I enjoyed my rest day In Ayacucho (2748m), I nice mid size town with a well preserved colonial center. My bike got its second new rim in a week, as I switched back to my 32 spoke hub and a stronger rim, while I enjoyed good food in a nice restaurant overlooking the plaza. It was so good I went back for dinner and tried my first Alpaca meat, which I rate far higher than guinea pig! I stayed in a friendly hotel next to the market and for breakfast tried the local brew: Maca with Quinoa and apple juice and fresh rolls with eggs…..yummy! Besides eating I visited the Barrio St Ana, which is home to artists and artisans. I admired the textile weavings and met a unique man claiming to be the only one in whole of Peru being able to play a song with a leave of a tree as an instrument! He demonstrated and I was truly impressed. Not only did he play a very melodic song, but than demonstrated the longest breath whistle of Peru.
The next morning I caught a collective to the top of the pass over 4000m, a beautiful paramo and home of the lamas. My bike was strapped to the top of the bus on top of hundreds of pollos…about 800 meals worth of them. I was looking forward to a nice 2000m and 50km asphalted downhill, but soon the smooth sound of the tyre changed to a more rugged noise and the roadworks had started. There was dust, fresh tarseal smells, mud and gravel to deal with most of the way down. Once one reaches the tropical lowlands the sandflies attack. They are about half the size of the species we have in New Zealand but twice as vicious! Nevertheless it was an amazing ride with great vistas across the Andean mountains. On the low point I met my first cyclists going the other way, a couple of young biologist girls and we had a long chat, while being eaten by the sandflies. Shortly after I caught up with Colombian cyclist Carlos Coral, which I had briefly met on my arrival in Ayacucho. We headed on together making a start on the 2000m uphill, but soon got stopped by more roadworks. There was a total ‘no paso’ as they were blasting and pushing down rock from the cliff above the road. We had to wait till on dark before they let us through, but there was still some rocks coming down and we were glad for our bike helmets and very quickly past. We still had about 10km to Chincheros, the next village and carried on in the light of our head lamps. I was very happy to find a hostel with a room on the ground floor that evening and not having to carry all my gear including the bike up several flights of stairs. We took most of the next morning for the rest of the uphill through some local villages and mainly small farmlets before we crossed the high paramo at about 4260m. Carlos, a true Colombian, carries a little music player and we enjoyed some nice tunes while struggling uphill and traversing the highlands. It was a nice day, the scenery was stunning and lamas grazing on the side of the road…..what more can one wish for?! We met a french cyclist heading the other way and had a short chat, than enjoyed a nice smooth all paved downhill to Andahuaylas. We stopped two thirds of the way down and had mate de coca and bread with cheese on an open cooking fire on the street….the perfect way to warm up after the cold downhill run. The ladies were very chatty and we had lots of fun with them taking photos and quizzing them about their local recipes.
We reluctantly started the long way back up to 4100m the next day. When we passed a local adobe farmlet and the owner’s brother called us in to share a drink of fresh warm local milk, corn and some bread with cheese we didn’t hesitate. Henry was very hospitable and made us feel very welcome. I enjoyed the local food and adobe built with the free ranging guinea pigs! By the time we left it had started raining and we made our way up to the pass in the mist. On the downhill run we got very cold and when we were stopped by roadworks again we found out that we are on a different road than we thought…..not even Carlos’ GPS had noticed. It was still 90km to Abancay and here was the last village till than. Since it was already 3pm we decided to stay in this tiny mountain village called Kisuhara. We decended down to it through some ankle deep mud and started looking for a hospedaje, but ended up camping in the local school room instead: second grade! We had a nice evening chatting with the school teachers while watching them prepare a ‘caldo de cabeza’, which is a soup made of a sheep head and the feet. This was to be our breakfast the next morning……I didn’t sleep too well with this prospect in mind! The next day the sun was out and after a hearty breakfast of a very nice tasting soup (I past on the feet and the skull bits) we headed on down the unpaved road. It was a beautiful long traverse heading into a long meandering downhill to Abancay (2378m). It took longer than anticipated and after a fresh sugar cane refreshment at the valley floor we braved the small 500m uphill to town and arrived on dark. Accommodation was expensive for a non tourist town, but we treated ourself to a nice place and thouroughly enjoyed the luxury of a hot shower and fresh crispy sheets.
We decided to pass on the next 2000m uphill and took a collectivo to the top, where we got to enjoy the views of the Nevados before heading down into a beautiful valley. The morning light was stunning on the fields and the smell of anis was in the air. This region is the main producer of this crop and it was harvesting time. We also came across linseed drying on the road. We headed on all the way down into the Arpurimac gorge before climbing back up. The sandlies were bad, it was hot and dusty and it didn’t take much to also convince Carlos that it was time for another ride. We caught a collectivo which took as the remaining 60km to Cusco (3310) on a very busy road. I was glad not to be cycling with all the mad traffic about!! We arrived well after dark and had trouble finding a hostel with a free room. The next morning we moved into the Hostel Estrellita which is the disguised Casa de Cyclistas de Cusco and has a great french bakery next door….. ahhh…la vie est belle!!!