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.