Cycling days 156-159: Macara to Chiclayo, Peru

Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 19, 2012

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 156 (5/22/11): 121km

We make the 12km of downhill to Macara and have a big breakfast – our last Ecuadorian meal for this trip. Going through immigration is no problem and we are even granted a 6-month visa for Peru, giving us plenty of time to bicycle through the country and climb tons of mountains. Very soon, our odometer reaches 10,000km – the distance from Los Angeles to Peru's northern border is such a big, round number! We ride along, happy to have reached these two milestones and enjoy the easy riding. The road takes gently up and down rolling hills and we slowly lose elevation, then hit a big flat section. We can see mostly flat land for miles ahead of us (now THIS is what we call plano! :) and the vegetation becomes more prickly and dry, matching the arid desert that we are now in. And all the cows that we saw in Ecuador’s grassy hillsides are now replaced by hardy mules and goats. Wow, this more reminds of us Baja than what we expected Peru to look like!

We have a good time waving and saying hello to all the nice people sitting outside their homes or passing us in their cars and motorbikes…until a few a-holes come along. Shirley spots a tuk tuk (3-wheeled taxi) driving up behind us and not moving over and giving us much room as it passes, unlike all of the other tuk tuks and vehichles, so she moves as far over as she can on the shoulder without going into the dirt…then SLAP! The guy in the rear seat smacks her arm and breaks her mirror, sending it flying into the bushes. She immediately pulls over and curses at them at the top of her lungs, infuriated. She’s more upset that her precious mirror got the most brunt of the incident and shocked that anyone would do something like that (…and disappointed she can’t even give them a face full of her foot in return!). Yannick pulls over saying that was a cowards act…hitting a girl on a bicycle while moving faster in a vehicle is like a man stealing a purse from a feeble, old woman. Choosing a defenseless victim where you know you’ll win is just spineless and despicable. Shirley retrieves her mirror from the bushes and is happy it is very well designed and not really broken, it just unhinged from its ball-and-socket joint and Yannick easily reattaches it for her.

We continue cycling, but now Shirley stares down every tuk tuk that passes by, traumatized by what happened. Yannick tells her to forget about it…it isn’t fair for everyone else that she is paranoid like this. An hour later, we pull to the side of the road for a break and she is still a little grumpy, but some cute kids set things right again. First, there were 5, then 10, no, 15… 20 kids gathered 30 feet from us, just staring and whispering to one another. When we weren’t looking at them, they would take a careful step closer to us as quietly as they could…as if they were approaching wild animals. When we looked up at them, they stopped dead in their tracks, and then we would turn our heads and they would resume inching closer to us. At one point, Yannick suddenly goes, "BOOO!" and they get startled and start giggling. They watch us intently as we get back on our bicycles and are all smiles as we wave to them as we ride away.

At 5pm, we stop to wash off our sticky and sweaty bodies in the aqueduct, just as we have seen so many locals do today. Feeling clean and refreshed, we find an awesome spot to camp among some dirt dunes about 100m from the highway and protected from view. Still a little irked by today’s incident, we spend an hour just listening to music and gazing at the starts, helping us return to a tranquilo state. What a beautiful night.

Day 157 (5/23/11): 85km

Nights rarely get more perfect than desert camping under the stars. We take our time getting back to the road, but then we relish the cool, dry morning air as we make our way down the highway. As we approach the city of Sullana, we are sad to see huge amounts of trash accumulated on the sides of the road and scattered as far as our eyes can se.  We stop at a gas station to rinse the salt off our dirty socks and cycling shorts, but find that the water coming out of the faucet is tinted brown. We move on, closer to the city proper and things just get worse…this place literally looks like a dump with piles of trash covering the ground, vultures (or condors) flying overhead, and stray dogs scrounging for food. We thought we would stop in this city to purchase some food, but we’re afraid to eat or drink anything from anywhere around here. It’s the dirtiest settlement we’ve seen on our entire trip and we almost feel ill just passing through! We only have two apples, a few cookies, some jam, and mayonnaise let in our panniers, so we have to stop at the next city…hopefully it will look better.

Once we pass through to the other side of Sullana, the road conditions turns from great to sucky…the shoulder is narrow and full of debris and potholes, so we opt to ride just left of the white line. Some vehicles are fine with this…until there is traffic coming in the opposite direction. Rather than slowing down for two seconds for the opposing traffic to pass, they maintain their speed and squeeze through, almost forcing us off the road. What’s worse is when they feel they must honk as they are passing us, blaring their horns right in our ears as if we didn’t already know they were there. We try to maintain cool and calm, but it’s difficult to be zen in an environment like this. Having to constantly attend to vehicles coming from behind and judging how close they are passing, looking at the road ahead for obstructions, watching for road signs, plus battling a head wind, and needing to squint our eyes when clouds of sand come blasting at us keeps us constantly on edge. We’re not feeling so tranquilo anymore.

Eight kilometers outside of Piura, we stop at a small comedor and order the set lunch for 5 sols, which includes soup, a main dish with meat and rice, and a nice cold glass of limeade (about the same price, quality, and quantity of the meals we became accustomed to in Ecuador). We finish off the last kilometers to the city and ask around for a large supermarket – yes, this city actually has one! We are pretty tired of the limited selection at the small tiendas…we’ve been eating the same dried goods for weeks. But now, we’ve found a BIG grocery store with a huge variety of food! We spend about 3 hours outside the supermarket with Yannick making 3 trips inside to purchase food…oh, he’s like a kid in a candy store! He comes out with things we take for granted back home, but feel like treats here, such as cheese, a baguette, cold cuts, pears, cous cous, etc. After stuffing ourselves with fresh food, we finally get back on the road at 4:30pm, saying goodbye to our little sanctuary…oh, how we will miss you!

To exit the city, we ride through the expected crazy traffic and head for the desert…a 200km crossing to Chiclayo, the next sizeable city. We take the turn towards our destination and hit the open road again, but are very surprised by the number of settlements there are out here, nestled among the scrub brush and piles of sand. We are also impressed by how clean and organized the area is! Pathways are clear of tree branches, wood is neatly piled, animals have their designated places, and there is hardly any trash lying on the ground. We think Sullana could learn a lesson or two from these little desert communities!

At 5:45pm, we easily find a place to camp among the bushes, but it is hard work pushing our heavy bicycles through the loose sand. As Shirley stands there keeping the two bikes from falling over while Yannick chooses the perfect spot to pitch the tent, she starts getting attacked by mosquitos. She starts wiggling her leg around and slapping them off with her arms and Yannick walks back over to her and tells her to stop being paranoid…we’re in the desert for goodness sakes! Then, he start getting swarmed by the blood suckers too…who’s “paranoid” now? We scramble to put on some layers of clothing and spray our faces and hands with insect repellent, then hurriedly set up the tent and jump inside. We spend the next 5 minutes slapping the air to kill the mosquitoes that are trapped in the tent, giving us flashbacks of the horrible PCT days in Southern Washington and Northern Oregon where we were nearly eaten alive by the relentless insects. We had bought some pasta and gasoline with the intention to cook for the first time since Guatemala, but that’s not happening tonight because there is no way we are opening that tent fly again! We have some delicious cold sandwiches for dinner and are very satisfied. Good night mosquitos…we hope not to see you in the morning!

Day 158 (5/24/11): 109km

The mosquitoes NEVER left last alone night! These aren’t the normal dusk and dawn type 'o guys…they kept buzzing around the tent at all hours and got us pretty good when we had to step out to pee…aagh, it’s horrible! We can see hundreds of them outside the mesh of our shelter, waiting for their breakfast. We layer up to protect ourselves from the inevitable attack. We hear “zzZZzzZZ…”in our ears while we break down camp and move everything to the side of the road, then poof…they’re gone. We do some load carries and find it so strange that the mosquitoes are only hanging out among the bushes…but now we have the nasty little biting flies to deal with here…baagh!

We start loading the bikes and do an inspection of the tires for thorns and find plenty of little thorns, but Shirley’s front tube is the only one that has been punctured…it’s the one with the mountain bike tire and not as resilient as the others. We fix the flat, move 4km, then have to check the weird noise coming from her rear brakes…might as well change the splitting cable and brake pads while we’re at it. Ugh, now it’s 9am…there goes the early start to take advantage of the calmer desert winds in the morning!

The road is flat and straight, making it easy to travel at 20kph, but in the afternoon, our average goes down to 12kph against the increasing headwinds. We are really lucky the sky has been overcast all day or this desert crossing would be really brutal. Not only do we have to fight the elements, but we have to constantly be alert of the oncoming traffic – drivers out here really don’t care about us on our bicycles. There have been countless times a bus or semi-truck would honk their horn at us (or sometimes thye don’t have honk), then plow on through, making us pull into the uneven, rocky shoulder. If we don’t swerve out of the way, we’re sure we’d be pancakes by now – we’ve never been shown this much disregard before!

By evening, the desert becomes even more deserted, opening up to seemingly endless dunes in every direction. Bushes become scarce and we wonder what will shelter us from this unyielding wind tonight. It’s 5:30pm and we can see the silhouette of some foliage in the far distance and make that our goal for the night. These last kilometers drain the last bit of our energy and we make it to the bushes at 6:30pm, just as the last bits of sunlight fade away. We could have pretty much camped anywhere among the flat sands if we pushed our bikes far enough away from the highway, but the extra effort it took to get to wind shelter is worth it. It’s so much nicer to set camp without getting sand blasted! Too bad we have so much sand stuck out our sticky skin already…thank goodness we have baby wipes :)

Day 159 (5/25/11): 99km

Let us rephrase what we said the other morning: Nights rarely get more perfect than desert camping under the stars…when there are no man-eating insects around. Last night was sooo wonderful in their absence! When the alarm goes off, the night felt too short though…we could have used a couple more hours of shuteye, but alas, we get up and slowly push our bicycles back the road.  Unlike yesterday morning, the wind is already blowing strong and the sky is sunny. To keep our sanity, we pause often to appreciate the view of the vast desert’s sand dunes, then resume our battle against the elements…including man. Sheesh, some of these truck drivers must be playing a game – how close can you get to the cycles without actually running them over? And if you do, oops, guess you just have to try better next time!

A couples hours into the ride, Yannick suddenly stops and yells, “piggy!” There’s a little pink piglet on the side of the road and we try to call it over to us, but he runs away when we disembark our bicycles. Poor piggy probably won’t last very long out here in the hot desert…but then again, he might not last much longer back at the ranch. Hmm, at least he’ll get to roam the desert freely for at least a little while this way. We change our minds…run, little piggy, run!

If you can’t tell, we are having a mentally and physically tough time these past couple days. We are relieved when we arrive in Morrope for a lunch break – we each have the set menu and together guzzle about 2-1/2 liters of cold, fruity soda (in the absence of fruit juice). After our fulfilling meal, we resume heading South, against the prevailing winds…the story of our lives! The nice thing about heading South now that we are in the Southern Hemisphere is that we finally have the sun on our backs during the hottest time of the day – it’s nice that our bodies shade our water bottles these days, keeping our water luke warm rather than hot tea temperature.

An hour-and-a-half after leaving Morrope and having to defend ourselves from dump dogs several times (we now carry a few mid-sized rocks on our handlebars!), we arrive in the town of Lambayeque, where a lady selling warm churros gets our attention. We buy 10 and finish them on the spot…mmm! Next, we head for the big town, Chiclayo, where we were hoping to stay at a CouchSurfing host. Unfortunately, a phone call later, we find out he is out of town. The traffic in town is maddening, crazy, and scary. As much as we wanted to take a day off, we decide to head out of the city as quickly as possible in order to regain our sanity.  The outskirts of Chiclayo extends for many kilometers and there are no quiet campsites in sight…so we start asking schools if we can spend the night on their presmises. Score! We have a safe and quiet spot for the night. That evening, we fire up our stove for the first time in a LONG time, making delicious spaghetti. Yannick’s sciatic nerve has been bothering him for more than a week now. He can’t sleep on his back or on his stomach, making the nights rough for him. Hopefully that will go away shortly though. We wish we had more time for yoga and stretching!
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Jason on

I told you to stay away from costal Peru... The scenery will be the same desert scrub full of garbage and the drivers won't get any better until you get closer to cusco. But thats only a thousand miles or so away so you should be fine.

Until then, good luck!

Sebastian Roché on

What an inspiring trip you guys, if you can try to stop in Mancora, a charming and chill little beach town where the surfing is great and the weather is always superb. Buena suerte amigos !!!

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