WEEK #75 HOW ARE WE DOING? Mud, border crossing & more dog chases.

Cycling from Ecuador to Peru. If you don’t do your homework you’re in for a surprise.

It was 06:30 in the morning when I started to pedal out of Vilcabamba, the nice and quiet hippy-town in southern Ecuador. A few nice climbs were waiting for me. Destination? Not yet known, I would see how far I would get, how I would feel and then decide to set-up camp.

IMG_2141If you don’t know that the last kilometers of roads through Ecuador are unpaved you’re in trouble. The roads up the mountains are steep and rough. There isn’t a soul around and if it rains you have to be prepared to start backtracking through the mud to another road, landslides are fairly common here, and with a little bit of rain it’s triggered. Yet the Ecuadorians are working hard on paving the road, and the parts that are finished are only open for cyclists. Yes, that means you have the road to yourself!

The day I left Vilcabamba and made it to Zumba, the town about 25km before the border with Peru, I felt I was in very good shape. Sometimes you just “find” strength in your legs again and have the energy to get over those last couple of mountains, determined to reach your newly set goal. Though I have to be prepared for more brutal mountains and roads, as Spanish cyclist Francisco, who I met in border town Zumba, told me. He was cycling the opposite direction and gave me few tips which roads I should take and which ones I should stay away from.

One thing is true though; when cycling down the coast of Peru it’s easy and boring. When going through the mountains, it’s rough yet scenic. When planning my route I decided to do it 50/50. A little bit of coast and a bit of the Andes, the best of both worlds. The Peruvians have the roads pretty well figured out; when cycling through the Andes you can always “escape” on one of the many side roads leading you down, literally, back to the coast.
Crossing a border is always a bit exciting. Yet what I read about the crossing between Ecuador and Peru at La Balsa was true; it is the quietest crossing I’ve encountered so far. So quiet I even had to wait an hour for the Peruvian official to stamp my passport. He had overslept and arrived just after noon on his motorcycle, apologising immediately while unlocking the door to the office.

After receiving the 12th stamp in my passport and a “Buen viaje” from the tired looking border official, I quickly made my way to the fresh pavement, a real treat after having crossed countless mountains with dirt, mud and rocks.
After a long climb I was rewarded with a nice descent into San Ignacio, a town I left early in the morning, my goal was to make it to Bagua Grande, 175 kilometres down the road. Tired yet fulfilled I ate what I could, enjoying the low prices of all the local foods in Peru. The next day would gradually take me uphill, from an elevation of 400 meters to 2300 meters. One long ascent spread out over 100 kilometers…

Thankfully the dogs were there to cheer me on. After only 5 minutes of cycling the first dog chase had been a fact, and it promised many more for the following hours. Every half hour dogs were barking, running after me and sometimes slowing me down by biting into my bags. Nothing really new, but never fun taking sprints so often on a fully loaded bicycle.

IMG_2097The day ended with a steep uphill to Chachapoyas, another quiet town in the Peruvian Andes, the place to rest my legs (and body) after 4 days of cycling climbing in the mountains. I had seen rain, heat, cold and strong headwinds, this was cycling at its best again, and a good challenge to take on for the next few weeks.

Next will be the coast, Trujillo to be exact. First there’s another couple of mountains to cross, after that I want to cycle to Huaraz, one of the highest points in the Andes and then follow the road slowly back to the coast to Lima. Will it work out the way I want it to? Probably not, the weather changes a lot, the roads will go from paved to unpaved and I want to make it down to Cusco in a certain amount of time to visit the next project; Manos Unidas. I’m really looking forward to meeting the people at this remarkable project, but more about that later!

For now I will call it a day. Tomorrow the alarm clock goes at 05:00 a.m., telling me to get dressed, get on the bike and start pedalling. There’s going to be a rough few days coming up, but then again, nobody said it was going to be easy.

From Chachapoyas, Peru,

Dirk Spits

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