La Ruta de los Volcanes to the Peruvian Desert

It’s been 9 days since I left the comforts of Cuence where I’d been recovering from a bout of food poisoning. I’m now up in the lofty heights of Huaraz, Peru, 3000 metres above sea level and surrounded by the glistening white peaks of the Cordillera Blancha mountains.

The valley Quito sits in
This is one of the ‘smaller’ volcanoes along the route.

I rolled into Ecuador, knowing that from all the research I’d done before I set off on this journey, it was going to be marginally the toughest country to cycle through. I’d only spent half a day on the Pan American in Colombia, but in Ecuador I’d be following the highway as it wound its way over and around Ecuador’s volcanoes and vast valleys. Less than 700 miles of tarmac but just shy of 80,000 feet of climbing through this tiny country.

I set my sights for Quito for the first couple of days, however had a pleasant suprise when I rolled through a small town on the way, to find the lovely Julie, a traveller I hosted in my old apartment back in South Korea. She treated me to a lovely breakfast and after a hug goodbye, I was off to climb up in the worlds highest official capital, Quito. I was stopping with a local man called Diego, who had given me directions to his house and left the keys to his place in a shop close by. What I didn’t know was that for some reason there was no electricity or gas in Diego’s apartment that day, so I waited in the dark for Diego to come home around 10pm that night.

The next day I’d intended on seeing the sights of Quito, however my sickness had set in from some very dodgy chicken the night before and I spent most of the morning laying on the grass trying not to throw up in Quito’s historic centre. As I don’t take much time to actually look at my food before I devour it, I hadn’t noticed it was pretty much raw inside until I was three quarters of the way through. I slept most of the afternoon and then forced myself off the next day, climbing out of Quito and into the valley which separates Quito from Cuence. My sickness gradually got worse and cycling over 3000 metres for most of the next two days, all be it in breath taking scenery, wasn’t really helping matters. Having to stop every so often to get off the bike and throw up or run to a bathroom wasn’t a pleasant experience. I’d arranged to stop with some cyclists from America, who had taught over in South Korea before and were now living in the beautiful city of Cuence. The days ride from San Juan de Alausi to Quence was when my stomach was at its worst, with 170 kms to ride over 2 huge mountain passes, with one reaching as high as 3,600 metres. I finally rolled into Cuence at 8.30pm that night, exhausted and very weak from my stomach.

Riding above the clouds
photo 2 (2)
San Juan de Alausi

It takes kind hearted people to open up their home to someone they’ve never met before but to let in someone they don’t know who’s sick, in at a late hour, just gives you an idea of how amazing Stephen and Katy were. I went straight to bed that night but the next day I was being well and truly looked after. My problem is my elephant sized appetite got the better of me, so I was struggling not to smash food down despite having a weak stomach. It meant my sickness wouldn’t go away until I had a day off eating like a pig, took some medicine and rested up. Not eating is something I struggle with the most, especially with the middle eastern delights Stephen and Katy’s incredibly friendly Algerian roommate Affaf was serving up. I couldn’t have been in nicer and more interesting company and it was so difficult to leave three days later, still feeling a little worse for wear, but I’m sure it was nice for the 3 of them to get their toilet back!

Over the next 2 and a half days I climbed up for 20 kms or so then dropped, then climbed again and so on. I’m pretty sure the engineer who designed the road system just drew a line straight through the mountains. Ecuador is an hugely difficuly country to cycle through, although everytime I wanted to hate it and get annoyed at having to climb once again, I’d be presented with another stunning view. It’s an incredible country and one you can easily get lost in and feel very much a part of the landscape. I loved it, which says a lot considering I was sick for the majority of the time cycling through. Although that being said, the sight of Peru and the knowledge I was going to have some flat roads for a few days, was a relief as I headed towards the border and towards the coast, through the Peruvian desert.

I was expecting to lay down a few 200+ km days as the Pan American turned towards the Pacific, however the problem with vast, flat deserts isn’t just the heat, but more importantly for a cyclist, the wind. Trying to get my piano shaped bike and bags through the head wind was miserable at times. Out in the middle of nowhere for no reason I could work out, something ripped through my tyre and effectivly wrote it off. Luckily I carry a spare and I was soon on my way again and looking for somewhere to camp out in the deserted wilderness. I found a beautiful spot with some goats for company and set up for the night. For the next three days I started at 4 am, trying to lay down as many miles before the winds hit their peak in the afternoon. At around 6 am one morning I was in a world of my own when I suddenly realised a truck had veered across the road and was heading straight for me. It came within inches before veering back and carrying on, leaving me feeling very lucky and very shocked at the same time. I soon forgot about it though as I rolled into a town on the edge of the desert and went to check out if there was anywhere to camp. The local police were a real helpful bunch and let me camp in their back yard whilst we played the ultimate game of hook a duck, trying to fish guava fruit out of a tree. I took the lazy but significantly more effective approach of leaning out of an upstairs window to simply pick the fruit off the tree.

The next day I swung left, back into the mountains, to begin a huge detour which will see me climb over 129,000 feet through 1,500 miles of Peruvian mountain road, towards the Bolivian border. The scenery had already become spectacular and the Andean culture is incredible to be around. Each little town is bustling with brightly clothed, top hat wearing women and the markets are humming with the sounds of bag loads of warbling guinea pigs (the staple food in this part of the world). Cyclist enemy number 1 has continued their rampage of terror, as dogs continue to chase me, with one in particular giving me a good bite on my right ankle. It’s given me another job to do whilst in Huaraz, looking for a clinic which stocks the first of 5 rabies jabs I now need (not the first time I’ve had to get these shots). This area is surrounded by the intimidating beauty of the numerous 6,000 metre peaks which circle the town. Hopefully my tent pole will arrive tomorrow so I can be on my way, although if I had all the time in the world, I would have spent weeks here, exploring the mountains and glacier blue lakes. I’ve been lucky enough to be sharing a room with some more incredible company from the UK and US, which is very much appreciated after a few lonesome days in the desert.

Peru represents the last of the big three countries to cycle through in terms of climbing through moutains. There will be huge climbs to come for sure in through Bolivia and into Patagonia, however cycling Peru will be a huge stride towards the finishing line in Tierra Del Fuego. The fundraising total now stands at a fantastic £14,000 (close to $20,000) and at 70%, is also nearing its finishing line. However like the journey, there is still a huge distance to go and any help, big or small, is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much to everyone who has contributed so far and for all the lovely messages of encouragement, especially when I was sick. If you feel like contributing to the amazing work Wishes4Kids do every day, please follow the link below and sponsor a mile today.

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