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"Rocky Roads in Perú part 2"
May 25, 2000

Sunset in the Andes

After the punishment from the day before, I decided to skip over the next 50km or so, in hopes that I would find roads in slightly better condition. I didn't. I arrived by bus in the town of Andahuelas at midday, which I figured would leave me plenty of time to ride the "40km" to Kishuará, the next village. 40km and about five hours later, I was still battling my way uphill, with no sign of Kishuará. The sun was setting, and I was treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets of my trip, as the warm light from the sun lit up the mist surrounding the snow covered Andes like fire. I stopped pedaling and stood in awe as the peaks slipped into the darkness, but soon the reality of my predicament descended upon me - I was in the middle of nowhere, an unknown distance from the next town, at a freezing cold 13,000 ft., and the last source of light and heat had just headed west. I decided to continue on, so I strapped on my headlamp and started to weave my way around the rocks. I had watched the sunset from the top of the hill, so it was downhill for as far as I could see (which wasn't very far,) but it was hard going. I had to slam on my brakes and brace myself to keep from crashing every few seconds. The hard dirt road from earlier in the day had turned into soft powder, and I found myself unaware of whether I was moving or not. It reminded me of snowboarding in a storm in powder.

My rear tire then exploded. With my frozen hands I tried to replace the tube with a spare and pump it up again. Just as I pulled off the pump, however, the whole stem came with it, deflating my new tube in a fraction of a second. I then had to try and repair the pinch-flatted tube. It was so cold that the patch glue barely came out of its tube, but I eventually managed a repair. Unfortunately, after pumping for several minutes, I realized that there was another hole somewhere, so I had to start all over again. By this point, my whole body was shaking, and I was cursing and swearing in both English and Spanish. I was nearing the end of my rope. Finally, my third attempt succeeded, and I continue my surfing down the narrow, rocky trail. Then the pack of wild dogs arrived. One would come running at me, and just as I managed to kick my way free from him, the next dog would arrive. I pulled out my pepper spray and starte to counter-attack. It was about then when I reached the low point of my trip. All I wanted was to be warm and dog free. I had given up on the idea of getting to Kishuará that evening, and even the idea of camping in the sub-freezing sounded good. Butr I still had toose the dogs. After another 20 minutes of rock-hopping, I was in the clear, and pulled my bike up a small hillside away from the road. I quickly put on every piece of clothing I had, slipped into my sleeping bag and bivy sack, and tried to restore feeling to my toes.

At about 3am, the effects of the Zithromax hit, and I once again heard the call of nature. The thought of getting out of my warm bivy sack, however, was too much to bear, and I sat sleepless and suffered until I could wait no more. Luckily, my bivy sack, originally designed for climbing, has special zippers on the sides to allow you to put your hands outside the bag without having to crawl out. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing is more necessary than having to pee without freezing to death, so I quickly figured out how to arrange the zippers so things other than my arms could protrude. I relieved myself while sleeping in the comfort of my warm bivy.

My frozen
shoesUnfortunately, I hadn't thought to calculate exactly where I had left my things the night before, and apparently my stream hit dead onto my shoes, which were just outside my bivy. I awoke the next morning to find them iced over in my own frozen urine.

I got back to the road and continued my way to Kishuará. Having daylight made navigation around ther rocks infinitely easier, and within an hour I was there. The moment I pulled into the town plaza, the kids immediately began to swarm around me. Before I could even dismount, there were dozens of them. This was, to say the least, not a place on the tourist trail, and my arrival became a major civic event. As I started to talk with the children, a woman came out of a building on the side of the plaza. She was the schoolteacher, and she insisted I go with her back to the classroom. Soon, I found myself at the blackboard, trying to teach "Row, row, row your boat" to a room full of six year olds. After I sang, they would come up and sing Peruvian songs for me. Thoughts of frozen, rocky, dog infested roads were no longer on my mind.

The kids of
KishuaráWhen I left the classroom, I was once again mobbed by the group of children in the plaza, who apparently were not part of school. I sat down and started writing English words on a piece of paper, but after almost inciting a riot over who got to keep the piece of paper, I had them line up, and, one by one, wrote whatever each child wanted on their own notebooks. "Numbers," one kid would say. "Animals" asked another. "A map of the United States." I sat and wrote translations for the next hour, until everyone was satisfied. Almost everyone also wanted my signature, making me feel even more like a member of Hansen.

Impromptu teaching in
KishuaráAfter almost three hours, I finally pulled myself away from the village, and headed on my way. Ten minutes into the ride, my tire exploded again. A passing flat bed truck offered to carry me along the road to a ruins site I was heading to, and seeing as I was still repairing my tire, I accepted. I was hoping to be able to fix my tire on the journey, but being in the back of a truck on these roads was worse than biking, and after being launched and having my chainring implant itself in my kneecap, I gave up on the repair and just held on.

When I arrived at the ruins, I was once again mobbed by kids. Apparently much of the area's children were on a field trip to the ruins. The teachers immediately invited me over and handed me a beer. They were dancing and playing music on guitar and flute, and I soon was dancing with one of the teachers, the whole crowd surrounding us in a circle. We then proceeded to lunch in a nearby field, where they fed me until I could eat no more. They also invited me to stay the night in the next town, but I decided that I wanted to get moving and catch a 4:00 bus instead.

Dancing at the ruinsSo off I went, pedaling in a frenzy, trying to make it to Juancaráma in time for the bus. I arrived just in time. Just in time, that is, to find out that the bus wasn't going to show up that day. One of the locals assured me that I could make it to Abancay, my destination, by bike before nightfall, but seeing as I was 70km away and I had two hours of sunlight left, I ignored the advice. The Peruvians may be some of the nicest people on earth, but they have absolutely no concept of time and distance. I was there for the night.

Another crowd formed around me, and I soon had several invitations for accomodation. My first thoguhts were on dinner, however, and I was out to find cuy (A.K.A guinea pig,) a delicacy that I had been seeking out since Ecuador. I figure It's not very often one gets the opportunity to eat an animal one had as a childhood ped, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I asked around, and was eventually directed to a place which was more a farmhouse than a restaurant. But there were a couple of tables, so I went in and asked if they had cuy. The owner said no, but ten minutes later, while I was siping down a beer, he said, "Do you still want cuy? It will take a while, but we can do it. I need about an hour to kill it, clean it, and prepare it." "Sure, I said." I figured that having an animal die as a direct result of your order gets right to the core of being a carnivore, and if I couldn't stomach that, I should skip meat altogether.

Guinea pig, anyone?An hour later, my cuy arrived - it was a full animal, splayed out on a pile of baby potatoes, its little claws and fuzzy little nose clearly identifiable. It tasted fantastic. It reminded me of the rich skin from a roasted turkey or chicken. It was a little unsettling when I got to the head, as memories of my pets, with their little noses pressed against the cage flashed before me, but the rich flavor once again overtook my thoughts.

By the time I was done with dinner, it was time too make good on one of my offers for lodging, but before I could leave, the owner of the farmhouse offered me a room as well. The room was apparently the crop storage room, as the floor was buried two feet deep in corn and potatoes, with a small pathway heading to the bed in the corner. It was heaven compared to freezing outside.

Corn accomodationEven though my original plan was to bus it to Abancay, the thought of "70km of downhill" was just too tempting to resist. Anyway, I was told that the road condition woud improve dramatically. Silly me. The "70km downhill" turned out to start out with 20km of climbing. There was indeed 30km of steep, steep downhill, which, although a bone-jarring ride, was notetheless very fun. Fun, at least, until, while navigating a technical turn at 40kph, I felt a sharp pain in my groin. I looked down and saw that a wasp was stinging me in the inner thigh. I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt, frantically swatting it away. I barely had time to register what was going on before I started getting attacked by several more wasps. I kicked it into high gear, hoping that they would have a harder time of stinging me at 50kph. I rode non-stop until I hit the bottom of the hill, about 20 minutes and a long way away from the wasps. From there I had another 15km of climbing in, of all things, baking heat. I was cursing everyone who told me that it was all downhill. There was no more downhill, and I arrived in Abancay dripping with sweat. Two ice creams and a shower at the gas station corrected that problem.

I had had it with riding uphill, so I caught an evening bus to Anta, just outside of Cusco. It was the best decision I'd made the whole trip. The road out of Abancay was uphill for two hours *by bus*, all on dirt switchbacks choked with diesel buses and trucks. I sat in the bus and munched on chocolate.

CuscoMy final day's ride out of Anta was only 26km, but it was over a mountain pass and everything was at 13,000ft, so what looked like a casual ride turned out to be quite a challenge. At least it was on pavement, for the first time in Perú. By lunchtime, I had crested the mountain, and could see down on the town of Cusco. But even from several kilometers away, I could see trouble brewing - the main plaza was packed with protesters, and megaphones could be heard all the way up the hill.

Copyright © 2000 Peter Birch All Rights Reserved.