Cycling days 180 to 187: Puquio to Cusco
Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
120Trip End Jan 19, 2012
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When we wake up, the temperature is -3⁰C at 6am. As we move the bicycles out of our little shack, Shirley's rear brake cable snaps – good thing it happened here and not during the downhill!
It is cold and windy on the high plateau. We pass by tons of lakes scattered amidst the expansive, open land and every now-and-then, we come across a herd of alpaca with a lone shepherd moving them through the golden hills. For lunch, we stop in a tiny village called Negro Mayo and hide behind a wall to shelter from the relentless wind. The clouds in the distance are dark and threatening, but the sky overhead looks okay for now. We push on against the wind, the cold, the altitude, and the never-ending hill climbs.
At 2pm, it begins to hail. The strong wind blows the hail balls horizontally, pelting our faces and bare legs. Stopping to layer up means getting more wet and cold – something we would risk if the conditions persist, but we can see the sun shining through the clouds ahead, which lures us on to push on through.
We leave the store around 3:30pm, with extra layers on – leg warmers, fleece, wind breaker, shell jacket, and warmer gloves – it’s only 4⁰C outside! We pedal hard uphill to try to warm up, but the thin air makes it difficult to breath.
Day 182 (9/16/11): 107km
Despite the harsh conditions, the road from Lima so far ranks among the most interesting and beautiful of the entire cycling journey: smooth road to ride with little traffic, good shoulder, and stunning scenery from ocean to deserts to sand dunes, the bare Andean plateau with large lakes, deep canyons with rushing rivers, small traditional villages, and lush forested areas.
When we wake up this morning, Shirley is sick with a fever and the shakes and it doesn’t help to be above 4,000m with a bitter cold wind. The thermometer indicates 4⁰C. At 8am, we start riding a very steep hill. Lucky for us, we start heading back downhill after only 3km and away from the harsh environments. The scenery gets slowly becomes greener with lush valleys populated with alpacas. Shirley feels low on energy and doesn’t particularly enjoy the few sections of uphill. On top of that, she needs to make several bathroom stops because of a giardia attack…poor picou! The good news is that 90% of the day is downhill, making it easier to cover some distance.
When comes lunchtime, we finish the last of our food rations and at 1:30pm, we stop in the town of Chalhuanca to eat a good lunch and resupply. Then, on to the gas station for the chores (laundry and shower in the sink). We leave town around 5pm in search of a quiet spot to set our tents. After 107km, we settle for the night.
We step onto the road just as the sun hits us from over the valley walls. It’s 8am and we begin our epic downhill – 80km of smooth, nearly effortless riding. Well, at least until the wind begins blowing and gradually getting stronger throughout the day. Despite the headwinds, we are able to crank out the descent by noon. Its’ crazy hot again (38⁰C) and the wind is actually kind of nice, keeping us somewhat cool. Still, we need a break in the shade of a gas station to let our body temperatures drop back to normal before starting our ascent.
At 1pm, we make our way slowly up to Abancay. Two hours and several breaks later, we arrive in the city, sweaty and out of breath. Today, we will treat ourselves and get a room at a hostal – we find a good deal (30 soles for a triple) at a nice, clean place (Cefetin Hostal, address: 345 Jr. Arequipa) with a really nice and accommodating owner. We check in just on time – the medication Shirley took this morning is wearing off and she hits the restroom and a handful of times over the next few hours.
Day 184 (9/18/11): 21km
The boys sleep like babies while Shirley has a hard time because of her stomach and itchy, swollen fly bites. By morning, her belly is feeling a little better, but it’s still time to start the treatment to try to cure this giardia once and for all.
We all wake up earlier than we wanted (darn that biological clock!) and find that it is raining outside – looks like we chose a good night to stay indoors! The sun appears and disappears, mixed with short periods of light drizzle. It’s okay though, we want to take advantage of our hotel stay, so we are in no rush to get back on the bicycles. Instead, we go for a walk in search of breakfast and fresh veggies for the road, but end up buying food to cook in the kitchen of the hotel. We enjoy our healthy brunch, pack up, and depart just after noon.
The terrain makes for limited camping options, so we settle for pitching the tents next to a house with green fields next to it. We tried asking for permission to stay, but the owners aren’t home; we hope they return while we’re still awake so we can chat, but if not, we plan to get up early to minimize any disruption we might cause. After night falls, we admire our cliff-side view of the city lights below blending with the stars above. Because of the light fog nestled among the hills below us, it is difficult to differentiate between the twinkling of the sky from those of the ground – one of the best views since we left Lima.
Day 185 (9/19/11): 83km
The fog rolls in and out as we pack up our gear, but we don’t let that deter us from continuing our winding ascent towards Cusco. It’s only 6:30am when we push our bikes back onto the road and begin pedaling. Although we are breaking a sweat, the chilly morning fog makes us keep our layers on. During one of our breaks, Shirley notices her reflective triangle is missing from her rear fender and realizes the dumb dog that chased her yesterday must have taken it.
We reach the top of the hill by mid-morning. With threatening clouds looming overhead, we layer up for another long descent. We get so cold from the wind chill, we have to stop and add a fleece under our windbreaker and put on our beanies…and we are still freezing! That is, until we drop so much elevation and make it to the sunshine that we start burning up. The temperature rises to 38⁰C and now we are going crazy from the heat. A little later in the day, we begin our next ascent. Only half a dozen kilometers in, the wind starts picking up and the temperature suddenly drops. What a day of extreme weather conditions! The thick clouds close in and block the sun, turning the sky dark. As tiny droplets begin to fall, we scramble to find a place to pitch the tents because there is no other shelter around.
It’s only 3:45pm, but after all the effort of setting camp in strong winds, we decide to call it a day even though a big storm did not materialize. It’s okay, we deserve to chill once-in-a-while. The wind continues to gust over the next couple of hours, then dies down by sunset. Nice, we might have a warm, peaceful night afterall!
Day 186 (9/20/11): 21km
We wake up and the tents are soaked from the heavy rain last night. Fortunately, the sky is only partly cloudy now, but we pack everything wet to get on the move.
Soon, the rain starts up again and we hesitate about stopping where we are or continue on to find better shelter. Our decision to go pays off as we shortly come to a nice toll booth with a roof, benches indoors, and clean, fully stocked restrooms (toilet paper and soap, what a treat! :) The other 4 cyclists catch up to us and we hang out while having lunch and wait out the weather.
When we arrive in Anta, the mayor gives us permission to stay inside the community center. Seven cyclists having a slumber party tonight where most of the conversation revolves around food: what to eat tonight, how much we eat daily, what we miss eating, etc.
Day 187 (9/21/11): 40km
The whole gang is excited about getting to Cusco early, so we take off just before 7am. The sun is shining through big, puffy clouds and we hope to make it to the city before another round of rain comes to delay our opportunity to reward ourselves and indulge in food and luxury. With the relatively flat terrain, we plow through the first 20km easily, leap frogging with the Australians along the way. The uphill section comes, but it isn’t nearly as long or steep as we anticipated. Before we know it, we arrive at the "Welcome to Cusco" sign and Steve is super excited because he’s reached his destination goal and completed his longest tour to-date.
We make a turn around a hill and get a view of the city below us…it is much bigger than we thought! We ride through town really quickly and make a B-line to the Plaza de Armas (main square) and find the hostel the girls told us about. It’s only 9:30am when we ring the doorbell at Hospedaje Estrellita (address: Tullamayo 445). When the owner opens the door and sees Yannick and Steve in their sexy spandex, he immediately pulls out the wooden ramp for us to roll our bicycles inside. We park our bikes in the courtyard and asks if we want to have breakfast, which is included with our stay. Wow, 15 soles per person with a breakfast of eggs, bread, jam, butter, coffee, and tea! There are already 4 other cyclists here and some motorcycles tourists as well – so two-wheeled traveler friendly :) Just a couple doors down, we find a nicely stocked bicycle shop where we can get Maxxis tires and disc brake pads (if we needed them, but we’ve got tons of spares), a reasonably priced bakery with croissants and baguettes made by an old French woman, a couple 3 soles menu (set course) restaurants, and laundry service – we are in such a great location!
We go back to the hostel and take HOT showers, then go explore the city. After walking around the touristy areas and doing some errands, we realize our part of the neighborhood has the more modestly priced food, so we go back and treat ourselves with personal pizzas for only 6 soles…mmm! Back to the hostel for some cable TV, hot tea, and free wi-fi…then crash in our beds. Aaah, we are really loving it here!
Lazy, rest day. Steve loves us so much, he has decided to extend his tour and accompany us to Puno, Peru. More touring cyclists show up at the hostel…there are so many of us here we can’t even keep count now…somewhere around 20!!! Tonight, we plan to have a party at the all-you-can-eat Indian food restaurant!