Wow! Is something we have been saying a lot over the past few weeks, since arriving in Peru. We have been having a totally amazing adventure, the sort of stuff you dream about whilst stuck on the northern line wondering why you spend 3 hours a day commuting, I am totally living my dream!
To view all the photos that below with this post, click here.
8th April – Namballe to San Ignacio
Our decision to take a day off in Namballe had been a good one, although the town really had nothing to offer it had been so good to rest in a hotel room and we were ready to go. The Andean rainy season is now tailing off but we still have the occasional shower like we did the morning we wanted to leave Namballe, delaying us for half an hour or so. This first day of Peru was a baptism of fire – a lot of rolling hills and climbing, I really wondered how we would manage if this was to be my life for the next 3 months or more, even so we were happy to be back on tarmac. There were lots of people picking coffee and cocoa on the side of the road, all smiling and waving to us, some workers even offering us a sugar cane drink, not telling us it was a liquor until I had taken a sip!
The gringo is back
The biggest difference about that first day of being in Peru that we are now gringos again, well, we actually get called ‘gringa’ or sometimes more affectionately ‘gringita’. Now, when your pedals are fueled so much by the good nature and banter you get on the side of the road this name used to really bother us when we got called it in Central America, after you’ve heard it for the 40th time in one day it just gets a bit annoying . In Central America I always felt it was said with less cariño (affection), which sort of makes sense when you learn just a little bit about how the USA had royal screwed over some of those countries in the recent past. Plus, I always felt a bit disgruntled that people were assuming I was from the USA. The name also makes me feel nostalgic for our Mexican name, Huerra, and then our Colombian name, Mona… both of these so much more sweet than Gringa. In these first few days here in Peru when people would say it, Jo would explain, ‘no somos gringas, somos de Europa’ but really I don’t think it is a matter of geography for people here in Peru. It isn’t said with any negativity, so now after a few weeks we are just accepting this is what we are going to be, and I guess it’s sort of fine.
On our way into the town of San Ignacio we bumped into another touring cyclist, Jukka from Finland, who has been bike touring the world for around 5 years, and written a book about it too. It was pretty early to stop for the day but Jukka offered to fix some problems I had been having with my gears, so that was that. Here in San Ignacio it felt we had really arrived somewhere different, and we liked it! There is a lot more street food available here in Peru, ice creams, churros filled with caramel, empenadas, juices, and all so so cheap! People were stopping us to ask us questions, we felt really welcome. Our favourite place to sleep in Ecuador was the bomberos (fire station) but so far in Peru we are yet to find one so instead we go to the municipality building. Here in San Ignacio they were really keen to help us, and took us to the church building where we had a dorm room to ourselves, what a good start! We met up with Jukka for dinner and shared stories.
9th April – San Ignacio to Perico
Our time on tarmac had been short lived and most of this day was unpaved, but there seem to be lots of construction works going on, the unpaved road was pretty bumpy heading down the hill before we made it to a river, which the road then followed. The temperature down in the valley was balmy, the road sides filled with people selling coconuts, papaya and orange juice, the things I love most about bike touring, we were happy! It hadn’t been a tough days cycle but we took our time and arrived in Perico before calling it a day. Asking around for a place to sleep we asked at the courier depot and the guy who ran it said we could sleep there, on the floor. He even cooked us food, a giant plate of yuka, this dense and gluey carb is my least favourite, but at the same time we were ever so grateful for dinner.
10th April – Perico to Bagua Grande
I feel awful that I can not even remember this guys name, but he made us an amazing guayanababa juice and a giant plate of food (including more yuka) before we hit the road again. We basked in the flatness and tarmac that day, before we took a turn off, we had been given a tip by James a cyclist we had met that we could avoid the city ahead (and save ourselves 65km) by taking a small turn off and then catching a boat across a river. The rice fields and palm trees were stunning. We waited a while on the sandy river bank before the motorised canoe took us across for 2 soles (less than 50p), 5 more km of dirt track before hitting the long straight road to Bagua Grande. Here we headed to the municipality and without much hussle the man in charge gave us a cheap hotel room, dinner and breakfast! It seems people here are just happy that we are passing through their town and only happy to help! Here we are eating the name plate of food (rice, egg, plantain) but it has a new name ‘Cuban Rice’ (Arroz a la Cubana), is this because this is an economy plate, I wonder?
11th April- Bagua Grande to Pedro Ruiz
Up and on the road after a good nights sleep in the hotel room and our free breakfast we headed along to Pedro Ruiz, one of those roads that was on a gradual incline all day, but looked sort of flat, making you wonder why you were going so slow. Anyway, the valley and the landscape felt like being on an Indiana Jones set, which got us singing along the road, haha.
We didn’t have much luck in Pedro Ruiz looking for a place, the police and the municipality had no room at the inn, and the church didn’t want to offer us anything. Eventually a woman who lived next to the church over heard our conversation and invited us to sleep in a room she had next to her house, happy happy happy.
12th April – Pedro Ruiz to Gocta
We were given tamales and avocado for breakfast by the woman, before we cycled a comfortable 15km along the valley before taking a uphill route to visit the waterfall Gocta, apparently the 5th highest waterfall in the world, it is interesting as it’s existence was not known to the outside world until 2005. A 2 hour trek along a well maintained (even by European standards) path leads you to the stunning waterfall. We stayed in the small village at the bottom of the path which has a number of cheap hostels, we paid a few soles to camp in the garden of one of them. Local people have seen this place change a lot since the ‘discovery’ of the falls, and I would be interested to see how it continues to change in the coming years.
13th April Gocta to Tingo Viejo
We’d anticipated some tough up hills that day but instead we were treated to the suprise of staying in the stunning and dramatic valley floor, making for such a relaxed day of riding. We stopped to eat a giant plate of rice, beans and eggs (all for 3.5 soles which is about 80p) and stuffing ourselves with granadillas which are like giant passion fruit bombs. We’d stopped in Tingo so that we could head to Kuelap, some pre-Inka ruins the following day. A family who ran a restaurant and guest house let us camp in their garden for free. We then spent the lest of the evening watching Ben Huir, dubbed. The week leading up to Easter is a big deal in Latin America, it’s called Semana Santa, and this was why there were special films on the tele. Something I am really loving about Peru is that people sell bags of popcorn on the side of the road for really cheap, as well as what we know as sugar puffs in the UK. It makes for such good snacks, thanks Peru!
14th April Kuelap
So, we dont have a guide book so we had no idea how hard it would be to actually make it to Kuelap, its a 30km up hill journey on an unpaved road, followed by a 3km walk to actually get to the mountain fortress ruin. I think most people do it through a guided tour in Chachapoyas. Instead we got up early, walked 20mins up hill to Tingo Nuevo, and then waited around, hoping to hitch a ride with other tourists making the journey. After an hour we had no luck, but then someone who worked for the munipality gave us a lift half of the way (the journey in total takes 2 hours), to a village called Marias. There we waited a bit before getting another ride with a Spanish couple who had their own guide and driver. These people were so lovely and we even ate lunch together after the ruins.
I really loved Kuelap, it is older than the Inka ruins in the south of the country, the group were known as the Chachapoyas. It wasn’t that it was totally impressive to look at, but I loved imagining these ancient civilisations living at the top of the mountains, it was definitely worth a trip in my book.
15th April- Tingo to Leymebamba
We were given some knitted table cosy by the grandmother of the family that we had been staying with, such a lovely family. We countinued all morning along the valley to Leymebamba. This small town was enchanting, a beautiful square, the painted buildings, panpipe music playing and women selling their food wares on the street. I wanted to go to the museum that was just out of the town, so Jo sorted out our place to stay with the municipality whilst I headed off there. It was quite small but worth a look for an hour and a half, filled with artifacts such as pottery, jewellery and stuffed animal head dresses found at near by archaeological sites. There is a place near by (only accessible by hiking or horse back) called Laguna de los Condores. At the side of this lake a mausoleum was discovered, filled with hundreds of Inka mummies. The signs were only in Spanish but I understood that when the Inkas came to take control of the people in this area they also introduced their ideas of sacrifice. Most of these mummies (many babies and children) had offered themselves, or been offered by their families, they were killed by taking a potion, and then a blow to the head before the mummification process took place.
That evening we bumped into the driver and guide of the Spanish couple, who were also staying in that town, as well as Jukka from Finland, we drank some pisco together which was fun, our first drink in Peru!
16th April- Leymebamba to Balsas
Feeling pretty ropey after the pisco the night before, combined with having to get up early to change a flat tyre. Alas this was the 3rd flat tyre of my whole trip, and I was really hoping of making it to the 12 month mark with only 2 flats, but it was not to be. I owe it all to these slime inner tubes. When you get a puncture the slime liquid in the tube fills up around it, stopping you from ever having to fix a puncture. magic!
Anyway, that day was incredibly dramatic, we slowly trucked 30km up hill, the gradients pretty easy to 3600m of altitude, our highest on a paved road so far. Our reward at the top was the most dramatic view I have ever seen.
We then had a 6okm decent down to Balsas, the longest descent of the trip. The hours of descending were still hard work, I had to concentrate a lot on the road, which was only wide enough for one car, and on the other side a steep drop, concentration isn’t a strong point of mine normally. Our eyes were feasting on the views, and we kept having to stop to take photos, and then to take off layers of clothes as the temperature increased as we lost height. Most memorably we were caught up in a group of around 100 horses being herded on a 3 day journey from the mountains, the horse Shepard (is that what you call them) did an amazing job of helping us get past, I just wonder what they would have done if a car had been coming. I have since learned that the horses were going to slaughter, it seems sad they had to go on such a long journey, just to go to their death. There is little traffic on this route which only makes it that much more special. Arriving in Balsas we had lost 3000m of height and we were back in a hot valley, surrounded by coconut and mango trees, a totally surreal days cycling. After a bit of asking around a local gave us a room we could sleep in. With heat comes mosquitos, so we were back to setting the tent indoors to prevent a bitey nights sleep.
17th April – Balsas to somewhere on the road past Limon
This was a tough day of cycling up hill through semi-desert and intense heat. It reminded me so much of the beginning of the trip on the desert in Mexico, I can not believe it’s been nearly a year. Back to having anxiety about how much water we are carrying, even when you have enough it still worries me, although the heat doesn’t bother me too much. The views were amazing and I loved the dramatic landscape, so I was happy. We made it to the first shop and restaurant around lunch time and just basked in the shade, we basked so much that we just couldn’t force ourselves up, we stayed for about 2 hours. We’d climbed so much the climate was a bit cooler now, there was more greenery and some trickling streams, these signs of life make me relax a little more. Jo and I had a little disagreement, she had wanted to stop in the last village before another big up hill, I had wanted to keep on trucking. I can be a slave driver, we kept on going. This worked out well in the end as we found a lovely little spot off a side road with amazing views of the valley. We slept so well, no noise of cars or dogs, perfect temperature. We resolved to try and camp wild a little more in the future.
18th April – somewhere to 18km past Celedin
When in doubt, honk it out.
Around 15km (3 hours more) of up hill on east gradients and more breathtaking views made for a lovely start to the day. The roads are so narrow and there are so many blind corners that cars just honk loudly before going round a corner, it reminded me a bit of how cyclists do the same whilst riding along Regent’s Canal in London… oh, home, I love you. We stopped at the top of the mountain, it was good Friday which is a national holiday too, so there were lots of families out playing football, and people seemed to be enjoying plates of cheese and honey – the one thing that the restaurant at the top of the mountain sold, we first thought it was brains, and had to ask. It was pretty tasty, and good to eat something other than porridge, rice, eggs, bread which we have been eating on repeat.
A nice little down hill into Celedin (but luckily not too much of a loss in height). Everyone seemed to be enjoying a day off work and there were lots of big hat wearing locals to make us smile. That day, and the following day we were given the most delicious vegetable and bean soup to accompany our meal, plates are now coming with salad and lots of avocado, and lunch is often served with juice too…. this all came in at equivalent to £1. There was so much food we decantered it into my Tupperware box, and that was dinner sorted too.
Up hill on full stomachs out of Celedin, we’d done about 18km and had to stop because of the rain, and with no villages in sight we took to asking at a house where I could see some shelter was available. This was a really humble campesino family who were incredibly kind and gave us a room indoors for us to sleep. They also shared their food with us – giant plate of steaming hot boiled potatoes and a cup of tea, which were so good, we were cold and wet and appreciated the warmth. Their home was made of mud and straw, their floor was just the earth, there were no windows and we were actually colder inside than outside. In the kitchen they ate whilst sat on the floor. Guinea Pigs (cuyes) lived in the corner of the kitchen (uncaged) which would be a meal at some point.
19th April – place to Cajamarca
The family insisted we ate with them – they mixed flour with hot water and ate this dough with a spoon, we had our oats so we ate this instead, I love cake mix but wasn’t too into the idea of eating dough, they did insist we eat some of their stale bread and corn on the cob (choclo). I always love eating corn that way. A bit more up hill until we reached the 3050m pass, a bit of down into a village that had a cattle market going on. There was a mutual intrigue – the locals staring at us, and us checking out what’s going on. We treated ourselves to nuts and ice cream in the market before heading on, more up hill for a couple of hours, before a gradual down into the town of Encanada. Here Jukka, the Finnish cyclist overtook me on the down hill, it was great to bump into him again. We all ate lunch together, he told us that it was down hill then flat to get to Cajamarca, so we should ride with him to try and get there in one day, we all sped off together… motivated to arrive in the city of Cajamarca as some rest days would follow.
20th – 23rd April – Cajamarca.
I am writing this still in Cajamarca. I have loved this place, it first of all seemed so strange that the morning we had arrived we had been eating with campesinos and that evening we were in a bar in a city, doing something I would do on a Saturday night in London with my friends. It’s not too big, beautiful architecture, great climate and surrounded by mountains. I will save the photos and stories of Cajamarca for the next blog. We have been loving the markets here – the city is a cornucopia – nuts, berries, juices, quinoa, great dairy products. All produced locally, women selling for next to nothing on the streets, and in the local markets. Virtuous jobs I have completed over the past few days include getting some clothes and shoes repaired, writing, route planning, skyping. Oh, and spending half a day in the post office sending a package home, I am trying really hard to lighten my load to make these mountains a bit easier. I’ve had to be a bit ruthless, but after almost a year on the road I am quite confident about the things I really need.
So that has been the first 2 weeks in Peru, it’s been so varied, the people, the landscape, the food, all of it beautiful and making me fall in love with bike touring even more each day. We now have bigger mountains ahead, the Cordillera Blancas, a mecca for bike travelers. I feel confident and excited about what the rest of Peru has in store.
- It ain’t over til it’s over
- Clouds, Colour and Cariño