Apparently it’s possible to go all the way from Huancavelica to Ayacucho on asphalt. My bike however is not really suited to travel on asphalt and I do very much prefer the dirt, it’s more interesting albeit harder going… especially when it’s tipping it down with rain and the dirt turns into thick, gloopy mud….
I lost track of how many days I was in Huancavelica hoping for the bronchitis to improve, in the end however with no improvement apparent I figured the place was probably too high (3700m / 12,100ft) and too cold to be much of a place for recovery. I suspected the 200km ride would probably suck somewhat with a bad cough and limited breathing capacity… and I was right. Hopefully however it will prove worth the effort for a few days in the warmth and relatively oxygen rich air of Ayacucho, all the way down here at 2700m / 9000ft.
The first day was the toughest. Things weren’t too bad to begin with, a not-too-bad chesty cough and mild fatigue (plus some stomach cramps.. I must have eaten something a bit off), but as always in the highlands the relentless climbing took its toll. I was pretty well broken and hurting all over by the time I grovelled up the final climb into Paucara, 60km, and 1400m of climbing later with a cough harsh enough to turn lungs inside out and pulled muscles in my stomach and back. As always however when travelling this way there were many highlights to lift the spirits.
These parts are very rarely visited so the villagers enroute are overwhelming friendly. A chap stopped me on the track to Yauli to ask what I was doing, where I was going.. all the usual stuff. Pondering at my solitude in silence for a moment he then says “Necesitas un amiga con grandes tetas…” (you need a friend with big tits). We laughed. He’s right of course.
The small town of Paucara proved to be an unremarkable place, apparently deserted on my arrival. I soon discovered why. Peru were playing Uruguay for a place in the semi-finals of the Copa de America (soccer); every establishment with a telly was packed. My timing could not have been better, moments after my arrival Peru scored their winning goal in a penalty shootout. The town erupted. I could not get any sense out of anyone for a while in my quest for food and a room; I’d hoped not to have to camp because of my chest. Judging by the remarks the women at the market found my 3/4 length baggy shorts highly amusing.
From Huanta I didn’t mess around and just took the highway for the remaining 50km to Ayacucho. Feeling somewhat buggered I just wanted the path of least resistance. I plugged into some good tunes and settled down for a morning of tedium. The traffic was light, and even though there were a few heavy trucks, drivers in general are well behaved towards cyclists. It was much less stressful than sharing the road with a bunch of impatient haters during the tourist season at home.
Ayacucho feels overwhelmingly busy after the quiet towns and villages of the highlands; it seems friendly however, a chap stopped me to shake my hand and welcome me to the place as I rolled into the plaza at lunchtime in search of sustenance. I’m going to stay here for a few days and see what happens with my chest; while uncomfortable the ride down here doesn’t seem to have made it worse which is great. The food here is good (meaning I can find stuff that isn’t based around heaps of dry rice) and the climate is nice. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, it all depends… last time recovery took a couple of months. I have a number of options although I am pondering the wisdom of taking the high track to Cotohuasi… the one I had to bail out of two years ago when all this trouble with my chest started and I momentarily blacked out in a coughing fit. It’s a long, remote, very high stretch of more than 400km with five passes above 5000m. I’d love to go that way but if my chest doesn’t recover fully it might not be such a bright idea… I may bus to Cusco and head into Bolivia that way. I hadn’t planned to visit Cusco yet again but it’s an OK place despite the overwhelming degree of tourism. There are a couple of more radical options.. if I decide I shouldn’t hit any more high stuff then it’s much, much cheaper to fly back to Madrid than it is to fly down into Chile and Argentina.. so I could go there and slowly cycle home via the mountains of northern Spain and a ferry ride… I also have an open invitation to visit my friends in Montreal while I’m on this side of the Atlantic.. albeit a long way south.
It’s not as if I haven’t explored the Andes reasonably thoroughly over the years… In the meantime I expect there’ll be some street photography… and I really, really must wash my socks.
Oh yeah, here’s the GPS track for my route down from Huancavelica. I understand there are easier alternatives..