07.29.2003-08.22.2003       Huanuco, Peru to Abancay, Peru
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Departing from Huanuco was not easy. The city is blessed with a latitude/altitude combination that results in a near-perfect climate. It also boasts the cutest/friendliest Pan-American cyclist welcoming party I've encountered. And of course, from Huanuco I faced a steady climb from around 6,000 ft. to over 14,000 ft. Fortunately some well-rested legs compensated for time at sea level. I rode fairly comfortably over two days to the high point before dropping into the town of Cerro de Pasco. It claims the title of "Mining Capital of Peru"and its drab appearance would not leave you doubting. After Cerro I descended into the altiplano of Junin, a stretch of cold, featureless landscape that would accompany me for the next few days. It seemed hard to believe that on these windswept plains took place one of the decisive battles that led to the end of Spain's rule in South America. After a cold night in the town of Junin I visited the site of the battle and watched preparations for the upcoming anniversary celebrations. I descended off the altiplano and into La Oroya, the processing center for the minerals extracted from the nearby mines. La Oroya is the Gary, Indiana of years past, the kind of place that if you were driving past in your car you would shut the windows and then hold your breath through the nasty sections. But there are no windows on a bike and at 12,000 ft. you can hardly afford to stop breathing for any amount of time. I sought lodging as far away from the processing plants as possible.

Two days of gradual descending through the Montara Valley brought me to Peru's inland commercial center, Huancayo. There I met up with my Swiss friends for our first rendevouz since Nicaragua. After a few days in Huancayo I left, leaving my Swiss friends to tend to some health issues. An up, then down day followed, taking me to the little town of Izcuchaca. I lodged next to the town's "spa" and enjoyed my hottest shower in ages. A full day of hard riding later and I had arrived in the colonial town of Huancavelica, nestled in a valley amongst rocky mountains. I spent a rest day there, recovering from the ride in and resting up for the ride out. It was a good choice as a cold rain fell through most of the day. As I rode out of town the next day I saw a disturbing sight--fresh snow at elevations much lower than those that I'd be reaching throughout the course of the day's climbing. Soon I had ascended to the highest continuous road in the world, a section of road that rarely drops below 13,000 ft. for nearly a hundred miles. The sky was grey and I knew precipitation was inevitable. Fortunately it came in the form of snow(rain at termperatures just above freezing would have been truly miserable), the first snow I'd encountered on the bike during the entire trip. The weather cleared as I covered the last few miles to Chanta Pass, at 15,900 ft. the highest elevation I'd ever attained. A short descent on the other side brought me into some of the finest roadside scenery of the trip, as pristine lakes dotted an unpopulated landscape of rocky mountains. Perfect camping territory but with temperatures plummeting I decided I'd best seek indoor accomodations.

I struggled on through rolling terrain to the town of Santa Ines, arriving well after dark with the aid of a full moon rising. At 15,000 ft. and with no electricity it was a bitterly cold place. I counted no less than six blankets on my bed at the hostal. At the high elevation I knew I'd have difficulty breathing at night and the weight of six heavy blankets pressing down on my lungs could only worsen the situation. I opted for my down sleeping bag. The next morning I waited for the sun to rise before exiting my sleeping bag, my breath still clearly visible inside my room. The road returned to Lake Choclococha and I had a chance to appreciate the landscape that fatigue and darkness had prevented me from appreciating the night before. I rode sluggishly through the morning and soon realized another high pass would not be on the day's agenda. Again, a fine decision as the next morning I rode comfortably up the next high pass. The road passed through more spectacular scenery, weaving its way through high altitude pasture before cresting the summit at 15,500 ft. Another pass separated me from Ayacucho but I was feeling strong and so pushed on. Through the descent and the following ascent I was dogged by a storm which was always threatening at my shoulder. Just before finishing the climb and beginning my speedy descent into Ayacucho I looked back and said, "Sorry, Mr. Storm. You'll have to try and catch me another day." He thundered in response, as if to say, "Yes, I will." A fiesta interrupted my descent into Ayacucho. Part of the festivities included a sort of public bull fight. Unfortunately the "bull ring" included the highway. Someone suggested I hop in the fray and use my bike as protection. I said that at over 100 lbs. it wasn't the most easily-maneuvered object. I waited for the bull to tire and then rode through the gauntlet of cheering, drunken spectators.

I spent a few days in Ayacucho, a sizable city of colonial buildings, nice weather and friendly people. It stands as my favorite Peruvian city to date. After Ayacucho lay the most dreaded section of my inland route--250 miles of jarring roads and seemingly endless ups and downs. The road climbed steadily from Ayacucho up into the pampas at 13,000-14,000 ft. For thirty miles there was nothing but rolling grasslands. When I dropped off the pampas I saw what would be a common sight over the next several days--the road dropping into what appeared to be an abyss. I descended/braked through the afternoon, stopping to sleep and rest my tired wrists in the sleepy town of Ocros. The descent continued through the next morning, eventually ending at the Pampas River and nearly 8,000 ft. below my high in the pampas. From there the process repeated itself in reverse. A night in the pleasant town of Chincheros broke up the ascent. The following afternoon I was back up in the pampas, the only other lifeforms being my furry friends. Another monster descent dumped me in the town of Andihuaylas, home to some of the best Chinese food in Latin America. The cycle continued from there.

The following night I took a detour off the highway down to the town of Kishuara. It was my last night on this miserable road and Kishuara was a fitting place to spend it. All along the route people had been friendly and the folks(all Indians) in Kishuara were exceptionally friendly. A gringo was obviously a major attraction here (I gathered it was usually weeks(months?) in between sightings) but people were respectful and rarely stopped and stared. In Kishuara one of my streaks came to an end. Up until then I'd managed to eat whatever had been placed in front of me at mealtime(menus don't exist in small towns--it's either breakfast, lunch or dinner). In Kishuara I was served up a portion of heart(and to think I hadn't eaten meat for the fourteen years prior to this trip!) for dinner. I suspected it was from the pig whose carcass had been hanging in a tree behind the hostal/restaurant just hours before. I first tried to cut the pieces into edible portions with the only utensil at my disposal, a spoon. This was futile. I then tried gnawing at the heart with my teeth. After a considerable amount of gnawing I only succeeded in filling the gaps in between my teeth with muscle fibers. By then the rest of the table had moved on to the drinking phase of the meal. This was more appealing than trying to eat heart so I joined them for an after-dinner cocktail of hot water and pure cane alcohol. After Kishuara I summited another pass and then dropped into another abyss, the Pachihaca Valley. There I joined the main highway from the coast and ascended up the opposite side to Abancay. From Abancay to Cusco the terrain would not relent but I looked forward to pavement, sweet pavement.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg743 mi/1195 km61980 ft/20334 m
Trip14221 mi/22886 km163 mi/262 km17
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