What is shaping up to be quite the epic journey to Cusco in time for New Year’s Eve definitely continued today! We left Ayucucho later than planned as Sam and Linus were trying to sort out why Sam’s bike was making a high pitched jingling noise, thanks to the pot hole road from hell. While they were working I managed to find some street food breakfast sandwiches from a nice old lady so we didn’t have to repeat the lack of morning food mayhem that occurred yesterday, and I made sure that there was no mystery meat hidden anywhere for Linus. After feeling fairly confident they solved the jingling we got on the road around 9:30. In an attempt to direct us away from traffic congestion, google maps lead us through a maze of nasty rutted out and steep dirt roads through some questionable neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. We eventually found the main road, stopped to get gas and continued to fiddle with Sam’s bike that was STILL jingling. While I was hanging out waiting for them to finish, a Peruvian couple approached me and I put together that the woman really wanted to have a photo with me. This is becoming quite the pattern here in Peru! I was happy to oblige and even helped her to sit in my bike for a photo. Luckily Linus was right there, because as she hopped on, the bike nearly toppled over! We both steadied it, posed for the photo and she happily hopped off and thanked us without even knowing she almost hit the ground. Whew!
Finally, we were truly heading out of town around 10:30. The roads seemed to be in great condition and the scenery was, again, super beautiful as we climbed high above the valley towards more high plains. I was settling in nicely to the mix of gentle curves and hairpins when I thought I felt my bike wobble in a strange way, but I brushed it off and continued up to the next hair pin. It happened again but more pronounced, a feeling of loss of control and wobbling from behind. Luckily Linus was behind me so I pulled over to tell him about it, but before I could speak he said, “well, well, you have a flat tire back here!” New challenge! He pumped it up enough for me to drive a little further to a good spot to fix it and we got to work. Sam had been driving ahead and we figured he would eventually make his way back when he didn’t see us. Linus was very excited to use his invention from an old crutch to jack the bike up, and he had the rear tire off in no time. The culprit? A ginormous nail that did a decent number on the tube.
I probably picked it up on our rough exit out of town and then the damage was done when the road got twisty. After almost an hour of working Sam finally showed up, thank goodness, just in time to help get the tire sealed around the rim which is the hardest part. It took another 45 minutes! SO, at 12:45 we FINALLY got moving with the annoying realization that we would not make our planned destination for today which would most likely land us in Cusco pretty late on New Year’s Eve.
The roads continued to be in great condition, but a constant repetition of switchbacks up and down and up and down through the mountains. I guess this is why the Andes are so famous. It’s one thing to hear about them and something completely different when you actually experience the sheer scale of these mountainous roads. Jim Sherner, I now fully understand what you were talking about! An image that keeps coming to mind is that these roads resemble a handful of wet spaghetti noodles being thrown at and stuck to a wall. Between the road itself, the combination of insane Peruvian drivers, aggressive and suicidal dogs, and huge herds of livestock, you simply can’t move quickly. It takes an incredible amount of focus to drive on these epic roads! It’s turning out to be a valuable learning experience for my driving skills, though. I am starting to feel really comfortable and in control of the bike these days!
We stopped in one of the tiny little towns along the road to get a few snacks for lunch. We all decided that we didn’t want to have anymore meat adventures at the moment, so we stocked up on various crackers, cookies, chocolate and some oranges from a little bodega and settled in some shade at an abandoned gas station to eat. It truly felt like we were deep in the remote mountains. All of the dwellings were built from mud bricks and were very simple, and the only two bathrooms in town were at the two eateries. We were running into more and more locals running herds of various combinations of pigs, sheep, cows and goats, and we were definitely getting a lot more curious and dumbfounded, open mouthed stares. For the most part, though, if we smile and wave or even try to speak a little Spanish, we seem to get a warm reception.
The afternoon drive took us into some beautiful and very high mountain valleys, so back on with the warm gear yet again. It’s crazy how the mountains almost resemble the swiss alps, super green and craggy, but then you see a bunch of yucca and cactus plants. And then all at once you are, once again, above the timber line driving through cold, wet air and brown scrub brush. All while looking out across a massive valley into red rock. It is simply dizzying. And then all at once you drop into an insanely chaotic little city where no one gives two shits about traffic rules and use their horns like oxygen, and won’t hesitate to knock you over. A word that comes to mind to describe Peru: Bipolar.
Around 6:30, after only 146 miles for the day, and in the pouring rain, we arrived in our back up town of Andahuaylas to look for a place to sleep. Linus expertly guided us to a decent little spot with parking across the street. We checked in and spread all our gear out to attempt to get it dry before morning and set out to find a proper meal. Linus and Sam were set on hamburgers and I was so burned out and slightly culture shocked on the food that I had no opinion in the matter. I ended up with, you guessed it, a chicken sandwich. Ugh. I stomached half of it and had an inner melt down as I longed for a huge plate of fresh, raw, crunchy vegetables that wouldn’t give me the shits. We did have some good comic relief at the expense of Sam during dinner: as Linus was experimenting with various sauces for the french fries he managed to send some herby mayonaise sideways into a splattering mess all over Sam. It had clearly been a long day as Linus was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his cheeks. Sorry Sam! We were all spent after dinner and passed out early, in preparation for the final haul to Cusco. Cusco or bust!!!