It’s hard to know what’s round the next corner on this journey so it was without much surprise that I found myself one evening dancing with a large number of strangers two feet smaller than me at a mother’s day town party in hot Perico (Northern Peru). With thirst and tiredness at a non-trivial level it was the last thing I felt like doing but I couldn’t let down Peruvian mountain bike champion Milton. He was helping organise the event and had kindly offered me hospitality at his home after we had a chance encounter a couple of days before. With the bright lights and huge height disparity the… staring… was… merciless. The show had arrived (me) and dancing was compulsory; it required inviting the local girls to dance and then awkwardly trying to copy their Peruvian moves. Milton managed to grab a shot of one of my many X factor moments that night (I edited in some music for comical effects):
Other anecdotes that night: Peruvians have a drinking ritual in which they share a large bottle of beer between a group. This is how it works: Step 1. They pour some beer into a cup and then pass the bottle to someone else. Step 2. They then drink the cup and pass it on to the bottle recipient. Repeat. All night. I tripped up on step one with a total stranger thinking he was offering me a sip of his beer so I took it and drank straight from the bottle. I realised my error and awkwardness later when Milton explained to me how this worked.
The bigger picture – this is how the rest of the trip from Vilcabamba to Cajamarca went down:
After the last leg of the TEMBR it was with great excitement that I headed out of Vilcabamba towards Peru. It’s huge mountains and incredibly varied landscapes make it an extraordinary place to visit and I was excited with the prospect of finally getting there. Here is my route up until Huaraz (where I’m writing these lines with a self-diagnosis of some kind of pneumonia):
The steep roller coaster dirt roads were relentless up to the ‘La Balsa’ border in Peru. They then turned paved onto San Ignacio before a long decent into hotter climes following a river down to a big open flood plain and rice fields. It was exciting to see new the landscapes and felt fresh to be in a new country. After Perico and my X factor debut the road continued down to the casa de ciclista in Jaen and then headed down into the Amazonas a couple of days later.
(NB: casa de ciclista location: head up about two blocks on the righthand road from plaza de las armas to the bicycle shops on the right and ask for the Obando family)
I continued on up the majestic canyon and chose a 400m climbing detour to Chachapoyas from the main route; on the way up I started to feel fatigued and opted for a couple of days rest in the famous tourist town before descending back to the route the same way (other route options look possible).
Kuelap was of some interest (depends on what you like?). Leave your bike up at Tingo and hike up for a few hours (avoid the midday sun if possble). There is a very basic 15 sol hostal 50 metres from the entrance (ask the security guards). My afternoon here was enhanced by a chance meeting with a rather attractive French girl who I disappointingly lost all contact with afterwards. You too may meet attractive French girls if you go to Kuelap (don’t count on it though).
Further down the road is Leymebamba which also holds some interesting history. 200 Chachapoyan mummies were salvaged from closeby Laguna de Los Condores in 1997 to protect them from public abuse several months before. (Many mummies had been damaged or robbed from the site). These were housed in the Leymebamba museum resulting in a huge spike of tourist development for the town; well… from nearly zero tourists to some tourists. No photos were allowed so I can’t help promote them here as much I would like. They’ve tied my hands (not literally). It was fascinating to see them though…
Next up: cycling through a Peruvian mine