WEEK #81 HOW ARE WE DOING? Fried chicken, papas y lluvia…

The early morning sun was shining as I left Cusco. It felt good to warm up so early. The main square, “Plaza de Armas”, was already cleaned up when I cycled over it. That surprised me, as the Christmas party on the night of the 24th went on till the early morning hours. The market was gone, the streets were clean as if nothing had ever happened and the first people were walking around, also enjoying the morning sun. It was a good day to ride a bicycle…
The next 5 or 6 days would bring me to the next country, Bolivia. About 700km of road awaited, no major climbing anymore, just one more “hill” to cross and I would be on the Altiplano. As I was cycling through the last part of Cusco I started thinking what I had seen, felt and done. The project I visited, Manos Unidas, had really impressed me. There was bit of bad timing though, the Christmas holidays had just started and, unfortunately, I only had two days to visit and see what their foundation was all about. This is enough for now though, I know what I am going to do and I have good contact with the project owner. Skype dates have been made and very soon I will be able to show and tell you how 99%RIDE is going to contribute to this foundation.

Another thing I think about when leaving a town or city, is what lies ahead of me. Everyday is different and always a pleasure to experience, well, not always, and a joy to meet the people along the way, the scenic views, the food and the small towns that aren’t on the map.
Where will I sleep tonight? Will I find a good spot to set-up camp? What will I eat, wait, that’s easy… Rice, pasta or chicken. What will the weather be like? Will I meet other cyclists? Will I see a lot of wild animals. No bears in this region, just Alpacas and llamas…
As the day passed I felt happiness come over me. All was good at the moment, my family was enjoying Christmas, I had the opportunity to quickly Skype with them, supporters of 99%RIDE had e-mailed, donated and showed their support in their own way and there was a lot of love in the air… Even though I would be alone on the bicycle during Christmas, I didn’t feel alone at all. The people in the small towns I passed were friendly, wishing me “Feliz Navidad” and waving as I cycled by.
Of course there had to be a dog chase. Two fairly large beasts surprised me as their barking became louder than Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, which was pumping through my headphones. As I started to sprint (which isn’t fun at an altitude of 3900m) I turned back and saw a young boy on a bicycle behind me. He too, had a bit of fear in his eyes as the dogs kept on running, longer than usual this time. After a few seconds, which felt like minutes to me, I could hear the music again “… No I won’t back down…” Yes indeed, I won’t back down. Dirk: 1, dogs: 0.
The young boy came next to me, also out of breath. His name was Jhon (spelled this way in Peru) and was a local from a nearby town. He was a dedicated cyclist on the worst bike I had seen in months, yet he was pushing it forward as if he was in a professional team. With only 3 of the 24 speeds left, I was impressed by his strength!
I noticed he had no water with him and offered him one of my bottles. Without hesitation he started gulping down the water like a thirsty walrus. After that I thought he might be hungry and offered him one of my granola bars, which disappeared even quicker than the water. After an hour or so we parted our ways. It was good to have a cycling buddy again, even if it was for such a short period of time.
Another hour passed and the distant mountains were turning darker from the clouds above. A storm was coming, yet I hadn’t reached my destination yet. Pedal harder, faster and get going before the rain comes. Too late. Rain, headwind and eventually hail came thrashing down on me. Two hours of cold suffering before I reached the town I had marked as my stop; Sicuani. And what a town it was. Desolate, grey, empty and worst of all, everything was closed. After riding in circles through the streets I found one place that was open. And they served the one meal I wasn’t looking forward to; pollo con papas. Fried chicken and fries. Sloppy mayonaise to top it up, what a meal. But hey, take what you can and never, ever be disrespectful for you can get. And after all, it was Christmas!

The next day would take me to one of the more beautiful parts of Peru, which was first fairly unknown to me. A slight uphill of 40km would take me back to 4400m elevation, the last “high point” of Peru before entering Bolivia. Along the way the mountains were green, the sun was bright and rivers were flowing. Snow-topped mountains in the distance put a smile on my face, as did the road, which was going down for the next 100km or so. Peru has really gotten to me, the ugly, the beautiful, the highs and the lows. It’s been the toughest country to cycle through so far.

Another few hours and I passed the next destination, Pukara, a small town about 100km from Puno, the larger city by Lake Titicaca, which I would reach the next day after a very hard time on the bicycle. Camping in temperatures below freezing point and high altitudes have given me the first real “cold” or mild fever I’ve had since I left Alaska, just over 15  months and 24,000km ago. After every 10km I had to get off the bicycle and take a 5 minute rest, I’ve never taken so long over such a ride before… Pain in my arms, legs and burning lungs. I know pain, this is different though, and it doesn’t feel right.IMG_3971

The timing is actually quite good, as I enter La Paz, Bolivia, I have almost two weeks “off” to rest and wait until the next project starts up again after the holiday brake. A good moment to gain back strength (weight perhaps?) and fully enjoy some of the beautiful things in life… 😉

From Puno, Peru,

Dirk Spits

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