Huaytará, Peru - 12586 km -
Creator @Espíritu Libre
Huaytará, Peru - 12586 km -
Creator @Espíritu Libre
“The mountains are calling, and I must go,” is a famous quote by explorer John Muir. After a few weeks along the coast I felt the same. It was comfortable, warm and dry, but also a bit boring to cycle to flat Pan-American highway. So after spending a few days in Huachachina, recovering from another food poisoning, I headed north back into the Andes, direction Cusco.
It didn’t take long before I regretted this. Once past 2000m altitude, it rained everyday. Not just in the afternoons, which is usually the rule, but potentially the entire day. At the moment I only have a gore-tex, hard shell rain jacket. No rain trousers or shoe covers. I discarded them a while ago because I never used them. Long rain trousers are a drag when you’re cycling. Rain covers for shoes only work when you have trouser that go over the top, otherwise water seeps in your shoes. In Central America getting wet was not a big deal, because it the hot climate kept me warm, even when soaking wet. Here, around 4000m, it’s a different situation. Temperatures can drop around 10 degrees or lower, so you will get cold very soon after you stop cycling.
If you wear breathable, fast drying clothes and shoes, showers are not a problem. The body heat you generate by cycling will dry out clothes pretty fast, and if the sun breaks through you are dry in no time. I’m wearing hiking boots which are waterproof, insulated and breathable. In combination with wool socks I have no problem keeping my feet warm, even when they get very wet, which they do fast because my bike doesn’t have fenders. But what to do when it rains the entire day? It’s almost impossible to stay dry.
I’m camping near a concrete dam. It’s in a remote area, not far a round are some small cod houses from alpaca herders. 50km is a little village, which I only noticed on satellite images, officially it’s not even on the map. It still rains, so I need to set up the tent quickly and put everything inside. Luckily my tent, a Hilleberg Akto, is set up with the inner tent already attached to the outer tent, so I can set it up easily without the inside getting wet. It’s a very small tent with little space outside the inner tent. I take out everything I need and throw it inside. I’m worried about my canvas bag which holds all my electronics. It’s a waterproof canvas bag from Carradice. A great bag, but canvas is never 100% waterproof. I take it my macbook, which feels damp. I wonder for how long it will still be working, after 35.000 km on the back of a bicycle.
Inside I change for dry clothes and go inside my sleeping bag for an hour to warm up. It’s around 6 pm now and almost dark, the rain is still coming down. When I’m warmed up I cook some rice with a flavour mix powder, which I got from a friend. It’s a fairly boring dish. There were no supermarkets on my way, and the small groceries were poorly equiped with vegetables that were turned old. After dinner I watch a movie on my phone. Usually when I camp I cook outside, go for a hike, it’s great to be outside. But not now. I’m locked in the dark, in my little tent, since 5pm. A dog in the distance keeps barking for hours, which keeps me from sleeping.
The real fun is in the morning. When I open the zipper and find a wet grey world, covered in fog. A depressing sight. I put on wet socks and slip in my wet shoes. My bike shorts are still wet too. When I will reach the village later, I have to get some plastic bags to put over my dry socks, a trick that works. I’m packing fast, to get a bit warmer. I have trouble getting the lock off the bike which is stiffened by the cold.
I’m currently at 3500m. Today the road will go up to 4400m. It’s foggy and there’s nothing to see. If my wet clothes situation is not bringing me down, it’s the continues fog. I know I’m cycling through amazing landscapes, but I can’t see further than 50 meters. It’s highly frustrating. At a small house which sells refreshments I take a break. I have a chat with a woman and her daughter that live here on the pass in small cod house. There are no windows and no electricity. At least during the day, they probably turn it on in the evening to have some lights and turn on a tv, which I’ve often seen in remote settlements. There’s a pig on a rope and a dog with 3 puppies. We’re worlds apart. While in the past 3 weeks I’ve been in Bogota, New York, Lima and more places they’ve been just here on this rainy mountain pass - it made me stop complaining about my wet clothes and cold fingers.
The road is sometimes a mess. There’s a high risk of landslides, flash floods, riverbank erosion and bridge washouts. The small streams coming from the mountains are now roaring rivers of brown water. Roads are sometimes impassable for larger vehicles because of fallen rocks and mud slides. News reports on tourists warn for the dangers and possible delays of travelling through the Andes.
It’s not only misery, there are beautiful moments too. Once the fog rises the mountains show its true colours. Deep red soil, contrasting with green paramo grass. I cherish the dry hours of the day. But it’s not for too long. Before a long downhill it starts to pours down again. I’m wearing socks in plastic bags as gloves, my real gloves were soaking wet already. It’s a long cold downhill, the wind gives me the shivers. I pedal and brake at the same time. A waste of energy but it’s the only way to stay warm. I can hardly see anything. It’s sort of exhilarating. I scream of excitement and pain, as I cruise down the hills. My goal for the day is a hospedaje in Rumichaca, a small road side town. It shouldn’t be far anymore. I pass a toll station, then the town appears. It’s not more than twenty derelict small buildings along the road. One restaurant is also the hospedaje and grocery store. They have a room and the shower is warm.
The night in the hotel gave me new energy. The day starts sunny, which gives me hope. I even cycle shirtless for a part under the warm sun. The fields are green and there are countless herds of alpacas. They stare at me curiously as I pass by. At noon clouds gather again and the pretty views are over. As I slowly incline towards a a 4700m pass it rains continuously. The climbing effort keeps me warm, but not for too long. Above 4300m the rain turns into hail, which hits on my hands and knees. The landscape slowly turns white as I gain altitude. It’s is getting really cold now. I’m looking for shelter, but there is nowhere to hide. No trees, no houses, nothing. I need to move on to stay warm. I put the bike on the side to take a picture and put long trousers on. Then a police car passes with lights on. It stops, and a window opens.
“Are you OK?”
”Could be better..!” Hail still pours down as I fiddle a bit helpless with my long trousers. My knees look dark red and itch from the hail stones. I look at the empty pick up truck. They could give me a ride, but I’m too proud to ask.
“Where are you going?”
”I’m looking for a hospedaje.” I point to the pass and I ask if they know one. The driver looks at his colleague and they share a few words. Then he closes the window and turns the car. Both step out.
Moments later I’m in the back of the police car where it is warm. They give me lift over the pass and drop me off at a hospedaje where I have lunch and warm up. They show me one of the rooms, but it is so small and dirty that I decide to move on. It’s still early in the afternoon and I can do another 30km where there should be another hospedaje. From here it’s only down hill so it should be an easy ride. Meanwhile it hasn’t stopped raining for even a minute. I reach the guesthouse which is at gas station. No vacancies… I end the day setting up the tent again in the rain. This ride goes in the books under ‘worst days of the trip.’
This quote probably describes best why I travel. It’s an addictive urge to encounter the unexpected and new. For me the journey is the goal. I believe that everything you do effects the next thing you do, directly or indirectly. I love to escape civilization and tell stories about it.
On 16 April 2015 I left for a long bicycle trip and arrived in Singapore a year later. I made a book and a film about it called 'One Year on a Bike'. Currently I'm on a new solo adventure from Vancouver to Patagonia. Again, on a bicycle.
When I am not cycling I work as a freelance photographer, filmmaker and designer, usually based in Amsterdam, but more and more I'm anywhere but home.
Maybe see you somewhere around this beautiful globe.
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