CROSSING THE BORDER

Cusco > Combapata > Aguas Calientes > Ayaviri > Huancané > Escoma > Batallas > La Paz

It felt somewhat strange being back in Cusco and walking into the Hospedaje Estrellita, having been there 7 weeks earlier.  However, a great group of touring cyclists soon assembled, both Northbound and Southbound, which made for a really fun period. Damian, an eccentric tourer from Argentina, reminded us that you can do these trips on all sorts of bikes…

Given the dearth of vegetables in Peruvian cuisine, I took advantage of the variety of food on offer in Cusco, becoming a regular at the fantastic Green Point vegan restaurant!  If you ever visit Cusco, I highly recommend it – their vegan lasagne is possibly one of the best I’ve ever had (sorry Tim 😉 )…

The opportunity to socialise and talk cycling made it somewhat less attractive to get back on the road but, after dragging my feet for a few days, I finally got moving after the best part of a week.

The Cusco area is awash with Incan ruins – this ‘gate’ had been bypassed by the new road…

It was a relatively easy downhill out of Cusco and then a gentle ascent began that would take me up, over about 150km, to my last major pass in Peru.  The road was a bit busier than I was used to but fairly fast and I was able to put in the first of several 100+km days…

As a reminder of the changing seasons, ominous-looking clouds gathered in the afternoons, although I was lucky enough to dodge most of them…

At the end of the first day on the road, I arrived in Combapata, the residents of which certainly knew how to talk up their village…

Sadly, it failed to deliver on all fronts and was pretty lacking charm!

Back on the road, I paid for my relatively big previous day (especially after a week off the bike) with an extreme lack of energy that led me to call it a day early afternoon, after just over 60km.

Stopping at Aquas Calientes (a thermal springs), I was accosted by a truck driver, asking if I had any tools.  I said that I had a few and he soon explained that he had locked himself out of his cab!  I produced my metal tyre lever and largest allen key and he set about trying to lever the window of the cab open.

Having taken a moment to look at it, I suggested that he try a different angle to release the latch for the window, but he was adamant that he was applying the best technique!  I also impressed upon him how important it was not to drop my allen key inside the window, as I would be screwed without it.  In a moment of comedic timing, as he assured me of the care he was taking, he dropped the aforementioned allen key inside the cab!  He then slunk away, somewhat red-faced, to try and borrow some tools off another driver.  Undeterred, I decided to take my opportunity to have a go and, retrieving my allen key (which had fortunately come to rest at the bottom of the window), I applied my previously suggested technique and had the window open in seconds!  I’m not sure that this picture quite does justice to how smug I felt at that moment…

I am now merely a few steps away from adding truck theft to my rapidly growing repertoire of skills!

Back to the springs, I was told that I could camp if I wished but, with a wind whipping up and a large Sunday crowd, I decided to splash out 25S/. (£6) on a room at the hospedaje.  It was a very dubious decision as it is a very dilapidated building with, ironically for a thermal springs, no running water!  The view out the window wasn’t too shabby though…

The advantage, though, was a reasonably quick start the next morning without having to deal with what would inevitably have been a soggy tent…

I was also only left with a few hundred metres of ascent to reach what would effectively be my last major pass in Peru.  After three months of riding seemingly never-endingly uphill, I cannot describe what a relief it was.  I’m as keen as anybody when it comes to riding up mountains but I was most definitely ‘mountained-out’ by this point – the Bolivian altiplano (literally ‘high flat’) couldn’t come a moment too soon!

Therein followed a lovely, long and gentle descent, with a most definite change in terrain – the hills getting much more rounded and the valleys wider and flatter.  In the lakes by the roadside, stood several groups of flamingos, snow-capped mountains in the background reminding me that, even if the terrain was flattening out, it remained at considerable altitude…

The changing landscape allowed for much straighter, flatter roads than I had become accustomed to…

Whilst the flat tarmac really appealed to the road cyclist in me, affording me the opportunity to really pick the speed up and ’time trial’ several sections, the main roads obviously have vastly more traffic.  We’re not talking European levels of traffic here but it certainly adds a certain amount of stress to the riding experience.  Lorries generally aren’t a problem – they are usually generous in the amount of space they leave you – and cars are, for the most part, the same.  It’s the coaches and buses that are the worst.  They drive at breakneck speed and will leave you minimal space.  The one aspect that does apply across all vehicles, however, is that they will almost never slow down in order to facilitate safe passing when another vehicle is coming in the opposite direction – easing off the accelerator or, god forbid, touching the brake seems completely anathema to them.  It is little wonder that you see so many shrines to the dead on even the most innocuous stretches of road, let alone the bendy mountain passes – suicidal passing manoeuvres are commonplace.  It appears as if the owners believe that the somewhat ironic religious messages that bedeck many vehicles bestow some sort of divine protection and allow them to drive like complete imbeciles without risk of incident.  I guess it’s just yet another failure of the education systems in Peru and further afield.

You can imagine that it was therefore with some pleasure that I dived off the main road onto a dirt track that would take me ‘cross-country’ towards the much quieter and less touristy Eastern side of Lake Titicaca.

They do like a good bridge in Peru…

12 Comments

      1. Do you ever dictate text? I have my mac set to hit hitting “Function” twice and it types everything I say – as long as I know where I am going with my story – saves me 3/4 of the time!

  1. Thank goodness you’re giving those peaks surrounding La Paz a miss … they look chilly. And big.

    I love the pics of the last night in Peru. Those stars are something I really would like to see. xxx

  2. Love it bro! Ah titicaca looked so stunning! And I loved hearing you talking about eco concerns, it’s great to hear your passions coming out too, so don’t ever worry about being boring, this planet needs us to sit up and be vocal… BTW just watched Leo DiC’s doc Before the Flood, it’s a good one to pass on to anyone who doesn’t believe in environmental probs (like DT :-0)… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N26b4lgWMVI
    Hope the Atacama is amazing, Love you x x x

  3. Nice one Campbell! Must be so liberating to just keep on cycling! To see where you end up the next day! One minute camped up overlooking lake Titicaca thinking the views can’t get much better! Then in the distant those huge snowy peaks rise up out of nowhere! Amazing! Keep it up dude!
    And you’re totally right, we have such a problem with out of sight, out of mind attitudes to rubbish here! To the point that most people can’t be arsed to even recycle as they don’t see the impact or where it all ends up! One trip to a dump can shock you in to realising how much crap gets thrown away in a couple of hours!!
    Consumerism culture is to blame, and can’t see that going anywhere anytime soon, unless there is some major shakeup of some sort!
    Anyways keep on riding and adventuring for us all dude!!!!

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