Andes Trail Stages 52-53, Oct 9-10, 2019

Stages 52-53 of 109, days 72-73 of 142

Photos on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America4,82877654,808
Andes Trail4,54676751,198X

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

We had a relaxing rest day in Uyuni after 7 consecutive riding days. This day was special as it was day 71, or exactly the mid point of the trip in time. In a few days we’ll have the middle riding stage, and sometime after that we’ll be halfway in distance. A bunch of us walked a couple of km from town to the Train Graveyard, which was interesting but the walk was depressing due to the amount of garbage and general condition of everything.

We had a surprisingly nice lunch in town, relaxed, then a simple dinner at the hotel. Many of us were on AFD (alcohol free day) due to massive overindulgence the night we arrived. You should’ve seen Jens and Bastiaan at breakfast on the rest day.

In the morning, it was beautiful and warmed up quickly. By the time we left about 9:30, it was perfect. We headed out in a big group and quickly got to the paved road to Tupiza. This stage, and the next, had been quite difficult in the past, due to being all dirt, with constant washboard and deep sand in places. In contrast, for nearly the whole of stage 52, we were on pristine pavement, much better than the typical California road.

We were in Butch Cassidy territory, quite close to San Vicente, where he was supposedly buried in 1908. The first part of the ride was pretty much flat and straight cranking. We rode in pacelines, pretty fast, and made it to lunch at 65km quickly. After lunch it was more interesting, winding up and down through mountains and valleys. We stopped in Atocha for ice cream and coffee. Camp was by the side of the road, just at 100km, in a gorgeous setting. The wind picked up after we arrived and you had to be careful eating the soup as it blew off the spoon. I took a nap in the afternoon, then by 6, it was much nicer outside.

We had a great dinner, then, for the first time in a long long time, could sit around and chat as the wind had dropped away. It was getting close to full moon and the whole landscape was lit up beautifully. I went to bed after 8 and slept super well. I took some night shots at midnight when I woke up to pee.


In the morning, we had a luxurious 8am breakfast. It was so nice and warm in the sun, with no stress, and most everyone seemed to be happy. Breakfast was the usual, then we took off at 9. This stage had been very difficult in previous years but we just continued up the excellent new road. There was a lot more climbing, especially in the beginning. It was a series of climbs with small descents, and then we were up over 4200m again – nearly 14,000′. I think it’s the last time on the whole tour.

The air felt great and then we pulled over after 43km for lunch. There was still more climbing after lunch – and we found that the paving wasn’t really finished. There were a number of 1-5km unpaved sections, but not bad really. On one downhill I went nearly 50kph on the dirt. I hit 80 on a paved descent and I think the record for our riders was 87 – I take it easy these days as crashing is not an option. After lunch I passed a few riders but just went at my own pace which was nice.

On one of the yet to be completed sections

We had a little snow at the top – I think later riders had more, I just had a few big flakes which felt nice and cool. Then a quick 700m descent and we were down in the land of warm. There were big tall super green willow and cottonwood trees. We hadn’t seen something like that for weeks. We were still at 3200m, but it seemed so low and warm. The last part of the ride had lots of road construction, unpaved sections, and a diversion into the river for a while. Then I arrived in Tupiza. About 1.5km from the hotel, I ran into the fast group, working on another flat on Wytze’s bike. They were out of tubes so I donated mine that had sat in my seat bag since Quito. It didn’t inflate – same as the one Andrew donated. Finally we got him going so we could cruise to the hotel, arriving at 2:10. We had to follow a hotel guy’s car for 1km to the bike parking at another hotel. Then he gave us a ride back. Baggage wasn’t there yet but we had delicious soup and other snacks. Then we unloaded the truck, had nice hot showers, and a chance to relax.

In the evening 8 of us went out to a restaurant for dinner – pretty nice although slow. Tupiza doesn’t seem like it should be popular with tourists but I saw a number of obvious non-locals. We’re going to bed early without drinking much even though tomorrow is a rest day. Maybe we’re getting soft? Or smart?

Andes Trail Stages 45-46, Oct 1-2, 2019

Stages 45-46 of 109, days 64-65 of 142

Photos and routes on Strava

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America4,20955551,218
Andes Trail3,92754647,608X

It was really nice having two full rest days in La Paz, the last two days of September. Especially for me since my cough has gotten worse lately – I needed two days of not breathing hard to recover. The first morning was a Sunday and eight of us went on a cable car tour of La Paz after breakfast. We walked over to the Estación Central where two of the many cable car lines start. We chose Red first since it went uphill – we had ridden under it the day before descending into La Paz. The special tickets that let you go on all the lines for 24 hours (no more than one hour stop at any station though) cost BOB 11 ($1.59). Such a deal! The system is built by the Swiss and once you’re inside a station or in the cable car itself you don’t really feel like it’s Bolivia. It’s so modern, clean, fast and efficient. We rode up to the top, switched to the Silver line, rode for a few stations, had ice cream/coffee/pastries at a coffee shop with a panoramic view of La Paz, from 4100m. Then we took the Yellow line down to below the level of our hotel. Then Blue one stop to downtown, then White through the middle of downtown to Orange, up and over a hill and back down to Estación Central.

Riding the Orange line

What a fun and easy two hour tour of La Paz. We saw parades, parties and very little traffic. Sunday seems quiet and relaxed here. Then I had a big pizza lunch with Twan and Andrew by the hotel and relaxed in the afternoon. In the evening we had a huge dinner party back at Higher Ground for 14 of us. A little sad as it was Annabel’s going away party. But absolutely delicious and super fun.

Monday was also a rest day and I really didn’t do much. Martin and I went out and both bought cough medicine (medicina de la tos) in the morning. When one dose didn’t do much, I took a second, but then passed out for a massive nap. I watched a movie after that then we went out for another giant group dinner, next door to Higher Ground. I had a liter of Jugo de Tumbo rather than beer. And more medicina de la tos in the evening.

I felt so much better the morning we had to leave La Paz – also drawing the late breakfast shift (8am, because the dining room doesn’t come close to fitting us all) was great. We took off just after 9 and after just a couple of blocks, more than half the people headed off to the Purple cable car line. The rest of us followed the GPS track down to the start of the motorway, then 10km up to 4100m (which turned out to be uncrowded and easy), and through El Alto for a long way until we were out in the country again. The cable car group had a great time bypassing the big climb and quite a bit of El Alto screwing around in super heavy traffic. But the EFI group got smaller: Jan kind of took the cable car by mistake and Karin took it due to sickness. Rob’s opinion: There is a plane to Ushuaia for those that don’t want to ride.

Jens and Bastiaan stopped in El Alto

I rode with Chris, Jens, Bastiaan and Andrew and we blazed through pretty fast. Out of town it was back to the Altiplano cruising, nearly flat, but with some rollers. Chris kept up a mean pace and after 50km or so Andrew and I let ourselves be dropped on a hill. We continued to lunch, then headed out together to ride to camp. We met Martin’s group who had bypassed lunch and they warned us the camp had been moved 5km up to a school due to the forecast bad weather. Sure enough, after 132km instead of 137, we spied the Finish flag, ducked through a wall and saw the trucks at a school. It was a broken down school and it was comical when we walked into the gym where Bike Dreams was set up, cooking soup. It was a very crappy building, with the tin roof not nailed down, blowing loudly in the wind.

Better than the alternative

After soup, we found that we could camp in the gym, out on the football field, or next door in the second floor “condos” we named “El Alto”. I chose the condos as it was starting to rain and the weather didn’t look good at all. We fit 4 tents in the room with glass in most of the windows. Wijnand was the only one who camped in the other room with no glass in any window. Half the remaining people camped outside and half inside. We were looking for a word that means camping in a tent indoors but couldn’t think of one. Dinner was at 6:30, quite yummy, with lots of banging of the roof and rain. It poured later but not in El Alto! No one snored and I slept really well!

Dinner in the gym

October 2nd started with me looking for a bathroom at 6am. It turned out there was a pit toilet at the back of the school – not pretty though so no photo. Our room was mostly dry and Wijnand’s was mostly wet. There was lots of fresh snow on the mountains around. Breakfast was at 7 and it was nice to pack everything up dry. No one who camped out on the field seemed to mind too much and some said the rain was a good tent test. At breakfast, the yogurt was lost so it was impossible to eat muesli – I had peanut butter/jam/banana sandwiches instead. Then packed up and started riding at 8:15. It was a shorter day with an option to take the main road saving some distance or the Rob route, with 20km of unpaved. Lunch was supposed to be on the unpaved route but when it changed to the paved route (due to Rob smartly not wanting to risk the truck getting stuck in the mud) many people like me changed their plan to the paved option. When I started riding, by accident I was right behind Wytze, a dangerous place to be. For 22km, it was Chris, Wytze, me, Jens and Rob going fast in a paceline.

35-40kph paceline

Then we got to the turnoff for the unpaved option. They all went and I stayed and chatted with Rob waiting for the other riders. I decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and not breathe hard any more and get over this damn cough. When a big group of 10 came along, they were dead sure of taking the paved route and I joined in.

The pack

We had a lot of fun riding at a very sane pace, and just chatting away until lunch. The shoulder was wide enough for two side-by-side and there wasn’t much traffic. The gentle tailwind was just great. We had another comedy scene at lunch with every one of us screaming at Gareth with the truck horn blowing, but to no avail – he just kept cranking. Later he said he was looking for the truck too – not very hard I guess.

Lunch on the Altiplano

We sat in the sun, ate, then took off in the same big group. We chatted away and suddenly I noticed we had gone 90km. Then we came to a town and it was Oruro, our destination. It was only 12:30 – a really easy day is nice sometimes. Oruro is actually pretty big (264,000 population) and we must’ve seen every school kid in town as we rode in. All in nice uniforms, walking along the streets – maybe going home for lunch? We finally came to the Hotel Gran Sucre and checked in. We unloaded the trucks, had super nice showers, then soup and snacks.

After a relaxing afternoon, seven of us went out to dinner at a pizza place by the main square. We had a massive great dinner, capped off by banana splits. Outside it was quite cool and raining on and off, luckily off while walking to and from the restaurant. In our room, we were shocked that the heater works so well. It’s the first comfortably warm room we’ve had I think. Laundry was dry after dinner. Time for sleep early tonight. We have five more straight days of riding until the next rest day in Uyuni, including the famous salt flats – can’t wait for that.

Andes Trail Stages 43-44, Sept 27-28, 2019

Stages 43-44 of 109 Puno to La Paz via hotel on Lake Titicaca, Days 60-61 of 142

More photos on Strava:

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America3,97955549,908
Andes Trail3,69754646,298X

Before the two-day ride to La Paz, we had a rest day in Copacabana, Bolivia, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, close to the Peru border we crossed on Sept 25. The big tourist thing to do is take a boat ride to a couple of islands, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna (Sun Island and Moon Island). The trip takes about 3 hours and costs just over $4. Most people, for some reason, chose not to do it. I certainly preferred hanging out in the hotel and the town. Maybe we’re not very good tourists. After a slow morning, Andrew, Martin and I went out for lunch in a 3rd floor terrace right at the shore. A giant meal of trout with onions and tomato sauce with the standard rice, veggies, salad (Tim, I don’t eat raw veggies any more!) and fries set me back a very small amount of money. Washed down with a nice big wheat beer – very good. But it does make for a lazy afternoon that included a nap. In the late afternoon, everyone seemed lazy but Andrew and I hiked up Cerro Calvario, a nice peak right next to town. We took the easier way up, mostly stairs for the 200m climb. We got to the top a few minutes before sunset which is at 6:30 these days. It’s a gorgeous view of Copacabana, Lake Titicaca and over to Isla del Sol. We took lots of photos, then headed down.

Looking down on Copacabana
Lake Titicaca after sunset – Peru in the distance

We met a bunch of riders in town headed for a really nice Italian restaurant, but alas, it was full. We ended up having a perfect dinner at Mauraz with Miranda and Annabel who is leaving us in La Paz. Everyone had the set course ($3.40) of soup, trout and dessert. I tried an adventurous dark Bolivian beer but it was crap. After only sleeping 3 hours the night before I tried folding my pillow to make it taller and slept 8 full hours – great!

In the morning we had the hotel breakfast plus muesli, nothing special. We took off together at 8:40, uphill, first on dirty brick cobblestones, then onto a nice smooth road. It’s funny, as we had noticed riding from the border, when the pavement gets a hole in it, the repair is just stuffing the hole with rocks, not patching with asphalt. Anyway, it was a nice easy climb of 450m up to about 4250m, about 14,000′. The road was so uncrowded and pleasant. As we got up high, the scenery opened up – just gorgeous. I caught Andrew and we rode the rest of the way to lunch together. After a few more little hills, we got a great view to the east of some of the Cordillera Real, a large range of mountains with many peaks from 6000-6400m. They are all snow-covered and look almost fake. Super beautiful.

Cordillera Real across Lake Titicaca

Then we descended back to lake level (3810m). Lake Titicaca is split into the main lake and a smaller one called Lago Huinaymarca (or Lago Wiñaymarka or just Lago Menor). There is a narrow strait we had to cross and there’s no bridge. We had lunch in the warm sun at the “ferry” terminal on our side, then boarded a “ferry” – really just a crappy old barge with a small motor. A Swiss couple traveling in a camper with their little daughter for a year plus a few locals were on ours. The barges go every few minutes – there are tons and it costs under $1 for the 15 minute crossing.

Barge “ferry”

It took a while to land as there are limited spots with vehicle ramps. I wish I could’ve seen one of the Bike Dreams firetrucks cross. It was pretty exciting on the other side since there was a huge band competition going on. Dozens of marching bands were warming up or competing all over. Their buses were parked everywhere. We stopped to take some photos and noticed a larger barge, completely covered with band members, cruising along the shore, playing loudly. Then another and another and another and … we finally left, but we rode up the hill hearing multiple bands playing at the same time.

The afternoon ride was only 35km, with a few tiny hills, on an uncrowded highway that is in the middle of being expanded into a 4-lane highway. We stopped to watch the Bolivian Army do calisthenics (to loud music and with weird purple smoke bombs going off).

Sorry didn’t catch the purple smoke bombs going off

We pulled into the Hotel Titikaka a little after 1pm – a very easy day. While the hotel has seen better days (long ago), it was still ok and no one else was there. We joked that the last time someone stayed there was when Bike Dreams came through in 2016. We had yummy soup and snacks, nearly hot showers, then it was time for beer. Martin and I were caught by the hotel guy snooping in the kitchen trying to find beer and he seemed pretty proud that he had a dozen large ones, cold in the freezer. We immediately bought three and told him he would need to chill many more. He suggested 30 and we said “Perfecto.” We sat outside on a nice deck with a beautiful view of Lake Titicaca, watching people riding the zip lines, spinning inside the hamster cages and playing with some local kids. The big excitement was when a fire started in the reeds just by the hotel – we saw a local woman with a comically small bucket and wondered what she was up to. The fire grew and grew until the flames were at least 5m high. It was burning fast and loud and at one point we could feel the heat from 200m away! It burned the whole area below the hotel to the lake, including some pumps and pipes and stuff that looked important. It eventually stopped.

Eventually all behind and left of the flames burned

I think there was another nap involved, then dinner for everyone was at 7pm, in the hotel dining room, choice of trout, chicken or carne. Most people took trout it seemed. Quinoa soup to start as usual, and dessert was crepes or ice cream. Most people chose crepes and I think they only had about 3. So they split them 10 ways each. You could eat it all in one or two bites. It was cold but there was a roaring fire going in the next room and we sat for a while. I also got to talk to Grace at home; Google Fi works so well here. Hotel Titikaka is purely pre-internet so no Wifi.

I slept so well, about 8 hours which was really nice. Breakfast was as usual, then we started the stage to La Paz at 9. After just a few km, our nice uncrowded nearly 4-lane highway teed into a busier highway which we took about 40k to lunch. I was riding with Jan and Andrew. The wind was light, the hills weren’t steep, the views of the Cordillera Real were awesome and the traffic was manageable. Wijnand had a tough time finding a place to set up lunch and said it would’ve been better to not have it today since it’s short. We hung out with the fast guys for a few minutes before they left. Lunch was ready later – we were in no hurry since we had strict instructions to not arrive at the hotel before 1pm. Most everyone arrived as we ate and Lucho gave us dire warnings about the traffic in La Paz we would be dealing with. He had stories of having side mirrors break off on his shoulder etc. So we rounded up Greg and Michael to join us. Sure enough after only 3km or so, the traffic got somewhat nasty. It is chaotic because so many people use the little mini-buses that they have to pull over and stop everywhere, all the time. The whole right lane is almost useless for riding. At this point the highway was 2-3 lanes in each direction, although some are dirt sometimes. But it wasn’t any worse than Juliaca or the other bad places we had ridden in Peru. I only heard of one incident later: Tom was hit by a bus, but like a pro, he just let it push him sideways and didn’t have a problem.

Traffic in El Alto

Michael went a little out of control once when a car cut him off (he imagined) – luckily there was no international incident. We told him to cool down and chill – he apologized and continued fine. With around 12km to go, we took a slight wrong turn, had to reverse 200m to catch the correct exit of a cloverleaf and somehow lost Greg and Michael. Assuming they were in front, we continued – right onto the motorway! This would be illegal in most countries but we just went through a lane that was “Cerrado” (closed) and suddenly all of La Paz was laid out about 400m below us. It’s an immense city.

View of part of La Paz

The upper part where we were is called “El Alto”, separate but right next to La Paz proper. 2.3m people total. After checking that this really was the route, we headed down the 6 lane motorway, taking it easy. Rob never mentions any details of the route preferring that each person have a bit of an adventure. There was very little traffic (high toll price maybe?) and we had the entire right lane to ourselves. It went down, on and on for over 10km but finally we came to our exit. From there the hotel was only 370m away! So easy and 1000% percent better than any other possible route. We rode up at 1pm on the dot and Rob let us in to park. It’s tricky here since in 2016 Bike Dreams got a fine from the police for unloading the trucks here. So Henk and Wijnand drove direct to a cable car parking lot and then taxied the mountain of luggage over. Rob told us this would take more time and to come back at 2. We walked into the first coffee shop we saw and Jan treated us to 710ml Paceña beers plus giant pieces of delicious lemon meringue pie! What a great way to kill an hour!

Happy to be safe in La Paz, Nathan, Jan and Andrew

At 2, we checked in and while our room is on the 3rd (4th in US English) floor, the shower is super hot, the wifi works, the beds are nice and we have a balcony with table and chairs for drying laundry. Soon we were downstairs having drinks and snacks. We met Karin’s son Twan who is a giant of a 23 year old and will be riding with us all the way to Ushuaia, taking her place. We met Dick our other new rider, also Dutch. We lose Pip and John, Greg and Annabel here – sad to see them all leave. Annabel has been with us since Quito and is family.

Later a bunch of us headed over to an excellent restaurant called Higher Ground several people discovered. It’s owned by an English guy and has just excellent food and drink. We had one of the best meals of the trip. The bill for 9 people ended up at BOB 1100, which makes us sound like high rollers, but no, it was well under $20 per person. Such a cozy, friendly place. The last thing we did was make a reservation for 12 for tomorrow night.

Fine dining with Czech beer!

Some of us went across the street to the DT Brew House after for a last round – watching rugby on ESPN from Japan. Their NE IPA was crap but their American IPA was ok. We got back before 10 and it’s hard to believe how much we did today. What a life this is!

Andes Trail Stage 42 to Bolivia, Sept 25, 2019

Photos on Strava: 143.1km, 742m climbing, 5:09
Stage 42 of 109, day 58 of 142

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America3,826554 48,645
Andes Trail3,544545 45,035 X

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

We had a really enjoyable rest day yesterday in Puno. A bunch of us signed up for a boat tour of the famous floating islands of Uros in Lake Titicaca. They picked us up at 9 and drove us 1km down to the dock where we boarded a little boat with a few other random people. We headed out and soon were in a channel between reeds (the famous ones that the locals use to build boats and their floating islands). After a little while we got to an area of water surrounded by floating islands. We landed on one and our guide introduced us to the locals who live there. It’s about 2000 Peruvians and over 2000 Bolivians. Each island supports about four families, so maybe 20 people. They showed us how they make the floats from the reeds and how they have to replace the top layer every 10-15 days. It turns out that ALL these people living out there have only one industry: tourism. They make trinkets and sell stuff to people like us. They sang songs and the President of the four families on our island showed us how they build the houses, the cell towers, etc. A lady showed us the inside of one of their houses: very small, welcome to the 3rd world for sure. They tried hard but barely any of us bought anything I’m sorry to say. I did spring S10 for a ride on their “Mercedes Benz” boat over to another floating island, where Greg, Michael and I had some beers and relaxed for a while. Then it was time to go back. The air is clean, as is the water of the lake. It’s about 20m deep there and the thickness of the floating islands is 4-5m.

Uros ladies with one 4 year old son and the barefoot President behind
From the tower on a floating island
Another Mercedes Benz boat from ours

Back in Puno I spied Gareth, Martin and Andrew in a nice looking local restaurant waiting for Kirsten and me. We had beers and lunch there – gigantic servings of trucha a la plancha (roasted trout with veggies) for very little money. We walked back to the hotel later, had a look around, and eventually went out for dinner at a nice cafe. More trout, this time fried and coated with quinoa. Super good. Unfortunately many had taken ill again and I didn’t feel that great at dinner. But I just ordered jugo de maracuya instead of beer and didn’t eat the salad. I think it was psychosomatic as I was 100% in the morning.

We had set the alarm for 5:45 for the 6:15 breakfast. It was kind of a crappy hotel breakfast – I even had to eat the eggs (huevos revueltos) and a couple of the crap rolls. It took a while but we started riding at 7:25 and made our way though traffic out of town. Once we got onto the road around the lake, it was smooth sailing. First with about 8 in a paceline, then Wytze and Rob ended up blasting too fast and Chris, Jens and I dropped everyone else.

We cruised to lunch at 68km non-stop. I noticed that at 2 hours we were at 62km, not so shabby.

Cruising at high speed with Chris and Jens past a fire
Video by Wytze

Lunch wasn’t quite ready so we hung out sharing photos and relaxing. Many others came in, we ate a delicious lunch, and I let Chris and Jens head off on their own. For the next 80km, it was Bastiaan, Andrew, Jan and I, cruising, stopping for photos many times and really enjoying the riding. When the wind was behind us we could cruise at 40-45 and when it was ahead, more like 28. The occasional hills slowed us down more. We took lots of photos and basically just enjoyed our last ride in Peru. For the first 90 or 100, the road was busy and the drivers pretty rude (unusual). Andrew was pushed off the road once and Marc was really pushed off aggressively, so much that he crashed and was so mad about it. He got scraped up too. Now we have to somehow talk him into not bailing from the tour. We had about 35km on smaller, less crowded roads to the border.

At the border we just walked into the Peru side and one minute later walked away, passports stamped! Then we rode up a hill for 300m, under a cool arch, then took some photos of various Welcome to Bolivia signs.

Welcome to Bolivia

Then we walked into the Bolivian customs office. Again, I was out in one minute. They didn’t ask a single question – just scanned and stamped the passport and took my photo (which took about 10 seconds). SO different from entering into Peru. The four of us rode away, on a comically crappy Bolivian road. We had about 8km to the hotel in Copacabana and we took it easy, stopping for photos. The small town looks beautiful and we soon were in the very nice Hotel Mirador, just above the lake shore. We were lucky today with the dogs – no actual attacks while I was riding. Joan told me a funny (scary actually) story about one of the previous stages where she opted for the paved option I didn’t take. She lead the way on that route and counted the number of dog attacks on her: 24.

It’s a climb to our room, but wow is it nice! It’s a giant 2 person room, with a gorgeous view over the lake, a shower that cranks out hot water, electric plugs that sort of hold our chargers, beds, towels, and delicious soup and snacks after riding – basically perfect.

View of Lake Titicaca from the hotel
Sunset over Lake Titicaca from our room

We had lost an hour due to switching to Bolivian time so 6pm dinner came soon. 8 of us went out and discovered that Copacabana is a backpacker town, full of great, inexpensive restaurants. We picked one and I had the special for BOB25 ($3.60): Quinoa soup, trout grilled with veggies and fries, and bananas with chocolate sauce for dessert. We also had nice big Bolivian beers for the same price. Delicious and fun! After we went to a little bar run by a Brit and had delicious Bolivian IPA!

Stier IPA for the win

Wow, it looks like life is great here! Best part: another rest day tomorrow! Then two days of easier riding to La Paz.

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!

Andes Trail Machu Picchu and Cusco, Sept 18-20, 2019

Some photos in the post, but see Google for all.

Machu Picchu

At last the triple rest day is here! It’s the only time in 4 1/2 months where we have three full days off the bike. Bike Dreams organized an optional trip to Machu Picchu which most signed up for. So at 9am on the 18th, we piled into a pair of mini-buses and headed back on the route we had ridden to Cusco the day before. After about 20km we turned off toward the Sacred Valley. It took almost 2 hours to get to the little town of Ollantaytambo. There’s a very famous archaeological site and we exited the bus excited to see. But the entrance fee of S130 turned everyone off. We all either walked up the free but not so impressive site across the valley, or spent the couple of hours we had checking out the cafes and restaurants. The town appears to be 100% tourist-oriented. The proportion of gringos here is even more than in Cusco. After milkshakes, we walked around town a little, then shared a pizza for lunch.

In the afternoon we walked about 1km down to the train station. The Peru Rail Machu Picchu train picked us up, all reserved seating including snacks and drinks. The Vista Cruiser windows were great since the valley we cruised through is steeper and as deep as Yosemite. It has vertical granite walls too. The ride was beautiful, about 90 minutes and then we arrived in Aguas Calientes aka Machu Picchu Village. This town is also purely tourist-oriented but it’s not a bad thing for us. The options you have for eating and drinking are infinitely more than in normal parts of Peru. If you only came to places like Lima, Cusco and here you would have a strange view of Peru I think. Six of us had dinner at an upscale Craft Beer restaurant, then went to the 7pm Machu Picchu briefing about the next day. Basically we all had 7am tickets so could enter any time after that. Our guides had two groups planned for 7am and one for 11am, so you could sleep in or hike more beforehand if you wanted. We had a round of Pisco Sours courtesy of John, then went to bed kind of early with the alarm set for 4:45 since we had decided to hike rather than take the bus up.

Deep in the valley at 5:16am

Breakfast was excellent, right at 5am. We ate fast then started hiking around 5:15 when it was just barely starting to get light. You hike down the river for maybe 2km, then show passport and ticket at the control office and head up the hiking trail. It climbs steeply, up 400m to the upper entrance into Machu Picchu itself. They say 90-120 minutes but we took 30 minutes for the climb due to bike fitness. It was humid though and my shirt was soaked at the top. Andrew set a perfect pace and we passed a ton of people. We had 45 minutes to wait for our guides and the people who rode the bus, which was nice for shirt drying.

Finally we got to go in – the crowds are daunting but if you expect it like we did, it’s not as disappointing. If you are expecting some kind of magical pristine experience you should not come. Peru has done a great job managing the huge demand but it’s done by having a ton of very restrictive rules so this is not for everyone. The Machu Picchu ruins were about what I expected having seen a million pictures from friends and others. But the setting is amazing and makes the whole experience better. The vertical relief is immense and the area around Machu Picchu is just incredible. The valleys are so deep, the peaks so high and steep and the whole place is just so improbable. As Andrew said, “They could’ve picked an easier building site.” We took a million photos and walked through one of the prescribed one-way only routes. The max group size is 15 so we were split between guides and ours explained lots, but it’s almost better to tune it out and just appreciate being there.

It is possible to (briefly) see things by yourself and take photos without hordes of people in them, but it’s not easy. At the end of the tour, the guide leaves and you can explore a little bit more – the Condor Temple etc, we actually needed a 20 minute rest from walking around so slowly. It’s surprisingly strenuous. Way harder than hiking up the trail at full speed. We strolled down and at the entrance checked to see if it was possible to catch a bus – we had been warned the line can be 30-90 minutes and we knew we could hike down in less than that. But it was still before 11 so the line was small and we headed down the super steep switchbacks on the rough dirt road and were soon back in town. I couldn’t help thinking they should hire the Austrians to build a teleferique.

Our train back didn’t leave until after 4pm so we had a nice drink of juice, then a look around parts of the town we hadn’t seen the day before and a fancy lunch at a great organic restaurant that happened to have fancy craft beer of course. The number of places advertising Vegetarian food out numbered the total I had seen in over a month in Peru by a factor of a hundred. After more walking around and seeing a weird, large, hairless dog, we ended up at different craft beer restaurant for another round. Then ice cream down by our hotel and then it was time to head for the train. It was a pleasant ride again, with a funny fashion show by the train staff, with Alpaca shawls and scarves etc that they modeled for sale. At 6:30 we were back in Ollantaytambo and were dropped off at our hotel in Cusco around 8:30. Martin, Andrew and I took Wim out for a drink at our favorite bar (Cholo’s) – boy is that Inti Puntu IPA great! Even though we had been up since 4:45, Andrew and I stayed up reading until midnight then settled in for sleep.

In the morning, it was amazing. We hadn’t ridden the previous two days and today was another rest day! We had a lazy breakfast and then Andrew worked on his bike while I joined a few others and went on a 2 hour walking tour of Cusco. We saw a bunch of Inca stone work, some old Spanish aqueducts etc and even got to see the famous 12-sided stone.

The famous 12 sided stone is pretty big

At the end for S5 we could take a mini bus up to the Christ Statue on the hill. It was a nice view from up there, then I came down for lunch.

Peruvian cities like giant Christs looking down
View from the Statue of Christ
Large stones at Saqsaywaman, above Cusco

Tom, Andrew and I ate in a Quinoa restaurant across the street. Then I worked on my bike – replaced the chain and cleaned it all up. It was still shifting great but that chain has over 3100km on it and since I brought three spares, it was time to replace. Amazingly the tires are still in top shape.

At 4pm, we had a “Pisco Sour” party, organized by Wim. We all contributed some money and we had 3 liters of home made Pisco Sour, lots of snacks and other drinks. It was also a birthday party for both John (65 today) and Wijnand so we had a couple of big delicious cakes. It was also a going away party for Niek, Elke, Wim, California Chris and unfortunately for Kees who has to go back to Holland for medical reasons. And it was a welcome party for Greg, Michael, Bianca and Raymon who have joined us for the next couple of sections to Salta. It was a great success, very fun. It went on through dinner when we ordered a few pizzas. It so felt like a Sunday night although it’s Friday – we have to go to work tomorrow.

Pisco Sour Birthday Welcome Going Away Party
We took over the whole place

Andes Trail Stages 37-38, Sept 16-17, 2019

Stages 37-38 of 109 Abancay to Cusco via bushcamp in Limatambo, Days 49-50 of 142

  • Stage 37: 115.6km, 2421m climb, 6:46, very hot!
  • Stage 38: 77.5km, 1425m climb, 4:34
DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America3,29555444,702
Andes Trail3,01354541,092X

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

It’s hard to imagine we’re only just over a third of the way done with this crazy trip. But that’s what it is. We’ve just completed the third of the nine sections. From the schedule, it’s 3,356 km of 10,943 km total. And 48 km of climbing out of the 111 km total. Who even measures climbing in kilometers?

Stage 37, the “very hard day”, started with a steady climb, 35km long, ascending from Abancay at 2400m to a pass at 4000m. While the road was good and the views got better and better, it’s mostly a mental game of getting yourself to just keep spinning up and up and up. We had a nice lunch up top, then a 60km descent down to 1800m where it was hot. I don’t know how hot but my Garmin said 43C (109.4F). Boiling. From there, it was a 20km climb, up 900m, to a campsite at an Inca Ruins that was quite nice. Halfway up it was getting later and cooler which was nice. There was a shop across the street that sold ice cream and beer in 1.1 liter bottles. We had a nice dinner, hung out talking for a while, then went to bed around 8:30. I think most people who rode the whole way were tired (except Wytze of course). I slept 9 hours, soundly!

In the morning, it was breakfast at 7, and there was no dew at all so packing up was a breeze. There were ant problems; they get into anything food-like, especially water bottles that had electrolyte stuff in them. Instead of a 35km climb straight from camp we had a 25km one today, only climbing 1000m, so easy!

Climbing 1000m, or what we do for fun

Instead of 2200m descent it was only a few hundred meters, then a longish section to about 52km where we had lunch. Soon, powered by burritos, gumdrops and gummy bears, I took off with Andrew and Jan and we cranked out the last 25km to Cusco. The climb near the end wasn’t that bad really, only 300m and gentle. We came over the hill and had a pretty good view of the big city of Cusco from above. We wound down to town, then wrestled with increasingly bad traffic. Finally it was just a gridlock in both directions.

Traffic can be funny

Eventually we made it onto the sidewalk and proceeded walking at 2 kph with the pedestrians. We could ride the last 850m on bumpy cobblestones and then we were at the hotel. It was nice to see Kees, Marc, Carol, Gareth and healthy Kirsten all looking relaxed. I met a couple of new riders who will be with us until Salta. Soup was excellent, then we had hot showers!

At 5, we had a “briefing” for the trip to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. It will be very touristy of course but should be fun. At 6, we went out for beers and found a great bar. We had dinner and a couple of rounds, then went to another place which wasn’t as good, then back to the original (Cholo’s) for a final round. We were with Javier, a cyclist from San Francisco who has been riding from Vancouver for 17 months. We had ridden with him a bit during the day and look forward to meeting him when we get back from Machu Picchu, He plans to get to Ushuaia a couple of months later than us. We had SO much fun it was just great. Inti Puntu IPA FTW!!!!

Andes Trail Stages 35-36, Sept 14-15, 2019

Stages 35-36 of 109 Andahuayles to Abancay via 3600m bushcamp, Days 47-48 of 142

  • Stage 35: 68.3km, 1830m climbing, 5:16, 58km dirt
  • Stage 36: 73.2km, 1170m climbing, 3:32, 10km dirt, very hot!

We had an early breakfast in Andahuayles and it seemed like no one was super motivated about the ride, I know I wasn’t. Quite a few people had medical issues: Kees took a taxi to Cusco to get his heart checked. Kirsten was sick as a dog so she and Gareth also headed for Cusco, skipping the next 4 stages. Marc rode 35 and 36, then headed to Cusco for dental work before our Machu Picchu trip. Yvonne had a great attitude but was doomed to ride in the van to Cusco due to her knee stitches.

After breakfast, it was a familiar feeling, starting out all uphill, all the time. Andrew and I cranked out of town and up and up, to a dirt road turnoff at 9km around 3300m. Rob had given us the alternative of taking the paved road but most people had decided on the dirt route – with GPS track but no lunch truck. Many people changed their tune at the intersection and continued on the pavement but we turned off, braved a construction zone and soon were at the first summit. About a dozen ended up on the dirt option. Then down the muddy road to Lake Pacucha which was pretty, but we had to take a diversion due to construction and fooled around a bit along the lake. The lake is such a pretty natural resource you would think the roads would be paved to attract more visitors. Most stuff in Peru is not designed around tourism though. Eventually we were back on track and climb #2 started – back up to 3400m, with some steep dirt up to 13%. The view from the summit though was worth it – pretty amazing.

View from our second summit – our switchbacking route visible

After snacks, we headed down a fun descent. The dirt road switched back and forth for a long way, dropping us down over 700m to a little town called Quillabamba where most of us regrouped and ate whatever food we had for lunch. California Chris had a dog-induced crash but sustained just a scratch on her knee. It was fun to catch up with everyone, then we had a short easy descent, and finally a long long climb to camp. Climb #3 was 900m, steep and steady with slowly improving views the whole way. We rode through a village and then finally made it to the paved road, then did the last kilometer to camp, high on a pass, by some Inca ruins, at 3600m.

Camp at 3600m

It was around 3pm when we rolled in, a group of 4. It was already kind of cold and windy, but on the plus side, no sandflies. I set up my tent then spied some snowy gorgeous high mountains and climbed up to a little point by camp to see better. From there I could see down to the Inca ruins where Henk had wanted to camp so walked down there with several others. It was another amazing place – the Incas certainly had style when it came to picking locations. You could see great mountain views in all directions.

Inca ruins
Gorgeous in any direction!

Many photos were taken, then it was time to head back for an early (due to cold) dinner. It was tasty with chocolate mousse for dessert. The wine for once was not tasty, but the beer fairy (Martin) had visited my tent earlier so I was supplied.

After dinner, many people were pretty cold and retreated to tents although the cook crew and others cranked loud music for a couple of hours and had a fun (but cold) time. I was wearing two jackets, thick wool gloves, warm hat etc and was not warm by any stretch. In my tent, I didn’t bother to take off any clothes and got in my sleeping bag, watched a Netflix show, then went out to pee and went to sleep at 8:30. I woke up at 1am and peed again – it was all mysterious looking with mist and bright moon light.

After sunset
Camp at 1:07am

In the morning we had a super-relaxed time due to an 8:30 breakfast. The sun was partially out, sometimes drying the very wet tent flies. The dew was thick for the first time. During breakfast the sun came out harder and my whole tent was soon dry for packing. We took off at 9:30 and immediately were cruising down at 60, down a gorgeous smooth road. But it didn’t last too long – we got down to 3000m then had to crank back up 450m. On the plus side I got to visit California and Los Angeles.

Then the real descent Rob had talked up started. This one went from 3450m to 1800m with lunch near the bottom at the 45 km mark. It was so different down there, warm (hot almost) and unfortunately with quite a few sandflies. A couple of guys skipped lunch but I stayed and ate when it was ready. Jan, Andrew and I took off and finished the descent, crossing a beautiful river (rare in Peru) at the bottom. Then we had a classic “Rob Climb” (according to Andrew). You sucker everyone in with a killer long descent, then pick a super steep rocky dirt road to climb for at least 10km. This one had the bonus feature of the air temperature being like a furnace. It was sort of a grind but at least there wasn’t any traffic to speak of. Others who took the paved option complained of lots of traffic. We went up and up, Andrew had two flats, and finally we came to Abancay. The last few km were so ugly it was kind of depressing. Do not move here. If you live here, find a way to move away.

It was quite a climb even in the town but finally we got to the “Saywa Hotel”, which is surprisingly nice. We got a nice double room, pounded my remaining beer which had stayed cold in my bag, then had hot showers. Cold would’ve been ok here but hot is a bonus. We had a couple of rounds of delicious soup, then I pounded a couple of ice creams from across the street and relaxed until dinner. The stats don’t really tell it all for today – 1170m climbing – sounds easy, right? Then we noticed this posted in the dining room. Rob pretty much never says anything is “Very hard”.

Scary tomorrow…about 8000′ climb

It was Sunday again, the worst night for going out to dinner. The first dozen restaurants I looked at on Google were closed but Antony’s Pizzeria was open and served up some yummy pizzas and beers. Andrew, Wim and I had a nice dinner, topped off by ice cream bars in the square, watching the kids drive around in battery powered cars. By 7:30, we were back in the room ready for sleep. The last thing I did is have a video chat with Grace who had just finished the famous San Francisco Unicycle tour (70km, 1000m climb, an all-day fun fest of unicycling or biking to all the famous spots in SF). I got to see and talk to Gary who is now the only person to have done it every year since 2003, plus many others. You really have to love the technology that allows connecting like this! Congratulations to everyone who did the SF Uni Tour this year!

Andes Trail Stage 34, Sept 12, 2019

Stage 34 of 109 Chincheros to Andahuayles, Day 45 of 142

Photos on Strava and a few more on Google: 73.3km, 1640m, 5:12, 49km dirt

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America2,96048637,856
Andes Trail2,67847734,246X

Missed distance 282km, 3.5 stages, all in Peru

Four of us woke up in our hostal room around 6:15 and got ready for breakfast. Martin was finally feeling better and able to ride which was great. I ate a good breakfast and we started riding just after 8am. The ride was funny – not a single bit of level or downhill for the first 19km. We climbed from 2800m to 3750m smoothly and steadily, with no break at all. The temp was pretty cold – I could just barely stand shorts and short sleeves. The last couple of km were a pain – the same body position for 1:45 makes for a sore butt. On top, lunch was set up inside some kind of customs hut. It was a normal lunch but it was not even 10am. I only could eat one small burrito and a couple of pieces of pineapple. It was pretty cold and everyone was adding lots of clothes.

We had two choices here: the vans were going on the paved road to Andahuayles which started out with a climb to 4200m. That didn’t sound too appetizing to me and only two people I think ended up riding that way. The rest of us headed down a rough dirt/rock road. I waited for Tom and we rode the whole thing together which was great. It was drizzling a little on top but very soon, that stopped and it got warmer and nicer and nicer. The road was pretty damn rough but these bikes of ours are so damn amazing that it seemed to not matter. Pretty soon we found ourselves stopping time and time again to take photos. The DEEP canyons and giant mountains everywhere, with cultivation on impossible slopes, roads in impossible places – were just great. We kept going down, through some tiny and seemingly super-remote villages, and all the people we passed seemed friendly. Tom had brought some candies and gave some to a few kids as we passed.

It looked like this

After many km of this I was starting to think this was the best stage so far of the whole tour. And it kept getting better! The views were always changing and the scale so immense it was like riding in the Himalayas. We caught up to a few other riders who were likewise entranced and stopping often. We rode in a larger group for a while, down some amazing steep switchbacks.


We had some food, reduced clothes, then we hit our low point, around 2700m, and started climbing again. Tom and I just blasted up and it felt easy. We did have a few bad dog encounters – one time I was leading and three came at me, fast and mean. I just blazed ahead, really fast down the rocky rough road but the dogs kept pace barking like maniacs. Tom and Wim stopped to see how I would fare and then I had to slow for a turn and feared the worst. But it was so bumpy it seemed like they couldn’t get close enough to bite and soon they stopped chasing. Heart rate was high.

Second lunch stop – with a view

We had to climb back up to 3200m, then some more descending, still very bumpy. We just went at a safe and sane speed and after starting another climb, had less than 10km to go. The last 5km or so was paved which was nice. We got to the town of Talavera, 5km from the end, and Tom was bonking. We stopped at the square and he bought a pretty amazing amount of pastries and coke for the equivalent of 3 euro. He was so happy! We sat at the town square eating and just loving the moment. Some other riders came by and Wim decided to finish with us. We had to navigate a construction zone then had a few more dog attacks (scary ones), then finally made it to Andahuayles. Andrew showed me later where one bit his shoe leaving a hole all the way through. I kicked at one, full extension of the leg, just missing its nose and for once, it worked. The hotel was just off the main road and in a minute we were reliving the ride with the others, eating delicious hot soup. What a day! I shook Rob’s hand and told him it was the best. How he ever found these routes and then had the balls to take a large tour group like this over them is beyond me but I am so grateful.

Better still, we have a rest day tomorrow! Although our shower is not even close to warm. Minor downer on a majorly fun day. Quote from Andrew: “A hot shower is a core deliverable for a hotel.” Also there was at least one injury I heard about – requiring stitches but presumably nowhere near as bad as the epic Huanuco descent (stage 24). Speaking of that, we heard from Holland that Karin won’t be able to rejoin us after her shoulder surgery. Her recovery period will be too long. But her 23 year old son may take her place. Marc recovered from stage 24 and has been riding with us for the last few stages although the inside of his mouth still is not all happy. He sure has a great attitude. My scabs from stage 24 are busy falling off these days.

Around 6:30 ten of us went out for dinner and ended up splitting into two groups of five. Our group ended up in a nice, warm, good-smelling local restaurant. I was hoping for tallarin con langostino but it turned out not today. So a veggie pizza. Not eating beef and chicken makes Peru difficult. It was a nice relaxed dinner but we did’t get back until the late hour of 9. Time for sleep!

[Update in the morning: Yvonne’s knee required 10 stitches, inside and out. She was very happy with the medical care at the hospital here in Andahuayles – the bill was only 70 soles ($21). She’ll be off the bike to Cusco but should be ok to go to Machu Picchu. And our shower now emits steaming hot water, so all is good.]

Andes Trail Stages 29-31, Sept 5-8, 2019

Stages 29-31 of 109 Huancayo to Ayacucho via two bushcamps, Days 39-41 of 142

Photos are on Google

DescriptionDistance in kmDirt kmClimb in mEFI
South America2,83543736,216
Andes Trail2,55342832,606X

Missed distance: 178km, 2.5 stages.

We had a great rest day in Huancayo Sept 5. Staying in the luxury hotel was so nice; it’s the best accommodation on the whole tour supposedly. After the giant awesome breakfast, we did our normal rest day “bike love” session, washing, cleaning, lubing, checking etc. Amazingly my bike has needed nothing but chain lube, one cable adjustment early on, and love. I’ve only pumped up the tires a couple of times. Then we explored the town a bit. There was a great market district right behind the hotel where you could buy anything. For example, if you take a left at the Sex Shop pretty soon you’re in the shoelace district. Many nice shops with thousands of shoelaces all displayed. I guess a town of nearly 500,000 people need a lot. Keep going and you get to the rat poison district, then the pet/pet food district etc. Lunch was at a kind of health food place, delicious Trucha a la Plancha plus an immense jugo de lúcuma – see the photos. Dinner was at a nice restaurant that had real IPA from Huaraz. All in all, a great day.

Stage 29 started out with a nicer and shorter ride though town, then easy for a few km to our big climb. It was forecast to rain but didn’t. The climb was ok, climbing 700m in 17km. Wytze and Rob set an amazingly sane pace and soon we were on top. One bad thing was that in stage 28, Wtyze had been bitten in the calf by a dog so needed a series of rabies shots. He and Chris looped back to Huancayo after the climb. They did a double stage the next day to catch up to us – plus they got to stay in the luxury hotel an extra night. From 3900m, we had a huge descent, quite fun and scenic, about 1200m to a bushcamp by the side of the road. It was nice to be lower down and even with donkeys, cows and pigs running through the camp, it was fun. Watching Jens chase a little pig that got his bananas was comical. We had an excellent campfire but a little rain shower drove some to their tents early.

In the morning, it was a strange situation: 9km down the road there was a 8am-11am road closure for construction. We decided not to try and make it through early (since the next camp was rumored to be infested with sandflies). Instead we had a super relaxed breakfast of pancakes and french toast, packed up, then rode to the closure, waited 30 minutes and were finally let through. There was a giant landslide and the whole thing looked super unsafe. The road guys had a drone to check stuff out which was smart. We had another stop halfway though and finally about 11:30 were on our way. The road was mostly descending but had lots of short climbs. Some parts were maybe half paved and it was super dusty. Giant trucks kick up so much dust even going slow. Finally I pulled in to the camp a little before 4, surprised to be the second one there. Niek had checked out the town 800m away and found hotel rooms for 30 soles that a number of people upgraded to. Andrew and Jens didn’t stop at camp – they went straight to town to fetch beer. The sandflies were out as advertised so instantly leg warmers and gloves went on. We hung out, then I did a beer run with Martin and Tom and bought all the cans from two places. The town was very small but the people super friendly. Chris and Wytze arrived from Huancayo having done 180km pretty early, maybe a little tired. Dinner was after dark since the sandflies go to sleep then, and it was surprisingly pleasant. There wasn’t much to do after so I went to bed. I didn’t sleep well and around midnight things went bad. I got up just to pee, but about 3 steps from the tent, my stomach suddenly emptied itself. I didn’t really feel bad or anything so it was a surprise. Didn’t sleep well the rest of the night.

In the morning, diarrhea hit in force, and it was a real pain trying to go to the bathroom with the thick sandflies everywhere. I was planning to try to ride but I couldn’t really eat breakfast and carrying my bags over was hard so I joined David on the sick list in Henk’s van that goes straight to the destination with the bags. It was a record-breaking departure – fastest ever breakfast and loading. Everyone wanted out. I felt worse and worse, very weak, as we drove; there was no way I could’ve done the ride which was 78km with 1400m climbing. I mostly slept then we arrived in the city of Ayacucho (pop 180,000). Navigation was tricky with one way streets and we cleared one wire by 1cm but we got to the hotel around 11am. A few minutes later Wytze arrived – he is just a super man. After I got a room and a beautiful hot shower, I went straight to sleep, and woke up a couple hours later for soup. Then another 2 hour nap during which my awesome roommates Andrew and Martin went shopping for food and water and juice and beer of course for them. Later 10 of us went out for dinner at a great restaurant on the square. Most of the rest of the crew was there too it seemed – I guess everyone reads Trip Advisor. I had most of a veggie quinoto (risotto made with quinoa) dish and a milkshake. It felt like I was pushing it so I went home early and went straight to bed. The next riding day is a tough one, only 78km, but almost 1900m climbing and lots of dirt, so I am going to do everything I can tomorrow on the rest day to recover my strength.