Peru is an amazingly rich country, cradle to many cultures, home to an incredible diversity of flora & fauna (it boasts to have 84 of the 117 recognized ecological microclimates in the world, and 28 of the 32 world climates) and is inhabited by welcoming and warm Peruvian. So my decision was easy: I will take the beautiful road on my way to Lima vs. the short & easy one. I will pass by Abancay before veering north through unpaved roads and breathtaking scenery toward Ayacucho. From there, I plan to head to Huancayo before turning west to Lima.
Kilometer 28,633; Cusco, 14-Sep-10 @ 9:45: The trip started on beautiful fresh tarmac along an undulating road passing again next to Cachora and reaching Abancay (Kilometer 28,833; Abancay, 14-Sep-10 @ 13:05). Not much to see there, Abancay being a crossroad between Nazca to the West via an asphalted road and Ayacucho to the North via a beautiful off-road. I kept heading north as my plan was to ride as far as possible today, stopping in Andayhualas for the night (Kilometer 28,981; Andayhualas, 14-Sep-10 @ 17:00) and reaching Ayacucho the following day in the evening. My route turned out to be spectacular, a real sweet ride and the off-roads good enough to fully enjoy the surrounding nature. The only hick-up were the on-going construction: some stretches were pure loose gravel & sand and many road blocks ensued. Twice I had to ask the locals for detours and avoid the hours of blockades mandated by the construction crews. However, just an hour before Ayacucho, a major construction site blocked the road for 1.5 hour with no way around it. We were only allowed to continue by 18:00, sundown. It is one thing tackling these roads during daylight but a totally different ball game to do so at night: it’s hard to distinguish the perturbing rocks popping up from the ground, the sand patches I need to slowly cross and the best/safest path for my tires to ride over. But this is how the game is played and I’ll tackle whatever is thrown at me. I arrived late to Ayacucho and immediately went ahead looking for a hotel with a built-in garage (Kilometer 29,237; Ayacucho, 15-Sep-10 @ 19:30). After knocking on a few doors and explaining to the owners that I sleep wherever my bike sleeps, I finally found a hotel which allowed me to park my baby inside the main hallway, safe and dry. They were so nice they even brought me a hose the next morning so I can clean my bike’s chain from all the sand and dust accumulated.
Ayacucho is a nice small city, with many lovely churches scattered around and a beautiful plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial buildings. The churches in Peru and worst, in Bolivia, have unpredictable opening hours, if they open at all during the day that is. So I long figured out the best way to visit is after sunset during the night masse: so go ahead, go confess all your sins J. Back at my hotel, I hooked up with Jacob and Yagna, a polish backpacker couple and we decide to visit the major Wari ruins outside Ayacucho (it was the capital of the Wari state) before continuing further afield toward Quinoa. So my bike will stay put today and we will take the combi to our destination.
The Wari culture was renowned for their expertise in urbanization and social planning. Their cities were very tightly ordered, organized in square sectors, crisscrossed by wide streets and surrounded by high walls (sometime a double set of outer walls with a street in the middle) and harboring up to 20,000 people. The Incas took much of the Wari urbanization expertise and further improved it, allowing them to better build and manage their cities. Even the famous Inca roads were actually built on top of the earlier Wari roads and then further extended to cover the Tawantinsuyu (i.e. Inca empire). Although not as well preserved (read “reconstructed”) as Pikillacta, quite a few sectors, walls and temples are marvelous to see and I spent a couple of ours just strolling a tiny part of this huge complex (estimated at 10 sq.km). Our trip then took us to Quinoa, a tranquil little village whose inhabitants are masters of ceramic work, renowned to decorate their house’s rooftops with their sculptures. It’s a joy to stroll Quinoa’s small cobble streets before heading uphill to the plains were the major battle of Ayacucho occurred back in 1824. It is here where General Antonio Jose de Sucre (him again :)) fought the larger and better armed royalist forces in a final and decisive battle. His victory on 9th December 1824 finally granted Peru it’s independence from the Spanish after years of civil war which started back in 1809 and the tide only turned in favor of the Nationalists following San Martin initial attack from southern Chile back in 1820.
Today I will head to the sea :)! …and what an exciting thought it was. I left the Atlantic coast more than 4 month ago and now I’ll finally reach the Pacific. All I was thinking about was the endless extent of blue sea, the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. I decided to stay in Paracas, next to the peninsula of the same name renowned for its beautiful dunes and shoreline. To top it all off, the excellent asphalted road from Ayacucho to the coast provided an amazing track of twisty roads that went up and down mountains until reaching Abra Apacheta @ 4,750m before starting my long and winding road down toward the Panamericana. The strong Pacific winds met me again on this final stretch bidding me welcome back to its territories. Just before reaching the Panamericana, I stopped at Tambo Colorado, an ancient Inca city and a major resting place for the travelers up to Cusco (Kilometer 28,543; Tambo Colorado, 17-Sep-10 @ 15:00). It’s one of the few, definitely the biggest, Inca city built from adobe vs. the usual stonework. But Inca signature abounds with its typical trapezoidal doorway, baths, zigzag motif and the 3 level Chacana. The dry weather of the coast even preserved a few walls with the original red, yellow and white painting adorning the city (hence the name).
Kilometer 29,602; Paracas, 17-Sep-10 @ 17:25: To my surprise Paracas is a very touristy beach town. In the morning, heading to the quay with July and Helen for a tour of Isla Ballestas, hordes of tourists, mostly middle aged, were waiting at the dock. It felt like a retiree reunion of some sort and I couldn’t help but compare it to some Florida beach towns. Here, everyone wanted to marvel at the tens of thousands (maybe hundred thousand?) of birds living on the islands. A half an hour boat ride took us there (no one can disembark as it’s a protected area) and I was surprised, even shocked, to witness such a huge number of birds: they were using nearly every free sq.inch of the island to stand on or doting the skies above us while flying (watch out for bird dropping!). To give you an idea on the number of birds in these islands, the guano, i.e. bird excrement, was so abundant that in certain areas it was up to 50m deep! The Incas used the guano as fertilizer to increase crop yield but the European only discovered its benefit back in the 1800’s. Because of the regions’ dry weather (it barely rains) the guano preserves its properties and especially its nitrate content making it the much thought after fertilizer. And so started Peru’s guano golden age: from 1840-1880 Peru had a tremendous boon exporting ~20 million tons of guano and earning around U$D 2 billion in profit. To put it in perspective, it exceeds current Peru’s GDP numbers!! The advent of synthetic fertilizer killed this golden “fecal” mine and the birds were left to do their thing. Guano today has a second breath as a natural fertilizer vs. all the chemicals we use: it is harvested once every 7 year (for it to accumulate and for preservation of the environment, the birds and their habitat).
Once back on shore and after a quick breakfast with Julie and Hélène, I loaded all my stuff on my bike and headed toward the peninsula. The scenery was high in color were dunes, red volcanic hills, sandy beaches and blue water mix. I took my time riding this 21Km circuit and admiring its beauty. By mid afternoon I stopped at the tiny fishing hamlet of Lagunillas where a few restaurants conglomerate near the shore and waiters fight to offer you their services (Kilometer 29,641; Paracas, 18-Sep-10 @ 14:35). A delicious grilled fish with a Pisco Sour was to culminate my excursion and I headed (late) toward Lima. I arrived on its outskirt after nightfall right in the middle of the drive home rush hour. Crazy drivers & aggressive buses were my welcoming committee. It was such a stressful stop-and-go ride that I completely missed my exit; I was more concerned about the cars surrounding me, forcefully trying to make their way passed me. I exited the highway, did a u-turn and asked for directions. And that’s the other nightmare: Similar to Bolivia, everyone will tell you to just go “recto”, i.e. straight. But buddy, the roads split in a “Y”, left & right, which way? “Recto amigo, siga no mas”. Great… and then? “Just turn and follow the road”… O-Kaaay… the name of the road? Where do I turn? “Just turn this way” gesturing in the air. The way I understand it is that people won’t tell you they actually don’t know the route, instead just gesture their way out of it. You ask someone about a certain direction and just 100 meter later someone else tells you something completely different. Even taxi drivers throw you on a zigzag trail (well, they know all the shortcuts, so can’t really blame them). And I was asking to reach a very famous roundabout, not even the street I wanted to get too! I played this ping-pong game (me being the ball) for a good half-hour, slowly honing-in to Miraflores and miraculously I stumbled upon Avenida Arequipa. That’s the major thoroughfare that crosses Lima from its center to past Miraflores. All I needed to know now was which way to head: left or right? Once I had 3 different guys telling me the same way to go (OK, I am exaggerating now 😉 I just rode in that direction. And I knew that I will remember exactly the streets I needed to take once I reached the neighborhood I stayed in back in January. Sure enough, my visual memory never fails and I was happily making my way through the streets up to my hostel, Kilometer 29,939; Miraflores, 18-Sep-10 @ 19:35.
I only stayed for a few days in Lima: it was Saturday and I hit Barranco club’s street again and the following day just visited the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia. On Monday I went to visit Suzuki Lima and managed to get a meeting for Tuesday morning with Juan Pablo, general manager of Peru’s Suzuki motos. The plan is to continue straight on to Huaraz; the summer might be arriving into the Southern hemisphere but in the cordilleras, it’s the winter and rainy season is at the doorstep.
or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.