I found Lucho in Trujillo’s famous casa de cyclista and boy was I glad to find him when I did. My rear wheel was barley spinning and I’d had the suspicion my hub was shot for a while. Lucho had to take one of his apprentice bikers down to a race in Lima so I had to wait for his return. I whiled the days away hanging out with his young lad and his wife who baked the best tres leches I’d had in Peru. I also met Frenchman Alex and spent some time checking out the ruins of Chan Chan, lazing on the beach and eating dozens of churros and ceviche. The coast of Peru was pretty damn ugly though, so dirty, dusty and full of temporary developments. A mass exodus from the mountains after the civil war left a scramble for space on the coast. Mountain folk looking to escape the problems in the mountains and for a part of the coasts money would set up wooden camps in the desert, without water or any cultivable land waiting out the three year period before the government would recognise them and install services. It seemed crazy after rolling down from the incredibly fertile land and abundantly green and fresh mountains that this third of Perus coast is where it was at. Lucho returned in Peruvian time and we rebuilt bici’s wheel fit for the roads again.
I preferred the mountains so I went back. Stopping by a christening party of Neymar where I was invited to eat and join in, I really love this aspect of life in Latin America, a party or celebration is very seldom private, passers by and random dirty men on bicycles are welcomed too. Getting back up to 3000 meters was easy enough, crossing through deserted desert routes on surprisingly decent roads and camping in abandoned buildings, one of which I shared with a whole hoard of animals including a goat and a dog. Peru felt like a country divided so clearly in three, the belt of the coast, the belt of the mountains and the sprawl of the Amazon. These areas in between consequentially felt like forgotten about no mans land. Young Leandro helped me set up my tent one night and accompanied me for dinner. He can’t have been ten years old and clearly hadn’t had shoes for a while. He went through my kit piece by piece, excited by my gadgets such as headlights and water filters. His excitement didn’t stop when it came to my toothbrush so I gave it to him and it was gratefully received.
The two mountain ranges which run through Peru the Cordiella Blanca and Negra are squeezed to within kissing distance at this point as I rode down the single track Canyon del Pato and the 35 tunnels which aide its ascent towards the national park of Huarazcan. Life in the mountains presented itself so distinctly again. Away from the tourist hub in the city of Huaraz most of the population were of indigenous heritage, sporting the greatest hats and most colourful dresses. The women that is, the men dressed as plainly as the mestizos. It was hard to be understood in Spanish as Quechua is the main language in these parts but I found the indigenous people very friendly if a little cautious at first. After a day hike to the unbelievable azure lagoona Paron I continued to Huaraz, where I met up again with Nick, Jenevive and Johan whom I’d met two weeks before. I wanted a rest but they were leaving the following morning for a four day trek which apparently was one of the most impressive treks in the world so I felt I had to. Some pretty heavy rain and snow coupled with a straggling underprepared Aussie who seemed hell bent on killing himself halted our plans as we retuned to Huaraz. I decided to tackle a 5000 meter pass on by bike and the guys patiently helped me work on my fear of heights with some more climbing . Leaving Huaraz we met again 200k down the road in Inkawakanka to camp out and climb for a couple of nights. Sharing the spot with a lady shepherd, a shepherdess I guess who must have been in her eighties. It was a sublime spot to camp, watching the sunset on top of the clouds below which could quite reach our height. I was incredibly impressed with the scenery and the Andean culture in this part of Peru and location wise it’s definitely up there as one of the favourite spots on my trip.
I fell to the coast again and rode by first 200 kilometre day of my trip, aided by a descent of 4000 meters. Sometimes when conditions are good and I find a rhythm I find it harder to stop my bike than keep going. After successfully fine tuning the art of taking a piss, making a sandwich and changing my clothes while riding some days I feel like I can keep going and going. It really feels like a form of meditation as the pueblitos pass, one landscape turns into the next and the sun makes its way around the horizon. Not really in need of any mental stimulation yet constantly spurred on my the mystery of what lies ahead. And also by the snapping jaws of Peru’s horribly unwelcoming dogs. Rain, wind, dust, the heat, the fumes of struggling potatoe trucks sticking to my sweat. The smell of green pastures, falling pine, burning tyres. Some days it makes no difference it’s just nice to keep passing through and find what you find. There is something about travelling this way which is captivating me. Absent of intention it feels like a wholly different experience from most of the travellers with whom I meet. Understandably ticking things of their list with clear timescales, ideas, expectations and agendas. As much I understand their motives I’m feeling ever more removed from that sense of intentionality and it feels wonderfully calming and peaceful.
Such mediative thoughts were put on the back burner momentarily as I tried to negotiate entering Lima by bike. Peruvians are hands down the worst drivers I’ve met on my trip yet and I had to resort to thumping bonnets and kicking busses a few times. I’d been warned about the dangers of Lima too and I have to say I didn’t feel safe in its northern districts, the Barrios running up its dusty hills. Needless to say I was happy to arrive with Luca, who greeted me with a hug and some firm slaps on my back. I went for dinner with his international friends and we stayed up until the sun rose and he went to work. I checked out the impressively grand historical centre, which to me was equal to in Grandeur than that of Mexico City. My friend Angie showed me China town and took me to lunch and Christmas shopping with her mum and aunt. Santa and Christmas trees just didn’t seem to fit. I moved down to the fancy neighbourhoods of south Lima to see what the fuss was about. Romelu rode with me with his life-affirming tuneless singing at the top of his voice. I couldn’t believe the contrast to traditional Peruvian life in Miraflores which really seemed closer to Singapore than the rest of Peru. Full of Gringos, hi rises and fancy gastro bars, a bubble for the affluent. Barranco down the road was much the same though with older buildings and some impressive street art. I met some of the Argentinan street performers and relaxed for a few days before Greta invited me to stay with her, hilariously inquiring as to whether I had a shirt and trousers before we made plans.
Greta knew Lucho from Trujillo and working in research for the world bank knew lots about the two sides of life in Peru. She shared with me her stories of being kidnapped in Nigeria and getting lost in the mountains of Huaraz as well as teaching me all about the politics and history of Peru. We watched movies, went to a math rock gig, dozens of galleries and ate some pretty special seafood. It was strange to live the middle class dream for a while with cocktails and canapés. Nowhere in Lima was this contrast of lifestyles more apparent than in Callao. An old port district where you can get someone shot for around 20 soles, about 4 dollars. This district also contains some wonderful administrative port buildings which an Arab lady has bought out and turned into exclusive galleries. Leaving in daylight and passing through he rest of Callao, Greta was visibly worried about my safety despite us being in a taxi. I tried to play it down and told her I’d been riding and sleeping in these parts until she showed me the news headlines with daily killings for mobile phones. I began to understand her concerns. This huge wealth gap I had seen in Colombia and it seemed to cause the biggest problems right next to where the money was.
Leaving the palmed tree Malecon in south Lima I’d forgotten how barren the desert surrounding was. A 100k stretch and a day of private gated developments as Limas money trickled south. It had me thinking of LA and how unimpressive the areas some of the crazy rich seemed to frequent. The shanty developments reappeared as the wind took my back through Mala where Loudres jumped out and invited me to stay in her hotel for free and onto Chincha where I stayed in a local school and taught the kids a little English. I was happy to hear Nick, Johan and Genevive were making the last stop of their trip in the national park of Paracas. The president was also heading that way for a business meeting so I joined his convoy of police to the reserve. Paracas contained Perus versions of the Galapogas and we took a boat out to see the Penguins, Sealions and birds which took to the islands to escape predators, namely hungry Peruvians. As December turned I decided I needed a more workman like approach for a while with sights set on Bolivia for a second Christmas on the bike. Seeing friends pictures of Christmas trees back home on the internet had me a little nostalgic for the cold, Boxing Day footy, decent beer and mince pies. Ohh and my Mother, my Sister and old faces of course.