Trying to get to Lima proved far more difficult than we had expected but after 4 busses and a long time spent stood on the side of the main road we made it. Ahead lay 2 days with an old friend who I used to work with in Vietnam; he was kind enough to put us up in his TV room though he wasn’t sure if to offer he said as he didn’t know if it would be comfortable enough for us!! Little does he know of the trials and tribulations of cycle touring, I think his TV room as he called it has been one of the nicest places we have stayed, we had a huge TV and Netflix as well as a comfy bed, what more could two cyclists want?! We were treated to good food and great company and it was exactly what Jess and I needed after the brutal first leg of the Peru Divide, not to mention my getting altitude sick.
We did a few errands, mainly spare parts for Johnny’s rapidly crumbling bike and the rest of the time was spent relaxing, as well as having a few beers for old times sake. All too soon we were back looking for buses to take us back to Chicla but this time feeling a whole lot more relaxed and ready for the next stage of the Peru Divide. If you’re reading this Matt and family thanks for a perfect mini break from our cycling holiday, you can’t understand just how refreshing it was for us!!!
The journey back to Chicla was far easier than our escapades into Lima, and we made it back to our hotel with relative ease. We arrived back to meet two other cyclists, Dean and Dang, from the Philippines (@pedalling_slow). We met these two bikepackers at Jo’s Place in Huaraz but they left to take on some alternative route but with the hope of catching us somewhere down the trail. With this we took our peloton to 6 and agreed to roll out after one last rest day, travelling by bus is exhausting and Johnny had to replace all his broken parts was our excuse for this. We were also keen to see how these bikepackers fitted everything into their visible lack of storage space, or more to the point, we were keen to see what luxuries they had to go without!
We had a late start from the hotel, one last round of egg butties was needed, and began a steep climb straight from the off, is that what the whole of the second stage is going to be like??? Luckily it was only a short stint and before we knew it the climb had mellowed and we had all found our rhythm, that is until Dang suffered a split sidewall and needed a road side repair job Bikepackers 0, touring bikes 1!
With bike maintenance and a late start coupled with ever darkening clouds we called it a day and camped by a lake. We were later told we would have to be gone by 8am from this spot for some un-be known reason, safe to say we were not ready and packed by 8am but no reprimand was inflicted for our tardiness.
The next few days saw us passing through more mountainous scenery that kept us distracted from the ups and downs we were facing. Most afternoon we would see the blue skies become tempestuous the threats of rain became more real, in fact we became used to looking for a camp spot earlier than usual to avoid the certain downpour, usually trying to make sure we weren't on the top of a pass!!
We were caught in a few showers, or depending how high on a pass we were hail or snow, on one occasion we pushed on in ever worsening weather in the hope of camping at some hot springs that we had been told about, we could handle getting a little damp and cold if it meant our heroic efforts were rewarded with a long hot soak in some thermal pools. This plan didn’t quiet turn out as hoped. Luke warm and looking slightly stagnant the water was far from what we had envisioned, instead we opted to place our tents on the only flat, non marshy land we could find and give it up for a bad day.
The bad weather continued and for only maybe the third time since entering Peru we awoke to very British weather; damp, cold and grey! This continued throughout the day only to be broken by spells of torrential horizontal rain. To make this day even more entertaining we hit a section of the trail were mountain bike skills became the necessity. Single track and a bit of hike-a-bike (carrying your bike) were made all the more challenging by the slippy gloop we were navigating our way through. Lucky with 6 there was always a helping hand on the overly difficult sections.
It is times like these, when the weather is horrible and the roads are tough, that it’s great being with so many other cyclists. We are all suffering together and that somehow makes it almost fun. On our own, moral would have been low during this stretch, but with the group we all got through with smiles, even though we were soaked to the bone, especially me with my less than waterproof, waterproof jacket.
At the top of the hike a bike section we were rewarded with views of a lake and a super scenic ride into Vilca, a small town with stunning scenery. Never before have I seen a river with a forest growing from it or with so many lakes. The scenery was so good and the weather so miserable we decided to call it a day early and take refuge. Our hostel, if you can call it that, was overlooking the mountains and a huge waterfall framed by a colonial bridge; unfortunately, said hostel did not come with hot water as there was a power cut that lasted the whole night.
The next day saw us pick up were we left off following the river only this time we had no rain, we descended to what we had heard was a touristy town and with it our hopes of wifi and a hot shower grew. Unfortunately this town was crazily over priced and could not offer either of what we sought. After a lengthy stretch of faffing looking for some form of decent accommodation we gave up and rode out, a wasted half day meant we had covered a pitiful distance but when a camp spot overlooking a lake with the prospect of a fire materialised we once again called it a day with the promise that tomorrow we would start making more distance.
With Dean and Dang needing to pick a package up a much needed, ok not much needed but wanted rest was in order. Dean, not so lucky, had a 5am get up to catch a bus to Huancayo in order to forward on his belongings he didn’t want to carry; we on the other hand did nothing more than drink copious amounts of coffee and devour on obscene number of fried egg sandwiches. Our one rest day then turned to two when Dean got stranded in Huancayo as there was no bus back. Two was then extended to three when Johnny was struck down by what we think was a rogue egg. All in all a very relaxing few days was had with not much to do.
At some point during our third rest day another cyclists Joe joined us. Seeing how much fun we were having on our rest days he opted to call it a day early and join our ever-expanding motley crew.
Johnny adamant that he was over the worst of it was keen to push on and finally get out of Larous, a decision he soon regretted as the climbs were steep and his energy levels were non existent; we took an early camp with the hope that the next day would show some improvement in his health.
Our hopes were in vain; if anything he was worse and the 4970m pass that lay ahead of him did nothing to help his motivation. The morning was spent shuttling his bike then returning for my own, this was done over an 8km stretch before the rest of the group realised something was wrong and came to help. As tough as this pass was it was still a stunning ride with again unbelievable views. I would have preferred to only do it once though rather than taking two bikes up and over the pass!
It was here our new friend Joe decided we were too slow, he was hoping to ride the whole way to Bolivia where we had already decided that a bus was happening somewhere down the line. He had bugged off before we reached the top but luckily he left us some sublimes as a parting gift, I’ve previously said all of life’s problems could probably be solved with a sublime so all was forgiven when we learnt of his abandonment! With the climbing done Johhny was able to hang on and let gravity do the rest, Jess at this point, maybe feeling left out as I hadn’t been giving her any attention let gravity do a little too much and did her best impression of superman. Luckily it wasn’t a high-speed crash and the only ill effects were a bruised ego and a sore hip. After this we all took it slightly slower, which consequently meant the predictable afternoon showers soon caught up with us. Not wanting to camp high we rode on through the deteriorating weather until we stumbled upon a mining camp. Dean was first in asking for some form of shelter to pitch our tents and ended up coming out with accommodation, free food and even wifi for us all.
It’s funny, we couldn’t find wifi in the towns or villages but you come to the armpit of nowhere and you can get probably one of the better connections we’ve had in the whole of Peru! The only down side of our evenings accommodation were the unwanted guests our bikes played host to during the night, a dry bag filled with our lunches was no match for some hungry rats. Looks like we were going to be on very meagre rations for the next few days!!
With two decent meals and a good nights sleep Johnny was back to health and able to ride his own bike, which was a relief. It also meant we were able to smash out two passes and find camp before the inevitable weather closed in on us. Turns out we hadn’t quite gone low enough though, the usual rain materialised in the form of hail and snow, still with the tents up we were able to hunker down in the comfort of our sleeping bags and enjoy the show that mother nature provided.
By morning the snow had melted and we were rewarded with perfect blue skies, in-fact by 8am we were already feeling the heat with layers being shed before we had even left camp. We were even visited by some locals, not sure who was more intrigued, the Alpacas with the herd of gringos or the gringos with the herd of Alpacas.
Leaving camp left a marked change to the norm with more rolling hills, in-fact before this route I would have called these mountains but compared to the 2 or 3 day monsters we have become accustomed to, they barely registered as hills for the legs. Well, until we reached the last climb of the day that saw us going uphill for roughly 14km. With 2 km to the top a wide-open expanse proved too tempting and we set up camp with time to relax.
The joy of camping so close to the top of a pass is the certain downhill that awaits you. The downside is the below freezing temperatures you awake to. With the cold weather penetrating every layer we donned we began a desperate search for a town with hot coffee and some much needed food, we were really starting to resent the rats from the mine at this point! The first sign of civilisation turned up no hot liquid goodness, in fact, it felt deserted, not even a dog came to greet us. The same problem occurred in the second village we rolled through, by this point moral was starting to dwindle, the expectations of coffee were high and food was becoming more of a necessity than a luxury.
At a loss of what was happening we pushed on knowing that we had one more chance at a town to refuel and re-stock at. Upon arriving in this small town we realised why everywhere else was deserted, we trundled into a round of applause from a local fiesta and by the feel of things we had just become the star guests.
We parked our bikes and were quickly sought out by who we assumed was the mayor, he assured us that our bikes were perfectly safe here and went on to force feed us all a shot of god only knows what. It was also here that I developed a newfound sympathy for celebrities. I was hungry and a little tired, I could see a restaurant but due to the constant demands for photos it took me at least 20minutes to even get an order in. The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to figure out what the hell was going on, having our photo taken and searching for somewhere to stay.
Eventually we were shown to a school classroom where we could spend the night and store our bikes securely, the drunker the locals got the more worried we came of all our bikes parked in the middle of it all. From this point on we could join the party with gusto. Beers and dancing followed as we showed the locals how the gringos dance, safe to say non of us represented the west very well as we were all limited in our skills on the dance floor. The Macarena seemed to be a hit though!!!
Just as we were really getting in to the swing of things the caretaker of the school came to collect us, apparently we had a curfew that we were not aware of. Johnny and Ryan, both single may I add, weren’t too impressed with this enforced bedtime, especially as it was only 9pm. Many attempts were made by both men, one including the offer of 50 soles to allow us to stay up a little later, but the caretaker, thinking ahead for us, was insistent that it was a good time for bed as we had a long way to cycle the next day. With no other option we retired to our sleeping bags and were lulled to sleep by the never-ending symphony by one of the many bands that were rocking the stage.
The next morning we were rather happy we had called it a day when we did, still, a tough morning was had while we sweated the beers out of our system as we climbed the pass. Turns out beer is not the best fuel for a day on the bike. We did manage to top out and make it to Huancavelica, this marked the end of the second leg of the Peru Divide and still feeling the previous nights antics we opted for a day of rest without the beers.
Our adventures on the Peru divide continued to leave us in awe and amazement at the vistas and terrain we had ridden through, another epic stretch of riding that was made all the better for having 4 other cyclists to do it with. From here we will take the third stage but jump off early to get to Cusco and Machu Picchu