When I returned to the Casa de Ciclistas it had been invaded by French, Swiss and Belgians. All very nice people I’m sure, but the lingua franca was no longer English and I found myself drowning in a sea of French chatter. Even the one other English guy was fluent in French. It was time to leave.
Like a seasoned con giving a beating to a naive new inmate, Bolivia took no time in asserting its dominance over me. As soon as I crossed the border the road quality turned awful, a vicious wind whipped in from the lake and on the first incline I snapped my gear cable (again). Luckily the border town of Puerta Acosta was only 5km away but I was forced to push the bike uphill through the ailing light. I’d lost my gloves the previous day and before long it was dark and my hands were completely numb. I was convinced I’d taken a wrong turn and was nearing despair when a friendly farmer assured me I was on the right track and walked me to town.
The Incans believed Cusco was the centre of the universe. Today it’s the centre of all things touristy in South America. I spent a couple of days in the city 6 months ago during the rainy season and, while I liked the old town, a gloomy pallor hung over everything and I was quick to head south to Arequipa after completing the obligatory trek to Machu Picchu.
In general travelling solo suits me but after about 10 days with little more in the way of conversation than the standard gringo cyclist questionnaire…
“Where are you going?” “Where are you from?” “You’re travelling alone?” “Don’t you get scared?” “Don’t you get tired?” “How much does your bike cost?” “Why don’t you attach a motor to that thing?” “What do you think of (insert country here)?”
…I was craving something more substantial. And so I ended up Couchsurfing at Misa’s place in Ayacucho. Misa was inquisitive and friendly and I immediately felt comfortable in his house as I sat drinking tea and chatting with him and his sweet elderly mother, who constantly nagged him about everything. “Misa….MIIISSSAAA!”
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.
The Peruvian dry season is belatedly under way and it’s wonderfully consistent. For the past 2 weeks I’ve woken up to spotless blue skies and on the morn that I finally left Ticclos it was no different: wall to wall azul with barely a cloud in sky. The narrow dusty road meandering south was completely free of traffic and human life. Every now and then I’d come across a cadre of horses or donkeys having a board meeting in the middle of the road and they’d scarper as if I’d walked in on them changing.
Huaraz is a touristy town nestled on the fringes of Peru’s biggest mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca. I spent 4 days there bumming around, drinking coffee, eating cake and watching the Champions League final. After a couple of weeks of spartan living and existing on $10 a day, when presented with pizza, craft beer and curry it was easy to get carried away and I didn’t bat an eyelid at prices I would’ve baulked at a few days prior – penny wise pound foolish and all that. The chief excitement to be had in Huaraz without draining one’s wallet is the market where stalls abound selling ‘chocho’ – a little ceviche-like salad with beans instead of fish – fresh bread rolls, cheese, honey and an assortment of more uniquely Peruvian fare.