Cycling days 180 to 187: Puquio to Cusco

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

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 180 (9/14/11): 81km

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! We spend some time this morning fixing the cable and doing some other chores while waiting for the temperature to warm up before continuing down the hill. We descend another 17km before beginning another climb.

Just before noon, we arrive in Puquio where we stop for lunch and update the blog. After our nice little break, we spend the next few hours laboriously making our way up the steep, switchbacking road. By the end of the day, we are exhausted and are glad to find a place to camp on a saddle. The temperature is again -3⁰C when we climb into our tents at 7pm.

Day 181 (9/15/11): 77km

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 race along the edge of the storm, but it keeps up with us. Fortunately, we come to another tiny village and take refuge next to a bodega (small store) and pull the bikes under the rain gutter. We go inside to buy some bread and cookies and the owner allows us to hang out inside until the weather passes (and stay in his extra room if it doesn’t).

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. We pant like crazy to get up to a pass, then freeze our butts as we speed down the other side. At 5:30pm, it starts to hail again, so we bail off the road and search for camp. We set up among some mini rock walls as the sun peaks our over the mountains from under the clouds, just for a few minutes before setting. As the temperature drops, we happily climb into our tents…ah, home, sweet, home.

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 it comes to weather, we’ve had it all: scorching heat up to 42⁰C to freezing cold down to -3⁰C, and sun, rain, hail, and wind. The wildlife keeps amazing us with varieties of camelids (llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas), tarantulas, sheep, goats, donkeys, and our favorite: viscachios.  
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.

Day 183 (9/17/11): 94km

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. She takes another Cipro, then we hit the town in search of dinner, supplies, and some stronger medicine. We find some Flagyl for 0.50 soles per pill, double the price we paid for Yannick’s pills, but still worth $3.00! We go back to the hotel because Shirley’s stomach says our night out is over. We try to stay up late to take advantage of the cable TV, but we crash around 10:30pm.

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. We ride only a couple km to the edge of town, then stop at a gas station for some much needed bicycle maintenance. The clouds on top of the mountain in the direction we are headed are really dark and threatening, but mostly clear by the time we finish the tune-up. It is now 3pm and we have a long, steep hill to climb. We ride for 2 hours and feel relatively strong, having to take only a couple breaks – guess those 24 hours of rest really helped!

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. She felt the dog bite and grab her bicycle, a strong tug and a snap, but she thought he had bitten her pannier. At the time, we checked the panniers and thought we were lucky there was no damage, but now it makes much more sense…he got the triangle, grrrr! Oh well, we can’t do anything about it now, so we continue onward.

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. The grade of the slope is steep and motivation is running low today. We take many breaks, including one for Steve’s 5th flat, all of which were on his rear tire.

At 11am, it begins to drizzle, but we aren’t in a place with a good place to shelter, so we keep riding until we find one. The rain becomes heavy and we finally choose to stand next to the wall of an older woman’s house to keep ourselves from getting drenched – it is far from perfect, but it will have to do. Steve doesn’t have waterproof panniers or rain shells, so keeping him somewhat dry is very important. We stand there for an hour until the rain eases and the sun begins to shine. As we emerge from cover, we see two touring cyclists coming around the corner and we star waving and cheering to them. It turns out to be Meg and Jules, the Australian girls we met on the boat to Ometepe Island in Nicaragua! Just as they pull up to meet us, the old woman from the house comes down to give us a big bowl of steaming mote (hominy). Fifteen minutes behind the girls is a Belgian couple on recumbents, Julian and Lauri, who recently started from Quito, Ecuador. We all stand on the side of the road, talking and snacking on mote for about an hour. Everyone else was also feeling a bit unmotivated today, but now spirits are high again – seven touring cyclists unite! Yannick and Shirley go return the bowl to the woman and thank her with a couple packets of cookies. She smiles and waves us off as the train of cyclists depart from her home. We continue up the hill with motorists honking more than usual. The three of us pull ahead of the pack with plans to meet the others in Cusco in case we don’t pass each other again until then.

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.

At 4:30pm, there is a break in the rain and Steve is hesitant to freeze his butt off during this downhill, but his want to put in more miles makes him suck it up and brave it out. The others follow our lead and resist the temptation of camping at the toll booth. We speed down the hill through the light rain, with Yannick and Shirley staying mostly dry, but Steve getting soaked from the wet road – fenders really come in handy on days like this!

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!

Day 188 (9/22/11): 0km

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!
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