Mittwoch, 19. Januar 2011

English Summary No. 7

After eight weeks break from cycling we left Huaraz in the direction of Trujillo. Our hope to see the Cordillera Blanca's beautiful mountains one last time was disappointed. The sky remained grey all day, we never got even a glimpse of Huascarán & Co. The first drops fell around noon and it began to rain seriously soon after we had reached the Cañon del Pato. The Cañon del Pato is a narrow gorge through which leads an even narrower dirt and stone road. Because of the weather we didn't get to appreciate much the interesting landscape. By the time we arrived in the town of Huallanca we were a bit annoyed by the rain and the bad road conditions and hoped to soon find a dry place to stay. But the hostales were either too expensive, full or the owners weren't there. So we were quite gratefull when a shop owner offered us a place to sleep, without beds but it was dry and we had our camping mats, so no problems there.

The next day was the contrary, weather like. When we had to climb a little hill at eight in the morning we were sweating and wishing back some of the clouds of the day before. In some places the canyon opend up to a valley, then it narrowed back into a gorge with steep walls forcing the road through many tunnels. We were happy we didn't have to climb up to Huaraz on this gravel strip which was really bad most of the time. We hoped to make it to the small village of Estación Chuquicara until the evening but didn't know how much further it would be. And, as always when you want to reach a place the same day, Martina had a flat tire. In spite of adverse road conditions and bad luck me made it to the village and even found a room for the night.

We left early in the morning, as always. We had reached the pavement in the evening and could enjoy much faster riding now, especially as it was going downhill. But only for some eight kilometers, then we turned off the main road into a private road leading through the desert and saving us entering the city of Chimbote. This dirt road was in a very good condition in the beginning. Later it got so bad that I had to stop and dig the dirt away from under my fenders. We followed the river Santa for some 30 km, then turned to the right into the desert. This was a dry and hot place with a lot of dust every time a car passed us. But it was mainly flat and it didn't take too long to reach the Panamericana which was broad and paved again. But it was boring. Perfectly flat with only some gray-brownish hills on both sides and, of course, with headwind. We arrived in Chao around mid-afternoon and decided to stay as we didn't know whether there was any accommodation further on and didn't want to camp so close to Trujillo.

The next day was not particularly interessting. The Panam was as flat as ever, just a few easy flatish hills. It was foggy, so the only thing we could see were the fields on both sides, sometimes the sand dunes on our right behind the fields. We arrived in Trujillo bevore midday and found Lucho's famous Casa de Ciclista without too much trouble. To our disconfort it turned out that Lucho's father had passed away the day before and the funeral was going to take place this afternoon. The whole family was gathering in the house where we had planned to stay. Oh man, what a bad timing! Although, Lucho didn't have any problems at all with our arrival at that moment and just asked for our help that afternoon.

We planned to stay a few days to maximum a week in Trujillo. But when Lucho found out that I used to run a lot back home he talked me into taking part in a halfmarathon which was going to take place some two weeks later. We went training a few times, the rest of the time I just spent in the Casa talking to other Ciclistas. The house was quite full at that time so nobody could get bored.

The halfmarathon itself was intersting in terms of peruvian organisation. For the first time in my life the start of a run was early, which meant that I and quite a few other runners weren't ready. But, skipping some 100 meters, I sort of caught up with the field, but as I hadn't crossed the start line, my time wouldn't be measured. But ok, we're in Peru here, so let's run and not care about that. In the beginning it was no problem finding the right way through the city, later the peoble who should direct the runners in the right directin seemed to have left, so everybody just followed the runners before them, hoping they were taking the correct route. In many places there was nobody anymore stopping traffic, so in times it was a bit tricky not to get overrun by the careless peruvian car drivers. But against all odds, I made it to the finish, and in a surprisingly good time. Later another participant told me that we must have cut short a few kilometers. Ah, that explained the good time. Didn't bother me much, though. As long as we didn't run too far...

During that time in Trujillo, two teenie-cyclists saved a tiny kitten from certain death on the streets. As it was to be expected I couldn't resist the cute cat and adopted her. Next day we went to find shampoo suitable for animals and showered the poor but dirty thing. While "Truji" was shy in the beginning, she got happier in the following days, always looking for somebody to hold her. I bought a small backpack so she could travel with me on the bike.

A few days after the run we left Trujillo in the direction of Cajamarca. Thst meant we were going to take the route through the mountains and had one or another nice, long climb awaiting us. Lucho accompanied us for a day and a half, then had to turn back in the rain while Martina and I continued to Otuzco. After that town there was no more pavement. The dirt road was not too bad in the beginning but wet and sticky from the rain the day before. The next three days until Cajabamba included quite a lot of up and down, sometimes with sunshine, sometimes in heavy rain, hail and even thunderstorms. We were happy and faster when there was pavement, got dirty and slow on (sometimes extremely bad) gravelroads.

On our fifth day after Trujillo in the early afternoon we reached Cajabamba. We stayed in the Hostal Sol Naciente which was a great choice. After Cajabamba the road was paved again and in a good condition. We enjoyed a long bajada into a green, tropical valley where I gave my kitty to a little girl we met during a break. I just hope I found a good home for Truji. The next climb was not far away and rather tough in the heat but we were rewarded with an awesome downhill ride to San Marcos where we stayed inspite of the early afternoon to avoid more rain. The next day dawned gray and wet, got bright and sunny, then rainy again. We head the usual up and down, only the last 10 kilometers to Cajamarca were flat but very wet. In the city we spent quite a lot of time looking for a nice but not too expensive hostel.

After a few days in Cajamarca we set out again. The landscape was hilly as always, the pavement lasted for some 25 kilometers then we rode on dirt again. To our surprise, we made in to Celendín in one day which was over 100 kilometers with quite some up and down. After that, the mountains got steeper and the distances per day shorter. We sped down into the valley of the river Marañon, an extremely hot place. So we cut the day short and found a place to camp under a huge mango tree behind the house of some very christian and very friendly people. Very early in the morning we began climbing our subida of about 2'600-2'800 m. It was warm but as we were gaining altitude again it was bearable. We camped besides a restaurant that night and started early again next day. Until noon we were on the pass and enjoyed the view down into the valley.

The other side was very different, all green grass and trees, farms with milk cows, it could have been in the Swiss mountains. It was a long and cool bajada until Leymebamba where we planned to stay two nights and do some sightseeing. After getting the relevant information we decided to just visit the local museum and leave the next day. Other things we would have liked to see were too far away. The mueseum turned out to be worth the few hours we spent there. In the afternoon we cycled to the small town of Tingo where we would visit the ruins of Kuelap the next morning.

Kuelap is among the most important archeological sites in the North of Peru. But as a taxi woud have been expensive and bus service irregular, we hiked up a steep path in over three hours. We easily found a guide and were shown through the complex for about an hour. The architecture there is a mix between Chachapoya and Inca style as the Incas conquered the Chachapoya Culture but didn't destroy their buildings but added their own. To their bad luck, the Chachapoya later helped the Spanish to conquer the Incas in an attempt to free themselves from Incan rulers. Obviously, that worked but instead of beeing free, the Chachapoya were supressed and exploited by the Spanish which were probably worse than the Incas.

Our next destination was the city of Chachapoyas which wer reached after a ride through the vally of the Rio Utcubamba and a two hour climb up a hill. Here, the weather definitely began to change, the rainy season was about to beginn (or already had begun). Anyway, in Chachapoyas we learned what "rain" really means, e.g. that you risk getting swept away should you happen to be on the road at that time. We planned to visit the Catarata Gocta, the third-highest waterfall on earth. That included an "easy" half-day ride from Chacapoyas to the tiny village of Cocachimba. That is, easy was the part on the paved road, then we had to climb five kilometers up a hill which was so incredibly steep that we had to take a break at every other turn of the "road". But we made it just bevore the usual afternoon downpour. We found a very basic hostal room from where we enjoyed watching the sky flodding our environment.

We hiked out to the waterfall very early in the morning. It didn't have as much water as on the pictures we had seen. That was, as we were told, because "it is not yet the rainy season here", that would only be in March.Oook, if this wasn't the rainy season, how would this area look in March?? Water all over the place? We still liked the waterfall and the fact that we were early and the only ones there. Although we didn't see much wildlife, we came to make some nice pictures of the Cock on the Rock, the Peruvian national bird. On our way back we met several guided groups on their way to the Catarata.

We were back at the "hostel" bevore noon, so we used the rest of the day to cycle to to Pedro Ruiz. It was warm there, but we still didn't know how incredibly hot the next few days to San Ignacio were going to be. Once we had reached the low valleys with their tropical climate we began to appreciate the cooler temperatures back up in the mountains. We made it in one day from Pedro Ruiz to Bella Vista and because of the heat planned to leave even earlier than usual next day. Didn't work out because of a flat tire of Martina's bike that had "grown" over night. So what, one might think, flat tires are part of ciclists' life. Yep, true, but this tire would be cause for much mor trouble for Martina, finding its end only in Cuenca.

So, when we set out an hour later than planned it was already hot and the first few kilometers of the dirt and stone road made cycling even harder. Things got easier once we had reached the paved main road. Later Martina had to fix another flat tire and was getting encreasingly annoyed. The heat didn't exactly help to improve her mood so we stopped early as soon as we found a place to stay. We had never enjoyed a cold shower so much!

The next morning we were on the road as soon as there was enough light to cycle. It was already warm (rather it had never cooled down) but still confortable. Martina's flat tire no. 3 didn't take long. The problem was the following: Her tire was damaged on the inside which had punched the inner tube in Bella Vista, where she had put her replacement tire. Unfortunately, that one was narrower than the original tube which seemed to squeez and damage the tube now. So she put a patch on her old tire hoping this would work. And it did, at least for the moment. After a long and hard climb, again on sticky dirt,  we made it to San Ignacio, Peru's border town.

We took a day off and then set out to Ecuador. We were at a higher altitude now, it was much cooler and sometimes we had rain. The procedure on the Peruvian side of the border was rather complicated because we had overstayed. On the other hand, in Ecuador it was fast and in no time we were pedalling on again. But not for long. We had been warned about bad and steep roads in Ecuador but this was much worse than anybody could believe. Only after a few hundred meters we found ourselves pushing our bikes up a stone and sand road hoping not to slide backwards. We made some 6 kilometers in Ecuador that day, than decided to camp besides a soccer field in a tiny town.

We started very early again, but as soon as the sun was out, we felt like we were getting roasted. The incredibly steep ups and downs continued. Sometimes we even had to take breaks on downhill streches because my hands hurt from breaking! We pushed a lot again, sometimes it even took the two of us for one bike. We arrived in Zumba before noon but decided to stay, it was way too hot to climb more hills. We found a cheap hotel with the long desired cold shower.

Of course, we got up early again, climbed a not so bad hill, sped down into a valley and began dragging us up the next mountain. It was hot again. We were just taking a break when a pick-up stopped and the driver offered us a ride. Already in Zumba we had discussed taking a bus as Martina suffered a lot from the heat and her back hurt from pushing uphill her heavy bike. I can't deny I felt tempted myself by the offer. So we took the hitch and saved ourselves some 150 long, steep and hot kilometers. In Vilcabamba we found an reasonably priced hotel with Jacuzzi and ended up staying six days. Vilcabamba is mighty "Gringo Town" because it is located beautifully in green hills, it has a moderate climate and will be saved when the world ends on December 21, 2012, as we were told. Altough we didn't do that much, we felt busy all the time. One day we rented horses and rode through the hills for about 5 hours with a guide. Awesome and recommendable (our guide was called Holger and has well trained, and well cared for horses).

We finally went on and made it to Loja in an easy one day trip. We stayed two nights because we needed some things organised. To Cuenca would be harder and longer, but we managed to save ourselves some kilometers and many hills be incidentally finding an old dirt road that follows a river instead of climbing one hill after the other.

(For Ciclistas travelling North: When leaving Loja, follow the indications to Cuenca first, but never turn left, keep going strainght ahead. If you reach a dirt road leading through a valley you're right. You might ask for "la routa anciana" to Cuenca.
For Ciclistas travelling South: After Saraguro you will climb a hill, enjoy the downhill strech to "San Lucas". After that village at the bottom of the valley there is a bridge called "Puente San Lucas". Just bevore that bridge a dirt road turns left. That's your way, much shorter and flater than the Panam.)

We reached the Panam again and climbed a hill when Martina had a flat tire again. We knew, changing tubes wouldent help anymore, if the patch she had put on the damaged part inside the tire was used up, only changing tires would help. Martina hadn't bought a new tire in Loja because the bike mechanic in Vilcabamba had asured her that the patch was fine. It wasn't anymore, so we hitched to the next town, Saraguro, where Martina found a new tire. Which didn't work with all the weight. The only solution was to go back to Loja and by a better tire there. So we found a Hostal and took a bus to Loja early next morning.

We left Saraguro a day later. It was another early morning, another day with uncountable ups and downs, some short, some long. The last downhill strech was increadibly cool, long and relativly steep. The only bad thing was the long and equally steep climb that followed. We kept going some kilometers until the small village of Susudel and stopped at a restaurant for a coffee. There we met a friendly family who invided us to stay at their house when they found out we were going to camp outsied the restaurand. It was still early but we didn't feel like cycling up in the rain and fog further up on the mountain. So we spent a very entertaining afternoon with Alexandra, Pati, their Dutch husbands and kids.

Next morning, life was serious again and we tackled the hill we had refused the day before. The weather was much better and even climbing a long, steep hill was not too bad. We had been told that we had some 40 km uphill or more or less uphill to the top which was surprisingly correct. We enjoyed a wonderfull, long and steep downhill ride to the village of Cumbe. We could have made it to Cuenca the same day but would have arrived in the late afternoon, something we don't like. So we spent the night in Cumbe (there is no accommodation but we managed to find an empty room where we could spread our camping mats).

It took us not even two hours to Cuenca the next day where we spent some time looking for a nice hostal. We found the "Hogar Cuencano" at the corner Hermano Miguel and Calle Larga, which we can fully recommend. We planned to spend Christmas in Cuenca, which meant staying about a week. We also found two good bike shops, one of them would have repared our bikes for free (after Christmas), the other one was not expensive either and could do it, or part of it, even before Christmas.

Tecno Ciclo (at the corner A. Cueva und Av. Remigio Tamariz), they repair travellers' bikes for free.

Cikla  (Av. Remigio Tamariz 2-52), we could wash our two-wheeled friends for free and got good service and spare parts.

We were invited to spend Christmas with our new friends from Susudel. We spend the whole afternoon on the balcony watching a large colorful procession called "el pase del niñio viajero" and enjoyed the evening and a super-tasty dinner with the family. Alex and Roy, Pati and Sjef and the whole family: Thank you very much for all your kindness, we really loved to spend Christmas with you!

After more than a week eating cakes and icecream we found our way back to the Panam. We spent several days cycling up and down green hills, some high, some less so, most of them relatively steep. We got wet nearly every afternoon and admired the dense fog for hours and hours. I had my flat tire no. 4 and we  twice checked out the hospitality of the Ecuadorian firefighters (bomberos). Really nice people. We spent  an entertaining New Year's Eve in Riobamba and spontaneously extended our stay there for another day because we didn't feel like starting a cycling day in pouring rain.

A day later we chose a detour on our way to Quito. Instead of the Panam, we took a road around the Volcano Chimborazo which, on the second day, took us up to over 4'000 masl again. We saw so many Vicuñas like never before. It was tough getting up there but I liked it. There was the "Vía Flores"-road we took to Ambato which was very nice as well. One and a half day and a very wet thunderstorm later we arrived in Tumbaco, a town some 15 km from Quito, in the Casa de Ciclista of Santiago. Santiago is a great guy, a ciclist himself, he does cross-country races and opens his house to travelling ciclists from all over the world.

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