Peru – The North

After five weeks in the Cordillera Blanca it was finally time to make up some distance again. It started with a long downhill through the Callejón de Huayla and soon after Caraz I entered the Canon del Pato. The Rio Santa cut over centuries this narrow canyon into the mountains, so that the road had to be build through a series of over 30 tunnels.

Mangos were in season and incredibly cheap, especially if you bought them straight from the plantation. At one occasion I got the offer to pitch my tent for a night in the orchard underneath some Mango trees.

I’m always fascinated how fast landscapes can change. Just a day after I left the rainy Cordillera Blanca I got into an very arid area. There was almost no vegetation and according to locals they have just very little rain in January, that’s it. The whole landscape reminded me at north of Argentina and Chile.

That’s cycling reality in Peru: After a steep downhill it’s going steeply up immediately. Long flat part hardly exist at all.

After a long climbed I had planned to relax a bit on this plaza, but just minutes after I arrived I was surrounded by curious kids, who asked me lots of questions. ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Where do you go’, ‘How many km can you ride a day’, ‘When do you finish your trip?’, ‘Are you alone?’, ‘Where’s your family?’, ‘Don’t you have friends?’, ‘Are you married?’, ‘Aren’t you scared alone?’ and so on. Including my least favorite Questions: ‘How much is your bike/phone/…?’. Finally they wanted to ride my bike, what was funny to watch, as it was a way to large for them. They still had their fun though.

On my route to Cajamarca I passed plenty of mines, which were usually very obvious due to the massive environmental destruction around them. Whole mountain slopes looked like huge construction sites. At least the mines are an opportunity for work for the locals, although it’s still a question how good the working conditions are and how much of the money stays in Peru at all. How many people dependent on the work in the coal mines minded was shown me by all the men with totally black hands and faces in some villages.

The encounter with Jerson, who I got to know while camping next to his families house, I probably won’t forget that soon. All the male members of his family a working in the nearby coal mines. So is Jerson, even though he’s just 16 and still going to school. But every afternoon after school he’s working in the nearby mine to support his family and it’s not unlikely that he will do it for the rest of his live, like so many other people in that area.

Wild camping is not always that easy in Peru, but luckily most Peruvians don’t have problem to let me pitch my tent near their houses.

Street and market scenes in Cajamarca

‘The humans are the only keepers of the nature. Let’s take care of our world.’ – Such a sign next to a massive mine I found a bit bizarre.

The hats of the woman were bigger in the north of Peru

Thanks Armando for the hospitality!

One of my last 5 Soles menus. ($1,50). Soup and Broccoli Saltado as segundo.

And suddenly it got green. After cycling for months trough the brown and barren Andes it was great for my eyes to see some green.

It got warm and rainy again.

In Jaen Miguel, who owns a bycyle shop, helps out passing touring cyclists with a place to sleep and bike repairs. When I left on a Sunday local cyclists met up in front of the shop for day trip. Before saying good bye we rode out of town together.

More than 30 degrees, super humid air and large rice paddies made me remembering my time in South East Asia.

Peru finished like it had begun: With great hospitality. Thanks to Marta and her family, who let me sleep in their house. The next day I rolled to the border to leave after five months this fascinating and diverse country.

Cordillera Blanca y Huayhuash

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The Cordillera Blanca is a massive mountain range with many peaks above 6.000m, including Peru’s highest mountain the Huascaran. As the name ‘white range’ already indicates, most of the mountains are covered in ice and snow. Most tropical glaciers on this planet are located here, although due to global warm the ice has already retreated rapidly, apparently over 15 percent during the last 40 years. The water flowing down on the eastern side is feeding the Maranon River, which is one of source rivers of the Amazon.

It’s a famous trekking area and of course I planned as well to leave my bike in Huaraz and explore the Cordillera by foot. After a few days rest I started the Santa Cruz Trek, what is the most popular trek around there and with just three days quite easy as well. A good start to get used to walking and carrying a heavy backpack. Unfortunately I forgot one SD card in my laptop before leaving for the trek and the other one didn’t work for some reasons. I was pretty upset about walking past beautiful mountains like Alpamayo and Artesonraju without the opportunity to take photos. On the other hand I could focus just on enjoying the amazing landscapes.

Getting back to Huaraz I was psyched to do another trek. So I teamed up with Melina to tackle a circuit around the Cordillera Huayhuash, which is located a little further south to the Cordillera Blanca. It’s supposed to be one of the nicest treks at all, but everything than easy. Most people just do it with a group, what we definitely didn’t want to do. Usually you need around 10 days to circumnavigate the range. But what makes it difficult is the lack of infrastructure. During those ten days, there’s ist just one tiny village, where you can stock up with supplies. With heavy backpacks filled with food for a week, we left Huaraz a little bit nervous.
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Almost every day we had to cross passes between 4800m and 5000m. This was the first and an easier one.

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Laguna Mitucocha, our second camp was just next to the shore.

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The first glimpse of one of the many snow capped peaks

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From that lagoon it went up a super steep slope. There wasn’t a trail at all and to make it even harder rain and hail let us freeze a lot.

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Enjoying the view.

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Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico and Jirishanca. The Yerupaja is with 6.635m the highest peak of the whole Cordillera Huayhuash

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You could literally listen to the melting of the glaciers. Every few minutes a thunder roared through the entire valley caused by ice breaking off.

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What a fun to jump for a few kilometers over those grassy things.

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Snow in the morning.

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The way up to Punta Trapecio. It’s an alternative to the standard route and absolutely worth it. According to all maps there was still a glacier, but it must have melted during the recent decade.

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Detoured along a glacier.

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The way up to the super steep Paso San Antonio. The snow melted and transformed the path into a slippery muddy slope.

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The views though were amazing and rewarding. My favorite place on the trek.

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Melina having fun descending through that crazy mud.

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A last fantastic view on the almost entire Cordillera.

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After coming back to Huaraz we still haven’t had enough of trekking and decided to do another short three day hike in the Cordillera Blanca. We started walking through the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca to cross a 5000m pass into another Quebrada through which we hiked back to Huaraz. This trek is still quite unknown compared to the popular Santa Cruz trek, but the views are equally great. Though I guess it’s little bit harder.

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Not a bad view to start into the day. It was bitterly cold though and the tent was covered in ice. That’s probably the disadvantage of a clear morning.

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Great view from almost 5000m.

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I never planned to stay a month in Huaraz and do that many treks. I don’t regret it all. On foot you get just deeper into the mountains as on a bike and gives you another perspective. Still I wanted to do the Huascaran loop on my bicycle and after a month it was time to get back onto the road anyway. After saying my farewell to Melina and the so familiar Huaraz I left on the main road to Carhuaz. From there a even paved road crosses the Cordillera Blanca to the eastern side.

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In October the rainy season starts slowly and indeed most days it started raining in the afternoon. On my first riding day I got completely soaked during the last two hours. Luckily the ranger from the National Park entrance station let me sleep inside.

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The next morning was still cloudy and most peaks were unfortunately hidden.

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Just a few times I got a glimpse.

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Since 2013 there is a tunnel on the top of the pass. It’s the highest road tunnel in the world. The old unpaved pass road still exists, but because of the clouds I wouldn’t have had a better view anyways and I decided for the easy way through the tunnel.

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A long ascend is followed by a long descend. On the smooth paved road I was kind flying down the valley.

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After day riding along the east side of the Cordillera I began to climb up again to cross back to the western side. This time the road was just gravel, what made it much slower.

blog-50-von-54On the top of Portachuelo de Llangamuco on 4700m. Probably my last high pass in South America.

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And again a crazy descend on a damn bumpy road.

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The Lagunas de Llanganuco and a last view on the summits of the Cordillera Blanca. I left this impressive mountain range behind with a sad feeling. Spending over a month hiking and cycling there was definitely worth it. But now I’m keen to cover some distance to get further north.

If you enjoy my blog and want to support my journey, for a little donation I will send you a photo calendar with photos of the last year in South America. Here are some more information.

 

The Great Divide

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Paved road or gravel road?? Traffic or loneliness? I’m glad now I decided for the latter. From Huancavelica to Huaraz I rode over Peru’s Great Divide, a series of gravel roads high up in the Andes. (A detailed description you can find on www.andesbybike.com).

More than 800 kilometer and over 20,000 meters elevation gain, heaps of passes up to 5000m and deep valleys with steeps climbs afterwards. In short: a lot of climbing. Other cyclists always made clear, that it is essential to go lightweight. Something what you definitely can’t say about my bike. So I was a bit nervous and had doubts if my choice was so smart. Going over the main paved route would have been much easier, but I guess also less exciting. I was keen to experience the loneliness and remoteness, having great camp spots every night, breathtaking views and of course I was also looking forward to the challenge of climbing that much.

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Those stone circles are everywhere. Original built as a fences for Lamas and Alpacas I used them quite often as camp spot.

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The first pass wasn’t that bad, even though I had to climb a 1000 meters up the highpoint at 4700. With this motivation push I rolled down to a village at 3600, but just to start climbing the next pass immediately again. And that is, what I did in those three weeks on the Great Divide: Climb, descend, climb, descend, eat, sleep…

Surprisingly I got used to this kind of riding quickly. The gravel wasn’t that bad as expected, as well as the gradients. The climbing was mainly a mental game. My head just had to keep telling my legs to pedal on, so I would eventually reach the top of a pass, where I usually got rewarded with a great view.

After the second pass I got to the village of Acombabilla, where I had to get food for three days and to top up my petrol bottle for my stove. Sounds easy, but turned out to be a little bit complicated. The village seemed to be kind of abandoned. No open shops, no people, it was more like a ghost town. Finally I bumped into a boy, who was playing football on the street. I asked for shop and he showed me a random house door, where I had to knock. Indeed, an old lady opened a door to typical little village shop. Those kinds of shops usually don’t have a wide range, but enough to survive. Lots of biscuits, pasta, rice, some canned stuff and if I was luckily some fresh fruits, vegetables and bread. The food problem was solved, but to get petrol was more complicated. The woman told me, that almost all people went to another village for a festival and probably there wouldn’t be anybody, who could sell me petrol. Damn, it was Sunday and I had already figured out, that there are festivals on every weekend in Peru. I decided the rest of the petrol I had would last me, I had to be careful not using too much for hot drinks though. Even though water starts boiling at a lower temperature in high altitude, you still need much more petrol for cooking, as everything needs longer to get done. blog-7-von-87 blog-8-von-87 blog-9-von-87

Of course it followed another pass after Acombabilla and this time I struggled more at the steeps parts. Probably because of the extra weight of water and food. I made it still almost until the high point, where a stone circle offered a perfect campground with a great view on a lagoon. It was direct next to the road, but as I haven’t seen any car at all the whole car, it didn’t bother me. Shortly after I pitched my tent though, a truck stopped a few meters from me, which dropped a man including a bunch of rice bags and drove on. I was a bit confused. There wasn’t literally anything around me, not a hint of a village or some houses. What’s the guy doing here with all those bag, which he would never be able to carry alone. He walked towards me and was most likely equally wondering about this gringo and his bike. After a short conversation it turned out that he’s living behind the next hill. Crazy that there are living people in such remote and high places.

The next morning I woke up and got surprised by an almost totally white landscape. Even my ten was covered in snow for the first time on this trip. Like the man on the day before a woman appeared out of the nothing. She could hardly believe that I survived the cold night and was just amused about my tent. A few minutes later a truck picked her up. Again it was the only car I saw that day.

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First time snow on my tent

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After a series of passes I had to climb over the Punta Pumacocha. With 4930 meters it’s one of the highest of the Divide. Past beautiful lagoons I slowly climbed up, but two kilometers before the top the bad road forced me to push quite a bit. Large rocks on the loose gravel made impossible to ride. When I reached super exhausted the top I got an impressive and rewarding view over the surrounding mountains. Especially the view down the other side was crazy. The road went down the extremely steep slope in plenty of switchback, unbelievable that there exists a road at all. Probably just because of the mine I passed the day before. Punta Pumacocha was definitely my favorite pass on the Divide.

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Last stop before the pass

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What a road! Wasn’t an easy downhill though.

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Just before Punta Pumacocha

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Afterwards a long downhill waited for me and at night I camped below 3000 meters in a deep valley, before it went uphill straightaway again. It was a really pretty road along a series of lagoons, which were all connected through waterfalls.

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It followed the stretch I was worrying about most. In the village of Vilca the road ends, but there’s a hiking trail for 7 kilometers until the roads starts again. As my bike isn’t built and loaded for this kind of riding I expected lots of pushing and carrying of my bike and gear. Despite a couple of hours of hard work it wasn’t that bad in the end. I probably had to push 60 percent of the 7 kilometers and only at two points I had to take off all my gear, as it was too rocky and narrow. At the beginning of the road I got welcomed by construction workers, who were extending the road. Apparently in a couple of months there are going to finish closing the gap, so it will be much easier for cyclists.

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7km single trail and twice I had to carry my bike over rocks like here.

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With all the pushing it was easier to carry the backpack on my back..

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At night I pitched my tent just in time. Once I crawled into my tent a massive hail and thunderstorm past my camp spot. My tent was shaking as hell despite my half sheltered spot behind a house sized boulder and within a few minutes everything was covered with 15 centimeters of ice. I had to get out again to free my tent from that heavy load and save it from collapsing.

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Two passes later I descended to the Carretera Central. That’s the main road leading from Lima through the Andes to the eastern part of the country. It’s one of the most important roads in Peru and so was traffic. Just terrifying, it was basically one line of vehicles, mostly big trucks, which were creeping up the windy narrow road. After being on virtually traffic free road for weeks I was kind of shocked of it. 20 kilometers I finally could turn off from this damn road and had my beloved gravel under my tires again.

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Last pass before getting to Carretera Central

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Switchbacks! I would love to know how many there were on the Great Divide.

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A storm is coming. Not that nice, if you can’t find a good place to camp.

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And the morning after the storm.

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Impressive sunset on 4700m.

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Not a bad place for a breakfast.

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It went on with lots of passes and because the climbing felt easier with each pass I got more and more mesmerized by this route. But not just the amazing landscape will stay in my memory. In Rapaz, a tiny village, was a festival going on when I rode through. On the plaza a crowd of villagers and a music band welcomed me. Straightaway I got invited to drink Chicha de Jora with them. It’s a traditional drink in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia and made out of fermented corn and fruits with a very low alcoholic amount. While the first sip was close to be disgusting over the day I got used to it and even liked it at the end.

On the search for bread I bumped into a group of some young guys. They said they had bread in their house. Expecting to get leaded to a shop I followed them. It wasn’t a shop though, instead I was welcomed by the whole family in their house and just few minutes later I was handed a big plate with lunch – rice and chicken. They were all really excited to have a gringo there, while the festival was going on and tried to convince me to stay longer to see some of the dancing later that day. At the end I could even stay overnight. A perfect opportunity to learn a bit about Peruvian village life and culture. Besides of drinking lots of Chicha and beer, a few music band were wandering from house to house playing the traditional music of Huayno , while people would wear their traditional festival clothes and dancing all day long. Of course a long ceremony in the church can’t miss, too. What a great day it was, I’m so thankful for the Ninez Flores family to have taken me in that day. Thanks again! I think that are the experiences I’m traveling for.

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My amazing host family in Rapaz. Muchas Gracias otra vez!

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Drinking Chicha de Jora above the village.

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Rapaz

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Villagers from Rapaz in their traditional festival clothes.

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Mine destruction.

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With a day delay I continued climbing Abra Rapaz, another almost 5000m Pass. The whole area is full of mines, what’s the reason for the quite good roads, but impact of the mining on the environment is obvious. Some place looks like a massive construction site and whole lagoon are dried out.

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Peruvian hospitality. I just wanted to camp in a stone circle near the house. Instead I got offered a bed in their house.

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The way to cook in the Peruvian Andes.

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Two days later I eventually reached the last high pass, even though the longest climb was still ahead of me. After Paso Pacomayo it went down from 4500m to 1300m, a 80km long downhill. It would have been even more fun if I hadn’t known about following climb up to 4200m again. Still it was great to make this big altitude difference in half a day. In the canyon at the valley floor it was super-hot compared to the temperatures in the higher altitudes. Also the landscape was completely different. Dry and very little vegetation, mostly cactus.

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A long downhill. But the uphill looked the same.

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In the canyon.

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I camped at the river and the next morning I started climbing. I found it mentally pretty tough if you know there are more than 2500m climbing on the next 50km ahead of you, but there was no way around and during the last days I got very keen to get eventually to Huaraz, as my head and legs were craving for a break from cycling. So I managed to make 2000m up in one day over countless switchbacks until I ended in a small village. I was so tired and it was already dark, that I just pitched my tent in the middle of the plaza. Of course it didn’t long for whole crowd of local watching me curiously cooking. The next morning I even got invited for breakfast.

From there it took me just 1.5 days to get to Conococha, where I hit the main road to Huaraz and finally the paved road started. I was so relieved to have finished the Great Divide. It was such a challenging road, but like always, as more challenging it gets as more rewarding it is.

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The last long uphill before finishing the Great Divide. Such a different scenery down in the valley.

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Those guys were cleaning the road. A month earlier a Minivan got from the road and crashed a few hundred meter down into the river. It seemed because of that accident they started improving the road.

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Camping on a Plaza. Not a problem in the villages.

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La Cordillera Huayhuash, where just I hiked around, but that’s the topic of the blog.

Peru!

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It wasn’t hard to get stuck in the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz. A cosy place packed with many other great and crazy cyclists from all over the world. After ten days though, it was time to hit the road again and getting over to Peru. I teamed up with Paul, who just bought a bicycle in La Paz. To get out of the city we had first to climb from La Paz to El Alto, from 3600m to over 4000m along a busy road. That are not the best conditions to start cycle touring, but Paul did well and after about two hours we left the city behind us. Cycling didn’t get nicer though, as there were heaps of constructions going on for the rest of the day and the road was incredibly dusty with as way too much traffic.

The next day the views were finally getting better and we ended up sleeping in a classroom of a school. Luxury, compare to camping in freezing temperatures.

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Eventually the Lake Titicaca got in sight. Even though there are higher lakes, they are not that huge and deep. It is really incredible that there’s is water body with a surface of 8,372 km2 on an altitude of 3800m. It looks like an ocean, as you can’t see the other side of the lake. We decided to take the more adventurous, lonelier route along the north east shore of the lake. (In case you plan to cycle along Lago Titicaca, according to Paul, who knows both sides, the north eastern side is much nicer, though it’s an unpaved road.)

 

 

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Could be the Mediterranean

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On small gravel roads with virtually no traffic we were heading on and crossed finally the border into Peru. There wasn’t even a proper sign as usual at borders. While we got an exit stamp in our passports from a tiny police station in the last Bolivian village, at the first Peruvian village the police couldn’t help us with an entry stamp. Instead they send us to the immigration office to Puno, what is about 200km away and where we had never planned to go to. We told them that we need a couple of days to get there, but it wasn’t a problem for them, although we were technically illegal in Peru for that time.

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On the top of a pass.

 

 

As there were no good places to camp, we ended up asking a farmer’s family if they have space for our tents. After discussing that for quite a while in Quechua, so we couldn’t understand a word, they showed us a shed behind their house. As usually we tried to deny, we don’t mind sleeping in our tents, but the family insisted that we sleep in the shed. It would be a way too cold to sleep in tents. Well, thankfully we accepted. And as that wasn’t already enough hospitality, we were invited to eat with the family as well. The hot, tasty soup was great in the freezing temperatures. At least could pay some generosity back and helped one of the kids with her English homework.

 

 

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The next morning Victor gave us a big bowl of Chuños and roasted beans for the day. Chuños are freeze-dried potatoes and typical in the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia. After a couple of nights in the freezing temperatures of the Altiplano and days in the intense sunlight, they’re are going to last for a long time.
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The next day we tried to camp next to a church, after asking the priest for permission. But the hospitality of the Peruvians stopped us from that. We just finished pitching our tents, when we were surrounded by a concerned group of locals. Concerned, because they couldn’t imagine, that we wouldn’t freeze at night, although we explained that we have good sleeping bags. One family finally offered us to sleep in their house. First I wanted to reject the offer, but I was also curious and was looking forward to get another local family to know. At the end it was great to stay with this amazing family. In the morning we were surprised with a huge breakfast. Besides of the usual rice and potatoes they must have slaughtered a Guinea pig and cooked it for breakfast.

Somewhere before reaching Cusco we asked in a little town at the firefighter station if they have some place for our tents. At the end we could sleep in an old ambulance, which they didn’t use anymore. They even had guestbook with a few other entries from cyclists. Fire brigades or in Spanish Bomberos are a popular place to sleep for cyclists in South America.

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Eventually we reached Cusco. For me it was time for another break. My mum had just decided to come and visit me a few weeks earlier. We haven’t seen each other sind I left Germany in October 2013, so two years and nine months. I was really excited for this reunion and it was a good opportunity to have a break of cycling and instead around as a normal tourist.

 

 

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If you visit Peru, you have to see Machu Picchu, at least that’s what most people say. Usually I’m not interested in those big tourist attraction and before I was always unsure if I should go there, as it’s also quite expensive. But together with my mum I had to go. And at the end I think it was worth it. Even though there are thousands of people, what I haven’t been used too. As a touring cyclists I see sometime no other tourists for months. Still Machu Picchu is an magnificent and impressive place. This time as a normal tourist, taking buses, doing lots of sightseeing and staying in a hostel showed me once again, why I prefer cycle touring.

 

 

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There’s lots of trekking around Cusco and I decided for the Ausangate circuit. It’s a four to five day hike around the snow capped peak of Ausangate, with 6384m the highest mountain in that region. It was beautiful and a different experience to cycling.

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The rainbow mountain.

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Ben and Renaud, who I’ve met in a hostel in Cusco.

 

 

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On the trail.

 

 

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After five days hiking, the reward: Hot Springs

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After more than three weeks in Cusco and surrounding, it was time to ride on. I decided to stick to the paved roads for a while to get used to cycling again. Still it was challenging. One pass after the next one, one 4000m pass after the next one with valleys in between under 2000m. The first days were tough, but eventually I got used to all the climbing. In the first valley I got bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes. It was crazy, I had at least 50 bites at each leg and arm. I was so happy when I was high enough again, where no mosquitoes are and the first thing I did in the next town, was to buy repellent.  blog (47 von 57) blog (48 von 57)

Some local kids waking me up in the morning

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Another great experience of Peruvian hospitality

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Near the top of a pass.

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And just a short while later down in the valley. The landscape and vegetation was changing all the time due to the altitude differences, what made it quite interesting. But it was also constant change of temperatures. One night I camped close to 4000m, where it was quite cold and the next night I was lying sweating in my tent the whole night.

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Even though I just cycled over paved roads, there wasn’t much traffic at all. Sometimes the road was just a single lane and narrow. Now I’m in Huancavelica, where I’ll rest a bit, before heading on. This time on small gravel roads over Perus Gread Divide.