Best day on the bike so far

Snow capped mountains

Our view along the way today

21 October – Day 91

Huaraz, Peru to Chavinilllo, Peru

Distance: 200kms

What a difference the sun makes! Huaraz is lovely. The view is amazing… it’s what I imagine being in the Himalayas must be like, surrounded – no, dwarfed – by incredible, and incredibly different, majestic mountains. Wow. I can now understand why people come here!

Today was the best day on the bike so far. The scenery, road, weather and the riding conditions generally were just fantastic. And ‘best day’ is an even bigger call given I was struck down in the morning by a case of Bali Belly… or, more accurately, Peru Belly. It’s the first time on the trip that I’ve had any sort of health hiccup. Although Adrian wasn’t happy that I was feeling somewhat suboptimal, I suspect a little part of him was happy that – for once – it was me! He was fine. The upside of Peru Belly is that it distracted me from any sore muscles I might have otherwise felt from yesterday’s intervals!

I wasn’t in a state fit for riding until about 11am, and we finally hit the road at noon. Once we managed to get through a short yet crazy part of the town where the roads were dirt and stones, and the tuk tuks moved in all directions ie not only up and down but also back and forth across the street, we were just blown away by the view. We were riding on a smooth, nicely asphalted, gently curved road alongside some of the most spectacular mountains I’ve seen. And they were big… we were already at about 4,200m ourselves, and we were being dwarfed by some of the biggies. Really, I can’t describe it – it was spectacular. The serpentine of the road was matched by the serpentine river than snaked between us and the mountains. There were little towns and small villages dotted along the way, with the brown mudbricks and thatched rooves providing a nice contrast to the fields terraced with rows of small, carefully assembled, rocks. Animals were kept from roaming either by similarly assembled stone pens, or by having their two front feet tied together with a stocking. Seeing pigs and sheep hobble along the road in their own version of a personal three-legged race was really funny, in just a lovely sort of way. We also saw lots of locals, in traditional dress, walking along the road. Sometimes carrying a switch made from straw which they used to spur their animals on, sometimes just walking with their family, always smiling and waving hello.

Late in the afternoon, we got stopped at some roadworks where we were about three cars from the front. When we asked the lollypop lady how long we’d be stopped there for, she told us two hours. Two hours??!!! It was already 5pm and we still had about 100kms to go before reaching our intended destination. Fortunately, the two hours turned into thirty minutes, and we were on our way again… only to be stopped by Jeremy’s bike failing. We’re still not sure what’s wrong with it, and we did manage to limp another 40kms to the next town (we were in the middle of nowhere), but he’s essentially got no throttle control and the bike revs up and down independent of the throttle. Not great – especially when you’re pushing sunset and are riding on windy, narrow roads along a cliff edge.. with no fence, of course.

For now, we’ve got a hotel, the bikes are securely out of sight and we’ve eaten dinner at the only restaurant in town, a roast chicken place right next door to the hotel. Somewhat bizarrely, three Germans arrived here just after we did (I mentioned we’re in the middle of the Peruvian highlands, didn’t I?), only they were in two tuk tuks and are in the middle of a charity tuk tuk challenge around Peru.

We’ve got 60kms to go in the morning before hitting the town we’d hoped to reach tonight. We’ll be staying there in a BnB run by motorbikers and ADVers, so hopefully the fellas will be able to get Jeremy’s bike sorted while I wander around the town.

The road through the mountains... very windy,and in surprisingly good condition!

The road through the mountains… very windy,and in surprisingly good condition!

Older Peruvian couple

The couple who owned the hotel we stayed at

Canyoning – and a warning from the police…

In lifejackets, getting ready to jump into the river

This was just before our last jump across, in a calmer yet still pretty fast flowing section of the river. You can see our helper on the RHS, with the rope. The snake appeared just below where we’re standing – which is essentially also where we jumped from.

16 September – Day 56

Somoto, Nicaragua to Managua, Nicaragua

Distance: 225kms

It wasn’t raining, so the canyoning was on!! One of the brothers in the family we were in had been down to the river in the morning and said it was pretty high due to all of the rain from last night, but still doable… so we were off!

Armed with lifejackets, our little canyoning party comprised the two of us plus our guide, Olvin (another one of the brothers). There were others heading down to the river too, but each little group had its own guide. Our first challenge was to walk across the river which was flowing  very, very fast and was about waist deep (for me). Even that was akin to some sort of resistance workout! From there, we hiked up to a lookout, back down to the river and into a boat where another local rowed us upstream to the start of the rapids. Apparently, in the dry season, the river is calm and absolutely translucent. I’ve seen photos, so I know it must be true. For us, however, the river was a foamy brown, powerful looking force to be reckoned with. I was not feeling excited about potentially jumping into a surging mass of brown water were I couldn’t see through the water to check whether there were any rocks or other submerged objects that might, you know, break my back.

It was once we got out of the boat that the fun really began. Having decided that we looked like swimmers, Olvin began leading us to a small waterfall at the top of the river. At its easiest, this involved us clambering along rock ledges at the edge of the water. At its more challenging points, it involved us waiting for Olvin’s local assistant to swim across the river with a rope around his belly and throw one end of the rope back to Olvin. The assistant would brace himself against rocks on the other side of the river (and I mentioned it’s a canyon – so I’m talking sheer rockfaces here), Olvin would pass one of us the end of the rope and instruct us to jump into the rapids and pull ourselves across, hand over hand. In parts, the rapids were so strong it was a serious workout just hanging on to the rope, let alone dragging ourselves forward. We must have done this at least ten times, slowing zig zagging our way across the deep,fast flowing parts of the river to reach the waterfall. We had one jump to go, and Adrian was about to take off when Olvin’s assistant started whistling urgently at us from across the river. ‘Serpiente! Una serpiente’ he cried.

Oh yes – about one meter below us, on the rocks, a snake had just slid out of the water and was heading our way. Olvin splashed water on it from a rockpool… and it slid back into the water. We could see it swimming downstream, it’s skinny head bobbing casually above the water. Then Olvin instructed Adrian to jump into the water and swim across. Yeah, right. But – not only did we do that, in the absence of any alternative option we also then floated/swum the approximately two kms downstream to get back to where we started. The whole time, I was keeping my eyes peeled for little stick like things bobbing out of the water. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. This would definitely have been one of those times!

After a quick lunch back at the house, we said goodbye to the family and continued across the country to Managua. Our destination was the house of another biker who blogs on Horizons and runs a motorbike tour and hire business in Nicaragua. He, Salvador, also – incredibly generously – has an open invitation for any motorbike travellers doing the Pan American highway to stay at his house. The house is just lovely… so homely, so peaceful and it was a huge relief to arrive here shortly after nightfall. We were later than we wanted to be (and broke the golden rule of no riding at night) due to the later than expected post canyon start. So I was incredibly happy to be warmly welcomed by Salvador’s mum!

On the way here, we were stopped by the police for illegally overtaking a truck across a solid yellow line – and (we think) for speeding while overtaking. Not that there are any radars, it was just the police officer’s (correct) guess. However we pleaded ignorance, explained that we’d only just arrived in Nica and didn’t know the rules so followed the two cars in front of us (which had also been pulled over)… and they let us go with a warning. That put us a bit on notice, which was lucky – as we must have ridden past at least four other police pulling people over for the same thing. From then on, we generally only overtook the many slow buses and trucks when we had a dotted line. We also saw two pretty serious looking accidents, including one where a truck had flipped on its side and blocked almost the entire road.