0065: River deep, Mountain high
We waited as a group to enter Peru.
Exiting Ecuador was easy. A quick stamp. Walk across the river bridge and into a new country.
Here we had to wait.
The immigration officer had closed the border to go for his lunch.
There were several other people waiting, so we walked across the road sat in the shade of the restaurant and had lunch.
We heard some local ladies talking about a new slightly miserable officer who was difficult and they didn't like.
I knew then to be on my best behaviour, as it is a long road back to the next border crossing.
Entry was straightforward apart from Max almost knocking over the Peruvian flag while waiting for his turn at the immigration desk.
The officer was not happy about him touching it in the first place, asked him to stop twice then muttered something under his breath while continuing to suck on a strawberry lollipop.
He gave me 60 days as a result and Max the same. The other guys all got 90 days.
Max immediately tried to change it to 90 days as his girlfriend had a whole month longer, but the unhappy officer was not having any of it.
It was a little annoying having only 60 days, but for me more motivational to move faster.
We camped the first night, in a small park opposite the police station in Namballe.
The local kids, naturally curious started asking questions about our adventures. But I had to curtail them when they started pulling on tent guy lines, looking inside and being a little too curious for comfort.
Finally, a loud thump and a scream as one little girl tripped over a sharp tent peg while running between the tents.
She had a small cut on her foot and was in tears, but was reprimanded by a woman sitting in the park. The kids all drifted away after that.
The road was very good as we continued to San Ignacio. But the mountains had no intention of breaking us in gently.
Steep climbs and stunning views made it very clear we were in a new country.
Here in the town, neither the Police nor Bomberos would host 5 of us, so we spent a night in a cheap hotel.
We were all a little cautious of the people initially, given all the negative press through the cycling networks, but the people here seemed more open and friendly than some of the Ecuadorean people I had met.
As we travelled, cars pulled up alongside and the passengers handed us bunches of bananas with a big smile and a "Suerte!" to keep us motivated.
The heat was intense as we continued south.
From San Ignacio we struggle through the heat to arrive in Bagua Grande in the early afternoon.
The landscape has changed suddenly as we followed the Rio Marañon and has become hot dry and arid in some places.
Arriving in Jaén, the weather was very hot.
The Bomberos here agreed to host us and gave us space in a very dirty dusty storage yard.
We discussed our route ahead. Tom was not too happy about having a rest day. He was keen to keep moving to meet the arrival of a package in Lima.
However, he relented and the next morning we all woke late feeling completely drained and exhausted. We asked permission to stay another day and I set off to do a few chores.
Later, Tom and David joined me looking for lunch. We had a craving for a good Burger and the photos looked good on the menu in the restaurant we walked into.
"We don't have beef burgers, only chicken" said the waitress. Well better than nothing.
We ordered 3 and waited.
Peru may be good for some things but Burgers, so far is definitely not one of them.
The dry bread bun was filled with potato chipsticks and barely a scraping of chicken breast. We all joked, swore, ate, then set about finding another burger.
Second attempt, was similar.
Beef this time. Same chipsticks but now with a dry beef patty which probably didn't have much beef in it anyway.
Really Peru? Is this the best you can offer? I heard such good things about Peruvian cooking.
Third attempt and we gave up and found a Chinese restaurant, which for the money had really excellent, well prepared food.
Later in the afternoon the guys wanted to go for a swim to beat the heat. They found out about a local waterfall and pool which was "very beautiful" so set off to have a swim. I decided not to go as I wanted to complete my chores and so I left them to it.
They came back some hours later complaining that the waterfall was actually a crowded public pool and was a real mess. Dirty, unhygienic and far from "beautiful" They jumped in and more or less jumped out again immediately.
They laughed about the place as we made plans to leave early the next morning to beat the heat.
But it was not to be.
I woke early to the sounds of Tom and David rushing to the toilet, vomiting and as I began packing up, it was clear we were going nowhere. Max was feeling equally bad, but was still taking antibiotics from his previous bout of stomach problems. So was suffering less than Tom and David.
They looked pale and drained as their bodies tried to eject what little was left in their stomachs.
Though we had all shared more or less the same food the previous day, I suspect it was the water from the filthy pool which must have affected them.
I asked permission to stay an additional day and the fire officers recommended a local hospital.
The hot sun did not do the guys any favours and so Dev and I walked around looking for Electrolyte drinks, and medicines to help the boys recovery.
The extra rest day helped and they felt stronger as we departed the following morning.
A relatively short ride and uneventful ride to Bagua Grande and as Tom and I arrived in the town centre, We were almost literally jumped on by two police officers who insisted on seeing our documents.
We waited patiently for around 30 minutes, in the hot sun, with dry throats and hunger as they did their "Just routine..." checks then returned our passports.
I was wondering if routine would be faster with a financial boost?
I would not pay however but the surly attitude of the officers made me wonder if they were wanting a bribe.
Tom finished off the experience of nicely, by pointing out I had a puncture! My first since fitting the new tyres in Medellin.
We checked into a hotel and Tom, still feeling weak slept for several hours.
David, Max and Dev all arrived and we met in the evening to eat in a filthy little restaurant.
I fully expected to be the next victim of the stomach illness that was passing between us!
The night passed uneventfully apart from the noise of roosters and barking dogs at 3 a.m.
We decided to set off extremely early to beat the intense heat and cover the distance to Pedro Ruiz.
Devora had wanted to join us, but could not wake Max and Dave as we set off at 5 am.
Packing up my bike I wheeled it onto the street and began pedalling with a loud crunch!
Someone had been messing with my bike!
I suspect it was the curious kids I had seen in the lobby the evening before.
Regardless, whoever had been playing had dislodged part of my drive train and it now cracked and began rubbing.
In the pitch black morning, I tried to fix it, much to Tom's frustration and my annoyance!
I cut away a few parts of my home made chain guide and continued riding.
It has worked successfully since Tucson Arizona and one day after the kids probably messed with it, it fails.
I continued with greasy hands and at 6 am the sun finally revealed a stunning wide valley with stepped terraces growing vast fields of Rice. Now a regular feature of the landscape.
At around 7 am we stopped in Shipasbamba for breakfast and had an odd looking, but very delicious Cashca fish soup.
Climbing out of the river valley we passed two security guards on the roadside in the middle of nowhere.
A few kilometres further on, we met two more, who flagged us down.
Immediately suspicious, I unlocked my knife as these very unprofessional looking guards began their speech about working independently to protect the roads, having no wage and basically asking for a "voluntary donation" to assist their work.
"They want a bribe" I said to Tom. I immediately played the dumb foreigner" No hablo bien español!"
He tried to repeat his speech but I feigned stupidity.
"No Entendiendo!" I said in my worst bad Spanish. "What is the money for?" He pointed and pulled at his worn T-shirt and cap.
"La seguridad!" he called out. No badge, no number, no positive ID.
I had a bad feeling.
His colleague approached me with a note book with a bad English translation of his speech.
He caught me off guard, so I immediately said, "We are cycle tourists, we don't carry money for security. I would have to go to a Cajero, cash machine. If you want it, let me go to your office in the next town?!"
(Which was partly true actually) "Ah, Cajero!" they repeated in unison. Now looking a little dejected.
They didn't look too happy as we made a quick escape and down a rapid descent.
There was nothing obvious for them to be guarding on that hill top.
No towns, businesses or industry of any type visible from the roadside.
It was clearly a scam.
Add to that the 2-3 vehicles with locals in, who went straight through the check point as they were only targeting foreigners.
We got off lightly this time, but it could have been worse.
I will never pay a bribe!
The day finished peacefully in the slightly run down junction town of Pedro Ruiz.
And in the hotel of a pretty young woman who I quite liked until she tried to sell me individual sheets of toilet paper!
Chachapoyas was the stop the next evening after a long hot day climbing up and away from the Utcabamba river.
And another encounter at an official Police check point this time. Here we waited just 10 minutes for the happy bunch of Officers to do their work. We were even allowed to sit in the shade this time!
"Don't bother. It will be expensive" said Tom, as I walked into the reception of a pretty but expensive looking plaza edge hotel.
The Bomberos could/would not host us and several of the other hotels were asking typical tourist prices The most expensive 140 Soles so far.
A few moments later, I came out again.
"Come on, we are moving in!" I said with a grin. Tom looked stunned!
"You don't know unless you ask" I said, as I humped my bike up a small set of stairs. The owner let us have a four bed room for 30 Soles per bed.
I think he liked cyclists and he was keen to practice his English.
He seemed pleased when I told him 3 more cyclists were coming later that day.
David arrived first and after a brief pause for thought moved in too.
Max and Dev ever budgeting, asked at the Bomberos again, then finally took the last double bed in the corner.
We spent a couple of nights there. Washed clothes, relaxed, played card games (in which I lost) and had lots of good food.
Devora and I wandered the city as Tom, Max and David took a tour to the Gocta waterfall.
One of the highest in the world.
After our little break, Tom and I continued along the Utcabamba river valley and its steep sided heavily eroded valleys and ever present river flowing usually to the left, but occasionally switching sides as we crossed a rickety bridges.
In Nuevo Tingo, we waited a while for the others, but soon began the ascent to the Archaeological site at Kuélap.
This was a brutal 37 kilometre climb on dirt road. And I struggled to climb the hills on my overweight bike and road tyres.
Tom sped off ahead and eventually arrived at the top at least a couple of hours ahead of me.
We camped on the porch of the overlook with stunning views of the mountains, sunset and some really annoying intermittent flashing security lights.
In between though, we managed to get some stunning views of the stars.
Kuélap itself was a disappointment in my opinion.
Partly as the site was quite derelict. And partly for the long ride the day before.
Had I arrived on a tour bus, I might have been more impressed but almost 40 km's of dirt road for a near ruined pile of rocks was not worth it in my opinion.
The lack of information at the top and also the poor internet connection in Peru so far, meant I was not able to do my usual research beforehand. I was very unprepared on arrival.
Still, the views were quite stunning.
As was the decent the following day. 4.5 hours to climb and 2 hours to descent.
Including gatecrashing a funeral wake in a restaurant and receiving a free meal!
I arrived in Leymebamba that evening well behind Tom again and in the dark.
After a surprisingly good meal in a small cafe I slept solidly and woke next morning to meet Tom who was complaining of a sore Achilles tendon.
As we rode out of the town, he was clearly in pain and struggling so after waiting unsuccessfully for a truck to hitch to the top, he turned back to the village leaving me to climb to the top on my own.
"It's only another hour to the top" called out one passing farmer.
"It's only another hour to the top" called another passing farmer an hour and a half later!
A third hour passed and I flagged down a passing pickup truck who kindly gave me a lift the final tough 20 kms to the summit at 3600m metres. After which began about 3.5 hours of glorious but scary descent to Balsas. And the Police station I hoped to camp in.
Finally at the bottom, I bought some drinks and fresh mangos. Then struck up a conversation, the standard questions with another pickup driver who then offered to take me to onwards to Celendin.
Balsas is on the same Rio Marañon we crossed over near Jaén and was at the bottom of a steep sided valley.
It didn't have much to offer. Just a shop, a police station and a bridge really and a steep climb in the morning.
I took Cristian up on his offer.
The climate has changed dramatically here too, from rich alpine pastures to more arid desert and Mango groves.
Climbing the steep valley side viewed from the back of the pick up truck I realised how tough this country was becoming and that I had a time limit.
I was tired.
Celendin nevertheless, became home for a couple of nights and the restaurant across the courtyard prepared some excellent food.
And despite the fantastic meals, I could not help but stare at the distinctive hats worn by the local people. The same high quality as the ones I saw in Montecristi, Ecuador but much larger and more distinctive.
I wish I could have bought one and sent it home!
It seems I like hats.
Riding out of the town to my host in neighbouring Baños de los Incas was one of the most stunning rides I have had on my whole journey.
In fact, the whole Utcabamba valley could easily be listed in the top 5 cycling roads so far.
Oliver came to meet me and took me to his home.
His father, mother and Girlfriend Vilma entertained me as much as I entertained them with stories of my adventures so far. As well as a quick tour of the town and the hot pools the following morning.
I only spent one night with them unfortunately but had arranged another night with Milena and her daughter Emilie closer to the city centre.
Milena is a corporate tour guide catering to passing business people looking to invest or promote the region. while busy during the day, we managed to share breakfast every morning with fresh bread, fruit salad and a local Dulce de leche type spread called Manjar blanco. It's really delicious and creamy, but its high concentrated milk content left me with a bad stomach unfortunately.
She also kindly gave me a brief tour of some of the sites of the city and explained the significance of the region.
Cajamarca was the place the Spanish killed the last Inca king, Atahualpa and in doing so also brought an end to the entire Inca empire.
As well as stealing all the gold, of course!
From Cajamarca, Tom took the bus ahead to Lima as his package had arrived. He was planning to ride the high mountain peaks near Huaraz before heading south into Bolivia.
David left with us but soon disappeared into the distance and Max, Dev and I pedalled at a more sedate pace to San Marco the first evening then to Cajabamba, where we camped in a cock fighting stadium
and arrived in Huamachuco the next.
Here we found a 15 Soles hotel room in what seemed to be a converted warehouse.
And there was a party happening in the next room.
The thin panel walls hiding non of the noise, music and other activities happening next door.
With my earplugs in, I slept through it all.
Dev had been complaining again of aches and pains from her Lupus and the following morning had decided to stay as she was really suffering some discomfort.
As it has become a regular occurrence, I had to pull Max to one side and tell him to advise her to consider stopping the whole journey and going home for proper medical treatment.
I found out a few days ago that she has been using homeopathic remedies to treat herself.
So essentially has not had any proper treatment since being diagnosed.
I was saddened and disappointed.
But, it is not my decision or my journey.
As much as I would like to see her complete this trip, I can't watch someone suffering either.
And you should not have to suffer every day to this level.
I can understand having tired muscles, arms or legs
That is part of cycling and is easily manageable.
But the Lupus seems to be affecting so many other things that it is really draining her energy reserves.
To ride only 30-60 kilometres every day will press their budget even more and add a considerable time to their overall journey.
The road will still be there next year or in five years. Take a break, get well and come back later.
It upset me as I rode off.
I continued alone the following morning. The road continued climbing through a mining region.
Heavily fenced off and guarded, I could not find out what they were extracting, but clearly something valuable, as 3 security patrols passed me and had more than the usual good look at me and my bike.
(UPDATE: I have since found out the ores in this region are rich in Copper, Zinc, Silver and Gold. Hence the heavy security)
I spent a very cold night in the dismal little mining town of Quiruvilca before descending to Trujillo.
(UPDATE: A dirty scruffy little town built ramshackle fashion into the hillside turns out to be one of the oldest, most important and valuable mines in Peru! Whaddayaknow eh?!)
(Wednesday 30 Sept 2015 actually. I never was great with numbers?!)
Along the way I passed my next major milestone. 30,000 kilometres on the road since Deadhorse Alaska
30,000 kilometres!Posted by Matthew Hopkins on Friday, 2 October 2015
I have been travelling through Peru for almost a month now.
Deliberately passing through the mountainous areas to avoid the known security problems along the coastal roads.
I recently heard that Jeong, a Korean rider I met in both Playa del Carmen, Mexico and again in Antigua, Guatemala has just been robbed of all his gear close to the border and abandoned in the desert.
And two separate gunpoint attacks. one near there and also south of Trujillo, where I am now.
In a separate incident another unfortunate cyclist was robbed near Timbio in Colombia, close to where we were attacked.
I am not prepared to become another unfortunate victim or a negative statistic.
From Trujillo, I will skip this notorious section of road by bus.
As my visa is only going to give me further month I suspect I may have to take the bus again further down the road.
For now, I will jump on a bus and speed ahead to Lima then probably south to Nazca.
This is for 3 reasons.
1) Security. There have been far too many violent and armed attacks against lone touring cyclists between here and Lima and I simply am not prepared to take the risk.
2) The desert has been reported as being very hot, boring and with limited resources. Many cyclists and Google streetview confirm this.
3) I will not have enough time to continue my present route before my visa expires.
So needs must. Perhaps a night or two in Lima then jump ahead to hopefully, a safer part of the country and begin cycling again from there.
Back into the mountains.
See you on the other side.....