showed me inside. A very kind and generous man, letting me crash at his house and store my bicycle and things made me feel very welcome. My sleeping digs were a little pinched because my bed was a small cot and my legs dangled over the edge by about a foot. But, beggars can’t be choosers and I happily enjoyed a flat surface to rest on and an actual home to be in.
The following day I returned to Lima with Anibal. He had a cycling tour to take a customer on and dropped me off near the bus terminals. As I walked, I passed a coffee house that had just opened its doors for the morning commuters. The delicious aroma tractor beamed me to the bar. I bought some beans for my mom and had an amazing café mocha.
From there I walked to the station, easily retrieved my hats and explored Miraflores and Barranco. I much prefer Barranco due to its bohemian vibe, prolific street art and quainter feel. Miraflores is beautiful and well manicured but is part of a hyper commercialized, expensive and denser area that doesn’t appeal to me.
After my hours long Barranco and street art exploration, I rendezvoused with Anibal near Kennedy Park. I was stressing that I missed him because my cell phone wasn’t working and I feared that I’d have to scramble for an expensive taxi to take me back to a relatively unknown location. Luckily, in all my wanderings and searches, Anibal pulled up right next to me when I reached the park and we made our escape leaving the city’s commotion.
Back home, I went through my touring gear with Anibal and did a nice purge of a lot of my items. He helped me tone down my duplicate and superfluous items. He also gave me a book called The Lightweight Backpackers Guide. I gained a better perspective on what was essential and where I could cut weight from my kit.
With my stuff separated between what could stay in Perú and what needed to go home, I flew home to see family and friends and began the dismantling of my assumed future that, less than a year ago, seemed so crystal.
My arrival in Cuenca did not match my expectations 24-hours earlier. Originally, I thought I’d ride 100km+ from Alausí, but unforeseen climbs and previous food poisoning silenced those dreams.
Arriving at the bus station at night, I unloaded my ride from beneath the rumbling beast. Dude charged me the full price for my ride even though I did 3/5 of the pedaling on the route.
The downtown station is a few blocks from the colonial district, oh, and it’s flat. Arriving on a Saturday night is enjoyable when warm weather and the weekend have people mingling everywhere.
I meet up with Alicia to say hi and get the low-down on the city. Seeing her is awkward, but the mood is lightened as we prep dinner and fall back into some suspension of reality for the next three days.
Following my epic ride from Riobamba via Flores to Alausí, I was pumped and ready to try and tackle the 100+km to Cuenca the next day. Unfortunately, Fate stepped in and said, “Son, why don’t you puke and spew your bowls for the entire night? How’s that sound?” My body happily obliged Fate and proceeded to start, around 23:00hr, to unleash a furry of fluids in the bathroom. To top off the awesome gift of food poisoning, I was also graced with no water pressure around 02:00hr. Come 06:00hr, I awoke to the sound of rushing water. Immediately I lept out of bed, scurried down the hall, careful to not make a sound, and quickly shut off all the faucets I had left open in the night. My 100km ride was officially benched.
I kicked it in Alausí, nursing my wounds. Thankfully, and somewhat awkwardly, my wife was also in town. We had a painful dinner experience the night I got sick (was it her energy or the juice?) and were supposed to do breakfast the next day, but I called her to cancel. The nice person she can be went to the pharmacy to get me a cocktail of antibiotics (1 bacterol + 1 clornisetim/cloranfenicol if you want to know). She came by the hotel to give me the pills and to use the laptop (probably look up her lover’s facebook page again). Being in a sick, depressed state, I decided it’d be awesome to worsen the situation and I looked at the texts on her cell phone she left by the bedside while she was outside the room surfing the net. Suffice it to say my outlook on life did not improve.
Sinking further into self-pity and doldrums, I wigged out and told her to leave and felt like she was using me. Half true, half not considering the effort she took to get me medicine. She acknowledged the awkwardness and pain her presence caused and left me to wallow in my ugly room with my ugly sickness and ugly feelings of sadness. Life was quite a bummer that entire day.
The next morning eased a lot of the depression and melancholy that clouded my mind. My stomach was also a little improved so I decided to take the train ride to see the mountain, Nariz del Diablo.
Before the train ride I strolled, slowly, around the town taking photos and trying some street food to ease my stomach back into operation. I really love the vibe of the town. The old buildings, hand painted signs and small town feel were a delight. I encountered a young boy kicking a soccer ball alone and, silently, called for him to kick it to me. We ended up kicking the ball back and forth, without a word, for twenty minutes.
After walking through town, it was time to catch the train. The ride switchbacks down a mountain side and ends at the foot of an ugly mountain called Nariz del Diablo. Quechua dancers were there doing their traditional dance, but the hyper tourist vibe almost reactivated my nausea. Was it worth the $20? I guess. The train was rustic and fun to be in; the switchbacks were novel and the views are impressive from certain vantage points. The mountain used to be known for its condor populations but the explosives used to build the track scared them off, and the name comes from the large number of worker deaths during construction.
By nightfall I felt like the next day would be OK for riding to Cuenca. I ate some dinner and felt much improved over the previous 36-hours of pain. I got to bed early and aimed to be on the road by 08:00hr if I could help it.
Awake, no nausea, and roughly 100%, I pack my gear, get all bike-geared up and depart the hotel. I’ve tried to mentally prep myself for the initial climb out of Alausí. When I arrived, the whole descent I was saying, “Enjoy this, it’s all climb getting out of here when you leave!” My other hurdle was trying to ensure my body that it was ready for the punishment ahead. Thankfully, my legs responded well and my stomach kept it chill. Up, up and away!
The road leaving Alausí to the south is a nice long set of switchbacks with a view that makes climbing enjoyable. I watch farmers harvest and tend to their fields of quinoa and other grains high above me near the mountain ridge. A family tending their goats crosses the road and scampers down the side of the mountain. Despite the food poisoning, I’m feeling excited and amped for the day. Even the stretch of burning roadside trash from street cleaning workers doesn’t phase me. The weather is being kind and my music pushes me on.
I reach the top of the day’s first climb in under 50-minutes. The distance, 5.88 km giving my an average pace of 7.3km/hr. I stop to snap photos of Alausí from above and a group of tourists on a bus tour gawk at my bike and load, some are impressed and congratulate me on the effort.
Riding down to the next valley floor I pass some blue hearts painted on the road shoulder. Ana, from Quito, had asked if I’ve seen any of these hearts painted to remember victims of road accidents, but this is the first time I’ve encountered them. It reminds me to be vigilant and cautious on rides because death is always brushing by.
I get to bomb down the backside of the mountain. I pedal as hard as I can but a steady head wind blows hard. My first time experiencing the wind slowing my descent and I laugh as I try to go faster. Reaching the river below, the second climb of the day begins. Thankfully, the grade isn’t too high of a pitch and I can maintain a comfortable pace. I get to see Nariz del Diablo from above and appreciate it but still don’t see a nose. On the valley side of the road I encounter some young men working for a brick maker and talk with them briefly about what they do. They let me take some photos and I continue on.
A little further down I encounter a larger brick making operation. I’ve been noticing the transition from cement blocks (bloques) to adobe bricks (ladrillos) the further south I go. It seems the advance of ‘progress’ hasn’t reached these villagers, and I’m thankful for that considering the increased carbon footprint of concrete compared to biodegradable materials like sand, clay and sawdust used in adobe bricks. The brick maker and I shout a conversation from the road to his mixing space about his technique, materials and job. We finish chatting and wish each other a wonderful day.
My ride continues to carve and wind its way up the hills. A very large, very dead horse or donkey is on the side of the road. Later, I pick up a coral snake flattened by cars. Constant reminders that I could get thrashed as well.
Pedaling more I come across the town of Chunchi and stop for lunch. On the way out I spy the worst election photos ever. Seriously, take a look:
After that humorous moment my ride is pure climb broken up with some pauses to catch my breath and restore energy to my weary legs. The vistas continuously excite and impress.
Five hours of riding and I’m still about 45+km from Cuenca and my ability to crunch 100km starts to slip away. The winds get stronger the higher I climb, the weather starts to sap energy from my legs. Reaching the town of Zhud I park my bike and do a gut check. I’ve got at least another 35km more to Cuenca. The day’s end is fast approaching, I’m shivering from the sweat that was air-blast-evaporated off my body on my descent from the peak into Zhud. Despite my desire to crack 100km, I pull the plug on the days ride, bundle up and park my gear on the side of the road and thumb for the next bus to Cuenca. I wait almost an hour as multiple buses blast past me
Distance: 81.49 km
Riding Time: 6:28:00
Avg. Speed: 12.6 km/hr
Max. Speed: 77.8 km/hr