We bicycled from Macara and the Ecuadorian border and made it as far as Lima, the capital of Peru, before collapsing in total exhaustion from this 1983-84 bicycling adventure.

The roads were supposed to be paved on the Peruvian side of the border but they were very crude dirt roads; there were several rivers to cross with no bridges.

It was about 10 miles to Suyo, a small town in the middle of nowhere.

We had to pass through 2 more check points. In crossing the final river into town, Mike almost dropped the bike in the fast moving current as he tried to grab the pump from falling off.  

With our passports in hand, one of the police asked if we were from Russia.

Being very dirty, we asked for a hotel.

There was a tiny Pension with sheets hanging on a wire to separate the sleeping area from the kitchen. 

 The floor was dirt.  So we went back to the police at the check point to ask if we could camp there.

They took us to their station building and said we could camp on the grass behind.

 They locked our bikes inside for the night They turned out to be very helpful and friendly. 

They warned us, however, not to camp at police stations further into Peru as they were often attacked by guerrillas.

We ate dinner across the street in a typical one room dirt floor kitchen. Prices were higher than Ecuador and the food was poor quality and tiny servings. We were constantly hungry from the multiple days of extreme exertion. Many people from the village ate there however and the lady was very nice.

Talked long into the evening with the police about fighting in Peru. In 1984, one had to be very careful where they traveled in Peru because of the violent attacks on villages by the Shining Path.

They gave us a clear understanding of where not to go; mostly in the mountainous districts to the east and in southern Peru.

Bicycling Peru

Ecuador Border Region

Macara to Sullana-55 miles of mud  

It had rained all night but we decided to try bicycling anyway. We were desperate to get to the desert and out of the wet. Went  1/2 mile then encountered a kind, of mud that clung tenaciously to the wheels, clogging the brakes and making travel impossible. We went on for a mile pushing the bikes scraping the mud off with a stick on every revolution to keep the wheels turning.

As soon as the clean part hit the mud, it was totally clogged again.

 We could, only wait and hope a truck would pass in the next several hours.

We sat in the rain for an hour before a dump truck came by.

 He was going to Sullana on the desert. He put me up front with him and his wife and Mike and the bikes went in the dump part with his helper.

The mud was so slippery the truck couldn’t negotiate several hills. We scooped mud out of the road with our hands trying to make a track. Cut branches and rocks helped some. We spent 1 hour on a 100 foot hill.  On one hill, the truck coming towards us slid sideways and blocked the road;  it took 20 people to push him out.  

Then it took us 2 hours to negotiate the same hill.

The day began to clear and the roads dried a little, enough to make further travel possible.

Bicycling PeruBicycling Peru

Our driver was very interested  in Russian and American aid programs.

He felt America should just give Peru money with no strings attached.

The Russians did; he showed us an irrigation channel built by Russian money.

We came to a washed out bridge that had been temporarily replaced by fill dirt and two boards. As the driver approached the extremely narrow crossing, I could see it wasn’t wide enough for the truck.  I hollered for him to let us out. Everyone got out of the truck; I wish we had  pulled our bikes out too. His wheels lapped over the sides of the dirt fill lowering his truck body about 2 feet. One side started slipping and the truck began to lean. He gunned the engine and by sheer flying made it across. 

No wonder these people have statues of Jesus in their windshields.

 

Bicycling Peru

The Northern Desert

Sullana to Piura-18 miles

Northern Peru which is desert, had been deluged with rain the year before and much of the road system had been flooded out. Huge sections of road would suddenly not be there. Bridges were gone; only about 50% of the new highway remained intact. Sand blew against us, pushed by the strong south head winds that dominated this coast. Though we were not in the rain and cold anymore, the biking was difficult and unpleasant. So much for escaping harsh conditions. What lay ahead would be much worse.

Bicycling Peru

We have been in beautiful deserts where the emptiness is thrilling all by itself.

This desert, however, was rolling sand dunes laced with blowing garbage.

 Slums surrounded the outskirts as we approached Piura.  The hotels matched the slum housing. They were filthy and unsanitary. The cost was $5, which was much higher than similar places in Ecuador.

We found the restaurants to be equally unsanitary. There are no menus. They would quote a price, bring the food, then bring a higher bill. When we question this, they’d say we misunderstood.

Men pee in the streets everywhere and don’t turn their backs. It stinks of urine at every wall, corner and rubbish pile. Bathrooms are gross.

Piura to Chiclayo-130 miles-2 days

We left early in the dark to avoid afternoon desert heat. The very strong winds started to blow by dawn.  Went from 12 to 6 mph because of this wind.

We were soon to learn the dominate wind this time of year was from the south.

 It was devastating and demoralizing.

Bicycling Peru

The roads in this section were also destroyed by floods; the dust was blinding. Finally, we came to a primitive restaurant where we could take shelter.

Scattered shacks along the way had provided warm sodas, but nothing of substance.

These houses were made of sticks and branches stuck in the ground (sand). Water is hauled in trucks. With excessive poverty in the area we were surprised to see children walking to school in neat uniforms.  The school was also a stick shack.

Ate at the restaurant; a bowl of questionable soup; Mike threw the chicken feet out the window behind him. Exhausted after 11 hours and about 65 miles, we found refuge from the wind and set up our tent behind a large sand dune out of sight of the road.

Bicycling Peru

Continue to Chiclayo-65 miles-13 hours

Left before dawn again to beat the wind. We had no lights and neither did the trucks driving on the highway. We could hear them, but not see them. It was frightening.

Today was the hardest day ever psychologically and physically.

Stronger winds, a hot desert wind blew us to shreds. We’d ride 6 miles, stop and rest. We were hoping the desert would be a relief from the relentless climbing in the mountains, but this was far more defeating. This section of desert terrain was totally vacant.

Pan American Highway covered in blowing sand
Bicycling Peru

Thought we only had 50 miles to go but the maps were wrong. Turned out to be 65 miles. We ran low on water and food.

Ate a can of sardines for the day’s effort.

 Passed a couple of graves along the road. Practically no traffic. Arrived in a town of 20,000, but there was no hotel. A helpful man offered to let us sleep in his place, but we were so dirty and wanted a bath. Decided to go on the next 10 miles to Chiclayo. Took 1&1/2 hours to accomplish that distance.

The city square in Chiclayo was the most beautiful we had seen. The buildings were all new, whitewashed and very European.

But the hotels at our budget level were so gross.

Found a place for $5. Once again, it was basic filthy. The shower water poured from a 5 gallon drum filled with bugs and scum; the shower floor and walls were so gross, I couldn’t touch them. All the hotels were the same.  Thank goodness we found a clean Chinese restaurant for dinner. We splurged for only $7.00.

Bicycling Peru-Chiclayo Peru Cathedral
Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru

Day Ride to Santa Rosa-20 miles

Rode south along the coast to the little fishing villages. Santa Rosa had over 100 fishing boats 50 feet long lined up on the beach. They push these boats ashore on logs every night and in the morning everyone lends a hand and they push them out into the surf.  

As each wave comes to shore and lifts the boat off the sand a little, they heave to.

 At times it seemed the heavy surf would roll them over for sure. We had biked in a circle and were back in Chiclayo at the end of the day. Decided to return to the Chinese restaurant. Too bad we couldn’t sleep there.

Chiclayo to Pascamayo- 64 miles-13 hours

What can we say; another grunt day against the wind. Probably the only time I looked up was to see a couple riding from the south on the other side of the highway. 

They were flying; they weren’t pedaling.

There must be a lesson here somewhere!

Bicycling Peru

Pascamayo to Trujillo-60 miles- 12 hours

Nothing much has changed except our resolve. It was another harsh day of cycling through poverty and empty desert.

We were grateful to make it. Trujillo is a lovely colonial city with a large market place and a clean huge antique hotel called the Grand. The rooms were giant and clean. An oasis surrounded by dry sand blown hills and reed shacks.

Bicycling Peru

Trujillo to Chimbote-68 miles-13 hours

We did make it to Chimbote. With a giant sigh of relief, we knew we were going to leave the windy Pan American Highway and head inland into the Andes mountains from there. Anything had to be easier than what we had just endured.  We were planning to cycle from the coast to Hylas del Callejon, near Huaraz.

This is the very famous climbing and hiking area that gringos go to.  It has some of the most superb trekking in South America.

 Our route from Chimbote would take us 104 miles uphill to Caraz where the valley began. It was gravel all the way, actually rock and boulders, hot and dusty, and sparsely settled.  It became an adventure all by itself just getting to Caraz where the pavement began.

Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru

Bicycling Peru

Up the Santa River into the Andes

Chimbote to 1st river camp-25 miles-8 hours

The road leading off the highway was poor gravel and deep sand; large rocks and washboard surface made it even more difficult. We progressed very slowly.

It was a constant, but gradual uphill grade.

The Andes are brown and barren here but the banks of the Santa river are green. Scattered houses with few places to buy food. Saw less than 10 vehicles all day.

Found a nice place to camp along the river out of sight of the road. We always worried about thieves no matter where we were.

Bicycling Peru

1st river camp to 2nd river camp-30 miles – 7 hours

We kept expecting to reach a small town to buy more food; we ate up the last of our supplies from Santa.

The scenery is becoming lovelier along the river as the mountains rise above us.

 The road is harsh; very tiring. We didn’t reach a place to buy food till 2:00; tuna fish, crackers, and soda. Very expensive but bought some for lunch and a can of tuna for dinner figuring on getting more food at the next town tomorrow. Set up camp again along the river, hidden from the road by a rock slide. Took our bath in the cold, icy water. Very hungry after our can of tuna fish.

Bicycling Peru

2nd river camp to Huallanca-28 miles -7 hours

No breakfast and it took 4 hours to reach Yuri Marca where there was a restaurant. Just about didn’t make it as the roads started climbing seriously. It was impossible to get traction on the rolling rocks and I got a flat tire riding over a thorn bush.

I thought all this exercise would have made me stronger by now but the riding is really gut wrenching.

We’ve been riding on bad roads for four months. It tears at you from head to toe. Your progress is so slow. We were starved and weak when we reached the little restaurant. I wolfed down 2 dinners for myself. The family was very nice. We rested long enough to be able to make it the next 8 miles to Huallanca and a pension.

Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru

We continue to find the people very friendly, often pulling up a chair to chat. Still, we face the same problem of gathering information.

Nobody knows how far it is to the next town, but everyone offers an answer.

 Even the bus driver was wrong. Maps show little round circles for towns, but it’s impossible to ascertain with any certainty if there is food, or hotel or how much the road climbs. Mike says Peruvian beer is very good and can’t understand why local people mix soda pop with their beer. Food at restaurants has improved some since Ecuador, but is much more expensive.

 

Santa River Route

This entire route we have been following has the most terrible gravel roads and the most magnificent scenery along the Santa River.

Totally barren mountains, canyons, high peaks, tunnels, fast river, uninhabited.

Reaching Huallanca, we were surprised to see  two 10-speed bikes in the lobby of the only pension. An English couple had flown to Lima and were just getting started on a hoped for bike tour to Los Angeles, yes in the USA. Upon hitting our fabulous gravel road with their inch and three/eighths tires, they have decided to take the bus down to the coast.

At least they will be cycling in the correct direction. We told them so!

 

Huallanca to Caraz- 27 miles-8 hours

Flat tires have been a recent problem. Seem to be picking up thorns, 3,4,5 at once. Keep patching the tubes, installing them, only to find out it deflates. Road started to climb straight up as soon as we left town. Entering the incredible Canon del Pato still following the same river high into the Andes.

Why they built a road here is hard to figure.

 The canyon walls close in to maybe 100 feet across. Sheer vertical rock supports a narrow ribbon of road and perhaps 50 tunnels. The river below is class 5 kayaking with a few choice class 7 drops. All the water in the canyon runs muddy brown.

Bicycling PeruBicycling Peru

This is our fourth day on gravel, fourth day climbing. Very slow going.  We carried our hiking boots in a gunnysack on the back of my bike. I failed to tie the bag on tight and after climbing 1.5 hrs noticed they were gone. Mike valiantly went all the way back down to Huallanca in hopes of finding them but no luck.

 

Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru

We were delighted to reach Caraz where a paved road climbed from there to 13,000 feet to the outlet lake of the river we are following.

Caraz is a pleasant little town nestled at the lower end of this great valley.

 Best surprise is the hotel. Clean modern rooms with hot water bath that doesn’t smell for $3/ night. We are definitely tiring of the real dumps and are spending more money for some semblance of cleanliness or sanitation.

Caraz to Laguna Cancaraga Side Trip

Decided to take a truck 20 miles up into the mountains to get a close look at some of the glaciers. We took our bikes so we could ride back down. The first hour we spent arguing the price of the trip. There are lots of gringos here. Finally 7 of us found a cheaper truck as the first man would not budge from his high price. We went to Laguna Cancaraga. The glacier was beautiful, very much like scenes we were familiar with in British Columbia, Canada.

The ride down took three hours.

 Huge boulders and rocks made riding very unstable. The road was carved out of the sides of cliff faces, hair pinning back and forth. This was by far the most incredible road I have ever been on.

Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru

Caraz to Yungay to Carhuaz- 25 miles-5 hours 

A beautiful day full of sun and pavement. We have definitely had enough gravel road for long distances. We are biking up the valley viewing the great glaciers, green hillsides and quaint villages.

The next 110 miles contains the most popular hiking places in Peru other than Cusco.

 Yungay was completely destroyed by the 1970 earthquake. Everything is new thus reasonably clean. We kept going to Carhuaz. Just couldn’t stop it was so beautiful. Multiple views of mighty glaciers that we thought were clouds at first.

Bicycling Peru
Bicycling Peru

Two weeks in Carhuaz area for hiking

For pictures and stories, go to our page Hiking Peru.

After hiking we rested 2 days  in Huaraz.  Enjoying the good food, pleasant surroundings and no cycling.  As it turned out,

Huaraz would be the end of our 5 month long bicycle adventure from Costa Rica to Peru.

 We continued to travel as far south as Cusco and Machu Pichu by buses. More of those stories below.

Southern Peru By Bus

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru flourishes amid incredible poverty and incredible wealth. The center of the city is very beautiful, perhaps the most developed and most European we have seen. The city is completely surrounded by desert hills, dry, rocky, barren, and dusty.

Stick houses surround the city.

 Everything blends into the desert. In the slums, there are no sanitary facilities, no running water. There are beggars everywhere. Squatters on a man’s land can’t be taken off.


There is grand wealth too. Beautiful homes with swimming pools, tennis clubs, all the amenities. Cost is slightly higher than Ecuador, but much lower than northern Peru.

A basic hotel in Lima is $4 for 2, with bath down the hall.

Not much cheaper available and not as nice  as $4 places in Ecuador. Food costs more as the city has obligatory taxes, an additional 16%, The variety is nice. We are finally eating good.

One evening we went to a fancy restaurant with live folk music, flute and harp.  Dinner prices ranged from $2 to $4. (12 soles = $1). Then the waiter brought another menu with complete dinner for 2 for 12 soles each.  Seemed like a good price for salad, dinner, desert and wine.  Enjoyed a magnificent meal with wonderful music and began to feel restored again. 

Then the bill came, it said $24.00 US.

We blew our lids. They had put the price of the dinner in dollars. I looked at the menu again. There was a small d after the 12 instead of the S with one line through it. My fault.
I told the  waiter we were in Peru and the currency in Peru is soles, not dollars. The waiter was turning red from embarrassment.

We attracted much attention from other customers.

 One offered to help. I said I could handle it. It seemed so obvious to me that you can’t charge dollars in a soles country but we lost.  The restaurant had called the police who came quite promptly to make sure we paid.

Meet many travelers in Lima. One Aussie was walking back from the movies that night in Lima and was robbed by the police. We have heard this before.

He said the police checked him out for a money belt, passport and checked his shoes as well (where we had taken to hiding our money).

 He was only carrying $3 on him. The police of course took that. Nobody carries anything on them because of potential robbery. Yet the money changers in the street carry gobs of money all the time.

Another fellow told us his story when he was in Lima sitting on a park bench. He had one hand on his day pack in his lap; the other hand on the park bench back.

A man stuck a needle into his hand on the park bench and held it in hard. The gringo reached automatically to pull the needle out. Another man from the other side stole his pack from his lap.

A German couple traveling by VW bus locked their car with 2 locking systems. The regular door lock and a lock and chain. Gone for ten minutes, they discovered their passports, camera and some money stolen from within, the locks back in place and no sign of damage. Of 80,000 tourists to visit Lima last year the newspaper reported 60,000 were robbed. The police are planning to crack down.

Lima is filled with junk cars. Taxis are antique VW Bugs. Taxes are so high no one but the very rich can afford a new car. A Honda 125cc  costs $1,800. Sixty percent of that is taxes. Airline tickets have a 21% tax. It seems the government is pricing itself out of business. Nobody is buying.
Tried to change money.

The changer would not take our US $100 bill.

 I carried all our bills from capital city to capital city in my cycling shoes for protection. The last bill we had was a little sullied as it had been in my shoe since Quito! The American Embassy would not help us. So we went back to the hotel, washed the bill with soap and water and set it on the heater to dry. Next day, the same money changer took it in a flash!

We were having a very difficult time making decisions. We did not want to go home but we desperately needed a break from the strain of so much cycling, and mostly from the constant strain of the thieving, lack of good food, cleanliness and sanitation.  

Five months of constant poor living conditions were wearing us down.

The language barrier was getting to Mike. He needed to talk to anyone about anything important.

We were losing sight of our purpose.

It was the kind of time everyone goes through when they wonder why they are doing what they are doing. Our original plan was to cycle all the way to the tip of South America. But, it had taken us so long just to get this far, and we were exhausted.

To cycle on to Bolivia and Chile would have taken at least another 4 months. From Lima to Bolivia we would have to cross 5 major passes on dirt roads. We could not go direct because of the terrorist trouble. A detour of a 1000 miles through  Arequipa to the south, then Puno, then back north to Cusco. We read the description of the roads from Puno to Bolivia to Northern Argentina. They were deserted, rugged high altitude roads which would have been a trek in themselves.

By the time we figured we’d make it to Chile, it would be the middle their winter. 

 We looked into taking a bus there though we had no desire to spend so much time on a bus. Also it was very expensive. We finally found a flight Lima to Baltimore $320/ person via Jamaica. We could take a two week vacation on the beaches of Jamaica for no extra stop over cost then return to the states in time to go to Alaska for the summer and look for work.

We decided to take the bus to Arequipa then Cusco before going home. It was a 20 hour ride. Bus falling apart. Window stuck shut, seat didn’t work, rattles everywhere. It was a tiring journey and the scenery was desert all the way.

One thing for sure. It would have been awful to bike it.

 From the coast into the mountains the roads twisted and turned, climbed and dropped. There were few towns or rest stops. We dared not drink or eat anything because there were no stops for peeing. One lady just peed in her seat.

Arequipa

We arrived in Arequipa after dark. A lady off the bus offered to guide us to a cheap hotel. We carried our bike bags in our arms; walking down the street we felt very vulnerable. The streets were overflowing with people bumping and jostling us as they went by.

A local man was getting out of a taxi and in reaching for his pocket money, was hit from behind by 2 youths.

His money was scattered, there was a mad dash by all to grab it up. In a matter of seconds the thieves were gone with his money, No one moved  to help. Fifty people stood by and watched, including us.  If we hadn’t had the luggage in our arms, Mike would have gone after them.

Found superb quality Alpaca hats at a cooperative.

Arequipa is an artistic town with many craftspeople.

  It is very beautiful with Incredible colonial architecture.  A huge cloister for nuns is now a relic where visitors can see how they lived .

Train to Juliaca was to leave station at 9am. Got there at 8:30 but it had already left. No train for 2 more days. Scurried back to city center and  found Air Peru flight leaving in one hour. Rushed to airport. Flight took 15 minutes as opposed to 10 hours by train.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is huge, country side barren but beautiful. Live flute music incredible. Boat to island of Taquile… moved along about 5 mph. Leaves when it wants, depends on when it fills up. Indians speak Quechuan, some Spanish. It’s difficult to tell if they understand or not as we sometimes get directions where they point to the right but say the Spanish word for left.

Juliaca

Taxis at Juliaca quoted $1 for ride to town. Took taxis. Paid $5 bill. Man gave back $2 change. Typical method of deception. Charge is per person, not for the taxis. Also he took us three blocks past the normal taxis stop ( which of course he forgot to mention. That cost another $1.

Once you give them the money, you can’t get it back.

 You’d think we’d learn by now but they are well practiced at this.  I know I would not mind paying if they quoted a price and stuck to it but what angers north Americans so much is the dishonesty and deliberate tricks to get more from you.

Spent the day in Juliaca buying hats. Streets are filled with vendors sitting in the gutters selling their goods. There must be three hundred people lining the streets selling the same variety of things. Juliaca is a market town. Everyone sells wool goods to the tourists.

All the Indians are very poor but at least they do have their wool to sell.

We bought 200 hats from 3 vendors. The whole town gathered round yelling, “buy me,” Didn’t have enough soles so went to bank to change money. The vendor was afraid we wouldn’t come back for the hats so he loaded them up on a bicycle taxis and followed us. Local bus to Puno, hats and all. Mike entertained by Peruvian Aunt Jamaima. Most Spanish he’s spoken on the trip.

Cusco

Train to Cusco. Machu Pichu. Yes, we went to the famous ruins. What a treasure they are. Utterly fascinating. I’m glad we took the opportunity to come this far, even though we did not bicycle it. Our adventure was over. We were going home via two weeks cycling around Jamaica. That’s another tale!

 

Costa Rica 

Bicycling Costa Rica

Bicycling Costa Rica

 

Panama

Bicycling Panam

Bicycling Panam

 

 

Columbia 

Columbia route map

Columbia route map

 

 

Ecuador 

Bicycling the Andes in Ecuador

Bicycling the Andes in Ecuador

 

 

Peru 

Bicycling Peru

Bicycling Peru

 

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