In a world increasingly preoccupied with throwaway materialistic things; where people are constantly busy earning money to pay for those things, or so their children can have those things;
This is the story of my dreams of travelling the world by bicycle. Because it's there. And because I dont want to die without experiencing the truly important things in life .

A sense of wonder and a sense of adventure.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Santa Cruz, You Gem!

So I have been further punished by the Bolivian roading network since my last blog. After a pleasant day in Sucre to have a look around and recover as best as I could, I set off on a route that I felt would give me the easiest way towards Santa Cruz (a large modern town between the Capital city and the Eastern border with Brazil). Actually when tourist info describes towns as modern you know the rest of the countryside is pretty run down or has never run up so to speak.
Breakfast with the Locals.

Two options presented themselves to get to Santa Cruz. The first headed directly north towards another large town Cochabamba and then East. The Second headed more Easterly to start with but had fewer towns along route. After looking at Google Earth from my Hotel in Sucre I decided to go with the first option thinking that I deserved a couple easier days. O’ and that’s right the road is supposed to be going down. Payback time for climbing the Andes.

The road climbed out of Sucre and then plunged down and down into a gently sloping valley for the first 90km of a 140km day. Great I thought this is the story. Road workers were everywhere clearing up after the flooding following the wet season. The road now had turned to concrete and the workers were diligently sweeping the dust off it with leafy branches. Incidentally the road workers all get to work on their bicycles and they are an interesting sight all parked along the road ready to take the workers home again after their shift for the day. Other than this you see no recreation cyclists or weekend warriors as we have back home.
Look Smooth to You?. I Assure You it Wasn't.

Ok I should have known something was amiss by the lack of traffic and the fact that every time I get a bit of easy cycling I get punished shortly after. Today was no exception. At the 93km mark the road went over a bridge and suddenly turned into a rough rock strewn dirt track. I thought road works, no problem the seal will be back soon. Fifty kilometres later as I just dragged myself and my bike into my destination for the night in the dark I was resigned to the fact that the seal was gone for good. The hostal man confirmed that the next day of 100kms was all on dirt. (This is not just a dirt road but a dirt road resembling the sort of track you get to the face of a landfill. Rough compacted earth with all sorts of uneven rocks and crap in it).

The next day I could barely make 10km/hr on what Bolivians call a dirt road and I’d call a 4 wheel drive track.( In fact similar to a forestry track that’s been cut up by heavy vehicles). Once again there just weren’t enough daylight hours in the day to make my target in daylight. I pulled into my destination in the dark and totally filthy from the dust thrown up by trucks passing me. There were no cars on these roads just labouring trucks and not many of those. It was a lonely dusty day. To top it off the silly girl at the hostal that I managed to find showed me the shower which only had cold water (and which I had to use because I was so filthy) when in the morning I found out there was a warm one on the next level!

The next morning I felt fairly sure that there were only 30kms of dirt track left before I intersected the Santa Cruz road but it tested my mental resolve fully. The road headed firstly to the base of a big slip that workmen were clearing and then the ‘road’ headed up the dry river bed! Once  my Mercian and I had bounced over river boulders for 10 kms the road headed up a ridge that at times was just un ride-able for 15kms.During  all this time I have to be conscious of the fact that I have to keep my bike and gear intact. Bad as the conditions are, things will always be much worse if you break a rack mount or frame!

Mentally I’d almost had enough. Finally after a descent averaging 13km/hr bouncing from one rock to the next we popped out on the Santa Cruz road that was sealed! (Mostly anyway)

You know it’s a funny thing. The Bolivians in the bigger towns almost go about their lives like people in other cities around the world and yet, just on the outskirts of their city there’s just dust and dirt and disorder. I’ll see school kids and young women dressed up to go to school or work walking along dusty dirty roads with vehicles creating clouds of dirt all around and I wonder why they bother.
Dropping in Altitude things took a Turn for Tropical (and Tidy!!)

I’m glad I didn’t bother cleaning my bike in Sucre. In fact I’m not going to bother until I get to Brazil. I’m hanging out a bit for Brazil because I think it might just be a little more up market. So far there’s always been a catch. We’ll see. And I’m a bit worried that I haven’t seen the last of the dirt tracks. After Santa Cruz I’ve still got a week of riding to get to the border with Brazil.

One day later and I have managed to arrive in Santa Cruz with enough time to find the most expensive hotel in town ($140 NZ) complete with door waiter’s indoor pool, the works. And I thought that the place I had in Sucre was fancy. Nothing compared to this. Tenting in Europe and living on supermarket food is going to be tough after this.
Municipal Plaza Santa Cruz. Lovely. (Bring your Girlfriend Here.)

I feel now that I can safely say that the East of Bolivia is the place to come. I am now off the Andes and at 300mtrs altitude. The temperature is tropical. Tonight on my walk to the central plaza pictured it is 24 degrees C. Today’s ride was a joy. Although Adi had put in my notes “all downhill” it was in fact mainly downhill with two 10km climbs over the last of the Andes foothills.

Santa Cruz and its surroundings have so far proved to be the tidiest and most scenic part of the ride through Bolivia. And I’m crossing my fingers here, after talking to a young cycling couple today who had some English, I have gleaned that the road to the border with Brazil is mostly sealed. I’m really hoping it is because dirt road in Bolivia is enough to give me nightmares. Especially when your route planner has you doing 160kms over it. Riding in the dark over dirt road is not to be considered.
And Stay Here!

Good night all.

 No time to plan my route out of Santa Cruz in the morning. I’ll just have to head dead East and hope for the best.

And those young guys at the bike shop wondered why I had a little compass on my handlebars. Boy would they ever be lost in a foreign country. Roadie’s aye.
ps. A whole bag of grapes from a roadside stall cost me $2 NZ today. They don't sell smaller quantities so tummy could be dodgey again tonight for the right  reason.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Live Like a King in Bolivia.

I know in my last blog I said that I didn’t think that Bolivia would be a place I would bring my girl -friend to impress her. Well I think that I may have been a bit premature there.

Last night after a ride that most indicated would be easy (160kms from Potosi to Sucre) because over all the road dropped 1300mtrs, I arrived in Sucre just on darkness at 6pm. The ride was not that easy with the first 80 kms mainly downhill but the final 80km down and then up as the road crossed valley after valley. The land is so convoluted around here that nothing stays going down for long (which I think explains why you see virtually no serious local cyclists). The final 20kms were as usual up a valley and then Sucre is at the top on a range.

Anyway as it was dark and I had promised myself a dawdle of a day that had not materialised I was in no mood to search budget accommodation in Sucre, the capital of Bolivia. I went straight to the central plaza and checked into the nicest looking hotel.

The hotel in fact is so nice that I have decided to stay a day in Sucre and sort myself out a bit. I know the race is on but it’s a long journey and in the end the best man will still win.

So my priorities while I am here are to eat, and eat some more. I have to try to settle my upset stomach as a pizza the night before in Potosi has given me food poisoning again. I’m pretty used to this by now. Whether its bugs or altitude my stomach has had a workout this trip so far. I’ll drink plenty and I’ll check out my bike.

The Mercian hasn’t been cleaned since I started and she’s pretty filthy. But a good oil will do because quite frankly the bike is running brilliantly the way it is and to clean it would just make me and my hotel room filthy.

Talking about the hotel room, check out the pictures. Two nights ago I was sleeping in my tent  map-less  on a dry river bed. Last night I was in a nice Tourist hotel in Potosi but tonight I’m in a diplomat’s hotel on the plaza for…. $50 NZ a night.

So I take it back. Bring your girlfriend to Bolivia check into the most expensive hotel you can find and live like a king. In New Zealand for the same money you will be in a cheap motel eating fish and chips. Here I can even afford to clear the mini bar out because it’s just small change!
Courtyard to my Room.

Tomorrow I hit the road again after sorting out the best way to get out of Sucre. I have to say although the dogs are everywhere in Bolivia and there are some pretty vicious ones in the rural areas that want to shred your panniers, Bolivians love their dogs too. Check out the two on the balcony.

Well what’s happening in the race?

After checking out on the net  I think I can say that although I’m just getting into it, and there’s a long way to go, I think I’m doing ok as I haven’t had any accidents despite dogs, traffic and wickedly dangerous drivers over here, and my bike has been faultless.  I’ve paced myself over the Andes so despite totally trashed lips and a dodgy stomach my body is in fine shape.

I’ve read of fellow competitors having to seriously re-sort poor mechanicals on bikes and having to rest up due to one form of ill health or another.  Others have had accidents and have been forced to bend bikes back into shape or source new ones.

So over all I’m happy with my progress. I’ve travelled only 3000kms so far but the flats of Brazil await me. I’m conscious of the fact that my Visas are set so I don’t want to do big kms just to get ahead and then have to sit back waiting for flights and entry times(nothing wrecks motivation more than to sit back doing nothing for days). I have to be smart about this and balance time off to enjoy the journey and to look after body and equipment with the need to have time up my sleeve for any delays. i.e. dirt roads in Bolivia.

In the end I hope to achieve two things.  A good placing in the race, through interesting and varied countries and an adventure of a lifetime.

I think if I keep my head together and stay focused the race placing will take care of itself as other competitors self- destruct. The route I’ve chosen should guarantee me an adventure. By the time I get home I might have to relearn English though.
One wrecked Face. Toilet & Paper Constantly Needed.

I want to thank everyone that has taken an interest in this to date. I hope I can keep your attention by better detailing my trip as I become less concerned about survival and warm to the adventure.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

No Language, No Problem. No Map, Big problem.

I was going to say that yesterday would have to have been one off the hardest days yet. But that would be wrong as there have been so many hard days so far in this journey. But it would be the hardest day in Bolivia. On a par with the snow storm heading over the Andes in Peru.

I started at 7.30 am as I knew it was a tough ask at 180kms, over a pass and onto Potosi, that I knew was at 4000mtrs. I started from Challapta at 3700mtrs. In true Andes style the first 55kms were up hill at a gentle-ish grade but remember there’s not much air at 3700mtrs. Anyway after 55kms I was at 4300mtrs and my altimeter told me it had reached its limit. If only it was as easy as that for me. Luckily I’d set it for change of altitude so knew who much higher I was going.
Cheap Room( luke warm shower, toilet wont flush).  Contemplating the Day.

After reaching 4300 mtrs the road refused to go down! For the next 50 kms we went down a bit and then up a lot more. It makes you cry out “what the F do I have to do to go down?” After 100kms of this and no towns to speak of I was getting very concerned that if altitude sickness didn’t get me a lack of food would. Thank goodness that at that stage a little crossroad point appeared and with it a truck stop café. Once again chicken and rice was on the menu but I didn’t complain.

Little did I know it but this is where things really went wrong. (I left my only map on the table when I left).

As is the usual case in Peru and Bolivia as I ate my lunch outside a bus driver and crew where busy trying to fix their beat-up bus. And would you believe it the sign said it was headed for Potosi. I thought shall I go out there and just throw my bike on. It was tempting but I just couldn’t do it. I haven’t suffered this much to throw it all away like that. Real cyclists don’t need support. When I need that bus or train it’s all over. Anyway I honestly believed that at 4300mtrs the rest of the way to Potosi had to be easier.

Haven’t I learnt anything? This isn’t the Rockies we’re talking about. I got on my bike (leaving my map) and the road was flattish for a bit and then it went up and up. I just couldn’t believe it. There was a storm going on in the hills to my right with snow and pitch blackness. Luckily my range of the same height was clear of bad weather. But it didn’t stop it going up. At 4700mtrs a truck driver stopped to see if I needed coco leaves for the altitude. But if one thing has gone right for me it’s a total lack of altitude sickness. It was cold up there though and I was now worried I wouldn’t make Potosi because of the climbs and because the road signs had decided since my lunch stop to add another 20kms to the distance. (They couldn’t take off 20kms, no).
My only Company on the High Plains.

Just as I was resigning myself to camping at 4700mtrs in a tent with summer sleeping bag, the road decided to go down. And down and down for at least 50kms.

I dropped to 3800mtrs and the darkness was coming. Just at the bottom I passed a French family of cycle tourists going the other way. They had spent the whole day doing the final 50kms I needed to do to get to Potosi. I told them to stop right we they were because there was a little village with a restaurant and to go no further. They had real mountains ahead of them. I don’t know how they’ll do it.

Anyway they told me that still ahead of me was a 400mtr climb and drop and then a 400mtr climb to Potosi. There was no way I had enough daylight for that. Darkness comes on quickly here.

Showing me how fit I was after a day from hell I still managed to crank over the first 400mtr and down the other side before freedom camping in a dry river bed 400mtrs below Potosi and 19km away.
The Little Dots are Llama.Those hills Look like Nothing. Don't Believe it.

It had been a 180km day over mountains with my only company herds of lama and Bolivian peasant farmers.

And the final straw….. Unpacking in the tent that evening proud of my accomplishments.

Where’s my map???? Shit.

No language and now no map, that’s just great.

What’s for dinner, road kill again?

Into Bolivia.

Since my last entry I have left Cusco and have skirted around the side of Lake Titicaca staying in predominantly dumpy Hotels or Hostals and seeing hardly any foreigners like myself. Luckily for me the weather has been fine and sunny every day with light winds. And since I am on the alti plano I have stayed at around 3800 metres the whole time with the occasional climb to 4000 metres and then a slow drop to 3800 or so. The Andes though still refuse to let go.
Lake Titikaka

I met a couple of Italian cycle tourists going the other way as I was heading for my final border town between Peru and Bolivia. I asked if there was a Hotel or Hostal at this town and they said “O no, you can’t stay there, it is a very bad place. We took a bus through there because we were advised against staying!”

Well I had no option and I couldn’t for the life of me think how it could be any worse than some of the other towns I’ve stayed in(some of these cycle tourists just need to toughen up I thought). So I rolled on in and there was the usual chaos of Peruvian towns except this one had a bridge crossing into Bolivia and the Customs post for Peru on one side and Bolivia on the other. I have never done a land border crossing before so there was a bit to take in.

Firstly I had to consider where to stay the night. So chose the nicest looking dump Hotel on the Peruvian side and then I had to think about how to change money and what money changer I should use and finally I had to suss out the customs post. My little hiccup was that I had entered Peru on my NZ passport so had the stamps in it. So I knew that I had to leave Peru on that passport. But I wanted to enter Bolivia on my British passport because my next country will be Paraguay and I don’t need a Visa for that country if I’m British but I do if I’m a Kiwi.
The Border Between Peru And Bolivia.

First cock up was staying on the Peruvian side because when I woke up in the morning it seemed the whole of Peru wanted to go to Bolivia and the queue was a mile long. Whereas the night before there was no queue. I joined the line and after an hour I was in front of the customs man gently shaking in my bike shoes. He looked at me carefully and then stamp, stamp  and that was it. I changed my money getting quite a lot of Bolivios for my Peruvian sole and I was on my way across the bridge.

On the Bolivian side when I finally found the customs office, the very stern customs man was having none of my fresh UK passport with no stamps in it, so I had to show him my NZ passport. Thinking at this stage I’d be locked up for having two passports on me he just happily looked at the Peru stamps and then stamped me in on the NZ one. Bugger I thought. I can see trouble down the road when I get to Paraguay, but what the heck I’m in Bolivia. And off I went into a new country.
More Hard Cycling . More Rice and Chicken.

On my first night in Bolivia I stayed in La Paz. La Paz was ok. I managed to find a half decent Hotel that had a hot shower and TV that worked and I almost got everything I wanted in that at reception they said they had Wi Fi. But you guessed it, I tried and tried but my net book wouldn’t connect to it.

I also had an initial drama in that the power socket plugs were all different and I didn’t have an adapter. (Luckily I have since found out that the Peruvian one fits in).

The socket thing I think now is not an issue because since leaving La Paz I have not seen a single Hotel with Wi Fi. In fact since leaving La Paz I have not seen a single Hotel at all! Whereas there was accommodation everywhere in Peru, in Bolivia there seems to be none. I’m thinking that they don’t have much need of it because nobody in their right mind would want to stay in the sort of towns I’ve travelled through. Last night I had to freedom camp along the side of the road, and tonight I have managed to get a room in some run down place but you certainly wouldn’t call it anything but dumps Ville.

My advice is don’t under any circumstances bring your girlfriend to Bolivia to impress her, and no matter how expensive your wedding was don’t try to make it up with a cheap honeymoon in Bolivia. It will only end in divorce. In my dive tonight I did manage to clean off the dirt from last night’s freedom camp in the Luke warm shower but that was all.
Middle Sized Town. See Anything of Interest?

And to top it all off I’ve gone the wrong way and will have to back track 20kms tomorrow to get back on route. Maps appear at times not to be completely trustworthy here. The town I was supposed to stay in last night marked on the map didn’t exist and the town I’m in tonight clearly marked on my route has no way of getting out of. The Policia have told me to go back down the valley where I will find the road I need!!
There's Always Public Transport Out Off Here! No I'm Not That Desperate Yet.

Finally, scenery in Bolivia? So far I haven’t seen any. Unless you like scrubby hills. As soon as I see some scenery of note I will let you know. Basically for now I just want to see the road head downhill so that I can stop taking altitude pills and make up another day that I am behind. But first I have to somehow find my way back on course.

O’ and if I ever find Wi Fi again I will post this.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Two Weeks in Peru on Two Wheels.

So here I am cycle touring, maybe cycle adventuring or equally true cycle racing around the world. There are plenty of cyclists out there who like to put labels on things. Well you can put whatever label you like on what I am currently doing but in the end I’m suffering like a dog at times and feeling sheer exhilaration at other times as I race around the world.
Inca Stone Work Symbolic of my Trip So Far.

And let me be honest. It is a race against both time and the other entrants in the challenge. Time because like all world travellers I have had to apply for Visas in Kazakhstan, China and Vietnam and these cannot be changed.

I like to think of what I am doing as cycle touring in its purest form. I have chosen a route through twenty five countries many of which I have never been before. I’ve chosen a route not based on speed but through terrain that as a natural climber I thought would give me a huge challenge. Of the twenty five countries I am visiting I can only speak the language in two of them (New Zealand and Australia). Above all I want to return home knowing that I circumnavigated the world on my bike with no motor support except jet to traverse the oceans and a few Stan countries that refused me a Visa. And I accomplished it using only low traffic volume roads. But as a  hardened cycle tourist of many past trips I have the pride and purpose not to beaten by a lesser man who may think that all cycle tourists are soft.
You Either Need a Triple Chainring or a Donkey in This Sort of Country.

So let’s call it a race and let me tell you how I feel that I am going. I’ve been on the road now for 14 days although it feels much longer. My first three days got me from nelson NZ to my point of departure to South America. I cranked along during that time covering 140kms a day pulling all my gear and generally doing a final check on my bike. All went well freedom camping along the road until Christchurch. Sand fly attacks my only concern.

After major stress getting my flights my Mercian and I finally landed in Lima. And I faced every cycle tourist’s nightmare, arriving in a foreign city on dusk, having to assemble your bike and cycle into the chaos to find your Hotel. I was totally out of my depth but Hotel shuttles etc. are never an option for me. I had a compass and had made a mental note of the direction I had to go to get from the slums to the tourist part of town. I didn’t make it. Finally checking in to a cheap Hostel to get my kit and myself off the street. The next day I left my gear in my room, jumped on the Mercian and found out how far out I was. I was in a bad area but luckily not that bad. I toured the tourist district and then went back to my Hostel to further agonise as to what I’d got myself into this time. I felt I could go home now or just get on with. I just had to get on with it.

I travelled in the following days down the Pan American highway passing through desert areas and what as a New Zealander, I can only describe as dump towns. The highway was smooth going but hard in 30 degree C temperatures and a persistent light headwind. I was on target but in a gloomy mood trying to adjust to a foreign culture and my first week on the road. I missed my target of Nazca and had to tent in the desert, with no dinner not improving my mood.

Nazca was the point where I left the coast and headed into the Mountains. The town itself was chaos again, raining and muddy. I loaded up with cash and putting my fears aside headed up the Valley on a climb from sea level to 4500 metres. Into the clouds with no idea what lay ahead. It took me two days to get to the top with a lonely night in the tent at 3700 metres with unpleasant dreams breaking the only other activity, constant pedalling in low gear at 9km/hr.

Cresting the top on day two I felt sheer elation. But as is often the case cycle touring trouble is never far away and things can always get worse. I dropped from 4500m to 2200mtrs and then the next day had to cycle out of the valley and up onto the tops again. This time I was greeted by a snow storm and had to make an emergency stop in a farming village where the only warmth was the local kindness of the people and there lama skins which I tented on, and jammed with me into the tent.

The next morning was a white out but I had no option but to keep going. After five hours cycling I crested the top of the plateau and immediately plunged 2000m down into the heat of the next valley. This is my Peruvian cycling adventure. No sooner do you get a few hours of easy downhill cycling only to be punished severely for it as you struggle up the next mountain. I have found now that the climbs are generally of 50km duration and the village you are aiming for is usually about 15km from the valley floor. So a typical day starts without breakfast because its time consuming and you climb for 3okm in low gear until lunch. You then wiz back down and  along the valley floor until 4pm when you begin your final climb of 15km up the side of a mountain to find accommodation and dinner on dusk.
Dogs Waiting For the next Cyclist to Go By.

During this time my mind is totally focussed on the climb and the dogs that are a constant menace snarling at you panniers. Today grinding up a climb I had three dogs badgering me on various sides and I almost stopped to pick one up and throw it over the edge never to be seen again. Luckily for him reason shone through as I have learnt that if you ignore them and just make sure they don’t get under your front wheel, they will finally give up. (Never make a run for it. Dogs like chasing things down).

In the evenings I think of the race and the other contestants. In the times I have been able to get Wi Fi or internet I have learnt that many of the contestants are finding it tough going, having problems with their bikes and bodies. Some is suffering to the extent that they have abandoned or had to seriously restructure their attempt. My Mercian and my body have both endured many tours in the past and to date I can report that although the terrain has slowed me and put me a day or two behind I can report no other problems and think that now I am in Cusco the worst of the Andes is behind me.
Tomorrow I will take a day off to visit Maachu Piccu and to regroup so to speak in true cycle touring fashion. Clothes need washing, I need to cut my hair (a tidy cyclist is a happy cyclist), and then I’ll be ready to start to put the hammer down as the mountains begin to release me from their grip.
Machu Picchu? No it's Saqsaywaman!

Tomorrow is now today. And up bright and early at 8am I was down to the train station to rail it to the stones of Machu Picchu. Railway  ticket man said "Silly cyclo touristico gringo, MP is 2 to 3 hrs train away and then a 2 to 3 hour visit and then a train trip back. You needed to be here hours ago if you wanted to do it in one day!" 
"No!" I cried.
"Si" he replied. 
I had to see Inca ruins or I couldn't call myself a cyclo tourist. What sort of a person cycles across Peru and doesn't have time for Inca ruins?
Then the local Touristico policeman said "you gringo cyclo man must then go to Saqsaywaman because its mucho closer and the stones are great"
So MP will have to wait. I have seen and touched an Inca ruin and the Race cant be put off another day. everything is a ballance. Maybe when I come back to South America with Adi on the Vespas we can then se MP together.

Monday, 12 March 2012

You Dont Mess With the Andes.

Of course I was naïve to think that because I had climbed to 4300mtrs then I was up and it must be plane sailing from here. No, we are talking about the Andes not an alp in Europe were you zoom up 20kms and then down again for a coffee and ice cream at the village below. O and I’ll have a 5star room with a hot shower to go with that. None of that here. Once I’d crested the saddle the road did go down to Puglio and I did get a hostal with a warm shower of sorts.

I think it’s good at times not knowing what’s ahead because if I knew what I was in for riding the next day I would have thrown in the towel right then. Adi had on my schedule to ride 150kms because there’s not much in between. And it was a plateau. She had the nothing much in between part right but it wasn’t a plateau. I started the day climbing for 60kms without a break. Had some soup at a restaurant shack and then climbed for another 15kms before I sort of plateaued onto the alto Plano. The trouble was up there once again at 4500mtrs a bit of foul weather I did meet. I won’t beat about the bush; I thought I was going to die from exposure. And if there had been a truck or two going in my direction I would have flagged them done. But there wasn’t. I somehow managed to get my woolly gloves, hat, two plastic jackets and tights on. Before heading on into the storm I also managed to let rip with the runs which won’t wait for anyone. Nothing like a summer holiday on the bike, aye. After 77kms I knew I had to stop in the next village or die on the alto Plano. It was just a farmers village stone huts and not much else. I went into the food/ store building and asked for hot coffee and lots of it. It was freezing. I then asked if there was a hostal in town. Of course there wasn’t. I insisted and they showed me the room next door that they kept lama skins and lama wool in. Any port in a storm. I was so relieved. I wouldn’t die of exposure tonight. I threw a heap of skins on the concrete floor and then put the tent up on those. I then threw a heap of dusty lama wool into the tent and snuggled up to all that. It was at that instant that I realised I was sharing my room with a dog and cat both of which had the same idea as me, warmth.

I lay in my tent for an hour or so until my shivering had died down and then one of the Peruvian children came over and said they could make me rice and fish for dinner which was nice. I went next door and there were six Peruvian road workers sitting around a table drinking what looked like ginger ale and they offered me a cup and bottle of the stuff. Naturally I filled it up and they all went Woo! It was not beer or ginger ale but some kind of hot really alcoholic drink! Just what I needed to warm me and take away the (what the hell were you thinking Niel when you said you’d do this).
The Flash from the Camera makes it look Inviting.

I chatted to the road guys but could get no idea what was ahead along the road. I also chatted to the woman who ran the home and the kids they were all really friendly. I have to say the Peruvians are really friendly people.

I went back to my lama room and had an ok night thanks to all the dusty and slightly wiffy skins. I couldn’t hear any sleet on the tin roof so thought maybe conditions had improved and I might get some sun in the morning.

I awoke to an alpine scene. And not one of those pretty European scenes where the snow is happily melting under a blue sunny sky. This was a white out scene. White angry sky, white mountains and white road. Shit, I didn’t sign up for this!

I just packed up my stuff and was off by 8am. I didn’t ask for breakfast because it would be a plateau and then down to the next town (right Adi, my course planner), and also because it would just be too hard with my lack of the lingo. FOURTY kilometres later and I’m still climbing in the snowy surroundings and freezing wind (not a tail wind by the way). Then for another 30kilometres I’m going down only to have to climb up again to the next ridge. But then at the 70 km mark the road finally drops of the tops and plummets into the valley for 50kms. The river is wild and now it’s raining but the snow has gone and the town I’ve arrived in actually has a hostal and restaurants. I even manage to send Adi an email from the internet shop. But the keyboards are all worn off so it’s so frustrating for a computer beginner like me.

Tomorrows ride is supposed to be just down the valley for 120kms. I know it won’t be that easy. But if it is, I deserve it.

Up the Andes

From Deserts

I’ve survived in Peru for a week and it hasn’t been easy for me. All went well with the cycling until I got a few hundred kilometres South of Lima and had to deal with really hot desert regions and then a day of deserts and head wind. This had me miss my target of reaching the town of Nazca and having to pitch my tent in the desert not really knowing how short I was. Luckily I had stocked up on water but had no decent food for dinner (not a great night). Cheap though.  It certainly made up for the 100 sole hotel the other night.

 The next morning I was up and away by 6.30am and reached Nazca by about 7.30am. But had to get some food and supplies for the climb up the Andes Pass as I knew there was little on route and it was 100kms all uphill. Once I’d got some food and money I couldn’t find the road to the Pass (always the case when travelling where you don’t speak the lingo). Finally at 9am I found the correct road and started the climb. I could just tell that at a climb rate of 10km/hr. there was no way I would get this done in a day.

 I have to tell you climbing into the mist and cloud up one of the highest passes in the world not knowing what’s up there and knowing you won’t make the first town on the map at 125kms is not a feeling I like. My options were give up the whole thing and going back to Lima or bite the bullet and do it. I had to do it but was very worried. So worried in fact that I collected water from spent bottles along the road in case things got desperate and I ran out of drink. I asked a couple of road workers for agua but they either did not understand or didn’t have any. By the time I had been climbing for 6hrs I came across a drink shack and dumped my road water and bought heaps of good stuff. Trying to talk to the stall holder I thought he said there was a restaurant up the road 1km? It sounded too good to be true.
Climb to 4300m

 But sure enough out of the mist a restaurant appeared and I managed to order rice and fish. Decent food at last. I cycled on up, up, and up. But at least I had something in my stomach. I knew the top was at 4300m and at 3300m I knew I would have to look for a flat place to camp. It gets dark pretty quickly after 6pm. My second night in the tent with no real food as the sausages I had bought were disgusting. So it was buns and sweets for dinner. But I had plenty of drink.

The next day I was on the bike by 7am after trying to figure out during the night how I could end this nightmare and get back to my quiet life in Nelson. If Nazca had been a nice place I may have just cycled back down but it was no refuge for me. I cycled up for another hour and half and then the gradient started to ease. I couldn’t take advantage of it because I now had a headwind. But signs were encouraging that I had seen the worst of the Pass. By 12noon I was at the top!! Elation.

I had cycled up the Andes. I was over and dropped 20kms into green fertile valleys with pretty stone walls and cottages. Farmers were herding sheep and goats. What’s more the road is quiet with just the occasional truck. Truck drivers in Peru are very encouraging giving me the thumbs up, waving and tooting. They drive hugely loaded trucks but still have a smile and patience for other road users.

So far no sign of altitude sickness although I know I have to look after myself. The same can’t be said for my stomach with my first experiences of the runs. I t could be buggy food or too many grapes on the coast. We will see. I use my UV water treatment thingy on all the tap water.
Then Down to Lush Valleys.

Accidently bought baby food for desert tonight. Should be interesting. It looks like cooked apple?


Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Day in Lima

A Day in Lima

How different two days can be. I arrived in Lima at 6pm and had to assemble my bike and cycle into the city to find my hostal. The darkness quickly fell as we are way closer to the equator than Nelson NZ is. I found myself cycling through a foreign city in the dark during rush hour traffic on a Friday night. The roads were sealed one minute and gravel and rock the next. Traffic was chaotic with 3 wheelers motorbikes, old trucks, buses and wild taxis vans full of people and blasting their horns. I think I was the only small vehicle with lights on but think I was the only vehicle not knowing where I was going!

I eventually found the correct street for the hostal but alas no hostal. At 9pm and desperate I gave up and after a couple of tries booked into a hostal not, and I will say definitely not in the best part of town. Nobody around here talks English. But they do have a smile and a room. That was good enough for me. So not even knowing the exchange rate I took the room for two nights at 50 Sole a night. I was sure I had been ripped off but it was better than bedding down on the street with my hand on my bike all night.

I woke up in the morning a tad depressed and vulnerable so stayed in bed until I could pluck up the courage to go out and find out where in Lima I had turned up. I soon found out I’d need the Mercian to get to the tourist side of town. After riding through not the best side for about 6kms I saw my first couple of tourists and from then on things got more up market. It wasn’t long before I was among flagged tourist Hotels and hip bagged, white legged gringos.

McDonalds popped up on the horizon and so depressed was I about not being able to contact anyone on my cell phone or computer that I made a bee line for it. Thank you McDonalds for being there in a moment of need. Over some standard crap food (but familiar) I managed to send word out that I was ok and to receive some emails and encouragement from people when I really needed it.
Some Things are Strange But I Recognise a Coke when I See One.

Much happier I walked around the Mira Flores area where the views are pleasant and I could bath in the sight of other non-Latino people. From there feeling better I managed to go from strength to strength making small gains such as talk to locals using signs and occasional Spanish words and achieving basic needs.

My major accomplishments included;

-finding out the approx.  Exchange rate from a money lender. (My room only cost $30NZ per night for a double).

-getting various provisions including altitude pills (that took some miming).

-Buying an ice cream and having a chin wag in Spanish. The ice cream will probably give me the runs but what the heck.

-And my biggest accomplishment today, getting spaghetti bolognaise for dinner from a small family restaurant. With a Cola it only cost $7 NZ. The pizza that I got from the super mercardo the night I arrived cost $10NZ and I had to eat it uncooked!

Today I started cycling down the coast South of Lima. All went well surprisingly. I say surprisingly because the terrain is so different to anything in New Zealand and to be quite honest the town are pretty shanty town-ish. Having said that, the longer you are out cycling through them the more you get used to it. What also takes a lot of getting used to is the shear desert that surrounds these towns. Just the sea on one side, hills of sand on the other, and concrete huts with the roughest of roofs between the two. Once again I managed to by good food from these family shops for a budget price. Just when I thought I would be well under my daily budget in Peru I get a surprise. Tonight I’m staying in a hotel South of Peru that is costing me twice what I paid in Lima? How does that work?

On scouting around while looking for cheap grub I checked out the price of a dumpy hostal thinking that my hotel was ripping me off. But no, this place was virtually the same price. So I don’t know. Time will tell. But my hotel either has free Wi Fi or I’m stealing some-ones signal.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Welcome To South America.

Welcome to South America.

What can I say except stress with a capital S. It all started well enough. My flight from Christchurch to Auckland was due to leave at 12.30pm so thought that if I got to the airport by 10am I’d have no problems breaking down the bike , bagging it and getting it on the domestic flight to Auckland to connect to Santiago. Wrong, Wrong , Wrong.

I got to the check in 20mins before the flight left and said ‘no chance Niel the Wheel’. I missed my flight. I just had time to buy the last ticket on another flight to Auckland and after the bike being overweight and drama with me juggling and dumping gear I and the bike was on it.

This flight of course left late so I got to the Auckland international terminal and they’d closed boarding to Santiago. My ticket to get there had cost $400 NZD! I pleaded with them to let me on and they rushed me through. Not before warning me however that my Mercian, my only companion at the moment, would probably not have time to get on.  I had to get on or cancel the whole trip then and there. So I got on and worried during the whole trip how I would get my bike back. A true cyclist is never more than a km or two from his or her bike so the thought of being 6000kms from the Mercian was pretty painful. Doubly so knowing that it was my full transport. How would I get to my lodgings at the other end? Ten hrs. on the plane I agonised over it. But it wasn’t quite the only thing I agonised over.

In the rush to catch the flight I left all my e tickets and flight schedule in Auckland!

So when I arrived in Santiago I had to explain to the ground crew at the airport that I thought my baggage had gone astray and had no idea what flight I was booked on to Lima , what time it was or what airline!!!!

But I kiss the Chileans. My bike was found and had made the flight and they knew what flight I was on to Lima. Not only that I had time to sit down and thank my lucky stars. Here I am in Santiago waiting to travel to Lima and my bike has been put on the plane.

Now if I could just find a bit of free Wi-Fi I can tell my Adi and friends that I’m still doing it because my cell phone is certainly not working here. Maybe in Lima?

The Prologue

I’m calling this section of my tour the prologue simply because it can’t really be described as a major leg since I’m doing half of New Zealand at the beginning and half at the end.

I thought it would be a good last shake down for the bike and if I was unfortunate enough to forget anything then I could get it before I left the country. The first days riding was pretty uneventful although I did stop when I saw a roadie in trouble trying to fix something on his bike. I was quite surprised to see a roadie because I was more than 40kms from a main town. Roadies I find usually stick close to home. Anyway on enquiring as to the problem he said he had front changer probs and would I have a pair of pliers available. My response to this was to ask if he had a ‘support’ car lurking. Sure enough he did. So call me a bastard but I left him to wait for his team of helpers and I got back on my bike. I’m always conscious of the lack of hours in the day and kms that I still have to ride.

I say the ride was uneventful but in fact it was full of emotions. I might look happy on the start line but five kilometres up the road I was a mental wreck and on the verge of bawling my eyes out. Adi cried a bit before I left which made me even sadder. I pitched the tent in the bush that night and got swarmed by sand flies before I could get it up. Then once up I escaped only long enough to get a breather and I had to go out and bring all the bags in. The hungry buggers banged on the tent for hours trying to get me.

The next morning I rode through heavily drizzle over the Lewis Pass and down the other side to Culverden. Once over the Pass the wind came around to my back and the sun came out. I had told myself I’d freedom camp again but couldn’t when the time came to do it as I knew for ten dollars I could stay at the Culverden camp ground. Over dinner I chatted to a German couple who were touring New Zealand on farm bikes. It was good to chat as it helps with the sadness of leaving home. I went to bed feeling good. And then the storm stuck. Strong winds and rain. Pretty cold for summer.

I awoke to 10 degrees and strong headwinds all the way into Christchurch.

Here I am at the Christchurch motor camp feeling once again really sad. Does it ever go away? Tomorrow I cycle to the airport and leave for South America. O my God!