The Road Less Traveled

Peru / Bolivia

by | May 18, 2016

July 17 – 19, 2015

I awake at 630a to music coming from a house across the valley and a boy zooming down our path on a bicycle. Shortly thereafter the sun comes up and I’m instantly warm. It was likely in the 30’s overnight but in the sun feels like 60. Somehow the dog from across the valley has literally barked all night. No idea what he’s barking at or how the

owners tolerate it. Remember the saying: “Welcome to South America”.  We enjoy a nice breakfast of oatmeal and coca leaf tea, then relax in the sun.

At about 10a we pack up and prepare for the 3000ft descent over 25K into Acamoyo. All towns thus far have a town center and it is always the nicest part of the town, complete with a park and any shops for food/other. It is nearly 11a when we roll into town so we stop for more water and supplies, and of course lunch. By noon we finally embark out on the day’s tour. The road is still curiously perfectly paved. We climb for about 3 hours on nice pavement, shocking since this is not the main road. It climbs over 3K feet, topping out at over 4000m, and then gradually rolling upward still for another 20K. I’m starting to fade. I know this because Taylor on his fat bike is staying with me on the climbs and then he starts to pull away. We arrive at another junction and decision…stay on the paved road, or descend on a dirt road. Our navigation app, Pocket Earth, has been amazing at showing ALL the roads. Spoiler alert: We opt to continue the adventure. The views are beyond description and I’m annoyed that I keep writing this.  We are cycling at pretty consistent altitude of 12k – 14k feet, all the while looking down into the canyons and up to even higher, more daunting peaks.  I can say confidently that I have never been more remote in my life. I wonder if any other cyclist has seen what I’m seeing. We descend about 3K ft, cross a river, and then climb about 2km up to a small town called Pirque. The roads are narrow and dirt, the buildings are made of mud bricks, and yes, they have a town center. Oddly enough, there are children, but no adults. We  find a tienda and clean them out of cookies and water, then decide to head back down to the stream crossing and make camp for the night. The site, an English Shire, as Taylor puts it, is just that. It is a grassy meadow that requires us to cross a shallow stream about 10 feet wide . Our shire is tucked nicely at the bottom of a canyon, which means it’s a climb out each way. I’m starting to really feel weak now. My appetite is minimal but I know I need to eat. After dinner, we turn out our headlamps, lay in the grass, listen to the stream (and cows) and watch shooting stars. I don’t think I have ever seen stars so bright. Bedtime at 9p.

I wake up at 4a, feeling “off”. Back to sleep and awake at 630 to Taylor talking to some of the locals and their 2 dogs. Everyone is amazingly friendly and kind…and curious. They look at us like we’re insane, pointing to the high peaks that surround us and the roads necessary to climb them.  There is a seemingly parade of people who apparently heard about the 2 gringos sleeping down by the river so they all want to come down to meet us.

What is amazing about Peru is that we are easily at 9-14k feet in elevation, so at night the temps dip into the 40’s, sometimes 30’s. When the sun comes up at 630a, it’s like the heat comes on. By 930a in full sun, I’m hanging out in the shire in my underwear and no shirt. This is a good thing because its clear now that I have altitude sickness. I can do little more than lay in my tent for over 5 hours until nearly noon. When we do pack up and decide to move, I cannot effectively navigate my bike and gear across the creek. I attempt to throw my panniers across but of course they land squarely in the middle.  This is clearly the worst bonk I’ve had in my life. I’m not irritable but just the opposite…just completely in a cloud of malaise, and no energy to move. No nausea, just overwhelming indifference. Minutes become hours. We finally get on our bikes at 2pm and climb back up to Pirque to visit the tienda again and get more supplies, mostly water. The same girl is working and we clean her out of water. About 6 children see us and want to come meet us. Finally a woman in her 50’s comes over and offers us food.  There is a great deal of construction happening in town so in order for Taylor to earn his lunch…he has to earn his lunch.  This entails smashing holes in the concrete street with an enormous hammer, which weighed about 50lbs.  I politely pass due to my condition, but Taylor obliges.  We stay in town talking to all the locals who come to meet us until nearly 330 when we finally decide to push on. The people in this town have been amazing and kind, so much so that the local police officer offers us running escort out of town (seriously).

I’m feeling better but clearly not good. We pedal up out of town for about an hour and again, we are in the middle of NOWHERE. We see the next “town” up ahead, which is likely on par with Pirque. After descending again, we cross another stream and figure that makes sense as another camp spot so at 4pm we pitch and live to fight another day.

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Moto?

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Waking up and meeting the locals

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Decisions…

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Heavy discussion amongst the locals

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A nice couple that opened their store on a Sunday

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The “shire”

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Story time with Uncle T

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Little angels.  I could have hung out with them all day

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Stocking up for a big climb

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“Traffic”

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Road construction

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Taylor earning his lunch

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“He won’t last an hour with that form”

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The local market

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Taylor earned his lunch

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Police escort out of town

 

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The World Spins By is an intimate journey of loss, curiosity, and love—recounted one pedal stroke at a time along Jerry’s two-year bicycle journey back to himself. 

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