And so we turned our backs on the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca and headed south.  Despite repeatedly ping-ponging us from 2000 – 4000m, sometimes within a single day, much of this section was a bit of a ‘recovery’ ride – allowing bikes and bodies a break from the recent pounding along Peru’s rough and rocky dirt roads.  

Continuing south from Huallanaco we followed an alternating dirt & sealed route through a series of dusty villages …
Settling in to a rhythm of repeated climbs & descents that continued all the way to Cuzco

Passing through a series of ‘working’ cities with not a gringo tourist in sight provided a glimpse of everyday Peruvian life.  In between the cities each day took us through a series of little villages of crumbling mudbrick, where bunches of maize hung drying from roofs and campesinos (peasants) worked in the fields or herded their livestock along the roads.

Noticeboards in downtown Huanuco
Old tellys live on in Peru
Village life

Being called a ‘gringo’ is nothing new in Latin America – particularly in Peru, where if you’re not Peruvian, there is no other option.  It annoys the hell out of some people but there’s nothing really offensive about a term which basically means ‘foreigner’.  I guess it’s just the repetitive, mindlessness of it that can drive you bonkers.  Particularly in recent weeks where the occasional ‘gringo’ calls have escalated to a crescendo … from the giggling calls of kids lining the roadside, the hiss from a passerby, the cheery wave and ‘hola gringo!’, to the ‘GRRIINGO!!’ shrieks from persons unseen but demanding acknowledgement.  Occasionally people even recognise that despite the shorn hair, helmet and bike shorts I am actually female, and therefore technically a ‘gringa’.  I guess gringos generally, and especially those cruising past on loaded bikes, are a fairly infrequent sighting in these parts and thus attract more than passing interest.

Climbing back up to around 4500m & it’s cold up here … the local kids demonstrate how to layer up to stay warm
A quick detour to visit the rock formations of the Bosque de Piedres … & a peaceful spot to spend the night …
Before we headed off on the back road around Lago Junin
And our first sighting of pink flamingos
LOTS of flamingos
Stress-free cycling en route to Junin
Not the only cyclists in town then
Just a few kilos of fruit for the next climb
Over the pass, descend to the river – and repeat
‘Lelo’ from Brazil – a happy man, out roaming the world on his bike
Always nice to find a convenient gravel pit at the end of the day …
Always an interested audience as the gringos pass by …
Staying in town means an evening meander as we seek out the best food options …
Always plenty of roadside colour
Taking the piglet out & about

Peru has hundreds of archeological sites in various states of restoration.  Many of these are rarely visited and unattended, making for peaceful and atmospheric campsites.

A deserted archeological site near Abancay …
… which made a perfect perch to watch the afternoon storm roll in
Before heading off into the sunshine the following morning
Decaying but appealing buildings dot the roadsides
As we bounce our way through rough and dusty villages

We struggled with the decision to visit Machu Picchu.  On one hand it was an opportunity to visit the world renowned Incan citadel, and on the other it seems to have become just another overcrowded, overpriced and over-hyped tourist hot spot.  In the end we decided we couldn’t pass it by and took a back road towards Ollantaytambo, an old Incan village on the train route to Machu Picchu.  Unfortunately the road was ‘closed’ due to road construction and we ended up riding and pushing along the railway track, dodging trains as we tried to bypass the closed section.

Our ‘short cut’ to Ollantaytambo turns out to be slightly longer & more complicated than expected …
And arriving in this tourist hub is a bit of a shock
Still, it’s not a bad place to sit & watch the crowds drift past
Expecting off season crowds, the line up for the train came as a bit of a shock ….
Misty conditions at Machu Picchu add an element of mystery 
Contemplating life amidst the cloud
Even the tourist hoards can’t dispel the fascination of this incredible site

Macchu Pichu was constructed around 1450, at the height of Incan civilisation, but was abandoned just over 100 years later, possibly as a result of disease introduced from travellers to the area.  Despite its proximity to the Incan capital at Cuzco, the site was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors and thus was not plundered or destroyed.  Over centuries the area was overgrown by jungle until American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham was shown the site by locals in 1911.  Much of the site has now been excavated and restored, providing a glimpse of the extraordinary workmanship of the Incas in a stunning setting. 

The highlight of the site for us was the stonework – many buildings use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape, in which blocks of stone are cut and shaped to fit tightly together.  Because of seismic activity in the area the use of mortar and other building methods would have been nearly useless.  Therefore, the Inca used stones mined from the nearby quarry, lined up and shaped to fit together perfectly, stabilising the structures with features such as doors and windows that narrow from bottom to top, rounded corners, offset walls and the use of supporting blocks on outside corners. 

It’s all about the rocks really
And it’s home to a few fluffy-tailed chinchillas
Back on the bikes & heading for Cuzco …
Which, like many other cities & towns in this part of the world, is watched over by a giant statue of Christ
We found Cuzco to be a very pleasant city (the French bakery next door to our hostel probably helped)
Taking in the small details
… on the huge & elaborate buildings that form the main plaza

Cuzco was the capital of the Incan empire from the 13th century until it was captured by the Spaniards.  The Spanish destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces, using the remaining walls as bases for the construction of a new city.  The old walls can still be seen, with newer buildings built on top.  Notably, earthquakes in the 1950s destroyed numerous colonial-era buildings, but failed to dislodge the Incan architecture. 

The old & the newer

Needing a break from the city hustle, we turned off the main road out of Cuzco, taking a back route past a series of lakes which quickly climbed to around 4000m.

Where the traffic jams were of the four-legged variety
And the scenery wasn’t bad either
Distance markers make use of an abundant Peruvian resource – rocks
This village plaza brings back memories of those plastic toy soldiers we played with as kids
Prime seating outside the grocery store
And then it’s off into the emptiness again
Just the occasional farming settlement
Perfect cycling conditions
More of that Peruvian rock …
And a scenic ride over a 4900m pass & down to Vilavila
Leaving our riverside camp in the morning light
And heading into Palca for breakfast …
Bundle up that chook, we’re off to market …
Check out the hair tassels!
And our arrival in Lampa doesn’t go unnoticed

From Lampa it was just a quick spin into Juliaca where we stayed at a Casa de Cyclista with the incredibly hospitable Geovanni and his feisty little dog Milo.  Having a weak spot for Jack Russell terriers we almost smuggled Milo into our bags, until we realised that even a small dog adds an extra 10kg.  Sorry Milo, maybe next time.

Milo testing out the transport options for his next adventure

After nearly 18 months on the road pretty much all our gear is starting to fall apart.  And with quality replacements hard to find our rest days seem to have morphed into ‘repair days’.

Okay, we can fix this …

From Juliaca we rode across to Lake Titicaca to camp at a little bay recommended by Geovanni.  As we left the following morning two men waved us down to offer us bowls of hot potatoes and tiny sardine-like fish – with payment in the form of posing for photos.  From here we followed the lake round to the north-east, heading for a little-used border crossing into Bolivia.  At 3812m Lake Titicaca is often considered the highest navigable lake in the world and it’s certainly an impressive body of water.

Camping on Lake Titicaca
Some days all you can do is just fall into the tent
Gorgeous riding along the edge of the lake
Meeting the local women with their distinctive & elaborate headwear – love a nice pompom!

One of my strongest memories of Peru is the warmth and graciousness of the women, particularly the elderly ‘abuelas’ (grandmothers).  I would often be approached with a smile as I paused in a village, my hands grasped in theirs as questions established both where I was from and where I was going.  And then I’d be sent on my way with words of welcome and  good wishes for our journey, a lightness in my heart from these lovely little encounters.  As I gained confidence I would often stop to chat with groups of women, sharing a few words and giggles as we compared clothing, hair and headwear.  Someone would often produce a smart phone, and the inevitable photo session would result.

More lakeside meanderings

Heading into Huancane with our minds firmly on the possibility of lunch, we were waved in to join a family celebration.  Everyone was dressed up, sprinkled with confetti and the beer was flowing freely.  No problem, a couple of grubby gringos were welcomed warmly, plied with beer and were soon posing for the family photo album.  We think it was a church confirmation as there were a couple of dolled-up and embarrassed-looking teenagers hiding in the car while the adults got merrily sozzled.

Spontaneous beer & photo session
Perhaps a little under-dressed for the occasion, but who cares
The ladies in all their finery
It was at about this point that we realised we’d taken the wrong road out of Moho ….
And so it’s back to the market in the plaza …
Before we head off to tackle one last series of Peruvian switchbacks …
… before we reach the border
And head off across no-mans land to find Bolivian immigration

Reaching the Bolivian immigration post we soon realised that most foreigners that cross here are on bikes.  We added our card to the ‘Cyclists Hall of Fame’ board in the office, posed for photos, and then joined the police and border officials at the little eatery over the road for lunch.  I wish all border crossing could be like this …. 

Rubber side down,

Ed & Gaye

13 comments on “Peru: the hills are alive with the sound of GRRIINGO!

  1. Omg another wonderful newsletter. Thank you Gaye. Loved all the photos especially the flamingos. How many of thise beers did you have? You looked pretty happy!! ?. 18 months. Wow!!! You two are amazing.

  2. Omg another wonderful newsletter. Thank you Gaye. Loved all the photos especially the flamingos. How many of thise beers did you have? You looked pretty happy!! ?. 18 months. Wow!!! You two are amazing.

  3. Great update. What an amazing adventure! Stunning scenery and the flamingo photo – wow! Your updates are a real highlight for me, being home bound a lot and not yet back on the bike.

  4. This brings back a lot of memories, although not on bike, but you guys look like you’ve having a fantastic time, well done and great update, cheers… Ed

  5. Really enjoy following your journey.
    You have insired us to leave next week for Nz and ride
    Cape Reinga to Bluff.
    Our first big bike tour. And we are over 60!!!!

    1. Hi Greg,
      So good to hear that you are about to launch off on your first big bike tour! Best wishes for your trip – age is no absolutely no barrier, just be careful – bike touring is strangely addictive!!

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