Cycling Days 164-168: Trujillo to Barranca

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

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Flag of Peru  , Lima,
Friday, June 3, 2011

This leg of the trip did not really go as smooth as we wanted, as we got shot at (5 times) at km198 along the Panamerican highway, just north of the city of Barranca. Fortunately for us, we escaped unhurt from this traumatizing experience. 

Day 164 (5/30/11): 0km

We take another rest day, hanging out with four other cyclists: Marta (Italy), Pepe (Spain), "Che" (Argentina), Alvaro (Colombia), and Lucho (Peru). We buy a spare mountain bike tire at a bicycle shop and put bulgy tire back on Shirley's bike for a final test – it either works okay and we’ll finish it off or it doesn’t and we can trash it. We check the condition of her rear tire just to see what it looks on the inside and there are no signs of damage similar to bulgy…great!

Day 165 (5/31/11): 101km

We depart from Trujillo’s Casa de Ciclista at 9:30am. After we exit the busy city, we are back in desert scenery. Soon, the sand and rock piles on our left begin to rise into significant jagged peaks making us wonder if these are the foothills of the Cordillera Blanca, the mountain range where we’ll be climbing for a couple of months. On our right, we can see the Pacific Ocean and the surfable waves crashing onto the long stretches of beach. Ah, rest days were good, but we are happy to be riding again…just the two of us. Having a third person to ride with is good company, but it complicates things such as deciding where to eat, sleep, rest, and affects the pace of riding. Now, we’re back to being a duo…until Alex catches up to us.

Alex saw us passing by his hotel while he was packing up for the day and ran out the door with his bike to stop us. He says he’s been looking for people to ride with since he left the States 6-1/2 months ago, but hasn’t seen anyone going South until now. We eat and wait for him to finish packing and catch up to us. Alex is riding with much less gear than we are, but his mechanical problems keep us at an even pace. We chat as we pedal down the Panam, stopping a couple times for us to take photos in the sand dunes. He broke his camera and has no pictures of his trip, so Yannick whips out his camera to take a photo of Shirley and Alex, but he slows to a near-complete stop to be out of the photo. Hmm, guess he’s a little camera shy. We continue on together and find Alex a bit quirky. He tells us about being annoyed by his police escort and how he forced them to stop following him, but now wants to ride with us because it’s safer than being solo. Understanding, but when Yannick pulls out his camera again to take an action shot, Alex pulls away again. Yannick asks, “so I can’t take a picture with you in it?” Alex replies, “Not when you do it sneaky like that” with a disturbed look on his face. Yannick jokingly asks, “What, are you wanted by the police or something?” Then Alex looks down (at his problematic pedals?) and stops without a word. We keep riding, figuring he’ll catch up to us again like earlier today, but he never does.

We thought we’d pass another city and stay there, but we never see it and enter a 30km stretch of desert. It’s 5:30pm and there is nothing in sight other than featureless sand and hills off in the distance. Hmm, not many choices for camping tonight! By 6:30pm, the sun has set and it begins to get dark…then a magical dirt road appears, leading away from the main highway. It’s the first dirt road we’ve seen in hours! We take the trail, saving us from having to push our bikes through the soft sand and find a spot behind some baby sand dunes for the night. We look all around us and admire the view – we feel like we’re camping on the moon!

Day 166 (6/1/11): 106km

We wake up in a good mood – watching the sun rise over the desert usually does this to us. Besides, Yannick’s back in slowly getting better and Shirley’s neck has almost healed, allowing both of us to sleep pretty well last night. We get back on the Panamerican highway and continue riding through the desert. We had no idea Peru’s desert was so massive! Our little Death Valley in California pales in comparison. We stop in Chimbote to take a look at the ocean and find hundreds of fishing boats anchored in the bay. We stand there watching and eating pastries. In fact, we’ve been stopping in each pueblo and city along today’s route to gorge on food. We’re getting a little tired of having the set lunches at restaurants, so when we pass a big grocery store around lunch time, we stop to buy ingredients to make our own sandwiches, then splurge on Chinese food for dinner.

We’ve been eating a lot since entering Peru, but we aren’t sure if we’ve gained any weight back yet – we hope so though…there are less than two weeks left until we start climbing some mountains and we always lose weight while mountaineering. At 5:30pm, we leave the city of Casma with fresh bread and fruit for our dessert later tonight. We could have asked to stay at the police station, but we want to sleep out in the sand dunes again. We ride for another half hour and find a place to settle down behind a large sand embankment. We watch the sky turn red as the sun sets and the temperature drops. We can’t get over the fact that we are so close to the equator, in the desert, and at sea level, yet it feels so chilly! We guess that’s another reason we sleep well out here…ah, another moonless night with a sky filled with stars.

Day 167 (6/2/11): 89km

We wake up to another day of desert riding…except today is more challenging than previous days. We have a 65km stretch without places to buy food or refill water, so there aren’t places for us to stop and rest in the shade. We take a few short breaks even though the unexpected hill climbing in addition to the usual headwind wears us down. Sitting on the side of the road to have a snack or drink water only a few feet away from semi-trucks and buses passing us at 100kph is anything but relaxing. We see the Pacific Ocean several times today and would love to go for a swim, but beach access consists of either a one kilometer of loose desert sand crossing, or a long out-of-the-way roads…both being too much work than we’re willing to put in.

We finally reach a pueblo and take a break from the saddle. The restaurant here is pricey, but we order the ceviche anyway…we’ve been wanting to try some for weeks now. It’s fresh and pretty good, but not at all what we expected – just lemony pieces of fish with sliced red onion – very different from any ceviche we’ve ever had in any country. We pedal another hour and make it to the city of Huarmey, where we get a cheap, but filling and yummy set lunch…so good we order another plate of fried rice to-go for tonight’s dinner in the tent. In town, we extend our break to include laundry and a spicket shower before heading back into the desert.

It’s now 5pm and we want to put in some kilometers to break this next 88km section of desert into two, hopefully making tomorrow’s ride less taxing on the mind and body. Unfortunately, the wind is blowing hard and there is non-stop hill climbing from the moment we leave Huarmey. In one hour, we are only able to cover 10km and decide to call it a day. We laboriously push our bikes through sand to hide behind some dunes. As Shirley levels the ground to make a tent platform, we find the sand is actually fine powder…a very messy powder that spreads everywhere in the wind. Oh well, there goes Shirley’s shower! We carefully pitch the tent, dust Shirley off, then enjoy our dinner that is still warm.

Day 168 (6/3/11): 90km

The day starts off as usual – we ride, we snack, we battle the winds, and we admire the beautiful beaches from afar. We even make stop at a pre-Inca ruins site built atop a seaside dune. We pedal 80km and contemplate stopping in Pativilca to grab a bite to eat because we’ve only had snacks all day, but decide to push on. Barranca is only 8km farther and our final destination for today, so we’ll get there early to relax in the city.

We cross over Rio Pativilca, go up a hill, and can see the city come into view. Yannick is riding slightly ahead of Shirley when we pass a dirt road less than one kilometer from the city entrance when we see two guys start accelerating towards us on foot.

Yannick: “I immediately knew those guys were up to no good from the way they accelerated to intercept our path. As they did so, we noticed they were pulling guns out of their pants. I told Shirley “uh oh!” and we picked up the pace to avoid the confrontation. I moved to the opposite side of the road which gave me a couple extra seconds to build up the pace, as one of the guys started chasing after me…fast.”

Shirley: “I was riding a little behind Yannick and stayed on the right side of the road. When we see the two guys in their mid-20’s aggressively rushing towards us, our instinct tells us to pedal faster. Yannick yells, “Go, go, GO!” And the man in the hooded sweatshirt runs across the street right in front of me to chase after Yannick, while the second man goes after me.”

Yannick: “During the 10 second chase, my pursuant was really fast and came within a foot or two from getting a hold of me. But fortunately, I was faster, pedaling like hell. As the robber’s energy ran out, he fires two shots at me. At the first shot I felt a rush of air go by my shin. At the second shot, a cable broke in my bike and the chain started skipping. I looked back and I saw the man turning his attention to Shirley who was screaming to confuse him. He changed his course and fired 3 shot at her.”

Shirley: “When I saw the guy aggressively going after Yannick, I started screaming to attract attention and freak him out – I saw a panicked look on his face when he realized he wouldn't be able to catch up to Yannick after all. The attacker is only a couple feet behind Yannick’s bike the entire time, fires at close range, but misses both times. The guy chasing after me started slowing down after the first shot was fired. His conscience must have told him that this robbery attempt was going too far. Frustrated that Yannick is getting away, the shooter turns towards me and fires 3 times. First bullet, nothing happens. I start speeding up and feel a second shot brush my right knee, then there’s a third shot.”

We gain a little distance from our pursuants and start waving at a semi-truck arriving from behind. He slows down as we occupy the entire lane to use it as a shelter. Shirley watches the men disappear in her rear view mirror as the truck looses patience and passes around us.

At this point we thought the aggressors were shooting blanks as an intimidation tactic. Yannick’s front shifter cable broke during the pursuit and his chain is now skipping and stuck in lower gears.”Luckily, the mechanical problem happened after the chase” we’re thinking. We immediately head for the closest police station to report the incident…in shock! We were inches away from robbery and likely injury as the bad guys were not in a mood to talk. They did not open their mouths a single time to say anything during the event. They clearly intended to hurt us regardless.

After hearing our statement, the Police heads back to the scene of the chase with Yannick in order to recover evidence (bullets from the road), witnesses, and to document the attack. Back at the Police station, we start inspecting the bike with the broken shifter cable and discover a deep gauge in the bicycle. Clearly a bullet impact…and a deep one! We start turning green realizing that the robbers used real guns and they were only a few feet away when they fired at us. It is a miracle that we got out of it unhurt! Later that night, we find another bullet hole in Shirley’s front pannier. It entered one way and came out another, damaging a spoke on her front wheel in the process. With each discovery, we can’t believe how lucky we are we didn’t get hit.

The police feeds us dinner as we sign tons of paperwork and go through lineup photos. And they offer us private accommodations for the night. Still in shock about escaping death with so little margin, we get to bed at midnight. We are having a hard time sleeping, thinking of how we could have avoided being shot at. What could we have done differently?
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Karissa on

What a frightening experience! I can't imagine how you guys are feeling. So glad to hear you are safe!!!

Kathy Pezdek on

Yikes! You guys were really lucky. Actually, small cheap guns are very
inaccurate. Even at a close range someone with a small cheap gun is unlikely
to hit a moving target, so always try to outrun them. You made my heart skip
a beat though hearing how close you were to real danger. And about that guy,
Alex! Either he's in a witness protection plan or he's wanted himself. You were
lucky to get ride of him. Take care of yourselves. Too many of us back home
love and care for you two. KP

Matt O on

Wow Shirley that is crazy. I'm very glad to hear you all made it out unharmed. Please be careful the rest of your journey and we will see you when you return to lovely Claremont!

Tina on

I wish you had time to write about the nice firefighters you met after and didn't leave this blog entry ending on this note... I'm glad you two are safe and I hope you have a fun and safe time in the mountains.

Frank Pineda on

Wow.... you guys.. that's really scary stuff.....
Im really really happy the two of you are ok....

I hope Karma gives them two thiefs what they deserve....
Im sorry to hear about this ordeal....
Beach cities in SA are not the safest...

Selene on

You guys are very lucky! I'm glad that you guys are ok. Wow, can't believe that happened to you guys! Please be safe!

miki on

I am very glad that you did not get hurt or killed and that I found out this as an afterward story. Even then, I am very scared to think you guys would get hurt! Good job on reacting on the bad situation, though! Keep staying safe!!

Tommy Nguyen on

WOW. So glad you both are safe. Be careful out there Guys.

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