November 07, 2004

Peru: The Sechura desert


Our first day of riding was a classic late start, saying goodbye, taking pictures and saying goodbye again. Luckily, leaving Trujillo, we had Josť, a Basque cyclist who has been cycling around the world for 4 1/2 years.
To my surprise with the wind at our back, (an all too rare and delicious pleasure for any cyclist) we did 45km before even stopping to take a break. By 15:30 we were in Pacasmayo about 110km from Trujillo, where we were able to spend the night in the fire hall. The next day another 110km got us to the busy city of Chiclayo where we spent the night in another cyclist guest home.
What lay ahead of us after that, is 200km of desert with not a single town on the map.

We packed the bike up with every water container we had, about 8L in preparation for the long road. Fortunately the winds that had been pushing us up from Lima were still with us on the desert and the progress was relatively easy.

What impressed me was that this desert has some very nice and spectacular sand dunes as I had imagined. But also that most of the time the desert has either some kind of shrub or in many parts is full of trees. In the last 70km as we approached Piura we were surrounded by Algarrobina trees. On these, grow very big beans that look like giant, dry green beens. These beans are then processed into a sweet syrup that is pretty much used just like we would use Maple syrup in Canada. I am still partial to maple syrup but algarrobina syrup definitely has a very strong particular flavour that I enjoyed.
At about 45km from Piura there is a collection of small villages. The people who live there work in what appeared to me to be very marginal agricultural conditions (mostly corn and sugar cane along with apiculture and Algarrobina).
We saw people hauling 50 litre bags of water on mules back to their homes on the side of the road.

Side note: I saw my first movie in a theater for the first time in 8 months today. I had been hoping for a long time to see South American films in South America. But as my luck would have it, all the pirated DVD's available are of Hollywood and the cinemas as well. But here in Piura the brand new 8 screen megaplex had the Peruvian "Dias de Santiago" playing once a day. I highly recommend seeing it if any of you have the chance. It is a fantastic look at the like of an ex-combattant in Peru who is trying to re-integrate into society in Lima.

Other Side note: The posters and political banners are out for the Peru 2006 elections. And there are two ex-presidents postulating, Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori... As far as I recall neither has his hands clean, but somehow they feel they have a chance. They may just get it because at the moment the current president Alojandro Toledo has record low popularity throughout the country.

Posted by gwendal at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

Peru: Cyclist guest home in Trujillo

Triple chocolate, cinnamon custard, lemon merengue... desserts you can find along most street corners of Peru. Behind the tempered glass of this dessert display case was no ordinary pastry vendor but the home of Lucho, Aracelly, Angela and Luna; Trujillo's "Casa de Ciclistas".

The first time we heard about the "Casa de Ciclistas" was over 2000km ago when we crossed paths with Martin Lutz, a German cyclist, on the road to Potosi in Bolivia, who let us in on the network of "Casa de Ciclistas". The second time came 1000km later when we crossed two french cyclists in Cusco who's first words were "Have we got a contact for you in Trujillo!, a Pasteleria (a place where desserts are sold)" and there Fabricio and Sylvain gave us the directions for the "Casa de Ciclistas" in Trujillo. And the charm came just 50km south of Trujillo, where two hobby cyclists, out for a ride ( a mere 100km jaunt), saw our bicycle and stopped to tell us about a place to stay in Trujillo. By the time we arrived in Trujillo it was now clear that this was not a normal place. So when we phoned to announce our arrival. Gwendal enquired politely if it would bother Aracelly if we stayed at their place. The reply was immediate, that she would be very bothered if we did not come by right away... then the phone cut out.

We knew where to go more or less, but we were hungry. It was already 3:30 and we had not eaten since breakfast, so we decided to prepare guacamole sandwiches in the Plaza de Armas before tackling the streets full of moto-taxis again.

As usual, preparing lunch in the plaza attracts the attention of passers-by who fire off half a dozen of questions like: Where are you from? Where have you come from,? Only by bicycle? The two of you pedal at once? Don't you get tired? and our personal favourite How are your kidneys?

During question period, one of us usually prepares lunch while the other jovially responds to the concerns for our internal organs. I had just finished making our sandwiches when a gentleman and a sidekick commented on how ingenious our bike box was, then extended his hand out and introduced himself as Luis Ramirez, otherwise known as Lucho and his sidekick was Petcho, who we would later find out to be a cycle racer in training. Apparently Aracelly had told Lucho that a cyclist had called for directions, who sounded very sweet and that he should go out and try and find us. We were escorted back to his house. This was the first of several harrowing follow-Lucho-through-one-way-streets-the-wrong-way rides in Trujillo.

We were accepted into the modest house near the market with open arms. There we signed the guestbook as cyclists 609 and 610. Faded-yellow posters of bicycle road races wallpaper the walls. A well used bike repair area overlooks the communal kitchen. This two-storey abode is where Lucho and his family have been hosting cyclists who are travelling north or south since 1985

During our stay there were two spaniards who have been cycling for 4 1/2 years and one brazilian who had just began his travels in Quito. The atmosphere was comforting and humbling. We shared meals and stories, exercise tips, dessert recipes and their dog Luna's first birthday. We really did not have a moment to catch our breath. By the time our planned day of departure came and went (3 days), we had visited the the Temple of the Sun and Moon, ruins from the Moche period (pre inca, pre chimu), given swimming lessons at the local pool, visited the largest mud city in South America (Chan Chan) and watched Gwendal, Lucho and Petcho compete in a Mountain Bike Race of Trujillo. Gwendal placed 5th, and Petcho 1st with Lucho placing 1st in the Master's category. We ended up staying 6 days rounding out our visit with a visit to the beach where we watched a great surf competition on the backdrop of the fisherman that fish with reed boats, Gwendal giving a blind man a ride on the tandem and getting a relaxing massage.

Throughout the year, Lucho and family, without any question take in new cycle tourists into their home for 1 night and sometimes up to 3 or 4 months. For us our hosts Lucho, Aracely and Angela are so of welcoming that for a little while a cycle tourist can find a little bit home that they left behind a month, ten months or 5 years ago.

Posted by gwendal at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2004

PERU: A Dog`s first birthday, ruins and cycletourists

Triple chocolate, cinnamon custard, lemon merengue... desserts you can find along most street corners of Peru. Behind the tempered glass of this dessert display case was no ordinary pastry vendor but the home of Lucho, Aracelly, Angela and Luna; Trujillo's "Casa de Ciclistas".

The first time we heard about the "Casa de Ciclistas" was over 2000km ago when we crossed paths with Martin Lutz, a German cyclist, on the road to Potosi in Bolivia, who let us in on the network of "Casa de Ciclistas". The second time came 1000km later when we crossed two french cyclists in Cusco who's first words were "Have we got a contact for you in Trujillo!, a Pasteleria (a place where desserts are sold)" and there Fabricio and Sylvain gave us the directions for the "Casa de Ciclistas" in Trujillo. And the charm came just 50km south of Trujillo, where two hobby cyclists, out for a ride ( a mere 100km jaunt), saw our bicycle and stopped to tell us about a place to stay in Trujillo. By the time we arrived in Trujillo it was now clear that this was not a normal place. So when we phoned to announce our arrival. Gwendal enquired politely if it would bother Aracelly if we stayed at their place. The reply was immediate, that she would be very bothered if we did not come by right away... then the phone cut out.

We knew where to go more or less, but we were hungry. It was already 3:30 and we had not eaten since breakfast, so we decided to prepare guacamole sandwiches in the Plaza de Armas before tackling the streets full of moto-taxis again.

As usual, preparing lunch in the plaza attracts the attention of passers-by who fire off half a dozen of questions like: Where are you from? Where have you come from,? Only by bicycle? The two of you pedal at once? Don't you get tired? and our personal favourite How are your kidneys?

During question period, one of us usually prepares lunch while the other jovially responds to the concerns for our internal organs. I had just finished making our sandwiches when a gentleman and a sidekick commented on how ingenious our bike box was, then extended his hand out and introduced himself as Luis Ramirez, otherwise known as Lucho and his sidekick was Petcho, who we would later find out to be a cycle racer in training. Apparently Aracelly had told Lucho that a cyclist had called for directions, who sounded very sweet and that he should go out and try and find us. We were escorted back to his house. This was the first of several harrowing follow-Lucho-through-one-way-streets-the-wrong-way rides in Trujillo.

We were accepted into the modest house near the market with open arms. There we signed the guestbook as cyclists 609 and 610. Faded-yellow posters of bicycle road races wallpaper the walls. A well used bike repair area overlooks the communal kitchen. This two-storey abode is where Lucho and his family have been hosting cyclists who are travelling north or south since 1985

During our stay, there were two spaniards who have been cycling for 4 1/2 years and one brazilian who had just began his travels in Quito.

The atmosphere was comforting and humbling. We shared meals and stories, exercise tips, dessert recipes and their dog, Luna's first birthday.

We really did not have a moment to catch our breath. By the time our planned day of departure came and went (3 days), we had visited the the Temple of the Sun and Moon, ruins from the Moche period (pre inca, pre chimu),

given swimming lessons at the local pool, visited the largest mud city in South America (Chan Chan)

and watched Gwendal, Lucho and Petcho compete in a Mountain Bike Race in a suburb of Trujillo.

Gwendal placed 5th, and Petcho 1st with Lucho placing 2nd in the Master's category. We ended up staying 6 days rounding out our visit with a visit to the beach where we watched a great surf competition on the backdrop of the fisherman that fish with reed boats,

Gwendal giving Lucho's blind friends rides on the tandem and me getting the reward of a relaxing massage from the blind massage therapist.

Throughout the year, Lucho and family, without any question take in new cycle tourists into their home for 1 night and sometimes up to 3 or 4 months. For us, our hosts, Lucho, Aracely and Angela are so of welcoming that for a little while a cycle tourist can find a little bit home that they left behind a month, ten months or 5 years ago. To paraphrase Heinze Stucke, who has been cycle touring around the globe for 42 years describes in his book, that I read while at the "Casa". The people of south america think with their hearts and then deal with logistics later. I think that is what is at the heart of this "Casa de Ciclistas".

Posted by tania at 07:24 PM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2004

Peru: Escape from LimA


Just as in the post Apocalyptic movie starring Kurt Russel "Escape from LA"
Leaving Lima was a harrowing experience.

We left early from the very nice and wealthy neighbourhood of Miraflores. It did not take long for the clean curbs to make way to half built buildings and potholes. In a city of 9 million inhabitants with no well developped transit infrastructure, like many other large mega cities in devellopping countries the roads are chaotic to say the least. The buses are of all shapes and sizes with the traditional north american school bus playing a significant part. Also as in most parts of South America the "micro" small-no headroom-no space for long legs-lets try to fit 24 people in here mini-van and belch out black smoke is king, closely followed by the very little yellow four door Dyhatsu taxis. Luckily our high altitude training for two months in the Andes served us well as we were able to survive the oxigen deprived atmosphere of Lima's exhaust-ed roads.

In the spring in Lima while we were there there was a near constant fog (much like San Fransisco) that drifts in from the ocean and drapes the city. As we made our way out however were were never really sure at which point the fog stopped and the smog ended.

To make it out we lugged a 2kg bag of trail mix we had put together in the market. Rasins, smarties, banana chips, brazil nuts, peanuts and prunes.
It was a good thing because we had to ride 45km to find the edge of the city and all this time we did not feel inclined to stop for very long for fear of being "discovered" by a theif lucky enough to stumble upon us.

We were rewareded near the end of the day when the Pan-american highway north splits. One road is for light traffic and goes inland for 40km, and the other is for heavy traffic and huggs the coast. In fact we did not know it but this road was illegal for cyclists... but the police after talking to us for a few minutes gave us a few tips about the road ahead and radioed to the next car that we would be passing by. In fact for 600km approximately every 20-30 km we have had the benefit of the police radio-ing our approach ahead. So that we felt really ultra well looked after. The heavy traffic road was amazing, the trucks were not too frequent and the road is perched on the side of what appears to be a sand dune that falls right into the ocean. The light fog really added to the eerie feeling that we were leaving the city behind and entering into a totally new landscape.

Posted by gwendal at 10:34 AM | Comments (6)

October 19, 2004

Peru: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays whose exact date is always fuzzy (especially if you are not sure you are American or Canadian). It is always for us canucks the first weekend of October. As such it somehow crept up on me as we were cycling north out of La Paz along the shores of lake Titicaca towards Cuzco in Peru. On our tenth day of cycling we crossed the "Abras de la Reyas" a pass at 4338 meters in altitude that marks the end of the Altiplano and opens up to a new watershed and its much more humid climate around Cuzco. The difference is subtle but after more than a month on the Altiplano it looked lush and green to me.

We followed the river down 1200m into ever increacing greenery and agriculture. As it is spring here, all the fields were being tilled by oxen and entire families were out pulling out weeds and preparing the fields for sowing. This meant that we had a lot of company along the roadside which was a welcome change from some of the more remote and windy parts of the altiplano. Although in Peru your first contact with children and farmers is often "Gringo" or "Mister" but once you reply in spanish they are immediately very friendly and curious.
We soon realized that although we had gone a long way downhill we would not make it to Cuzco that day. Luckily at kilometre 1080 we had been warned by two Equadorian cyclists we had met earlier that there is a Cheese (Queso) and milk farm that will let you camp in their field with the cows.

The next morning was Thanksgiving day and we were treated by the owner Noheimaimi to an excellent freshly pressed cheese and bread along with a very very good cafe au lait. Concequently we stayed a little longer ot savour our breakfeast and chatted with Noheimaimi. Eventually at 11am we managed to set off towards the big city of Cuzco. We were warned by Noheimaimi that Suylla about 20km before Cuzco is famous for "chicharon de chancho" which is deep fried pork. However 25km out of Cuzco were already very hungry and we crossed the town of Tipon which is famous for "Cuy al Horno" a very popular dish that dates back to the Incas. I did not totally realize what we were in for but I soon recalled that Cuy is Guinea pig and we were going to have one for thanksgiving lunch. One serving was enough for the two of us as it came with baked potatoes, noodles and stuffed peppers. It was not turkey, but the preparation almost made it feel like a thanksgiving dinner. (we were so grateful to be so close to our goal). The only thing you had to get over were that the guinea pig is baked with the head and the paws still attached and meant to be eaten.

Other notes: Cuzco to our suprise was a long and slow 200m climb after lunch on a busy road. We got our share of exhaust fumes for about 15km. However once in the historical centre of the city it is a very pleasant and calm place that almost feels sleepy compared to the hustle and bustle of La Paz.

Machu Pichu: Were very hesitant about visiting. For a long time we considered skipping out altogether and only going to see Choquiquerao the lesser known but also very interesting ruins where the Incas are beleived to have remained un-molested by the conquistadors for 40 years before they abandoned it to nature. But we just could not go through with it, and we plunged in with the crowds and took the train down the valley to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Pichu. The whole approach and the town feel like you are in a mini Whistler. It also happened to hit the pocket book like a day at Whistler $50 US. However just like Whistler after a good day of powder skiing the crowds did not matter. I walked down the mountain with the legs burning and elated.

Posted by gwendal at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)