My location on 20th April: Google Maps
09:24 on Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Stage 18, day 10 – reccy for Paso de Jama
Oh that was a tough one – definitely a rest day tomorrow! I stripped down the bike to just have the basics for a ride up the road towards the Pase de Jama (border with Argentina). Just the two small panniers mostly full of food and water. Lots of water. I was hoping to get up to 4000m, so needed to stay well hydrated and there was nothing on the map to indicate that I’d be able to get anything en route. The big test was going to be the altitude – I didn’t want to scupper that by getting thirsty or hungry. As well as enough water for today, I wanted to use this ride to take up enough water for the road after the big climb and for two nights camping. This would mean that if I attempted the whole road to the pass later in the week, I would be doing a minimum of climbing with the bike loaded up with camping gear and water. Despite the bike being loaded up with 15 litres of water (6 for today’s 60km climb, 6 for the 100km after the climb and 3 for two nights camping) the absence of the big panniers meant that it was lighter than what I was used to.
The first 1000m of climbing was straight forwards enough. Time was passed looking ahead and trying to guess which way the road was going to go up the huge hillside. I was stopping on the hour for a quick snack and refill the water bottle. One 500ml bottle full per hour was slightly more than I needed, but better to err on that side.
The effects of altitude kicked in on a steeper section at around 3500m. Focusing on not regular, but continual breathing and avoiding over excertion were now the order of the day. This made for very slow cycling, but I suppose if I was walking uphill at this altitude, the same would apply. It was noticeable how the limiting factor was no longer my legs, but my body’s ability to absorb oxygen (ie I wasn’t fit enough!). I felt like I was at my VO2 max – and extra oxygen demand (eg from over exertion) or reduction in oxygen supply (eg drinking while cycling, a pause in breathing for a big smile at passing traffic) would be something that I’d almost have to stop pedaling to recover from. But not like the normal sensation of being at VO2 max under intense excertion – this was like hitting the limit in slow motion. Now that I couldn’t drink and cycle at the same time (with an extra breath to catch up) I started to stop on the half hour too for half a bottle of water. I was also starting to use my oxymeter when I stopped, and resting and breathing to bring the oxygen saturation level back above 90% before moving on.
I was making steady progress through the landscape dominated by short tufts of grass and huge snow capped volcano shaped mountains. I’d set a turn back time of 5pm – this would give me plenty of time to get back down the hill before sunset. It was looking increasingly likely that I’d not make it to the top of the climb by this time, but 40km and an altitude of 4400m (2000m of climb) was a good target. I achieved this just after 5, and set about finding somewhere to leave the water.
While the heat from the sun had been considerable earlier in the day, the air was cool. As the sun got lower, and I got higher, the cool air became more significant. There was also a strong tailwind which was great until I stopped, when the windchill became more and more noticeable. By the time I stopped at 4400m it felt like it was freezing. With the wind cutting through me and my hands getting numb, it was time to put on neoprene shoe covers, tights, goretex trousers and jacket, gloves and a fleecy hat under my helmet! It seemed surprisingly cold – but then I’d never been this high before (even when skiing). Being in a desert had skewed my perspective – had I been on Mont Blanc, 400m below the summit, I would have not been as surprised. Talking of Blanc, I touched my first snow since Alaska – small patches in and amongst the rocks by the road where I was hiding the water. I figured it would be a good idea to take some of the water out of each bottle in case they froze. It now looked like I’d need extra fuel for the stove to defrost them!
Camping at this altitude was becoming a less attractive option. But I couldn’t do the road to the pass in one day. Something to consider tomorrow. For now, it was time to head back down the road, 2000m of descent over 40km into this brutal headwind. Apart from the icy wind, it was a great descent – wide corners and consistent gradient. At least with the headwind I was doing a minimum amount of breaking – no worn out or overheating rims today.
About halfway down I started to thaw out a bit – I could take down the jacket hood from under my helmet which made things more comfortable. The scenery was stunning – on the way up I was thinking that I’ll take photographs on the way down. No chance – I was too cold for that now! I got to the bottom just as the sun was setting – good timing! I was considering changing my plans and starting the full ride to the pass half a day early (ie tomorrow afternoon), camping at around 3200m. But my body ached from the 7 hours of climbing and the cold of the descent. Tomorrow will definitely be a rest day!
09:41 on Monday, 24 April 2017
Stage 18, day 9 – Socaire to San Pedro de Atacama
And the answer to the big question, the one I’ve asked myself for at least the last 3 years, the question “How far south can I get?” is, after 19,000 kilometers, is the Santa Barbara cafe in the village of Socaire. So there you go! Best tasting jam and rolls ever! 🙂
The ride from where I camped to Socaire took a bit longer than expected – that’ll be 700m of climbing the map was a bit vague about. Fortunately my legs were feeling much less tired today – they seem to be finally recovering from the long climb 4 days ago! At one point during today’s climb I could hear a rumbling rushing sound. I could see the road in both directions for a mile each way – it was empty. Maybe a airplane? No, this strange sound was comming from nearby. With suprise I realised it was the sound of running water! The sound was strange because I’ve not heard it in weeks, and was not expecting it here! But this part of the Atacama is, despite the tourist billing, far from the driest place I’ve been in the past week. There appear to be boreholes that are used to provide water for living and irrigation near Socaire. There is also much more flaura and fauna – hardy bushes and grasses, beetles, the occasional fly and butterfly. There was even a small forrest of trees at Tambillos, planted in the 60’s and 70’s.
I stopped there yesterday for a break, and saw the bizarre sight of a picnic table setup for about 20 people. It was in the shade of one of the trees, and was complete with table cloth, cutlery and wine glasses with napkins. There were about a dozen people there, being entertained by a man playing a very small guitar connected to an amp. This was one of the many excursions available in this area, some unique to this area, others like viewing a sunset from a place just beyond walking distance from the town or this slightly contrived picnic. The traffic has changed from the mining traffic before Calama (eg the sulfuric acid tankers) to an army of minibuses taking people on these excursions.
Fortunately the wind was still blowing northwards, so the journey back to San Pedro de Atacama was considerably easier than yesterday’s journey south.
Big day tomorrow as I attempt the climb on the road to Argentina – the question now is: how high can I climb?
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/956715420
12:45 on Sunday, 23 April 2017
Stage 18, day 8 – San Pedro de Atacama to the Tropico de Capricornio
Done it! Crossed the Tropic of Capricorn! This means I’ve completely crossed the tropics, and crossed all of the named lines of latitude in north and south America. Very satisfying. One night south of the tropics, then back to SP de Atacama for my 19,000th kilometer!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/956715420
10:43 on Saturday, 22 April 2017
Stage 18, day 7 – Calama to San Pedro de Atacama
Today I was heading further into the Atacama desert, and climbing higher. But despite this, it didn’t feel as extreme as a few days ago. This was mainly down to the day starting in a large town, and finishing in a busy tourist destination. So 6 litres of water should be more than enough. This meant I could get rid of my spare water – and make the bike 3kg lighter as a result!
It took my legs ages to get going – looks like one rest day was not quite enough! After about 15km, the landscape opened up, and I could see the road heading off into the distance. Without trees or buildings it was very difficult to judge distances. I saw a faint line in the distance heading up to the horizon, and figured this must be the road. But it was too fine to be able to make out any black road surface – so it must be very far away. I guessed about 20 to 25 kilometers away. In the end it was closer to 30 – so I’m starting to get a feel for the size of the huge expanses of landscape, but am still underestimating.
There were no pylons lining the road today, so there was none of the access roads or any other signs of human impact on the landscape (apart from the road I was on obviously! ). There were huge expanses with no sign of water erosion, and with no sand to be blown about by the wind, had this landscape been unchanged for thousands, or even tens of thousands of years? It was the first time I’d been anywhere where I could have said that. The lack of trees or buildings or even fields made it really difficult to read the lie of the land ahead. One 10km section that looked like a plateau, was actually a steady climb! To my left for most of the day was a distant ridge of huge volcano shaped mountains, and with a cloudless sky, I could clearly see the snow covered summits. At last!
After about 60km I got to the top of the long gradual climb – 3332m, higher than I was expecting. I was also not expecting to see quite so much wildlife – short hardy bushes, a butterfly and a signpost warning of deer crossing the road! I was now on the descent down to San Pedro de Atacama, with stunning views of the Salar de Atacama – a huge wide salt flat surrounded by mountains. The soft evening sun and shaddows made for an incredible scene. I had definitely made the correct decision to head away from the coast.
After an unexpected late climb with tired legs, but another stunning descent past incredible rock formations, I finally got to San Pedro de Atacama. This will be my base for the next week as I try and claim some end of trip achievements: setting a new personal altitude, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, and maybe even another stamp in my passport!
09:44 on Thursday, 20 April 2017
Stage 18, day 6 – Crucero to Calama
To be added …
Relive link – the first 60 seconds are dramatically dull: https://www.relive.cc/view/951014472
09:46 on Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Stage 18, day 5 – KM1710 to Crucero
12:19 on Tuesday, 18 April 2017
Stage 18, day 4 – Huara to KM1710
A good distance despite the late start (finding internet access,, bringing strava diary entries up to date, messaging home, more food shopping, second breakfast, clothes wash) and a bit of a stop start day (looking for cash machine and raisins). The distance was helped with a tailwind early in the afternoon and again in the evening, and cashing in some of the height gained yesterday. Legs were a bit tired, but not too tired to push on. The last couple of days before Pedro del Atacama will have a lot of climbing – so I want to make the most of the flatter terrain I’m passing through now to build up the miles.
The bizarrest sight of the day was a landscape that looked like a cross between a plowed field and corral! No idea what it is – will have to try and look it up.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/951012776
09:22 on Monday, 17 April 2017
Stage 18, day 3- KM1951 to Huara
An awesome day – good ride, plenty of climbing and distance, big wide open desert road, amazing sunset just as I was rolling into the town I’d set as a target two days ago!
Day started off with a flat valley road as a warmup, then into the big climb of the day. Like yesterday’s it was an epic 10 mile 1000m continuous no hairpin climb. But unlike yesterday I was finishing it by 1pm instead of starting it at noon. This meant I could spend the hottest part of the day out of the sun, in a cafe, with a cool drink! After some food and more cool drink, I even had a quick snooze before getting back on the road. Like yesterday, the wind was a tailwind up the climb – keeping me nice and warm, with sweat stinging my eyes. After lunch it was a tailwind again – but I was now on the flat wide open desert, so was flying along 🙂
It didn’t last for long, changing to a crosswind, and crossing a couple of small valleys slowed me down. By 4pm I’d done almost 70k when I stopped for a break at only the second cluster of buildings of the day. With 2 hours of daylight left I was setting my sights on an 80, possibly 90km day, which with the amount of climbing (and unlike yesterday, there would be no long downhill), either would be a good result. I think that the tailwind had the biggest impact, but the coolness of the evening and the half litre of sugary cafinated coca cola certainly helped. Whatever it, I was flying! 80km came and went by, then 90, then 100!
By 7pm I was starting to tire, the wind was now a crosswind again and with the sun starting to set, it was getting a bit, well, chile. But I could see a cluster of buildings in the distance – could this be Huara? A signposting a few minutes later confirmed it was, just 6km to go! I put my gillet on, and my rear light, and started to warm down. With the increasingly intense sunset on my right, I rolled into Huara just as the street lights were coming on. The place wasn’t big – it had the feel of the trucker stops in Alaska and the Yukon. But it had a small supermarket (I had run out of rice and only had enough porridge for one breakfast! ), restaurants and a hotel – everything I needed!
12:02 on Sunday, 16 April 2017
Stage 18, day 2 – Chaca to KM1951
Being further from the coast meant that there was less haze, so more and more stars were visible at night. It also meant that night was cooler. For the first time in about three weeks I even had a bit of condensation on the inside of the flysheet. I woke up at 6:30, which after the clock change, was now before sunrise. As a result of all this it was noticably colder – “oh it’s a bit chilly” I thought to myself. (Geddit? Chilly / Chile ? )
After yesterday I was happy that the good tyre and the new wheel were compatible. This was great because it meant I could ditch the old tyre, inner tube and spare tube – saving weight that I didn’t want to carry up hills. I also did an oil change on my rear hub – this meant there were a few more things I could dump along with the other items (eg cables) that I no longer needed. The result was a lighter bike, but also a late start.
This meant that the big climb of the day – a 10 mile climb along the north side of a valley (so no shade) was done in the 38C midday sun. There was also a light tailwind, making the air feel still, so no cooling effect from my slow forward motion. I was very glad to get to the top of that one!
The traffic in Chile has been light so far, with drivers giving me enough space when they overtake. But the drivers give a more muted response to my waves. Instead of a peep or a flash of headlights i’d get in Peru, here it would usually just be a wave. This was fine, except for drivers with tinted windows, where a wave was virtually hidden. A couple of drivers of 40 ton trucks did give me more of a Peruvian wave – waving with the hand that wasn’t holding their mobile phone to the side of their head! “Hands free” means something entirely different over here. No waving with both hands, or clapping of hands above the head from the drivers of 40 ton trucks (yes, those really happened in Peru!) yet, but its early days.
Road now more sparcely populated, and some places marked on the map don’t actually exist any more! So getting water and food are more of a concern. I’ve moved from carrying upto 5 litres of water (what I can get buy on for a day) to carying a minimum of 5 litres. This means I can go for two nights and a day, or two days and a night before I run out. The extra water is extra weight to carry up the hills, but it is worth it for the peace of mind. Water that is not fit for drinking is more readily available – so I’m glad to have my water filter and purification gear!
Towards the end of the day there was an immense 21km (14 mile) downhill – again traversing the valley side, so not a single hairpin bend! As with yesterday, this was the south side of a valley, and with the sun getting lower there was loads of cold shade. I put my gillet on, but despite this, I needed a couple of coffees at the bottom and some food to warm up!
The day finished with a ride along a flat valley bottom, reducing the distance that I’d have to do tomorrow to get to Huara, the next town of any size. I found a spot to camp just as it was getting dark. It took a while to put the tent up because of the wind blowing along the valley. A wind which died down about an hour later! But the sky was clear, and despite the high valley sides, I got another great view of the stars!
15:54 on Saturday, 15 April 2017
Stage 18, day 1 – Arica to Chaca
Crossing into Chile was like crossing into Switzerland. Not just the smooth road or that most of the vehicles were private cars (no crazy three wheeled taxis!). I thought that my bike was reasonably well set up for the dark from a visibility perspective – the bright light on my helmet, large red reflector on the rack and reflective patches on the panniers. So I was suprised when a car pulled in to the side ahead of me, not to take a photo but to give me a fluorescent vest! As I got into Arica, the lack of car horns was almost sureal – like a crowd of people observing a minutes silence. I was now approaching the centre of Arica, going along a dual carriageway by the sea, when the vehicle just ahead of me, and the one in the outside lane gently slowed to a stop, so I did too. What was going on? There were no traffic lights or traffic police, and the road ahead was clear. Then I noticed a pedestrian crossing painted on the road, with someone on the pavement patiently waiting to cross. I’d seen nothing like this in Peru! I got to the hostel near the centre of Arica, and found yet another difference with Peru – cost. The hostel was very clean, well decorated and had a good atmosphere – but a room was also three times the price of the basic hotel I’d stayed in the night before in the centre of Tacna!
International boundaries can appear to be just arbitrary lines on a map, but different history, traditions, laws and government on either side of the line can result in huge differences (despite a shared language). Talking of history, I felt a bit ashamed to know nothing about heroes from Chilean history. The first two Chileans I chatted with, the border agent and the hostel warden, on finding out I was from Scotland, they replied with “ah Scotland – William Wallace!”. It’s easy to mock the film, or dismiss it because of it’s nationalist association, but it’s brought a bit of Scottish history to a wide audience in a way that has clearly struck a chord. A surprising number of people here treat the man as if he was a national hero of their country. Unfortunately the only person I know from Chilean history was a brutal dictator – I’ve got a feeling that “Ah Chile – Augusto Pinochet!” might not be the right thing to say. The other thing that suprised me was a two hour time difference. But I can now make the most of the daylight without getting up at 5am – yay!
Arica – pedestrian precinct, square surrounded by cafes – much more like Jersey than anywhere else. On the second evening I was having a meal at one of the cafes – I could easily have been at the Royal Yacht looking out over the weighbridge square. I chatted with some German tourists on a 3 week holiday. They had traveled up from Patagonia, and agreed with my observations – though to them, Arica was cheaper than the rest of Chile. Maybe just as well I’m not spending 2-3 months here! They said that Chile had a reputation as a good country for Europeans on their first visit to South America. I could see how that made sense, and for the same reasons it made for a good final country of my trip before returning to Jersey.
The only problem with Arica was my timing – it was Easter Friday, and everywhere was closed. This included the office for the courier that was taking my spare rim from Jersey to Arica. I would have to wait until Tuesday before I had any chance of collecting it. With only 2 weeks left, 3 days was too long. Fortunately the wheel from Tacna was working well, though the bearings were done up a bit too tight for my liking.
Another difference with Chile was the wall sockets – they have French style sockets rather than the American style sockets used in every other country I’ve been through. But the hostel had a PC, so I was able to charge everything up from it’s USB ports. I also used it to work out the total distance cycled so far: 18,160km. Which means I’ve need to cycle 1040km to reach 12,000 miles. Possible, but will be a lot of cycling with a minimum amount of resting. I also booked my return flight, managed to fit my existing super slick, puncture resistant front tyre to the new rim, and caught up on diary, emails and messaging. I also had a wander around the centre of Arica and tried to eat loads – pizza, fresh fruit juice and milk shakes, cakes – even a salad! There were other people milling about – tourists wandering around without any apparent urgency or purpose. It looked a bit strange – possibly because it seemed like all the people I’d seen since Lima were either working, standing chatting or sitting down.
As has happened before (eg Lima) a rest day became a rest day and a half. So Stage 18 got off to a late start on Saturday, but it was good to be moving again. It was also good to be riding in the relative coolness of late afternoon / early evening. The road went inland, the furthest I’d been from the coast for a while. As it did so, the scenery changed – from the small gullies that the road snaked in and out of to large valleys and long hillsides. The detail of the rock and the patterns in the sand left by the wind were now lost on the far slopes. There was still a complete lack of vegitation away from the dried up river beds, so faint rocky out crops were still visible, surrounded by faint lines of wind sculpted sand. In the soft evening light from the low sun, the impression was of a hillside draped in a very thin sand coloured silk.
The road climbed gently up the valley side, up to around 500m – the highest I’d been for a while. At the top there were some huge abstract statues, with a wide flat desert plain behind. I thought that this looked worth stopping off for a photograph. The only problem was that someone had parked their car beside one of the statues – spoiling the shot. Numpty! What were they thinking? Not of me, obviously. There was a family nearby – the only other people there, so tye car must be theirs. I called out to them and said their car was in the way for a photo. They thought I was looking for someone to take a photo. Either way, they came back, took some photos of me and of them with my bike, then moved the car and carried on with their wander around the other statues.
The road then dropped back down to another valley. Like the climb, it was one big long straight road crossing the side of a valley. But this time I was going into the wind, which was great because it helped slow me, so I didn’t have to brake as much (saving the rims!). But I was getting cold – especially in the shade – I even stopped to put my gillet on. At the bottom I found a spot with some bushes (!) to camp behind.
13:13 on Thursday, 13 April 2017
Stage 17, day 13 – La Yarada (Peru) to Arica (Chile!)
The day started off with a quick trip to the supermarket to top up on the extras that add a bit of flavour and texture to my camping meals, and are harder to come by in smaller shops: walnuts, rasins, parmesan cheese and sachets of instant caramel coffee (great for porridge!).
With still no sign of bike retailers in the centre, I asked a taxi driver if he could help. He took me to an iron mongers market which included a couple of units (bigger than a stall, smaller than a shop) that sold bike bits. One of them sold complete 20inch wheels with rims any colour you wanted, as long as it was yellow! Exactly what I was looking for – though not so sure about the colour. But it looked like it would fit, and only cost a tenner. With the wheel sorted, it was time to get back to the bike. Fortunately the market was near the bus terminus! After a bit of confusion at the bus terminus, including a lady insisting that I go on her bus, and then wanting to charge me 20sols (it cost 3 sols yesterday) . I’ve no idea where that bus went (Chile?) but I eventually got on a bus that took me back to the police station where my bike was.
I fitted the wheel, and despite the huge clown tyre that came with it (the mud guard had to be moved out as far as it could go) it worked! Back on the road by 1pm – the broken rim had cost me just less than a day. Yay!
The main road to Chile went on a detour along two sides of a triangle, with Tacna at the apex. I was keen to try and cut out as much of this detour as possible, and google maps indicated a route along a couple of more minor roads. But the problem was finding the start of this short cut. An obvious turning wasn’t it, and buy the time I realised I’d missed the correct turning, it wasn’t worth going back. Besides, if I’d missed the correct turning, that meant that it must just have been a rough track. There was also another chance to cut across up ahead, so I descided to take that. This next turning was a rough single track, but not too rough, and not as rough as the likes of the Dalton highway. There was also a car comming the other way, so this must go somewhere surely? As I bumped along this stoney sandy track, I was glad to have a new front wheel – not having to worry about each bump it was being subjected to, as I had been for the last 1500 miles with the old wheel! But the track was getting less stoney and more sandy.
When I got to the left turn to get onto the main road to Chile, there was only a sandy track – no use for a bike. I carried on and got to a dead end – where had that car come from? I found some motor bike tracks across the sand – better than the previous left turn, but not by much. I rode along these motor bike tracks – they were generally good because the sand was packed down, not in drifts, but not on the corners, where the sand was all churned up. This was now the roughest, smallest and most extreme road/track/path of the trip so far! I would have turned back, but I knew the main road was not far away – surely if I just keep going I’ll get there. I was now glad to have such a fat tyre at the front – the slim tyre on my old wheel would have just cut into the sand and got stuck!
Apart from a couple of short sections where the sand was too soft and I had to push the bike, the sandy path was becoming a stoney track, and I could see vehicles speeding along the main road just ahead. I got back onto the main road, and was greeted by kilometer marker 1314. This meant that I was now back on the Pan American Highway, and that was how far I was from Lima. Add that to the first KM I saw when I joined the Panamerican Highway after Ecuador (1034) means that I’ve traveled at least 2400 km, or 1500 miles in just over a month in Peru. Phew – thats a lot – Peru is huge!
Shortly after that I saw my first signpost mentioning the border with Chile – only 20km to go! The sun was getting low, but with the border so close, I was going to be in Chile today! By the time I’d reached the border and cleared Peruvian and Chilean border control it was dark. While I wasn’t comfortable cycling in the dark, I also wasn’t comfortable wild camping so close to an international border. But the road was good, and it was only 10 miles to Arica, the end of stage 17, so I descided to push on. There was one problem with the new wheel – no dynamo hub meant no front light. But I had my head torch, which I managed to fix to the front of the bike, and that would do.
As I left the customs area there were lots of thoughts in my head. I had actually made it to Chile! This meant that I’d managed to cross Peru, a big achievement. It also meant that I was now in my destination country, with enough time to get to the Atacama desert. I’d actually mamaged to cycle from Alaska to Chile! Then I saw a kilometer marker – 2080 kilometers. This was the distance to Santiago, the goal I’d set in Cali while waiting for my shoulder to heal. After slower progress getting back up to fitness in Ecuador, and the impact of the floods in northern Peru, I had realised I wasn’t going to get to Santiago by bike. But 2000km, if I did 100km per day, that would be 20 days – the 4th of May – I could do that? No – I was at my limit doing 80km per day – that would be 25 days, realistically it would take me a month to get to Santiago from here.
This was disappointing, and I realised that every kilometer there would be a reminder of this. What would have been a great motivator, like beeing a kid with an advent calendar counting down the days to xmas, was going to be a reminder of a goal not met. But if I’d wanted to avoid disappointment like this, I shouldn’t have embarked on a trip at several orders of magnitude greater than anything I’d done before. If I’d played it safe and stayed in Jersey, not started this big ride, I’d have missed out on all the experiences and all that I’d acheived. Having delt with the disappointment, I carried on towards to glow of Arica.
Arica, in Chile. Yay!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/941174145
08:32 on Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Stage 17, day 12 – Ite to Yarada
After a slow couple of hours with headwind, hills & tired legs, I finally picked up a bit more speed. Had done 60km by about 2pm, on track to get to the border 50km away, then my front rim finally died 😦 Tried to epoxy glue it, but that wasn’t working – it needed 12 hours to get to full strength, and even then there was no guarantee it would work.
Fortunately where I’d stopped there was a police station and a bus stop. Exactly what I needed – a safe place to leave my bike & gear, and transport to the nearest city. I got to Tacna (about 20km away) by 5pm, and made my way from the bus station to the city centre, looking for a bike shop – or even a toy shop that sold bikes. Also looking for somewhere to stay, somewhere to eat and after over a month in the country, this might be my chance to finally get an elusive Peruvian flag!
By the end of the evening I’d been successful with everything (even the flag!) – except finding a bike shop. Plenty of Dentists, opticians, arcades selling clothes and tat – even dog beauty parlours! But no bike shops. If I found nothing tomorrow, I could get a bus to Arica in Chile, just across the border, and collect the spare rim that Sue had sent out. That would take more time – especially with places being closed over the Easter weekend that started the day after tomorrow – and with only a couple of weeks left, each day off the bike was more significant. Fingers crossed I can find something tomorrow!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/939627226
09:21 on Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Stage 17, day 11 – KM199 to Ite
Day got off to a good start – fresh legs and light winds made the valleys and ridges feel like more down than up. The front wheel also appears to be holding up, so I tentatively put the elbow protectors back on the pannier.
I got to Ilo in good time, and topped up water and eggs, and after the excellent bakers in Mollendo, I tried to look for one in Ilo. But I had no luck – Ilo just doesn’t appear to have any bakers – good or bad. At one point I stopped to get my bearings and send a message to Sue (last night’s camp spot had no mobile signal). She’d messaged me to say that the spare rim for the front wheel was now on its way to Arica – very reassuring news! I was near a central square and I could hear a crowd and speaches were being made. In the square, many had flags, but they were not the Peruvian national flag, and the tone of the speaches were more of a passionate call for action, than a dignified celebration of the past. It had the feel of a political rally or a protest. Sure enough, as I left the square, the road was lined on both sides with riot police. They were relaxed – but obviously someone was expecting things to kick off!
I eventually found my way out of Ilo, and spent the rest of the day pushing into a headwind. The road was largly straight and undulating – much more open than 24 hours ago. I wanted to do 100km again, but after faffing around in Ilo and with the headwind, that wasn’t going to happen before sunset. I was now on the road to Tacna – all the signs pointed to it, and the kilometer markers were counting down the distance. Because of this, the motivational saying of the afternoon became “C-mon, Tacna Tacna Tanca!” in 2Unlimited style with a touch of a cockney accent.
The lack of sharp corners, and the gental undulating road, together with the sun getting lower behind me made it easy to pick out the kilometer markers up ahead. When I was passing KM101, I could see KM100 at the bottom of the next dip, and on the next bend after that, see KM99. It felt like I was taking big huge (and slow) one kilometer strides across the landscape!
On approaching Ita, the 90 kilometer mark, and about a quarter of an hour before the sun set, I was looking for somewhere to stay when I saw a sign for a campsite! But unlike the one before Lima, all the facilities were closed – and I really wanted a cool sugary drink to finish off the ride. I also needed some more fuel for the stove, so went back to the main road. Shortly before I got to the petrol station I passed what looked like a mini family holiday resort – but like the campsite, it looked very closed. I guess this isn’t the holiday season. I got my drink and fuel, and asked about a hotel. I was directed back to the holiday resort – which now that it was dark was all lit up. So I went back to ask the security guard if there was a room (if not, a place to camp). After making a call he said yes, and took me to a low curved building at the far end of the park that had a few rooms. It had the look of some where very modern and fairly luxurious – but bizarrely there was no one else there. No one at reception, and other guests. The room was a good price – so here I am not just the only guest, but the only person in this hotel!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/938478814
10:28 on Monday, 10 April 2017
Stage 17, day 10 – Mollendo to KM199
Mollendo had everything I needed – good convenience shop, good bakers, Chinese restaurant – all a stones throw from a cheap but adequate hotel. The guy who ran the hotel also ran an Iron mongers downstairs – where I got some epoxy resin glue to patch up my front wheel. It’s not pretty, but after surviving a day, it gives me more confidence that I’ll make it to Arica, where hopefully I can replace the wheel.
Out of Mollendo, it was beautiful long flat straight new road along the coast for the for most of the first 60km. With hardly any wind – woo hoo! Then it was more of yesterday’s good road, but in and out of the valleys, up and down over the ridges. After yesterday’s climbing, it was hard work today. But I got 100km done – post Lima average now back over 80km per day.
I stopped just after sunset (5:45!) and found a spot to camp. It’s a full moon tonight – watching it rise and light up my camping spot was very special. Due to the lack of wind I don’t need to bother with the fly sheet – so I can lie back and look up at the stars!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/937852181
08:59 on Sunday, 9 April 2017
Stage 17, day 9 – KM9 to Mollendo
A beautiful road through the most sparely populated countryside so far in South America. The day started near the coast with the occasional house and a fishing hamlet. After the road left the coast, there was nothing for 60km (40 miles). The fishing hamlet had a couple of stalls by the main road, but they were closed. There were a couple of guys chatting outside a building that looked like it could be a restaurant, so I asked them for some water. It turned out to be the home of one of them. I’m glad I did ask then, because when I would have run out, it was hours away from the nearest source of water!
The road was great – new all the way – but none of it seemed to be flat or straight! But none of the corners were sharp, or the hills steep. Perfect for trucks – and for a cycle tourist on a heavy bike wanting to keep braking to a minimum.
A curious thing was the number of large signs telling people “Do not destroy vegetation” and to “avoid deforestation”. The number of signs and the complete lack of vegitation (not even a hardy cactus) made me wonder if someone was taking the piss. But later in the day, on a hillside of redish sand strewn with redish rocks – making it look not unlike the surface of mars – I saw another sign warning to not destroy the vegitation. But beside this sign was an actual tree! A skinny one, about the same hight as me, but actual vegitation!
Despite a six egg omelette and double rice last night and double porridge for breakfast, I was feeling hungry by eleven. Fortunately I had 3 bananas and three packets of buiscuits, but it was unusual to feel hungry before 12. Mental note made to eat even more this evening!
16:02 on Saturday, 8 April 2017
Stage 17, day 8 – Camana to KM9
A short day – not entirely a rest day, but enough cycling to keep progressing, and keep the life of a fugitive – never two nights in the same town to stay one step ahead of the law! Progress, though not enough to stay above my planning target of 80km per day. A couple of 90km days will restore that. Hoping that rested legs will find that easy! What was easy was setting up camp – normally, stopping at 6, it wouldn’t be until after 8, or even 9 before I got dinner started. This evening the stove was lit by 7:30, and food was cooked, eaten and pots washed and packed away by 8:30! What’s more I didn’t fall asleep straight after finishing eating. A full day’s cycling really tires you out!
Earlier in the day I got done pretty much everything I needed to do – strava updates, shave, topup phone credit, charge up all the rechargeable gadgets and batteries and go through my stuff with the attitude of “If I’ve not used this in the last few months, will I need it in the next 3 weeks? I managed to throw out a fair amount, though my bags didn’t feel much lighter afterwards!!
Leaving Camana I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect next regarding the road. The Panamerican Highway heads inland and up to Arequipa up at over 2000m above sea level while according to the map, the coast road changes to an unsurfaced road, then a 4WD track, then a path. But according to Google maps, there is a coast road all the way to Chile, and as well as staying lower, it knocks 100km off the route via Arequipa. Obviously given time constraints, the latter is prefered. I got to the junction where the Panamerican Highway turbs toward Arequipa and was relieved to find that not only was there a surfaced road, but it was a lovely brand new road. A new road also means a reset to the kilometer markers – hence the KM9 in the title of this entry!
At the start was a signpost to a couple of places – one 90km away, the other 100km away. These looked like good targets for tomorrow. As I was going along, enjoying the new road surface and the clear shoulder, the thought occurred to me – what if its like this all the way to the next and place, 90km away? A new road might be fine to travel along, but does new mean none of the dilapidated shacks where I get water from? And I only had 3.5 litres on me – enough for dinner, breakfast and a couple of hours cycling – but not 90km! If the worst does happen, I shouldn’t have to wait too long at theside of the road holding up an empty water bottle before someone stops and helps. But I’d prefer to be prepared and avoid that. It’s a good example of the remoteness of this area, and how easy it could be to be unprepared.
09:21 on Friday, 7 April 2017
Stage 17, day 7 – Pescadadores to Camana
The twisting hilly coast road with interesting weather beaten rock strata continued. Tiring, but still plenty worthy of photo stops. Now on my tenth day since my last rest day in Lima, and the legs are tiring. I would have had a rest day today, but there is absolutely nothing here, and with the town of Camana one day away with more places to stay, shops, restaurants and internet access, I should really push on. I was also keen to pass the 800km marker – 500 miles since Lima, and the midpoint of Stage 17!
As well as kilometer marker 800 being significant, I also attached importance to other kilometer markers to give me something to count down to and reflect on the progress since the last one. This is partly down to the lack of towns and villages in this remote part of Peru – in todays 80km, I only passed through one village! It is also down to them being a sign of progress as I wearily push on into the wind. The hundereds (600,700,800 etc) are obvious ones, but I would also give a “yay!” and a smile at the ’99s (today this was 799 – the last of the seven hundereds), a three of a kind (777 today) and a straight (789 today – the last possible one!). Other kilometer markers might have other associations – for example today’s km808, as in 808 State, a favourite band on mine. Miraculously this prompted just enough bars from one of their tracks to create an earworm I actually liked. For what seems like the best part of a week my subconscious has dished up an infinite loop of either: 1) the Madonna song with Spanish references (which kind of makes sense given the lacal language), 2) snippets of Madness’ Night Boat To Cairo – but not enough to enjoy (possibly from all the sand, or the snippets “as he reaches his last half mile” or “no more wind in his hair” – possibly telling of my current desire to get to the end or at least to a place without wind!) and 3) the hugely annoying theme tune to the 60’s Pink Panther cartoon (I have absolutely no explanation for that!)
After lots of subtle beauty in the remote desert landscapes, Peru finally (!) came up with a “wow!” view – possibly the best, or at least most unexpected, of the trip so far. I think what made it so dramatic was the huge amount going on in one place. The scene included: a huge flat valley with a desert on one side and bare rock on the other (contrasting blue-gray rocks and orange-brown rock), in the middle was a village, trees and fields of crops, irrigated by the wide river that flowed into the sea, with waves crashing on a stoney beach! There was more than that – way down in the river I could just make out people fishing with nets, and there was white smoke in the air – rising from burning crop stubble. I couldn’t fit it all into one photo, so took over a dozen to stitch together when I get back to Jersey.
After mentioning the bike’s ware and tare yesterday, today I noticed a new noise comming from the from the front wheel (the one with the cracked rim). New noises on a bike are never a good thing – usually a sign of something comming loose, or having work out or broken. And sure enough, after just over 2000km, a small section of rim is starting to come away, just at the join. The wheel is still running OK, and the tyre seems unaffected, but the front brake is now for emergencies only! With this in mind I thought it best to tighten up the rear brake to make it a bit more effective. I adjusted it and squeezed the lever to make sure the adjustment had had the desired effect. As I was doing this, with almost, but most definitely not, comic timing, the rear brake cable snapped! I now had effectively no brakes. I should have a spare cable – or had I used it already and not replaced it?? No cable, and I was stuck. Much to my releif I had a spare cable, and didn’t have any problems fitting it. Phew!
As for myself, I’m in much better shape (apart from tiredness!). My left knee feels completely better – which is great news. I was concerned that I’d need to take some time off to rest it. But no, an injury brought on by pushing too hard into the wind has recovered while continuing to cycle into the wind. Good work body!
After the 40km mark, the valley view, the achievement of reaching 800km and the disappointment of the worsening rim and the breaking brake, the afternoon was just one big slog – seemingly endless climbing and the headwind picked up too. But I eventually made it to Camana, just as the sun was setting. After spending £5 on five nights accommodation (4 camping and a night in a cheap hostel), it was time to find the fanciest hotel in town for a bit of luxury and a shower!
Relive link – another wriggly one: https://www.relive.cc/view/932287910
09:45 on Thursday, 6 April 2017
Stage 17, day 6 – KM676 to Pescadores
Last night it took ages to set the tent up – the spot I initially chose was a bad one for wind. I found a better spot, but it wasnt very level. The result was I only got 6 hours sleep, so was tired and achey when I got up. But my knee continues to improve which is good news. The ware and tare on the bike is becomming obvious. As well as the cracked front rim, the chain is stretching, the brake cables are rusting, and the front shocks are, well, shocking! It (and me) just needs to hold out for another 4 weeks!
The headwind was still there, but had eased off, down to about a force 3. Apologies to all you non sea farers about using the Beaufort Scale rather than more conventional units of speed. I’ve got the ability to measure the other physical challenges – distance, altitude, temperature, amount climbed – but I didn’t think to bring an anemometer to measue the current physical challenge! While translating the Beaufort scale into mph is a bit vague, it is well suited to my situation as it measures tge effect of wind (apearance of waves, ease of walking etc).
Today, despite being tired, the going started faster. This was down to a reduced headwind. It’s still there, but now down to a force 3. This was confirmed by the smaller waves with no breaking crests (white horses) out at sea. I was making good progress – similar average speed to yesterday, but including stops!
But this didn’t last long – the landscape changed with the ground sloping steeper into the sea. This forced the road closer to the sea, except for where there were cliffs, where it had to go inland to go over them. Yes, the wind had been replaced by hills! But the landscape was also more spectacular – I was cycling along looking at a remarkable landscape, littered with different kinds of rocks. Everything from solid rock to sandstone to strata of sand and stones (from pebbles to bolders), as well as wind deposited sand. The contrast of the sight, sound, and occasional smell, of the waves crashing into surf, and the surf crashing into the rocks below on my right contrasted sharply with the static dry sand and rock on my left. Though there were signs that over time, the sand and rock were far from static, being shaped by the forces of wind and gravity (and maybe even the very occasional rain!).
While the dryness here is making for a very sparely populated region, and so making supplies of food and water unpredictable, it’s great for camping! No rain means that the tent can be set up with greater ease. That, and the lack of condensation or any dampness means it can be packed away quickly. The coolness at night and the lack of humidity makes for a more comfortable nights sleep, and together with the morning sunshine makes airing bedding very quick and easy. But the biggest convenience is the lack of bugs and bears! No need to immediately put on bug spray and change into long sleeves and trousers. I can sit in the tent with food cooking on the stove outside, making rare use of the ties to hold the doors wide open! I don’t need to keep it closed to keep the tent a mozzie free zone. No bears (this must be “dryer” rather than “darker” Peru) obviously means I don’t have to hide my food. So far the only pest (other than dogs during the day) was a wee mouse that visited one night. After that I try to keep food in soft packaging in the tent, but its not as if the place is overrun by them.
I’ve now passed three quarters of the way through Peru, and today I’ll pass the midpoint of Stage 17! Tomorrow I’m heading for Camana – the biggest town since Nazca – for a night in a hotel. While the camping is great, I do need a shower and a shave!
Relive link – with the proximity of the sea and all the turns at the end, one of the better ones: https://www.relive.cc/view/931190512
09:50 on Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Stage 17, day 5 – Atiquipa to KM676
Started off fixing yesterday’s puncture. The dirty water bag of my water filter makes a great substitute for a sink/bucket in finding a slow puncture. At the same time I filtered and purified the water I found by the road 2 days ago.
As for supplies I had enough for the next 24 hours – except for lunch (no buiscuits!) and water. The only other thing I needed was more change. I had one 10 Sol note, some coins and four 100 sol notes (about 4x £25). So not short of cash, but short of usable cash. Petrol stations usualy dealt in large amounts of cash, so they could provide change, as could a hotel if I was paying for a room. But there hadn’t been much of either since Nazca – only the small cafes, and they would have trouble with a 20 sol note. So not being able to buy food and water from the only reliably occurring outlets would be a problem once my change had been used up – probably tomorrow!
After about 10k I saw a sign with a place name and a distance. As these are not very commin in Peru, when you do see one, the place must be pretty important! In this case it was a place called Chala. But before I got there my back tyre went soft – a pain, but I was glad I’d fixed the spare inner tube earlier. I stopped to change the innertube by a sandy beach. When I was done with the bike, I took my shoes off and went down to the sea. I hadn’t been in the Pacific Ocean since my attempt at surfing in El Salvador. I wasn’t sure what the temperature of the water was – but I was definitely expecting something warmer than what it was! So it was just a paddle – a swim will have to wait for another time.
I got to Chala, and it was indeed a big place (for these parts). The first sign of this was a Tuk-tuk. There had been plenty of these in Nazca, but none on the road since then, or at any of the places along the way. The first hotel was about 16km from where I’d camped last night. It would have been really good to have got this far yesterday – as well as making it 90km (my current target average – a target that is getting increasingly moving from realistic to aspirational!) I could have had a shower to wash out all the sand. I found a petrol station and converted on of the 100 sol notes to 5×20 sols. At another I got water and biscuits, and some more change. They also had cartons of chocolate milk in the fridge – a current treat – so I had one of those too! Chala even had a couple of mini markets (like a UK corner shop) where I stocked up on a few other provisions that I was running low on. It was 1pm by the time all this was done – so no 100km today – even 80km was looking unlikely.
In the past few days a lot of the people I’ve met have, on hearing that I’m from Scotland, told me what they associate with Scotland. The most common is Whisky (“Buchanan’s” and “Something Special” being two of the more common blends appearing in the super markets). A close second is “William Wallace” – obviously from the film. Interestingly it’s the man himself who gets mentioned rather than Mel Gibson or Braveheart.
Away from the metropolis of Chala (pop less than 2000) it was back to the strip of undulating barren land between the hills on the left and the sea on the right, and the kilometer posts slowly ticking by. KM650 was of note because I think it is halfway between Lima and Chile. Still a long way to Chile, but psychologically it’s good to be closer to Chile than Lima. The next point of note is KM700 – I think this is three quarters of the way through Peru. Peru is a big country – so it’ll be good to have so much of it behind me.
As I’m heading south and east, the sun is setting earlier and earlier. Today was a good sunset – at 17:55 – the first time it has set before 6pm for me. The autumn nights are drawing in!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/930007243?r=ride
09:41 on Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Stage 17, day 4 – km 525 to Atiquipa
Missed the 90km target and didn’t even manage 80km! Main culprits were a puncture first thing, headwinds most of the day and a brutal section just after km572 with loads of sand being blown around by a strong wind. But made it to 600km marker (since Lima) which means I’ve just done my 1000th mile in Peru. Peru is H U G E ! Knee feeling a bit better – but not 100% yet. Now 700km from Chile- would be great to be there before the end of next week. More words, photos and video when I’m back on WiFi!
07:36 on Monday, 3 April 2017
Stage 17, day 3 – Nazca to km525
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/927724066
11:41 on Sunday, 2 April 2017
Stage 17, day 2 – Palpa to Nazca
Was late getting on the road. After not a great night’s sleep and feeling achey from the day before, it took ages (4.5 hours!) to get everything done (get up, dressed, washed, chat with Sue, find a shop to buy milk, eggs, rice, water, find a spot to cook breakfast, cook and eat breakfast, wash up, get more petrol for the stove, fix yesterday’s double puncture, pack up, load bike up, suncream, photo).
I was originally hoping to do another 100km, but I’d left too late to manage that. The next town is Nasca, about 45km down the road. First thing in the morning I was thinking of getting there about mid day, and was weighing up whether to take some time out to take a sightseeing flight over the Nazca Lines, or push onto Chile.
After an hour it was obvious that yesterday had been tougher than I thought. My legs weren’t sore, but they were tired and a bit stiff. My arms were surprisingly tired – that must have been from the extra effort to keep the bike going straight in the crosswind. After about 20km in the river valley, there was a short (3km) climb up onto a wide, slightly undulating, desert plain – and into a headwind! Not as strong as yesterday, and there was no sand being whipped up. The wind was slightly cool, and there was a highlevel haze that was blocking out the sun. Both of these made for a suprisingly comfortable change from being burnt and scorched, with the temperature down to a relatively nippy 28C. But I had no speed – with no power in the legs, and my brain too tired to drive them (to up the pace, or keep a pace going for the next x minutes) the best I could manage was to not stop.
Not only was slow progress better than no progress, but a stop for a few minutes would turn into 10-15 minutes, and a after a few of those an hour would be lost! So my legs settled into a slow weary autopilot, while my mind occupied itself with thoughts about stopping. What will be at my next stop? Desert? Cafe? Petrol Station? Shop? Will I stop after a certain distance (if so, how far?) or after a certain time (if so, how long?). All the while my legs kept turning – a quite remarkable matter over mind! What was certain now, was I wouldn’t get to Nazca until later in the afternoon, so there’d be no time for a sightseeing flight.
It was looking increasingly likely that Nazca was going to be today’s destination. This was disappointing as I was hoping to keep my average of 100km per day since Lima going. Then it occurred to me that my average distance per day this trip over non mountainous terrain was 80km per day, and as I’d just done 400km in four days, if i did zero miles today, I’d be on an average of 80km per day for five days. Looking at it this way, anything I did today would be a bonus! I had finally adjusted my expectations to match my ability today! I could now relax a bit more and enjoy the ride. I was also happy that despite comming to the end of my time off, I was still giving it my all, and making the most of it. There’d be no looking back and wondering “could I have tried any harder?”.
I carried on into the headwind, enjoying the slight downhills that were just steep enough that I didn’t need to pedal (but only just!). I made it to Nazca by late afternoon. The earlier sounds of aircraft had gone – I figured the cooling haze had grounded them. The idea of a sightseeing flight had now been in my head for long enough that I wanted to do it. There had been many sights that I’d missed because they were too far off route – but with this one I was going right past the airport! Maybe first thing tomorrow. In the end, the distance covered today was 50km – spot on a half day! Time for an early night & good sleep.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/925905033
09:56 on Saturday, 1 April 2017
Stage 17, day 1 – Ica to Palpa
Oh that was a tough one! Gone is the super slick Lima-Pisco road, gone is the cooling early morning mist, gone is the tailwind, gone was the spring in my legs, gone was the air from my rear tyre! I was a bit later on the road than I’d hoped – mainly a bit knackered from the past couple of days, but also because I had to have another one of the exceptional Mango milkshakes served in the restaurant downstairs.
My departure from the chilled out dune surfing resort was marred by being chased aggressively by a couple dogs. I realy have had it with dogs and their chase reflex. Each time I edge closer to getting some pepper spray / a taser / small firearm. Until then it’ll continue to be stopping and shouting at them – easy, but doesn’t have a deterrent or training effect.
By late morning I’d had the puncture, and wasn’t making great progress. I wanted to get further than Palpa, marked on the map as 92km from Ica, but knew that Nascar (142km) wasn’t going to happen today. The road wasnt great either- now a single lane each way of heat damaged and poorly repaired tarmac with a patchy shoulder. I tried to stay on the road as much as possible to reduce the chance of a puncture from tyre debris, but when there’s a truck or bus passing you in both directions, size wins out, and shoulder it is.
The road continued inland, and into a headwind that was getting stronger the further I got into the desert. It’s hard to guage how strong the wind was (an anemometer is one of the few things I didn’t pack!) but going by the beaufort scale, it felt like a force 7, or about 30-40mph. This was certainly keeping me cool despite the mid day sun and air temperature of 35C. I was having none of the heat problems from yesterday – though I was also not getting very far. A clasic case of be careful what you wish for!
After a while the road curved and i was now heading due east, and the wind changed to become a southerly. While the crosswind was a welcome change, and not so tiring for my legs, the concentration and effort required to keep the bike going in a straight line had the same slowing down effect. But the wind was also picking up sand and blowing it across the road. Usually at a low level which wasn’t a problem, but often enough at head height to be a problem. Sand was getting everywhere – nose, hair, right ear, eyes, arms – recently reapplied suncream was proving very adept at catching sand. At least it wasn’t a sandstorm – i could see one of those in the distance on my left.
By 16:30 the wind eased off, and the sand stopped flying – so I could take off the protective glasses and cloth, and concentrate on picking up some speed – I still had almost 30km to go to get to the next town. By 17:30 i had only 9km to go – so stopped for a quick Inca Kola break. But this 9km included a 3km climb – not fair after the wind! I got to km394 where Palpa was meant to be, but it was a village called Rio Grande! The maps and sigbs were all wrong – Palpa was 6km away (and another, all be it smaller, climb) and it was now dark! I’m not a fan of touring in the dark, but I’ve had worse on this trip – at least it was warm and dry.
Eventually got to Palpa, and a hotel just beside the 400 kilometer marker! I didn’t appreciate the extra distance at the end of a tough day – but it took me up over 100km, which has kept my average daily distance since Lima of 100km per day!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/924092637
08:47 on Friday, 31 March 2017
Stage 16, day 12 – Nuevo Canete to Ica
An almost perfect day – on the road before 9, got to Ica, the end of Stage 16 by 5pm. Took a detour at the end to a wee resort surrounded by big sand dunes. A north westerly breeze helped with the average speed – but not with cooling. Around 1pm I was heading south east, and the breeze felt like it was keeping the air still around me – esp now that the sun was out and the temperature was in the high 30’s (down to 37C by 3pm)! Despite going at a good speed, I still took time to stop and take photos. All in all, a great day – I even picked up a gong! I hope I’m not too pooped tomorrow!!!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/922560510
09:43 on Thursday, 30 March 2017
Stage 16, day 11 – Punta Hermosa to Nuevo Canete
No adventures, no interesting people and no amazing scenery – just a good solid 80 miles. It’s great what you can do after a day and a half off, a good meal the night before (2 pasta main courses), a crosswind thats got a bit of a tail wind in it, weather that’s warm but not too hot and a good reasonably flat road! If I wasnt a bit short of sleep it could have been more.
My eyes were strugling with the sunlight when I set off, despite a bit of haze. It took me a while to work out why – I’m wearing a new top – straight out the packet and super white! A few days of dust and sweat should sort that out. I’m also wearing a new pair of shorts – I feel like I’m starting a new term at school with a new uniform! The brightness became less of a problem as the sun rose higher. I’m only 13 degrees south, but am already noticing the effects of being in the southern hemisphere. Today it was the relief of the shadow of my head on my new white tshirt. But I’m also noticing the increased sun on the back of my neck and shoulders, and above my knees.
Getting past the beach resorts, also meant the end of the huge floodlit advertising billboards. Impressive as they were – in some cases three dimensional – the adverts or products didn’t appeal to me. I could choose a life of vitamin water, breath freshener, icecreams, jewelry, family holiday homes by the sea, cocktail mixers, designer clothing, food supplements (to make your kids smarter, and you sexier), cars, beach restorts . . . but I’d rather choose something else. Actually there was one exception – I’d quite happily choose the appropriately named Alaska fruit yogurt ice lollies – but i could leave the rest.
The other thing that was heavily advertised, but not on billboards was Inka Kola. South of Lima appears to be even more Inka Kola crazy than north of Lima. I passed a row of 14 cafes, 12 of them were branded with Inka Kola. Not just branding by the cafe name, but Inka Kola tables and chairs! The logo includes an outline of Peru – I’m now in the middle of the O. If I get another day tomorrow like today, that’ll be the end of stage 16!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/921409607
14:58 on Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Stage 16, day 10 – Lima to Punta Hermosa
Made it out of Lima on a reasonably direct route, and in one piece. Though I was nearly taken out by a tuk-tuk, but a collision was avoided. I’m now back on the Panamerican Highway – but this time it’s the Panamerican “sur” (south) which seems more appropriate. It’s a bigger road – more like a motorway than a dual carriageway. Apart from having to pay extra attention at the slip roads, the road surface was good and the traffic light, making for a pleasant enough ride. There were also several extravagant billboards – both these and the road looked geared towards people traveling from the city to the beach resorts to the south.
A slow internet connection at the hostel and the need to batch the photos meant that it took me much longer to upload the photos for the past week. But the best ones are all there now in each of last week’s activities. After almost running out of power in the helmet cameras last week I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to charge them in Lima. So before I left the city I had two dead cameras! Fortunately the spare one was charged up this time.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/920135191
11:16 on Monday, 27 March 2017
Stage 16, day 9 – Chancay to Lima
Damn – I’ve done it again: feeling acomplished at getting to a place the day before actually getting there. Of the expected last 3 days before Lima, not only had I done two of them, but I’d left the shortest day, 83km, to the end. Excellent! That’s Lima in the bag! In addition, as I finished the day in a town, I could treat myself to a room after 6 days of camping. And after a week of rice and omelette/tuna I could eat out! Ah, life is good. But yes, I was doing all the things I was looking forward to in Lima a day early.
After a good nights sleep, instead of cold porridge (which sounds grim, but in the early morning heat, better than hot porridge) I made up a breakfast after a visit to a coffee shop, mini supermarket and the outdoor market. I ate it in the shade of a tree in Chancay’s suprisingly relaxed and attractive square. After all this it was 11 o’clock before I was back on the road. This relaxed start had somewhat undone my previous efforts to make this the shorter day! The realisation that today was now not going to be any easier than the past couple of days wasn’t a good feeling. I needed to get to Lima today – otherwise tomorrow wouldn’t be the rest day that I, my legs and my clothes need!
There was also little contingency time to deal with taking a wrong turning. Which is exactly what I did. Since Ecuador, routefinding has been pretty straightforward. And since rejoining the Panamarica Highway at kilometer marker 1034, just before Sullana, I’ve had a kilometer by kilometer countdown of the distance to Lima. But today, there was a choice between continuing along the main road (now a large dual carriageway) or taking a 20km streach of road called the Serpentín Pasamayo.
The second option was attractive for many reasons: it went along the coast with views out to sea, it was more direct, and the name implied a road that would follow contours – ie have less climbing. So I took the second option, ignoring the “No Cycling” sign near the start as I have done many times before on this trip. It all started ok, and the views of the road cutting across the steep sandy slope that continued all the way down to the sea were dramatic. But the road was narrower, there was no shoulder, only the occasional crash barrier – and loads of large trucks and busses. The latter confirmed my thoughts about this being a flatter road – “Pesados” as they are known (literal translation “Heavy”) can struggle up hills almost as much as I do. But with a line of over a dozen trucks comming towards me in the opposite lane, and one comming up behind me, the etiquette is that I pull over and let the truck behind me pass. If I had to do this regularly for the next 20km, it would slow me down, but there was just enough space, the scenery was spectacular, and I’d be no more slowed down than by the hills and detours of the alternative route.
It was while doing this for a second time in less than 1km that the thought occurred to me that if I came off the narrow verge at the side of the road – either knocked off, or a badly timed wobble through lack of concentration – in the absence of a crash barrier, there would be nothing to stop me sliding down the slope. But this wasn’t what concerned me – what did was that the light dry sand wouldn’t bear my weight, so I’d not be able to climb back up. I’d either need to wait in the heat of the sun for someone with a long enough rope, or slide all the way down where I’d need to be rescued by boat! Given that all the rescue services were busy picking people out of floods, I’d have a long wait on my hands.
My judgemental of the probability of this actually happening was clouded by having had quite enough adventure since crossing into Peru – and today I just wanted to get to Lima, in one piece, and preferably during daylight! It was on my third pull to the side in less than 4km, the driver of one of the trucks comming the other way put his hand out the window and moved it in a horizontal circular motion – ie turn around. The truckers I’ve met in Peru have been a good crowd, and despite overtaking being more difficult in a truck, their overtaking is generally better than that of car drivers. So I took this as advice for my benefit, rather than annoyance at my presence. But it wasn’t clear why he signaled this – was there trouble ahead? It certainly didn’t appear so from the volume of traffic. But I didnt have the time or motivation to cycle, say, 10k down the road to find out, and possibly need to cycle 10k (plus the distance to the main road).
As I looked towards the next headland, with the road gradually climbing higher up the sandy slope it was crossing, with more trucks comming my way, that I decided to cut my losses and head back to the main road. I’d come far enough to experience this striking bit of landscape and hopefully got some good photos. Back on the main road there was acres of tarmac, no sandy drops off to the side and virtually no traffic. But there was the detour to get inland, and as suspected, up to get over the hills.
Nearing the end of this detour was a particular low point. I wasn’t regretting having tried the Serpentín or having second thoughts about having turned back. But it was 1pm, the sun was on full, I was going up a long climb with tired legs, into the wind, and only having covered 10 of the 83k. In less than a few hours, getting to Lima today and rest day in Lima tomorrow had gone from a dead cert, to doable-but-not-easy to virtually non existant. As usual, there were peeps and waves from the cars and motorbikes that passed. But at the moment my waves and thumbs up were very half harted (if at all) and any smiles were very hollow. Going down the other side I made a bit of progress, though as every cyclist (outside Holland) knows, what gets taken away on the uphill is never fully returned on the way down (wind resistance being proportional to the speed cubed, and braking at corners being the usual culprits). At least being on the main road there were the kilometer markers to count down the distance – 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, 40’s.
I’d now done over 1000km since crossing to Peru. But I was not yet half way – Peru is a long country – in the Canada/USA/Mexico league! With less than 40k to go there was a second route decision to be made (twice in one day? Crikey!). Do I follow the Panamarica Highway to the city centre, or go along the coast. After visiting Lima with Sue last year, I liked the Miraflores area, and roughly knew my way around there, so it made sense to go there. Given that it was near the coast, taking the slightly longer coast route would avoid either the sunken concrete walled 3 lane road that the Panamarica highway would become or the alternative of endless junctions and traffic lights. Additionally the Panamarica highway goes along part of the Rio Rimac – the river that has devastated some of the poorer surrounding neighborhoods. I’d experienced at first hand and seen on TV more than enough flood based devastation and disruption. I was more than happy to avoid this if possible – I wasn’t entirely comfortable with being a disaster tourist.
I made it past the airport and some chaotic roadworks to the south west point of the city just as the sun was setting. There was 10 more miles to go, but the navigation was easy – just keep going along the seafront until the first peir, then take a left up the hill. Part of it was a cycle track by a walkway, right along side the waves breaking on the pebbly beach. The solid traffic made it easy to cross all 6 lanes of seafront express route, but the stop-go traffic up the hill and the cobbles weren’t doing my left knee any good. It would have been nice to have been here an hour earlier, but it was great to finally be here!
10:56 on Sunday, 26 March 2017
Stage 16, day 8: Albufero Medio Mundo to Chancay
Today marked the return from the desert to civilisation. Towns less than 50km apart and crops (mostly sugar cane and corn) being grown in irrigated fields. A sign that I’m out of the flood damaged north: a road toll actually collecting tolls! Up to now they’ve been closed due to the emergency situation – which is reasonable given that bits of the road were missing! It also means I can be smug again about being exempt from paying tolls 🙂 A good distance done today – not quite 100k, but close. I’m hoping now for a bit less adventure and a bit more distance! Having said that I’ve left myself with just 80k to do tomorrow to get to Lima – looking forward to getting there and having a rest day there the day after.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/916120749
09:28 on Saturday, 25 March 2017
Stage 16, day 7 – km 259 to Albufera Medio Mundo
Had a reasonably comfortable nights sleep – but the tent was flapping in the wind which woke me up early. I awoke to a cool mist. This was perfect as this spot, while reasonably obscure from the road, had no buildings or walls to provide shade to escape the scorching 7:30 sunshine.
While making breakfast i noiticed that there had been a visitor in the night – the corner of a packet of biscuits had been opened and part of the nearest two biscuits were missing. It looks like this place is not as devoid of life as it first appears! The cycling got off to a slow start. It wasn’t just the long hills or headwind – my legs were feeling empty. Some of the water i got yesterday may have been contaminated – it was from an external tap fed from a tank. Breakfast had stopped me feeling hungry, but I obviously needed to eat some more. I normally carry too much food – but I was now low on snacks. I had no biscuits left (i’d finished off at breakfast time what the mouse had left behind), and only some chocolate and two apples to last me the 48km to the next town.
I was also down to 2 litres of water – enough for up to 3 hours in these conditions, but at the pace I was going, I’d need more! It also felt like I had a puncture – or was I just looking for something to blame? I’d checked the tyre earlier and it looked ok. So the wobbles must just be down to my current lack of speed. I also didn’t want a puncture at the moment as there was no shade i could use when fixing it (the earlier mist having completely burnt off before I started cycling). A short while later I got to a kilometer post and stopped to check the tyre again. It was almost flat now. At least that was something that could be fixed that would make the cycling a bit easier. While there was no shade, the wind was enough to keep me cool – I’d just have to make sure I drank enough.
To reduce the repair time I decided to use a spare tube rather than patch the flat one. The flat tube had 4 patches on it already – it would be good to bin it and get a new one in Lima. While i was removing the wheel and tyre, several drivers checked I was OK – i gave a thumbs up as a response to their peeps. As I was putting the new tube in, a car stopped just ahead of me, and reversed back. I was expecting him to stop beside me, wind down the window and check I was ok. But he carried on and parked on the hard shoulder just behind me. As he got out he put on a yellow hard hat that mached his yellow boiler suit. I recognised the logo on his boiler suit – he was an employee of the highway agency. We had a short chat, and I assured him all was ok – but it was obvious that he wasnt going to leave until I was on my way. More that, as i was taking a moments break from pumping the tyre up, he offered to take over pumping up the tyre. I thought – great – kind offer – why not. As he was ably pumping up the tyre I realised there was a problem. Since changing from my super puncture resistant tyre to a cheapie one after Piura, I’d been doing all I could to minimise punctures. One of the things I’d been doing was to keep off the hard shoulder where possible. The idea being that with the regular traffic, there would be less debris (bits of wire, glass etc) so less chance of a puncture. This did involve a bit of inconvenience for other road users as they had to move to over take me. I could ride on the shoulder to save them this minor inconvenience, but for this to be fair, they would have to stop and help me when I got the inevitable puncture as a result. And that certainly wouldn’t happen. Oh, it just has – damn you helpful Peruvians! OK, so this guy was at work, but I bet his job description or the company customer service policy didn’t include pumping up bicycle tyres in the blazing heat!
I got back on the road, with him waiting for a few minutes to make sure I was ok before he resumed his journey too. The cycling got a bit easier – the rest, the fixed puncture and the man’s kindness all helping to give me a boost. The next think was to top up on some water. I came to a flat valley floor, with a dust plume comming from a lorry comming the other way. A sure sign that I was approaching an area that had been flooded, but had now dried out.
I came to a building marked as a restaurant (more what we’d describe as a cafe). I stopped and the group of men standing outside came over to see the bike. I had the usual chat about the bike, the journey and myself. I then went towards the restaurant – but something wasnt right. There were neat piles of furniture outside, and just as I was wondering if the place was serving customers, I saw a pile of bottled water – just what I was looking for! Then i realised that this was probably an emergency supply of water. It was now a bit awkward – this was obviously their personal supply of water – but i needed water too. I offered to buy one of the larger bottles, but instead they gave me a couple of smaller bottles – which would give me an extra hour and a half. Releived at getting more water, I offered to pay, but they said no. I thanked them, said farewell to the group of men and went on my way.
It was now almost 3 hours since I’d started, and I’d covered little more than 20km. At this rate I’d not be getting much further than the next town – a total of 60k, down on yesterday’s 100k, and cutting it fine to do the remaining distance to Lima (200km) in two days. But I made up some time after getting back down to sealevel, and buying a large panettone loaf & consuming half of it! I’d now done 60km, so it was now less than 200km to Lima! It was also 15:30 – so with three hours of cycling time left I could make a quick stop to get food for the evening (after camping 5 nights in a row, i was now all out of rice!), recharge my SIM card and get another 20km in.
I managed all that by 6pm, and was desciding on how much further to go before stopping for the day, when I passed a sign for a campsite! I hadn’t stayed at an actual campsite since Texas, and after 5 nights of wild camping, I descided to treat myself to a camping with facilities experience! It was also down by a beach – it would be good to go for a dip in the sea tomorrow morning! But I was shocked at the cost – 15sols? Thats almost £4! Well I suppose the last 5 nights have cost me nothing – time for a bit of relative luxury!!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/914638077
08:39 on Friday, 24 March 2017
Stage 16, day 6 – km362 to km259
Despite not getting to sleep until midnight (late dinner and sorting photo backlog) I was awake before 6. By 7:30 i was packed up (and the spilt egg from the night before cleaned off the tent!). Time for breakfast, but even at that time it was too hot to be in the sun – fortunately there was shade nearby. Breakfast done, i was loading up the bike when I saw a lady standing in the doorway of the building I’d camped beside. I thought it was abandoned – when I arrived there were no lights, and it looked like the sand had taken over. I went up to say hello, but she didn’t look too pleased to see me. Oops! Fortunately i was just a few minutes away from being ready to leave – so i said thank you and goodbye and quickly headed off. 8:30 and on the road – hadn’t had a start that early for a while.
The breeze from riding the bike kept me cool (and kept the flies away – not as bad as mozzies, but annoying, esp when preparing food – and there were loads of them! ). But by 11 it was hot with the breeze – with no cloud again, i was getting the full force of the sun. My watch said 38C – and boy did it feel like it. Not only was there heat shimmer off the road, but also off the rocks on either side. Like cycling in an oven. But all this sun was good for keeping the batteries charged – the solar pannel working reliably again after I’d replaced a dodgy connector with a spare.
I pushed on to try and get to Huarmey for lunchtime. This had been my target yesterday, so unfinished business. It was also 300km from Lima – a good milestone. It was also one of the towns that was regularly mentioned in news reports as one of the towns worst affected by floods – it would be good to get past this. With about 16k to go to Huarmey, I passed the first cafes of the day – it was time to take a break from the sun, and have something cool to drink. I stopped at a place that served surprisingly good melon juice. I also got some eggs – that was dinner sorted.
On riding through Harmey, the devastation from the flooding was obvious. Despite it being days since the place was flooded, there were still houses flooded. It seemed like the the town had lots of dips that had got flooded, and there was nowhere that the flood water could drain away to. There were many tankers, just pumping out the flood water and taking it away to be dumped elsewhere. But despite the number of tankers, this was going to take some time to complete given the amount of water remaining. At other buildings, thick mud was being removed by the wheelbarrow and dumped in big oozing piles at the roadside. There was a huge digger scooping up sludge from around the main square and dumping it into a truck to be taken away.
Because of all this, I was a bit more reserved with my greetings to people as I went past. But most of the people who saw me responded with smiles, waves, shouts, laughter etc that seemed completely out of place with what was going on. There were about 20 people gathered in the shade of a bus stop, who looked to be taking a break from the cleanup. I gave them a smile, a wave and a “Hola” and got a huge cheer in return, as if they were a crowd of ardent royalists greeting the queen! I’ve no idea why the cheer was so loud or spontaneous. Were they happy to see a visitor? Was I a moments distraction from the endless dust and mud? Has there been footage of me on TV and I’m now famous? Or were they just in good spirits despite the devastation? It was very bizzare, but at the same time very uplifting.
I stopped at a cafe that advertised mobile topups as I had used up all my credit. But neither they, or either of the surrounding cafes tgat advertised mobile topups could actually provide them. I got some more water to bring me back up to six litres (enough for the rest of the day, dinner that evening and breakfast the next day) and got back on the road. It was now 3pm, I’d covered 70km and had passed the worst flood area of the day. With a bit of light cloud, it was getting cooler – and despite the increasing headwind, it looked like I’d have enough time to get in 100km today! I carried on into the energy sapping headwind, past a couple of sections that had been flooded, but were now dry and dusty.
Just after a stop for biscuits and an apple, a van drove past, stopped and offered me a lift! I declined – they must have thought i was mad. Another car stopped – asked me where I was from and travelling to. I told them I had cycled down from Alaska – the driver said I was Loco (mad) – I had to agree! By 6pm I’d reached the 100km – and with the next town 40km away, time to set up camp (away from any abandoned looking buildings!!!).
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/914638097
10:38 on Thursday, 23 March 2017
Stage 16, day 5 – Huambacho to km363
Heat, Headwind and Hills! With a clear sky, it felt like the hottest day since Texas. The gentle headwind of previous days that had provided a nice cooling breeze, was replaced by a stronger headwind that was slowing me down faster than it was cooling me off. After the seaside at Chimbote and the green fields around Huambacho, it was back to the stark sand and rock landscape. A remarkable thing to someone from the West of Scotland about this barren landscape is that it goes all the way to the coast. From the top of one of the climbs I could see the barren landscape stretch all the way to the coast!
About 1pm I stopped at a petrol station for a break from the heat. Not only were the toilets open, but there were showers! Having spent the last 4 nights camping, with restricted water supply, I had accumulated almost 5 days worth of dust, mud, flood water and sweat. It was just luke warm water from a pipe sticking out the wall, but it was one of the best showers I’ve had in a while. After that, and a shave, I felt human again! There seemed to be more trucks on the road – something I took to mean that the road was complete from here to Lima.
When I got to Casma and saw a police cordon on the way to where the road crossed the river I realised my optimism was misplaced. Fortunately for me, there was enough bridge left for people to walk across! As I crossed, work was in progress to push a complete replacement bridge over the missing section – the most advanced high tech repair seen so far! With the sun now lower in the sky, it was much more comfortable riding. But the wind was still there, and if anything, had got stronger! I was not going to be racking up any great distance today! As the light was fading I found some relative shelter from the wind by an abandoned building and set up camp.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/911983732
10:21 on Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Stage 16, day 4 – km475 to Huambacho
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/910748428
10:33 on Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Stage 16, day 3 – Viru bridge to km475
The day got off to a hot start – even by half past eight I was dripping sweat in the sun. So to cook my breakfast, I found a nearby bit of shade from a lorry. The driver came out of the cab and asked if i was ok – i said yes, and intrduced myself. He asked did I want any water? With the weather being what it was I said yes, and he filled my pot with water. Then a couple from the shop nearby that was doing a sideline in breakfasts came over and offered me some crackers (I took that as an act of generosity rather than what they thought of me!). Then a lady and her daughter walked by, stopping to ask what I was cooking. She gave me a small towel – again I accepted that as a kind gift, rather than a hint that I needed a wash (which, to be fair, I do, but in my defense, water supply was limited and all drinking water was being drunk, not used for washing).
They went to the shop and had breakfast. A short while later the daughter came back with a slice of watermelon! Previously I’ve not been a great fan of watermelon – very messy to eat and having to deal with all the pips made it more trouble than it was worth. I’m not sure if its something about the fresh local watermelons, the fact that in this heat anything juicy tastes great, or that I’ve found a way to deal with the pips, but I was very happy to be given a slice. All in all, I was happy to be on the receiving end of quite so many small acts of generosity.
After two days I finally got over the Rio Viru! This is despite the insistance of the police on the night I arrived that there was no crossing (they must have been from the city!), despite the many people in the previous village who shouted “no passe” as i navigated their flood, and even today on my way upstream to where the restaurant man said I could cross – countless people saying “no passe” or signalling I’d not get through! Through this I was switching between “what if they are right?” and “save your breath – can’t you see I’m on a bike – nothing can stop me!”.
I got to the crossing, and was immediately surrounded by about 20 curious men and boys. I wanted to survey the crossing and get a feel for the level of difficulty in getting my bike and gear across. But that was going to be rude. So I did the usual speel about me, the bike and the journey – all with a positive response. A latecomer to the show asked where the motor was? I have my usual answer of pointing to my quads and saying the motor is here! This got much laughter at the poor man’s expense. Looking over my shoulder at the crossing it looked no more than knee deep, and without much current. It was hard to believe this was the same river as the torrent just a few km’s further down. But there was no obvious track leading to or from the river, and there were a lot of stones – so I didn’t fancy my chances riding across. To make it easier to carry I did the now usual transformation: remove the 4 panniers, the seat and the box under the seat. All the loose items (seat cushions, water bottles, helmet, underseat box) went in the mesh diving bag.
With the bike & gear broken down into 5 items (two smaller panniers counting as one) it was easy for 5 people to carry it across in one go – and here there was no shortage of willing volunteers. I was carrying the two small panniers, and put them down while i took my shoes off. Before I knew it, someone had picked them up and was carrying them across. This left me to cross the river, slightly sheepishly, with just my shoes! I caught up with my bike & gear that had been taken up to a flatter area where it would be easy for me to ride off from. Unlike previous occasions, here no-one had asked for even a token payment. But these guys definitely deserved something, all the more so for not asking. I caught sight of an old man selling bottles of fizzy juice from a bucket he was carrying around. I bought all 5 bottles he had for 5 sols (marked contrast to the 2.5 sols I was charged the day before in Trujillo for a bottle of water of the same size!). He was happy, the guys whod carried my bags were happy, and I was very happy at having finally crossed the river!
To be continued once ive had some dinner!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/909589929
11:40 on Monday, 20 March 2017
Stage 16 – back to Tujillo
Fixed line internet is down, so relying on mobile internet access. I’m conserving my allocation for downloading maps and news, so no photos for now. Getting a bit grim here: http://www.andina.com.pe/Ingles/noticia-peru-over-600000-affected-by-natural-disaster-659057.aspx
I’m seeing at first hand residents affected by the floods: possessions piled up outside houses, wearily clearing up dirt left by the flood, shops closed, water supplies cut off. I’m ok – but after pushing my bike through numerous floods, I’m running out of dry socks that arent full of sand! Much more to be added when comms improves!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/908292442
11:53 on Sunday, 19 March 2017
Stage 16, day 2 – Trujillo to Vijahe bridge
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/908010416
11:51 on Saturday, 18 March 2017
Stage 16, day 1 – Pacasmayo to Trujillo
Despite a late start, a puncture and an actual hill i managed another 100k day! Leaving Pacasmayo was straight forwards – apart from when i was packing the bike when the hotel was hosting a hen party that was at full screech! My poor ears. The going was good on the road – there was only one flooded section, and it was relatively short and shallow. There were a couple of streaches of road where there were obvious signs of recent flooding – sand deposited on the side of the road, or channels where the water had cut through banks of soil. But everything was very dry – no water in sight. I took this as a good sign – that the worst was over, and the place was drying out.
The landscape today was very barren – the most barren of the trip so far. Over two sections there was the occasional small bush, but other than that, nothing as far as the eye could see. Not even any cacti! The weather started off hot with plenty of sunshine, but as the afternoon wore on it clouded over. This provided a welcome relief from the heat and brightness of the sun. This, together with a crosswind made for very comfortable cycling conditions.
As i approached Trujillo, the light was starting to fade, but i could see people at the side of the road filling sandbags – not something that fitted in with my worst-is-over impression! On the outskirts of Trujillo there was a bridge over a river, and the surrounding area had obviously flooded badly. The flood had drained, probably within the past day, leaving expanses of wet ankle deep mud on both sides of the road. I carried on to the city centre looking for somewhere to stay. While it was now dark, it was a gradual downhill, and every k done today was one less for tomorrow. I got to a large roundabout close to the city centre, but half of it was flooded! Not a deep flood, just enough to cover the road without going over the kerb. It wasn’t static like a huge puddle, or a raging torrent – there was just enough of a slope for the water to be gently flowing past, in from one exit and out another.
There was virtually no traffic, just the occaaional taxi, and there were people casually sitting around outside their homes, chatting and keeping an eye on their sandbags. I carried on through this peaceful but very surreal situation until the next junction where the water gently flowed to the right, being joined by more water comming from the left. I realised that if I carried on going with the flow I’d either get to the sea or a dip that would be too deep to pass. It was also more likely that anywhere to stay would be closed because of the water, so I went back above the waterline and eventually found a Hostal that was open, and near somewhere I could grab a quick meal (it was half past 8 by now!).
The observant of you will notice that as I passed through Mocupe yesterday, I’ve now finished stage 15. Less obvious is that I’ve now clocked up 10,000 miles and 120,000 metres of climbing (about 400,000 feet)!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/905539439
11:49 on Friday, 17 March 2017
Stage 15, day 16 – Chiclayo to Pacasmayo
Happy to report a dull uneventful day! Left Chiclayo lacking in motivation – partly the long river crossing had knocked my confidence (and my left knee), and partly because I’ve yet to fall in love with Peru. OK, so the people I’ve met have been friendly and helpfull, and it’s not had the security issues of Columbia or the bad vibes from the experiences of others that Ecuador had. The roads are relatively direct and flat, and outside the cities, in good shape (with a few dramatic exceptions! ). It’s also not living up to the reputation of having dangerous drivers – a bit chaotic yes, but not dangerous (centainally safer than north Mexico or parts of Panama). But the run down villages, waterlogged cities and seemingly endless flytipping aren’t doing it for me. Still looking for that “oh yes, gotta come back here for more of this” feeling.
As if to compensate for my troubles so far, Peru layed out a nice fresh smooth two full lanes wide cycle path just for me (though why they disguised it as the almost completed upgrade of the main road to a dual carriageway I’ll never know!). Thanks Peru, much appreciated 🙂 After a while I managed some motivation: the more distance I do now, the sooner I’ll get to somewhere different. Not entirely positive, but it worked. I managed to do over 100km (first time in at least a week), going beyond my target of Guadeloupe, onto the coastal town of Pacasmayo. Where I was rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time I’d cycled to the ocean since Panama City back in November – good to see the sea again. After only spending £50 on accommodation over the 8 nights so far in Peru, and on seeing a hotel with a pool, I decided to treat myself to a bit of luxury 🙂
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/904241742
16:00 on Wednesday, 15 March 2017
Stage 15, day 15 – km836 to Chiclayo
15:20 on Tuesday, 14 March 2017
Stage 15, day 14 – km911 to km836
After getting a new tyre, getting a bus back from Piura to the cafe, and getting the bike ready for the road, there wasn’t enough of the day left to cover any meaningful distance. So I camped just in front of the cafe, under an extended bit of roof. This was a good move as there was a lot of rain in the night, but I stayed largely dry. Though it wasn’t until later in the day that I’d find out that I’d not escaped the effect of that rain!
10:48 on Sunday, 12 March 2017
Stage 15, day 13 – km950 to km911
Had a good night sleep by the memorial to a boy who died the day after his 4th birthday. No idea how he died, or why a memorial shrine was built here (car collision?). I did hear a vehicle stop in the night, and waited with baited breath for a visitor, but none came.
The air is drier here, so the tent dried off quickly. Departure was delayed by a bit of bike maintenance – the chain was looking thirsty. Back on the straight flat smooth road, I was thinking that this will be a bit dull compared with the mountains, but it was good to settle into a rhythm and watch the km’s pass by. Then I noticed a regular bump coming from the back wheel. Like the bump of a flat tyre every time the valve passes the ground. I stopped, checked the tyre – it was fully inflated and there was nothing sticking to the tyre. I carried on a bit further, but the bump was still there. So I stopped again, put the bike on its side and spun the wheel. The rim was still true, so it was definitely the tyre. It looked fine, but running my hand on the tyre I could feel a bump. I looked at the other side of the tyre and found out what was going on: the tyre was deaminating! The tough outer layer was separating from the strong inner layer. This had happened in El Salvador on a previous tyre after I’d ridden on it flat for a few km’s, and I’d not been able to fix it. This time though, I was not impressed – I’d only ridden 1350km on it – it was practically brand new! Eventually the inner tube would break through between the fibers & that would be it – new tire needed.
So great, now both my wheels had ticking time bomb faults! I decided to press on, and hope that it would last until the next town that I would be getting to tomorrow. The Don’t Panic, Keep Cycling tactic had worked so far for the front wheel, so let’s give it a go. I found that if I cycled faster, the bump bump bump was less noticeable.
I passed a lone cafe with a tent outside and a couple of cycle paniers. It would be a good place to top up on water (in these conditions it seemed like even just sleeping made me thirsty!). So I stopped and went in to investigate. I got chatting to one of two cyclists, a student who was from St Malo (the main French port with ferries to Jersey)! He spoke English very well, so we chatted for a bit. He was very interested in my velo couche (as the French call recumbents) and had considered riding one himself on his tour south from Mexico. They were travelling a bit lighter than me by not carrying any food or cooking stuff (stove, pots, etc). They were stopping at cafes, camping and eating there. We exchanged contact details, and I went on my way.
Less than two hours later, my rear tyre punctuated. Great. I was now almost half way between Piura and Chiclay, in 37C sunshine with little in the way of shade. I had recently passed another cafe, so decided to push my bike back there – should take about half an hour. I tied a bit of cord to the handlebars to male it easier to keep the bike going in a straight line, and fashioned a head / neck cover out of a white long sleeved thermal top to keep the sun off. Worked a treat! I got to the cafe at km911, asked them if I could leave my bike there overnight while I went back to Piura to get a new tyre. They said that was fine.
Good – now I had to get out my cycling gear and get a lift the 50 miles back to Piura. What clothes should I change into? My smarter trousers & T-shirt were darker – not so good for standing at the side of the road in the sunshine. My lighter trousers and T-shirt were a bit scruffy, not as white as they once were, but more comfortable. I went for the latter, and went out to the side of the road and stuck my thumb out at the next car/bus/lorry that came along. After about a quarter of an hour, about a dozen vehicles had passed, none of them stopping. All of the friendly peeps and waves I’d got earlier in the day while I was cycling had dried up, and were not translating into a lift. I thought, I’ll give this an hour, and if there’s nothing by then, I’ll have to think of something else.
Five minutes later the driver of an articulated lorry loaded up with bags of onions saw me and pulled in. The driver, Rafael, was on his way to the border with Ecuador with his onions, going via Piura. This was excellent – if he let me off on the outskirts of Piura, I could get a Mototaxi to the center, to the hotel I’d stayed at the night before last. The truck was an old one, and struggling a bit with its load, but it was going the right way, that’s all that mattered. Rafael’s wife was also there – a bit of reassurance for the rookie hitch hiker.
The sky was getting darker, and the road we were on now had puddles – we’d just missed a shower. Rafael pulled over and opened his door. He indicated he wanted to help him and passed his hand over his head. We got our and he climbed up onto the bags of onions – the penny dropped that the onions needed covering to protect them from the likely rain ahead. There then followed an at times a frustrating, but ultimately successful covering of the onions. Rafael spoke no English, my Spanish isn’t great, and I didn’t have a clue as to how this should be done. The load was tied down with a rope that was too thick to unhook easily, which didn’t help, and the cover was in three parts (tarpaulin, plastic and netting) which made things less straight forwards. Clambering up and down the load, and managing the rope, I found my rock climbing skills coming in handy. Walking over the covered onions it was important to step on the tops of the bags – not the gaps between (this would create wells for the water to pool). A bit like crossing the joists in an unfloored attic! As I was kneeling down on the bags of onions, helping to unfurl the covers, I congratulated myself on the good choice I made to wear the scruffier clothes! Covering complete, just as it was starting to rain, and without me falling off anything or stepping backwards into passing traffic, we got back in the cab and carried on towards Piura. Rafael thanked me for my help – I was only to happy given how he was helping me out.
Just as we started off I saw coming towards us two people on bikes – the two French students from earlier in the day. I pointed them out and Rafael waved and shouted out to them. Given the time, and the weather, I reconned that they would stop at the next cafe – the one I’d left my bike and stuff at! I amused myself with their confusion at seeing my bike again, but not me!
We eventually got to the junction for Piura, and I got ready to get off. But the bypass on the map wasn’t finished, so all the traffic goes through Piura – this was perfect for me, but a pain for Rafael. Three things combined to make for a bizarre journey though the southern suburbs of Piura: 1) huge potholes, 2) no drainage, 3) no sign of any police or any official traffic control. At one point the road was a dual carriageway, one side blocked to traffic by chunks of brickwork, the other side completely flooded. On the resulting contraflow on the flooded side were men in t-shirts and shorts directing traffic, signalling to the drivers where the worst potholes were under the flood, and holding buckets to collect coins from the drivers in return. At one point the huge modern bus in front went into one of these potholes, and its exhaust disappeared below the surface. Complete pandemonium and anarchy! Walking the last part of the way to the hotel, there was water everywhere – just drawing over the surface, filling any dip or hollow. Time to get some sleep & look for a bike shop tomorrow. Ordering a new tyre over the internet is so much easier!
Relive link – if you thought yesterday’s was exciting – hold on to your hats! https://www.relive.cc/view/898255720
15:06 on Saturday, 11 March 2017
Stage 15, day 12 – Piura to km950
Another late night sorting photos (now filled my 4th 32GB memory card with photos!), washing silt out of my clothes, and also needing to stock up on food and water for the next couple of days, and more petrol, meant this was going to be a half day. While sorting the photos I had the TV on in the background – I’d managed to find a channel showing a film in English (rare) with Mitchell and Webb (never a bad thing) set in Jersey (did a double take at the scene where a taxi gets to Gorey at night!).
My first pressions of Piura were dust, huge potholes and thinking I’d not find anywhere to stay! But I found a hotel run by a very welcoming old man, had a great Chinese across the road, and it had everything I needed to get setup for the next few days in Peru. Saw a local paper with headlines and several pages about recent flood damage – seems my timing wasn’t great!
Got back on the road by mid afternoon. The road is no longer the the dual carriage way of yesterday, but has a better hard shoulder which makes for an easier ride. I passed through many basic villages stretched out along the road – basic livestock farming and selling honey seemed to be the only livelihoods. I found out that the kilometer markers that had been counting down from 1032 since yesterday were the distance to Lima – Peru is a big country!! Not as far as the fourteen hundred plus miles of the Alaska highway, but the first time I’ve been on a road this long since then.
Passing signposts warning of sand dunes, the biggest problem I was going to have would be getting my bike off the road to get to some cover behind a bush. With rain starting, light fading and flashes of lightning in the distance, I parked up behind a small Catholic shrine that unexpectedly featuring Bob the builder and sponge Bob square pants – a shrine to the patron saint of Bobs?
The Relive link – what has to be the most boring one so far: https://www.relive.cc/view/898255766
09:25 on Friday, 10 March 2017
Stage 15, day 11 – Huaypira to Piura
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/895161534
09:31 on Thursday, 9 March 2017
Stage 15, day 10 – Alamos (Ecuador) to Huaypira (Peru)
09:40 on Tuesday, 7 March 2017
Stage 15, day 12 – Route 25 to Alamos
The day started warm – though from the length of time it was taking to dry some of the items that got wet in yesterday’s storm, it was also quite humid. It was my first day in tropical conditions since restarting the ride. While my legs felt strong, and I was enjoying the oxygen rich atmosphere below 1000m, pedalling too hard just made me too hot.
Today was going to be a day that involved a fair bit of climbing. In the morning this was toughest, partly because of a gentle tailwind – normally a good thing, but here it was making it harder to keep cool. It felt like I was cycling up in my own bubble of hot air, only getting a cooling effect when I stopped. But the real killer was when the sun found a gap in the largely cloudy sky. I could feel my skin starting to burn, so on with the factor 50 in the sachets I got in Colombia. More than once while climbing, when I saw the shadow of a tree on the road, I’d stop for a few minutes to take a break from the heat of the sun, and to feel the coolness of the breeze on my back. I did question my decision to come down from the higher Andes – it was as tough here as it was there, but in a different way. The change was good – shame it wasn’t as good as a rest!
I’d left the two official Pan American highway options, and was taking a middle route that avoided the 2 day detour to the west of the coast route, and the high mountain route via Loja. The E25 that I was now on showed up on Strava as a main road, and was an option on Google maps. But it didn’t show up clearly on my paper map of Ecuador, and I’d not been able to access the internet since Cuenca, so the Strava map I had in my phone was only a very high level summary – no use for detailed route finding. The paper map showed the road I was on only going as far as a place called Puyango, with a “seasonal road” connecting it to a road that crossed a river and carried on south. The question was – did I need to leave the E25 sooner to avoid the seasonal road? (I had visions of pushing my bike through 2 miles of mud!).
Fortunately I came across a police car parked at the side of the road. I showed them the map, and asked if the seasonal road was suitable for bicycles. They said yes, but the road I was on was the major route in this area that would take me south past the river. I was hoping this would mean that there was a bridge over the river rather than a ferry (had I heard the policeman say “bota”?). If it was a ferry, even for 20m, this would be the first break in my journey (excluding the Darrien Gap). This would be a great shame, but I’d committed to this particular route, so would have to take what came with it.
After climbing in the sunshine, on the descent to the river, it became increasingly cloudy, and then it started to rain. At first, very light and very refreshing. On they way down to the river there were several small rock/mud slides that had reached the roadside. They looked recent, but at least a day old, as some action had been taken to clear them up. I got down to the river, and not only was there a nice bridge, but also an army checkpoint where I stopped for a late lunch.
It was just after 3 when I set off again, and there was a signpost that said that Alamos was 30km away. This seemed a good target, and while I was expecting much of it to be climbing, with the cooler conditions, surely I’d average faster than 10kph? Half an hour after setting off, it started to rain heavily. I was soaked through in minutes, but it was still warm, and after the sunshine on the last climb this was a welcome change. But the road drainage couldn’t cope with this amount of rain. The first sign of this was a short section of flooded road. Bizarrely it turned out to be a bridge (aqueduct?) over a small river far below! Where the gutters were overwhelmed, the water, orange from the soil, would flow down or across the road. Further up, this water was washing down pieces of gravel, with the occasional clunk clunk of fist sized rocks. This could only mean one thing – fresh landslides onto the road! Sure enough, around the next corner I saw a couple of head sized rocks skipping down the hillside – this was not going to be a good place to stop! To add to the chaos of the mud, water, gravel and stones on the road and the rain, a coach had stopped in the middle of the road, and the lorry behind it was unable to get past. I managed to weave my way through all these obstacles to a safer place. It was now after 5, and I was only half way through the 30km. I was getting tired and cold – which made camping not an option, so I had to push on.
By the time I got near Alamos, it was dark, and I could see the town way up on top of a hill. I was hoping for a hotel on the edge of the town – but after seeing nothing and asking, it was obvious I’d have to go all the way up to the top of some very steep wet streets. I managed to get most of the way up, but with my back wheel slipping, I had to push up the last block. Finally I found somewhere to stay. Time? An epic 10 hours after starting out!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/891842554
10:40 on Monday, 6 March 2017
Stage 15, day 11 – Chinese Dam to Route 25
After getting to sleep late because the stove was partially blocked, so dinner took ages to cook (this has happened before – I’ll need to try a different jet nozzle from the expedition service kit), I had a good sleep, and got up at 8. This was just half an hour before an engineer turned up to switch the generator on. I’m glad he didn’t turn up much earlier – the racket took away from the peace and tranquillity of the valley!
After yesterday’s barren hillsides, today they were very green again – this time packed with trees. Many of them were banana trees – well and truly back in the tropics, complete with snake roadkill. There was also a lot of colour by the side of the road – flowers of all shapes, sizes and bright colour.
As the land flattened out at the end of the descent, as well as fields of banana trees, there were also cocoa trees, with the beans drying on the side of the road – like the drying of coffee beans in north Colombia. It was around this point that I caught up with a minibus that had stopped. I had a chat with the driver, posed for photographs. During this time, the driver was holding a chocolate ice lolly that caught my eye. Either he was kind and generous, or like a woman catching a guy looking at her chest rather than her, maybe he’d noticed that my attention wasn’t 100% on him. Either way, he went back into the minibus and brought out a chocolate ice lolly for me! We said our goodbyes, he went on his way, and I tucked into my new treat – well, it wasn’t going to keep was it? I ate it as I cycled – almost finishing it before it started to melt onto my T-shirt.
I followed the ring road avoiding the town of Pasaje, and rejoined the main road heading south from the city of Machala. This was a beautiful wide smooth flat road with 3 lanes in each direction + a wide hard shoulder. Not as interesting as the smaller roads, but great for getting the miles in. Also not as good for meeting people as there are few living by the roadside. But there was still plenty of interaction with drivers – usually in the form of a slow overtaking with the passenger holding a smartphone to record the encounter, and much waving, smiling and thumbs up all round.
One car passed me in this way, but instead of holding a phone, the passenger was holding a plastic cup of coke. It took me a moment to realise that she was offering it to me. This was going to be tricky – I was going to have to match the speed of the car, ride close enough to be able to reach over (but not so close that the slightest wobble would cause a pedal to hit the wing) and ride smoothly enough to be able to drink it without spilling most of it! But, as ever up for a challenge, I tried and accomplished just that, managing not to drop it or spill to much. This sort of thing is all in a day’s work for a pro cyclist, but a thin plastic cup is not as easy as a cycling water bottle. Being in a recumbent position at eye level with the car occupants added to the celebration of a successful transfer! This was a first, so it was more remarkable that, about 10 minutes later, another car drew up and offered me a drink. This time it was a bag of juice – easier in that it was tied up and so there would be no spillage. But this was trickier because there was no passenger! Yes, I was being passed refreshment by the driver – so I had to get even closer to reach INSIDE the car to get this one! But all went well, and I bit a hole in the bag to drink the contents as I cycled along.
By now my formerly white T-shirt was looking like something out of a washing up advert (“Just look at these stains – chocolate, coke, fruit juice and sweat! How am I going to get rid of these?”). But after two hours of solid sustained effort, I had other things on my mind – namely energy, water & where was I going to sleep? After leaving the main road that headed west to the main border crossing to Peru, to join the E25 that headed south, I passed a very large entrance to a “resort and spa” complex. I was very tempted – but the day had another half hour of cycling in it, so I pushed on.
One problem with there being so much green growth, was that there were fewer patches near the road to pitch a tent. It was also getting dark, and starting to rain. So I had to take the next place that came along. This turned out to be an unused coconut stall at a junction. I put the bike and most of the gear out of sight below the floor of the stall (the ground sloped too steeply for me to be able to sleep there) so that there would be a minimum of stuff visible. This was going not so much stealth camping, more hiding in plain sight and hoping no one would notice or care! But it was out of the heavy rain from the nearby thunderstorm. Needless to say that the down sleeping bag stayed packed up – it was now way too warm for that!!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/891842378
10:56 on Sunday, 5 March 2017
Stage 15, day 10 – Cuenca to the Chinese Dam
After a day in the very pretty city of Cuenca, staying at a budget busting £22 a night hotel with view over the river and guests from Holland and Canada. At breakfast, one of the other guests insisted on tucking in the label at the back of my neck as it was bothering her. Ah, first world tourists taking their first world problems on holiday with them! Got laundry done, panniers fixed, showered in a safe warm shower (first time since Cali), got a (huge) Ecuadorian flag, pumped up the tyres and had a wander around the centre of the city.
Today, feeling almost refreshed, I gently climber up from Cuenca, and after a couple of stops for photographs (of me), I started on the long descent. For a while it descended as I was expecting, down into a long valley, getting warmer, with new plants like corn appearing. Then the road unexpectedly climbed out of the valley to a barren rocky landscape. Up to now, the road had been OK, but not up to the standard set further north in Ecuador. Then it deteriorated to dust and potholes. Shortly after one particularly rough section I noticed a grating noise when braking. It took a while to work out what was the cause – and it wasn’t good news: the front rim had cracked! I replaced the brake blocks to get rid of the noise, but I was now riding with a damaged front wheel. I’ve no idea how long it will last before failing completely, but I spent the last hour or so riding with great care – keeping the speed down and being very careful around potholes! There is a spare rim in Jersey – I’ve now got to work out the logistics of getting it to me, and getting the wheel rebuilt, all with the minimum of hanging around waiting and hoping my wheel doesn’t fail completely in the middle of nowhere!!
The time taken to replace the brake blocks and gingerly descending meant I was still up in the arid mountains when the light was fading. With the steep valley sides, places to camp far enough off the road were hard to find. I went past a huge construction project, with port-a-cabins with lanterns and other decoration that would not be out of place in a Chinese restaurant! Them I saw a sign advertising this project as a joint Chinese-Ecuadorian project to build a hydroelectric dam. Further down the road there was a building that looked like it contained a generator, and was big enough to give me some cover to set up camp. I was now below 1000m – the last time I was this low (excluding Sue time and injury time) was back in the northern Colombia!! The toughest longest sustained mountain section of the trip was now over.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/891842386
11:55 on Friday, 3 March 2017
Stage 15, day 9 – Tambo to Cuenca
Woke up, and it was still cold, and my clothes from yesterday still damp. Started the last big climb of this part of the Andes, stopping at Canar to let a shower go past. The weather remained overcast and cool all the way to the top, just over 3500m.
Now for the big descent that I’d been looking forward to for DAYS! The road wasn’t the best, but the descent was really good, and went on for ages. Not only that, but now the sun was out, the sky largely blue, and I could see for miles. What a difference a day makes. At the bottom of the 800m descent, the valley was very different to the mountains of the last few days. Gone were the fields and ladies in traditional dress. The road went from 1 lame each way to 3 lanes, and the shops became much more north american in terms of what was on sale and how it was displayed. The last few miles of road became a bit busy for comfort, but I made it to the centre of Cuenca (a pretty city about the same size as Reading) and checked into a hotel with a lot of character and safe hot water (ie no badly installed suicide shower!).
Finally, after a week of keeping up 60km days, tomorrow is a rest day!! Time to catch up on washing, repairs, buy an Ecuadorian flag, and maybe even be a tourist for a short while!
Forgot to mention – that’s now 500 miles since I restarted the ride the week before last, I’ve Everested over the last week, and now clocked up 15,023km since Alaska! Blimey!
Today’s Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/886607522
11:29 on Thursday, 2 March 2017
Stage 15, day 8 – Chunchi to Tambo
Long day, slow tired legs, intermittent rain, poor visibility – both me and Ecuador were having an “off day”. I’m sure that Ecuador didn’t notice my off day, but I could really have done with some nice views to take my mind off the toil. There was plenty of varied roadside fauna to look at as I went past – even some real Ecuadorian brambles! I had to concede that, like Scotland and Ireland, the lush greenness of this part of Ecuador doesn’t happen by magic – it needs plenty of rain.
Fortunately the lunch stop at a bus shelter coincided with one of the showers. Diring this shower a pickup truck passed by, then reversed back to the bus stop. A guy got out and asked me where I was going. He was casually dressed, but I could see an official looking badge that included the words “customs” and “immigration”. Unsure where this was leading I said today I was planning on going to Canar. His eyes lit up – that is where he lives – did I want a lift! I laughed – there was plenty of space for me and the bike, it was raining, he was going my way – how could I refuse? I told him that I’d cycled every metre of the way from Alaska to here (something I still can’t quite believe) – all 14,900,000 of them, and tempting and kind as his offer was, I wanted to keep going under my own steam. He said he understood and went on his way.
I started off positive about the climbing – it needed to be done, and this was one of my last days in the higher Andes, so make the most of it. But it was taking me ages to make any progress – and by a place called “General Morales”, I have to say that the general morale wasn’t good.
It was obvious by now that I wasn’t going to make it to Canar, and as I was cold, tired and wet, camping wasn’t an attractive option. I went through Zhud just after 5, but there was nowhere there to stay. The next place was 18km along the road, and at my current speed it would be long gone dark by the time I got there. I wanted to avoid cycling in the dark where possible, but it was that or a cold damp camp. So I found a cafe, fueled up on sugar and caffeine, and made it the 18k to Tambo.
Relive link – see all the scenery I didn’t! https://www.relive.cc/view/885708624
11:21 on Wednesday, 1 March 2017
Stage 15, day 7 – Vishut to Chunchi
Yet again the scenery changes. After a good nights camping – being warm, dry and fed in a tent in the middle of nowhere with a bit of light rain outside is one of life’s satisfying moments. The climb at the end of yesterday continued today. I was down to my last drop of water when I came to a small village with several basic shops just off the main road. There was also an internet shop where I caught up with Sue. It was very cold – not freezing, but the wind made it feel like it was. I was tempted to stay longer – one of the shops was also a cafe – warm inside, full of people eating very delicious smelling chicken. But I had to push on – I’d worked out that in the past 4 days I’d covered 240km – spot on my Colombia average of 60km per day! It was a roll I didn’t want to break.
By the time I left it had started to rain – on with jacket, trousers, shoe covers & winter gloves (!). The road descended into thick mist – the visibility was very poor, and together with the wet roads, I was taking it easy. Out of the cloud and I had been transported to a completely different landscape – steep narrow valleys, the road twisting along the valley sides with precipitous drops, and hairpin bends as the road crossed ridges. It was almost Alpine!
The constant descent / ascent, while spectacular, was also tiring. By 4pm I’d done 40k – I was determined to push on and do another 20 before the end of the day. While this was less than I’d planned to do, it would get me to the village of Chunchi. The earlier rain didn’t last long, but the last 10k had intermittent light rain. Together with my weary body I wasn’t so keen on camping. Fortunately Chunchi was big enough to have a basic hotel – £8 a night – perfect!
In this part of Ecuador, it seemed like all the ladies and girls were dressed in traditional colourful skirts, waistcoats and hats. I also saw Inca Cola for the first time – something I’d seen in Peru – a country that is getting ever closer!
Today’s Relive link – should be a good one! https://www.relive.cc/view/884338154?r=ride
11:16 on Tuesday, 28 February 2017
Stage 15, day 6 – Riobamba to Vishut
The day started with more cloud than yesterday – so no chance of seeing the mighty (now mythical) 6310m Chimborazo – the top of which is the furthest place on the earth’s surface from its centre. Allegedly. After the climb back up from Riobamba, a summit was reached earlier than expected (that’s using 1:zillion scale maps for you). The descent was long and gradual, down a small pretty valley, and with a slight tailwind. Perfect. The countryside continued yesterday’s small fields across a gently undulating hillside. It was quite a patchwork of small fields, with many different crops being grown, and within a field, a crop being at different stages of growth. All this with the undulations gave the hillside a very varied texture.
At Guamote I’d covered 50km – same as yesterday. I was tempted to call it a day there – but it was only 4pm, still one to two hours cycling time left. In order to gradually increase my daily distance, I set a target of another 20km – to make 70 the new 50 – or to paraphrase a campaign call from last year’s US election “make fifty seventy again”!
After Guamote, the scenery changed again – as had the wind that had gone from a warm northerly to a cool southerly (in this case the weather in the southern hemisphere being appropriately the reverse of that in the northern hemisphere!). The valley had widened, gently rising up on both sides to hills that disappeared into the clouds. The fields had been replaced by small pine forests on the hill sides. The rich soil had been replaced by poor stony soil that could only support moss, reeds, hardy grass and the occasional pine tree. Along the valley there was also a railway line, a line of pylons, and occasional glimpses of an original road that this road had superseded. In was uncannily like going along the A9 over the Drumochter pass! Did the extra 20km in good time, and made it to a point where the road was following a valley downstream again. With it being almost 6 and nowhere in sight, time to camp again 🙂
Today’s Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/884338295
11:05 on Monday, 27 February 2017
Stage 15, day 5 – Manzana de Oro to Riobamba
A half day by the time I was done with admin (backing up photos, emails, obligatory chat with guys outside the internet shop etc). A climb that carried on from yesterday and seemed to go on for ever with false summits (not like an Alpine col at all). But legs felt strong despite yesterday’s efforts – after 2 weeks it feels like I’m getting my legs back! The countryside was more attractive – fewer shacks at the roadside, and more fields of crops and cows. Topped out at 3600m, and the 800m descent to Riobamba was not a disappointment to say the least. Found a place in the city by a busy park – all chilled out with no motel weirdness!
Today’s Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/884338239
10:52 on Sunday, 26 February 2017
Stage 15, day 4 – Cotopaxi to Manzana de Oro
The day started with even lower cloud than yesterday – so much for a good view of Cotopaxi. By the time I left, there were some breaks in the cloud, so I did get to see glimpses of snow slopes. The day also started off at a trip high (altitude) of 3500m, and appropriately enough set a trip high speed on the descent. At time of writing I don’t know what it was, but there was no headwind to slow me, and the bike handled differently. I tried to steer at one point – the bike went all twitchy – didn’t try that again. Did my best to relax and let the slightest shift in body weight do the turning. Fortunately it was that big wide triple carriageway – me in the middle passing slower vehicles, with a free lane for others to pass me at the same time. Gotta love these Ecuadorian road engineers! Was glad I didn’t do that bit of road at the end of yesterday – being tired, on wet roads with poorer light would have spoiled the fun! Most of the rest of the day was easy riding – bit of a tailwind and mostly flat or downhill with only the occasional rise. I was still in the Avenue of the Volcanoes, but the hills were smaller – though this meant that they were entirely visible below the clouds which was an improvement.
Ambato – which turned out to be a city rather than a large town. And was in a hole! Missed the bypass turning, so went through the city. The urban riding confirmed that it was a good idea to give Quito a miss. After following the road down for a bit, then it started to rise. There were some impressively short steep hills – a few I had to stop on to get my breath back. I felt pretty acclimatised now to the altitude, but I was now heading back up to 3000m, and some of the streets made it feel that way. There was one point where I got a good view looking down on the city centre. It would have been good to see some more of Ambato, but it has taken me longer to get back up to speed than I’d hoped, so I needed to keep going and at least get past the city before the end of today.
On the outskirts of Ambato, I was toiling up a hill and passed a family walking down. I smiled and said Hola to them, as I try and do if I can. A minute later I heard someone running behind me and a shout. I looked around, and one of the kids from the family had caught up with me (I was not going fast!) and was offering me a bottle of fizzy fruiy juice. I accepted and thanked him, and looked down the hill to where the rest of the family were waiting, and gave them a wave and thumbs up. A small moment of kindness that helped make the day. I made it out of Ambato, and to the 400km marker – 400km since the border with Colombia, and a total of 485km since the ride restarted 12 days ago. I found a motel (that was more like a prison!) to get some rest and eat for tomorrow.
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/881741202
10:48 on Saturday, 25 February 2017
Stage 15, day 3 – Tambillo to Volcano Cotopaxi
Got up at 6 to drizzle and low cloud. Back to bed. Got up at 8:30 and the rain was clearing and the clouds brightening up. Packed, serviced stove, breakfasted and on the road two hours later. Head cleared from cold – still coughing a bit tho. Made steady progress up the expected continuous climb. For the first hour the roadside was quite urban in a chaotic, poorly constructed, dilapidated sort of way. This finally gave way to more green verge, with the occasional attractive fruit stalls. Very cheap – 5 wee bananas for about 20p!
Passed the 300km post – that’s since border with Colombia (or Col-ommbia as I was reminded). Add another 85, and thats the amount I’ve covered since restarting in Pasto. I was having trouble adding this to what I’ve done since Alaska: I was thinking “well the 385 doesn’t include the one thousand four hundred and, er, two hundered, that’s not right!”. Yes, I guess that I still haven’t got my head around having done 14 thousand (+200) since Alaska!
Near what I thought was the top, I could hear music – from a live band on the other side of the road. Stopped and couldn’t see anything past the opposing raised carriageway, but the band was by a large Catholic shrine. Decided to cross the 6 lanes of traffic to get a couple of photos – I was not prepared for what happened over the next hour! There was a 15 piece band, people in bright traditional clothes and others were dancing. There were about 100+ people watching, kid running around. There was a guy dressed as a cowboy with a rope attached to a guy dressed as a bull, and they were doing there best to cause havoc by going either side of anyone dancing or nearby. People were spraying vans of party foam, and drinking shots of clearish liquid from unlabeled plastic containers. I tried to get a couple of candid photos to capture the scene. But that didn’t last long at all. Possibility my fluorescent gillet, or being half a metre taller than anyone else there – whatever it was, I was not going to be able to skulk in the shadows. First a guy who was quite clearly out of his tree insisted I have a shot of the drink – while I was attempting to decline, others insisted. So down the hatch it went. It wasn’t bad, not too harsh, but potent stuff! That was it – I was now deemed to be fair game for anything. Several more shots from others, the gift of one of the half litre bottles, being corralled by the cowboy & bull, sprayed with foam, many photos with many of the people in traditional dress, asked to dance and danced to I’m sure was the longest song the band could play (it wasn’t easy at 10,000 ft / 3300m after cycling the last 600m and being a bit wobbly from the shots) . Watched the ceremony, got some more photos, swapped contact details, learned that the drink is to be shared to bring people closer together (whether this was by camaraderie, or by shared alcohol poisoning/dependence wasn’t made clear). I was getting cold & it was starting to rain. Some were heading off, so I said Goodbys and headed back across the road to the cafe to warm up with a coffee, then a chocolate especial (a hot chocolate with a wedge of cheese!).
The rain had stopped, but it was still cold. After an hour I got to the top at 3500m (new highest point on this trip), and at 6pm it was time to find a place to stay. There was a motel nearby, so I decided that than carry on, possibly into darkness. The top (and motel) are on a ridge between two volcanoes – one of them being Cotopaxi, soaring up to almost 6000m. Fingers crossed for a clear sky tomorrow!
Relive link: https://www.relive.cc/view/881741183
14:17 on Friday, 24 February 2017
Stage 15, day 2 – Amaguana to Tambillo
Not really a “day” – didn’t sleep well => late start just when heavy rains & headwind started => stayed in till finished (5pm). Anaguama had nothing going for it apart from a petrol station, & I’d spent more than enough time there, so off to the next village!
12:01 on Thursday, 23 February 2017
Stage 15, day 1 – El Quinche to Amaguana
Still little power in the legs – so a long 50k with much toil. Fortunately there were no sustained climbs – but there were loads of big dips. On the way down my legs could hardly keep up, even in top gear, while on the way up the other side my legs could hardly keep going, even in bottom gear! There was rain early afternoon, so I stopped to make some lunch in the shelter of a shed at one of the many small block makers. Spent most of the day on nearly empty 3 lane + hard shoulder bypass of Quito – a good move traffic wise. Near the end of the day the road south of Quito joined the road I was on. The road got smaller and I hit rush hour traffic. I was tired now, and just looking to male up the distance to 50k. Not the best time for my first police motorcycle escort – but it would have been ride to refuse. Only problem was he was expecting me to be going twice as fast as I wanted to go. Or maybe his big bike wouldn’t go any slower! He rode ahead of me for a bit, then by my side, then tailing me.
And today’s Relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/878114479
14:56 on Wednesday, 22 February 2017
Stage 14, day 15 – Equator to El Quinche
Body rebelled yesterday after a week in the Andes. Woke tired with a headache, cold (after an hour in the rain the day before???) and general aches. The father of the family who ran the place where I was camping showed me some herbs he’d just picked and said he would make an infusion for me. He came back shortly with an afternoon tea style tea pot full of herb infusion and told me it would help with inflammation. I drank it, and a load of water and felt a bit better, but still far from 100%. Had some food, but didn’t have an appetite. Got through the Strava backlog, and packed up ready to leave (one of the fathers son’s said I could stay another night for free as I was unwell – a very kind offer). Pushed the bike up the stoney track to the main road, and made it back as far as the equator line and realised that was as far as I was going to get that day. Got a room at a hostel (hotel) at 5pm. Was in bed by 5:30. Got up at 7:30, 14 hours later! Still with cold, but no aches and with a bit more energy, rested in the morning and did a short ride in the afternoon. Started to rain just after I headed off – so on with all the wet weather gear – even the waterproof trousers!! The ride had a nice descent, but took it easy on the damp road. Stopped at the junction to Quito and had a hot chocolate to warm up. This was not what I was expecting my day after crossing the equator to be like – but then I was at around 2500m, and in Europe, at this altitude, there would be a couple of metres of snow! The rain stopped and I carried on a bit further, not taking the road to Quito. I’d decides that I’d avoid this capital city as I had most others, preferring to cycle in the countryside over a big city. Found a nice hotel, that charged about £12 for the night. Exactly the same as the previous 2 hotels I’d stayed at in Ecuador!
And today’s Relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/876850701
08:53 on Monday, 20 February 2017
Stage 14, day 14 – Ibarra to the Equator – YAY!!!
Finally made it to the Equator! Southern Hemisphere – here I come!! BTW the Guarango Cafe (on the equator) has crap internet access, but the most awesome hot chocolate!
Here’s a link to the relive of this day: https://www.relive.cc/view/874837389
13:07 on Sunday, 19 February 2017
Stage 14, day 13 – Stuart Somerville RIP
Stuart Somerville – a friend of the same age who I met on Jersey, and was then living in Colombia. He died at the end of last year after getting into difficulties while paragliding over a lake, right beside the Pan American Highway. I was hoping he would be a feature of this trip – while I had been unable to make any arrangement before I started, I was holding out for some last minute meet up. I certainly didn’t imagine that it would be a memorial ride around the lake. It’s sad that he’s gone, along with his enthusiasm and optimism. But it was good to be able to pay my respects in this way. So, on top of all the remarkable experiences, this trip has taken me past the spot where a friend died a few weeks ago. As the big man would have said: “That’s just crazy bananas, man!”
10:13 on Saturday, 18 February 2017
Stage 14, day 12 – km 19 to km 110
An epic day – started of at 3300m and it was pretty much downhill all the way. At one point there looked to be a ridge that I’d have to cross – but no, it was yet more downhill! Most of the villages here don’t have a cash machine, and the larger villages / smaller towns only had one bank – and it didn’t accept either of my credit cards. Slightly inconvenient as I had smugly spent all of my Colombian Pesos, so had nothing left to change into US$s. Fortunately I’m carrying more food than usual. Today’s descent was the most epic so far this trip – great quality roads, big sweeping corners, dramatic views and cuttings. The conditions were also perfect – dry, warm but not hot, and a headwind stopped my rims getting too hot. My choice of where to camp the previous night turned out to be a good one. There’s always a risk that when setting up a stealth camp in poor light, that the next day its a bit more obvious than I’d hoped. Being at the top of a climb there was a great view back to Colombia. As for the Ecuadorians, they definitely rival the Mexicans for friendliness – lots of peeps & waves from passing cars, with several stopping for a chat, offers of food and water (gratefully accepted given my cash situation!). Clocked up 100km, but as the light was fading, I was far from anywhere that might have somewhere to stay. So another night of stealth camping – but this time I was out of water. A two mile round trip to a stream got me enough, then I had to filter & purify it. My UV steriliser wasn’t working – just as well I had some chlorine tablets. Eventually got fed & off to sleep.
Here’s a link to the relive of this day’s ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/874837365
14:19 on Friday, 17 February 2017
Stage 14, day 11 – Ipiales (Colombia) to km19 (Ecuador)
Was late leaving Ipiales, and Ecuadorian immigration took ages. By the time I got going there was only time for 19km (mostly up hill) before it for dark. I managed to get to the top of a climb, but with nowhere nearby, a bit stealth camping by an SOS post was the only option. So much for spending as little time as possible in the militarised zone along the north of Ecuador! Here’s a link to the relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/874837056
10:30 on Thursday, 16 February 2017
Stage 14, day 10 – Santa Rosa to Ipiales
My legs are weak, the bike is heavy, the air is thin and yesterday’s epic descent was mirrored by today’s epic climb. Made it to the border town of Ipialea – but only just. Was tempted to call it a day with 5k to go thinking there was a lot more climbing ahead (a reasonable assumption given what had gone before) but carried on only to find that that was the last climb! Last night of my extended stay in Colombia. Ecuador is just 5k away – an easy win for tomorrow 🙂
14:31 on Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Stage 14, day 9 – Pasto to Santa Rosa
Finally back on the road! After two long months off the bike I finally get to ride out of Pasto on the Pan America highway. It’s been so long there’s a similar feeling to that I had when leaving Deadhorse. There are many things that back then were unknowns, but have become certainties. But I’ve lost a lot of strength & fitness, the bike is heavier with the extra supplies & gear that Sue brought over, and my shoulder is still weak – so not as simple as just carrying on from where I left off. Colombia made sure that it wasn’t going to be overshadowed by the occasion. It was only a 25 mile ride – but that included a 600m continuous climb from the start (with a cafe at the top!) and a single forearm aching 1350m descent. A remarkable ride in its own right.