Perú- disappearing into thin air and mountains of gold

5 years ago I came to Peru and managed a marathon of terrain in a series of planes, trains & autos. Nazca lines, Titicaca, Valle Sagrada, Ica. It was formative in planting the seed of wanderlust fruition. I hung my head out the window on a particularly barfy drive and saw a guy beasting a hill on a loaded bicycle, I thought…I want that, someday that will be me. I remember that moment so intensely. Being here again by bike feels like a dream realized. I had spent my 31st on Machu Picchu, climbing Huayna Picchu, at the top a meditating man with a long white beard climbed down from a rock to hug me and say Happy Birthday which to this day remains a mystery. It was a time when I was ripe with curiosity of the unknown, and I knew that I may never own a house or anything much for that matter but that adventure would always be within my reach. All I really needed to do was take the first step out the door.

The more I learn, the more curious I grow and Peru has me seeing without limits, always wondering what exists at the top, through rockslides where only condors or distant avalanches can be heard. The last 3 months found me awe struck with the allure of dirt roads, mountains beyond my imagination and heartfelt people. I was initially intimidated by the prospects of venturing solo in altitudes over 11,000 feet, minus temperatures, and the desolation they call ‘El Silencio’. My ideal changes with each country and I continue to be pleasantly surprised by what happiness and necessity means to me. It is like awakening new parts of myself with the knocks (and sometimes blows) of challenge. I often wonder how long those parts have been there marinading within. The only certain is that riding and sleeping in these places, so vast and remote and often resemble another planet, I feel safe and so at home.

“As I look back on the trip now, as I try to sort out fact from fiction, try to remember how I felt at that particular time, or during that particular incident, try to relive those memories that have been buried so deep, and distorted so ruthlessly, there is one clear fact that emerges from the quagmire. The trip was easy. It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts. The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.” Robyn Davidson. (2,735-kilometer trek across the deserts of Australia with 4 camels and a dog)

Peru crew 2009- my sis Brook, BFF Mary & sis Kristine, my bro in law Daniel
Peru crew 2009- my sis Brook, BFF Mary & sis Kristine, my bro in law Daniel

My holy grail had been Huascaran National Park, the highest tropical mountain range in the world with 27 peaks about 6,000 meters (almost 20,000 feet) above sea level. It covers the majority of the Cordillera Blanca,named for it’s glaciered peaks. From the town of Yungay I climbed a dirt road with the impressive cordilleras Negra & Blanca on either side of me. Up the switchbacks leading to Llanganuco Lagoons I went, dusty with some tour van traffic but when I arrived to Laguna Chinacocha  around 5pm I had a magnificently serene, electric turquoise laguna to camp at just as everyone was leaving.

The park guards invited me to pitch my tent indoors, good move as it rained all night. The guards were from the surrounding communities and mainly spoke Quechua. Marciano had a list of things he wanted me to translate in English and suddenly I found myself giving lessons. He acted out menacing tactics he used for those who played ignorant to speaking Spanish and thus paying park fees. He would thwap a broom on the table and holler ¨ pay!¨ which he thought was hilarious. He was actually very sweet, just a firey 72 year old who spends weeks at his post. He said I always have a place to stay in Huaraz and made me breakfast while demanding I make him coffee. His wife was visiting and had hung a chicken from a nail on the wall to dry for 2 days to make escabiche.

There were offerings, choclo (corn) and cheese  from  indegenous women who had the most memorable, radient smiles with sparkles of gold dental work. I bought a knit hat that has lived on my head since. The laguna was surrounded by 2 stunning hiking trails. After an icy morning cannon ball and swim in the laguna I rode to laguna Orconcocha. In Peru I found it is common that the smaller and larger of a natural wonder is given the trait of hembra (woman) and macho(man). There was a dark curtain of rain that started at the climb and followed all the way to Yanama.  I was aware of the drastic changes in weather I would be facing starting at the end of the season. When I arrived at Santiago’s House (a casa ciclista of sorts in Huaraz) 20 cyclists had come and gone weeks prior, the hostel was now full of backpackers. The rains have come. I decided not to regret anymore the timing of things. Anywhere I am it is because I got myself there, and that is a beautiful thing. Just makes me appreciate the sun all the more.137

the road connecting the 2 lagunas
who’ll stop the rain?


Majestic Mount Huascaran watching over the camp site
Queñal trees

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entering the park weeee!
DSC00096The other slumber party guests..kinda stuffy company
Marciano (left) no shortage of opinions

I feel a strange shame in writing about the next town, Chacas. Many cyclists I know had great stays at the welcoming Italian Don Bosco church. I was relishing the impending private room and hot shower I had heard so much about. My experience was like a creepy comic book version of the Catholic church. I was put in an empty boy’s dorm at the end of the school. I had a homemade pizza dinner with the amazing volunteers and parish. Returning to my bunk, the padre was waiting and wanted to chat. I said I was tired but he stepped into the room which was dark as it had no electricity. I told him I was uncomfortable and he left only to return at 1am knocking, saying he needed to talk to me.He tried the (thankfully locked) door. This sounds crazy but I moved my giant bunk in front of the door. Otherwise I would have been up all night worrying, certain that he had a key. In the morning when I opened the door, he was waiting. Very bizarre person. While I got my belongings together, he watched from a balcony. When I snapped and yelled to leave me alone he blew kisses.

I was really nervous to tell the women in the church as he knew my route and had the key to where my bike was stored. I left with a family to tour the hospital and woodshop in town, trying to make a positive. He ¨coincidentally¨crossed paths with me on my route and I decided to bus back to Huaraz and change my route a bit. I found a corner to hunch in while waiting for the bus. Crying through my sunglasses, an old woman approached me and told me not to cry, that only make bad things return. She was right and that creep wasn’t worth my peace of mind.

After a failed attempt to meet Thomas and Lee to start the Great Peruvian Divide, called so as it is continually hugging, or crossing, the Atlantic/Pacific watershed. I had more time in Huaraz. I hiked some of the Cordillera Negra feeling like a scrambling goat with Huarascino Victor who knows Huascaran like his backyard but doesn’t know how to ride a bike. I spent some great days with his family cooking, singing Huayno hits, sinking cervezas and wandering around Huaraz. Most of my Spanish is phases I pick up along the way. I am like a parrot and have a rich tapestry of ´jergas´ as Peruvians call slang. One day Victor tactfully told me that no woman speaks the way I do and that my jokes would give the wrong idea. To me this indicated great progress, I finally sound like myself! In all seriousness, I have made efforts to be more ladylike.Although, in these freezing temps I am grateful to not be shaving my legs..I need all the warmth I can get.

Last year the Route 107 from Carhuaz to Chacas was paved. I lamented this from afar, riding through the village of Shilla you grt a glimpse of what it was like before. The day I rode it was a sticky mud and I was happy to hit that smooth, buttery tarmac.Nearly every elderly woman I passed (practically 1 foot in the grave and still working hard) asked me for money. Each in her own way…coyly, for a propina (tip) or for solcitos with outstretched hands. One surly sass shook a fist and croaked ¨regala (gift) me!!¨ 1 unnamed (2)

I have slept on these many times.

I registered & assured the guard I would pass in one day, not paying the 65 sole fee. He is in a horrible mood but doesn’t charge me the day fee and scoffs at my plan. I buy some hard boiled eggs and aji (amazingly hot and delicious chili chutney) at the gate. The pampa is so lovely and I am stoked to set up camp there and enjoy the babbling stream. I realize I set up down wind from a freshly dead cow & relocate. It rains steadily all night and I wake with a puddle at my feet due to poor staking. I pitched next to a rock to block the wind and from getting trampled.I woke up to a curious baby burrow sniffing around my tent. This is where cows come to live and die. There were just as many bones as blossoms.

sweet switchbacks leading to Punta Oli

campPunta Olimpica bound I have rainbows coming out of my ass, I am so excited. The traffic (honking and cheering as they pass me) take the new, and highest in the world at 4,735 meters 15,535 feet tunnel, I turn left for the old road which right up my alley with a mix of ice, snow, rocks and wet sand. I purposely didnt look at photos so that each turn would be a surprise, stunning views of unexpected beauty on a level I have never known. Such an inspiring ride, the silence and ambience at the top was powerful. 4850 meters up! At the time, the highest I had ever been. I felt acclimatised and it is lightly snowing but I only neeeded my jacket for the descent. I camped at the laguna just below as I was so drawn to the impossibly blue hues and how it changed, I could not get enough of it. I lay awake most of the night listening to falling snow on my tent and the sound of avalanches, completely unable to sleep at that altitude. In the morning I run around taking photos, making coffee, loving the mist and rays of sun making their appearance, then I am hit with sudden dizziness and lay down in my tent for a while. 302

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Top of the pass. Evidence of my pushing
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Virgin Mary, stage right
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the road down. almost unpassable with rock slides


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The old road, 2.5km of glory. There is a tunnel below but tryust me, this is the way
the way up! 26km, 46 hairpin turns of fun
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In the morning some Limeños arrive on motos, surprised to see me. They just keep snapping photos, so I do this. So excited, and I just can’t hide it
mornin sunshine!

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movin on up

Conococha bound, my handlebars turned themselves back on ripio and into Huascaran from Catac to Pachacoto, glacier Pastoruri over Yonshalla Pass. This spontaneous detour was some of my favorite days of riding. 3818583

sexy snakes. In the morning, a 76 year old French couple in passed me in a taxi. On their return 8 hours later they were wooting at me and fist pumping out the window. These moments I will remember forever.

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roving gourmet..squash and hot sauce spaghetti. bungee corded to the back and enjoyed for 2 meals
Puya raimondii, the Queen of the Andes, It flowers once in its life, for just a few weeks before it dies, but lives about 100 years.

After a magnificent descent where I did my best impression of a race car driver, near Pachapaqui I was surrounded by gnashing dogs on all sides of me. I was really overwhelmed and this woman came running out, snarling and cussin, throwing rocks and saved me. She invited me to a dinner of delicious fresh cheese and potatoes. We ate in her kitchen blanketed in squeaking guinea pigs. When one of her 5 kids come to visit from the city, she cooks one up. I wondered what they would think of this biking wanderer breaking bread with their parents. When I left she was really shy, concentrating on her knitting. I kissed her on the cheek goodbye and 10 minutes later she ran out to the road, waving me down to give me a handful of sweets and asking when exactly I would be back to visit. 3966 (1) blog2712444447777777777The next morning I turned off for a route through Aquia and Chiquian. My map (a pretty good Michelin one some French dudes gave me) showed a side road where I could bypass Conococha. Never appeared. I plummeted to the valley floor, knowing full well that I would be climbing my way back up, This is my life in Peru, rocketing down and days of climbing back up, I can hardly imagine not having this rhythm. With views of the Huaywash I looped around and up and up. It was lovely and reminded me of Colombia, easy climbing but at some point there was only sky left; I wondered how I could still be climbing. It took all day and I was exhausted, irked with myself for taking such a long detour but then I thought I should be mad at myself if I couldn’t do this, but I could, this is why I am here, and there was no reason to belly ache. Several robust women came out to the road to cheer me on. When I told them my name, all of them gave me another and kept repeating it. It felt good to have someone call me by, well, a name and I decided to make more of an effort to remember names. 759773


I reached the top, a village called Moro just as the sun was fading. It was too windy to camp there and I decided to chase the last light into Conococha. The sky turned bright pink to purple, I was flying on flat. It was so surreal out there, nothing but powerlines, and an ominous looking mine encampment. A sheep farm full of dogs came for me so I walked for a spell until they got bored. I could see the lights up on the hill and arrived to see there was no camping possibilities. The whole town seemed to be comprised of cheese stands. I chuckled to myself because in the wind my lips had a gooey film on them that I deemed to myself ‘lip cheez’.

I  knocked on door with the sign ‘Petrol Hospedaje’. True to it’s title, the place reeked of gasoline, the hall was filled with buckets of it. I bargained him down to half the ridiculous asking price but he informed me it was a shared room. Somehow I knew I would be the only lucky guest. We had a tedious arguement, he wanted me to keep my bike in a dodgy garage and finally said ¨ayyyy gringa!¨ as if I had been nagging him for years. I told him this bike was my home, my baby and was able to keep it in the dirt floor gas can room where I slept. I walked around and bought some corn with a worm and some goo in it from a shop where a disabled kid was licking the glass.

I had my shit glasses on, where I see everything as such. I could not find the soul in Conococha. The hospedaje bathroom was around the corner with no door or curtain and a dog lunged at me as I stumbled in the dark with my headlamp. Gas man came to escort me back and later in the evening the same dog was gnawing an animal corpse it was still delighted to try and eat me. Gas man contrlled the lights so I had to holler when I was ready for bed. From the other side of the wall he blared old movies.I slept well and woke up delighted to hit the ripio. Only the beginning…this was the easy leg. What my next week looked like…this graph courtesy of the amazing Pikes on Bikes.Huaraz-Rio-Blanco

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Only traffic en route to Rajan. This guy told me in great detail every nook and cranny of the road ahead.
Lago Conococha, gateway to The Great Peruvian Divide Part 1
the mouth of a whale or the road to Ticllos?
the mouth of a whale or the road to Ticllos?
a map!?
a map!?
sleepy Cajamarquilla where I drank an obscene amount of yogurt. Some women who were digging excitedly told me of all the cyclists who had passed. Late in the game, I never see them, I just hear of them.

Soon finding fun on a stretch of unmotorable track. I love these places where I feel I am on an obstacle course. I climb 1000 meters to Rajan.

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derurrumbes, my new dance move
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This photo is in honor of my animal rescue heroine cousin, Renee. Almost got myself killed liberating these cactus.

I arrived in Rajan as dark rain clouds were settling. There were some loud gents in the plaza and bored police that I was intent on steering clear of. I asked some cheery campaigning ladies for a lead on a camp spot and they swooped me inside and before I knew it I was cutting out letters for their signs. They were so spirited, but it was a bit sad as we shuttled the electoral kiosk (a plastic table with our voter awareness propaganda) to each corner of the plaza. The campesinos clowned us and said they were too busy to talk. It was pretty funny actually, the girls joked a lot and I was glad they invited me to dinner and to sleep on the electoral office floor. When I said I was single and 36, Judita, who only spoke a few words in English, said to me so clearly,¨do what makes you happy and don’t listen to anyone.¨ In this moment I felt a feeling that had been within me in Peru since I have been camping solo in the wild and taking roads less traveled. I felt so at home.

The police came round later to study my passport, as a formality. They brought a soda pop liter bottle of homemade wine and sat around entertaining themselves with my headlamp.

Judita and Rosita. Campaign HQ in Rajan
cutting out those letters took an embarrassing amount of time

unnamed (4)10460526_10203685926842544_5898271998476467108_n In the pouring rain we headed up to Valentina’s house. A hot fruit drink, soup and dinner waiting…amazing. I was set on sleeping on the election office floor but was given a bed in the family home. I asked for the baño and was told, “this is the  the campo”. So in the pissing rain I went in search of a spot to piss. We climbed a ladder &  the family climbed into one bed, I realized they selflesslessly gave up the children’s bed for me. I was also quick to realize it had been pee’d in at some point. I covered my face with a blanket odor mask and drifted off to sleep. Valentina wouldn’t let up warning me of the organ robbers in the Sierra. This was the beginning of many tales ahead that I received of the ‘pishtacos’ as they are called. Sometimes I was able to joke about this with people and say I have 2 kidneys and really only need 1. I never saw myself where I am and I think that is the beauty of being on a bike, evolving to your surroundings and becoming them in a way. The amount of respect that people have that I  know the small places off the beaten path is so dear to me. I am the lucky one to be received so generously, the families who have shared their homes with me  in these places have forever changed my life. I cant see myself returning to an environment with closed doors &  fear of outsiders.

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Valentina is so lovely, this was just bad photography on my part.

I woke to sunshine and breakfast- a mammoth palte of spaghetti, potatoes, and a mug of oats and milk…didn’t motivate me to move but this powered me all the way through abandoned Llipla Viejo (there was also a ghostly Rajan Viejo). I passed through Llipla. The whole town was gathered listening to an election rant, I was sheepish rolling into the plaza to a village worth of stares. A man kindly broke free to open his shop so I wouldn’t die from lack of Sublime chocolate bars. I wove and winded down 2300 meters through a dramatic canyon and cactus! At the bottom I passed 2 bridges along a rushing river. Then came headwinds, and whirls of dust in my face, then a sign to  Gorgol, confirming I had gone exactly the wrong way. I gave my panniers to a passing car headed to Cajatambo and beasted it up the mountain, it is like having wings without cargo. What a feeling! This is not in the spirit of cycle touring but I was gutted by my error which let me to second guess myself in the coming weeks.

I made it to Cajatambo in the evening, zombified. A blaring band played in the plaza most of the night. What election process would be complete without this? I had hot chocolate with some workers in the Municipal building, they kept trying to convince me to ride in their campaign truck to Oyon. Sometimes people ask, “Do you push this bike up mountains?” No, I ride it. Ok, once in a moon I push it. In the morning the plaza was a mess of party fouls, when the campaign truck passed me they stopped to inform me the road was dangerous, when I asked why they just sort of shrugged. The marvelous descent before Cajatambo- CANYONCANYONCANYON

climb out of Cajatambo
A night in the Cajatambo church.

4042 Look ma, no GPS or odometer! Luckily the precise directions the give on their site are spot on. I would never have been brave enough to take these routes without the shared knowledge of these pioneers. You Pikes rule, a million thanks! IMG_6622The climb out and onto Paso Pacomayo is gorgeous, I meet some Brits and was chased by dogs. The only people nearby don’ts assist.. it ‘s a mom and son having a tickle war amongst this scenery that is like a painting. So sweet. BRIT 1Nearing the pass I am suddenly pelted with hail. Fumbling for my coat, gone. I had loaned it to a soaked little girl in the street and forgot to retrieve it. I cost less than a dollar in a Guatemalan thrift store but was essential to me riding the cordillera in rainy season. By far the worst thing to leave behind, save for my bike. She’ll grow into it someday.. 4014 I hightail down hill where I had stopped earlier to confirm I was on the right road. The professor was so busy painting this outhouse green he didn’t even look at me. I am astounded at how quickly the weather shifts on these passes, when I returned his hands were completely stained lime green. He was suspicious of me at first but let me camp on the floor of the school. I made coca tea and pasta and then tormented most of the night telling myself the wind was a ghost. Sometimes I do this.unnamed (6)4097 (1)4098sch1I left the school around 6am the professor said he was going arriba and I watched him fade away into the mountains, I have no idea where he was headed. It was freezing and the wind was a rude treat that early in the morning. My sis sent me a face mask thing that saved me. The headwind continued through Punta Chanca and the mine. A car passed and yelled “mi amorrrr” as they passed. I was determined to soldier through this. Around the lake the ferocious headwindfelt like someone was kicking me backwards. A few times I almost fell off the side, it was so ridiculous I was laughing. I felt a bit nuts. I lost feeling of my feet (had 2 pairs of socks on) and never regained feeling of them the whole day). I would pedal, barely making progress, and with the rocky surface, would lose balance. A truck passed and asked if I needed help. NOOOO! grr.. It was early and if it took me all goddamn day I was going to get to the top. As usual when I feel defeated, enormous guilt ensues when I am absolutely spoiled with a mind blowing view at the top. The vastness of this valley and rock formations were like another planet.

Mina Chanca happenings/fashion. Thank you Brook, I love my mask xo
grim reminder out in front of the mine

DSC01036There was a bumpy descent and a lovely farm and river at the bottom. Victoria came out to yell at her dogs who were yapping at me. She was really excited for introductions. ¨Lila!¨ She told me another solo woman had camped there and to come back and visit. Sometimes I think what if I did come back one day and knocked on all these door? I have found on this route people are of either extreme..I get a pass to be part of the family or they want nothing to do with me. I have to admit I’m not sure what side I’d be on if I saw me.blog2bloggg blo4I followed a fresh, green rushing stream to Oyon, there were now lush plants and a few motorcycles. In the small town a miner stopped to tell me never to ride alone, that sometimes there are bad people. Im not sure how I feel about miners. In Cajamarca I had made up my mind that they were contaminating their country but then again, I am riding the roads that they have created.

Abra Rapaz 4940 meters. A new high for me
the light & weather changes in the blink of an eye.

unnamedI rolled into Oyon and there the electoral parading and drinking was getting under way. I started chatting to a woman in the plaza who let me camp on her floor. I wrote a few hours on my blog and lost everything when the power went out. I stocked up on my staple doomsday powders …split pea, maca, quinoa to make pots of  “victory gruel¨ on my trusty alcohol powered beer can stove. The price of alcohol was double in Oyon, I was told it had been prohibited due to a huffing problem.

Road out of Mina Iscaycruz


The only cyclist I saw on the route. I told him I would show this photo with the coolest people in NYC.
The only cyclist I saw on the route. I told him I would show this photo with the coolest people in NYC.
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I popped into the plaza of Rapaz to check out the hat scene. Not to disappoint.

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sharpie marker magic

11 I rolled down into an idyllicl valley. Christmas came in the form of thermal baths at Huancahuasi. For 3 soles (a little over $1) I camped next to steaming pools and in the morning soaked in cobalt to my heart’s content before anyone got there. I met a Peruvian guy who was really excited to tell me he had been living in the States for 20 some odd years but spoke very little English and knew every town in Cali. It was so nice to hear him talking about Santa Ana, Long Beach and San Clemente where I had grown up. He had fled the Shining Path conflict which killed 70,000+ in the 80’s.He had gotten himself to Mexico and paid a coyote $500 to get across the US border. We had breakfast with a friend of his and I was stoked as he made about 3 pots of strong coffee, a trait of my motherland. Victoria threw some jerky on the fire for us and made canchita (fried corn kernals), my fav. Her husband came in at some point hollering at her, she was late for a ride into town. She told him we were talking about very important things. On my way out of town I waved goodbye to some teenagers with a slingshot. I should have seen this coming but when they binged me with a rock I came barreling back, I was fuming. I could see them hiding from afar, honestly I maybe would have done the same when I was a snot nosed (1)6183DSC01323

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Virgin Maria in the aguas termales

After some epic saves, I was due for a spill, and on a rocky curve before a bridge entering Picoy I went down hard. I can be like walking a tightrope at times balancing rocks, sand and mud..almost always the answer is to pedal faster, not stop. I wasn´t injured initially  but by the time I got to Parquin my neck and arm had pins & needles and were throbbing…the exact injury I had a year ago in Guatemala. I was screaming down hill and didn´t notice a speed bump. I tried to ride it out, my front pannier lodged into my wheel sending me into the on coming lane (luckily no cars) and I landed head first into a wall of dirt. If there was a video of this it would be impossible to fight back laughter. I only took the next day off riding for weeks popping enough pain killers to knock out a horse. Since then I go through temporary bouts of dead arm but roughing itr out was my answer. When this injury came back to haunt me, I was intensely regretful. I was intent to find a bed and rest, hoping for a magical recovery so that I could ride 2500 meters over Abra Chucopampa which the unflappable Pikes had described as brutal.

In the end I’m quite happy that the only hospedaje was closed, as a very sweet Margarita took me in to her shop where I sat on sheep’s wool and introduced me to her family who I lunched with and camped on their farm. With my new Big Agnes air mat (my old one had a year long slow leak which led to me waking up on on the ground) I slept well and was fed like a queen. Pachamanca (roasted meat, potatoes, corn, tamales cooked in leaves under the earth)- insanely tasty. The dad, Salvador was really fascinated by me setting up and breaking down my camp. He thought all of my equipment was beautiful and practical. Sometimes I just see the holes, wear and tear and then remind myself of how lucky I am to have a 10 oz. tent and waterproof panniers. I have much respect to early pioneer bike tourers before the days of Schwalbe Marathon tires (I genuiely owe only having 2 flats in my whole year and a half to these babies).

Salvador disappeared in his shed and after an hour of cursing, he emerged with just the right nut and bolt I needed to fix the pannier I broke in my fall.  The town dudes in the plaza asked who the gringa was and I overheard Salvador say I was his neice. I walked up to a cross high on a hill with Adelma and admired the beauty & tranquility of the town. When I offered to help with some farm work, the pretty, Adelma smiled from the bucked of sheep intestines she was cleaning and told me to go rest. I am often surprised at how hard women work and still look so fresh , with flowers in their hat. I looked so haggard, like I had been dragged through a pig pen. In true dad style, Salvador saw me to my road and gave me a god blessing. 4338

Old prison of Parquin

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typical traffic on the divide. These guys look at me as if thinking..lady we’ve been doing this for years..
Start of the climb out of Parquin

bbbbbb I did some pushing to the 4860 meter pass, it felt so much better to straighten my injured neck. I was struggling with my left arm and hand. I was only passed by a taxi. At the pass it was hailing hard and I saw a pancho’ed silhouette through the icy shield. I shouted down, asking to camp and he motioned me down the hill. Alfredo invited me into his hut where he had a fire on his coal burning stove. There were kittens, and a wolf pup  inside where I set up my mat under a dozen thick blankets, so warm and happy.

It took 3 days to build this home of earth and the roof was a straw called paja which is what they also make hats out of in Ecuador. Outside was about 50  llamas, alpacas, more sheep and a collection of parts and pelts of all scattered about. He presented me with borrego liver, coffee and chuño which is a potato that is dried for 2 weeks and then brought back to life when desired with a beyond pungent odor (and I’m no petunia). In this moment for some reason I thought of my mother and how proud she would be if I bucked up like a mountain woman and happily gobbled up all of this. He shared everything with such pride, I could’nt refuse. I may have been overly enthusiastic with my “que ricooo” because he packed me a chuño lunch to go. He isnsisted llama fat would heal my arm and in the morning I saw him slip some of the medicinal  dried llama guts hanging from a line on the ceiling into breakfast. When he wasn’t looking I threw it back in the pan. 6 of jis 7 children had all left to Lima for school but imagining this family living in these stunning, harsh mountains living only off the land, I so admired this. He smoked cigarrettes in bed and ate the bag of my coca leaves I gave him like popcorn.

I went out for a pee in the middle of the night, my bike propped near a dozen dogs who had earlier revealed fangs to me were now snuggly. I looked up at the stars and thought when on Earth would I have ever seen myself here? Alfredo told me of the wolves that lived in caves near by & would come for his sheep. I was tripping out on his life & yet he seemed so unphased by mine.  On my way back in I stepped into a wet hole full of coal mush by the door, soaking my shoes that still smell of soot. He thought this was pretty funny just as I thought his llamas spitting at him was hilarious. Every storm has brought me to meet people and places. I would never have wanted to change which way the wind blows.


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medicinal llama stuff and the coal stove
coffee and chuño


dog toy

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Rewarding myself with homemade chicha de jora. A delish sugary corn drink.


The descent ahead was breath taking colors and rock formations, then gorgeous snaking through the valley. Near the junction towards the road to Cerro de Pasco came a descent on the worst road I’ve ever been on. I’m a climber at heart. This sounds crazy but I don’t dig steep descents. My brakes have always been shit, I have narrow bars and no suspension. I’m a granny on descents. I’m good at falling, but not landing, just like I’m good at getting jobs but not staying at them. These are facts. Each rock on this stretch jarred my arm, when I saw Vichaycocha below, my bars turned without a second thought. I had to rest my arm, it was bad. I abhored the idea of turning to the main road, I decided to eat chocolate and lay down, decide in the morning how to proceed.

I got a 10 sole room, knocked down to 6 after the owner let a construction worker stay in the bed next to me. I went into his shop and really let him have it, but my roommate turnd out to be a sweet old man. I was so grouchy and in pain. Everytime I don’t like a town it’s always because I’m in a funk and projecting. On my way out I met a woman so happy to see me on my bike.She nudged me to the health center where a nurse rotated my shoulder and sure enough there was a nasty popping noise. There is fluid in the tendon, She gave me anti inflamatory: i dont even care if it was a placebo I felt like myself again. Now I wrap it and have some excercises thanks to my friend Pablo to build the proper muscles back up. I would never go without coffee but I often go without stretching. At 36 I’m strong but no spring chicken. This was a real wake up call. I pedaled back (least fav thing) and rode to Chungar singing a happy tune to be feeling like myself again.  that I blasted back up the hill to Chungar.

The sun was dancing across the unbelievable expanse of mountains. I crunched and curved my way through the afternoon, turning off at a battered Mina Chungar sign. Then the road was smooth as butter (by my definition) vivid pink textured mountains all around . I was in the zone, didn’t stop and ate hard boiled eggs while riding. As is the case this time of year dark clouds loomed around 3pm. A couple drove by and seemed really surprised to see me and my ecstatic mood despite impending storm. I rolled up to the lake in time to see its shimmering blue brilliance and then sought shelter when the hail started.

With only an abandoned mine near a dam, I saw a teenage boy in the house uphill so I went to suss out camp spots. He wasn’t in the mood to chat and soon the couple I had seen on the road appeared in a boat with a net full of trout. They gave me 3, so confidently that I couldn’t bring myself to ask how to gut them, that would be a crash course for later. So with my incredibly dull knife I set to it. The teen came around and I gave him a fish. The idea of frying these fresh trout up on fire was like Xmas to me. Basic stuff to most people but I am constantly reminded of how far removed I was from where my food came from, living in cities for the past 20 years.

The couple left me the keys to this little house in front of the lake with a wood burning stove and lots of warm blankets. Can you imagine? They also gave me candles. cow dung and wood to burn as well as coffee and an onion. They had recently met a french woman cycling solo and were excited about my journey which lifted my spirits incredibly. I went from being soaked and hungry to extremely content.  I kept going outside to see all the dramatic changes of light on the lake. So far, the people I’ve meet on this route don’t seem to perceive me as crazy or lost. They just act as though I am out for a ride, unphased by how steep and high these mountains are. The few people I do come across have helped me a great deal but I felt like they thought I knew what I was doing. It it without much thought that people share with me like a neighbor would, I often wonder if people realize how huge and unforgettable these gestures are, because of this not a single day have I lacked food, a place to sleep, or a smile.DSC01598

me with my gifted trucha catch
my lake house for the night


The following day heading out of Chungar & into hail


light, colors and weather changes in a blink

I can usually be found with a giant cud of coca leaves in my mouth to help with the affects of altitude. At some point I wondered what I look like when I smile & wave at passerbys. This. 3995 I have a serious back log of updates on my route. This comes with my bad blogging habits. It’s been a year and a half since I rode from my families home and every day I wake up thanking my lucky stars for the encouragement sent my way. Out here on the road being asked if I’m alone is just going to be the first question asked. Even if I say my amigos are waiting ahead, or my husband the question just gets re-worded, “estas sola sola?”. This will just be the nail biter. It is like how I used to take the subway every day and still get annoyed by people who selfishly lean on the pole, not allowing people to hold on to it. It will just be my irk, freeing me from getting annoyed at most anything else.  I guess at some point I confirmed I would rather live with peace of mind and trust of curiosity and risk having trusted many than lived trusting few in fear. Cherry of once said, “just as our thigh muscles have grown, so have our instincts” I never forget this. 6183

a summation of what many percieve as my life
a summation of what many perceive as my life
I was here.

2 thoughts on “Perú- disappearing into thin air and mountains of gold

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