(August 10 – written by Dave)
Today was the first of 4 days in a row with passes reaching close to 14,000 feet. Not the most idea conditions for Nancy and I to be less than 100% but you do what you have to do. The ride from Ayacucho to Cusco actually has five of these passes but I kind of missed one the other day when I was in the taxi. I’m sure it will be some time before I live that down.
We left the hotel just before 8AM and headed out to finish the last 24k of the 49k climb that we did half of yesterday. There was snow on top of the mountains near town, and I’m certain that we rode much higher than those mountains by the top of the pass. The climb was not too bad with steep bits mostly at the start and gradual easing of the grade all the way to the top. The only person in our four person possie who was not feeling slightly ill was Tine but she rode our pace all the way to the top.
Unfortunately, Philipp has a bit of a head cold and runny nose. He had to stop multiple times to blow his nose into a tissue. This all kind of strange for Nancy and I as we just hack out our noses on the ground like a middle linebacker coming off the field after a tough defensive stand (centre forward for our Aussie friends). This probably doesn’t sound very polite for people who know us and our normally proper dispositions. Well, you can only carry so many tissues and stopping to get one out is time consuming. Early on in our cycling days we figured out that hacking really was the most efficient way to deal with a runny nose. In fact, they first time Nancy did it riding in front of me, we were not yet married but I knew that I had my dream girl (Senior editor’s comment – okay, a bit too much information…).
Other than runny nose mussing thoughts, we all just put our heads down and ground our way up the pass. When we reached what we thought was the top, we had a couple downhills, followed by false flats and little uphills, just to make sure that we earned the summit properly. As we neared the 14,000 summit, we started to see snowmen – right about where Alee from Melbourne said that we would have snow. The snowmen were clearly built a few days ago when there was a lot more snow, now they were looking a bit sad and dishevelled. It was surprising how many of them we saw – it would appear that either they don’t get snow often here or Peruvians are keen snowman builders.
At the top we stopped just out of the wind and put on most of our warm clothes. We shared our chocolate panatone cake that Nancy and I picked up the day before in Uripa. It would have been nice to have a coffee as well but we were all getting just a wee bit chilled so we headed down the mountain. We had roughly 50k of downhill on a fairly smooth roads – if not for the chill in the air, it would have been fantastic. There was a headwind that slowed us but if anything, this just saved the brakes a little bit. At one point we had to pass a slow moving van – it’s always fun passing a car on the downhill.
When we reached the bottom we stopped to strip off all the warm layers and to do a map check. We only had an additional 4k to ride from there. At the servo where we stopped, I found the ultimate bike-packing bicycle for me that I think even Hanna and Mark (our bike-packing friends) would approve of. It was super light and even had mostly working brakes. Unfortunately the chap (6 year old Juan) didn’t seem overly interested in talking to me or trading bikes, so onward I trudged with heavy bike for the last 4k.
We eventually found the Plaza de Armas and our intended hotel stop. Nearly every town in South America has a Plaza de Armas – or “Weapons Square” in direct translation, “Parade Square” in a more meaningful translation. We try picking hotels near the plaza as there are often restaurants and the main town market nearby. In small towns, everything is nearby. In cities, sometimes there are malls out of town but there is still a buzz at the main plaza.
Anyway, today we quickly located the Hotel El Eden and decided to take a room. All of their reviews said that they had great hot water and ok WiFi. The water was stunning (once I helped Nancy get the knob turned the right way – she was tired). The WiFi is what I call a matador WiFi – that is, sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. So for the later, we are tethering our phone. Oh well, the bed is nice and there is a fancy toilet (with seat). Overall, it’s about 10 times better than the last couple nights.
We have a really long day tomorrow that starts with a breezy 37k climb back up to 14,000 feet. We’ll be up early and have the bikes packed so that we can have the 7AM brekkie that the hotel provides and hit the road. We’ve already changed our booking in Cusco by moving it out a few days – this section of Peru is hard – but at least most of the grades are gentler than we found in Ecuador and Colombia. Onward and upwards.