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Monday, August 30, 2010

Trujillo, Peru to Ayacucho, Peru

Before starting this blog we would like to recognize my good friend Brian Swimme who created this incredible piece of art from the photos of our trip. The piece has been accepted for display at the 3rd Annual Independence Artist Week exhibition, Celebrating Contemporary Bay Area Artists. The exhibition will take place on Friday, September 10th, 2010 from 6:00pm – 11:30 in the Jazz Heritage Center at 1320 Fillmore Street.  So if you are in the Bay Area check it out and give B some support.  

As with all Casa de Ciclistas we stayed longer and had a harder time leaving than was expected. The infamous Lucho and his 2nd house full of cyclists was everything that legend had foretold and more. We arrived early in the day after our little encounter with the Thieves of Paijan and found a full house with no available rooms. Never refusing a cyclist, Lucho cleared some space for us in the storage room where we pitched our tents and settled in. We introduced ourselves to the other riders as they trickled in from around the city after completing various tasks on the never ending list of chores that occupy the time of a cyclist on a “day off.” There were two guys from Argentina that had started in Buenos Aires, a Spaniard who started in Tierra Del Fuego, a Canadian and Kiwi couple that started in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, a Colombian that was just starting his trip, a Canadian that started somewhere in Canada and two American girls that had just purchased the the worst looking bikes anyone had ever seen . 

 We ended up sharing a room with the New Zealander, Belinda, and her husband, Roland as soon as our old friend Byron took off the following day. We quickly became good friends with Belinda and Roland and we all decided that it would be fun to do the next stretch together through Canon Del Pato. 

 Of course this was easier said than done as they were waiting for Lucho to repair their broken wheel and we were waiting for a package that was stuck in customs in Lima.

I would be lying if I said that everything worked out and we all headed South, us with our package and them with a brand new wheel. By the time we left our package was still stuck in customs and they had a wheel that had not been new for many thousand miles, but we did leave together. 

 Seth and I were very excited about the stretch ahead as we had been hearing stories about it since Mexico and could not wait to see the 36 tunnels that characterise a section that has been rated as one of the top five best road trips in the world. 

 Within one day we hit the private highway that would lead us to Canon Del Pato. This highway, owned and maintained by an American power company, is only open to company vehicles and cyclists which meant the road was all but deserted. 

 The road stretches through some amazing landscapes and eventually settles against the side of a strong flowing river that powers a number of hydro electric power stations. We found a beautiful camp spot our very first night and could not be happier to back on a river in a secluded and beautiful canyon. 

 For the next 4 days we followed this amazing river through the canyon alongside the remnants of an old railway system that cut directly through the sides of enormous solid rock walls creating pitch black tunnels, some which stretched for hundreds of meters long one directly after the other.

It was very nice to be riding with another two people and even more fun sharing the excellent camping and crystal clear star filled nights with our new friends. As Roland likes to wake up at about 5AM and be on the road at about 6:30, it was usually close to lunch by the time we would catch up with them. 

 One day we caught up the Roland and Belinda just after a long curving tunnel where they were stopped next to a tall concrete tower. The tower was the landing platform for a small pulley cart that spanned across the canyon hundreds of feet above the river. We could see immediately that Belinda wanted to keep moving and at first we thought that she must have gotten tired of traveling with us. Later that day we learned that she was absolutely terrified that one of us would attempt what Roland had done just minutes before we arrived. He had climbed the platform and loaded himself into the small equipment trolley and pulled himself across the entire canyon supported only by the narrow steel cable.

Belinda made him swear that he would not tell us what he had just done as she knew we would follow his lead (how right she was). When she saw me start to climb the platform she insisted on leaving and it worked as we all obliged and continued cycling instead of attempting anymore death defying stunts.

The riding was not too difficult other than the poor condition of the road and we were very sad to leave the comfort of the secluded canyon and reenter the traffic filled roads leading to Huaraz. 

 The night before arriving in Huaraz we stayed in a very cool little town called Caraz which we all ended up liking more than Huaraz itself. It had a very nice and very spacious market which was a welcome change from the maze-like and claustrophobic feeling markets of Chiclayo and Trujillo. We were even lucky enough to catch one of the presidential candidate's campaigning rallies which was quite a unique experience. 

Caraz is at about 2200 meters and surrounded by snow peaked mountains but we still had another 800-900 meters to climb before reaching Huaraz, one of the world's premiere climbing destinations.

Late that night or early the next morning, it was hard to tell which, we heard Roland and Belinda heading out for another incredibly early start while Seth and I followed about 5 hours later. We arrived in Huaraz early in the afternoon and Seth and I found a spot that was recommended to us by some other cyclists called, “Jo's Place,” an English owned climbing hostal. The rooms were pretty expensive and luxurious so the owner let us pitch our tents in the lawn for just a few soles so we were content. This still allowed us full access to the steaming hot showers and we even got to watch a few flicks in their small theatre. Roland and Belinda stayed with a Belgian family who were part of a traveling organization they belong to. We met up at the end of our “day off” which we spent shopping and once again dealing with our package that was still stuck in customs. By this time they had requested that we once again redo and resend a form that had already been redone and resent over 10 times. We had already had to change the address once from the original destination in Trujillo to this hostal in Huaraz and it now looked as though we were going to have to change it again to somewhere further down the road. This time we chose an address of a hostal in Huancayo which would take us over 13 days to reach. This, we were sure, would give FedEx MORE than enough time to get their heads out of their asses and deliver our package with days to spare.

The Belgian family that Roland and Belinda were staying with had two small children and instead heading south the following day as planned, we decided to accompany them to their school and give a short presentation. The kids loved our bikes and Roland took them all one by one for a ride on the back of the tandem. 

 The highlight of the day was when my tent was pulled out and the entire class crammed in my tiny home. MSR rates the capacity of this tent as 1 man and/or 10 small children. 

Seth could not take enough photos of the kids picking their noses and wiping it on my tent.

 The school was conveniently located directly next to some hot springs so we spent the rest of the day relaxing in the warm natural baths then headed back to the Belgians house for a home cooked meal. Unfortunately I was unable to enjoy the meal for long as I became very sick shortly after dinner and spent the entire night throwing up in their garden. By morning I shook it off and refilled my stomach with Belinda's delicious crepes which she made from scratch. With our stomachs filled we geared up and headed out for a full day of climbing.

Roland was also getting over being ill just a few days earlier so the pace was pretty slow for the majority of the day. At one point both Roland and I needed to make an emergency stop and destroy a gas station bathroom that could hardly take any additional abuse. As we were exiting the premises we walked up on a pickup truck gassing up full of men that were nonchalantly cleaning and loading automatic handguns in full view with their windows down. One of the men got out and started headed towards the bathroom so we all decided it was time to get out of there as soon as possible before he got any bright ideas about wanting one of us to clean up the situation in there. For a few minutes my stomach felt a little better as we put some distance between us and that station.

By that afternoon we had reached Huascaran National Park which is home to the beautiful yet very challenging Cordillera Blanca Mountain Range. We turned off the paved highway and back onto another remote and motor-free dirt road which we have come to love so much. As soon as we hit the bumps my stomach took a serious turn for the worse and we only completed another couple miles before I physically could ride no further. 

 Everyone was nice enough to call it a day on my behalf and we found an abandoned native cattle herding village that appeared to be vacant for the dry season. 

 It had started to rain so we took shelter in one of the small traditional looking mud huts that had a straw bed covered in soft sheep skins. 

 The four of us waited out the rain in the small hut but decided to head out and pitch our tents before things started getting weird and the natives showed up for a little “Deliverance” action. As you can see things had already started headed in the wrong direction.

With a good but VERY cold night of sleep we were all feeling a little better and we crept out of our tents not a minute before the sun came out. At over 3500 meters in the Cordillera Blancas not even Roland was messin around with any early starts. You rise with the sun or you freeze your ass off. We knew we had a huge day ahead of us with two passes over 4700 and 4800 meters (16,000 feet!) so we packed on the layers and started heading up. 

Although the riding was tough the scenery was indescribable and these mountains are unquestionably one of the highlights of the trip. In many ways we felt like we had been riding for over a year just for the experience of these 2 days through this amazing mountain range. As you can see from these pics we were not let down from our high expectations.

After exiting the national park we were once again on paved road and a short decent before spending the better part of a day climbing back up to 4800 meters. We were all starting to feel a bit strange due to the altitude.  It affected everyone differently as I had an almost euphoric feeling for some time while Seth just had a pounding headache.  From here we enjoyed a massive decent that took us an entire afternoon giving up thousands of feet while I took some video to give you a little experience of riding in Peru. This was about the nicest and smoothest road we have seen in Peru so I was able to ride with one hand while filming with the other. As you can see from the shaky video we spend most of our days just trying to stay on the road while avoiding crazy taxi drivers, rabid dogs, screaming locals, and maniac truck drivers. Good times! (Internet connection too slow to upload video, maybe next blog)

We ran out of light before we ran out of downhill so we found a safe looking spot behind a small school to pitch our tents. Unfortunately, once again my stomach decided that I needed to spend another night throwing up a horrible meal we had found at some dive restaurant just hours earlier. The flock of chickens walking out of the kitchen I could handle but I really started questioning the cleanliness of the establishment when a heard of cattle walked right past our table while we were eating. Eating out in this country is like playing Russian Roulette with all but one chamber empty of live rounds. Top it off with the signature attempt of the owner trying to overcharge any person with white skin and you have yourself the average Peruvian dining experience. But hey, for a 2 course meal including a drink for only $1 what should we expect? At least this time I had some company in the bushes as Seth had a bad case of diarrhea. Probably too much information but what the hell, we lived it and if your still reading this blog then you must like a little poop humor. Don't worry there is much more to follow.

For those of you counting this was my third night of oral nocturnal emissions so I was pretty tired in the morning and everyone agreed to take a short day of riding and stay at a hostel in Huanuco. We had to meet Roland and Belinda there as they were up and out by what seemed like 3AM and I waved at them from the bushes as they left. When we got to the city we found Belinda waiting with the bike in the central plaza while Roland was charging around town on foot with his huge beard and bike helmet looking like a modern day cycling Viking. I could not have been more thankful that he had already priced everything out and we could just cruise into the cheapest nicest hotel. The hotel was great and at first glance so was our room. We unpacked and headed to the market to get some food as both our stomachs were running below empty and in Peru one does not have much choice but to get back on that horse and prepare for another round of roulette (we have realized that one of us will get sick once out of every four meals here). After restocking on groceries and filling up on an enormous local specialty called Panchamanca we headed out to use the internet, do some laundry and then get some much needed rest. Maybe it was the Panchamanca, maybe it was the ice cream, bag of cookies, muffins, pastries and liter of chocolate milk or maybe it was just that the plumbing lacked pea stoppers causing the entire room to smell of raw sewage, but it was not long before I was once again throwing up yet another hard days work of stuffing myself with bad Peruvian food. I endured another sleepless night and was ready to cycle again in the morning. 

 The going was slow but steady and I was feeling surprisingly good all things considered. We were able to put in a full day and ended up camping next to a large trout farm on big open field next to a river. We had picked up a kilo of lamb at a local tienda and cooked a large dinner that went down well enough. However, once again it was only a few hours before I was back in the bushes enjoying my food once again on the way up. After a week of this routine I was in pretty bad shape and had serious trouble getting out of my tent the next morning. Seth had to inform Roland and Belinda that we would not be continuing with them. At about noon Seth decided to pack up my gear and push my bike up the hill and back onto the road as I was pretty much useless. We coasted back downhill a few kms to the nearest town where we checked into a hostal to get some rest until my health improved. After a day of rest and some antibiotics Seth found at a local boutique I was ready to try another day of climbing. We thought it was only a 20 mile push to Cerro Del Pasco but it ended up being over 30 and I don't think I have ever been in so much pain in my life. At one point Seth was actually riding next to me and pushing me up the hill. It did not help matters that Cerro Del Pasco is the highest city in the world at over 14,500 feet. 

When we finally arrived I was not good for much more than passing out as soon as I hit my bed. The following day was not much better but I was able to put in about 46 miles before having to find some lodging. Lucky for us there was only one hostal that had only one single room that had only one single bed that was smaller than the bed from my college dorm room but for some reason was not nearly as fun to share. Things pretty much went the same for the next few days until we arrived in Huancayo where Roland and Belinda had decided to wait for us.

We took a much needed day off in Huancayo which once again was spent dealing with FedEx and our package that we were starting to doubt even existed. By this point the clowns at FedEx Lima were claiming that the package had been cleared from customs but had been held up because of an invalid address. Of course they had every single word in the entire address spelled incorrectly and it took a good 5-10 phone calls over two days to correct the matter. Once the address issue was solved another problem materialized which they claimed to be an “operational error”. When pressed to explain exactly what this meant the agent calmly admitted that a number of items had been stolen out of the box. So after all of the bullshit forms, incorrect addresses, and “operational errors”, they were just stalling for time to track down the items that some of their agents had cherry picked from our package. Once the cat was out of the bag they agreed to deliver the package the following day minus the stolen items and we finally got what was left of the F&%^ING package that had been consuming our lives for the last month.

The following is a list of people that we would like to thank for assisting us in receiving this package. All of these people made at least one call to FedEx (and some many more) over the last month on our behalf:

Barbara Berling (100+ calls)
David Monk
Chris O'Brien
Eliza Veal
Sean Breuner
Marco Chavira
John Wright
Lucho (Huancayo)
Lucho (Trujillo)
Chris from Roaring Mouse
Brian Brown
Adrian Andrews

Thank you so very much for your efforts in helping us achieve what we thought had become an impossible task.

The following person I would like to recognize as one of the most despicable human beings on the face of the Earth: FedEx Asesor3538

Also a special F U goes out to FedEx Asesor3546 for your role in this debacle. We did not forget your 10+ requests for us to re-send the same form after confirming that you received it each time.

After installing all of the new parts that were not stolen from our package we could finally continue and put this ordeal behind us. I was at last feeling normal again without throwing up every night and we were sporting all new drive trains while once again cycling with our friends Roland and Belinda. Things were looking up which was good as we were entering what many cyclists would agree to be the most demanding and difficult two weeks of the entire trip. Every day we faced summits ranging from 3500-5000+ meters. 

Honestly it is tough to remember what happened where and it seemed that we were always heading towards a town that started with “H”. There was Huanuco, Huancayo, Huayucachi, Huando, Huancavelica and many more. 

Even though the traffic was light through these remote stretches we could always count on the presence of a few Kamakazi truck drivers. 

We also got treated to a few beers by some extremely drunk Peruvians at one of these towns as we were riding through on a Sunday. 

It was during this stretch that we conquered the highest drivable pass in the world at 5,059 meters!

After taking a number of photos and some video at the highest point of the entire trip we got back on the bikes as quickly as possible as the weather was looked to be changing for the worse. Within an hour it was snowing on us and we all quickly realized how ill prepared we were for such cold weather. We continued the decent as quickly as possible with the only goal of getting as low as possible as fast as possible. We finally got low enough to escape the snow and decided to splurge on a hotel room in the small town of Santa Ines. This turned out to be a very good move as we were barely able to stay warm enough under the 5 wool blankets provided by the hostal. Sleeping in the tents would have been miserable.

The next day we were once again rewarded with a long and beautiful decent then punished with another 31KM climb. Seth and I made it over the 4800 meter pass before the weather changed but Roland and Belinda got slammed with rain and snow and arrived to meet us 20km below the pass barely able to get off of their bikes. After an hour of ingesting and embracing some very hot beverages they were able to regain the use of their limbs and we all descended for another hour before finding a much warmer spot to camp in an abandoned quarry next to a river. We all got a good night sleep and powered through the next day of climbing to a very welcome day off in Ayacucho. From here we have another week or so with over 1000 meters of daily climbing before reaching Cusco and seeing the famous ruins of Machu Pichu. Health is good, spirits are high, and we are ready to make the final push through the relentless Andes of Peru.           


Kiel said...

You guys continue to inspire me on a daily basis!

Seth, I cycled to Bournemouth (coastal town on the English Channel) from London on Saturday with Ante. I spent a lot of time on the 130 miles trek talking about you guys and how much strength your endeavor gives me. Whether it's cycling the 20 miles to work or out on a run, I always think of you guys.

God bless. Stay safe. Keep warm.

Stephen Mull said...

I get a weird feeling in my stomach and an overall tingling sensation when I read the blog.

Ais and Pugz said...

One of the best blog posts yet. You will have a lot of tales to tell your grandchildren!

Keep your spirits up.

Anonymous said...

Seth, RIDE OF A 1000 LIFETIMES!! YOU ARE THE MAN!!!!! Jim Musante of the cross USA bike trip

Scott G said...

I live here in Peru. I have two words of advice for the remainder of your trip; Cipro floxacin. Don't pedal another K without it. You can buy it over the counter here and it will combat your GI difficulties.

Seth Berling said...

Kiel..waiting on a ticket purchase.
Stephen..miss your musk.
A and P..can´t wait to hear about where you guys decide to tour next.
Jimbo..our ride will always hold a huge place in my heart. It was my inspiration and you continue to be. Keep rocking!
Scott..Cipro was the key. It finally brought Parker back to the living.

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