Hardcore cycling: across the Andes from Nasca to Cusco 16th to 23rd Nov 2014

Nasca to truckstop 52km (16th)
Truckstop to Puquio 103km (17th)
Puquio to very high place 90km (19th)
Puquio to Abancay 197km (plus 25km on a bus) (20th)
Abancay to curahuasi 70km (22nd)
Curahuasi to Cusco 122km. (23rd)

634km this week

4,760 in South America
26,268km so far

This week was one of the most hardcore, intense weeks in terms of cycling, camping and problems, but also the week that I fell in love with Peru. The charming side of Peru is not along its coast, it lies high up in the mountains, with the Alpacas and Llamas.

The week started with a problem. After the cash machine in Nasca wouldn’t work, saying my limit had been reached, I called my bank in the UK using Skype. Then there was a powercut so my call ended sharply. We sat for a while and wondered what to do. It seemed that fate didn’t want me to even attempt to start my cycle ride.
A band started playing outside in the Plaza de Armas followed by a colourful procession. It was a glorious day but it was also 11am and I was badly late for attempting to climb 100km up the Andes to an altitude of 4000m.
Then Paola said, let’s try another bank. Duh! Why hadn’t we done that earlier!?We found one which was functioning because the bank had a back up generator. And it gave me some cash! So it was time to get going!

We said our goodbyes (as Paola was taking the bus for this stage) and I took the carretera interoceanica going East. It was a very hot day and I was still in the desert. This wasn’t going to be easy. I was lucky to meet a nice couple in a jeep who gave me water and a pear. They were from Australia, but he was originally from Ashtead in Surrey (very close to where I’m from!) The world is a small place. Unfortunately it is not flat! We took some photos and they waved at me saying, “see you in Cusco”. I laughed and said, “yes, next week”!

And then the climb started. It was a long and gradual climb with constant switchbacks. It was already mid-day, and I was badly behind schedule.

IMG_2380.JPG The switchbacks as the road climbed from Nasca

At 44km and about 2000m altitude, I found a restaurant, (a hut with a few bottles on display) where I shouted hola and a lady appeared. I drank a “Sporade” and stocked up with water. The woman said “there is a restaurant at 52km. Stay there tonight.” When I said I was going to Puquio tomorrow, she just said “no”. I insisted and she said “but it’s 100km. It’s not possible, you will have to get up at 5. Hahaha”

So I was up and on the road at 5. I had stopped at the restaurant the night before at 52km as the lady had suggested. I chatted with a truck driver who said there was room in his room above the restaurant. Pretty basic, a bunkbed and no bathroom. And pieces of animal meat drying on a line next to the room. Ew! But I was glad to sleep well as I knew I now had a big day ahead. Another 50km of climbing before I reached a descent. After 30km, I was over 3000m high and I could really feel the lack of oxygen: getting breathless, head feeling faint, heart beating faster, trying to take deep breaths to counter it, and having to stop more regularly.
The landscape was changing, the bracken and rocks gave the appearance of Scottish moors. Then at a huge nature reserve I saw Vicuñas which look small orange/white llamas, running across the road. In fact there were many grazing near the road, a nice reward for my hard work.

IMG_2395.JPG Vicuñas at the Reserva Nacional de Pampa Galeras

But my legs were destroyed at that point. Finally the descent arrived. A stunning view of the mountains met me as I flew downhill. At 4000m the drop was glorious but also freezing. I added layers but halfway down it started raining. My teeth were chattering and I couldn’t feel my toes or fingers. I couldn’t even bend my fingers but still managed to use the brakes. The wet road was making it dangerous to go fast. I dropped 1000m over a distance of nearly 20km, found shelter, but also found I had a puncture. The back tyre had become very thin so I guess something had pierced it. I changed the tube and prayed the tyre would survive until I reached Paola in Puquio.
It turned out to be another 30km from the base of the valley. And most of this was more climbing. The rain didn’t stop and Getting through my clothes to my skin. Every inch of those 30km was painful and I was shivering badly. I was making the following noises: “jerjerjerjer” and “verververver”. I reached Puquio but I was frozen, I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes and all my energy was spent.

The next day the sun came out. Another parade, an anniversary of a college with fantastic outfits, music and dancing. This is the Peru I had imagined.

An unexpected problem….
In South America, a size 28 tyre is not the same as a size 28 tyre in Europe or the US. My rear tyre (I bought in South Africa) had completely worn out and I tried to change it. My size 28 spares from Bogota, Colombia did NOTfit! I was so confused. A guy at a little bike hut showed me a size 28 they had. This didn’t fit either! He told me my wheel was size 27! I had to swap a tyre with one on Paola’s bike which was also a 28 and stopped me from believing I may be going nuts. A word to the wise…never buy spares without testing them. You may be carrying extra weight for 3 months for no reason.

The next day from Puquio was another challenge, climbing up to 4500m above sea level. We had bought coca leaves to chew to help fight altitude sickness. It’s the principal ingredient for cocaine, so I was getting high in both senses of the word.
I also met my first Alpacas, furrier and with a more round face than llamas, these were some of the cutest animals I’d ever seen.

IMG_2428.JPG My first Alpacas

After 50km, there were crystal blue lakes.

IMG_2441.JPG Laguna Yaurihuiri

The surrounding countryside was dotted with grazing Alpacas, and one of the lakes even had pink flamingoes, which was a surprise because it was so cold.

I managed 90km before the altitude had got to me, and I decided to camp by the road.

IMG_2457.JPG Camping at 4500m by a storm drain

It was a terrible sleepless night, with frozen feet and altitude headaches. I scraped the ice off my saddle and was back on the road at 6am.

I wished I had been able to continue the night before because after 10km there was a beautiful valley with a small town which had some hostels. The valley was also full of Alpaca farms with hundreds if not thousands of Alpacas.

After climbing up the other side of the valley, there were more ups and downs before I reached the big descent. A worker shouted that I was approaching the “siete curvas” (seven curves). It was a huge winding drop before it turned into a gradual downhill that continued for many km, following a river through a gorge.

IMG_2465.JPG the “siete curvas”

At about 110km, disaster struck…..my chain snapped! I also realised I had left the spare chain and my spare links with Paola. So I only had my multitool. I thought it would never work, but I had to try to repair the chain. I removed the broken link and it’s opposite link, and used the multitool to rejoin the ends of the chain. And it worked. I couldn’t believe it! I felt like McGyver! (Or McGruber!)

With about 100km more to go, and with strong winds, I struggled to reach Abancay before dark. I had lost too much time repairing the chain and now the wind was slowing me down too much. At 197km, I was exhausted and facing 25km which climbed 1000m in the dark. Trucks were passing closer than before and it felt dangerous. So I inquired about buses into Abancay. For 3 soles (about 75p), it was a no-brainer. So I cheated and took the easy option to arrive into Abancay, where Paola and a comfy night’s sleep were waiting for me. So no regrets.

Between Abancay and Cusco, there were two huge climbs of 2000m (from around 2000m altitude to around 4000m). After spending all day cycling 35km up the first hill, it was crazy to still be able to see Abancay below me.

IMG_2526.JPG Abancay, still visible at the top of the mountain after 35km

I stopped for the night after 70km in the small town of Curahuasi in a hostel called “Los Angeles”. This meant that I had 130km to reach Cusco.

Again I was up early and descended for another 20km stopping only to record a brief message for my brother’s birthday. And then the final mountain. And this was a beast. Slow, gradual, and very painful. At 70km, I reache the summit, opposite a snow-peaked cap (I was glad at least not to be that high).

This was followed by sweeping through beautiful lush green farmland, with cows, and old ladies with traditional white top-hats carrying crops in their colourful Peruvian shawls.

There was a final climb before a descent into Cusco. It was dark by this time, and although I was tired, I was determined to finish this time.

I crossed the cobbles in the historic centre of Cusco at 9pm after 2 hours cycling in the dark. I had some very strange looks from the locals, who obviously thought I was mad. But when I reached the hostel, “Hospedaje Estrellitas”, Paola and a bunch of other cyclists welcomed me with a round of applause.

What a week. Cusco is a wonderful place and a great place to recuperate. Now we will explore Macchu Picchu and the other Inca sites.

Thanks for reading,
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Ed, the thirsty cyclist.