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.
Deciding not to push on to Cajamarca proved to be a blessing in disguise when Miguel, noticing my beleaguered state, offered me a discounted room at his Tetem Backpackers. He proved to be an absolute mensch and the place, with its huge rooms and heated pool was the perfect place to spend a day off. If you’re in the area check it out!
A couple of days before I arrived in Chachapoyas I noticed some paint peeling on the frame of the bike. It was only later while giving it a clean I realised it was something much more serious. The welding at the join between one of the seat stays and the seat tube had completely cracked and the two were no longer attached. I went online to find out how bad this was and, much like how WebMD can make a mild rash seem like a virulent case of smallpox, the various cycling forums soon led me to believe that I had no choice but to give up on my frame or else suffer the dreaded “catastrophic failure”. There was never any mention of partial or slight failure, it just had to be catastrophic. It was clear that if I rode my bike again it would instantly explode and I would die. On the other hand replacing the frame would be time consuming, expensive and a logistical nightmare. As I lay there in my hostel bed I saw my whole trip flash before my eyes. Surely there had to be a way to fix this.
With all the birthday jollities behind me I had a nice easy day heading south from San Ignacio. A forgiving incline gave way to 20km of downhill and soon I was down at the valley floor, only 400m above sea level, tracking the river as it zig-zagged south. With little to no traffic my attention was diverted by the legion of millipedes inching their way across the hot road and the eagles soaring above.
Travelling by bike is full of surprises. You cycle 200km relatively untroubled and look at the next 200km on the map and think “It can’t be that different, can it?” but of course it always is. I didn’t know much about the route from Loja to Peru other than that it was lower in altitude and I assumed that meant “easier”. I was wrong.
Taking the bus was easier than expected. All I had to do was detach all my panniers and pay the porter a small fee (I suspect this was a gringo tax) to store the bike. The road from Salinas to Guayaquil was just as I’d imagined: a boring, straight road past innumerable banana groves, and I felt further vindicated in taking the bus when the entire area around Guayaquil proved to be a swelteringly hot maelstrom of traffic and confusion.
After almost 3 weeks it was a little emotional saying goodbye to The Cottages. Wilmer gave me a black and yellow striped polo shirt, some cologne and a roll-on deodorant as goodbye gifts. That’s not just one, but two scented products. He was clearly trying to tell me something. Thankfully cologne is an essential for bike tourers and I’m sure to be the best smelling lone camper in provincial Northern Peru.
Once I set my sights on the coastal route I thought it worthwhile to try another Workaway. Why bother taking such a big detour without putting aside some time to enjoy the fruits of the costeño culture…and twat around in the sea? Kimberly was looking for volunteers proficient in Spanish to work at her Cottages in the small town of San Jacinto and I signed right up.
Zumbahua: a fork in the roads. To continue south through the mountains or cut west to the coast? My mind was already made up. Due to El Nino it’s been an unseasonably wet rainy season and April is supposedly the worst month. The idea of day after day of camping in the wet wasn’t too appealing. On top of that I knew this would be my last opportunity to get some beach time for like 9 months and I simply couldn’t resist the prospect of checking out the ruta del sol and having a few beers on the way.
I was overjoyed to be back on the bike and the first hour was pure bliss. No more 7 o clock starts or meat to chop. Just me, my trusty 2 wheeled companion, and the road ahead. As a way of avoiding the motorway I set forth up a wee road towards Las Lagunas de Mojanda: a gaggle of lakes in the mountains midway between Otavalo and Tabacundo. The cobblestone road was cutthroat – a real ruthless bastard. Both bumpy and steep, it had my farm-softened legs pushing the bike a fair chunk of the 17km climb, the most I’d pushed the bike since the first couple of days back in Antiochia. Despite the difficulty I was quite enjoying the challenge. Then came the rain. By the time I reached the lakes I was a drowned rat.