When I last caught up with the journey I was in the town of Huaraz, chewing fingernails whilst impatiently waiting for my tent pole to arrive. Fast forward two weeks and I’m in the town of Puno, next to the highest lake in the world, waiting to cross into Bolivia tomorrow.
Waiting around in Huaraz did have its bright side. I got to have an unexpected reunion with some very nice people I had met the first night, enjoying some great company and some awesome food. I also got to explore the beautiful surrounding valley, with its towering, white peaks jutting out around the town. On one of these hikes is where I got bitten by the dog…but that’s only half the story, as the embarrassing truth behind the pooch ordeal, I reserved to my shame, for this edition.
I’ve gotten rather good at fending off dog attacks now. It might seem like a trivial issue, but the dogs rushing out to chase me aren’t a pack of puppies from the Andrex adverts (if only). The dogs here are huge and wild and can smell a skinny, gringo cyclist from a mile away (admittedly, some days are easier than others to smell me a mile away). On this occasion, I was hiking the hills in Huaraz when I came across two huge dogs blocking the path and ‘giving it the big bark’. I had been wanting to try something for a while, just to see if it actually worked…queue the embarrassment. If you can recall Mick Dundee’s method of canine control in Crocodile Dundee, my rendition went along similar lines. To my amazement, it worked and the dogs cowered off as I made some stupid humming sound and wobbled my hand from side to side whilst trying to stare out the dogs. Shocked that it worked, the next time three bruisers came hurtling towards me, I confidently strode over and began the routine again, waiting for the moment the dogs would back down from my ‘Bear Grylls’ style moves. Well it spectacularly failed and I think in the end, actually wound the dogs up more, with one of them nipping my ankle and the others very much approving. On the face of it, I can’t blame the dogs, they just wanted to show the muppet a lesson. Anyway, the rest is history and two FREE rabies shots later and only my pride remains slightly in need of recovery.
Day three I finally got the news my package had arrived. I rushed down to the post office only to be told whilst it was there, I couldn’t pick it up till three for no reason I could understand. Nevermind, had the bike to fix anyway, so I returned at three only to be told there is only one person with the key to the cabinet and she is on her lunch…for 2 hours. One more night then in Huaraz, where actually the stars aligned as because of the wait, I got to meet up for a curry and some good chats with my roommates from a few days before. The next day, I was the most eager I’ve ever been to hop onto the saddle and head south (ish). In the mountains of Peru, roads are more like squiggly drawings then straight lines. It’s around 800 kms as the crow flies from Huaraz to Cuzco. My route would go over 1500 km’s up and around the world’s second largest mountain range.
The first day gave me a little taster of things to come. Two passes over 4,000 metres high, one 70 km climb and freezing rain for the afternoon (it’s rainy season in the mountains at the moment). I had discovered a problem in Huaraz that both my wheel rims had cracks in them and on the back wheel, I had to put washers round the nipple ends to stop the spokes going through my tube. The guy at the bike shop assured me all the roads to Cuzco were tarmac, although on day two, the roads were total wash outs from the rains and I nervously bounced over each hole, hoping my rims would survive till Cuzco. Cuzco is the only town accept Lima, to have rims in my size. As the sun set I finally reached the top of the second pass for the day. Ahead lay 60kms of bumpy rock road, a huge descent to the city of Huanoco. I don’t like riding in the dark but I really wanted to get done. I could see the lights twinkling in the darkness as I trundled slowly down, three hours later and spewing obscenities at the situation. As I rode through a small village, a lady stepped out the house and warned me not to go further. It was 8pm by now, pitch black and she said that there were many violent robberies at the bridge below. She invited me to stop on the floor in her family’s home. They had very little, barely any food in the house, but as always in life, the people with the least give the most. She made sure I had food to eat and her young daughters kept me entertained with the family photo album. The next morning I headed off to finish the last of the bumpy miles, although that wasn’t the last annoyance the dodgy road would inflict.
I have a valuables bag on my bike frame I keep my wallet in, which has never come open on this journey. Today was the day it finally did. I had only travelled 500 metres, from a hardware shop to the hospital to receive my second shot. I’m anal about my wallet so I check the bag continuously. 300 metres down the road, I realised it was open and I raced back along the road to find it. Unfortunately someone else already had, in the space of two minutes they had all of about $50 of Peruvian money and more importantly, my only effective card in Peru. I went to the police station and actually had a great day as they bought me lunch and took me into town to change some dollars. I always keep emergency dollars on me in case this happens. As nice as they were, their police work amounted to me handwriting the details into a very old book. They did let me hold their AK’s and other weapons though which was a first for me! I had $30 to last me that day and the next, when I would reach Cerro Del Pasco and pick up the money from a Western Union…easy (or so I thought).
My mum was in hospital and my family were helping her so I turned to my always reliable best friend Joe, who quickly sent over the money. In the end the transaction was cancelled by his bank, so my brother went to the Western Union directly in Leicester, to send the money. It should all be a simple process but I couldn’t find a bank to help me in the worlds highest (and what seemed the most dreariest) city in the world. There would be one reason or another why they couldn’t do what is a very easy transaction. For two days I went back and forth between the western union affiliated banks, constantly disappointed and with my $30 now after 4 days, run down to nothing. The last day I was down to a single .50 soles coin, around 15 US cents. I bought 6 crackers for the day and eventually found a bank I had gone to previously, who would accept the transaction. I went back at 2pm as told, only to be informed the lady was on her lunch, this time for 3 hours. I ate the last of my crackers and waited till 5pm, only letting relief grab hold of me when I physically had the money in my hands. I ran out and bought an empanada (Peruvian Cornish pasty) and went back to my hostel, to finally pay for my stay there. Joe had tried to book me into a nice place during this time that served breakfast, although such is the uniqueness to Cerro Del Pasco as a tourist destination, there isn’t one hotel in town that accepts cards or has an online service. The next day I really wanted to get some miles in, so I set of at 5am and put in 201 km’s over more mountain passes, with the road heading up to 4,500 metres.
In the mean time, my school had given me the amazing news that they were linking one of their Sport Relief charity fundraisers with this cause, with staff and students cycling 24 hours in recognition. I was honoured for the thought and I volunteered to join them. It meant getting to Cuzco in 6 days, where the start line for the challenge would be. Over 1000kms of road lay in between, which was made all the more difficult, with the route crossing over numerous 4,000 metre passes and dropping down constantly. The next six days saw me set off at 4 am each day, to avoid the freezing rains and put in the miles (although some days it rained for the entire day anyway). One day saw me climb to 4000, drop to 1500 and climb back up to over 4000 metres, only to drop again. I crossed from pass to pass, through llama land and stunning scenery, beset with beautiful, picturesque Peruvian towns. I have been to Peru before and I very much stuck to the tourist trail. But cycling through the countryside, I saw first hand how the rural communities kept to their traditions and Andean culture. It was breath-taking country to ride through, although easily the hardest cycling I have done on this journey. Over the entirety of Peru, I have gained over 129,000 feet in elevation gain, or the equivalent of cycling up Everest almost 5 times.
I finally reached Cuzco, greeted by a gloriously sunny day, knowing that the hardest cycling was behind me. I had a day to look around and get some jobs done before I would be starting the 24 hour cycling challenge, at the same time as 40 staff and 120 students back home in my old school of Wigston College (Gutho). After a radio interview in the morning and an insanely big breakfast (even by my standards) I raced down to the plaza to get the challenge underway. I set myself the target of Puno, although I honestly wanted to go a lot further. One thing I’ve learnt in Peru is to never trust a Peruvian when they call a road flat or a hill climb ‘pocco’ (small). Flat to them is more reminiscent of the Alps rather than the roads of Holland. I had been told to expect flat roads and a ‘little climb’. This climb actually turned out to be 30 kms, taking the road up from Cuzco’s height at 3,300 to a pass at 4,400 metres. In fact the majority of the 392 kms I cycled this day were between 3,800 metres and 4,400. I really wanted to get to 500 kms in the challenge, but honestly whilst I have not had altitude sickness this whole journey, cycling that many kms at an altitude above the height of Europe’s tallest mountain, absolutely wrote me off. I reached the peak of the pass just before the sun began to set and then it was around 200 kms of riding through the night, with freezing cold temperatures, mind numbing boredom and a red raw arse from sitting on a saddle the width of a shoe sole for all that time. I did hop off a couple of time for a coffee when I could find a place open, just to stop myself falling asleep. The dogs kept me alert though, with two holes in my rear bags from bites, a shoe ripped off when I tried to fend one off and another bite to the ankle (although the skin didn’t break this time). An eventful night and it’s safe to say, I was exhausted today as I rode in at 5am to see the pinks of the early morning sky above the peaceful Lake Titicaca. No camping today as I found the closest hostel with a room for $4 and crashed out. To the Bolivian border tomorrow but today, a chance to eat as much food as I can and ice a sore arse! I’m going to miss Peru so much; its people, culture, tradition and incredible food! I had my last arroz con leche tonight (rice with milk) and I will have my last quinoa breakfast tomorrow morning…sad times.
More donations have come in and the total is now at over £14,300 ($20,000)! My amazing sister in law to be has just got the ball rolling with a charity quiz night, which should bring in a whole lot more to the total. I was also very grateful for the help from former cycling world record holder and absolute legend Mark Beaumont. Was very honoured he took the time out of his busy schedule to forward a video to me. If you’re reading this and still deciding whether to donate or not, please know that cycling across Peru was easily the hardest thing I have ever done. I chose the mountains instead of the coastal flat roads, to add on more miles and push this total higher. The 24 hour cycle across the high plateau of Peru, pushed me to my limits and I will be trying even harder over the next couple of months to keep on trying to push that total to hit the target. Please support a really worthy cause and sponsor a mile today by following the link below.