We crossed the border on a damp horrible day; we left the horrific climbs behind and crossed onto smooth gentle climbing tarmac. Ecuador needs to take a leaf out of the Peruvian road builder’s handbook. With gentle grades came longer climbs however and our first day was more of a stamina test that we were accustomed to. Although not steep we still found ourselves floundering on some of the climbs and the constant rain didn’t do much to help. Our first night in Peru was spent in a cheap hotel that was most definitely an ex-jail, not the nicest of places but the prices are refreshingly cheap compared to Ecuador.
Our second day saw us rewarded for all the previous days climbing with an amazing 20km downhill, again a perfect gradient that meant we barely had to touch the brakes or the pedals, every tourer’s dream. With the decent however came the tropic like heat that we haven’t witnessed since Brazil. A few roadside fruit stalls were greatly appreciated, especially for their freshly squeezed juices and there shaded areas to take a break. The rest of the day was slight undulations that saw us smash out over 110km. Memories of Asia came flooding back with the heat and the countless rice paddies we were passing by; only the palm trees marked the differences. It was almost a perfect day until Jess got a puncture 5km from were we were aiming, this was made worse by our pump choosing this moment to seize up. In the last 2km the bike became un-rideable and we were reduced to walking pace, our plans to camp went out the window and we found another cheap hotel for the night.
Unfortunately for us the whole town was experiencing a power cut and as our room had no window we would have probably been better off in the tent!!
Morning broke and still no power so breakfast was had by torchlight, at least there was sun streaming in downstairs so we were able to fix the puncture and change my brake pads. With what is hopefully the last of the bike maintenance for a while we hit the road, a short boat ride and our first stretch of dirt road and it was onto the start of what we had been told was a very gentle uphill, a gentle uphill that we would be riding for the next 180km. We mentally prepared ourselves for a tough and slow few days but the uphill never seemed to materialise; I mean, we could see the river flowing next to us in the opposite direction but the road felt flat the whole way. After 60km, a distance we thought would be tough for today we found a perfect sandy beach and decided a rest from the searing sun was well deserved, we hid the bikes from the road and made the most of afternoon heat. All was looking perfect for a great nights camp when just as the sun was setting a lorry pulled off the road and out jumped 6 guys with shovels. They were here for the sand and were just as surprised to find two cyclists hidden away as we were to see them.
As we tried to make conversation and explain why we were here they became concerned telling us that it is dangerous here and that we should not camp.
“Dangerous from whom?”
“The fisherman” they explained, “They come here at night and will not be happy you are here, they will rob you”.
Quite as to why some fisherman would want two touring bikes is beyond me but they seemed adamant that we should not stay, they offered us a place to camp in their home and a lift there in the back of their truck once they have finished their sand pilfering.
Our bikes were expertly loaded into truck and we were driven 6km back the way we had come, we were shown to a covered yard and told we could put our tent here, we were also given food and drink and then invited to a party.
Not wanting to seem ungrateful we accepted the invitation and followed our new friends to a neighbouring home. Turns out it was 9th Birthday party. The small room was filled with most of the village and before we knew it we were giving an impromptu English class to the children. We were then handed hymnbooks and a bible and the party started. Now I’ve been to my fair share of parties and this one did not look all that fun for the children, the birthday boy sat in the middle of the room looking bored and yawning while passages were read from the bible and hymns sung at him. Eventually we got to the good stuff, I was excited to show my musical statue skills or my musical chairs talents but non of these games occurred, in fact no games occurred. Everyone in the room hugged the child one at a time and then the food came out. As I say, not the best child’s birthday party in my opinion but each to their own I guess; I would love to show them a kid’s birthday party in England and see their reactions. We were served rice pudding and popcorn then cake that the child’s face had been shoved in, we then got fried rice; an unusual mix, but as I say, each to their own.
By now it was well past our bedtime, a crazy 10pm and we hadn’t even brushed our teeth, we felt such lightweights being outdone by a bunch of children but then again, they hadn’t just cycled 60km uphill.
In the morning we decamped and said our thank yous and made our exit, back up the 6km we cycled the previous day, not before they had loaded us up with breakfast of rice and potato type vegetables. The day continued in much the same way as the previous, gradually gaining in altitude as we rode along the river valley and as we came to camp o-clock Jess opted not to ask at a farmers house if we could camp in their lovely field for risk of having to endure another birthday party, instead we did battle with bushes and shrubs to camp in a hidden spot just off the road. I also convinced Jess,
1: due to the lack of space in our small area we had cleared
2: because the ground was so parched and dry, it obviously hadn’t seen rain for weeks, and
3: it was still really hot, like, really hot…
that we didn’t need to put the waterproof fly on; we would sleep just in the inner tent.
Turns out I was wrong. I awoke at 1 in the morning to the refreshing mist penetrating the inner tent as the rain fell outside; a frantic rush as I tried to make our tent as waterproof as possible with a torch, at least I wasn’t too hot anymore, and I also got to have a shower I so desperately needed.
We awoke to a very sorry looking sight, my late night attempt looked even worse in the light of day but it did keep the worst of the rain of us, luckily is wasn’t too heavy nor did it last too long; however everything was most definitely damp. With this we decided that a rest day was in order, one for washing and two for drying. We pushed on and made it to Leymebamba after struggling up the final 14km, not sure if it got gradually steeper or the legs, knowing a rest day was fast approaching, just began to weaken. Either way it was a welcome sight as we crested the final small climb and found a hostel that promised us space to dry our tent and a warm shower.
With a rest day in our legs we were ready to face the final stretch of the climb, 30km of steady uphill before we would be reward with a huge 60km of downhill. Unfortunately both Jess and I seemed to have been struck down by some rogue lettuce we had eaten the night before, the 30km was somewhat hampered by countless toilet stops when unstoppable rumblings began. It was at this time we promised ourselves we would now start being more careful with what we ate, we have lost faith in our water filter and since getting sick in Quito it feels like we have never fully recovered.
The climb was long but never overly steep and at one point I was called to the aid of some local farmers and a not very healthy looking cow who… well, I wasn’t really sure what they were doing but I offered my assistance as best I could, this involved a rope that I presumed was attached to a calf still inside the cow. With the four of us pulling and the cow obviously not happy eventually we managed to remove the head of the baby, the farmers looked pretty pleased with the effort but I wasn’t sure if this was the goal, either way I felt I’d done my good deed for the day and feeling slightly nauseous Jess and I were back to turning the pedals.
We crested the hill, wrapped ourselves in many layers, took a few quick snaps of the panorama that had opened up before us and then began what we had been looking forward to all day. Usually the downhill’s are over all too quickly but this was a different story, it just kept on going. Eventually with the temperature sky rocketing we plataued in the valley, here our progress was hindered due to work on the road, the only bridge across the river was closed until 6pm, not fancying a ride in the dark we opted for a guesthouse, unfortunately this was a further 2km downhill, great for today’s ride but less than ideal for tomorrow where we would be climbing for 45km, 47km now!
La Balsas was hot and sweaty. At an altitude of 850m it was a world away from the temperature at 3600m we had descended from, we now understood why many cycle tourists try and tackle as much of the climb ahead of us straight away trying to find the cooler temperatures of higher altitude before calling it a day. We opted for an early start to the climb,
1: The bridge was only open between 6 and 7am and
2: We wanted to make the most of the cooler morning temperature.
The climb was everything we expected it to be, hot sweaty and long; yet stunning at the same time. Jess, still struggling from the lettuce tackled it with gusto but as the day continued and the number of toilet stops skyrocketed her energy levels wavered. The road, ever present above us, showed we were still some way from the top but with a rare flat space we asked a local farmer if we could camp for the night. As we cooked watching the sun set over the mountains we new we must be close to the next downhill and some replenished snacks.
From here the climbing became more rolling giving our legs chance to recover somewhat before the next assault. Still as the day wore on I found myself struggling, this day in theory shouldn’t be as tough as a constant uphill but I found my self constantly having to dig deep to re-catch Jess’ back wheel, my speedo, which usually ticks up faster than I think is normal seemed to be stuck in the 40km’s bracket, a much needed Coke helped me get over my cyclists block if you will, but as soon as my speedo reached our daily goal of 60km I was quick to suggest places to camp. We eventually settled in the shell of a half built house, we didn’t understand much of what the old toothless gent was saying to us but he was more than happy for us to set up in his not yet finished home.
.We awoke to the call of nature which is a struggle when your camping in someone’s front garden and with both of us dashing around to find a secluded spot we were up and cooking before our usual wake up call. We didn’t manage to leave though till well after 8 as we were inundated with curious children on their way to the local school, seems as our home for the night was on the school run and everyone was intrigued as to what a couple of gringos were doing in these parts.
Finally on the road and once again we were closer to the top of the climb than we had realised. 12km later and we started the rolling decent, not quite as nice as the 60km we had experienced but still a nice change for the legs.
Before we knew it we rolled into Banos del Inca and rather than pushing on into a bigger city we called it a day in the first decent priced hotel we could find.
We made full use of the adequate; I think this is the best we are going to get in Peru, Wi-Fi and the general act of lying down. With Jess almost better we opted to take an extra day in the hope that she would be back fighting fit again and ready for the next part of Peru
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.