Sunday, 24 May 2015

Ayacucho to Tarma

We enjoyed a relaxed morning in this very nice city (of Peruvian standards).  It has many churches and beautiful old buildings similar to Cuzco but without the hassling from tourism operators and manic traffic.

We had a coffee and lemon meringe pie at the town square while we treated our Brooks saddles to a clean and polish from the shoe shiner !!!

We dragged ourselves away from the icecream and coffee shops around 10am and headed towards Mayocc 79kms away.  We weren´t certain we were going to make it all the way but the roads were kind and we both felt great after our restful morning. 
Just out of town we stopped off at the Pikimachay caves.  We  enjoyed a short but steep walk up to them.  We initially thought they were South Americans largest cave system but soon saw that we must have misread the name.

Our view from  the caves
  Along the way we finally caught up to the French cyclists on a tandem bike - we had heard from our hostel owner a few days before as well as some German cyclists we had met.  It was fun communicating in 3 languages(English, French  and Spanish) to discuss where we had been- were going  etc.

The countryside was very different from what we had experienced... very hot and dry with heaps of cacti 

How do things like this ever happen???
As we were biking out of Huanta (on the less direct route) we were flagged down by a car load of  locals from Lima who desperately wanted to have their photo taken with us.  Initially we weren´t going to be stopped because we were anxious about getting to our destination but  something made us pull over.  They were very impressed and interested in our trip and before we said our goodbyes they asked us why we were heading the way we were.  They soon redirected us down to an incredible brand new road with lots of downhills and NO TRAFFIC as it was not yet open to cars! whoop whoop

Needless to say we rolled into Mayocc by 4pm and  checked into a very cute little hostel before the heavens opened - rain, thunder and lightening.   Boy were we happy to be warm and dry.  Our hearts did go out to the poor Frenchies out there somewhere.

The rain was all cleared the following morning and we followed a big river through an amazing valley all day. It was the Mantaro valley.  We had amazing views and the locals were incredibly friendly.

Check out this garage!

Incredible views all day
Lunch spot - enjoying a strange but delicious fruit sold to us by a cute little lady outside her house.

A common sight - donkeys, cows, sheep or goats being walked along the road by a lady to their grazing spots.  Almost always with a rope around their necks or legs.

After seeing Trout on the menu at every Peruvian restaurant and never seeing anyone fishing we finally saw a Trout farm.  Even though it was only 10am we  couldn´t resist taking a break and having an early lunch

We  dropped down into the farmlands of Huancayo after a reasonable pass of 3900m   - back to the madness of traffic and locals screaming at us as we rode passed  ¨Gringos¨

The beautiful colours of Quinoa fields
We found our first Peruvian mall....and supermarket in Huancayo.  Wow, it was flash and huge.  We enjoyed stocking up on a few things and treated ourselves to a fresh salad and roasted chicken -and even had left overs for lunch the next day.
 We left Huancayo early the next morning amongst the tooty, smokey, crazy horrible traffic.  The city traffic seemed to go on forever and finally after 20km we had had enough. We pulled over  for a snack and talked about  hitching to our turnoff  10 or so km down the road.  It just wasn´t enjoyable  riding.  The next car to come passed was a near new shiny white ute.  It pulled over straight away and were more than happy to take us.  Not only could they speak english but they were very interesting to talk to and told us all about their exporting business of Maca - a local root vegetable very similar looking to Beetroot but is a high energy supplement.   

The road after the turn off was extremely  quiet and pleasant. We were so thankful to be out of the chaos once again.  
We enjoyed the climb up to 4160m and really enjoyed the undulating road along the tops as it wasn´t that cold and the views were stunning.  The police stopped to ask if we were  okay - they seemed surprised to see us up there  amongst the Vicunias.

We had the most incredible downhill into Tarma.  The downhill skateboarding champs are held on this road.  Winding switchbacks that went on for about 30kms were absolute bliss.  Tarma itself was also very attractive to cycle into. Incredible terracing and plenty of green. 

After looking at about 6 hostels we went back to the first one.  We decided to flag wifi and go for friendly staff and good bike access....and cheap.

Tarma is located close to the Peruvian jungle and because  Brazil was not on our list for this trip we thought it would be a good opportunity to take a rest day and jump on a tour to the Jungle!  

This tour really was good for us ...1, to experience the extreme heat and humidity of the jungle without having to ride through it and 2 ... to remind us why we don´t take tours.... and 3 to have a day off our bike seats.

Our 12 hour day tour took us down down down to just 620m from 3050m  and we also went to the centre of  Peru !
We visited the Chanchamayo and Perene Valleys
The Chanchamayo Valley is the Coffee producing capital of Peru.              
We visited an Organic coffee factory

Mmmmh it smells so good

 The different stages of Bean roasting
 Another womans figure  to spot
This one is called El Nativo Dormido
 We were quite interested in the different wildlife we would see in the Jungle.  A monkey tied to a chair didn´t really do it for us but all the same - we saw a monkey!

Finally it was warm enough to swim!!!!! We had been waiting for this moment  our whole trip! For two people who don´t really enjoy the cold - we have spent an awful lot of time being cold.

 Bamboo - amazing colour
 Pineapple growing!  We saw hundreds of pineapple boxed up on the side of the road or piled high in the road stalls - but the downside of being on a tour  meant we couldn´t stop whenever we wanted to.
 Another waterfall

Our visit to an Ashaninka tribal village.  
Sometimes you do things you don´t really want to... like dressing up and having to dance around a fire!

 Another spotting of Jungle wildlife...not.  You could pay 5 Soles to have a photo of this parrot on your shoulder!
At 10:45pm we got back to Tarma.  An exhausting rest day but very enjoyable all the same.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Cusco to Machu Picchu under our own steam

Cusco is a nice enough city with beautiful buildings, gardens and rich history.  But the busy streets, tooting horns, roundabouts and many people overwelmed us a bit.  We were constantly hassled by  people selling tours, food, clothes.. you name it.  We just are not city people.  We did however join a free walking tour... but as we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch - and at the end we were hit up for a hefty tip.

We did however enjoy what comes with a big touristy town.  Reasonable coffee and a lovely dinner out but...after a day we were glad to be leaving.

The following day we rode up and out of Cuzco seeing sights most tourists don´t.

 We were amazed and disgusted at the amount of rubbish on the roadsides.  Dogs and people rummaged through it - quite sad really.
We weren´t disappointed we missed the festival where you could enjoy eating guinea pig!

We enjoyed a long downhill before we found the gravel road that took us through to Ollantaytambo.  It was closed for roadworks due to slips but these were easily passed and the roadworkers happily let us through.  It was a beautiful road through a big vallley.

We arrived Ollantaytambo about 2pm and had the most amazing coffee - the best yet in South America.  It set us up to go exploring the many Inca ruins in the hills above the town.  
We weren´t expecting much of this town but it ended up being one of our favourites.  Quiet cobbled cute streets with friendly locals often in traditional dress.  We enjoyed walking the streets and felt so relaxed there

Ready for delivery!

Can you see the Hummingbird?  Beautiful

An original Inca door

At the crack of dawn we were on the road and heading up the 2000m climb up to Abra Malaga at 4800m.  An amazing climb up gentle gradients and so many switchbacks.  We saw ladies carrying potatoes, lots of dogs and farms on very steep hillsides.  They really work hard here.

As we approached the summit, the cloud and rain rolled in and we put on our layers.  For the first 1000m descent we couldn´t see anything other than cloud and froze as we zoomed down the mountain.  As we descended the weather cleared, reavealing a beautiful tropical valley below us.  We passed several groups of MTB tours who were on full suspension bikes and wore full body armour.  They get dropped off at the top and enjoy the 3hr downhill.  It felt pretty amazing sitting on our steel framed bikes layden with gear, flying down the hill without even pedaling.  Unfortunately the downhill came to an end at Santa Maria and we had a hard climb up the gravel road to Santa Theresa.  It was a beautiful ride but we were a little concerned we wouldn´t make it before dark. Thankfully we rounded a corner and there she was.  We promptly checked into a nice Hostel.  It had been a great but long 154km over a big pass

We spent a few hours the next morning cleaning the bikes, fixing a puncture and tightening up the gears.  We headed off up the road to Hydro Electrica - it was hot and dusty but for some reason we were determined to walk and ignored the passing taxis

Bags of bananas ready for pickup

We joined the railway track and walked 2hours up to the base camp for Machu Picchu - Aguas Calientes.  It was tropical.

We paid our 50USD entrance fee to Machu Picchu and then found a reasonable hostel.  We went out for some traditional Peruvian food and were sorely disappointed.  It seems the locals in this town are only out to rip off tourist.  We had an early night before the alarm went off at 4am.  We wanted to be early to the entrance gate that opened at 5am.  We were not alone, but found ourselves about 20th in the queue.  We were let through these gates and walked up the steep stone steps to the next entrance gates that opened at 6am.  As expected we put the hammer down and were first through the gates at 6am.  It was so nice to see the sun rise, the fog lift and have the place almost to ourselves.

We spent the morning exploring the full extent of the ruins. We were both surprised at how big it was and didn´t want to miss out on anything.  

 We were pleased we made the effort to climb up and around to see the Inca Bridge. OMG, you had to see it to believe it.   
We had also purchased a ticket to climb Machu Picchu Mountain to see the ruins from high above.  It was a very hot and tiring climb but it was Incaredible!
As we do... we skipped and laughed our way down again and our calves paid for it for the next few days.

By the time we got back down to the main area, the crowds had arrived and the place was heaving with American tourists... time to leave.  We walked back into town to get our bag and reluctantly walked back down the railway to Santa Theresa.  We had intended to take the train, but at 88Soles when the locals pay 5Soles, we couldn´t bring ourselves to pay.

We enjoyed another night in Santa Theresa before heading off on the gravel road back to Santa Maria.  We had a few unexpected surprises on the road out ....not all pleasant!

We decided to take a local taxi back up the 3000m climb to Abra Malaga and were looking forward to the downhill on the other side... but it was pouring with rain at the top and our driver convinced us to stay in the taxi until Ollantaytambo.

What a great few days we had had.  A highlight of our trip.