We must again start the blog by recognizing our good friend B Swimme who's artwork was selected as the showpiece in the recent exhibition in San Francisco. B Swimme's piece captures images from a few of our favorite places of the trip and we could be happier that his artistic skills were recognized appropriately.
After a day off in Ayacucho we reluctantly packed our bags. Not only did we have one of the most strenuous, demanding sections of the trip looming ahead but we all fell in love with the city. Parker and I also had incredible headaches thanks to a few two dollar boxes of wine we opened in celebration of our completion of the highest driveable pass in the world.
A local provided us with a hand drawn map of the “fastest” route out of town. He failed to mention that the dirt road crisscrossed the most impoverished, dog ridden part of the city. As we crested a small hill, I was abruptly slammed from behind. As I turned around to yell at Parker for his negligent bike steering I noticed that a Rottweiler had attached himself to the back of my bike. With a quick push on the pedals I was able to dislodge the dog, unfortunately, not before was able to leave multiple punctures in my dry bag.
As we left the city the climbing began immediately and the metropolis gave way to a very rural landscape.
Thanks to the hard work of a previous cyclist we knew what lay ahead. A seemingly endless stretch of dirt roads, in fair to poor condition that would take us up and down over five13,500 foot passes.
The section of road is notorious among South American touring cyclists so we were forewarned about the mental and physical difficulties that lay ahead. However, what we did not prepare for was the rain and snow! On our first night out of Ayacucho the rains began and within hours the sandy, dusty road turned into a soupy mess.
So now not only were we contending with the mountains but the chocolate rivers.
Adding this new element forced us to play a delicate game. As we cycled from 5.5k feet to 14k feet the tropical rains transitioned to freezing rain and then snow. The humididty, rain and heat at the lower elevations would soak us down to our spandex.
As we cycled into the clouds we were forced to put our rainjackets on over our wet clothing. This extra layer would provide a temporary relief from the cold; however, as the rains changed to snow our bodies struggled to adjust.
On our second climb out of Ayacucho mother nature got the best of me. As we neared the summit the rains turned to snow and I could feel I was loosing the body temperature battle. I caught sight of Belinda and Roland near the top and decided to take a gamble. My plan was to crest the summit and make it to the lower elevations before my body began to shut down.
I anxiously started the descent, pedaling as fast as I could and sliding my way through the soupy corners. All I could do was imagine was myself thawing in the balmy temperature below 5,500 feet. As my hands began to freeze to my brake levers I remained focused on the tropical climates ahead. Even when the spasms in my fingers traveled into my arms I stubbornly pushed harder. It was not until my whole body started shaking violently and my vision started to blur that I pulled off the side of the road. As I tried to unwrap my hands from the handlebars I realized that I had rendered my fingers useless. Using my teeth and wrists I pulled my drybag off the bike and stripped down and clumsily redressed myself in dry clothes. About this time, Roland and Belinda came up beside me and after convincing them that I was fine, we all continued down the descent.
I realized that were not far from my current state and we all agreed to seek out some sort of shelter in the next town. With little difficulty we found a cement box with 4 beds for $1.75 a person.
We literally exploded into the room. The owner cringed as she watched us decorate ever square inch of the room with wet clothing and tents. Thanks to the near freezing temperatures, nothing dried and we were forced to reenter our muddy, wet, frigid clothes in the morning. And thanks to mother nature and the relentless downpours we were able to repeat this process for 4 continuous days.
The weather and roads also took a serious toll on the bikes.
As our drivetrains would cease to function we were forced to continuously pull our bikes off the side of the road and spray out our drivetrains with our waterbottles or seek out alternate water sources.
Despite everything, our spirits remained high and we would continually laugh at the misfortune of our timing for this section of road.
All the while, Roland's beard providing us with continuous entertainment.
Every day we would review the map and feel bit demoralized as we marked our southern progress in millimeters.
But when the skies finally did clear we were rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the amazing scenery that we have come to expect from Peru.
Every two-day, 7,500 foot climb was rewarded with a new amazing vista.
The section offered up superb camping and phenomenal sunrises.
As we neared Abancay our bikes and bodies were desperately yearning for some relief from the rocky washed out roads. We could spot Abancay from almost 40 miles away and we knew that one last downhill stood between us and the sweet buzz of some pavement.
The relentless washboard the preceded our transition onto asphalt made me so happy to be aboard a steel tank and had me wondering how Belinda and Roland were fairing on their tandem “race bike” behind us. We got a huge thumbs up from Belinda as their wheels rolled onto the pavement and all breathed a sigh of relief that their bike had completed the section without incident.
Unfortunately, our celebration was a bit premature. As we made a tight turn on a city street in Abancay the rear seat stay of “big bird” decided it had enough. This marks the 3rd occasion that their rear seat stay has cracked.
Thanks to the ingenuity and scrapiness of Latin America, Roland had the bike rewelded within the hour. There are not too many places in the world where for two beers you could recover from full frame failure within one hour on a Sunday!
From Abancay just two 13,500 foot passes and 120 miles of asphalt lay between us and a few days off in Urubamba and our visit to Machu Picchu. The last few days clicked by without major incident.
On the last day we took a fabulous dirt track from Anta to Urubamba. As we approached and then descended into the Sacred Valley of the Incas the scenery became more and more dramatic.
On any given day it is not unusual to find Belinda ignorning the scenery in order to perform a little touch up.
The four of us had planned to split ways in Urubamba and later connect in Machu Picchu but thanks to the generosity of Belinda and Roland's host family we were invited to join them in their local residence.
Jorge aka Yoyo is an amazingly generous man who has adopted a group of local orphans. If housing and feeding and schooling a group of children is not enough he also hosts international travelers. Yoyo grew up in Lima, was educated in Paris and then spent the better part of his life there as an architect, travel guide and musician. At the age of 60 he returned to Peru, adopted a group of children, started a residential construction business, and purchased a home in Urubamba. Now at the age of 70 nothing has changed expect that he no longer plays saxophone for contracts but instead plays in the local festivals during his spare time.
From Urubamba we began to daunting process of organizing our visit to Machu Picchu. Thanks to the monopoly of a foreign company, visiting Machu Picchu is extremely expensive and time consuming. We knew all of this going into the experience and in the end determined that spending a few extra dollars to save two days of travel was worth it to us. Initially we had planned to push and ride our bikes down the train tracks from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes but were warned against doing so by other cyclists who had recently attempted the feat and had been stopped by police officers.
The final town before the hike up to Machu Picchu only exists as a rest stop for tourists. As so much, the town has transformed itself into a cross between Disneyland and Fishermans Warf in San Francisco. When you arrive you are immediately lost in a sea of vendors tables where you can buy anything from a...
We were forewarned and prepared for the fiasco of getting to Machu Picchu. What nothing can prepare you for is seeing Machu Picchu in person. Seeing photos cannot do this marvel justice. It feels funny showing up with a camera to photograph something that has already been captured millions of times. But to add a few more to the millions here you go....
While a mass of tourists readied themselves to take the bus up the 8km dirt road carved into the hill below Machu Picchu we opted for the cheaper more authentic experience of starting off at 4am to hike the 3.5km stone staircase along with a couple hundred backpackers who wanted to be in line for the 400 places to climb Wayna Picchu. We made it in time, received the Wayna Picchu stamp on our ticket. We spent nearly 10 hours walking and climbing around the ruins. Our experiece was highlighted by our scramble up the slippery stone ladder that leads to the top of Wayna Picchu.
We were blessed with phenominal weather for this special experience and our effort to get to the top of Wayna Picchu paid off.
Before visiting Machu Picchu I thought about a unique, unusual way to photograph the ruins but it was not until we arrived that it became clear what needed to happen.
The gentle grades, the scenery and the historic villages along the Sacred Valley make it an ideal place to cycle and explore.
The colorful markets...
The colorful dress...
and the Incan construction...
and hockey helmets
We are now in Cusco, resting our legs and preparing for our first night out in months. We will depart here on Thursday to make the 6 day trek to Copacabana, Bolivia on the shores of Lago Titicaca.