Since I left Huancayo we have had two bush camps and now have arrived in a hotel in Ayacucho. The roads away from the Pan American highway are narrow, often unpaved, and in the mountains, have audaciously steep unforgiving edges. No shoulders and totally unforgiving exposure to a long way down. For two days we followed such a roadway along a steep river canyon. The edges are now becoming more routine but when a car or truck comes around a curve and shocks you with its nearness you become more aware of what faces you on the other side of the vehicle. The rocky canyon walls offer no escape on the opposite side of the track either. It is quite an experience. If those were the only obstacles to your safety, you could still be somewhat sedate about your journey as long as you show a certain respect for the risks, but it is compounded by the Latin macho in speed and passing. If no-passing signs exist, they are not part of the comprehension of the motorist here. They pass each other routinely with just a honk and a prayer. Sometimes you are cycling around a corner and suddenly there is a motorist or a bus heading right at you in your lane. Somehow they seem to avoid each other and you, thank God, because there is little a cyclist can do with the option facing them at that point. It was on such a narrow roadway yesterday that our own Bike Dreams truck designated for lunch for us met the scene of an accident. When I biked by, our own people not cycling that day assured us that there were no fatalities and things were going to be all right. Our own Annelot, doctor with Bike Dreams, found herself a much needed individual for the people injured in one of the cars involved. The other car’s occupants seemed to be OK. It was a taxi van and was still drivable. Due to the narrowness of the road and the curve where it all happened, it was not possible for vehicles to get by. For the third day in a row we had no lunch on our trip. The previous day Walter had taken a wrong turn and missed all of us. Of course the injured took precedence and Annelot was busy with stitches and diagnosis’s. There would be no ambulance arriving in such a place. Others would have to serve that responsibility. It was the second mishap in two days and the most serious. Two days before, our lunch truck was forced off to the side of the road by a passing motorist in a small village. It was hopelessly stuck in the mud and tipped to the right in a very awkward position. Our crew was pulling out their huge cable hoping for a truck to come by to help pull Bike Dreams back on solid ground. We were no obvious help and kept on cycling by as it was raining and we had some K’s to go. Later, Walter,our driver, told me the story. There were a group of villagers watching a local soccer game who saw what had happened and came to offer their help. Walter just shook his head and pointed to the precariousness of the trucks position. The villagers came up with some ropes, put a few large rocks behind one wheel, connected some of the ropes to the top on the truck and strategically placed others along the side of the frame. A lot of impromptu engineering. Then all hands pulled and pushed and sure enough, the huge, heavy lunk of a truck not only found itself back on the road, but also with everything straight and undamaged. What a community of people. They are very poor in Peru financially but often rich in unselfish behavior. When the crew at Bike Dreams offered them candy for their help, they each took only one piece. Amazing. At some point I should have a video available of this feat. One of our non-riders that day took the video on his IPhone.
After leaving Huancayo we climbed to 4200 meters where it started to rain. It also gets quite cold at that altitude and the subsequent long descent on paved roadway became quite treacherous with the damp rain. Bicycle tires, even those such as mine with good traction tread, don’t have much surface on the road and can easily slide out from under you if you are not careful. Especially on the curves. So it was a long relatively slow cold descent on the way to the first bush camp at La Esmeralda. We camped in town at a soccer field the local authorities graciously allowed us to use. There wasn’t a hotel or hostel large enough to accommodate us in town. At least we have a level surface for our tents and bathroom facilities next door. The place where we had planned to camp was too wet from the showers so we were glad to have this option. The following day was almost a mirrored image of the previous. We had thought the ride was to be all unpaved but in the two years since Bike Dreams last stop here, the narrow roadway had been paved. Again we would wind our way down the canyon and again met with rain in the afternoon. The gods were smiling at us tho as the rain petered out before we reached our campsite on the river bank and set up our tents. We did have the unwelcome presence of biting sand flies but they didm’t appear until we had had an opportunity to swim in the river and feel better about ourselves.
Our bush camps, like other camping experiences whether it be canoeing, kayaking, or climbing, develop into a certain routine for me. Everything I pack finds its own place in my environment and gets put back in that same place when I am done with it. One finds that all of these items become precious when you can no longer readily replace them. Also, you just become more efficient in your movements while camping. You don’t want to be spending all of your time searching for things. This routine becomes a big part of the rhythm of your day. Its simplicity is very soothing. Putting the tent up and taking it down is done in the same way each day. When awakening, you have things that happen first and a pattern of what happens next. Breakfast is at seven and everything is packed and on the truck by eight. We are then off cycling. It’s not a bad life and has many rewards.
I haven’t described our surroundings for some time. We are still surrounded by mountains, but no longer snow-capped or jagged but rather more like hills and canyons. It is still late winter/ early spring here and the colors are yellow, brown, gray and the hues of eroding rock. Much of the hillsides are terraced and often tilled but it is only at the lower altitudes that we see any green. There were many orchards and fields of green vegetable and fruit tops swaying in the slight breeze today as we made our way down to Ayacucho. More than half of our route was paved. Not as spectacular as the views in the Cordillera Blanca, I find myself not stopping as often with my camera in hand. I think I’m getting a little spoiled here in Peru. It was a beautiful sunny day today.
There was an incident today on our ride. I guess everyday has its excitements. We had just left our last bush camp along the river near Malocc when a group of five dogs came out of nowhere to attack (chase) Michelle. She managed to avoid the bulk of them but then the largest one ran right in front of her bike and down she went. Jurg, my Swiss friend, and I stopped to make sure she was OK. Luckily none of us, including Michelle, was moving too fast so she wasn’t badly hurt. If any of you have fallen from a bike, you know how unforgiving the surface is. Most injuries happen to the hands and knees and that’s exactly where she landed. Her right knee and right hand took the blows. Hand injuries suffered in such a way often leave you with a numbing pain that doesn’t tend to go away for some time. Her knee is very sore but she was able to continue and finish the ride. We’ve developed a number of strategies in dealing with dogs that I’ve described in a previous blog but sudden unforeseen attacks render those largely ineffective. You just don’t have time. The most effective for me is to just slow way down, sometimes stopping, and the dogs just lose interest.
6 thoughts on “Narrow roads, steep drops and wild rides”
It’s great to get your thoughtful, inspiring, and well written entries filled with suspense, appreciation and fear! I look forward to each new entry. I can’t wait to hear the details, see some pictures when you return. I have been forwarding them to Heather and Dave.
Here in Duluth, the nights are getting a little chillier, and some of the leaves have suggested that fall is coming. My favorite time of the year. There is still quite a bit of activity on our shore given the lake has been surprisingly warm this summer. We paddle boarded on a relatively flat Lake Superior this past Sunday afternoon with blue sky overhead and a temp of around 75. Pretty nice. I few folks were jumping in the lake but they didn’t stay in long. The lake is warmer……but not warm enough for a swim. And, to add to a already great Sunday, the Vikings triumphed over the Rams 34-6 in the season opener. Castle started, Teddy Bridgewater second string and Ponder is third string (Jared Allen traded to Bears). Patriots are next Sunday, Hmmmmm.
That’s all the news for now. Hope you continue to have great experiences.
Steve, it’s great to hear from you. There are probably more deer in our “happy hunting grounds” so keep in touch with Jonathon. Joyce is watching my home and this was mentioned to her. Say hi to Heather and Dave!
Some things never change, such as the helpfulness of strangers and the bravado of the drivers. Even with less traffic and slower speeds, in the day when no mountain roads were paved, we would learn regularly that another overloaded truck, bus, or colectivo full of lost souls “had thrown itself into the abismo.” When the trucks didn’t crash into each other or go over the edge, it was amusing to see big trucks facing each other on the road, drivers arguing (sometimes for as much as an hour) about which would back his truck to a wide enough spot where they could pass each other. A particularly bad truck operating out of Huaraz was named “Sangre en la Arena.” Drivers would even argue over who would get the “inside” and who would have to take the “outside”. Sometimes the switchbacks weren’t wide enough to turn the truck, so the drivers had to back up or down to the next switchback before they could drive forward again.
Buck, I feel for you and your comrades. Any tips I would give you would be dated. For instance before electrification, we would say to make camp between between 3300 meters (10,000 feet) and 3800 m elevation–high enough so the liter bottles of Cerveza Cristal at the bodega, would stay chilled around the clock, but low enough for a sound night’s sleep without hypoxia! I would predict, though, that you will still find the people of Bolivia as friendly and helpful as in Peru…but the roads worse. In Argentina the roads should improve, but arrogant attitudes toward stupid gringos, who expect loans to be repaid, will definitely worsen. Vayan con Dios, or as they say in Texas, “que se vayan bonitos.” Tom
It does certainly sound the same – probably more colorful when you were here. Yes, the hedge funds attitude towards the debt problem may well mean they get nothing and we as a whole get bad relations. Who am I to say I guess.
You are making me jealous of the trials and tribulations. Here in cusco now playing tourist, awaiting your arrival next week. Enjoying your stories.
Hey JR, I’m hearing what a beautiful city Cusco is so I bet you two are having a great intro to S. America. See you soon