The Illusive Peru

And I’ve managed. September came and went without me being able to put together a single post. The first month since I have set off from Halifax without posting a word. Actually I did not take the time to write, the time to take a break that would surpass the basic regeneration that the body needs and essential errands like taking care of my bicycle, shopping (mainly food), washing (to avoid any misunderstanding – hand-washing) of clothes and similar.
There are several reason why this was so but I think what was forcing me to push forward was the feeling that I’m not putting in enough of an effort, that I’m simply not doing the distance. I had several days when I made 15, maybe 20km. Far from the average 70km somewhere far away in Mexico. Not to mention the days in the US when a hundred was something ordinary (then it was my shrinking wallet that pushed me on). And this slow progress was subconsciously bothering me and it took me quite some time to basically accept the fact that this is my current speed. It is the only possible outcome when you are hauling 60+ kg of Lou, equipment, food and water from one mountain to the next. And this being southern Ecuador!
I left Loja, from where just over a month ago I managed for the last time to give you some updates on my progress, in a group – Safia, Andres and yours truly. We abandoned the Panamericana in direction – South, Peru. Just short of 200km which could translate into about 5 days. How naïve.
We started excellent, one hill, sheltering under the roof of a national park entrance during a short shower followed by a descend into a sunshine and warmth. And here the first complications started. Me being the first of the convoy I managed to miss a bypass around a small town of Malacatos. Not that it’s not possible the go through it but going through turned out to be more challenging than anyone imagined. The locals immediately informed us that this day was the last (and the most important) day of the fiesta. Fireworks, live music, people on streets, basically your all inclusive fiesta deal. Needless to say we were left to no other option but to search for a location where we can set up our tents, leave our stuff in a safe place and go out to see this Event. Just for a beer! Not really any more accustomed to drinking so a second one could already lay us down.
Well, it was not just one beer, there were two. And they would not be so much of a problem if we would not have ventured in the direction of discovering local flavours which lead us to meet canelazo. This is hot water with cinnamon that is mixed in 50:50 ratio with homemade aguardiente made from sugar cane. And the fiesta just got started.
The aftermath was well visible the next day and with a great deal of effort we made it to Vilcabamba, a town just 10km away. There the friendly firefighters gave us a little bit of roof under which we could unroll our sleeping bags, sheltered from the water that the sky was generously distributing all around us.
The next two days we spent getting to the other side of the mountain chain and soaked to the bone from the rain that was pouring on us all the way down we entered the outskirts of Amazonia. Greenery intensifies as well as humidity. And an occasional shower can occur (thou I have to admit that there weren’t many). What attracted more of my attention was the change that occurred to the road surface. This combined with the heat and humidity made an impact on our speed of progress. We said goodbye to asphalt in Loja. There it has changed to concrete slabs (the kind that are cut every 5 metres so that riding on them gently shakes you so that you do not fall asleep. Wait, that’s when you are riding in a car, on a bicycle it just shakes all the time, no benefits from that). But then after a few days we had to bid farewell also to concrete. What was left was a road of densely compacted dirt with some rocks. Luckily for us there was not a lot of rain since I was able to imagine, on some wet spots, the sticky mud the surface easily be transformed into with just a bit of water. And just to top it off, so we really wouldn’t dare to think of making any fast progress, the Ecuadorean engineers made sure that the road does not stick to the bottom of the main valley. It rather goes parallel to it over the hilltops that separate the smaller valleys of the tributaries. This way we were able to keep alive the logic of antennas and bridges from my previous post. And to make it less monotonous they did not bother too much with the gradient of the road. Those who wish to pass here will make the effort and climb if needed. So there were occasions when we were left with no other option but to descend and push our bikes uphill.
Every morning I managed to realize that this is just not going to be the day I will see Peru.
I will remember the last evening we spent in Ecuador. After yet another climb we descended a bit and found ourselves in a small village named El Chorro. In the middle of the village was a small park with the one and only shop on the corner, next to it a church. It was just past 15h. After a short consultation we were came to a conclusion that we will call it a day here. Continuing would mean the remainder of the descend and a new climb and maybe, just maybe there would be Peru on the other side. Probably not! We do not have neither the strength nor the motivation to venture into this unknown today. We have a bad experience from yesterday when we optimistically set off from a village in a valley around 15h. At 16:30 we made it midway uphill almost dead. The gradient and the dust of the road under a burning sun left their impact.
So Andres and I savoured our last Pilsener in Ecuador, then we moved in front of the church where we set up our camp for the night and started to prepare dinner, enjoyed the unique and unrepeatable moments of the sunset and after dinner, when it was already dark we sat each in front of its tent. Each one with his/her thoughts, emotions and somehow jointly observed children playing in the square in front of us.
There was 6-8 of them, divided into two groups. They set 5 half a litre plastic bottles in a triangular formation as if for bowling and then from a distance targeted this with a ball. Once they managed to knock the formation over they scattered. The group that managed to knock over the plastic bottles then tried to reach them and reconstruct their original formation while the other group, the ones possessing the ball, tried to prevent this. This they could achieve by throwing the ball at them and the one that got hit was eliminated from the game. I personally was most impressed by the fact the kinds were of all age groups. From about 4 up to about 12 years. And they had no troubles playing together, outdoors and with a real ball. A real Playstation.
Watching the kids playing my mental fatigue of yet another day still without reaching Peru slowly faded away. A new thought started to sprinkle up in my relaxed mind. A thought that I really have reached the end of the World. This is what I have pictured myself the end of the World looks like. As a village that is 2-3 hour of diverse mototaxi ride (a bit less with a bus, but then again the bus seems to pass here only every third rainy Friday) away from the nearest town which in itself is what seems to be lightyears away from the nearest city. A village where kids still freely play together on the street and have no idea what Pokemon Go is (truth be told, the author of these lines also has only a vague idea about what that is. To be honest, this absence of knowledge of the latest trends and current hits does not bother me even a bit, on the contrary). A village where you can buy a cold beer in the one and only shop. But only if you have exact change. The lady in the store has no desire to calculate the difference let alone to count the coins for change if a crazy thought of paying with a 10 dollar bill occurs to you.
At the end of the World, this was the thought with which I finished the day.

The next day we were faced again with the new reality that was strikingly similar to the reality of the last few days. Descend during which you lay a lot of faith and hope into brakes and cables, crossing a river (sometimes on a bridge, sometimes washing your feet), optimistically into uphill, descent from a bicycle, pushing upwards, several short brakes, finally summit and – what the fuck, just a military check-point, there is more to climb onwards. And then descend, after every curve yet another one. Peru is nowhere to be seen. As if Peru was just an illusion that someone once managed to picture and I have chosen to believe in its existence. Like some mythical promised land.
And yet, it’s not an illusion. There comes a moment when after one curve I manage to see first a river that divides the two countries. Then, on the other bank, I can see a wide, dark grey speck that follows the river. It cannot be true, it simply cannot be true that there is asphalt on the other side! And in that precise moment Peru really appears to me as a promised land.
This sight overwhelms me to the point I almost do not make the curve. After all the breaking, the breaks simply are not as efficient as they used to be. And the gradient demands them, demands them 100%. Luckily there is very, veeeery little traffic so no car comes the other way.
We almost wake up the border police in Ecuador so that they can stamp our passports. The barrier is down (probably nobody could be bothered to lift it) so we make it under it on to the bridge and stop in front of an empty Peruvian immigration post. There is nobody there. Some people tell us that they “open” in 2 hours.
When we come back later there is a policeman (at least I think it was a policeman, adidas jersey and jeans that the guy was wearing do spring some doubt). He warmly greats us, we chat a bit and then he asks us how long would we like to stay in Peru. Given the progress of the past three weeks and the fact that Peru is about 5 times the size of Ecuador, I’m inclined to say 2 years, but I bit my tongue. I ask for 6 months, the guy offers 4, we settle on 5 or 150 days. Hopefully this should do it!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

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