After some motionless days in the oasis, the journey continued north, following the Pan American Highway on the coast of Peru. I was eagerly looking forward to the soothing southern winds of the Peruvian coast that all the other cyclists had told me about. But where was the favourable winds that was going to make us fly through the rest of Peru? Sure, we had some days with proper tailwind, but mostly it was blowing from the side (i.e. from the ocean, which it usually does on the coast). Well, apart from that, this stretch was the easiest on my trip so far, and we could easily keep an average of a 100 km a day.
From Paracas, a small town close to Pisco, we took a boat tour out to the marine reserve. The destination was “Islas Ballestas”, islands with an abundance of wild animals such as Humboldt penguins, pelicans, sea lions and a wide variety of birds. A very nice break from the saddle!
Closing in on Lima, the traffic intensified, and the otherwise easy crossings over the highway exits now became a real hassle. The countless “colectivos” and buses, that stops wherever there are people to pick up, were extremely annoying and the heat didn’t make it easier. Fortunately we made it through the gigantic city, and stayed a couple of days with our awesome “warmshowers” host Christian and his family. I went with him and his friends on a cycle trip to some pre-Inca ruins in the middle of the city, “que chévere”!
Our activities in Lima were resting, stocking up on supplies and bike parts, and above all, eating like crazy! When cycling all day long, you burn a lot of calories (approximately between 5000-8000 kcal), and this gives you an insane appetite. It feels really good to be able to eat as much as you like, and in a country like Peru, where the food is cheap, the portions are huge and the great amount of fruits are delicious, it’s not a problem at all! 🙂
After Lima, next stop was going to be Huaráz, which lies in the “Cordillera Blanca”, a mountain range famous for its many hiking paths and beautiful scenery. The first day of cycling though, Martin’s stomach sickness, which he had suffered from on and off since the beginning in Cusco, became too strong, and he had to stop cycling. He took a bus to Huaráz, while I continued cycling. Because I didn’t want Martin to wait for me too long, I pushed my way up the mountains, but I had big problems with the heat. The winds were with me, but this time it wasn’t a good thing, because it meant that when cycling, it felt like there was no wind at all (the wind speed was the same as my cycling speed) and the sweat was literally flowing. I climbed up the hills, and the deeper I came into the mountain range, the more clouds started to show, and suddenly it started to rain and I was freezing! Both of these extremes, in the same day! The next day it was all downhill to Huaráz, and I reunited with Martin.
After Huaráz, we looked forward to the long descent to the coast again, but the downhill riding didn’t go quite the way we thought. We were surprised by dirt roads in bad conditions, which forced to use our brakes all the way, but the scenery (as many times before) outweighed the hardships.
One night we got attacked. Not by thieves or large dangerous animals, but super-tiny mosquitoes (we call them hell flies), that were feasting on our exotic gringo blood. The bites from these hell flies is far worse than from a regular mosquito, and they gave me a specially hard time; the wounds got swollen and the itching was going on for more than a week! I got one on my foot, and I couldn’t wear socks for days because of the swelling.
“Casa de Ciclistas” in Trujillo was the first of its kind, and was founded in 1985. When we arrived, there were five other travelling cyclists staying there, and during our stay we met many more. The idea of a house exclusively for cyclists is great, and I’m very keen on starting up a “Casa” of my own some day.
Lucho, the owner, is also a bike mechanic, and I was very fortunate to have him true my wheels. He discovered several cracks in my rims, and I understood that the only option I had was to change them. He arranged so that new rims were sent from Lima (because it’s very hard to find 28″ rims in South America), and he also did a great job in changing the rims for me. In the night Lucho brought music instruments and we had a nice jam, which for me was a real treat, because I haven’t touched an instrument since I gave away my guitar in Chile!
In Trujillo we also found a great place where they served Peruvian food in giant portions for only 5 soles (approximately 1.50 dollars), and the “tías” who served the food gave us small preaches and wanted to start up a Peruvian restaurant in Sweden. A great idea I thought, a pity that it’s so hard for them to travel outside their own country, and especially to Europe (impossible for most Peruvians).
From Trujillo we took a bus to Piura, because the stretch there between is considered to be very dangerous for touring cyclists. Especially dangerous is the town of Paiján, where many cyclists have been robbed at gunpoint by a gang of motorcycle taxis. We got the impression that this danger exists in many parts of the coast of northern Peru, and we met an Argentinian cyclist who a couple of days before had been robbed by three men with guns, who had pushed him out of the road with their truck! Other cyclists, who have been travelling all over the world, say that Peru is the country where they have felt most fear, much more than for example in Africa.
I have been told by other cyclists that the fire department usually invites cyclists to stay the night for free, and mostly you even get a bed and a shower! We have tried this a couple of times and have always been very welcomed by the firefighters, whom in Peru (and Chile) are volunteers! Isn’t that incredible? For them it lies great pride in being a firefighter.
Since entering Peru the cycling experience has been totally different than before on my trip. Now I’ve been travelling through densely populated areas, and everywhere I go there are people, houses and villages. It’s so different from Patagonia, the desert of Atacama and the Altiplano of Bolivia, where it could be hundreds of kilometers between villages. I enjoy both settings, but I think I prefer traversing desolate areas more. Less traffic, more time to think and get in the “zone”, and easier to camp wild. The populated areas has other things to offer though, such as a more rich exchange with the people and their culture.
Well, that’s all for now folks! We are right now in Ecuador and enjoying this diverse country, but more about that next time! Nos vemos, chao!