Route: Cusco – Puno
Stuffed with pancakes, pasta w/ sausage, cheeseburgers, pizza, and brownie (all from the day before — we know how to go out with a bang!) we both agreed it was time to get back on the road. This time we’d have company! Billy (Ireland), Karen and Mike (Canada) who we mentioned in our last blog post were all headed the same direction. We agreed on an 8am start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms….but 8am turned into 9am when hash browns and eggs were thrown on the table….and 9am turned to 10am when no one had seen Billy. A quick peak in his room revealed all his gear still strewn on his bed.
The whole gang from the hostel waited around to bid us a proper farewell and there was a loud applause when Billy was finally ready. Sorry to throw you under the bus Billy, but you proved you work well under pressure! After a photo session and heartfelt goodbyes, we were off. Leaving Cusco, we definitely received more respect from city traffic as a group of five.
Despite the late start, and threatening clouds, it ended up being a wonderful day. When Andre (another friend from the hostel) passed us on his motorbike, he stopped to delivery bread from Chris. Again, what a great group of people! We got over 50 miles in and asked at a little shop for nearby camping spots. Not only did they offer us their empty store room for the night, they wired a light into the room AND power outlet. Then, to go even more above and beyond, they covered our bikes with tarp and hung the doorway with a thick blanket to block the breeze. Wow.
The next day saw many gentle climbs as we gradually neared our way back up to the next 4000+ meter pass. For the most part, we all cycled at our own paces and met up for meals together. We lucked out finding a lovely park complete with towering, shady trees and a picnic bench (the first we’ve seen in Peru).
We ended up stopping 10km before the top of the pass at a hotsprings. Accommodation combined with hot springs admittance was a total of $6 for both Simon and I combined. We bought drinks there and relaxed in the pools — not a bad place to ring in the new year! It was even worth the cold I woke up with the next morning. My cold, combined with the altitude admittedly brought me to tears as we climbed the rest of the pass. Simon eventually made me stop so he could load all my bags onto his bike. That’s love.
I was so cold at the top of the pass, I layered on 2 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of trousers, 2 sweaters, and 2 jackets and a hat before feeling cozy. After the downhill we had a long stretch of flat altiplano. Thankfully, I was feeling much better at this stage. Simon and I forgot just how satisfying it feels to cruise along at 15 mph and we both appreciate it even more now that we’ve experienced so many tough climbs. That night we made it to a town and slept at the bomberos (firestation). This was a valuable tip from Billy — bomberos are a great place to ask for free, safe accommodation. This one was particularly welcoming.
Rather than taking the main road the rest of the way to Puno and go through the notoriously dangerous city of Juliaca, we opted for dirt back roads. This was our first experience off the beaten track in Peru. We rattled along, dodged large stones, had more steep climbs. Surprisingly, I preferred the uphills of this section. Going downhill I lost control and my back tire spun out, landing me on my side nearly in front of an oncoming car. (Simons comment: Olivia just dusted herself off, got back on the bike and continued on the downward slope! She is made of tough stuff) Thankfully I only ended up with a skinned elbow and bruised hip bone, but I was sure to take the rest much slower. All our hard work on the dirt roads payed off and we scored a nice wild camping spot by a stream. It was raining in the distance any way we looked, giving us a great lighting show, rainbow, and sunset.
In the morning, a local wandered over and gave us hats (for free, but I gave him a sweater). It was more dirt roads until lunch when they were replaced with pavement and headwinds. This is the first time in the trip I’ve gone faster than Simon! Not for long, but still. He blames my smaller size for making me more aerodynamic 😉 (Simons comment: Well I have to justify it to myself somehow 🙂 ) The hard push into Puno exasperated my cold, so we’re taking a rest day in Puno. Today we took a boat on Lake Titikaka and visited the floating reed islands made by the Uros people (a tourist trap, but fascinating none-the-less). Next stop – La Paz, Bolivia!