Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
19Trip End Jul 15, 2005
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On Friday, the 15th July, we climbed yet another hill and there in the distance we saw the blue waters of Lake Titicaca. Yes, we've done it, we've finished!!!
But it wasn't easy.
Before we left the sunny shores of Arica, we decided to finally find out how much we carry on our bikes. People keep asking us and we never know. We've tried a lorry weighing station, but when we queried the results we were told that the scale only measured in multiples of 20kgs! But in Arica we'd found a pharmacy that could help, and so it was that we could be spotted loading our bags onto the scales the morning we left. The results are as follows and in no particular order: Starky carries 17.5kgs plus up to 5kgs of water when necessary; Philsy carries 24kgs plus any extra food as necessary. (We could have also measured the height and bodyfat ratio of the bags, but didn't think it would add anything to the sum of human knowledge.) So, suitably weighed, we headed for the Chilean border with Peru; there we spent an inordinate amount of time getting through the bureaucratic process and having our documents stamped more than half a dozen times for no apparent reason other than for some official to use his stamp. Nevertheless, we were finally through and cycling easily towards the town of Tacna, where we had been asked to visit a family on behalf of a helpful Peruvian receptionist who was working in our hotel in Calama, Chile. He had asked if we would visit his wife and 3-year old son and take them a letter and a small gift, which of course we were glad to do. We soon found them and stayed for a very welcome lunch with the family before heading off to find our lodgings.
Baul Mountain just outside of Moquegua
Moquegua was our next target, but that was all we knew. Finding maps in Chile and Peru has proved to be impossible: how on earth the locals get around we have no idea. In Argentina we were spoilt for choice as petrol stations and bookshops held ample supplies. We had no reason to believe that Chile, at least, would be any different. Starky spent several hours one morning in Calama hunting high and low for the merest sniff of a roadmap and returned with his tail firmly between his legs, having failed miserably. Our Peruvian receptionist offered to help and we were glad of the page torn surreptiously from the hotel telephone directory! Locals in Arica kept advising us to go to Lake Titicaca via Bolivia as it would be so much easier, but we'd already decided to avoid that option because of Starky's visa difficulties (and determination never to return there). So now we were in Peru, but where to go from Tacna? There were apparently three possible routes from Tacna to Puno, our destination on the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca: the first, apparently, was quite direct but an horrendous ripio road that would take us from Tacna in a more easterly direction before turning north; the second took the tar to Moquegua and then pretty much carried on due northeast to Puno (but it would involve some ripio); the third took the same road to Moquegua as the second, but was much longer as it later branched east taking a flatter route before turning north to Puno.
Another gradual uphill between Tacna and Moquegua
We narrowed the options to the second and third, so headed out of Tacna towards Moquegua, rather disappointed to see on the signpost that it was 155kms (97 miles) away. However, there was nothing to do but cycle on up a rather portentious hill - although on enquiring at yet another petrol station (still trying to find a map!), we were told that that was the only hill before Moquegua and the rest was plano. Not a problem, especially as we had, what was this, a tailwind? (This resulted in us setting another record for our trip: a speed of 43mph - or in some parts, 69kph.) Nevertheless, umpteen hills and 78 miles later, (and even though we had just been advised that it was downhill all the way to Moquegua), we camped behind some abandoned adobe (mudbrick) houses. We were a bit disappointed not to have reached Moquegua, but it turned out to be fortuitous, for the next morning a spoke went on Starky's rear wheel. So we were able to cruise into town the next morning (up a long steep hill to 1410m), get the wheel fixed and look for a map. We eventually found a travel tour operator with a book that had a map and we took a colour photocopy. It would have to do. We liked Moquegua and would have liked to have been able to stay longer, for it was a quaint but large Amer-Indian town nestling in and up the surrounding hills, but time was pressing and the next day we headed on - up.
...and up, and then down, and then up, and then up, ...
Our next target was a town by the name of Chillihua, in hindsight an unlikely target, for although a mere 50 miles hence, it was at an altitude of 4530m!! But you never know. We cycled up a very attractive fertile valley, passing farmers ploughing with oxen and hoeing by hand, until the valley ran out and we were again climbing barren hills only occasionally and surprisingly marked by a green field. We climbed for a couple of hours, but then peaked. NO, we're going DOWN, we don't want to go DOWN when we still have to climb to 4530m. We started climbing out of the second far-too-deep valley, up and up, and up and up, until we passed a customs point which signposted an altitude of 3,846m. By now it was getting late and the altitude was taking its toll. We had done 38 miles and there was no way we were going to do another 12 as tired as we were and before the sun set. We spotted a disused restaurant and asked the owner who happened to be there if we could camp somewhere around the property. He kindly offered us the use of the building and we set up camp inside. This has been a policy of ours since we started our trip: to look so pathetic that people take pity on us and offer us the use of a building - previously we have pitched our tent under a tepee, used a disused barn, an empty worker's cottage, the floor of a restaurant still under construction, a room whence the children have just unceremoniously been ejected, a contruction workers' caravan, and the floor of the front office of the border gendarmarie! We call this 'extreme hotelling'. Our current extreme hotel was a little shaky, really quite literally, as the owner explained that he used to let travellers use a different room, but the recent earthquake rendered this unsafe. As we were about to leave the following morning, the corrugated roof rattled above our heads and he advised us to get outside. He wasn't joking!
After climbing uphill for 12 miles we did indeed come across the 'town' of Chillihua: two cafes and a few stalls! So it was just as well that we hadn't reached Chillihua the previous day as there was nowhere to stay anyway. We stopped for some lunch and to stock up on water and the ubiquitous biscuits before heading off again to the junction that offered the two routes to Puno. We turned left onto the ripio as it was much shorter, if more difficult, than the other route. The road was sandy and bumpy and we had to cross partially-frozen streams that had eaten away the road; but the wind was behind us, so the hill climbing wasn't as bad as it might have been and the scenery was spectacular. There was much more flora and fauna here too than our previous crossing of the Andes, presumably because of the abundance of water - even though much of it is permanently frozen! We spotted many Indian women, nearly always women, tending large herds of llama and, we think, alpaca; vizcacha (large members of the chinchilla family: imagine a hare with a squirrel's tail) would appear from time to time by the road. But the going still wasn't easy as all the way we were cycling at an altitude above 4,000m, we still had to climb a high peak, and the sandy ripio managed to catch out Philsy who was at one point to be found sprawling in the middle of the road. We were also getting concerned that we might have taken a wrong turning: we'd been warned that there were several small roads and it was easy to get lost, and we hadn't seen any form of traffic for 28 miles! We really didn't want to turn around and retrace our route. We spotted a tiny house and Starky enquired of the lady of the house if this road did indeed go to Puno, and to our great relief she confirmed that it did. We cycled on with a lighter load!
Philsy hauling his bike across another frozen stream
As the sun was setting and we didn't know how long the climb ahead would take, we decided to find refuge in an abandoned adobe house: just one room, corrugated iron roof so not a huge amount of insulation, dirt floor, and no door. But it would provide some shelter and hopefully, at this altitude, would be warmer than a tent . We found some old llama skins inside and laid down those as mattresses before setting about making our own door. There were some adobe bricks lying around outside so we used those at the base and then laid a couple of oil cans and some pannier bags atop those before completing it by hanging a llama skin from the top of the door frame. Very cosy! But not that cosy as we both nearly froze to death and in the morning discovered that our water bottles, which had been inside with us, had turned into solid blocks of ice! We dressed and packed up our panniers outside to get some warmth from the sun before tackling the hill ahead of us.
More extreme hotelling!!
Six miles later we'd peaked again and we slowly made our way down the rocky road to the little town below us. We'd hoped to eat there and attend to our motions, but the eateries were yet to stoke their stoves and our enquiries about a toilet were met with the suggestion of the river. We moved on and after 41 miles of ripio we were glad to get back to some form of tar - bad tar, but still tar. Again we climbed, but with the wind behind us; we came across a couple of small towns but too small to have a any kind of a café. Again we peaked and down we went again, and down and down - great cycling as the wind was still behind us, so we sailed along and although there were mountains apparently forming a solid barrier in front of us, the road always found a way through. Eventually we levelled out and, to our great surprise (as the map we had made no mention of it), we cycled into a rather large town. We'd intended to try to make it to Puno that day and, with the wind behind us, it would have been quite easily within our reach; but we decided to stay here at Laraqueri, as this would mean that in the morning we would not have to rush, we would arrive in the warmth of the day, we would have the chance to take the obligatory photographs of us at the Lake, and we would have time to find somewhere to stay. So we enquired about a room and were told that the lodgings on the left were the best. This outhouse was again adobe with a corrugated iron roof and a dirt floor, but we had a door!! And it cost $3 (70 English pennies) per person! Laraqueri was a fascinating place, a true Amer-Indian town totally unaffected by tourism: we were surrounded by curious but friendly people intent on finding out what had come into town. Evidently our chosen route wasn't on the 'Gringo trail', and we were glad of it.
Stunning views on the Peruvian plateau
We awoke at 6.30am to the sound of really rather dreadful Andean music blaring from our host's radio. A subtle ploy we thought! There was nothing for it but to get up and, after a hearty breakfast of mutton stew and local bread at the local comedor, we left Laraqueri on the last leg of our journey. We caught up with another cyclist, a stone cutter off to work who was keen to show us his skills; we were in no hurry so we stopped and listened as he explained how he broke apart huge white boulders, then carved the broken pieces into a suitable size and shape for house-building which he then sold for 2 US dollars a pop. We gave him some biscuits. There was a strong headwind (it would have been a shame to end our journey without it!) as we climbed a long gradual hill. At the top we looked to the horizon and - could that really be water? Could that be? It was, it was the Lake Titicaca. We stopped and ate some biscuits (what else?) and tried to take it in. After more than 4 months and 4,000 miles of really pretty tough cycling, Lake Titicaca was in sight. We gathered ourselves together and cycled through what can only be described as a massive rubbish tip and down into the bustling town of Puno. We negotiated our way through the busy crowds and eventually found the road that led to the water. We were, and are, at Lake Titicaca.
Our first view of the lake
As yet we have not taken to the Lake, but we'll be taking a tourist cruise there in a day or so. Suffice to say it's pretty big and full of water. We have taken the opportunity to celebrate though and yesterday managed to find champagne which we supped from our silver goblets, one of which has been slightly adapted, as the base fell off when Philsy accidently threw it on the floor. However, Starky, resourceful as ever, made a hole in the top of a vitamin pill container, pushed the baseless goblet through and stuffed the container with old socks to keep the goblet steady. And so we drank our champagne, accompanied by a really rather fine take-away pizza. The champagne was rank, so we went to a bar and found something else to take the taste away.
We're fine apart from sunburn and windburn to our faces. Starky has been suffering from nosebleeds due to the altitude and Philsy has discovered the after-effects of Peruvian food. In a couple of days Philsy will make his way to Lima from where he flies back to London. Starky is staying on in South America a little longer to complete his work visa application and finish his Spanish before taking up his new job with PwC in London. It's been an exhausting but awesome four months. We've cycled 4,280 miles (6,891kms). We've cycled nearly a thousand miles on gravel. We've cycled against the prevailing wind. We've cycled Patagonia. We've crossed the Andes in the middle of winter - hit the coast and then gone back up them again! We've crossed the Atacama Desert. We've been privileged, privileged to see and cycle through some of the most amazing landscapes and to have met many gracious and helpful people. We would like to thank all those who have helped us in whatever way. We would also like to thank all those of you who have so generously donated to our chosen charity, St. Cuthbert's Hospice in Durham. We have been asked by a few people if we would visit and give a presentation of our trip: we're glad to do so and hope that in this way we'll be able to continue to raise much-needed money for the Hospice.
We've made it to Lake Titikaka!
Thank you for your support and we hope you've enjoyed reading these travelogues. But for now, it's goodbye.
Ginger, like us, a bit battered and weather-beaten, made it too!
P.S. It never rained!