The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you
have always got."
- Magnet on my sisters fridge
Chapter Twenty One
North From Lima
Although I'm not too fond of the pollution and the crowds, I sure don't
miss going between 5000 and 15,000 feet over dirt/ powder covered rhombus
shaped rocks day after day. Yesterday was happily spent fighting traffic,
zipping in and out of all the back streets of Lima. Today, for a change I
went out of Lima towards the south, about 10 miles to the affluent
part of town called Miraflores. What an amazing contrast, suddenly
the pollution is gone and the buildings are modern, I could be in Southern
California or Europe. Its a shame there has to be such a gap between the
have and the have nots, but that's a function of society and the market
place. Interesting how wealth brings Americanisms, Pizza hut and Kentucky
fried chicken, modern stores with all the latest trinkets. But what caught
my eye was a women selling homemade chocolate Black forest cake at 50 cents
a slice, expensive for here but worth it! So I bought a piece and sat
down on the edge of a cliff over looking the ocean. Its been over two and a
half months since I've seen the ocean, but only 1000 miles south of here near
the Peru/ Chile boarder. I could of made it here in 3 weeks if I took the
coastal route, paved, reasonably flat, and a tail wind, but ultra boring
without the flies, heat, garbage, and the up and down road of rhombus rocks.
The beach here consists of round golf-ball size stones, with small waves less
than 2 feet, breaking a 100 feet out and rolling onto the rocks. At the
point there are couple dozen surfers all wearing wetsuits for even though
we are at 12 degrees of latitude ;the equivalent to 750 miles south of
Miami, the water is still very cold,60s. Interestingly enough only about 350
miles north of here the cold Humbolt Antarctic current turns westward and
north of that the water becomes remarkably warm, upper 70s. The water here
is brown and looks somewhat unattractive, but is packed with sunbathers in
the summer months ( our winter ). There is a good paved road that hugs the
coast and the base of this 150 foot sand cliff, but the city of Lima is
about 7 miles inland and road into the city from the coast is quite
unpleasant because of its popularity, so Ill return via the bike route.
There is something about being alone and in remote places and up in the
mountains that cultivates a need to see, people and madhouse confusion again.
Hence one of the reasons for my decent into Lima. Also to see the ocean
again and to familiarize my self with the source and life blood of
Peru's capital and largest city. In addition on the world news front, Lima
is frequently mentioned in the headlines, and I wanted to have some sort of
personal reference. But an attempted robbery and a lung full of vaporized
lead is enough reference for me so its off to the north again. The next day
after stocking up on food and water, I spent the next 8 hours cycling through
heavy traffic to clear the outskirts of the city. By this time my need for
confusion and crowds has more been more than satisfied, although I never
thought I would say this, I'm ready for more ups and downs.
I stayed in a hotel on the northern edge of this seemingly endless urban
sprawl, scored the delectable dozen in terms of hours of sleep, and was up and
on the road with the dawn.
The second day out of Lima was not as congested but still too much traffic
for my liking, a truck or bus every minute or two. This is a continuation
the Atacama desert of Chile, only here the road does not hug the coast even
though it appears to on the map. There are places where you can see the sea,
but most of the time you're about 1 mile inland and the sand is gray,
everything is gray, and bleak. Nothing but gray sand, gray skies and gray
blah. 2000 miles of ocean front property with little access and little
From the coast to about a hundred miles inland it almost never
rains while 300 miles inland from the coast it almost never stops raining.
as the Amazon encroaches upon the eastern Andean foothills. The Pan Americana
highway is paved and climbs and descends through the sand, 2000 miles from
Chile to Ecuador and for the most part, from my perspective as a tourist,
can be missed. I feel sad for cyclists who cling to the largely unattractive
Pan Am, who value speed over visual beauty and diversity of experience.
Oh here is my turnoff, the town of Pativilca about 130 miles north of Lima,
time to head up into the mountains again. I've decided to abandon my efforts
to cook my own meals and camp. Dollar hotels and restaurants are too frequent
so easy and allow me to meet more locals and practice my Spanish more, which
by now, is getting quite good. As the road turns eastwards and rises into the
Andes once again, I'm blessed with a strong tail wind alleviating the resistance
of the climb. The good paved road follows the Fortaleza river valley gradually
leaving the desert behind as the scenery slowly turns into Nevada like scrub
land. I'm not quite sure what it is but my overall feeling of exuberance is
significantly higher up in the mountains. The air is cleaner and clearer,
the water is better, ( not good, just better ), less people, less traffic,
and as the Cordillera Blanca ( white mountain range ) comes into view, there
comes a feeling of being closer to god.
Two days and another 130 miles or so I cycle into the tourist town of Huaras.
An interesting note, shortly after crossing the pass, the east wind suddenly
changed and blew form the northwest 10-15mph, the predominant wind direction of
the Andes. After surveying the town on foot while walking my bike, I met a fellow
cycle tourist form Belgium who was staying with a local family and invited
me to join him. We walked down through the back alleys over tons of broken
concrete and debris and then into a store, through the isles of this mini-
Wal-mart into a back room, and then my favorite part, up 3 flights of stairs.
We shared a room with two beds and a view of the Santa valley with its yes
ho hum , more snow capped peaks. That night after a good feed a locally
caught trout, I helped him true his wheel and entertained him with the
unpacking of all of my 120 pounds of stuff. Like the guy carrying the kayak,
he asked, why are you hauling so much weight? Without thinking I just said
traction, I get better traction with more weight. Actually, most of it I don't
need, but want to keep, books I've finished, maps, notebooks, souvenirs etc..
but it's cheaper to buy new stuff than send it home. Postage is outrageous,
and unreliable, so for a little extra exercise I get better traction.
The next day the two of us took a three day excursion over the white mountains
to the ruins of Chavin. We went over by bus and walked back on an old Inca
built trail. The Chavin culture thrived around 300 BC, and construction on
this site actually began around 800 BC. This complex is underground and
at one time contained over 3000 people. I read somewhere that the Incas
actually spawned from this ancient culture. Inside there is a 12 foot
sculpture of a lion or what looks like a lion carved into white granite.
The hike back was long but visually attractive. It can be done in 2 long days
or 3 easy ones, we chose the latter. I'm not quite sure why, but the native
people who only speak Quechua not Spanish, are terrified of us gringos. When-
ever they see me coming they run and hide, of course I also have this problem
with women in bars, old friends, and just about anyone who I don't owe money
to. The only reason I borrow money is to keep people interested in me.
The night time temperatures up in the mountains were well below freezing, but
having a second person in the tent sure made a difference. Camping above
15,000 feet is a great experience, but I still find myself easily out of
breath, mild headache, and frequently tired. I didn't mention the dizzy and
light headedness because I'm always that way. My friend Vermeylen (what a
name) feels the same way so tomorrow we will try to make it back to Huarez.
It was late when we got back but the market was still open, so we made a
short stop, and returned to treat our hosts to a huge fruit salad, and made
fried chicken and potatoes for dinner. In the morning Vermeylen was to meet
up with his girlfriend who lived in Lima, so I took this as my cue to start
down the Santa Rio valley. The town of Huarez is 10,500 feet and the town
of Trujillo is at sea level, but between the two I didn't do any coasting.
Bad road, gentle descent, a bad tummy, and head winds made for easy but slow
I met some people earlier who told me about a detour off this road that goes
into Huascaran National Park and around Peru's highest peak, Mt. Huascaran at
22,210 feet. They said that the route climbs almost 9000 feet and winds around
80 hair pin turns and switchbacks over one of the worlds most spectacular
Mountain range the Cordillera Blanca. I later learned that of all the roads
in the world this is one that should not be missed, naturally I missed it.
A mild case of Hepatitis A had set in and my spirits and energy level would
simply not allow such a detour. So close yet so far, but a good reason to
I compromised by spending the night in the town of Yungay, with a perfect
view of the majestic Huascaran, and the fresh snow blowing off the top.
Yungay is the jumping off point into some of the worlds greatest hiking.
From here the paved road continues down to Huallanca, a small village but
a good spot to fill the stomach and restock a few supplies. This is also the
starting point of the famous Canyon Del Pato. Although still very wide at
this point, will soon narrow to as little a 50 feet wide and up to 1000
feet deep, with sheer vertical walls of stone and granite carved by the
Santa river. This road an abandoned train route descending through 55
tunnels varying in length between a 100 feet and a quarter mile, stretching
over 35 miles. The one lane road was literally carved into the side of a
cliff and in places I stood by the edge of the road and looked down five or
six hundred feet. At one point I stopped and threw a large rock about 15
pounds over the side, and counted to 8 before it hit. When it did, it made
a puff of dust and a pop sound, just like when Willie E. Coyote falls off a
cliff while being chased by the road runner. I think they might even film it
here, or at least get their ideas from this place.
After the canyon opened up into the desert the way got a little confusing
with several possibilities and became largely uninteresting. It took another
3 days to reach Trujillo and the home of Lucho a local racing cyclists who
for the past several years has been housing cycle tourists for free. I got
his address from other south bound cyclist in exchange for the address of
two other munificent local fellow cyclists who put up us alien travelers
for free, in Potosi Bolivia and Los Andes Chile.
The first day in Trujullo I spent walking the streets and trying to meet up
with an Italian women who I met in the canyon and loaned my lost cities
book to. I found her hotel with a note, " had to return to Quito a day early
you can reach me through my E mail", which didn't seem to exist, oh well
one less kilo to lug around. I also made an excursion to the beach, and
watched a local make a canoe out of reeds. Along the way I could see where
some tremendous flooding occurred only a few months ago. The whole road was
washed away along with half the village. This area is normally a desert, but
along with El Nino came some unprecedented downpours. This trend of washed out
roads will continue all the through Ecuador.
When I got back to Luchos place I noticed two other touring bikes, yahoo fellow
aliens. John-Paul and Alycea from Wales, a couple who got married 8 years
ago and have been cycling around the world ever since. They started in Ushuaia
in September, almost a year ago and are on their way to Alaska. Never have
I met such committed and determined cyclists. They take it slow and keep
to the back roads as much as possible. They even cycled in Patagonia in the
winter, as if the winds weren't enough to challenge the hardiest traveler,
they had to have bitter cold, short days and a smooth layer of ice on the
roads just for fun. Alycea was a great cook who could whip up a gourmet treat
out of thin air, and John-Paul was the world biggest soccer fan, who
continuously monitored his short-wave radio so if by chance, there was a
soccer match somewhere in the world, that happen to be broadcast, he
wouldn't miss it.
We loaded up with food and goodies and set out northward on the Pan Am
Highway. A few days earlier in Trujillo I met someone whose parents lived
in a town 90 miles to the north called Chiclayo and she told me that her
parents would put us up for a night. When we got there, I knocked on the
door and told them who I was and that I had brought along two friends.
They were happy to see us and take us all in. The family was relatively
well off and we had arrived just in time to join them in their son's 18th
birthday celebrations. We had to make a 5 mile detour to get to their
home, but when you're traveling, you'll do anything for a piece of cake.
Alycea had the most Spanish so she had a long conversation with them
while John-Paul and I sat back and absorbed it all.
I was surprised that even though they were well off and had a modern
Porcelain toilet, they still had no running water in the washroom and
you had to bring up buckets of water from downstairs to flush the toilet.
It could have been that they were in the middle of building the washroom
or there was something wrong with the plumbing, but you never know with
the Peruvian lifestyles.
From Chiclayo, we decided to detour off the Pan Americanna to the older
road which isn't used much anymore. It branches off eastward through the
desert region and rejoins the main highway Piura. Along this rural desert
section of this route we came upon a crowd of hundreds of people walking
along the road. When we asked someone, they explained to us that they
were on a two-day pilgrimage called a "Spiritual Uplifting March for Jesus".
The first image that came to mind when I heard "Spiritual UPLIFTING" was
that of a crowd of people, all giving each other "Wedgies" for Jesus.
Amazingly enough, John-Paul had exactly the same thought at the same time
and as we rode past them, we kept waving and wishing them a Happy Wedgie
Our first stop was the museum at Lamberque. This ancient burial site was
discovered, as always by grave robbers who got caught trying to sell some of
the trinkets and fossils they recovered. It was great to actually see statues,
artifacts and intricately carved jewelry made out of gold and silver that the
Spanish did not find and melt down into coins.
Another site we stopped at, the ruins of Tucume, are rarely visited
by tourists because its not on the Pan Am Highway ( the main
tourist route ). We took the long cut instead across the desert of
Sechua to avoid the heavy traffic. This vast site contained 30 some
pyramids, a museum, and several detailed drawings of how the once looked.
We asked permission to camp in the court yard next to the museum for we
won't have time to see all the pyramids before dark. No problem as long as
we pay our dollar entrance fee before we go in, tomorrow. After dinner John-
set up the tent and tuned in for soccer scores from England while Alycea
and I made dinner. Still not feeling well, lacking the energy to set up the
tent or deal with the pesky mosquitoes and having a case of the runs, I
decided to spread out my rarely used huge tarp and sleep on the floor of the
surprisingly modern and clean restroom at the museum. This later proved
to be a great idea for several times in the night my fellow aliens were
disturbed by curious kids and late night grave dwellers (people who hang
out at the ancient grave site and drink too much ).
I use the term alien because my friend in Santiago kept referring to me
as an alien, largely because of my attitude and beliefs, but mostly because
to the local people us cycle tourists are aliens and treat us like one.
When ever we enter a village they all stop and stare, sometimes run away
in fright, and if I stop to change a flat, within 2 minutes no less than
70 people gather around, so for the most part I feel like an alien.
What would you think if you lived in Peru and saw a 6 foot, white skinned,
bearded, yellow headed, yellow breasted, longhaired maniac ride into town
on a 25 inch mountain bike with a Minnie mouse strapped to the front?
Here I feel like an alien physically and in the states I feel like an
alien because of my lifestyle and belief system. I have been told that I
live in a completely different world than most people. I'm antithetical to
my fellow Americans. Pretty well anything that the average person would
enjoy, I tend to avoid with a passion, whereas things that tend to scare
most people off, draws me like a moth to the flame. When you're an alien
floating through a strange land, it's such a relief to connect not
only with people that share the alien experience but were also
kindred spirits, After 3 months completely on my own, I was overjoyed
to be able to really relate to someone again, to have deep discussions
about life, politics and philosophies. It was as if I had been reunited
with people from my own planet and the greatest thrill was that John-Paul
kept me updated on the soccer scores!
We finished seeing the museum and sites around noon and cycled about 65
miles in 85 degree sunny weather to the town of Olmos. Here we stocked
up on fruits and vegetables. Next came the challenge to find a
place to set up camp for the night. Outside the city, we found a small
gravel side road that split off from the main road and was sheltered from
the main road by a band of bushes and trees. Since the road seemed to
be fairly deserted, we felt confident that there would be no traffic
through the night and decided to set up camp in the area. John-Paul
and Alycea set up their tent on the gravel road, but I saw a patch
of land that I felt would be more comfortable. I cleared the grass and
dead shrubs from a 10 foot square area of smooth, hard dirt. As I
spread out my tent and was about to hammer in the stakes, I looked down
and saw a battalion of huge red ants that reminded me of a Rushin' Army.
Upon further examination, I realized that the entire area was covered
in ants! After all the work I had put into clearing the space, I wasn't
about to give in that easily. With fierce determination, I gathered back
all the dead scrub I had cleared, piled it up in the center of the space
and set it on fire. Earlier, John-Paul had jokingly mentioned that we
hadn't had a bonfire yet and with all this dead scrub, it would be a
shame to waste the opportunity. Of course, when the low temperature doesn't dip
below 70 degrees, the idea of a fire is far from cozy. Needless to say,
I got a roaring fire blazing and the heat was intense. Victory was mine
for no ant was able to tolerate the scorching heat! When I cleared away
the ashes, not a single ant remained. Of course I paid for my success
because the searing heat from the ground radiated up through my thermarest
and the tent became a home-made sauna - What a plus! I had a lot of
dreams of roasting by the fiery gates of hell, but luckily I awoke to the
land of the living. I looked around and surveyed a few ants trickling
back into their territory in the first light of morning as if they were
coming back to assess the damage for possible insurance claims.
As we cycled north of here we came along a whole mountain side in the
midst of this desert that had been washed away, taking most of the road
with it. There had been large sections a few hundred yards long that
had been filled in with rocks and sand, and other places where there was
only one lane left, the other lane only a cliff. All this erosion due to
a sudden rain storm in an area that rarely gets rain. There were long
stretches of small shrubs and trees that had been washed away forming
what is now a dry riverbed. El Nino is making some significant changes
in geography as well as weather. This child reminds me of me.
Our last night together we camped on top of a small ridge under a thorn
tree, which is good because I like thorns and so does my thin cheap south
American bicycle tires. Alycea cooked up and great spicy curry, and we
stayed up half the night talking about how we would be living our life
differently if we had unlimited wealth. We all agreed, that we would not
change a thing except that we might stay in nicer hotels when available and
fly home more often to visit relatives, and maybe hire someone to follow
us with a truck full of fresh purified water! I always dreamed that it would
be ideal to always buy roundtrip tickets TO the United States not from them.
That is to always be traveling and just fly home occasionally for a visit.
In all honesty the most memorable, most rewarding situations occurred because
I was traveling on a budget. Truth is I like my life just the way it is, I
don't think I would ever let money change any of that. I do hope that I
have the opportunity to put that theory to a test one day.
The three of us packed up and started our last day together. We cycled into
the ugly metropolis of Piura and went straight to the most modern super market
I've seen in south America. Just like home, they have all the western products,
but also at western prices. Pringles 3 dollars a can. A whole dinner in a
restaurant is only a dollar, how do people afford it? Truth is they can't but
they buy it once in a while as a sign of affluence, makes them feel privileged
and impresses their friends. I stuck to the usual tin of fish, bread, rice,
oatmeal, fruit and vegetables with some nuts as a snack item. We then went to a
park for lunch where we witnessed a father playing with his son. Something
we had not seen in Peru before. Here, the women raise the children, do all
the shopping, cooking and cleaning, the men do, for the most part what ever
they want, and no women would ever dare to speak up. Its a piety but perhaps
this is an area where globalization can create some positive changes.
After lunch we cycled out of town together when I noticed my front tire
precariously low on air. Apparently one of those thorns from the night before
made its way into one of my tires, and just now made its way out again.
As luck would have it just to my left was a gas station with an air hose.
We pull over and in less than 5 minutes, the tube is patched, the tire
inflated and were off. I love air hoses, but not as much as I love hand pumping
90 pounds of pressure into my tire in the middle of a desert. About 25 miles
down the road we came to Sullana our point of separation. They were turning
right and heading into the mountains of Ecuador via the Macara La Tina
boarder crossing and I was going to the coast. We were all very sad to part,
but my hepatitis A was saying no to big climbs in the Andes. Besides I did want
to get to the western most point in South America for I've already made the
furthest north and south after this only one more to go. This turned out
to be a wise choice for my lethargy greatly increased over the next few days.
But god willing, I'm determined to make it all the way back to Quito by
bicycle, solely for my own personal accomplishment.
The three of us cycled together looking for the road out of town. There were
no signs any place and no one seemed to know the way. First we went a few
miles north than a few miles east but couldn't find the route with any sense
of certainty. I told John-Paul this is ridiculous, with twenty seven
years of cycle touring experience between the three of us, we can't
find our way out of town. Finally after a half hour and our third try we
came to a bridge, we crossed the bridge together, and on the other side we
saw our first sign. It said Talara to the left, some place we couldn't even
pronounce straight ahead. Well Talara is where I want to go, so with big
hugs and a long tearful good bye, I cycled away. John- Paul and Alycea on
the other hand must return across the bridge and continue the blind search
for their road out of town. You can check out any time you like but you can
never leave. The first rule of third world travel, is nothing is done easily.
The simplest things can sometimes require an extraordinary effort of
The Chira river valley just outside of Sullana is lush jungle like scenery
with palm trees and banana leaves everywhere, but soon the Pan Am Highway
turns west and climbs up, back into desert like terrain, yahoo! The next
50 miles to Talara rolls through dry scrub grass with endless fields of
very active oil wells. They were so frequent that I had no choice but to
camp near one, but the quiet drone acted as sort of a mantra which made it
easy to fall asleep, of course my debilitating fatigue helped too.
Also along this road are endless washouts from erosion. One place the road
just stops at a 15 foot drop off. A new dirt path was carved into the scrub
for about a mile, than down into the wash out and along the new dry riverbed.
After about 3 miles, the raging torrent of water that created this detour,
turned left and suddenly the road reappeared again. A 3 mile long by one mile
wide stretch of earth 15 feet deep was just washed away. This, in a completely
flat area of desert. The effort to repair this is too great for such a poor
country, I suspect that they will just build a ramp down into the washout
and pave the now dry riverbed.
Out in the middle of nowhere a stone gets stuck in-between my break pad and
the tire. The sharp stone manages to slice a gash 2 inches long in my tire.
Not a lot of traffic around at this point, I sit and think a while. Then I
discover my sewing kit and I think it's worth a try. I have 2 needles, so
taking the stronger of the two, I analyze the eye for size. Then sacrificing
an old tube, I tear a long strip as thin as possible using my Swiss army
knife. Unbelievably, it fits through the eye on the 37th try, so I tie it off
with a knot and start to sew. When I've covered the two inches plus a little
extra, I tie off the other end, You thinks its hard to make a knot with
thread, try it with rubber. Rubber slides so easily on rubber. Then taking
a fresh tube, placing it in the tire, and carefully putting the tire on the
rim with the stitching half under the rim, so when inflated, the pressure
will act as the strength to hold it all together. I proceeded to pump only 40
pounds of pressure, any more and it starts to bulge, and shazam! Its works.
In Talara I bought a new tire and a new tube, but feeling so proud of myself,
kept this one on to see how long it would last. Well, 300 miles later in
Quito, it was still holding strong. As a matter of fact its in the garage
right now, just as it was after the street-side sewing job.
Well I made it down to the beach just south of Talara to Parinas Negritos,
the western most point on the south American continent. This is a very
unimpressive place, not even a visitors center or even a sign. Ahh a
potential business opportunity! nah. When I got home and checked it out on
a globe I noticed that the western most point of south America is about the
same longitude as Miami Florida. Just think with that information and 2 bucks
you can buy a latte. Actually for me its quite exciting, for most people
intuitively think south America is south of the states when in fact nearly
the whole continent is east of the united states.