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The final 1000km

February 12, 2011

The countdown to Ushuaia begins  ..

During the past two months we have been cycling through Patagonia, a sparsely populated wilderness with dramatic scenery where the distances between towns are large. It is a rewarding place to cycle but is not without its challenges. Chilean and Argentine Patagonia are very different. On the Argentine side the road runs east of the Andes and is dry and stark, while the Chile route is exposed to the Pacific fronts and is wet and for the most part can be more challenging. To date we have enjoyed a combination of the two extremes of this vast area.

Towns and villages become more scarce as you get further south so this means we often have to carry food for days on our bikes which requires planning.

View of the famous Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy in El Chalten

Upon leaving El Chalten on our journey south, we decided to make the 32km detour to El Calafate for a number of reasons – we needed to stock up on supplies, required some serious rest and we also wanted to visit the Perito Moreno Glaciar, a huge fast advancing glaciar (2 metres a day) at 5km wide and 40-60 metres in height, it was impressive.

A constant cracking and rumbling sound emanated from within it and every once and a while massive boulders of ice would crash into the water just below us. Apparently major ruptures occur every 4 years and everyone wants that picture when it does. We spent a nice day observing yet another of nature’s wonders in this amazing continent. . 

Polarised blue colours coming through in the afternoon sunshine

The road ahead ..

We knew what we had to do and our minds were now set on getting to Ushuaia and achieving our goal.

We were still debating the route to take to Ushuaia as there are two possible routes. Our decision was based on the line of least resistance. We knew we had reached the wind-whipped tip, the cone of South America. We took a chance and decided to take the road less travelled by cyclists and continue south in Argentina towards Rio Gallegos (via La Esperanza) instead of crossing back itno mainland Chile which is the route favoured by most cyclists.

Initially our decision paid off as we enjoyed tailwinds and were cruising at between 25-30km an hour. Different story in the latter half of the day where we had severe cross winds and were just about managing 8-10km an hour which left us feeling completely drained at the end of the day. We knew we would make it to Rio Gallegos at a reasonable time the following day though where we planned a half day’s rest.

The outskirts of Rio Gallegos as below .. not much to report.  Handy to stock up on food and rest but that was about it!

First road sign for Ushuaia since the border with Bolivia (when it was over 5,000km) ..

A note on ‘those winds’ ..

We were full of enthusiasm the next day and knew that only the Strait of Magellan and 580km were separating us from our ultimate destination. It wasn’t long before we were being thrown from side to side on our bikes from vicious cross winds coupled with head winds. It was gale force and we were pedaling at no more than 6km an hour. At times the wind was so strong it was hard to stand up, let alone cycle. 

Winds can be a cyclist’s best friend or worst enemy … on this particular day it very quickly became our worst enemy. We sat by the roadside and waited to see if it would ease off. No chance .. disillusioned but in the interest of sanity, we decided to turn back to Rio Gallegos and try again the following day. This part of the world is known for fierce winds. Trees and vegetation grow horizontally, road signs are distorted from the force of the wind, spirals of dust rising from the road like mini tornados is a common sight while cycling. They even have a road sign dedicated to the wind!

Martin demonstrating the strength of the winds below

We decided to get up at 5am the next morning to get a head start on the winds and were on the road enjoying a beautiful sunrise by 6am.

We made good headway and clocked up 70km in a short time, cleared border controls back into Chile and made the boat to Tierra del Fuego.

Wildlife on the road …

Although the day was long we had plenty to keep us occupied on the road. It was like cycling through a wildlife park and on the planet’s "edge" we experienced nature in its wildest form. Most of these animals are native to Patagonia.

A guanaca crossing the road ..

Aguara Guazu (maned wolf)

Rhea (ostrich like bird) doing a roadrunner impression

Dolphins during our crossing of the Magellan Straits

It was an epic cycling day and we covered 154km in 9 hours travelling on dirt roads and with winds in pockets. We felt we had certainly made up for our false start the day before. I have come to the conclusion that ‘zero wind’ is my preference. We meet a lot of cyclists coming from Ushuaia starting out on their own journey. They are easy to spot as they have shiny new bikes and gear and are already worn out from the headwinds. We do not understand why people travel from South to North .. it makes little sense and they quickly realise that they will be cycling head first into the prevailing winds.

A side note on Chile ..

I first visited Chile a number of years ago with two friends Ciaragh and Aoife and it has changed very little in ten years. It rained almost non stop as was also the case this time round! We were there for 5 weeks and everything that could possibly have gone wrong went wrong but we still had lots of fun! For me it is a land of extremes and the landscape is on a continuum from staggeringly beautiful to bleak and dull. The jury is still out on my feelings towards Chile. 

The shops here are also another source of wonder. In a number of towns or rather hamlets on the Carreterra Austral the shops were sparsely stocked (understandably so due to the remoteness) but then we spotted some imported Irish Kerrygold butter in their empty shelves! In another seaside town it was impossible to purchase fish so we ventured to the butchers in search of meat, we were told there was no meat until Friday. It was Monday!  

Martin having a celebratory picnic consisting of beer, biscuits and jam while waiting for the ferry to cross the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego, leaving the mainland of South America.

 

Until recently Tierra del Fuego (The Land of Fire) in the far south of South America was a byword for remoteness, the uttermost ends of the Earth. It is a loosely defined region shared by two countries, Chile and Argentina. They have a complicated system whereby Argentineans living in Tierra Del Fuego need to pass through Chile in order to reach the Argentine mainland and Chilean residents need to travel through Argentina.

Road scenes ..

Ripio roads ..

We set off on our journey to Rio Grande which is 200km from Ushuaia and where we intended to take a day off. The road was a very harsh ripio road for 110km which involved us being battered about on our bike for most of the day. It was tough going but we made it to the border to head back into Argentina. The next day into Rio Grande we were greeted with very strong tailwinds and made the 96km ride to Rio Grande in 4 hours.

The road from El Chalten to Rio Grande has been a road of wide open spaces, strong winds in all directions, huge skies. It is a place where you feel incredibly small. The roads varied between ripio (gravel) and paved. As the population of the region is so tiny most of your interaction is with each other, the odd cyclist but predominantly the flat Patagonian steppe. I have sometimes been tempted to wave at the cows and sheep! 

Reference to the Falklands Islands upon are arrival in Rio Grande

Martin cooked an amazing meal of burger and chips which we had been fantasising about for weeks! Success .. a day of rest before we embark on our final 200km to Ushuaia tomorrow. We hope to arrive there on Tuesday as the winds are not looking too good. Our next blog will be from the end of the road…literally and figuratively. We will not doubt be celebrating and reflected on what has been a momentous year for both of us. Watch this space..

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Christmas in Buenos Aires

December 26, 2010

First view of the Buenos Aires skyline on the boat from Uruguay ..

Our first days in Buenos Aires were spent with Carolina’s family in Florida, a quiet leafy suburb.We spent our time chatting to Norma, Maxi and Margarita, swimming in the pool and relaxing in a gem of a cafe we found close to their house where we whiled away the hours by playing scrabble.  

Hannah drinking her Prince of Wales tea (she is addicted to the stuff!) and Derek with his mate.

Another dinner invite from friends of Hannah, Sophie and Pancho, whom she met during her last trip to Argentina.

It is always hard to know where to start exploring a city as vast as Buenos Aires which has a total of 48 ‘barrios’ or neighbourhoods. I am not normally a fan of Lonely Planet but their downloadable themed ‘City Walking Tours’ are a great starting point in exploring any city.

The Casa Rosada (government buildings), one of the sights on our walking tour, which has been witness to key historical events

First impressions of Buenos Aires ..

I have asked myself numerous times during our stay here why it has taken me so long to come to Buenos Aires. The city displays hints of Madrid but is for me very much the Paris of Latin America with its wide boulevards, bistros on every corner and stunning architecture. The city does reveal its own stamp however with impromptu street tango, big dance halls, it’s parillas serving up all sorts of meat and packed coffee houses.  It is a melting pot of cultures with a big concentration of Italian and Spanish emigrants. 60% of the population are of Italian descent and have significant connections to Italian culture, language and traditions. Even Spanish is spoken with an Italian accent!

A couple of Italians we met were surprised at how many old Italian traditions live on here although they have vanished from Italy. Fresh pasta, for example, can be found in many little shops around the city. Even I was surprised to here this is no longer the case in much of Italy.

Although the passage of time has brought urbanism, tourism and the associated changes to Buenos Aires, it is still a city steeped in its past.

Palermo and the Botanical Gardens

Buenos Aires has a sculptural fortune of over 1100 monuments and works of art distributed in public parks, squares and streets. We spent an afternoon wondering around the botanical gardens in Palermo where many can be found.

San Telmo..

They say Buenos Aires was born here. It is the oldest quarter with buildings of faded elegance and colourful locals. ‘Shabby-chic’ is what bests describes it. The bohemian character of the area flourishes every weekend at the antique fair on Plaza Dorrego which sells everything from antique wedding dresses to 19th century  furniture. San.Telmo is definitely a place to ramble about.

Antiques market scenes..

The colourful characters of San Telmo ..

The area is also famous for Tango dancing and images of Carlos Gardel are ever present. Best place to see Tango at its purest is at a ‘Milonga’ where locals of all ages gather to dance in a big tango hall. We discovered a fantastic place called La Cathedral Club.

Tango: street and bar scenes ..

                                                                                                             

                 

                                                                                                     

     

La Boca..

We spent an afternoon strolling around La Boca, famous for its colorful buildings. They say the people were so poor here they had to use the leftover paint from ships in the nearby port, hence the vibrant colours especially in ‘La Camineta’.

La Boca is also home to the famous soccer stadium "La Bombonera" (the chocolate box) of Boca Juniors. The season had just finished when we arrived here but we plan to catch a game on our way back in February. Maradona apparently comes to matches here whenever he is in town and it is where he started his football career. The club was founded on April 3, 1905 by five Italian immigrants and has a  fierce rivalry with River Plate, also from Buenos Aires.

      

                                                                                                 

Recoleta

We took a guided tour through the cemetery in Recoleta which is not quite on a par with Pere Lachaise in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London but nonetheless still impressive. Eva Peron is probably the most famous person to be buried here amongst other prominent citizens.

            

 Eva Peron’s tomb ..

Christmas Day in Buenos Aires .. a far cry from the arctic conditions back home..

I have always wanted to spend a Christmas in a sunnier climate and this was my chance. December 24th, similar to most of Europe, is bigger than Christmas Day in Argentina. There is much less of a build up to Christmas here and some shops reopen on the 25th. It is altogether a very laid back affair. Carolina’s family very kindly invited us to spend Christmas with them. We had a meal on Christmas Eve and the ubiquitous asado on Christmas Day in 40 degree heat. 

Scenes from Christmas Eve and Day ..

Me and Hannah

Martin and Edouardo

The A-team

Derek, Maxi, Martin and Tiago – the dudes

Carolina and me

Three generations of La Familia Dominguez-Touzon. Carolina’s family are of Italian / Spanish origin with La Nonna in the middle who is 90 and still loves her wine.

And so we say au revoir to Derek until we next see him in London. He heads back tomorrow and we have had a lot of fun in his five and a half weeks here. Hannah continues with us down south and Jaime will join us in mid January. We head south to begin the final leg of our journey on Tuesday. The holiday part of our trip is over and we need to get pedaling again.

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Rio de Janeiro in pictures

November 22, 2010

Rio in pictures ..

Europeans first encountered Guanabara Bay the location of Rio De Janeiro on January 1, 1502 hence the name ‘River of January’

‘Christ the Redeemer’ the iconic symbol of Rio located on the mountain top of the Corcovado Mountain. It is 40m tall and is considered the world’s largest statue as well as the largest art deco statue. It is listed as one of  the New Wonders of the World. The original reason to build the Redeemer in 1921 was apparently to mark the centenary of Brazil’s independence.

Our first view of the Redeemer ..

The views from the top ..

Our host in Rio, Niamh a good friend of mine who moved there in July and she was our perfect host always keeping us entertained.

Nights out in Rio ..

The arrival of our good friends Derek and Hannah who will be joining us for the next few weeks and months respectively

The many shades of Rio . .

The Favelas ..

Copacabana and Ipanema Beach ..

Hannah and Martin soaking up the rays and the sights and sounds

Is that Martin in his Newcastle speedos?

Some colourful characters on the beach ..

Rio Centro walking tour ..

Confeitaria Colombo opened in 1894 and is the oldest café in Rio with Art Noveau interiors. In the early 20th century it used to be frequented by writers, artists and thinkers.

"The Girl from Ipanema"" ("Garota de Ipanema") is a well known bossa nova song, a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s. It was written in 1962, with music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. The song was inspired by Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Montenegro Street of the fashionable district of Ipanema. Daily, she would stroll past the popular Veloso bar-café on her way to the beach, attracting the attention of regulars Jobim and Moraes. Since the song became popular, she has become a celebrity. The cafe still exists today.

Well known Serbian footballer Dejan Petkovic now playing in Brasil who we met in his restaurant.

Before and after bike assembly ..

Farewell dinner with Carolina and Tiago … until we meet again in Buenos Aires for Christmas

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Porto Alegre, Brasil

November 12, 2010

Friends reunited ..

Porto Alegre was a much anticipated stop for us as we were going to be visiting friends Carolina and Tiago. I had worked with Carolina in London for 4 years and had not seen her for 2 years since her move to Brasil. This is where she met her Brasilian husband Tiago ironically at an Argentinean v Brasilian game. Brasil won on this occasion 🙂

We could not have received a warmer welcome when we arrived. Tiago threw a bbq for us Brasilian style and this was to be the beginning of multiple bbqs during the week.

Brasilian Food …

Brasilian cuisine varies greatly by region and I soon discovered that there are so many dishes to sample. Tiago’s parents invited us for a very memorable meal at their house. They cooked a typical dish from the Espiritu Santa region in Brasil called moqueca cabixaba consisting of slow-cooked fish, tomato, onion, garlic and corriandor while Tiago prepared caipirinhas. Martin made his signature dessert dish, a cheesecake to die for. It was the nicest fish dish we had on the whole trip.

The slow cooking of the meat is the main difference between the Brasilian and the Argentinean bbq. We watched Tiago as he expertly prepared the meat for the grill by seasoning the red meat with sea salt, pressing salt on both sides of the meat; chicken was marinated in orange juice and seasoned; small nuggets of perfectly cooked sausage were presented to us with the perfect accompaniment, a mixture of manioc flour, seasoning and bacon, I thought the meat in Argentina was unbeatable but Brasil has to better them at something and I think they beat them at the stakes!!

We were receiving a lot of interest in Brasil from the media probably due in part to the fact that Brasil does not feature on the conventional route from ‘Alaska to Ushuaia’ so people are not used to seeing loaded down bikes. We had another TV interview lined up with a Brasilian TV channel on our arrival in Porto Alegre. We found the new found stardom to be a litlle strange. The crew came and interviewed us and then filmed us cycling around the park on our bikes .. it has yet to be aired so the link to follow. 

Stardom at last ..the crew

Martin thinking about the latest football results .. 

The breaking story ..

 
Porto Alegre is a major port and city in southern Brasil located along the Guaíba River near the Atlantic Ocean coast. It has a very rich history with a large immigrant population mainly consisting of Germans and Swiss who settled here in the 20th century. We did not have any expectations of the city but to our surprise it proved to be a city rich in culture, art, architecture, football and we loved it here!

We set off to explore the city by foot on a warm day and here are some of the highlights of our walking tour:

The Mercado Municipal is a neoclassical building set in the heart of Porto Alegre which opened in 1869 and still retains its original structure. It is bursting at the seams with market shops and has the best fish market I have ever seen. It has become a shopping icon of the capital.

All of the museums were free so we checked out the main ones. Santandar cultural centre which once served as headquarters of the banks of the Province and has since been restored and converted into a modern centre for art and culture.

The Art ..

We were lucky to catch a captivating video portraits exhibition here by Robert Wilson revealing portraits of mostly celebrities. Each portrait engrosses you in its intensity and features a complicated character. The portraits then suddenly come to life and slowly start to move and you are waiting to see what’s going to happen, trying to interpret the movement.

We then rambled into the‘Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana" a historical building in the centre which used to be the Hotel Majestic. It had photography, art and cinematic exhibitions, an urban garden as well as stunning rooftop urban views.

Centro Cultural Usina do Gasometro which once served as an old thermoelectric powerhouse in the city and active up until 1974. Today it houses a cinema, a gallery and conceptual installations.

The Architecture ..

The architectural influences in Porto Alegre are numerous from eclectic art deco and neoclassical in the city dwellings, renaissance style of the cathedral and tiling influence of the Portugese imigrants.

 

Another outdoor exhibition of sorts was the famous ‘Cow Parade‘  which I think is fair to say became a bit of an obsession of mine. 81 individually decorated cows in all shapes and sizes and colours of the rainbow were scattered around the city and I was on a mission to find as many as I could. Below is a selection of some of the best:

Martin finally got to go to his first South American football game with Tiago .. the former world champions and current Libertadores champions Inter v lowly Avai, who scored from Inters kick-off after only 8 seconds and went on to win 3-2.

Frodo and Montana .. Carolina and Tiago’s cats

Montana on the left is a lady. Frodo on the right is bonkers! Picture tells the story.

City Scenes ..

City bookshop

Strolling through the local market with our purchases

Urban Roof Garden ..

Street Art..

And so after a wonderful week in Porto Alegre, we fly to Rio on Tuesday for a few days to see our friend Niamh and we will also be awaiting the arrival of our friends Derek and Hannah at the weekend. From then we will continue our cycling down the coast of Brasil and Uruguay and cross to Buenos Aires to continue our journey down south.

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Iguazu Falls and first days in Brasil

November 7, 2010

Our detour through Brasil enabled is to see the Iguazu Falls, one of the most visited sights not only in Argentina but also in South America and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Located on the border between Brasil and Argentina in the Misiones region in the north east, it is a worthy candidate for the 7 natural wonders of the world and was the perfect stopping point en route to Brasil. Despite the downpour of the day and the pending stormy weather, the views were spectacular. At one point, we were surrounded by 260 degrees of waterfalls.    

Some wiki facts on the falls ..

# Consists of 275 falls over an area of 2.7 km
# Highest part of the falls reaches 82 m into the air
# Greatest average annual flow of water in the world. In terms of surface   water flowing over the falls, Iguazu Falls is more than twice as large as Niagara Falls.


Some wildlife from the falls area…

A Toucan

We based ourselves at Puerto Iguazu during our visit to the falls and found a gem of a campsite set in a jungle of wildlife with owls, toucans and frogs in the garden. It was also full of colourful characters including Peter, a czech cyclist who started out in New York and had taken his own customised route to Argentina. He had clocked up 32,000 kms on his bike. He liked to take the ‘off the beaten track’ route and so Ushuaia was not his final destination. Brasil was to be his final country. He had more energy than 10 bottles of red bull!

There was a storm brewing as we cooked that evening at the hostel which accentuated the already electric atmosphere of the place. At one stage I looked around the table and the scene was as follows .. a Brasilian guy busy making brigadeiros (a Brasilian dessert – recipe below), a group of Argentineans singing and playing the drums, Peter the czech guy bopping his head to the beat with a beer in hand, another Argentinean making lamps out of wire and two Irish cyclists looking on bemused. The winds were wild and we all huddled together in the kitchen in the dark as the electricity blew. We eventually reluctantly crawled back into our windswept tents that night and slept to the wind howling outside and the rain beating against our delicate tent. It was an evening we will remember.


The Brigadeiro recipe for those with a sweet tooth!
1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1 Tbsp of butter or margarine, 3  Tbsp of Cocoa.

In a heavy saucepan mix chocolate with condensed milk and add the butter. Cook in low heat stirring constantly until you can see the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir for another two minutes. Pour onto a plate and let cool completely before you form the little balls. Butter your hands slightly to form the little balls. Roll the balls in chocolate powder, nuts or coco and put them in small paper cups.

The morning after the storm ..

Crossing the border .. country number 13 .. 2 countries left (Uruguay and Chile)!

The road to Porto Alegre ..

The next day we set off on our journey across the Brasilian border and down through southern Brasil, our destination Porto Alegre where my Argentinean friend Carolina (who I had met in London) and her Brasilian boyfriend Tiago lived. We arrived on election day so all was quiet.

We pedaled hard for the next 7 days and clocked up the necessary kms. We had cycled 2,000km in 3 weeks since Salta so we were ready for a break when we reached Porto Alegre. Brasil was not what I had expected. It is such a huge and diversified country and is almost its own continent! Cycling through the southern part of Brazil was for me akin to cycling through a mini Bavaria in Germany with place names such as ‘Nuovo Hamborgo’ and ‘Westfalen’, shop names of Germanic origin ‘Stahlhoff’ and ‘Schumann’ and we even passed signs for a ‘Blumenfest’ and apparently there is also a Oktoberfest in the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina which is second only to Munich in size. It felt like a mini German colony. It was really only when we arrived in Porto Alegre that I felt I was in Brasil.

The regions of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sol have a fascinating history. Since the early 20th century about a quarter of a million Germans emigrated to Brasil, the majority of them between World War I and II and today they represent the fourth largest immigrant community after the Portuguese, Italians and Spaniards.  This area is among the wealthiest in Brasil, with the highest levels of employment and literacy in the country.

Germanic influences were evident ..

Due to the even more inflated costs in Brasil compared to Argentina (almost double the price in some instances), we continued to camp most nights and cook our own food. We predominantly camped at petrol stations which were well stocked with what we needed in terms of facilities, hot showers, toilets, a night watch man, shop, a suitable place to camp on grass, table and chairs and some were even equipped with a stone oven! So we were hanging out the the truckers!

Soon after crossing the border from Argentina, we realised that we were no longer just two bike touring cyclists .. we had become something of a phenomenon in Brasil and people were quite incredulous of what we had done and what we were planning to do. To us it is just normal and has become part of our everyday routine so we sometimes forget the bigger picture of our trip. Everyone wanted to know our story .. people at petrol stations, in shops, on the road. We felt like celebrities .. at that stage we did not know what was still to come!! We stopped at a shop on one of our first days and the owner could not give us enough free food. We managed to converse in our pigeon Portuguese which sounds like a dialect of Spanish.

The shopowner ..

Roadside vistas ..

 The day before we arrived in Porto Alegre we were stopped on the side of the road by a local newspaper who asked if she could interview us so we obliged and they got their interview .. a mixture of Spangese! Brasilian TV also got wind of our story … but that is for the next blog! 🙂

Stardom awaits ..

Finally .. Porto Alegre where we were welcomed by Carolina and Tiago with a BBQ, Brasilian style! It was lovely to see Caro and Tiago again!

 

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Vineyard Rotations in Northern Argentina

October 21, 2010

Crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina represented the most dramatic change in countries on our trip to date. First impressions of Argentina were of a prosperous relatively advanced country, whilst Bolivia and a lot of what we had experienced in the previous months was everything I had imagined about an impoverished South American state; dusty streets, ramshackle housing and poor infrastructure. The easiest way to convey crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina is by way of a hotel analogy; we went from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz! We felt like we had been catapulted back to Europe as soon as we arrived. Suddenly everything seemed familiar, ordered and the influences of European immigration were instantly apparent. 

Argentina is everything we had hoped for … fine wines, great food, an abundance of  supermarkets, stunning vistas and unrecognisable Spanish!! All this at a cost as prices inflated overnight. We were used to paying about $5 a night for a room and we were now looking at an average of $20 a night. It is time for the tent to get an airing if we are to stay within our daily budget through Argentina!

Our main destination was Salta through the Quebrada de Huamhuaca, a stunning gorge through the Andes which stretches from San Salvador de Jujuy to the Bolivian border. The main road through the Quebrada is Ruta 9, which runs to Buenos Aires.

Ruta 9

Stunning scenery, an introduction to Argentinean life up close and personal and the first signs of springtime are just some of the memories we have from our cycle through the Quebrada de Humahuaca en route to Salta.

I decided it was high time I dispensed of my leg warmers which had kept me warm through the Andes. Martin still refused to remove his thermals… for those familiar with his blue and white cardigan .. these thermals are taking its place on the trip!

 

We expected an easy cycle to Salta but we hadn’t anticipated the extremely strong winds through the valley which were in our face all the way. It was an interesting experience pitting gravity against the winds of the Quebrada, one which the winds were winning judging by how much pedalling we did. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn during our first days which is the furthest from the Equator that the sun will appear directly overhead. Funny now to think back on our ‘Equator crossing’ in Ecuador all those months ago.

We had already decided to spend 10 days or so around the Salta region and the vineyards of Cafayate to indulge and pamper ourselves. It was to be our holiday. Salta is an affluent city that retains much of its former glory, modern styles appear mixed with colonial features and relics from the Spanish-ruled past peak through around every corner. Much of our time there was spent relaxing in our hostal, cafes and cooking up nice meals. Cooking together and trying out new recipes is one of our favourite things on this trip. We also went to the concert hall for a night of culture to see a performance of the Salta Philharmonic Orchestra for the bargain price of US$5. After a few days in the city we were starting to really like Salta and it proved to be the perfect place to unwind.

Facets of Argentinean life, their ways and what is important to them became apparent very quickly during our first week in Argentina. Some initial observations:

Heladerias ..Ice cream parlours abound and there is one on every street corner. Instead of people queuing outside pubs at night, Argentineans have a love affair with ice cream and the queues are endless so we joined in for more indulgence.

Lomo, Bife, Chorizo ..The supermarket meat counter is a sight to behold in Argentina… more long queues! The numerous cuts of meat was and still is a bit overwhelming for us and we are a bit clueless as to what to buy. We have yet to attend a proper Argentinian BBQ to find out what is what. On the side of the road, in people’s backyards there are BBQ’s set up for their famous asados where meat is cooked over charcoal or wood embers. No part of the cow is spared it seems. Carnicerias are a feature in every town. Meat is very cheap and of excellent quality; A kilo of beef costs the equivalent of  5 euros.

The mate drinking ritual ..Mate drinking is one of the most famous customs in Argentina and is a kind of institution. People young and old walk the streets with cup and flask in hand. I personally am not a fan but apparently it is an acquired taste. The jury is out on that one ..

 

Spanish…We have at this stage I suspect developed a kind of strange mountain Spanish following our time in the Andes. Spanish in Argentina is a whole new ball game .. the inflection and flow of Argentine Spanish is much closer to Italian due no doubt to the large number of Italian descendents living here but takes getting used to.  

Eating habits and opening hours ..Siesta is strictly observed here … shops close between 1pm and 5pm. We knew this before arriving so now have to plan our lunch breaks on the road around the opening times of shops. Evening meals are eaten sometimes as late as 10pm or 11pm.

 

The next part of our holiday was a four day trip to Cafayate and the surrounding area. We travelled through the Calchaquíes valley from Salta which I can only imagine would be a geologist’s dream. We were surrounded by multicoloured mountains of red, green, brown, and yellow striped stone. We have been privileged to see and experience so much of the ever-changing landscape of Argentina and this is only the beginning.

Cafayate and Las Rutas del Vino

We did plenty of taking it easy in Cafayate, nowhere more so than in the bodegas. Cafayate is known in Argentina for it’s wines, produced in these local bodegas, most of which are in the town or on its outskirts. The signature wine of the area is Torrontes. Not much of this wine is exported outside Cafayate province. Wine ice cream was even on sale in the heladeria.

The best way to see the vineyards was on our two wheels so we set out on our vineyard rotation only to discover that most of the vineyards were closed for siesta. We had however read about one 7km out of town www.bodegamounier.com which was open and hit the road. It was in a much more organic and pleasant setting than the other vineyards and we spent a few hours there soaking up the surroundings and enjoying a tasting. 

 

Before arriving in Cafayate, Martin had told me that he had booked a two night stay in a boutique hotel in the middle of a vineyard outside Cafayate to celebrate our cycle over the Andes. Anyone that knows me will know that I love boutique hotels and wine so it was a dream for me. We set out on the 14km cycle from Cafayate to Tolomon to reach AltaLaLuna. I was very excited. As we did not have any good clothes for our stay, we had to make some last minute purchases in Salta to make ourselves look respectable. As we approached the hotel we had to make a pit stop by the roadside to change into suitable attire and checked in to what was to be two days of bliss.

Martin changing by the roadside .. 

Alta La Luna Hotel

The hotel’s wine cellar and bar

Oh and did I mention that Martin proposed to me by the vineyard 🙂 And the answer… 🙂

Champagne

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Machu Picchu

September 22, 2010

Cusco was once at the heart of the Inca civilisation and was now serving as the heart of our much needed chill out time for ten days. Simon arrived from Newcastle and it was the first time in almost eight months that we had seen someone from home. It was great to see him. He too is clearly bionic as he seemed to have zero jet lag and quickly adapted to the altitude. In fact on his second day, he went for a ‘leisurely’ jog up half a mountain and it was not to be his last such outing!

Simon will fill you in on a special ‘Simon says’ feature to follow … 

We moved out of Juan Carlos’ house as we wanted to be closer to the centre during our last days in Cusco. We stayed in a really nice cycle friendly hostal ‘La Estrellita’ with a great courtyard. It was cheap, cheerful and comfortable and exactly what we needed. We met up with other fellow cyclists we knew or knew of during our stay and exchanged maps, routes and stories. It was a pity that we missed out on seeing Dave from the UK. Maybe we will catch him further down the road ..We are all headed in the same direction towards Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Up until now we all pretty much took the same route however once we get to Salta in Argentina, cyclists routes tend to diverge as there are a number of options from there. We plan to head across Northern Argentina into Brazil.

Our plan was to wait for Simon’s arrival before we started to take on the role of tourists. A trip to Machu Picchu was obviously high on our list. We took it easy during the first few days and thought a visit to the Inca Museum would be a good segue to Machu Picchu later that week. I normally have a low attention span in museums and at times find them to be cold and lifeless places. However a guided tour which took us through many of the cultures which preceeded the Incas aswell as the Incas themselves proved very insightful and was well worth the S10 entrance fee.

We also had time to properly explore Cusco although it was hard not to get sidetracked by all the enticing cafes which we had been deprived of for so many weeks. It is a fascinating place where remnants of two worlds, that of the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors still co-exist and is evident in the architecture, spike silhouettes of Catholic cathedrals built by the Spanish alongside the remains of Incan stonework; the people, dark brown skins of the very poor people to the lighter skin of Peru’s elite and descendants of the Spanish; the language; Castillano mingling with Quechua, the language of the Incas and Indigenous peoples.

Original Incan walls in Cusco ..

Cathedral built by Spanish on Incan Palace..

The impact of the Spanish conquest resulting in the downfall of the Incan empire still reverberates through every layer of Peruvian society.

The Incas

In a short time, the Incas created an empire that rivaled that of the Romans. They built thousands of miles of roads over harsh mountainous terrain and stone walls of such magnitude that defies understanding. Their empire stretched from Ecuador to Chile but was short lived. They were innovative and ambitious and their stonework is testament to this. They could move massive stone blocks for miles and miles and fit them together with great precision.

There are many ways to get to what is now deemed to be the new eighth wonder of the world…Machu Picchu. Martin and I had already decided against the Inca Trail as we figured we had burned enough calories in the previous months so we opted for transport to Ollantaytambo and from there a train to Aguas Calientes at the foot of the Lost City.

Starbucks??

The drive to Ollantaytambo was breathtaking and after forty-five minutes snow-capped mountains peaked on the other side of the sacred valley. The mountains became steeper and soon the familiar Inca farming terraces came into view. Ollantaytambo is notable for its architectural jewel perched on a mountain top a few hundred feet above the village. We arrived in Aguas Calientes in good time and had an early night.

We set off on the trail to Machu Picchu at 4am in the dark as we wanted to be part of the first 400 to get the ticket for Waynu Picchu, a mountain affording different views of the site. We arrived at the entrance just before 530am and got our tickets stamped allowing access to Waynu Picchu.

The first sight of Machu Picchu is overwhelming and we were all taken aback by its sheer size and scale. In the past when I have visited iconic sights in various places, I sometimes find that they are bigger in my imagination than in real life. Not the case for Machu Picchu. It exceeded all expectations. The city is a complex of over 200 dwellings and roughly divided into three sectors; agricultural, urban and religious. Most of the buildings are houses, there are also temples, waterways and a quarry. The constructions were built for practical, experimental and astrological reasons.

For me personally Machu Picchu is a place for quiet contemplation. It is a place to find your own corner and take it all in. It is almost beyond words, a place so immense and with a lot of energy. I have heard many people say how it is a once off trip .. I personally could see myself coming back here in years to come. We were there for sunrise and the timing was perfect. After 11am it becomes a circus of  tour guides and tourists in short, a very different place. Although tour guides definitely do have their place and while Martin and Simon climbed Waynu Picchu, which they did in 20 minutes (estimated time is 1-2 hours!) I must say I did earwig on a few tours and learnt a lot but I did not feel compelled to run around and see every single building.

Machu Picchu at 7am..

We have quickly come to realise on this trip that as the nature of our travel thus far has been very independent, when it comes to guided tours, we are not very tolerant at being told to get on and off buses and that we have 30 minutes to look at ruins before we need to board the bus again. We like to take things at our own pace. Lately we seem to have a tendancy to take a quick power nap at touristy sites when everyone else seems to be running around with cameras and this was no different at Machu Picchu.

Martin taking a nap at 9am..

Martin and I were in awe of Simon’s endless energy to run up and down mountains. It is obvious he too is a mountaineer at heart and is very comfortable in the mountains.


Scenes from atop Waynu Picchu ..

I was surprised by a number of things from the trip to Machu Picchu.

First of all the location at the what is described as the ‘eyebrow’ or gateway to the jungle with a semi-tropical climate. Machu Picchu sits atop a mountain in a jungle of green landscape in the steep rugged mountains of southern Peru. It has a rainforest feel to it and is within reach of the Amazon. It is at a lower altitude than Cusco and the contrast on our short train journey back to Ollantaytambo between jungle and snow capped mountains in a short timeframe was very unique.

Machu Picchu was left undiscovered during the Spanish Conquest. It was disguised in the jungle overgrowth for over 400 years, hence the name the Lost City, until it was unearthed from its hiding place by an American archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. Local farmers in the area were apparently aware of its existence and guided Bingham to the site. 

From the Inca Museum tour it seems that very little is in fact known about Machu Picchu and the Incas and there is a lot of speculation. Inca history gradually grew fainter with each passing generation. It is generally accepted that it was a citadel of the Incas and was used as a religious retreat, a place of experimentation and innovation aswell as an administrative centre. –

We headed back to Cusco that evening all still in awe of our trip.

Machu Picchu in pictures..

Flora and fauna

After a chilled out day in Cusco, the following day we caught the 7 hour bus to Puno as we had already cycled this route. Martin and I hit the road to Copacabana in Bolivia which proved to be a stunning ride along Lake Titicaca and Simon took the bus. La Paz in Bolivia is our destination for Friday 24th of September, my birthday.

As I crossed the border into Bolivia leaving Peru behind, I could not help but feel a certain sadness in leaving Peru as it is the country we have spent the longest amount of time in .. a total of 63 days and it felt strange to be leaving. At the same time excited to be cycling to a new country, our tenth border crossing and again hardly believing that the next country will be Argentina.

Machu Picchu was the pinnacle, the icing on the cake of our trip through Peru. It has been a country of superlatives, of wows, sickness, dentists, mountains, vistas, canyons, gorges, glaciers, deserts, headwinds, floating islands, high altitudes, rich cultures, curious people, lake people, llamas, alpacas, vicunas, unpaved roads, mosquito invasions, loud televisions, chicken and rice dishes, ceviche, new and familiar faces, Huaraz, Cusco, Machu Picchu .. in brief a country not to be forgotten and one we would like to return to someday.

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Our last days cycling in Peru

September 13, 2010

We arrived in Cusco at the beginning of September ahead of schedule. We were pretty exhausted from 2 months of intense cycling in Peru so decided to spend a week relaxing in the comfortable surroundings of our couchsurfer host Juan Carlos’ house. He has been the perfect host and we have really enjoyed our time with him. During our time in Cusco, I had to make an unexpected trip to the dentist having dislodged half of my tooth as a result of eating a toffee. What initially seemed to be a bit of an inconvenience has in fact turned out to be quite a positive thing. We are now both getting a full overhaul at the local dentist at a fraction of the price of back home. A trip to the dentist in South America is an experience and has made us realise that we have both become quite accustomed to the latino culture and their quirky ways. Everyone in latin america seems to be addicted to TV soaps, and to our amusement this includes dentists while giving fillings and talking on the phone while a dental nurse rattles on incessantly about needing a holiday. I had to go back for several appointments and made an appointment for a Saturday night .. when I turned up, I was informed ‘oh come back Monday, the dentist has gone home’. It was only after leaving that I realised that it is fully acceptable to make an appointment even though the dentist has no intention of being there on a Saturday night. This is the latino way which we have now become to accept!

We had a really nice week in Cusco and had some nice nights out with our new amigos Juan Carlos and Kelly discovering the local nightlife.

Martin looking like a pop star on one of our nights out ..

As we are awaiting the arrival of our friend Simon from Newcastle (who will now arrive tomorrow), we decided to clock up some miles on the road and get as close to the Bolivian border as we could as we had time on our hands. We set off on a three and a half day cycle to Puno located on the shores of Lake Titicaca and considered to be the cradle of the Inca civilization. From here we planned to visit some of the islands on the lake.  

We set off on the road for Puno last Tuesday morning. We weren’t long on the road before I got a puncture … and then another .. and then another. Despite a day of constant repairs for my bike, we met some lovely people en route.

We came across some pre-Inca and Incan ruins at Pikillacta on the road from Cusco to Urcos and while fixing my puncture, we got chatting to five Chilean motorbikers who rode from Chile in 5 days and were headed to Cusco. We exchanged tips and stories before hitting the rode once again.

Two locals working as tour guides at the ruins gave us a hand to fix my second puncture and were constantly joking with us. I think we brightened their otherwise dull day in the heat and isolation of the site. People here are always so willing to help out.

We eventually got back on the road and put in a big day of 101km. It was getting dark and we still had 20km+ to go when suddenly my gear cable snapped! I never had as much trouble with my bike in one day! The next day as we were riding out of town we spotted a bike shop. Although the bike mechanic was not familiar with the type of gears on my bike, he did an excellent job to fix it and charged the equivalent of 50p for 40 minutes labour. We gave him a big tip and went on our merry way.  

As with all of Peru the scenery en route was full of superlatives .. 

We followed the train line for much of the route .. 

We also passed some interesting market towns. Below locals gathered on the church steps and women with traditional flat-topped hats with lampshade-like tassles. Great fancy dress outfits. We affectionately call the mountain people the Umpa Lumpas as they remind us of the characters in Willy Wonka.

A selection of herbs from a local market ..

It has struck me that there are so many parallels between the Andean (Quechua) people in Peru and the Incas and they are in fact direct descendants. They have kept the ancient language of Quechua alive which was also the native tongue of the Incas, are highy dependent on llamas due to their ability to survive at high altitudes. They like the Incas are mountain people and employ terracing methods to farm the land, are incredibly hard workers and are very close to nature. Cycling through the Andes in Peru this past 2 months has really brought the Inca civilisation alive for me … the Quechua mountain people of Peru are for me the modern day Incas and it makes being in Cusco even more special as this was the centre of Incan civilisation.  

I can’t imagine things have changed that much in the Andes for many hundreds of years. Everyday agro scenes highlight this …

A man working hard ploughing the land

An elderly couple sowing seeds

Some curious looking llamas look on as we cycle by. The Incas called the llama the "silent brother" and were highly dependent on them for food, clothing and blankets and as a sacrifice to the Inca gods. 

As we approached Abra La Raya at 4338m, a gentle pass leading to the Altiplano  a sense of relief washed over us as this would be our highest point cycling for a while. We approached the altiplano. It felt strange to cycle on flat ground so high in the Andes. It was cold, isolated and windwept.

The next day we had our longest day on the trip and covered a distance of 141km at an altitude of almost 4000m. It was tough going as we had strong head winds and the road was sometimes in poor condition but we knew we would appreciate it in the morning as the ride to be Puno would be a short day for us. 

We had an early rise the next morning and on our approach to Puno, we had our first view of Lake Titicaca with its amazing dark cobalt blue color.

Lake Titicaca: some stats …
Located at 3800 metres above sea level. Claims that it is the highest navigable lake but we in fact discovered that it is in fact Lake Junin ,also in Peru and which we cycled past weeks ago.

The lake is 176km long and 50km wide. 60% of Lake Titicaca is in Peru, 40% in Bolivia

According to the Incan mythology, this is the place where the world was created and has long been considered a sacred place among indigenous Andean peoples.

From Puno we took an early morning boat to the Uros floating islands and Isla de Taquile on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.



The floating islands are inhabited by the Uros Indians and they have created land for themselves in the quite serene settings of the lake. The foundations of the islands are made from blocks formed from the roots of the totora reeds.  

Some scenes from Lake Titicaca..

The island we visited housed seven families. The islanders seem to lead a peaceful and simple lifestyle. They eat local birds, fish and bake their own bread which we sampled. The houses are made from totora reeds harvested from the lake. They also use the reeds for cooking and to build their boats. The women weave and cook. They even sang for us in Spanish, their local language Quechua and in English … a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star which sounded a little odd! Although a bit of a tourist trap, I did not mind as we were a source of  income for these very friendly and welcoming people.

Quirky facts ..

The floating islands do in fact float. If there are any disputes on the floating islands, they simply physically cut the islands to separate the fueding families. 

On Isla de Taquile the men can be seeing walking around knitting.

A President is elected on the island and is recognised by wearing a black hat. He has to be married though as it is deemed a married man is more responsable.

On Isla de Taquile their dress is highly symbolic and the colours on their hats highlight their marital status.

The next island we visited, Isla de Taquile, is located further out on Lake Titicaca and is not made of reeds. The Quechua people that live here are also very friendly, and have a collective community. Again they put on a spectacle for us and we were treated to their local dance, tasted their local foods, and had a demonstration on how soap is made from a local plant to clean the wool for weaving. You never know when this could come in handy in the future! Again a bit touristy but it is nice to be a tourist for a day from time to time!  

A man making detergent and woman weaving

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The road to Huaraz

August 2, 2010

Sometimes it is difficult to capture in words the spectacular scenery through which we cycle on this once in a lifetime journey. The road from Trujillo to Huaraz was beautiful beyond words and has been one of the most incredible rides of the trip to date. Leaving Trujillo we cycled through coastline, desert, dramatic canyons and exited through the fertile green valley of the Rio Santa with the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca on one side and the Cordillera Negra as its protective shadow on the other. The landscape has been all changing and humbling in parts.

The route..

Although more challenging physically and tougher on the bikes who have behaved themselves so far :), much of the more interesting sections were unpaved. The journey to Huaraz was 319km of which 131km was unpaved. This route would see us go from sea level to an altitude of 3090 metres. We guestimated it would take us 5 days to reach our destination. We were heading to the highlands of Peru which include some of the highest peaks in the Andean mountain range aswell as Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain.

The route stage 1

The first part of the bike ride saw the scenery change from harsh and solitary desert landscape during our first day

…to more spectacular scenery along a camino privada.

This is in fact a 50km long private road which offers an alternative route for cyclists aswell as a nice short cut! It serves a hydroelectric power plant further up the valley.  

We had an early start so ventured on to the dirt road about 7.30am and what opened up before us is probably up there with one of the most scenic bike rides in the world. We went through various stages of what it must be like to cycle on the surface of the moon … no coco leaves involved!

followed by a taste of a ride through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. 

All manner of songs and rhymes go through your head on these kinds of rides, ‘the long and winding road’ was a particular favourite for me, Martin’s ‘earworm’ song was a bit more random, the 80’s ‘classic’ by ABC, ‘The look of love’ … not sure from where .. however unlike the mountains of Ecuador where you are counting down the metres as you ascend, this route was different.. it didn’t even feel like we were climbing. It felt effortless as we were so enveloped by these vistas, engrossed in the changing hues of our surroundings. 

A picture tells a thousand stories…

It is also a big mining area here and there were many deserted adobe houses where the miners may have lived at some stage..

We camped over night in a secluded spot by the Rio Santa  … 

and woke up to this the next morning …

and as the sun began to wake up ..

The route stage 2

The Canyon del Pato led us increasingly upward through 35 tunnels of rough hewn rock over a distance of 10km through a narrow valley.

 

The route stage 3

At the end of the 10km, we emerged on the other side and were greeted with the farming people of the Peruvian sierra and lush green countryside.

Huascarán, Peru’s highest peak and part of the Cordillera Blanca looms in the background. This is a paradise for climbers and trekkers.

The Cordillera Blanca – some stats .. 

It extends for 180km, totals 663 glaciers, includes the highest peak in Peru at 6,768metres, and has 269 lakes and 41 rivers.

Huaraz is the mountaineering capital of Peru. The setting of the city, at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, is spectacular. You can apparently see over 23 snow-capped peaks over 5000 meters, including Huascaran (6768m). I plan to send Martin out to count them today ..

Some fellow travllers we met on the way..

A Spanish guy who is coming from Ushuia and on his way to Alaska…

Just a note, I don’t normally endorse the ‘socks and sandals’ look as in the above picture but I stupidly left one of my precious bike shoes behind so have no choice until I find some new ones! Apologies in advance for the German look.

 

The dutchies … we first met these three Dutch guys in Cartagena in Colombia and have twice now met them on isolated roads, in Colombia and the other day in Peru. Either we are going fast or they are going slow. Our destination point is the same in 6 months time. They are at a slight advantage with a motor attached though.

Locals at the market town in Carhuaz en route..

Just when you think their ‘costumes’ couldn’t get any more colourful, they do … a future fashion trend maybe?

We plan to relax here for a few days before we commence our journey to Cusco which we figure will take approximately a month. We also have Simon’s visit to look forward to in Cusco and many other friends will join us in parts for the last six months, Hannah, Derek, John and we hope Pete and Emilie and perhaps some more surprises..

It has been six months on the road and we now feel we have reached a milestone of sorts. We have made it to Huaraz.

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Changes

July 27, 2010

We enjoyed our time in Ecuador, a beautiful country with big challenges for the cyclist but the time had come for something new, a change. On our arrival at the Peruvian border we were back to the lowlands. Macará, at 600 meters, is one of four border crossings between Peru and Ecuador and seems to be one of the more relaxed as border crossings go from what we had heard.  

Crossing a border brings with it a lot of emotions, mainly excitement and curiosity at the prospect of all the change and undiscovered experiences which await. The first few days cycling in a new country awakens your senses to new  sights and sounds, adapting to the new ways of the people, customs, habits and of course the new rules of the road dictated by the drivers! We cycled with all our senses on alert, anxious to observe the differences of the country which we had just entered. Peru felt like a mystery, an incognito land.

Peru is much poorer then its northern neighbour, Ecuador. And for brief instants I suddenly found myself catapulted back to my time spent in India. Here also exists a certain kind of chaos in the towns and villages which usually involves every kind of imaginable vehicle, cars, buses, tuc-tucs, bicycles, and horse carts fighting for space in the dusty streets. The smells, the noise, the dryness of the landscape and the glaring poverty were reminiscent of scenes from Northern India. So much so, I had to pinch myself to remember where I was.

Apart from the larger towns, the traffic was thankfully scarce and the temperatures high. The dry air and heat of the midday sun made for an easy first day’s cycling and we almost effortlessly clocked up 130km. As we pounded the pedals during our first few days, we watched the vegetation change from fairly lush, to sparse, to nearly non-existent, to nothing but endless sand in the Sechura desert of Northern Peru.  

We cycled from dusty villages to the sand dune desert along the Pacific coast on paved and unpaved roads. A zone with little cycling interest unless you like cycling with a full-on head wind. It was a desolate area.

On a bike your first impressions of a country are always up close and personal compared to when travelling by bus. On our second day, we stopped at a deserted village for some lunch and luckily enough found a woman willing to feed us. We waited while she cooked up some rice and chicken and were kept amused by local children coming from school. They stared at us in a semi catatonic state wondering if we have landed from another planet. Martin started to kick a ball with them and they slowly started to open up and started asking questions.. and didn’t stop!

We passed through permanently-under-construction-looking-villages, with animals looking for every scrap of food they could find and wide-eyed children peering from behind closed doors.


The North of Peru has a lot of hidden gems.
Some of the most important archaeological sites are located in the coastal desert of the northern coast and in the southern Andean Highlands and explains why Northern Peru is known as the Egypt of South America. En route to Chiclayo, we were lucky enough to visit the Tucumbe pyramids, structures built by pre-Colombian cultures from around 1100AD. They looked like natural, albeit unusual rock formations but were in fact man made structures.

The temperatures began to sore high into the mid 30´s again and even the cows needed to shade from the blistering heat! I knew this also signaled the transition from hot to cold showers.

On a cyclist’s ‘roadmap’ the coast of Peru is known for two things: a little hamlet on the coast called Paijan and ‘Lucho’ in Trujillo.

We were warned about one particular town on our route as far back as Colombia.  Paijan, 50 km north of Trujillo on the Pan-American highway has a reputation as a place to be avoided by cyclists. ‘Ladrones’ or robbers frequent the territory and seem to have developed a fondness for targeting the vulnerable cyclist and relieving them of their belongings, everything, bikes and all. A cyclist’s nightmare! Most problems have occured when cyclists have stopped in the town allowing these thugs to get organised and rob the cyclist on the outskirts of town. Solution: take the chance, organise a police escort or get a bus. We opted for the latter, to be sure, to be sure. We loaded our bikes on a bus bound for Trujillo for this stretch of the journey and did not look back. Why take the chance ..

It was getting dark as we arrived in Trujillo and we had a house to find, the ‘casa de ciclista’. We asked two policemen on a motorbike for directions and we ended up having our very own police escort through the city and they brought us safely to our destination as we zipped through the labyrinth of streets. Despite the reputation that the police seem to have in Latin America of being corrupt, so far we have found this not to be true. We bid them farewell and settled down for the night in the casa de ciclista. We met the famous Lucho the next day.

Martin spent two days of hard graft on our bikes and we once again hooked up with Geoff and Rosemary, two Australian cyclists we met in Ecuador and our new Colombian friend.

 

The Casa de Ciclista
For 20 years, Lucho has been opening his home to cyclists and there is a long legacy of hospitality here. The Casa Amistad (friendship house), the original Casa del Ciclistas in Latin America, has been providing a refuge for cyclists since the mid-80s. Lucho, a former professional cyclist and a bicycle mechanic, provides support to those passing north or south along the Pan-American highway.

Heinz Stucke’s is a bit of a celebrity in the bike touring world. He has stayed at the Casa de Ciclista here a number of times. He left Germany in 1962 and has been pedaling ever since. Between 1962 and 2006 he rode 539,000 kilometres in 192 countries. He’s still cycling…

The time to leave has arrived. We head back towards the mountains tomorrow, 28th July, known as Fiestas Patrias which commemorates the day that Peru gained its independence. During the whole month of July, homes, office buildings, public and private institutions, schools, and restaurants display the national flag.

The next leg of the trip promises to be an adventure. We cycle for a few more days through the Sechura desert and then head up to the Cordillera Blanca, following the river to Huaraz. It will be a fantastic journey through deserts, canyons and river valleys, and some great cycling along craggy white peaks of over 6000m altitude. We need to find some coco leaves for the altitude!

And so we say goodbye to this oasis and head back to the second highest mountain range in the world.

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