Saif & Zoe
Oh my, what a day. My best day yet on my trip I think. Well, we had planned to go mountain biking, we being a great group that I had met the day before. There was Sadhbh (pronounced “Saif”) from Dublin, Zoe from Reading, England, Barney from London and Stefania from Zurich, Switzerland. We had planned it the night before and Coqui at the hostel arranged everything for the day, bikes, helmets, transportation. Little did we know how wrong so many things would go (but not necessarily ended badly).
We cycled over to the local bus to load up our bikes. Coqui briefed us on how things would go and then left. The bus driver already had many things piled on top of the bus, furniture, baggage, a mattress, and we wondered how our bikes were going to fit.
Stefania, Coqui & Barney
We were the only gringos on the bus and the locals smiled and joked among themselves about us, but they were very friendly, except for the woman that got angry when Sadhbh wanted to take her picture. She demanded that Sadhbh pay her bus far if she took a picture, and when Sadhbh declined she began muttering angrily, but that was only one among many smiling, laughing faces. They were enchanted by us. There were some young boys on the bus that were deadly serious and apparently very shy. They stared at us with their huge brown eyes the whole time, not blinking at all. Zoe was up front sitting on some sacks of sugar, Barney and Sadhbh had the front seat and Stefania and I were in the very back.
The trip out of town went fine and we began ascending the hill when suddenly we stopped.
Bike cart that fell off truck
After some time we asked what was happening. There was an impasse and we couldn’t get by several trucks coming down the narrow road. The driver got out as well as several other people and the negotiation and talking began. After what seemed like a very long time, the complicated maneuvering to let the trucks by started. We backed up to a point in the road that was a bit wider and the trucks started to pass. Then the whole thing stalled and we still sat there. In the end, the procedure was complete and we moved ahead. But not to go very far because not too far ahead we stopped again. What now? A small bridge over a stream was being reconstructed and when we got out to look, it became immediately apparent that it was work that would take several hours.
Sheep on the main street
The workmen had excavated the dirt and were replacing the wooden poles that were the support. We held a pow-wow to decide what to do. There were three options. Wait for the work to end and then go up, eat lunch there and see how long the work would take, cycle down from that low point, or carry our bikes past to the other side and either walk and bike up to the top of the mountain or hitch another ride. We had no idea that the top was 30 km from Huaraz
and that we were hardly a couple kilometers along as we started up the road. A pickup truck loaded up our bikes and we jammed in transport #2 of the day. The driver stopped a ways up the road and we got out to start along again.
Loading up the bus
I fell in next to a workman and we talked for awhile. He told me that we were many kilometers from the top so when another mini-bus came along, we flagged it down and hopped on transport #3. In fact, as we drove along, we realized how far we would have needed to go to get to the top. It would have taken all day to go uphill the 20 miles! As we got nearer the top, the landscape became bleaker and more windswept and when we finally got off, we had to put our fleeces on to protect from the cold and flurries of snow. It was time to start downhill, mostly to get out of the cold and wind of the summit, but not before we took some photos.
We had barely started when Barney and I stopped to wait for the girls and they didn’t arrive.
We waited and then started pushing our bikes back up to see what might be wrong. Sadhbh had taken a fall. Her knee was bleeding and her leg and hands were cut up. She had bandaged the cuts and I gave her some ibuprofen to stop the aching and we started down again, this time agreeing to keep an eye on each other and periodically for the stragglers to catch up. In the meantime, while waiting for the girls to arrive, I had stopped to take some pictures of a herd of sheep and a young boy carrying a lamb up the hill. When he saw me and my camera out he put down the lamb and picked up a large rock and demanded 3 soles or he would throw it at me. I started talking to him and got him to lower the rock. I gave him 10 cents and talked to him some more.
Loading the bus
In the end I got a few pictures, but not the ones I wanted. When Barney and I biked up to find out what happened to the girls I heard a small rock roll up to my bike. It was the little bandit throwing stones after me after all!
So we began our ascent, not going as fast as we wanted because of Sadhbh’s injury and Zoe’s slow pace because she was afraid of falling and breaking her expensive prescription eyeglasses. But it was still a great ride and I kept stopping to take photos of the stupendous views and mountain life. I saw a man shouldering a huge bundle of hay, sheep and cows grazing, campesinos threshing wheat, little kids playing, adobe houses in construction and adobe bricks drying, construction work on the road, and much more.
Stefania on the bus
It was a wonderful ride. Sadhbh was going to get a ride down because her leg hurt but as we kept going and no bus came down the hill, she decided to keep going. It was interesting to see the terrain and flora change as we got lower and lower. By the last bit, where we had first stopped in the morning, it was a tropical landscape with palm trees, agave plants, and many more houses. Such a contrast from the top of the mountain 20 miles up! We cycled past semi-domesticated dogs that ran and nipped at our heels, and past many more waving and greeting villagers, especially delighted children who tried to practice their English as we passed saying “Hello” or “Good Afternoon” with charming accents.
Storm clouds were on the horizon further up the valley and we were trying to beat them to the hostel.
Zoe on the sack of sugar
Already the sky was getting darker and drops of rain began to fall. But we did make it, and I even challenged a young boy on his bike to a race to the front door.
That wasn’t the end of our day. I went into town to buy some whiskey that Sadhbh and I wanted and by then it was really raining, but it felt good to feel the dust wash off my hair and face and arms. I got a nice hot shower and saw the dirt in the bottom of the tub accumulate. We were filthy! How great that shower felt. We had a nip of whiskey and began playing scrable in the common room and then realized that we were starving so we put the game on hold and walked together to a warm homey restaurant for a nice meal of wine, salads and pasta and pizza.
Zoe on the bus
By the end of the meal we were all feeling like bed was in order but Barney insisted that we try the coffee at an ex-pat place that he said had great chocolate cake too. It was true, the coffee was wonderful and the chocolate cake was so moist and chocolately. The apple pie and banana bread didn’t measure up though, the former being bland and the latter being hard, but it didn’t matter, we were happy. At that point we really should have headed home, but the conversation was really nice and we decided to go clubbing for at least a little bit. I got a recommendation from the waitress and we walked around the block to Zero Drama bar, a little hole in the wall with great atmosphere. Barney struck up a game of poker and I went down the street to find some candy to use as chips.
Except for the rude Americans who kept shoving into Zoe as they went past to get to the bathroom, it was great. Finally we had to say something to the guys after the third time that they just pushed her to the side to get past. Hard to believe that some people are so clueless as to not say “excuse me”.
I wanted to dance and we went next door to the Tamba bar to dance. The music was a bit of everything and included the usual cheesy international dance tunes in addition to the de rigeur Latino soundtrack. I loved it though and began talking to a very pretty girl who seemed to be alone at the bar. It turned out that she is from Lima
and studying Law and is the niece of the owner of the bar.
She was there with her cousins but they were off with their girlfriends and she looked somewhat abandoned. We danced some merengues and she was very animated and a great dancer. My favorite, Juan Luis Guerra, came on, a medley of his songs and that was icing on the cake for me. I danced and sang and we had a great time. She told me that she would be there tomorrow, but I was hesitant because she was only 18 years old. But it didn’t hurt to talk and dance and flirt so I didn’t feel bad. It was a fantastic night. Stefania was also a good dancer. She had learned in Ecuador and loved the music and dancing equally as I did. The group of us finally headed home at 2 am after a very long and very rich day!