Arriba…

It was a bit of a late start leaving Arequipa… one last leisurely coffee then a chase around the steep suburbs above the city in search of a ferreteria selling stove fuel (‘ron de quemar’.. essentially ‘rum to burn’ – otherwise known as meths.. at least in the UK), by which time it was lunchtime and made sense to enjoy a set lunch from the cafe adjacent to the ferreteria.

It’s a steep climb out of Arequipa… and relentless. It goes all the way up to something like 4500m on a rough track that switchbacks its way up the flanks of Nevado Chachani (6057m). We made it to something like 3600m by sunset. Still suffering from the effects of the chest bug I’d collected I felt deeply, deeply shagged as I pitched my tent on a handy flat spot off the trail. The following day brought yet more climbing, high onto the puna with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. It felt like a long day, we made some 70km before making camp at sunset on a particularly windswept section of puna. Bitterly cold too, my waterbottles were frozen solid by midnight… and stupidly I left my water filter in the open on my bike so that’s busted now as a result of the freezing. I was quite fuddled that evening, the effects of altitude, not feeling well, and simple fatigue. Oh well, just going to have to manage without it now. I think springs in the high mountains should be ok to drink untreated, there’s so much UV in the sunlight to sterilise things, and little livestock above 4500m.

Anyway, I’ll tell the rest of the story in pictures and captions as usual. I’ve descended all the way to Chivay at 3600m for a few days r&r, I was getting quite run down with the chest bug becoming quite entrenched and not being fully acclimatized to altitude yet. It’s kind of a bummer that I have to climb all the way back up to 4700m from here but such is life. Chivay is a good place to rest, friendly, colourful, with lots of good food. I took a room above a cafe that has great coffee and cake. Very important.. I suspect I shall be here for a few days… some street photography to follow I expect and I have some work to catch up with. Amusingly my bike is parked upstairs at the back of the posh dining room :-) Also a good guide to whether or not a bike is overloaded, I carried my fully loaded bike up two flights of stairs in one go. It’s important I think to be able to manhandle your bike loaded, especially if making use of buses and trains, far less likely to have stuff nicked while you’re faffing with bags and stuff.

Leaving Arequipa.. a fine view of El Misti volcano (5822m)
Bikes… both Surly, and with new tyres looking far too clean and tidy. I’m on my ECR and Cass brought his Ogre. My ECR is awesome but the big 29×3 wheels can make packing it for travel awkward at times. The Ogre can be run as a standard 29er or, as here, with a 27.5+ setup.
It’s a stiff climb out of Arequipa.. this is just the start of a long, long ‘mega climb’ up to the high puna.
A last chance to stock up with supplies and water, a tiny tienda on the very upper limits of the town.
This is Cass. We met as a result of riding in Ladakh back in 2003. I passed his tent in the half light of an early morning near the summit of the Tanglang La as I slowly winched my way towards the pass at 5328m. We’ve stayed in touch ever since although the last time we managed to go riding together was 10 years ago on Exmoor. An endless source of inspiration he spends most of his time in New Mexico now when not on the road, and has an ‘adventure cycling’ palmarés to humble the most accomplished self-proclaimed ‘professional adventurer’. For inspiration checkout some of his words on bikepacking.com and his superb instagram at https://www.instagram.com/whileoutriding/ It’s been fantastic to spend a few days riding together again.
The track wound its way around the slopes of Nevado Chachani, all the time with fine views of El Misti
The road ahead….
Peru has an almost endless supply of dirt roads to explore. Many are unmapped. Google Earth is a great resource for finding them.. as is ridewithgps.com. Technology has made such adventures vastly more accessible, although I do sometimes miss, just a tiny bit, the excitement that comes with a ‘suck it and see’ approach of navigating village to village based on the directions of folk along the way.
Cass. It’s not a shopping bag on the front, rather a custom dry bag bag made to fit in a small basket. It’s superb for carrying camera clobber padded with clothes while keeping the camera super accessible on the trail. I think it’s great. Something I’m going to experiment with when I get home as it has super utility for local journeys as well as transcontinental epics. It is always interesting seeing how others manage their gear.
leaving El Misti behind
I’m not carrying a long lens, just a 35mm and 75mm equivalent. No good for wildlife photography… but you know, for the record… wild guanacos. I’ll probably do a write up at some point of the camera clobber I have with me, I’ve got a couple of new lenses that I’m really happy with. Very small and light yet weather and dust proof. Just the job for this kind of journey.
High on the puna… big, open spaces.
A windswept and bitterly cold camp spot. It was here that I forgot to take my water filter into my sleeping bag with me. Altitude does things to the mind. I was shivering and aching with fatigue buy the time I’d pitched my tent in the icy gale. Couldn’t get my stove going properly in the wind so made do with a tin of tuna and some very well flattened cheese empanadas I’d picked up at a truck stop earlier.
Morning…
A wonderful track, although even the smallest climbs were beginning to feel like a grovel as my chest got worse.
But so very worth it when the road looks like this.
The track descended to a slightly more hospitable 3900m or so.
we came across a small farm shop selling some fantastic cheese. We shared a whole one.
The tiny pueblito of Pulpera
This is tiny Sibayo. We arrived around 11am to find everything shut down and the road blockaded by protesters and the remains of burning tyres. The area is paralyzed by a national strike and protests against the mining activities in the area that are stripping the landscape, destroying communities and exporting all the wealth far away from these rural places. A story that I’ve sadly experienced first hand all over South America.
A little restuarant agreed to let us in and knock up a meal of egg and fries. I was feeling pretty rough so decided to stay overnight in a room at the back of the cafe rather than push on up the climb back to the high puna. It was super to be able to ride with Cass again, he’s on a much tighter schedule than I am with little room for rest days so pushed on. Hopefully we’ll catch up again in the near future. New Mexico has some superb riding.
Basic but does the job. Despite the glacial temperature of the water it was great to be able to wash off a few days accumulated dirt under a standpipe :-)
funny to think of CRT-based TVs as almost vintage
Still feeling really rough in the morning I made the decision to trundle the 36km down the upper reaches of the Colca Canyon to Chivay. As a jumping off point for tourists to visit the canyon I figured businesses would be relatively unaffected by the protests going on in the countryside. Lower altitude and good food being better for recovery. I had a fine view of the Sabancaya volcano along the way. Dormant for 200 years it woke up again back in December 2016.
Along the road, Peru’s equivalent of billboards on highways back home.
I made a new friend along the way too…
Idiotically cute and friendly, I think this little alpaca is most likely a family pet.
The village of Tuti in the upper reaches of the Colca Canyon.

Right, that’ll do for now. I need to go find a lavanderia to get my riding clothes washed. I suppose…..

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