Cusco, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia 6th to 18th December 2014

107km from Cusco to Combapata. 60km to Aguas Calientes
81km to Ayaviri
97km to Juliaca (9th to 11th Dec)
42km to Puno
17km to Chucuito
66km to Juli
61km to Copacabana, Bolivia
80km to Huarani
76km to La Paz

687km cycling from Cusco to La Paz

5,639km so far in South America

27,147km so far in total!

Well it looks like Christmas in Bolivia so “Feliz Navidad” everyone!! We have finally said goodbye to Peru and crossed the border into Bolivia after a week when we had to deal with some diabolical weather, a bit of manflu, and the usual awful Peruvian drivers. We also met some great people and had some luck to be in the right place at the right time in Chucuito. I’ve never seen so many crates of beer! Anyway, here’s the full account:

Cusco to Combapata

Leaving Cusco began quite easy with a nice gradual downhill section. We stopped to buy bread at a place claiming to be the “bread capital of Peru” and then two other cyclists passed us. We raced to catch up with them and immediately faced some uphill climbs so the chase was a slow one!

We finally caught up with them but only because they had stopped to look at the ruins at Pikillacta.

IMG_2821.JPG Matt and Naideen at the Pikillacta ruins

We managed 107km of hills that day before stopping at Combapata. It didn’t look like much but the plaza was pretty and there was a cheap Hospedaje

Combapata to Aguas Calientes

The next day we passed the Raqchi ruins which in bright sunshine made a very pleasant stop. The main temple only has one huge central wall left standing but there are also a lot of dwellings left to walk around.

IMG_2857.JPG Raqchi

We rushed through the hideously ugly city of Sicuani as quickly as we could before finding a fabulous tourist restaurant called La Pascana just outside the city which had llamas and alpacas grazing in front of the river. The owner was friendly and helpful (unlike most Peruvian restaurants where you can barely get their attention).

That night we climbed up to Aguas Calientes, a thermal baths with steaming hot water from nearby volcanoes. They had a hostel too so we stayed there for just 30 soles (about £8). Getting into the water was lovely, but at around 4000m altitude, getting out was very cold indeed! But a great place to spend the night.

Aguas Calientes to Ayuviri
The day’s riding was uneventful but in the town of Ayuviri, a huge lightning storm landed right on top of us. It was exhilarating but scary (we saw lightning bolts striking just a few hundred meters away) so we rushed for cover in our hostel where we could hear the storm raging but where we only had noodles to eat. My stomach was not pleased with me at all.

Ayaviri to Juliaca
97 relatively flat kilometers to Juliaca were quite boring until we met a Frenchman called Alain coming the other way. He told us about the Casa de Ciclistas in Juliaca, before our chat was cut short by a terrible hailstorm. We were soaked through and the hail pinging off our ears was quite painful.
When we arrived in the uuuuuugggggly city of Juliaca we navigated through the miles of roadworks, breathing in fumes and dust, towards the centre when a tall man on a bicycle said “hi. Did you call me earlier?”. Paola had called Geovanni, the owner of the Casa de Ciclistas earlier but we were very surprised he had cycled out to find us in the dark. What a nice guy! He guided us through the city to his place, where a matress in our own room (which is also his kitchen) was a welcome rest.

Due to a bout of manflu combined with the problem of breathing at altitude, we ended up spending 3 nights in the sinfully ugly city of Juliaca. Fortunately our generous and kind hosts, Geovanni, and Pirata, Milo and Peque (his dogs) made us incredibly welcome. He even gave Paola some Alpaca knitwear gifts.

Juliaca to Puno 12th December
We decided to take the route to the west of Lake Titicaca and to cross the border at the South of the lake.
I was so sad to leave Geovanni’s place, I forgot the spare tyres and only realised after about 10km, so Paola had to catch a bus back to Juliaca to collect them! (The second time I’ve done that!)
It isn’t actually very pretty between Juliaca and Puno, and we had rain and a brutal headwind making the day quite unpleasant. We weren’t very impressed with Puno either. Even though it’s big and more touristy, it was a bit of a mess. I found it quite odd that the hostel Inkas Rest wanted 70 soles when in the same alley, we found a hostel for 30 soles. It definitely pays to shop around.

Puno to Chucuito.
We hustled our way through the morning market, where an old man complained at us that the road wasn’t for bikes, it was for walking. We weren’t even on the bikes so we shouted back at him “but we are walking!” “estamos caminando”! (I didn’t know the Spanish to call him a silly old fart).

We didn’t feel welcome in Puno but when we found the delightful little village of Chucuito, after just 17km, it was very different. The day turned into one of our favourite days in Peru.

There were several weddings going on and a band playing. We wondered why the plaza had so many ladies sitting behind stacks of crates of beer. After a while we found out. Saturdays in Chucuito are for wedding celebrations.
The plaza filled up with a procession of gents in smart suits and old ladies dressed in their traditional colours, swirling and twirling their skirts (they wear about 5) followed by a band playing gleeful joyous Peruvian tunes.

They danced around the plaza all afternoon. We took a ton of photos, then we joined in on the dancing and of course we drank beer, and soon realised we would not be leaving Chucuito that night. I’ve posted videos on my Facebook page if you’d like to see some of the fun.

Chucuito to Juli.
This part of the road is much prettier and much closer to thelake and open farmland. Up a hill to Juli we found the plaza. There are a few hostels to choose from. On a Sunday night, the restaurants were closed and finding food was nearly impossible. We cooked pasta and tuna.

Juli to Copacabana, Bolivia

We stopped for lunch in Pomata. Nicer town than Juli.
Crossed the border at Kasani (just after Yunguyo. Very easy.
And then it was just 8km to Copacabana where we took a rest day to visit the beautiful Isla de Sol.

Copacabana to La Paz

This took two quite wretched days. There is a steep 400m climb out of Copacabana up to 4300m altitude for 12.5km. We were pummeled by hail which also meant that the descent to where you take the ferry was freezing. The effect of the hail against the hot Tarmac was strange as it created clouds of steam. We arrived soaked through with teeth chattering into the ferry port but there were no hot drinks, just the usual fizzy drinks and snacks.
In fact we struggled to find food all day, and ended up cycling in the dark to Huarina at about 80km.

The next day we survived the chaos of the suburbs and our final descent into La Paz where we are staying at the Casa de ciclistas.

We will stay in La Paz for Christmas as I have booked a trip to cycle the road known as the “death road” or the “world’s most dangerous road”. I wouldn’t believe the hype, it looks like it will be quite tame. And it’s all downhill! How hard can it be?

We wish everyone an equally exciting Christmas and a thrilling new year!

Ed & Paola