Cerro de Pasco is a fascinating place. It lays claim to be the highest city in the world at 4310 metres (although this is highly disputed), is the poorest city in Peru and has a bloody great polymetal mine slap bang in the middle of it that’s as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. Apparently the mining company even has the rights to destroy the historical centre in order to expand. It is also very cold. When the bus pulled in at 6.00am all the Peruvians were layering up in preparation for an Arctic expedition and there was me in just a shirt. Not fun.
Having fled Cerro de Pasco the rest of the day was spent cycling the dirt road that skirts the edge of Lago Junin. As I rounded the placid waters, passing flamingos and herds of skittish llamas, I felt I was starting a new chapter of the trip, crossing the threshold from northern to southern Peru and entering a land of higher altitudes, where alpacas and goats roam instead of cows and pigs, and (hopefully) I’m free of stomach pains and punctures.
The next day was another corker. After a steady start riding through the plains I veered off the main highway, favouring the scenic route to Tarma over the bustling road to La Oroja (a town ranked above Chernobyl as the 5th the most polluted place in the world). The road was a dream and rolling down into town was the most fun I’d had on the bike in ages.
“Cycling through South America” could also be known as “A Grand Tour of The Worst Hotel Rooms in Existence”. As such I now have lower standards than a dwarf army. Cold showers, dubious stains, windowless rooms and mud floors no longer elicit even a raised eyebrow. If there’s a bed and a door I’m sold. Things reached a new low in Jauja when, in my lime-green hovel that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Turkish prison, I discovered a used condom on the floor. The worst thing was, a brief shudder aside, I didn’t even care. If anything it was encouraging to know that someone had felt an emotion other than crushing grief within those 4 walls.
Tunes: Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Sorority Noise – You’re Not as ________ As You Think You Are, Pinegrove – Meridian
Reads: Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink – Elvis Costello, Politics: Between The Extremes – Nick Clegg, The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood