The seasons in Peru aren’t real that outspoken, it is more divided into a wet and a dry season. However our start from Arequipa really did feel like a bleak midwinter. It got freezing cold at night, Jesse got sick on the second day and Oli got sick as well to top it of… But don’t worry, like always everything turned out fine. So this blog will end with a “they cycled happily ever after”!
We knew that we’d have to climb a good amount to get out of Arequipa and get on to the “Altiplano”. But we kind of underestimated the climb, beforehand we imagined ourselves doing the climb in one day and then cruise on the flat parts afterwards. Well… we didn’t do it in one day. Maybe we forgot how to judge distances and elevation gain after such a long period of not cycling?
On day 1 we stranded on the side of the gravel road around 38km out of Arequipa, mind, we also climbed 1300m! Jesse really couldn’t go any further, he probably was still adjusting to the extra weight on his bike. So we set up camp with an awesome view and sunset behind the Misty volcano.
After a cold and pretty sleepless night we weren’t really feeling energized. Surprise, surprise… We knew, from our navigation app that it was still 10km uphill and that it would flatten out. The problem when you make a long distance route, is that the elevation profile gets distorted because it has to fit a lot of elevation on a tiny screen. Long story short, after the first 10km it didn’t flatten out. Surprise, surprise… the inclination kept steady around 3 to 5%, when you think it’s going to flat, 3 to 5% ISN’T flat! Don’t you hate it when that happens?
However, when it did flatten out. We got rewarded with an epic view over the salt lake which was supposed to be our destination at day 1. There’s a little town next to the salt lake, there we planned on stocking up on water and maybe some snacks. While having lunch on a bench, trying to let the sun keep us warm, a man came up to talk to us. He asked all the basic questions; where did you come from?, where are you going?, do you have a motor on your bike? You know, the usual, but now in Spanish.
At 4300m elevation, even with the sun high in the sky, we started to get chilly. After exchanging the pleasantries with the man, he advised us to stay in the little town because it was going to be VERY cold… So we went into the store and asked if there was a “hospedaje” in town. They immediately said “yes, it’s here”, they led us through the back of the store into a room with two beds and a lot of blankets. The construction of the room led us to believe it was going to be a cold night, even with a bed and blankets. The walls were paper thin, the same can be said for the windows and somehow the roof was made of plastic.
It was a cold night. Surprise, surprise… But we made it through the night and managed to crawl onto our bikes. After another few very cold kilometers, the sun was able to pierce through our icy bodies and get us warm. The route all of a sudden got very scenic. Maybe it was always this beautiful, but we just couldn’t enjoy those first few hours because of the cold. A very open landscape without much vegetation, a clear sky, surrounded by volcanoes. It made us think a little bit of Alaska, except for the volcanoes, the altitude and the people. Yes, even here, on the altiplano at 4300m there were houses with people living in. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around it, how do they do it? There’s no possibility of agriculture, except for raising llamas and alpacas. But you can’t possibly live of those alone? There’re no vegetables or fruits anywhere to be seen. But then we remembered what a tour guide told us in Arequipa. So prepare yourself for a fun fact. The local people harvest the hides and meat from their llamas and alpacas and travel to other towns to trade or sell their products. There, with the money they earn, they can stock up on everything they need to survive in this harsh but stunning environment!
It was very enjoyable riding! The gravel was pretty smooth, some washboard sections, but not too bad. The sun was shining, we were feeling good! Until… a few hours into our ride, Jesse started feeling a little faint. There were also some bathroom issues, but we’ll spare you the details. Without much energy, it’s really hard to make distances, we got held up pretty often to rest (and again bathroom issues…). On top of that, during our lunch break, Oli started acting VERY weird. She started eating grass obsessively and kept trying to vomit but couldn’t. It really worried us, because we don’t really know “dog first aid”. Is that a thing?
So we decided to push on a little bit to where we knew there was a “bigger road” (read: wider stretch of gravel where possibly a car might pass). We set up camp under a bridge, next to a small river and contemplate what to do… it was too late to find a lift out of there, so we decided to spend the night, start cycling the next day and stop every vehicle that passes us. No sooner said than done. The next day, after another night of sub-zero temperatures, we wait a little for the sun to warm our tent and to ignite the courage to face the outside. We pack up our stuff and start riding. Not even 10 minutes into our ride, we hear a truck behind us. The driver stops and agrees to take us to Santa Lucia. Not really the direction we needed or wanted to go in, but we take it anyway. It was quite clear that Jesse wasn’t going to be able to ride much this day, Fien on the other hand was feeling fine throughout all of this… not fair!
A 5 hour bumpy truck ride later, we’re standing in Santa Lucia. We quickly look for a room with a bed (this time with thicker walls and a solid roof!), look for something to eat and retreat to our room to rest!
The next day, Jesse is feeling a lot beter. Sidenote: we got some pills from the pharmacy, ate plain rice with egg and slept really great! But Oli was still not well… 30km down the road, there was a veterinary. So we hopped on our bikes and started rolling. Of course, this doctor referred us to a veterinary hospital in Juliaca. He said there might be something stuck in Oli’s throat… pretty scary stuff.
Juliaca definitely wasn’t on our route, but hey, that’s what traveling is all about. You encounter a situation, you adapt and you go on. Sometimes those adaptations might lead to a ripple effect and you end up somewhere totally different from where you intended to be. A kind of travel surprise.
Well, this surprise, (surprise…) turned out to be an inflammation of Oli’s throat due to the change in altitude and the cold temperatures… Oops. Five or six vaccins and a nasty mouth wash later and Oli was feeling a lot better.
Crisis averted and we were on our way to Puno! That’s probably enough drama for one blog, no? Good, because from here we got on pretty easily. After Puno we cruised along Lake Titicaca towards the Bolivian border. We still have a little story left to tell about our crossing into Bolivia, but don’t worry it’s a happy story!
We overstayed our Visa for quite some time in Peru (90 days to be precise). Normally, you pay an “overstay fee” of a little more than a euro per day. You see where we’re going with this? But it’s a happy story so bear with us. We arrived at the small border control post on the Peruvian side with a little dread in our heart, we thought it was going to be a very sour day for our wallet…
Well, it wasn’t! The lady behind the desk gave us two options; either we pay our fee or we go online and fill out some stuff, print it out and give it to her and pay NOTHING! So one thing led to the other, we got some help from the super friendly border control people and we were able to pass without having to pay anything! We felt invincible!
We celebrated a little in Copacabana, you know; good food, a beer and a bed. The next day we continued on towards La Paz. It’s crazy that we are “already” here (in La Paz). It feels like we only left Arequipa five days ago, but it’s actually been more like ten. Time flies when you’re sick, cold, change your plans and enjoy almost all of it!
And they cycled happily ever after…