This next section of the journey was extremely varied: from dry cacti ridden landscapes to jungles with bandits and colonial cities. I stared down the barrel of a gun and we left town to the sound of gunshots, but I’ll get to that later….
After Huancayo we climbed up and then dropped down into the Mantaro valley.
Sometimes the other traffic on the road would wander into our lane.
We spent a great night in the town of Izcuchaca. The hostel we stayed in was one of the nicest we have stayed in so far. Our room had a balcony that overlooked the old colonial bridge across the rio Mantaro. As well as having a pretty view, it meant we could easily get out the stove and cater for ourselves.
We also had a view of the owner’s guinea pigs. I don’t think they were being bred as pets…
We followed the river down the valley, which gradually became drier and rockier…
… with lots of cacti.
Further down the road we bumped into the Ayacucho Cycling Team, who were happy to pose for a photo.
We spent a couple of days in Ayacucho, a very pretty colonial city. It was time for a rest day and, unfortunately, both of us were suffering from dodgy stomachs. The town had some interesting architecture and some good cafes offering proper coffee. It was with reluctance that we dragged ourselves away from there.
Whilst in Ayacucho we had to make a decision on which route to take to Cusco. There is a paved road that heads there, however, it is a busy road and has several mountain passes to cross. We had discovered on a government highways department map that there was an alternative route that went northwards, however, it wasn’t on any of the maps we had or could find. We downloaded the government map and decided to head that way as it was likely to be quiet dirt roads through the jungle. We were keen to experience a different type of landscape and we are always keen to seek out the roads less travelled. However, there was this niggling thought at the back of our minds as to why this road didn’t feature on any maps – why were the government keeping it secret?
We climbed up and over to Tambo and into the final day of a 20 day fiesta. We found ourselves drinking beer, eating food and dancing to a band when we really just wanted to be tucked up in bed. Leaving town in the morning, picking our way through the aftermath of the fiesta we, unfortunately, discovered that the next section of road was undergoing some major roadworks and was closed for periods of the day and sometimes all day. We did not relish the prospect of being under pressure to pedal within road closure deadlines and the amount of work machinery on the road was alarming to anyone on two wheels. Whilst pondering this dilemma we fell into conversation with other motorists awaiting the road to open and organised a lift through the roadworks. So, the bikes, our luggage and us were squeezed into the back of a pick up (alongside chickens and sacks of potatoes) to endure the most terrifying and uncomfortable 4 hours of the trip so far.
The road is only open for a few hours at a time and the volume of traffic needing to get through within that window is quite large. Thus ensues a ‘wacky races’ style of driving along precarious mountain dirt roads. I closed my eyes and thought happy thoughts, Badge managed to brave a photograph.
We were pleased to reach San Francisco / Kimbiri safely, if somewhat bruised and covered in dust. Dropping down to these towns we had entered the jungle and the vegetation and animal sounds changed dramatically from what we had encountered so far in Peru.
After leaving Kimbiri we turned onto our road that’s not on a map and went through a military checkpoint. Their presence made us ponder on what we would find along this route, however, they were very friendly and thought it was a super idea that we were cycling around Peru. We decided it was a prudent move to make friends with the good guys with guns and they were delighted to pose for a photo.
It was hot and humid. We were excited to see the bananas, coconuts, pineapples and avocados growing around us.
We stopped for a drink in a village and were immediately surrounded by a group of young boys. My fears became reality and I turned to discover a gun pointed into my face. Luckily it was a toy gun and it was soon pointed elsewhere. The boys were buying fireworks and letting them off outside the shop. It was an eye opener to see 8 years old being sold fireworks and matches and then being allowed to ‘play’ with them. They were curious and soon engaged us in conversation. Their excitement at meeting ‘gringos’ resulted in us leaving the village with them chasing behind throwing bangers in our direction, which sounded just like gun shots. Quite a send off.
We knew we had to be careful when choosing where to stay the night on this section of road and to make sure we were out of sight. There weren’t any options for hostels/hotels so camp spots had to be considered well. The jungle is not easy for camping so our best option was in or behind abandoned buildings. These proved to be excellent camping spots but you did wonder why they were abandoned….
We climbed up and up and then over into the valleys heading towards the Machu Picchu area.
At the top there was another military checkpoint. The friendly soldiers there explained to us that this was a new road, only 5 years old, which was why it wasn’t on any map. They were curious how we had found it but delighted we had. It is going to be marketed as an alternative gateway to Machu Picchu and they hadn’t seen any gringos through here before. This explanation cleared up some of our questions and we set off feeling excited about our quiet back route in.
About 10 k down the road we met a car coming the other way that told us there was an armed robber on the road further down at kilometre 40. This changed our mood and we stopped to ponder on what we should do. We repacked our panniers putting cards and cash in hidden separate places. Memory cards were taken out of the cameras and hidden so we don’t have any photos of the next section of the road. We decided to carry on as there wasn’t really any alternative. As kilometre 40 approached the stress levels increased and a million scenarios raced through my mind. And then……. before we could register it…. kilometre 40 was passed and we were pedaling through the 30s without incident. Later along the road we met a lovely lady, who gave us a papaya, but warned us about armed robbers on the road at night and told us we must not be visible at night. She explained that the houses we had been camping in were abandoned due to terrorism. We were pleased to reach Kiteni and a hostel for the night.
The following day we chose to take a bus for the next 120k to Quillabamba. Our stomach troubles had resurfaced and we were keen to get into safer territory. We are now enjoying a rest day in Quillabamba, a great jungle outpost with a profusion of delicious fruit on offer. Antibiotics have been found and recovery is beginning. It has been an interesting and challenging route to get here but the scenery and experiences have been rewarding. As ever, all the people we have encountered have been friendly and nice. We are now researching different options for visiting Machu Picchu, but first we are going to visit a coffee farm.