Andes Trail Stages 39-41, Sept 21-23, 2019

Stages 39-41 of 109 Cusco to Puno via bushcamp and hostal, Days 54-56 of 142

  • Stage 39: 119.7km, 1022m climb, 4:38
  • Stage 40: 161.61km, 1048m climb, 6:42, craziest weather ever
  • Stage 41: 106.3km, 425m, 4:13
DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America3,68355447,197
Andes Trail3,40154543,587X

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages (19-20, 31-32)

After three full days off the bike, it was nice to get ready, mount up, and cruise out of town. We’re missing the people who left in Cusco, but now have four newbies which is good. The ride out wasn’t as crazy as the ride in, and it was gently downhill so went pretty quickly. Soon we were out of town and blazing along. After 25km, I let myself fall off the paceline (Chris at the helm with Jens egging him on).

The first 45 minutes of our ride from Cusco, sped up to 3:45

I took it easy, stopped for food at a lake around 40km, then met everyone at lunch around 60km. I rode with Andrew and Jan after lunch and although it was about a 60km climb, the last part was very gentle and we made it to camp no problem. It rained a bit on the way but just for a little while. Camp was by a soccer field, right next to another set of Inca Ruins. The main attraction there for our crowd seemed to be the public toilets – much better than trying to find privacy by the soccer field. Villagers were everywhere too, tending crops and watching.

Bushcamp by a soccer field

It was cold at night as we were back up at 3500m and lots of clothes were on at dinner. After dinner I stayed up a little but then retreated to my nice tent. I woke up at 2:09am and peed in the field, then at 2:12, the rain started.

I don’t know how long it rained but it had stopped by morning, still things were pretty wet. We had an early breakfast at 6:30 due to the long distance to cover in stage 40. The public bathroom was supposed to open at 6 but didn’t. Yvonne and I talked a lady into opening the two bathrooms in her restaurant for us at 1 sol per person. Boy did I need that! It was cold at breakfast, then we packed up wet tents and got ready to ride. I made a rookie mistake: because I was cold while eating, I over-dressed for riding. That meant that after about 25km of glorious pacelining with Chris at the helm, I had to bow out to reduce clothes. They never stop. So I did the rest of the 60km climb to lunch by myself, stopping for photos sometimes.

Banana stop here, no I didn’t have any cuy

The riding wasn’t hard although lunch was at a pass at nearly 4350m, higher than all but two mountains in California. For once, at a pass it was nice weather and we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.

At the pass

Andrew and I took off just after Chris and Jens and somehow managed to catch them on the downhill. It wasn’t steep and only dropped about 400m, but soon we were back in a line of four, cranking along. We were in the Altiplano now, a large, high plateau in southern Peru, Bolivia, northern Argentina and northern Chile. It averages 3750m and is the biggest high plateau on Earth outside of Tibet. It’s flat, with some hills that the roads mostly avoid. We had 100km to go from lunch and made quick work of the first 50. Then we stopped for refreshments at a tiny stand where we had a funny encounter with a local who took to Chris (who doesn’t speak any Spanish at all).

Chris looking muy guapa with his friend’s hat. Andrew not amused, just trying to recover.

Then it was time for the last 50km. About halfway through this we saw thick black clouds and rain showers ahead.

Warning: there may be some bad weather ahead…

Suddenly, the wind increased hugely. Our speed dropped to maybe 10 or less. And the side winds kept nearly knocking us over. I was thinking this was Patagonia training. We survived maybe 500m of this, then came to a toll station. The guys offered us their little bedroom to escape the storm. It started hailing and the temperature dropped hugely. So we took them up on their offer. They also liked Chris and asked me why he was over 2m tall, and a bunch of other funny questions. They were amazed that the four of us were from four different countries.

In the toll worker’s sleeping room

After 45 minutes, Wytze rolled up, wet and cold. He and Bastiaan had stopped at the hotsprings further back, and maybe some Pisco Sours were involved. Chris gave Wytze an extra jacket and the rest of us put on everything we had (very little for Andrew, but the full kit for me). It was now after 3pm and it seemed like the wind had dropped and the rain was less, so we took off. How hard can 22km be anyway? Answer: super hard. The wind was going I don’t know how many km/h, from about 10:00. The rain was POURING painfully hard and the spray from the tires was blowing everywhere. We had to ride close together but it was dicey and it almost seemed like the traffic was going faster because of the bad weather. Giant trucks giving us very little room. I think my speed would’ve been 10 or 12 but we were going 24 thanks to Wytze. He is an amazing athlete. I was so soaked – I think it may actually have been the worst riding conditions I’ve been in ever. I don’t know how we would’ve dealt with a crash or a flat tire. Chris was so cool – making sure whoever was flagging was protected. I can’t imagine how Andrew felt bare-legged. He later said (imagine excellent Australian accent): “It was a bit cool.” The road surface was also utter crap in this section – continual bumps, terrible. After a while I was just hanging on to Wytze’s wheel and I noticed the rain had reduced and the wind had dropped. Now we were going 34 so I was still working absolutely at 100% effort. I told him we had dropped the rest so he slowed down to 32. Amazingly they caught back up. At this point we only had 5km to go so it was almost in the bag. The last 2km was super hard for me, nearly used up. Then, it was 800m, 400m, 200m, and we turned off the road onto the dirt road to the campsite. The turn-off was marked by a large Bike Dreams “Finish” flag. We got to the end of the GPS track, and there we all were, in the middle of a field, nothing around, no people, no campsite and our Garmins were all playing the happy song indicating the end of the track. Wytze started to call Henk then I spied his truck coming down the road toward us. He stopped at the Finish flag and someone waved us over. They told us camp had been upgraded to a hostal due to the weather! We just had to go 4 more km to the town of Pucara. We did that at a sane pace, and there was Tom, telling us where to turn. Ahead we saw one of the trucks, and we high-fived while riding. I finished the ride holding hands with Chris, way up high, what a victory. I wish someone got a photo.

The hostal turned out to be basic but quite a bit nicer than camping. It had a big courtyard where soup was being cooked. It had covered bike parking. The rooms had beds. It was missing a few things like toilet seats and hot showers, but all in all, it was great. We ate, then more riders came in. In the end almost half the people rode the whole way – the others rode one of the trucks or in local transport. For some it was their longest bike ride ever, 100.4 miles. It was a challenge for everyone, for sure. This trip seems to be about personal challenges. They don’t come every stage, but when they do, wow, be ready to dig deep. Andrew and I went to lay down for a minute before dinner – deep sleep instantly. Luckily I set the alarm. We got up for dinner, appetizer of small tomatoes, guacamole and tuna dip with real corn tortilla chips. Pasta in cheese sauce with a lot of garlic and ham for the meat people. Red wine. Yum. Went to bed at 8 and slept hard. I got up at 12 and 4 to pee. Then I was laying there listening to cars drive by the window, splashing through deep rain puddles.

Breakfast was at 8 so we got up at 7:30 and I looked to see how wet it was. It was brilliant sunshine with not a cloud and no water anywhere. I had imagined the whole puddle thing. There was frost all over so it had been cold. Breakfast was in the warm sun in the courtyard, then we packed up and headed out for our last full day of riding in Peru. It was 105km, mostly flat altiplano, with a 200m hill at the very end to get to the town of Puno, on the shores of famous Lake Titicaca. Andrew, Jan and I took it easy, stopping from time to time for photos or food breaks. We joined up with Greg, a new rider from Poland, and started looking out for the lunch truck at 55km as it was supposed to be before the town at 60km. We didn’t see it and rode into the town which turned out to be large, dirty and super chaotic. The amount of trash laying around was staggering. It was another place just absolutely jammed with buses and tuk-tuks, a hell of motor traffic. It’s also #4 of the top 10 list of most dangerous cities in Peru and is tiny compared to the others on the list. Don’t ever go to Juliaca, Peru.

At a dead stand-still in Juliaca

It took some patience and balls but we made it out without accident, and then continued along the road to Puno. Now at 75km, we still hadn’t seen the lunch truck. We stopped and ate the food we had, then maybe 10 more riders pulled in doing the same. I gave my last bar to Kirsten who had already eaten the 6 she had and was still having a calorie crisis. We left first and after 4km found the lunch truck with Wijnand, Rob and Guillermo sitting quietly at a decent spot by the side of the road with lunch all set out. So we had lunch, then took off for the last 32km. It was boring and flat until the hill at the end. Bastiaan had caught us with Lambert and we cruised up to 4000m again, took some photos at the top, then headed down to the hotel.

About to head down to Puno: Nathan, Bastiaan, Andrew, Jan and Lambert
Puno and a tiny bit of Lake Titicaca

Soup was on, with snacks, then we went up and had luxurious hot showers. It was so hot you had to add cold which almost never happens. We hung out afterward, then went out to dinner with at least 15 of our riders to a fancy restaurant called Mojsa. It had great food, many vegetarian and fishetarian options, plus great IPA. For dessert, Mr G. directed us to a gelateria/bakery a couple of blocks away. I had a triple of Pisco Sour (surprisingly great), chicha morada and the ever-great maracuya. What a great end to a fun day and a challenging block of three stages. Rest day tomorrow!

5 thoughts on “Andes Trail Stages 39-41, Sept 21-23, 2019

  1. Love your posts and hearing about what I’m missing while recovering! As I was on a tour bus I heard there were 70,000 tuk-tuks in your favorite town! Yes, I verified it was 70,000 and not 7,000! Keep posting! Looking forward to riding again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Carol – I will keep it up. Not sure how the internet will work in Bolivia though. That’s crazy about 70k tuk-tuks in that hell of a town. You are so lucky you didn’t have to ride through there.


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