Bike, train, bus and pick up

Posted by on Nov 09 2007 | 11 Peru 2007, English

Peru Rail

” Flo, are we on the right road? I don’t want to ride back up this road to the City!”, I said. So we asked for the maybe 4th time, but again were reassured that this road would take us to Izcuchaca and further to Ayacucho. On our map were two roads eventually leading to Ayacucho, the next bigger city after Huancayo. We wanted to get onto the one on the right side of the river to get to Izcuchaca and into the mountains, and not follow a dry and hot river valley. Right now we were still on the left side of the river and the number of the road was wrong too. Finally we came to an intersection, where we could turn right into a village on our route as it was marked on our map. After some 3km the road made a wide loop and turned back into the direction we came from. Again we asked directions. Now we were sent back to the intersection. Slowly it dawned on us, that our map must be completely wrong. Later we found out, that the map showed a nonexisting road, the one we had to take was marked wrong and parts of it were missing altogether on the map. After a detour of about 10km we were back on track climbing one of the now regular “over 4000m” passes. The country was quite dry here and rocky, the dirt a bright orange. All land was used for agriculture to the top of the hills, sectional in small rectangles. And soon enough the road tipped to the other side and we glided passes villages and fields loosing what we’d just climbed switchback by switchback.

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We had wanted to stop at a restaurant for lunch, but there was none open and when we stopped to look for one inthe last town before Izcuchaca, kids came running at us screaming and laughing, so that we were quickly on the bikes again and didn’t stop anymore until we stood in front of the train station in Izcuchaca. We wanted to take the train from here to Huancavelica, some 70km further, for a change. We thought to stay in Izcuchaca for a night and catch the first train in the morning. But as we are in Peru and nothing is guaranteed, I went to the ticket office right away to inquire about schedules and prizes. It turned out that there was no train the next day, only that day at 4pm which was in 15 minutes. The ticket vendor also doubted that our bikes would fit onto the train. Normally peruvians aren’t complicated with luggage, it always works somehow. So I told him we were going to try anyway. We folded the trailer down to its shell size and packed its content into our backpacks. We unloaded the bikes and got ready for the train, watched closely by a group of kids. Finally the ticked vendor called the train and the conductor thought that there was enough space on the engine for our bikes. The ticked vendor still doubted it and let us know every minute or two. Then the train arrived, people and luggage got on and off. Flo brought our bikes to the engine and was able to tie them onto the very fron, while I was loading our panniers and packs onto the waggon and Chan was watching our stuff. The trailer came into our compartment as well and off we rolled.

We had seen the tracks before, filled with dirt, overgrown with grass and not always very even. And that’s how it felt inside the train! We were swinging from one side to the other, but we desided not to worry and enjoy the ride instead. We were really hungry too and bought some sweet bread from a vending woman in the train.

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The tracks followed a river along a narrow canyon and slowly, slowly we gained in altitude. At every station more people entered with huge bunldes of luggage. The stations were always a chaos of busy people going here and there, women and children selling bread and other food and drinks, boys waiting with three wheeled carrier bikes to bring luggage to and from the train.

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Then the tunnels started. It was getting dark outside and every time we entered a tunnel it was pitch-dark in the waggon because there was no light. Now there wasn’t much to see outside anymore. Inside the train people were quarreling with the controller about ticket prizes, moving luggage around, eating and talking. At one station two women entered with tons of heavy bundles of herbs. They sat across the alley from us. The herbs smelled really nice, aparently they were to settle stomach gas. But slowly a strong garlic smell filled our waggon. Flo found out what it was, when he needed the toilet. The women had stocked bags and bags of peeled garlic into the tiny bathroom.

We arrived in Huancavelica around 9pm. Now we had to get all our luggage out as well as a super tired Chan and our bikes from the engine. The train workers now suddenly wanted money for the bikes and when we had put the trailer back together, packed the bikes and were about to roll off, one of them stopped us, saying, that we hadn’t paid. Luckily I still had the tickets and the controller could convince him, that we had also paid for the bikes. We found a hotel quickly and went out to get some food. it was a late night and we decided to sleep in the next morning and stay and extra day to rest.

In an alley a dog was gnawing on a bloody cow scull with horns an Chan asked Flo what the dog was eating. Florian explained it as good as he could. Chan was quiet for a while, then asked suddenly: “But where is the cow?”

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Rainbow mountain

On the gravel road out of Huancavelica dogs came chasing us from every second house. The morning had started difficult with Chan wanting everything different making me really mad. When we left the hotel we had had spectators once more, trying to touch Chan in his trailer and now those stupid and dangerous dogs again! I was in a really bad mood. But a few kilometers passed the town the landscape was so beautiful and the road wasn’t bad at all that my mood changed quickly and we enjoyed the ride.

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Soon we saw lots of llamas and alpacas. The rocks looked alomst unreal with such bright orange and red colours. There was supposed to be a village at the altitude of 4170m, but it was abandoned.

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We ate bread, olives and cheese in front of a ruinous adobe house. Now the wind picked up and I started to feel the altitude with some slight dizzyness. But further up we followed the road onto one of the highest altiplanos in Southamerica over 4400m.

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Suddelny a herd of llamas came galloping down the road. They slowed down in front of us, then passed one by one. Flo got water from a stream and then we looked out for a place to camp.

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There were no bushes or trees, just pampa. So we hid our tent behind a small hill next to the road. In the morning a herd of sheeps wlaked passed, then kids played next to our tent. A bit later a woman came by calling something in quechua and a bit later she came back with some sheeps. We might as well have put the tent right next to the road, the whole valley probably knew, that we were there.

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The road led towards a red mountain which was even brighter in the sunlight. And still we were riding uphill. New peaks turned up at the horizon the higher we got and the rocks showed ever new colours as if dipped in a rainbow bath. Many times we had to stop and just enjoy hte sight of these mountains!

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And still the road was leading up and up. Soon we must have been able to touch the sky! The pass was on 4853m. Rainclouds rolled in from one side, but to the other we had a beautiful view onto lakes, rocks and mountain chains. The clouds urged us to leave the pass.

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Along the lakes was the home of a type of marmot which stole the rabbits ears and painted them orange, his tail it got from the squirrel, but the tip it must have burnt or why else would it be black as coal? It was quick that little creature and we couldn’t catch it on film. That night we spent in Santa Ines at over 4600m. Our hostal didn’t have any water, not even a bucket to flush the toilet. Florian asked for wter, but the boy said:” we don’t have any for ourselves.” “But there is the river and the lake right here!”, said Flo. The boy shrugged his shoulders and said:” The river is contaminated because of the mine and the lake is dead.” ” But where do you get your water from?”, I asked. “We have to fetch it from far.”, the boy said. The village didn’t have water for two weeks now because their normal source dried out. the government would do something, the boy had told us, maybe in two to three weeks they would have water again he exclaimed. 

Some 20 bumpy kilometers brought us onto pavement again. Another pass, another downhill and we climbed again onthe way to our second highest pass. It was a long climb and it was getting late. In the next village we asked for a hospedaje but instead could spend teh night at a cruz roja centro de salud station (a kind of mini hospital) in the only patient room. This was really nice of the doctor, but the kids of the village were annoying, wtching us close while we were cooking outside and tehn starring through the window while we ate and prepared our beds. The tiny hodpital didn’t have electricity just a generator for emergenies. The toilet was out of order, there was a shithole in the back yard. A car batterie was sitting on a chair in the bathroom with cables going into the adjacent room.

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It must have been at least 100 switchbacks which slowly brought us up to an altitude of 4750m again.

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At the top a truck was waiting for us. Some women and kids came our way and Flo said:” Not even up here we are left alone!” So we took a “Taking pictures-throwing sand into the wind-eating crackers- beeing watched -break” and then whizzed down, down, down passed rainbow mountains, rocks and yellow grass. It was about 50km downhill, back to 1900m and back to quite warm temperatures. On the way down the llamas were replaced by cows, horses and donkeys, the bare pampa with eukalyptus and pine forests.

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At the very bottom of the valley we stopped our riding day and had a cup of coffee before moving into our “cuarto”. The used bed linens were taken out of the room hold under water for a few minutes hung into the sun and given back to us. Flo was clearing the room from garbage before we carried our stuff upstairs. We prefered to sleep in our own sleeping bags in our tent inside the room that night. Another 27km brought us up the last pass before Ayacucho. this one wasn’t quite a high, just 3900m. early afternoon we arrived in Ayacucho on the other side.

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And a piece of way by bus

Before us was a part of the way which promised to be exertive. A few more 4000m passes parted by deep hot and tropical valleys. This road was not paved. Friends of ours sent us information about the condition of the road: A lot of riverbed like parts, they had to walk a lot. We had one month left in Peru. It would have taken us at least two weeks for those 380km of gravel. Two weeks which I wouldn’t have enjoyed nor would Chan have been happy with another bumpy ride. We decided to take the bus, that would save us an exhaustive two weeks as well as the money for an extention of our visas.

We checked out a few bus companies, but there was only one doing this difficult road. We bought seats in the very front above the driver to enjoy the panoramic view. The night before our departure we packed everything from the trailer into the backpacks. At 6am we rolled through the city to the bus terminal and there folded the trailer to its shell size.

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When the bus arrived, Flo loaded the bikes and our luggage, while Chan and I watched our stuff. the first surprise was, when we got to our seats, which were not the panoramic ones, but one row behind. We couldn’t change that now anymore. But on the panoramic seats were two other tourists which switched seats with us after half the time.

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The first part of the way, to Andahuylas, took us ten hours. At lunch time we stopped at a restaurant. I stayed in the bus to cut some apples for Chan, while Flo and Chan went for a pee. When I wanted to join them outside, the door of the bus was locked. Nobody had told us, theat we could’t get in and out of the bus during the 40min break. So I was locked in, the driver had disappeard. We arrived in Andahuaylas at 5pm. There we had to change the bus for another ride at seven, supposedly taking three hours. While we waited for the new bus I got some food: rice with fried onions. it started to rain and we had to move our stuff under shelter. Finally the bus had arrived. Flo went to load the bikes and trailer, but they said there was no space. Flo said:” Well, if there is no space down here, I will take our stuff up to the seats. We bought our tickets in Ayacucho through to Abancay, we paid extra for our luggage and we will take this bus with all our luggage. As you know there is no bus tomorrow because of the census.” Suddenly there was space for the bikes but to make it a bit more complicated, Flo had to take off the front wheels and one of our backpacks was loaded onto the other side of the bus.

A nice surprice waited for us in the bus: Shortly before departure we were served a hot seet infusion and a pastry. It was already dark when we rolled out of Andahuaylas. The bus was really slow and now and then stopped for a few minues without any reason. Chan fell asleep on my lap. After maybe four hours I started to get restless. Why were we advancing so slowly? Finally we could see the lights of Abancay far down in the valley. But the descent was a torture. We went from one side of the mountain all the way to the other, turned around and came all the way back without loosing much altitude. halfway down we stopped again and bus personel switched buses with one coming the other direction. Other busses from other companies overtook us. Why could they drive so much faster? We finally arrived in Abancay at 1am instead of 10pm. now we had to put the bikes and the trailer back together. Chan of course woke up and cling to me util the trailer was ready. in there he felt save again and started playing. At 1.30am we started looking for a hotel. At that time most were closed of course. Finally we found one open. it was a really dusty, grubby room but we had no choice. The owner was really nice and helped us carry the bikes and trailer upstairs. It was passed 2am when we finally closed our eyes.

Bacteria invasion

Now we were looking foreward to Cusco. Three days of riding, maybe four and we would see our Swiss cycling friends (www.affenbrunner.ch) and Steven the Australian again. We would take some days of rest, clean our bikes and visit Machu Pichu.

36km uphill, a climb of 1500m took us out of Abancay. on the pass we could still see down onto the city.

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It started to hail and rain so that we quickly put on our raingear for the downhill ride, another 36km to Curahuazi back on 2680m.

Flo got diharrea during the night, but he wanted to ride the next day. Cusco was waiting! Down we whizzed, the bridge over the river was at 1900m and from there the road followed the river uphill again along a super hot valley. Flo and I both struggled. I had a hard time with the heat as usual and Flo just felt very weak. Finally he had to sit down in the shade and I stopped the next pick up car. These lovely people gave us a ride to the next town, where we got a room in a hostal. Flo went to bed with a high fever. That evening a couple from Austria arrived on a tandem. Chan and I talked with them late into the night. In the morning, Flo’s fever was gone and he wanted to ride although it was uphill for another 25km to the next pass. Only at 10am we started riding after we had said goodbye to the tandem couple who was taking the route we came from under their wheels.

Slowly we gained in altitude. By 3pm we had made it to the pass. Snow peaks framed the horizon, it ws beautiful up here, much more our climate! But both Flo and I didn’t fell well now. The pass on this side wasn’t as steep and the road wasn’t taking us below 3300m anymore. Almost in the village we wanted to spend the night, there was construction work on the road. A huge ditch stopped our ride. The cars took a 4km detour on gravel. But while we were standing there, trying to decde what to do, some constraction workers came and showed us a way over two smaller ditches in the adjacent fields to get around the street work. They even helped us lift the trailer and the bikes over. No no more obstacles were in our way, even the rain clouds passed around us, leaving us dry. That night Flo and I both got a soar throat.

Cusco was now only 26km away with not much ups and downs on our route.

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We arrived at the hostal around noon and went to eat lunch. When we came back, Flo went to bed with a high fever again.

The next three days his fever wasn’t coming down. Finally we went to see a doctor, who of course gave him antibiotics for an airpipe infection. The Swiss Rahel and Joerg and the Australian Steven stayed a day longer to help me out. They looked after Chan, while I looked after Flo and got some rest myself. The day they left, Chan got a fever. When Chan was just recovering from his flu or whatever it was that made him have a fever for six days, I started having a fever and I was in bed for a week as well.  This hasn’t been exactly our idea of our visit to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital. We are here now for over two weeks and haven’t seen much else than our room, the hostal, the internet cafe and the market to get fresh fruit.

The plan is now to visit Machu Pichu, come back to Cusco and get the bikes ready for the last leg of our trip in Peru, across the altiplano.

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