after several weeks of high altitude and downhill experience one should have expected the last 300 km to be cycling as usual. but we were fatally wrong. many times our map had served us well, indicating passes and and even minor villages on the way, but what we had not taken into account was that the road might wind itself steadily up to 4500 m without any “pass” being there. and then the headwind issue… in short, the passage from juliaca to arequipa turned out to be the toughest of the whole trip. but let’s focus on the pleasant details!
when we rushed out of juliaca, a commerce town that honestly doesn’t deserve the title “pearl of the altiplano”, the locals warned us once more against crossing a lot of empty grounds on the way. but once more we found the desert-like landscape to be a splendid and calming constrast to the agro-industrial area along the lake titicaca. and once more, on closer inspection the so called pura pampa (“pure desert”) revealed enough populated spots for headwind cyclists to take a break. one of the funkiest tracks of existing population are the brightly colored toilet huts in the middle of nowhere.
2 months of extensive research on the subject have provided us with proof that every peruvian community or valley has their prevailing toilet hut color. same same but different, the ladie’s headgear:
with very few exceptions, peruvian women proudly wear a traditional hat, varying from long top hats to breadbasket-like bonnets or smart casual samples as shown in the picture. also to be seen in the picture, it is very common that women are spinning while walking through the fields and tending their flocks. mostly the wool comes from sheep and…
… camel-related creatures like alpacas. this fine and fluffy animal fills the coffers of wool design shops in the whole anden region and – when the story comes to a mortal end – is served in shape of filet or chicharron (“crackling”). sticking to my principle, i don’t eat cute animals, except in very special places. hermelinda’s small mountain restaurant was definitely one of these.
somewhere on road km 121, high up at 4000 m altitude, doña hermelinda waits for transients to serve them chicharrones de alpaca that come with cooked unpeeled andean potatoes and some roasted corn. the dish was kept warm in a magic basket covered with a wool blanket and tasted simply divine!
not only did hermelinda make our day with her alpaca treat – she insisted on giving us a shining, pretty plastic treasure with a picture of her son bryan and a lot of religious quotes on it. we don’t quite understand on which occasion the thing was issued but we proudly wear it on our front bags and everywhere we passed, people seem to be blown off their feet by its beauty. this was for example the case of doña sixta in the little transit village imata.
when we stopped for a second cake’n’steak breakfast at the small restaurant siulvi, doña sixta and her husband showed very much interest in the technical details of our bike equipment and more than anything else were ravished by all parts of semi-pagan/semi-religious decoration we carry around. like us, they rely on being protected by the bolivian virgin of copacabana, garanteed by various red-yellow-green plastic lampions.
another group of locals that our lucky charm managed to bewitch were the 50 inhabitants of the tiny village crucero alto, located at sensational 4528 m altitude. after a bucolic but none the less quite horrible day of riding at 4000+, uphill and against a storm, we were more than happy to put up our tent inside the former school of crucero alto.
the place was very charming and very turquoise, the people strange but nice. while we found the 5:45 a.m. appearance of our man of confidence to be slapstick but understandable – he bumped into the room shouting “hey gringo, estoy saliendo al campo!” (“hey white guy, i’m off to the field!”) and bumped out again – we were unable to understand why the 20 sqm room was divided in two halves.
we were only entitled to use the half right from the blue line, while the other half staid empty. well. at least the full moon was complete and had no blue line on it.
the question may arise why we didn’t enjoy romantic camping under the full moon and would set up a tent inside a turquoise ex-school with a strange blue line. the answer is easy but difficult to visualize: the famous high plateau we were crossing is haunted by infamous storms and offers very little natural shelter, like these ruins that – after another long day of uphills and downhills with strong headwind – we considered a gift of heaven.
more likely, the ruins may have been a rare gift of peru rail, as they were located right at a railroad crossing. although it was stated in another place that the only means to reach machu picchu across the sacred valley is by railroad, trains are rarely seen in peru, and except the “tourist connection” between cuzco and machu picchu and a rare passenger train between cuzco and puno, there are about 2 or 3 freightliners daily from puno to arequipa.
what a pity indeed: so photogenic but so rare! we had to stop evertime a train was passing – with sparkling eyes and lense.
another reason why we made little progress these days were the countless animals populating the national parc on the way to arequipa. the area is very famous for its bird population. besides large flamingo colonies that give the lakes a pink touch, many vultures make great appearances in the sky and somehow always manage to escape the camera. here we go with one nice shot, but you’d better not ask how often we had to stop in order to get one…
the andean all time cuties are of course our friends, the fluffy vicuñas:
the small herd in the picture has chosen a fine setting to pose: the national parc plateau is limited on one side by the volcano mt. misti and the impressive mountain range of mt. chachani. rising at the horizon with its 6075 m like an unsurmountable wall, chachani had bewitched sebastian to an extent that until we stood at the summit there was little talk about anything else. [more about the chachani challenge in the next article]
mt. chachani is maybe the most splendid herald of arequipa, located on the other side of the mountain range. but until we could enjoy the pura bajada (“downhill only”) that had been predicted by locals many miles ago we still had to surmount a few challenges. of course the last 2 months have tought me not to believe people if they use the word pura (“only/pure”). there is no such thing as “desert only” or “downhill only”. but somehow i took the bait and believed the nice restaurant keeper who was swearing repeatedly that it was only “una pequeñita subidita mas” (“one more minuscule little uphill part”). well, at the latest since the fourtyseventhandahalf steep uphill section after this prediction i know how to translate the wording of a latino car driver…