Some of you may have read my posts of my past cycle adventures in Iceland and Australia. This is the story of a similar trip where I rode my trusty Troll around the Andes for 4 weeks.
Shortly after we returned from our cycle tour around Iceland, Craig and I began looking at options for another big trip. The only real requirement was that our destination should involve more sun and less rain, so after 15 minutes of discussion we decided on South America. After a total of a couple of hours of planning over the next 8 months, we purchased plane tickets and figured we would figure out what to do when we got there.
In mid August I quit my job and 12 hrs later flew South to Lima where I joined up with Craig. The next morning we took a flight to Juliaca and the real journey began.
After assembling our bikes while the local police force bemusedly watched, we grabbed some food and headed about 50km south across the Altiplano to Puno, which is on Lake Titicaca. The riding for this section was almost perfectly flat, except for one bump before the descent into Puno.
We checked out Puno and the lake, bought some groceries, and quickly discovered that our Spanish skills were severely lacking. Oh well. We stayed in hotels while on the Altiplano since the nighttime temps were well below freezing. The next morning we started our real journey North, riding back through Juliaca (dreadful town) on our way toward the real mountains.
Riding on the altiplano was a great way to ease into the trip as the grades were the mildest of the entire by a large margin. Except for a night or two with mild headaches and a bit of extra puffing the altitude (~12,500ft) was not a issue.
There were thousands of stray dogs in Peru, but the dogs of southern Peru were surprisingly well behaved. Must have something to do with full stomachs.
After a couple of days of pleasant riding we climbed over our first high pass, from where we would drop down into Cuzco.
After descending off the pass, we down a valley to a undulating section of road that would take us to Cuzco. This sign was our first warning of the grades we would ride in the coming weeks, and turned out to not be much of an exaggeration.
Two days after crossing the pass, we fought our way into Cuzco. A few things made this entrance especially difficult:
1. The city is perched on a hill and we rode in from the bottom side.
2. We had no idea where we were going except a train station on our map that said "trains to Machu Picchu".
3. Traffic lights/signs/lines had absolutely no impact, leaving the streets in absolute mayhem.
4. The city is full of mini-vans with 14 yr old kids standing in the open doorways yelling that there is room for a 17th person. If a pedestrian motions the bus immediately dives for the shoulder, regardless of which lane they started in and whether or not there are other cars (or bicycles) in the way.
After two hours of fighting traffic, we discovered that our Machu Picchu train station didn't have trains to anywhere. At this point a couple of Peruvian people recognized true incompetence and offered to show us to a great hostel. They hopped in a cab and said follow us. We quickly realized that this was a terrible idea and followed. Turns out they weren't trying to mug us, and the hostel did end up being great, albeit full of expats who seemed more interested in talking about Peru than seeing Peru.
The next morning we did the typical tourist thing and went to Machu Picchu. After ditching our tour guide who was spouting ridiculous theories as gospel, we had a great time exploring the ruins and then climbing the hill above.
We were ready to get back on the road so after fueling up at a french bakery, we climbed out of Cuzco and after a short descent we climbed our second major pass of the trip and camped at the top (picture is from our campsite).
An early start the next morning dropped us down a killer ~7000ft descent into a valley. This was immediately followed by a ~7000ft climb, on which we spent the next full day suffering. Luckily this region was home to hordes of fresh mangos and avacados.
Throughout all of Peru, whenever we would descend below around 9,000 ft, we were eaten alive by little flies that didn't hurt much while they were biting but around 12 hours later the bites would swell up and itch like crazy. These bites took around 5-6 days to stop itching.
This climb took us over another high pass, followed by a stunning ~7000ft descent through the town of Abancay (Abancay is the town on the hill, we came from the ridge above it).
After passing through Abancay we began climbing up another monstrous ~7000ft climb to another 13000ft pass, this time on a rough/dusty gravel road. This climb was mentally difficult because we were climbing up switchbacks and seemingly not going anywhere (see pic of switchbacks below). This region was probably the most memorable of the trip, as it was just huge in every way. Incredible views and extremely difficult cycling.
After another day of climbing we were once again on top of the world.
One campsite in this region was especially memorable as we were perched on top of a terrace above the road, with a wonderful view.
We were woken up the next morning by workers yelling at us from the hill above, it turned out that we had camped in a construction site and they were using picks to dislodge unstable rocks and debris from the hillside above. Good time to get back on the road.
Another day of cycling later and we were met with the pleasant surprise of pavement. We had been expecting to be on gravel for this entire ~300 mile section of road, but it turns out that this road is currently in the process of being paved.
Atop another pass.
Back on gravel road, we entered an area that was marked by nonstop road construction. The scale of the project was incredible, and for a ~100 mile stretch we probable never went a half a mile without passing a construction zone. In one spot we had to wait 3 hours for the road to be opened, and then this bulldozer had to get called in to try to make road more passable (the bus to our right had already tried to make it through and failed).
After getting through this section of construction we rode into the night until we found a place to camp, which although not very level and quite noisy, had a great view.
After passing through many more miles of construction (including active blasting zones that were able to watch), we got to the town of Ayacucho, where we got a shower (!) and did some laundry. We decided to hit the fast forward button here and bus through a section we knew would be slow and less interesting.
Back on the bikes, we rode through a windy section of Peru that took us up over yet another pass.
This pass was cold, but the grade was actually quite nice.
Once atop the pass, we made it to the miserable town of Cerro De Pasco. This town (population 70k) is perched atop a mtn at 14,200ft, and was home to about two hotels and two restaurants. We had to resort to asking the police where to find a hotel as it was already below freezing and getting dark quick. Right smack dab in the middle of the town is this open pit mine of epic proportions.
After another bus shortcut to Huarez, we rode past the Cordillerra Blanca, which is even more impressive than its name suggests.
In central/northern Peru, the dogs were not nearly as accommodating as the southern dogs were. We were chased by hundreds if not thousands of dogs. Speeding up, screaming, kicking, and throwing rocks were all tools we exercised regularly (generally in that order).
About 50 km later, the road deteriorated quickly, and we kept descending down a valley through something like 40 primitive tunnels (one of which can be seen in this picture).
What followed was one of the most difficult sections of riding of the the entire trip. While the grade was slightly downhill following the river, there was a fierce headwind coming up this valley, and the road was complete washboard which led to a quite jarring ride. Just when we were beginning to feel sorry for ourselves, we passed through a gold mining district, where men work in the most awful conditions imaginable for very little compensation. I'll take a tough day on the bike.
We camped one more night in Peru on our way to the Pacific coast where we would try to catch our final bus leg north into Ecuador. After running low on water and drinking some pretty brown water out of a irrigation ditch, we rode down to sea level and caught a bus from the town of Chimbote North into Ecuador for the final push into Quito.
Once we got into Ecuador we quickly noticed that their roads are build much steeper than Peruvian roads. We guessed that the roads were designed to be paved, where the Peruvians built their roads so that a gravel surface could be navigated. Gone were the days of 7,000ft climbs followed by 7,000ft descents, but this was not easy cycling by any means.
After a very challenging 3 days of steep grades we dropped into Volcano territory, and the first one was saw was this monstrosity (which is the highest point on earth) named Chimborazo.
We stopped in the town of Ambato to grab a quick lunch and each ordered a half a chicken, which took a bit to communicate to the restaurant owner because typically a 1/2 chicken is shared between two people. Apparently they were also running a special where you get 1/4 Chicken extra for free, so way too much food was consumed here.
We dove into the bushes right off of a busy freeway and found this gem of a campsite next to a stream, that had a great view of Cotapaxi.
After a relatively easy 90km day we made our way into our final destination - Quito. It was an incredible trip marked by huge hills, great weather and stunning scenery. Final distance was somewhere in the 2300km range and we were on the road for ~4 weeks.
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