A Travellerspoint blog

Back into the Andes.

From sea level to 3000m in 4 spectacular days.

sunny

23rd August Huanchaco to random ‘bushcamp’ 115km / 911m climbing

We’ve been a bit like a fish out of water. It’s time now to leave the coast and head back into the hills before we lose all our altitude acclimatising.
If I had to describe today in a word it would be ‘smells’. Nice cooking ones as we left Huanchaco, then a putrid dead animal, smelly seafood by the sea, then people burning off and much more.

What’s with naming your petrol station ‘Divine Baby Jesus’? Would this work in Australia? Caltex for Christians or Ampol for atheists. Maybe not?

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I had a great day on the bike today. I was part of a big group up until lunch and most people took turns up the front. After lunch it was a group of 7 of us and we all did.
The scenery early was not much, but the end of the day as we left the bitumen and rode on an unsealed road was much nicer. No longer a tight group of 7, we spread out like Vegemite as we wove around and rode amongst rocky hills. It was a rocky and bumpy road but not with loose stones. After averaging 20-25kph all day, the 10-15kph on the rough road made the last 15km drag a bit, but as I said, it was nice to look around and there were very few vehicles or dust. A nice end to a good day.

Our bush camp tonight might be my most level tent site ever. It’s on a concrete foundation! Kirstin’s dinner tonight was a tasty surprise. Fish and prawns. I thought I’d seen the last of seafood for awhile!

24th August Bushcamp to bushcamp 85km / 1047m climbing

What a spectacularly beautiful day. Sure, it was almost all rough road, not sealed, but that’s because we snaked our way up the Canyon Del Pato/Duck Canyon. It started wide enough, with the Cordillero Negra on the left and the Cordillero Blanca on the right side of us and fertile flat farmland by the river. I noticed and stopped to photograph fields of marigold orange. I had no idea what they were, so asked a passing local, hoping it would be an answer I would understand. It was – marigolds.

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As the mountains narrowed, farmland disappeared and the now-cascading river became my constant companion.

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We climbed steadily all day.

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I know this not just from the profile on our page of directions, but from the fact that we followed the cascading river upstream. With almost no vegetation, bar the odd cactus, the mountains are so ruggedly beautiful and unscarred by man. I enjoyed the ever-changing palette of colours as mountainsides varied from the extremes of coal black to dusty white and every shade of brown, orange and ochre in between. At times it reminded me of one of those glass things with the sand and water in them and the different colours would cascade differently. Massive walls of unblemished scree soaring at over 45 degrees. Here are some men mining coal with shovels and wheelbarrows.

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The road was chunky and dusty, but there wasn’t too much traffic and I met none of it during any of the 10 tunnels I went through. My bike has been fairly rattled and the only thing that broke was a water bottle holder, so I fitted a new one tonight. It’s the third that’s broken, so I now carry spares.
There were two pleasant and unexpected surprises at camp tonight and I don’t mean the lovely location. First was a cold beer at the shop just before camp. It’s just over the river and I could see our camp on the other side. I just had to cross a bridge and double back. I bought the only beer he had and it was deliciously cold. He wouldn’t let me take the bottle, so I drank it there. I told him to put more in the fridge for others, but it was the only one he had. A bar with one beer.

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Second surprise was the chance to wash off today’s mud and dust in the river by our campsite. There’s no rain here, so I figured the stream must be snow melt. Cold water never felt so refreshing.
It might have only been 85km today but you could only average 15kph with the road like it was, so it was still more than 5 hours on the bike. I think I’ll sleep well tonight, even with a dead mattress. Waste of money that one was when the prickles from the first camp have rendered it useless already. It was an uncomfortable night last night. I guess tonight will be the same.

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25th August Bushcamp – Haraz 85km / 1600m climbing

I thought I might have got the llama this morning. Yesterday at lunch, I’d been looking for my sunnies. They weren’t in the usual spot of my bar bag and as I had a hat on, they weren’t on my head. I found them in front of my eyes! Just then Monique walked up and I told her and I had a laugh at myself. I forgot she had the llama to give away and was looking for stories. When I heard her repeating my sunglass silliness to someone else I realised she had taken note. I didn’t get the llama at brekkie today.
Our second and final day riding the length of Canyon Del Pato. WOW! Another spectacular day surrounded by beautiful mountains with a happy ending. Yes, it was another uncomfortable night. Sure the ground appeared flat, but with a dead mattress, by this morning, I knew every little bump!
More chunky roads and more riding slowly and being careful not to destroy your tyres on sharp rocks. 85km might not sound like much, but when it’s gnarly roads and lots of climbing, I was happy to finish it in 5 hours.

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There were 28 tunnels today varying between 10 metres long and several hundred, all single lane, unlit, with unsealed road. It’s very hard to ride when you can’t see what you’re riding on. Sure, I had my light, but it doesn’t pick out depth of shadows of corrugations and potholes. I was fortunate not to have many issues with vehicles trying to share the tunnel with me which is good, because the best ‘line’ was usually riding the pile of dirt between the two tyre lines. The tunnels were all single lane, which led to an incident I arrived upon. One car heading in my direction was engaged in a Peruvian standoff with 6 vehicles coming the other way, refusing to reverse the 20 metres back to the passing lane just outside the tunnel. I just rode past them and laughed.

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The surrounding canyon today is just as spectacular as yesterday. It’s two mountain ranges converging from as far as 16km apart to as little as 9 metres, which is why we needed tunnels if we’re going to ride along the bottom. Again the colours on the mountain sides were nature’s palette showing off. Cacti were the main vegetation in this harsh environment, poking their green stems upward in an ‘up yours’ finger gesture to the weather gods that make it not rain here.

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The happy ending? Bitumen for the last 15 km. It was such a welcome sight at the end of the day. There was still some climbing to Harez, but having sealed road made it so much easier. Harez seems like a nice little town and we’re staying overlooking the main plaza.

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(It has lovely grassed areas, but all with ‘keep off’ signs. What’s the point in that? I’m sure some secretary eating her sandwich on it over lunch is not going to wear it out.) I went for a lap of the square, exploring all the shops on the perimeter and stopping for an Inca Cola. It tastes like red creaming soda, but it’s yellow and ubiquitous throughout Peru. It’s all part of the experience, but I wouldn’t drink it at home. They have it in great little 237 ml bottles which are perfect for a refreshment stop.

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I also went to the Ferreteria/hardware store and bought 10 BFO nails to use as tent pegs. The ones that came with my tent look great but bent at even the sight of a hammer! Hungry from that shopping, I bought a sweet quinoa ball snack thing. Tasty! With all this eating, I probably won’t lose weight at this rate.

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Dinner tonight had 4 choices on the menu, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. The 4 choices were - whole roast chicken, ½ Roast chicken, ¼ Roast chicken or 1/8 Roast chicken, all served with chips and salad. I guess I’ll have the chicken. There were 7 of us, including Wilbert, the owner and his partner Susanna, our trip interpreter/Spanish teacher. Apple pie at a nearby pastry shop for desserts and I’m ready for bed.

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26th August Caraz – Huaraz 70km / 1223m climbing

Leaving Caraz.

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The only way is up!

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Another lovely day on the bike. It was all sealed roads with undulating terrain so I didn’t notice the climbing and many small villages on the way added interest. It is so nice to take in a place at the speed of a bicycle. Many things that I see and stop to appreciate would be missed if you flew by in a car or bus. People working their fields, or just sitting by the road waiting for a bus, there’s much to see.

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All day there were snow-capped mountains to my left soaring up to 6000m and I’m at about 2500, heading up to 3000m in Huaraz tonight.
Two examples today really highlight my ability to stop and enjoy the moment. The first was the weekly Sunday markets in some random town. WOW! So much fresh fruit and vegies and everyone was dressed up, or do they always dress like this? Ladies in their colourful skirts and a hat, of course. I could have just kept riding, as many did, but for me it was a chance to stop, wander and experience the random part of rural Peru that I happen to be in. I got some great sneaky photos too. I could have picked those cyclists who’d stop and those who’d not and I was right. It’s the same ones in the group who don’t care about time and always stop for lots of photos. Here are some from the Sunday markets.

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The second example of random participation was a 25 piece brass band that I rode past. I stopped, of course, and listened, then got off my bike and started dancing. What the heck! Why not? I was still wearing my helmet as this wasn’t a planned stop. It seemed like a party and it turns out it was a house-warming. Christine and Graeme weren’t far behind me on the bike and they too were soon dancing. The hosts invited us not only to join us for lunch, but to stay for a couple of nights if we needed to! We declined, but such hospitality is lovely. The band played some more and we too danced some more, but alas, if we don’t keep riding, we won’t reach Huaraz. The hosts made sure they had us on their video and still photos on the day before we were allowed to leave. SO RANDOM, but so special too.

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I’ve passed all sorts of interesting things on my rides so far and often in the evening it’s only the ‘slow-coaches’ that noticed it. The speed demons might ride the same route as me, but they don’t experience it the same. One thing I’m sure they have too is idiot drivers who squeeze past when they shouldn’t. It happens all the time. If there’s room on the other side, then they pass with room, but if it means slowing down until the car coming the other way has past, forget it. People here will sit and watch their cow eat grass, but get behind the wheel and time suddenly matters. The minivan busses are the worst and they all have God slogans on the back of the van. Today I nearly got cleaned up by one sporting, ‘By the grace of God.’ Really? God’s got nothing to do with it and you nearly sent me to hospital, or worse. I believe that atheists make much better drivers. Why? If you’re an atheist, then safety is your responsibility and no one else’s. God believers say a prayer before driving, then it’s up to God to make it all safe, so they drive like idiots thinking God is in control, not them. Even if they die, they believe heaven’s waiting for them. As a cyclist, I’d like to see less God slogans and more safe driving.

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We’re still between the two mountain ranges, but they’ve spread apart again and no longer form a canyon. Instead there were fields of corn, fruit trees and some flowers too. I watched a man cutting clover by hand using only a sickle on a long stick. If ever someone needed a whipper-snipper it was him. He was quite friendly and let me take his photo. Unfortunately Travellerspoint website has been playing up and picks and chooses which photos it lets me upload. The one of the man just gets an error message.
Arriving in Huaraz early in the arvo allowed me to (cold, but who cares?) shower chill out and then check out the town proper. There’s a nice plaza with grass to only look at but not touch, but most shops were closed, this being Sunday. I found a nice bar with outdoor seats and was enjoying a strawberry juice and then a beer when I was joined by first two, then a third person from Bike Dreams. We will come back here for dinner as the menu looks good. Here are some pics of the plaza in Huarez.

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Erin Skype, YAY! Then to dinner where I’d been this arvo. I shared my Caesar salad story with you earlier, where not one of the ingredients of a real Caesar Salad was present. With this in mind I ordered Fillet Mignon but had no idea what I’d get. It was the real deal and better than many meals I’ve had at restaurants at home. Rest day here in Huaraz tomorrow then up higher and camping at over 4000m.

Posted by TheWandera 17:37 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Vamos a la playa - let's go to the beach.

A couple of rest days by the sea in Huanchaco.

20th August Pacasmayo to Huanchaco 112km

Here's the view of Pacasmayo beach this morning. Looking forward to our coming double rest day in Huanchaco.

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Another dusty desert day. The traffic was not so nice today. If there was no oncoming traffic, busses and trucks would give you a wide berth. If there was, they just barrelled on through and squeezed you off the road. I hope they could still see my birdie in their dusty mirrors! I rode alone and there was a constant breeze. Not too strong, but enough to make it harder. There’s been a bit of a train lately with a bunch of people riding together. I’m not sure how long it will last as certain people are left up the front to put in the hard work and ‘drive’ it, whilst others are happy to spend all day freeloading at the back. You don’t mind if someone’s having an off day, but it’s not been a team thing and that’s irking some people. Others don’t know how to ride safely in a group and are dangerous. I prefer to plod along a bit slower and do my own thing. I look around more and see more when on my own. In the group, you need to watch the person/wheel in front of you, which kind of limits sightseeing! You also can’t stop to take a photo, something I often like to do. I didn’t come here to race, but to see and experience everything around me….and take photos.
This lady gave us some hand-made items. Very generous. One thing for the guys and one for the girls. We had a raffle to decide.

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I rode until lunch and that was enough for me today. I’ve pushed myself again, but not too far. We now have not one, but two rest days coming up. After lunch the cycling group left together with a police escort to ride through the next town as this is actually a spot known to be unsafe.
What a windy, dusty and desolate afternoons riding. I’m glad I was in the truck! It was full, as several others bailed too. Tonight we are back by the sea! This place is also right on the beach and we’re here for 3 nights.

A blind man named Pedro (Not Freddy!) had his massage table set up in the garden, so I had a half hour leg massage. Just what I needed. It was very pleasant lying under the dappled sunlight of a warm seaside afternoon listening to the birds and waves.
There are lots of tables, chairs and chill out areas around to make this a relaxing place. I went for a walk along the beachfront path later and it’s really touristy. I’ve not seen so many gringos in the one place since we started. Lots of restaurants too, so I won’t lack for choices. I think I’ll need two tummies.
We had a cocktail party tonight. Pisco sours, vodka passionfruit and mojitos, all made with fresh fruit. It was our own party held on site. Kirstin had gone shopping on our behalf and bought a bunch of stuff.

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After this we scattered for dinner, at least that was the plan. Chris, Graham and I went ahead and didn’t want to be in a big group so as not to overwhelm the restaurant. When a group of the others saw us sitting somewhere they descended on the same place and despite us getting our order in first, it was lost amongst the 12 others and we ended up waiting 90 minutes for a plate of ceviche and some battered prawns. It’s always a worry when you see someone ride off with an empty gas bottle strapped to the back. You order another beer and settle in for a long wait.

21st August First rest day in Huanchaco.

Sleep in and a lovely breakfast of omelette, coffee and fresh juice with yoghurt.
I’d booked Pedro again today for a full body one-hour massage and once again he had his table set up in the garden. I got 90 minutes, but I don’t know if that was because there was no one waiting, or I was a repeat customer. It’s a great job for a blind person hey?
There are two tortoises on the hotel grounds. Here they are eating a breakfast of lettuce. Sometimes they get around and move lots, and other times they are like a rock and go nowhere for hours.

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I scored a great lunch deal at one of the many restaurants on the ocean front. Here's the view.

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Balcony seat with ceviche, seafood rice, Coke and beer while I watched the waves roll in and people walk the strip. Lee came past, saw me and popped up for a beer. Wandering back, we saw others at a different café and they beckoned us over. They were waiting on a Dutch apple pie to come out of the oven. We joined them. I asked the bloke serving us what made it a Dutch apple pie. His answer? He made it and he’s Dutch! With ice cream on the side, it was delicious. See what I said about wanting two tummies?

Today was bike cleaning, repair and changing tyres day. I put on new nobbly tyres for the unsealed roads ahead.

Dinner tonight began with ceviche, again. Love it. Raw seafood marinated in lime juice with chilli and red onions. I shared a plate of seafood chicharones. Chich-a-rone-ez – sounds great and is a local delicacy. They’re not delicate but are actually little overcooked battered bits of ‘seafood’, apparently. We didn’t find many that weren’t fish. Chocolate cake and beer back at our hotel and if we keep this up, we’d better start riding again soon before we’re the boombalada brigade.

22nd August Second rest day

Another omelette and another massage, but not from Pedro. The café next door offered them, so I went for something different. I’m adding the REST to rest day.
Different restaurant with a balcony for another lunch of ceviche, seafood rice, Coke and beer. People watching from here mostly involved the enthusiastic spruiker from the restaurant next door. He would even put flyers in the open windows of passing cars.

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A walk along the ocean front to the jetty followed, as did a cappuccino at a little café. Real coffee – not instant! Can you believe that in Ecuador and Peru, who both export coffee, when you buy a coffee, it’s almost always instant? They don’t even hide it and it’s not unusual to be given a cup of hot water and the jar of instant and you even add your own granules. This was a real coffee even if it was made with a tiny little domestic machine and UHT milk. They don't have fresh milk anywhere. A walk along the Huanchaco Pier followed. Much shorter, more solid and therefore safer than the one at Pacasmayo. There were people fishing along it, catching and keeping fish as small as your finger. (And they wonder why they don’t catch big ones anymore?)

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At the end were Peruvian Boobies perched on top of the roof.
I love boobies.

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I bought a traditional local sweet snack from a bloke who’s been selling it from the same spot for decades. (Some people don’t need variety in life.) It was delicious.

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The fishermen here use boats made of reeds, a 1500 year old tradition. They are more stable than they look.

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There are tsunami warning signs out front of the hotel. Do I climb a tree if there’s an earthquake? I’m in bed now with the sound of the waves. Are our rooms high enough?

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Also backpacker crossing!

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Dinner tonight was a winner. No ceviche as I’m ceviched out! Barbecued fish on the grill. Delicious way to finish my time by the beach here in Huanchaco. Now it’s 4 days riding back up into the mountains before my next rest day.

Posted by TheWandera 09:29 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Pedalling Peru Part 1

16th August Macara to Chulucanas 127km / 764 climbing.

Today will be more kilometres than I’ve cycled in a day. What the heck? I’m up for it, but before we can do that, there’s a border to cross. We are leaving Ecuador and entering Peru.

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How's this bloke? Sweeping dirt off dirt. Who pays these clowns?
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Good-bye Ecuador.
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A delayed start due to someone’s flat tyre, then more than a hour with the two immigration desks and we didn’t really start riding until 10:30. Aarrrgh! We still have 127km to do! Nothing to do but knuckle down and ride. If a random public phone rings, would you pick it up? I did while waiting for our Peruvian entry stamps. After failing to convince the caller that they had the wrong number, I was on the hunt for Senor Guerdo. Unfortunately as others in my group passed on the call to random strangers it became Senor Gordo, which means fat in Spanish. The looks from people when asked, ‘Are you Mr Fat’ were priceless! Here is the Peruvian immigration post with phone boxes.

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The old and the new.
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The scenery is so different now, it’s like we’re in a different country. Oh! We are! It is really flat, although there are mountains in the distance on both sides. I passed vast fields of tropical fruits being grown. Bananas, paw paw and mangoes featured strongly, but the crop of note were the rice paddies. What the? Out here? But there they were. Enough paddies to make an Irishman feel at home!
I think the feature of today’s riding was the menagerie of animals that crossed the road in front of me. I can’t think of a farm animal that I didn’t see today and there were even a few bonus ones like a turkey and her turklings. We’re cautious about animals on the road as the only real accident on the last Bike Dreams Andes trail was someone hitting a donkey. They were okay eventually, but the bike and donkey not so. Later in the day, the only animal missing was sheep, and then I had two flocks a short distance apart.

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A group of us headed out to the main plaza of Chulucanas for dinner. Some wanted Chinese, but there was no way I was eating Chinese on my first night in Peru! We had a lovely dinner of roast chicken, but the highlight was surely the churros from a vendor on the plaza. MMmm! I love churros. Straight, star-shaped piped donut-like pastry filled with either caramel or chocolate. These were caramel and made the BEST dessert.

17th August Chulucanas to Motupe - 147km / 811m climbing

Today was a challenge, but I was up to it. After busting yesterday in less than 6 hours, I wanted to do today in 6 and did, just! YAY!

Here is today's profile. The second peak was so much harder.
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Wow, how the countryside changes in just a day. Yesterday’s tropical plantations have given way to a parched African-like landscape with the kind of places where you wonder how people eke out a living. Looking at the map, I see that we are right near one of Peru’s deserts, so it’s not surprising. More vultures.

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We left Chulucanas with a police escort with sirens and lights and we didn’t have to stop for red lights. We rode as a full peloton for about 5kms, after that it was about 12 of us together. I did my best to stay with them as it made me ride just that bit faster and I got the benefit of the group. We averaged 27kph and I stayed with them until the 60km mark. Once I lost them I had to break my own wind, something I’m normally good at, and I had no chance of catching them. I did have my own police escort though. Seriously, I had a police vehicle behind me the last 10km to lunch at 70km. The Peruvian government were informed of our trip and have offered support to facilitate it. It’s not that it’s dangerous, but they don’t want any trouble. It felt weird being followed by a cop car at 25kph on a bicycle. I cycled on my own after lunch, but joined a couple of other riders who’d stopped at a random place for a juice. Nice juice it was too.

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I arrived at our first bush camp and set up my new tent for the first time. It looks like it should withstand whatever the weather throws at it. Tonight I was the only one in camp who got to enjoy a cold beer as I was the only one who thought to stop in the last town before here and buy it. They were all envious.

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Bush camping is lovely. So quiet and relaxing and no one’s off in their rooms as we’re all here together with nowhere else to go. I can’t believe how spread out the tents are though. We’ve more than filled the dusty thorn-ridden soccer pitch were camped on. Curstin, our cook made a lovely chicken satay as we all ate together. Nice starry night. I like camping.

18th August Motupe – Lambayeque 75km

I’m so tired in my legs that I’m glad today is ‘only’ 75 km. I was riding alone, but met Babette and Paul again at another random juice stop today. Different shop, different juice, but still very good. They rode ahead, and I plodded on. It’s catching up with me all these days back to back. Most of the others rode in a pack with the strongest riders at the front and the freeloaders hanging off the back. Riding on my own, I’d have liked to have gone faster, but you’re doing all the work and the head wind for the last 20 kms put a stop to that idea!
What a dust bowl Lambayeque is. Their idea of sealing the roads is to drive a water truck down the road and turn hard dried dusty road into mud. An improvement? Try bitumen!
Our hotel is on the edge of this dustbowl town on the edge of a north Peruvian desert! Plenty of chance to catch up on clothes washing as I had the afternoon to get them dry. To wash? Take them all in the shower with me! There’ll be other chances to let the hotel do my laundry, properly.
This afternoon we all went to the museum for which this town is famous. It features all the artefacts from Lord Sipan’s tomb from the Mochica people who lived here from AD 0 until AD 500. Given that the tombs were undisturbed until archaeologists sifted through them, the display of gold items was quite incredible. Our English-speaking guide was passionate about the collection, but it did mean that it took two hours to go around the collection.
A juice on the main street of Lambayeque followed before we all headed back to our oasis on the edge of town. They didn’t serve food, but had a menu from a local place that delivered. Perfect!

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19th August Lambayeque to Pacasmayo – 118km

I took the truck today. I overdid it these last few days and my legs (and butt!) are letting me know. The first thing we did was stop at the local markets in Lambayeque to buy food for this afternoon’s post-ride soup and salad and although it’s Sunday, the markets were still thriving. It was a bunch of fun and the people were happy and willing to pose for photos. I even got a marriage proposal from this lady! She wanted me to take her to Australia.
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The seafood was spanking fresh and included, Dory, Bonito, swordfish and giant squid. The squid were so big that a calamari ‘ring’ would be the size of a tyre on my small car! Here are a bunch of photos of the markets. Lots of fun!

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We even had a dancing toothpaste tube to hug!
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There were others who didn’t ride today, so travelling in the truck was a bit of a party. Curstin was happy to have some different music on my MP3 player and she DJ’d all day picking out songs while Richard drove. I have a very eclectic selection of music, so it was no surprise she chose quite a varied songs. One day on the bike I’ll be listening to high BPM dance music, the next day rock music.
The scenery today, if you can call it that, is desert. Flat, dusty and dry desert. This Coke sign was a splash of colour on an otherwise brown landscape.
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Here are some photos of the cyclists with their police escort.

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We are now at the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t realise we came to the coast, so this is a bonus.
Arriving first in the lead truck (The other one is the ‘lunch truck’ and only leaves after the last cyclist has stopped for lunch.) it was our job to make soup and salad. Curstin made a great chickpea salad – they sold warm just-cooked chickpeas in the market. How good is that? I’m zesting limes to go in the sauce served with the tamales – similar maize things to the humitas I described in Loja, but they’re wrapped in banana leaves. We prepared lunch on the hotel balcony overlooking the promenade and ocean. Kitchen with the best view!

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The hotel owner welcomed us all with a tray of Pisco Sours, Peru’s national drink. Pisco, syrup, lime juice, whisked egg white and a dash of bitters. Very good.
This afternoon I went for a walk along the promenade with vendors selling hand-made jewellery and the like. They had pumice stones shaped like feet. I thought they should have a bum-shaped pumice stone for me, but that would be callous.
I then went for a walk to the end of the long old jetty in Pacasmayo. With a rotten wooden top perched on rusty metal piles walking on this jetty could be called a high-risk activity. Initially, the gaps between planks were large enough to lose a small child, but they got progressively worse the further out you went. You could easily lose yourself or someone near and dear to you if you didn’t watch every step you took. You’d not be allowed anywhere near something like this at home, but this is not home, it’s Peru. Rusting tracks indicated that it had once had a train of sorts, but there’s no way now it would support one.

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What seemed to be commercial fishermen were using the jetty to deploy gill nets and crab nets. MMmm! Seafood for dinner tonight.
It turned out to be a debacle dinner of disappointment. The waiter was an idiot and forgot things and everything came out in random order and we had to keep repeating our drink order until he actually remembered. The ceviche we shared was a highlight. My main course of flounder – apparently – was forgotten and didn’t arrive until after the others had finished. Flounder is tender and flakey. If that was flounder, I’ll eat my hat. Come to think of it, the tough leathery piece of something was like eating my hat.
I fell asleep tonight to the sound of the ocean.

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Posted by TheWandera 19:21 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Good-bye Ecuador.

As Peru beckons, the Andes Trail continues.

Ecuador concludes

14th August Loja – Catacocha 96kms / 2237m climbing

WOW! What a day! It was challenging, but I finally found my legs. They were stuck to my hips all along!
You can imagine the kilometres travelled, but to give you an idea of the vertical climbing, today’s total was MORE than if I’d cycled to the top of Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, from sea level. The day began with a 600m climb out of Loja. This was payback for the lovely long ride down into town. There are no free rides on this trip. If you have a long downhill, it either follows a big climb, or there’s a big climb to follow.
Today was our first gravel road and we can’t believe it either. Until now, the roads have been excellent and we’ve certainly appreciated it. At the top of the climb out of Loja at 2641m, it was high enough that we reached cloud level. This meant we were surrounded by drizzle, so I got to use my rain jacket. (After getting caught out on the first day, I’ve kept it in my handlebar bag ever since, but not needed it.)

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The downhill that followed was unbelievable 2641m down to 1300m over 20kms. The first 10km were loose gravel on the old PanAm. The conditions were challenging. I wanted to go fast, but with road tyres on the bike, the loose gravel and hairpin turns made this impossible to do safely. I would go to the point of loss of control, then ease it back just a bit, so I knew I was on the edge of control, but not going too slow. If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space! We then we turned onto the new tarred PanAm Hwy and picked up the speed! We flew downhill all the way to Catamayo – but it’s got nothing to do with cats or mayonnaise. There were 8 of us riding together as we started up the BIG CLIMB of today from 1300m back up to 2400m in one long 20km slog. Lunch half-way up was a welcome break and then the climbing continued. It was just a case of keeping on keeping on and eventually I reached the top at the 60km mark with only 36km to go. From here it was undulating until the last 5km which hit me with a final climb into the village of Catacocha. The last 20km were gravel, but their idea of unsealed is blue metal which is loose and not like the gravel roads I know in Australia. The downhills were bone & bike-shaking. I arrived in good time and there were 8 people behind me. I said I found my legs!

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Catacoche is a quaint little town and we’re staying right next to the square with its big white spired church. Wandering the town streets in the late afternoon with my camera was fun.

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Dinner tonight was a group affair. We’d warned a local restaurant that we were coming and they fed us all for $2.50 each.

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15th August Catacocha – Macara 94km / 1417 climbing

After yesterday, we were all excited about ‘only’ 1417m of climbing today. It began with a 900m downhill over 15km. Unfortunately we couldn’t take full advantage of it as the roads were either pot-holed bitumen or gravel. Undulating sealed road followed until lunch. Due to the dangerous conditions today, there is no ‘timing’ on the race clock, so we could literally take our time and that we did, stopping at a café for Coke only an hour into the ride. Beware the licra brigade will take over your café! I noticed that many of the more serious riders took time out to take photos. We also lingered over lunch and not just because it was such a lovely spot by the river. Your lunch stop is included in your time, but not today.

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As we’ve drifted steadily downwards, staying lower and lower, the scenery has got drier and the weather warmer. Today we saw many Boab trees - stately old giants covered in air plants. The other thing today that was covered in air plant were the power lines. You’d see them strung across valleys completely covered in air plants. Not sure if the engineers accounted for that in the planning.

Today the flowering succelents called out to me. They said, "Aloe! Aloe!"

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Today got really hot – 43 degree in fact. I was glad to be wearing a t-shirt, as other people were melting. These are conditions I’m used to, so maybe this Aussie still has time to shine? I’m up against a bunch of Europeans who’ve had all summer to train in the Alps for this trip. The big brown vultures circling were a new sight. I’m glad I didn’t feel close to death or I would have got paranoid.

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Another new hotel and another one with no external window. What’s with all the dogbox hotel rooms? Macara is celebrating tonight. Something about a virgin Mary? A tall bamboo framed structure held all sorts of fireworks for after the mass. It began with a man running around with a ‘bull’ on his head. This was covered in wheels and fireworks shooting off in all directions as he ra amongst the dispersing crowd. MMmm! Fireworks in crowded spaces? This proved to be the case once the tower got lit. A big one launched off the tower and straight into the crowd and then continued to fire away! Judging by the lack of medicios and that the show went on, I guess no one was hurt. A fireworks display was a great end to our time in Ecuador. Did they know we were leaving? Was this a send-off?

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Here's us sitting down for dinner....and the street.
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Reflections of Ecuador
Nice enough country. The people are very friendly, as in REALLY friendly. In most of South America, it’s not rude to not use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when ordering, although we’d say ‘One loaf of bread please.’, they’d not use the ‘please’ and it’s not rude. In Ecuador, they do use please and thank you and they are also big on greetings, so I was glad for my basic Spanish to be a part of that ritual. The drivers were great and gave cyclists lots of room. They are much more patient and considerate that Perth drivers, but most of the world is.
Foods of note? None really. Ecuador is not really known for it’s cuisine. Humitas, as described earlier, were a favourite. I was a bit sick of the ubiquitous pile of plain boiled rice with almost every meal. Looking forward to Peru for some seriously good food.

Crazy product names?
Only 3. Snob jam, Mini-Bum lollies and Lark cigarettes – because killing yourself slowly is a such a lark!

Posted by TheWandera 20:56 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador continues

Rest day, two cycling days and a rest day. Anyone else would think it's a holiday!

semi-overcast 20 °C

Thursday 9th August – Cuenca
I’ve described the cycle to cuenca in my last blog. Now I have the afternoon free to explore Cuenca. What a great little city. It’s the third-largest in Ecuador, but it’s got a lot more charm than Quito. I went for a walk and the first impressions were the huge amount of people vending on the footpath. Mostly fruit and vegies, but really, you name it and they were selling it. I felt a little sorry for the guinea pigs as I know they’re not being sold as pets. I found a fresh food market, but I use the word ‘fresh’ loosely. I was inspired by the variety fresh fruit and vegies and it made me want to buy some and get cooking, but alas I cannot. The basement level below had the usual meats and chicken and I’m now used to seeing them not refrigerated, but the fish were so old and stale they were disgusting. Again, not refrigerated. A wise traveller once said, ‘Never eat seafood away from the coast.’ I did have a good taste sensation while at the markets though. I tried some Ecuadorian chocolate – 100% cacao butter. It was interesting, but way too bitter to be called ‘enjoyable’. There seems to be much to see in Cuenca and I’m looking forward to our rest day tomorrow.

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Friday 10th August
Rest day with a sleep in. Yay! I set off to explore the city again late this morning with no map, but just a desire to wander and see what I found. I found the Parque Caldero, the central city park with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception overlooking. I love all the old buildings here in Cuenca and it’s no surprise to discover that it is UNESCO listed as the best preserved example of colonial Spanish architecture in South America. It’s lovely walking around. After popping to the edge of town to a bike shop for some much-needed bike items, I returned to the Parque Caldero and jumped on the open topped double-decker tourist bus for a different perspective of Cuenca. Hey! I’m a tourist, so why not? There is a lovely little river in Cuenca that Quito lacked. The bus then took us to a high point outside the city for a nice view. I grabbed lunch during our stop and this was my view.

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I should mention that once again public safety is not a big thing. Consider the bus ride. There were times you had to duck under power lines! If you were standing up or even holding your camera over your head to take a photo, as people did, you’d have taken down power lines! Unbelievable.
Back at the central plaza, I went inside the cathedral. I don't know about the conception, but the cathedral is immaculate.

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Here's me fitting new bits to my bike and the other photo is Adrian working on his. Rest days aren't all rest.

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A bunch of us had dinner together tonight at a local grill. I had chicken and beef with rice and menestras, a tasty Ecuadorian lentil stew. I can’t believe how thin they get the meat here. There’s never any asking how you’d like your steak because when it’s paper-thin, it can only be well done. We ordered beers of a few different varieties. Those who didn’t order the Pilsener, got cold beers. My Pilsener was warm with a glass of (tap water) ice served on the side as if that makes it okay. Why not ask? I sent it back and got a cold one of the other brands.

Saturday 11th August - Cuenca to Ona – 109km/1817m climbing.
I got given the llama this morning. We have a llama mascot that gets passed on each day at breakfast to someone who has done something silly, noteworthy or otherwise. My roommate had it for making it into Cuenca with only one pedal and still being one of the first 4. He awarded it to me for the combined results of broad bean snacks for afternoon tea and lentils for dinner. He claimed the noise kept him awake!
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Tough day on the bike, but the weather behaved. It tried to drizzle on our way out of the city, but nothing more came of it. The clouds came and went all day and my sunnies were on and off like a hooker’s underpants.
What a lot of climbing today! The first 50kms were a 1000m climb up to nearly 3500m ASL and then it was undulating along the top of the mountain ridge until the 80km point. Then it was a 1000m downhill over 20km. I love it! No peddling and speeds ranging from 50-70kph, depending on the gradient and wind. It was exhilarating! Unfortunately this brought me to the bottom of a valley and I now had a 400m climb over the next 10kms as penance. That was very tough and challenging at the end of the day, so I was glad to be riding alongside Graham as we encouraged each other. It was a 6 hour cycling day.

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I used my Walkman while riding this afternoon and it was great pushing up some of those hills with Triple J’s Hottest 100 in my ears. Gotta love the J’s! The Prodigy singing, ‘Oh my God it’s the funky chef!’ I’ve mostly been riding on my own, so why not?
Here we are having soup at the end of our ride. Nice view of Ona.

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Tonight we are staying in the Hotel Buenos Aires in the town of Ona. I think it was once a grand hotel, but it is definitely in its twilight years. I love the shed our bikes are in tonight. They’re sharing it with a bunch of coffins! It must be handy having a few coffins on hand and I’m surprised not more people have them in their shed.

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This is a quaint place and it feels like I’m in an old western movie set. Another safety alert – they’ve cut the new PanAm Hwy, which we’re travelling on for now, right past the hotel and just one metre from the end of the coffin/bike shed is a 10 metre drop straight down to the highway. No fence or anything!

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We all had dinner tonight at the restaurant across the street. It’s claim to fame is that they had the president eat there once upon a time. There were 4 elderly sisters – ‘The Spice Girls’ running it, but two years ago they were down to two and due to the death of another just 8 days ago, there is only one left. She didn’t cook but the meal we had was good and no one complained about the $2 price tag. Here are the two of us together. Perfect match?

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$2 Dinner
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It was Fred's 60th birthday, so of course we had a cake!

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Sunday 12th August - Ona – Loja 110km
Today was going to be long and mountainous. 4 of us took the truck to lunch at the 50km mark and rode the next 60km with 800m climbing, into Loja. Another 3 rode from lunch to Loja. For me it was the difference between being a challenge yet still enjoyable, and being so tired on our rest day that I don’t actually recover. This was perfect. On the way to lunch we passed some local Indian markets. I’m so glad we stopped as it was SO photogenic and I got a few good shots. I hope this gives you an idea of what Ecuadorians dress like. They really do wear the bowler hats, especially the women. You tell my you like photos in my blog, so here's your photo essay.

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My afternoon ride was challenging, but it had a couple of fast downhills. I’m getting up to 70kph, but the concrete roads are rougher than blacktop and seem to stop me going any faster. I love going fast and it’s a real adrenaline rush that makes the long climb up that precedes it worthwhile. If I know it’s going to be steep and fast, I strap my GoPro on and go for it. I can’t share them as I can’t post any of them to YouTube as I need to render them through a third-party software first and not only do I not have it, I don’t want to spend more of my holiday using the computer than I already do. Other than shrink them for ease of loading, I don’t even tweak the photos you see. Sorry if they’re not up to the standard you expect! I’ll sort through them all and make a slideshow DVD on my return. One for each country? Here's the view from lunch. Love the mountains.

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The final ride into Loja was my kind of end to a riding day. Unlike yesterday, which was a 400m climb to the finish, this was an 800m downhill over 20km, right into the middle of the city where our hotel is. Being first in, I was able to help unload bags off the truck. This is a nice hotel and the first one with a lift. Can you believe they even build new places without a lift. I don’t mind too much, but what about the elderly or infirm.
A few of us went for a wander this afternoon, but could not believe how closed up and quiet it is. There was almost nothing open but we stopped in a random place that was open for just a Coke. Yikes! This little joint was SO DIRTY that I was glad we didn’t eat there. Food on tables and floor and your feet make a sticy sound! No photos, just the anecdote! We then found a lovely little bakery and I had an icecream.
Being Sunday, no one is allowed to sell alcohol, even when we went out for dinner. Not what we had in mind on the evening before our day off!

Monday 13th August - Rest day in Loja
A free day to explore this town. Beginning at the central plaza I didn’t get further than the first coffee shop. The espresso machine was a decoy, as my cappuccino was still made with filter coffee. It was a nice spot to sip the coffee and people watch. Next I found a museum on the plaza too. Interesting artifacts from Ecuador’s history. Here is the view of the plaza from the balcony of the museum.

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The guard there suggested another site, the old town gate.

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I got a good view from the top of the clock tower and then stopped for lunch at a cafe on top. I had Caesar salad. That’s what they called it, but none of the ingredients of a Caesar were present! It was still tasty. It used to annoy me when I travelled and didn’t get what I expected. Now it’s a game to see how different it can be! I had a great Ecuadorian snack this morning that I love, but haven’t mentioned before – humita. They take a corn cob and use the corn to make a firm dough that’s moist and bread-like similar to chicken stuffing. Then they wrap this corn-sized meal back up in the reserved outer leaves from the cob. Very delicious. Humita – grab one at Woolworths next time they’re on special.
I then caught a bus across town to the jardin de botanica/botanic garden. It was nice with a stream down the middle, but I didn’t see much in the way of plants! Only a Bottlebrush bush and I know where they’re from! The walk back to my hotel in the centre of the city gave me another chance to see more of Loja.

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Tonight a group of us went to a café/bar that some had eaten lunch at. The meals took forever and came out 2 at a time over a half hour period. I’m glad mine was first!

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Tomorrow's ride is 96 kms with over 2200m of climbing day. Yikes!

Only 2 more days in Ecuador, then it’s Peru. That dear friends will be in my next blog. Until then. Keep smiling.

Posted by TheWandera 18:25 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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