Days 494 -508: New Highs

Nazca, Peru to Cusco, Peru 670 km
August 30 to September 13,  2013

These past two weeks have been epic to say the least.  We travelled from Nazca at 500 m, to Cusco at about 3400 m, but in between we climbed over 12,500 m.   From snowy, high altitude plains to buggy hot river valleys - it was incredible.   We had a number of 'new highs' - including our highest elevation yet , 4550 m, a new top speed for Glenn of 73 km/hour, and a new longest climb - 98 km .... Although maybe that should be a new low! 

First onto the photos:

Peru: Part Five

Nazca - Puquio 158 km (3.5 days)

We had stocked up in Nazca for our ride back up to the mountains.   The road out of Nazca at 500 m twisted and turned through the dry desert mountains up to the high pass of 4150 m, over the course of 98 km.  It was intense.   We luckily knew that there were very few water sources for this climb, three to be exact, so we left Nazca with about nine litres of water each. The first day we pedalled a total of 38 km the first day, and found an amazing camp site overlooking a 2000 meter sand dune.  I have to admit that I was a little worried about camping in the wild, as we haven't done this since we were robbed, so my sleep wasn't as restful as it could have been - but we made it through the night unscathed.  The second day, we carried on with our rocket-like pace of 5-7 km/hr.  We passed two very small towns, at the first one we had to buy water because they did not have any water that we could filter ourselves.... Or they just wanted us to spend money at their shop.  The shop owner also didn't tell us that 7 km further up the road there was a fresh water spring.  Oh well.  We stocked up on more water at the spring, and once again we were lugging nine litres each (one litre=one kilo).   Poking along we eventually found a campsite about 24 km from the summit.  There was very little vegetation for this stretch, so while it was possible to find hidden required a fair amount of searching.   Finally on day three we reached the summit.  There was a false summit at km 86, and the road went downhill for about four km.... Then the final stretch up to 4150.  The last 20 km before the summit were heavily populated with Vicuña, which are beautiful wild cousins of the Llama, it was a national reserve, so they were more or less protected from hunting.   Reaching the top, was a bit emotional for me... Something about climbing 98 km up 3600 m all by our own power - was - incredible and unbelievable.  Here is a little video at the top (excuse my language):

After reaching the top around noon we had a 25 km downhill, a sweet reward!   Unfortunately it ended abruptly at a river and we began a 23 km climb back up...amazing how a 23 km climb seemed so short!  On the other side of this climb lay our first town of the stretch, Puquio.  We didn't quite make it to the top of the climb that day, but did find an excellent, well hidden campsite ... Beside a creek!  What a treat to have unlimited water!  The next morning we did the rest of the climb, and then dropped into Puquio.  We had already decided that we would need to take the afternoon off, to rest a little and restock for our next stretch.   I did the laundry in the afternoon and hung it on the roof, in the high altitude sun to dry.   Unfortunately, later on when Glenn went to take it down, we discovered that the smoke vent from the fried chicken joint next to our hotel was also on the roof... So our clothes had a rather strong smoked aroma!

Puquio - Chalhuanca 190 km (4 days)

We were up and off early , and stopped at the gas staton at the edge of town to fill up our camp stove fuel bottle.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately Glenn discovered a crack in his back rack.  Not wanting to enter a remote stretch with a weak rack, Glenn went back to town to find a solution.  After many consultations and discussions he ended up with a new Peruvian style back rack.  There was someone that welded aluminum, but was unable to do work on the small rack.  The new rack seems pretty strong, but does sway a little.... So with a little trepidation, we finally set off around noon.   Climbing again,  about a 45 km climb this time - up to 4300 m.  Since we had a later start we only made it part way on the first day, but we did find a lovely place to camp below the homestead of some shepherds.   The next morning we went up to visit them, and they were in the midst of tagging their young sheep.  Their home consisted of a large round stone enclosure for the sheep and a small stone/tarp hut attached to it.  They were very friendly and curious about why in earth we would want to travel by bike instead of motorized vehicles.  We carried on and reached the pass late morning.  The road would roll up and down between 4200 and 4550 meters for the next 100 km, and dark clouds made it a cold situation!  But there were a number of beautiful small lakes that we passed, along with many Llamas, more Vicunas, an even a group of Flamingos!  Late afternoon we pulled into one of two villages on this stretch, Negro Mayo.   It was threatening rain or snow, and it was cold cold cold - about 0 degrees Celcius.   We decided to ask in the village if we could camp.  The locals were happy to let us camp in a stone enclosure in front of the church, we were grateful that we had a little protection from the wind as well as easy access to water.  It was a cold night as well, after we cooked dinner it quickly got dark.... And by 6:30 pm we were in our tent, in our sleeping bags.  This became a theme over this stretch, very early to bed and very early to rise.  We woke up to some blue skies, but still some clouds in the distance and the villagers told us that there would be snow later on.  We still had quite a ways to go at this altitude, so we just pushed on.  We reached one of two passes of 4550 just before noon, and then dropped about 300 m into a valley.   At this point the clouds were decidedly grey, and we could see precipitation in various directions.  We slowly climbed back out of the valley, and back up to 4550 we could see storms just about everywhere, here is a little video:

As we began to descend we realized that we were heading right into a storm.  We stopped in a village called Pilluni around 3pm to make a plan.  The shop owner had just driven up from where we were headed and said that there was a lot of hail and rain.  So we again asked about camping in the village, and spent another night in front of a church!  It did eventually start snowing and we boiled water and made some coca tea to warm up, and wake up our brains.  Then, it was another very early night.  We woke up to snow on the ground and a icy tent and tarp.  Luckily the sun was out, and quickly dried and sort of warmed us.  We carried on for another 30 km or so, rolling up and down always above 4000, and then we reached the 'final'(not really the final at all....) summit, and dropped steeply in a series of very cool switchbacks.  1000 vertical meters later we found ourselves meandering along a beautiful river.  We arrived in the next town on the map around 2pm, and checked into a hotel.  Resting was the main event for the rest of the afternoon. 

Chalhuanca - Abancay 124 km (1.5 days)

Our ride out of Chalhuanca was incredible, an excellent morale booster after our slow slow climbs.  We carried along the river with a gentle downhill grade and enjoyed the lovely and lush scenery.  Unfortunately our 30 km/h cruise was cut short early afternoon as a strong headwind picked up.... Which made our progress considerably slower.  Around 3:30 pm we found an excellent riverside camp spot down a small track, and decided to call it a day.  As we were setting up our tent around 5pm, a truck came down the track.  I had a moment of panic, as I became aware of how completely vulnerable we were.  But the people in the truck just smiled and waved.  A little later the driver came over and explained he had a construction company in Abancay, and they were collecting sand for building.  He also told us he is a volunteer firefighter, and that we must stay at the fire station when we got to Abancay the next day.  He was a little concerned about us camping in the spot, as it was very isolated.  But when we asked him if he thought it was dangerous or if the people around would bother us, he just laughed and said that the people in this area were very kind.   So we ended up staying, and had a good nights sleep.   The next day we had about 15 more km along the river before we would climb back up again.  The climb, which started at 1800 m, was in fact quite hot and steep at times.  I think that we were also exhausted from ten days straight of cycling.  So when we arrived in the city of Abancay, the road was still climbing steeply and we had to deal with traffic for the first time in a week and a half.... I was pretty grumpy.  It was also lunch time, so hunger did not help the situation!  Finally we found the centre of town and a place to eat, then it was off to the Bomberos!   Luckily they were happy to let us stay two we were in desperate need of a day off.  We spent our day off running errands and eating at the vegetarian restaurant - yes!

Abancay - Cusco 197 km (3.5 days

Two more long climbs between Abancay and Cusco... But changing and beautiful scenery made it all worth it.  We left Abancay and went right into a climb.... A seriously switchbacky climb.   It was about 35 km of climbing and it took us a good seven hours to get to the top, and we could still see the city of Abancay down below!   We raced down the other side of the pass, and did another 35 km... This time it took us about an hour!  We arrived in the town of Carahausi close to 5:30 pm, and searched for the Bomberos as the Abancay guys had told us to stay there.   They were happy to let us pitch our tent in a courtyard.   The next morning it was another 25 km of downhill. On the way down we met two French cyclists who had started their journey in Quito, and are headed to Patagonia as well.  The road began to climb, yet again, at about 2000 m.  We cycled with the French couple for part of the day and then they carried on a little further as they wanted to reach Cusco the next day.  Since we would be staying at the same Hostal in Cusco, it was a brief goodbye.  We carried on up the hill, and around 3:30 we decided we were done for the day.  We saw an old looking sign for the 'Limatalmbo Country Club', and decided to see if they would let us pitch our tent on their lawn.  The place ended up being all but abandoned except for an older couple, who were the caretakers.  They were happy to have us camp on the lawn, and we had a very relaxing evening.  Unfortunately around 1:00 am cars started pulling up and honking and we heard all sorts of voices.  This went on for about an hour, when the group seemed to go inside.  Then... At 5:00 am they were outside again, all yelling at each other to get moving, I think they must have been still drunk.  We are not exactly sure who these guys were, but they must have had some sort of connection to the place.  We later realized that they had come to watch a Cusco - Ayacucho car race that passed through this part of the road between 6:00 and 8:00 am.   It was a strange...and long morning.  Here I am explaining the situation:

 When the car race was through, we were able to get going and finish up our climb.  We arrived at the next summit early afternoon and dropped into a high valley.  It also started to rain.  We were only 20 km away from Cusco, but we decided to stay in the town of Izcuchaca, in order that we could have an easy cruise into the city the next morning.  After some searching in the rain we ended up at the cheapest place in town, at $6 a room we couldn't really complain.   It was also ground floor, which makes our lives a lot easier -the fact that the bed had a decisively concave shape, and the bathroom smelled like pee were only minor drawbacks.   The next morning we had an easy ride into Cusco, we only had a small hill, then a cruise into the city. Fortunately we had heard through the cyclists grapevine that there is a Hostal where cyclists always stay...almost a Casa Ciclista.  The price was as cheap as it gets in Cusco, it is clean, and has a lovely setting.  When we arrived we found eight other cyclists already here.  Including, Margit and James a couple from California that we have been in contact with for about a year and we keep playing leap frog with....amazing to finally meet them in person!

We will rest a couple days, then we will make a decision about the Machu Picchu dilemma.  How to get there, if we should go... It is a tough call for us, because although it is an iconic place, it is also over-run by tourists and very pricey to enter and get to.  We are brainstorming some creative ways to get there though...stay posted.