Report about Peru

A gigantic country
My first impression of Peru makes all the scenery I had seen before mediocre and fading away. Almost every day is topping the one before and the impressions are so vast and rich in contrast that I am often not able to catch them with my camera:
The snow covered mountains are huge, the valleys often wild with desert and green spots better described as canyons with many gulches. Beside this, everything can change towards the jungle or if you ride through the plains with rice fields where you feel again totally different. To ride through this immense countryside made me stand still in amazement and wonder. I soak up the nature’s ambience whenever I can. Furthermore as the country is so huge there are a lot of isolated places and remote roads where you feel the silence more than ever.

An awkward experience
When we entered Peru through a very quiet border crossing the officer forgot to change yesterday’s date of the stamp for the passport. When I remarked it he corrected the date against my will with a pen by hand instead of making a fresh stamp. In the next village a police officer wanted us to show our passports. Noticing the hand-corrected date he made a huge problem about it, but soon it was obvious that he only used this stamp to find a way to press money from us. Since we did not play this game he asked in a hypocritical way for a souvenir and pointed e.g. to my sunglasses and I am sure if he could have he would have taken everything but my underpants. I did not give anything. It was very awkward to be in a situation where I would have preferred to say what I thought, but at the same time knew that it was the wisest not to provoke and give a reason to make the conversation getting worse. After half an hour he let us go. I went back to the border to get a new and correct stamp as I did not want the same story to happen again. - It took some weeks until I found back into a healthy trust into the police; once I even rode disobediently through a check point where they wanted me to stop. Honestly, I just didn't want to stop and experience a similar trouble again.

The right choice of the route
Until now we only rode through the mountains as we wanted to avoid the foggy coast which is said to be partly dangerous too. The ride through the mountains was tough and takes a lot more time than along the coast, but it is worthwhile and we never wanted to change. Even between Huamachuco and Chuquicara where we went on the most desolated roads that could be chosen, we were perfectly satisfied. We experienced the ambience in high altitudes where you feel free in a special way although you always lack a little oxygen which doesn't allow you to ride with full power. You feel always a little weak. Furthermore, we came across some isolated villages with its interested people especially the kids, and finally we could ride through the gorgeous canyons as e.g. Marañon, Chuquicara or Pato.
Our decision to ride through the mountains was even more confirmed when I got the alternative impression of the coast visiting Lucho’s Casa de Cyclista in Trujillo where I had asked a parcel with brake pads to be sent from Switzerland.

Lucho’s Casa de Cyclista in Trujillo
Lucho’s work is worthy of a comment: He has been hosting since 1985 more than 1600 cyclists and in his guestbooks – he calls it his gold – you can find entries of remarkable cyclists that went around all the earth as e.g. Claude Marthaler whose book inspired me a lot when I prepared my tour. The “cyclonaute” from Geneva went with 121’000km around the world in seven years. I took a lot of motivation when I found his entries and pictures.

An impression of the people’s mentality
The mentality of Peru’s people for me is often a challenge. I’d like to emphasise the respect and love I received by some. Once in a village where hardly tourists arrive an old man gave me an apple as a gift to express his welcome for me. Even though the apple was not anymore that fresh it was touchable to receive it as I saw how much it meant to him.
It is a pity that I have to deal a lot with rejection riding through the villages hearing “gringo” shouting at me with a bad voice. First and sometimes still now I had a hard time to let that just happen. I did not understand why this habit is still that present. Only when I saw by accident in a restaurant a Peruvian television show I began to understand one of today’s backgrounds: The show, although Peruvian, was moderated by and showed only white people. Might it be that the indigenous people feel second class? – In any case I disgusted the show.

The daily fights
What a pity that there are that many aggressive dogs in almost every little village. When we ride through a village we mostly have to defend against some 10 dogs. The locals throw stones at them which makes them fear and because they have been brought up this way you only have to move your hand towards the ground and they already flee from you as they fear being hit by a stone. Twice on a paved road I had to beat them from the bike with my stick as they wanted to bite me in my legs.
Another thing to be aware of are all the wholes in the roads and even in the passenger paths you have to beware of stolen lids and pay attention not to tread into the wholes.

Part two August to Oktober

First loop into the Amazonas
After my friend Stefan went back home I was attracted to ride from Huánuco down to the Amazonian jungle as there was an asphalted road which was good to ride. It led me through an amazing change from the dry mountains to the wet jungle. At Von Humboldt I intended to turn into a desolated road of dirt through the flat jungle. When I tried to enter the road the police and the local people warned me it would not be very safe out there and I would risk losing my belongings  and even my life. The people out there would not accept me being a "gringo." I could be robbed and killed.
So I changed my plans and continued to Pucallpa where I met by coincidence Cebero "El Chasqui Peruano" a Peruvian cyclist who saw me entering the chaotic main street. He invited me to stay in his house. After we went out for a fruit juice I saw that he was trustworthy and stayed several days with him. He helped me in everything and became like a brother to me. He cared perfectly for me so that I could mentally calm down. Normally throughout all of Peru you feel a level of stress always having to pay attention to what's going on around you. Pucallpa beside Rio Ucayali to me made an impression of Wild West: It is a growing city living of the wood cut industry. In the streets the three wheel mototaxis drive crazily, at the harbour I saw dangerous working conditions: logs put over gaps where you could have fallen down three meters, and workers had to carry cargo over it to the overfilled boats. On the market I observed that the police did not care at all about countless wildly hunted and illegally sold animals. Despite of this I enjoyed the sightseeing with Cebero.
On the way back to Huánuco I was allowed to sleep in an abandoned house in the jungle in which many bats were flying at night. To my astonishment the local children asked me if I would kill animals. I laughed a little confused and then they asked me if I would kill kids. I was totally shocked by their weird imagination and wondered who my goodness had brought them up.

From Huánuco to Cuzco
When I finally reached Huánuco again and found myself at the same place as some twelve days before I really wanted to advance fast in direction South finally. I had Ayacucho as my next goal in front of my eyes and Cuzco as my main destination in my mind.
Within six days I reached the first goal but had to suffer a mild concussion as the road between Izcuchaca and Huanta was that bad that I was under constant vibration.
The very contrary impression I had about the people living in this spectacular valley: For the first time throughout Peru I did not hear the people calling me gringo. They even greeted nicely which made me enjoy this route very much. Almost all the weeks before I had met people showing me their hatred; twice I was even shown gestures with their hands as if they wanted to shoot me with a gun.
In Mayoc I was allowed to sleep in the police station where I was received nicely. During the evening I observed the check point and saw how the police checked every truck cargo. Later they explained that this road was a main axis of narco traffic coming from the province Ayacucho. Later I even observed a police officer watching out the whole night with a weird gun that resembled a kalashnikov. So I asked if it was a Russian gun and to my surprise he answered: "No, North Korean."

The day after while crossing Huanta I was seen by the local televison and asked for an interview. One of the questions was if I was not afraid of being robbed as I was going alone here. Well, I just replied shortly. "No," but knew that they brought me into a greater risk reporting about me, so I decided to leave the town quickly towards Ayacucho.
Arriving in a colonial town always changes the daily ambiance as the streets of towns are full of life and their people are different than the ones you meet along the road. Arriving in the center I met Romel who invited me to stay in his house which I appreciated with a thousand thanks as he entrusted his home to me while he went to Cuzco.

I had high respect regarding the route to Cuzco as I knew that it meant climbing five major passes. This route was beautiful and you see agriculture up to 4000m as e.g. potatoes. But as the dirt on the descent was like powder on the first pass I fell with my slick tires and broke the handlebar. Fortunately a pickup brought me back to Ayacucho where I found a mechanic who was able to weld it. The next day I road up by bus and continued on bike on the descent.
Within six riding days I climbed the five passes. Once again I hit a dangerous situation: A crazy girl wanted me to stop as I was going downhill because she was begging for money, and when she saw that I didn’t she tried to catch my arm and pull me off the bike. Thank God I did not fall and escaped the weird situation.
Finally, I arrived in Cuzco, safe and happy, where I found many other members of our cyclofamily in the Hostel Estrellita. Especially meeting the two Matts, my companions in the North, made me very happy.

Jungle loop two: From Cuzco to the lake Titicaca via Puerto Maldonado

In Cuzco I met Dimitri, French trike-cyclist. We decided to journey together for the next two months. By the way it was great to have an opportunity to repeat my French.
Our first goal was the Amazonas where we planned to book a tour into the jungle. We heard that the so called Interoceanic Highway had been finished a year ago and now allowed to ride a loop on a paved road. The road connects the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean on the latitudes of Peru and Brazil as the only paved road.  We were told that it was finished after a planning time of thirty years; wicked tongues even claim that it was finally finished only because of the soccer world championship 2014 in Brazil.

Well, this sounds tempting to visit the Amazonas. There is only one problem as we realised: The road starts after Urcos, an area which is mainly in indigenous hands. For these people the upcoming foreign traffic is a thorn in the side. We noticed that many people talked to us only in Quechua what appeared to us already a bit strange, and the further we entered the more we were insulted and shown fists. The excess came when we saw some three people standing above the road on a slope where the road was cut into the rock. I immediately felt that something was wrong and went a bit on distance towards the left lane when I saw a huge stone of about 3-4kg falling down and hammer in the asphalt only two meters beside Dimitri and four meters from me. We were shocked and frightened and hurried to escape the dangerous situation. In the evening only about thirty kilometers up the next pass we were offered a house to sleep by indigenous people. These were very friendly and so our heated up emotions calmed down.

A long and cold but unique descent from 4700m to 600m within some hours brought us to the Amazonas basin. I will never forget crossing all the climate zones until entering the flat jungle.
Riding along the highway through the jungle we were astonished to see what kind of forest destroying process is taking place here: As the paved road allows an easy access for miners, they cut the trees in huge areas and dig the soil in order to wash out the gold by mercury. What remains is a desert. Beside this the miners are popping up whole villages along the road and burn down the forest without respect. Riding here means to have constant companion by motorcyclists who try to catch sight of our strange bikes; we eventually got tired of this as it seemed hardly to come to an end.

Riding back towards the Andes and up to Lake Titicaca for once we had the dogs on our side: First we were allowed to camp near Chiforongo behind a restaurant where the owners were very nice und slept in another house too. Like always we were assured that it was safe here, and in the worst case there would be dogs around the house. "No pasa nada," is what I hear since Mexico. Well, indeed, the dogs were really around and were barking in the middle of the night so that the owners even came out themselves with flashlight as they feared that somebody strange was around. I could well imagine that somebody had seen us putting up the tents and was trying to snatch some parts of our belongings.

Two days later while climbing up the mountain range a strong watchdog followed us and ran with us for a whole day until we could leave it in a hotel where it was gladly welcomed. The dog probably enjoyed our freedom and felt attracted. It was a great dog, it defended us whenever we made a break. Further to many locals it gave the impression as if it was ours and they showed respect. I liked that as they appeared not always to be nice guys.

Thank you Bruno and Irina for offering us an absolutely amazing time in your house. As I mentioned before throughout almost all of Peru I always felt a bit like being on pins and needles. How great if you can just throw all your stuff into a safe house with great people and relax not only physically but mentally too. Furthermore, Arequipa is a very nice town, number one if I had to choose to live in Peru.

Some details I picked out

Peru's culture as an ancient Spanish colony and with three main climates (coast, mountains, rainforest) is not a homogenous one. You strongly feel the difference between the Andes and the Amazonas and of course much more the difference between the European influenced people and the indigenous people. So I won't throw Peru's people in one and the same pot and it is not my purpose to describe the whole of Peru with the following stories:

Why did I feel almost throughout my whole route of Peru (5600km) like being on pins and needles?
Gringo calling would be a small thing, but beside the stone that was thrown on us, the gestures to shoot us, the fists and the insults, we were shown constantly other signs of hatred too: In several areas I was shown the middle finger, between Juliaca and Arequipa a core housing of an apple was thrown from a car on us and two other times someone yelled at me to paid road taxes as cars have to, although throughout all America nowhere bicycles have to pay that.

Last but not least Peru is home of aggressive dogs number one: Everywhere they run after you and try to bite you. I was never bitten but they bit into my luggage. With dogs I was always very strict and showed no mercy. As much as it hurt myself to chase them away with a stick and stone I saw no other way to handle this problem.

Little Privacy
I can understand that recumbent bikes and trikes especially attract the people so that within two minutes there can be fifty people around you. But what I had a problem with is that they touch everything until the bike falls to ground as it happened.

Some situations were a little funny: Often, when I was working on the internet, the people surrounding me looked into the screen too. Probably they didn't consider it as something personal and   ;)maybe my sites were more interesting than theirs.

Another situation is the following: You enter a village tired and hungry, go into a restaurant and get the food which by the way is good, healthy and cheap. Somebody sees you, is interested in your tour, sits at your table without asking and starts to ask you all about your tour so that you can't continue eating. Of course I understand their interest and want to answer questions but I need the food too.

Wrong information is information too

Often, when we asked a local about the way we got a wrong information. Even if you ask the police you can't believe it in most of the cases. They rarely say honestly that they don't know it. Rather they give you a wrong information than an open 'I don't know'. That happened to us almost all over Latin America.

But I want to give a heartfelt thank you to all Peruvians how treated us with respect and even invited us for more.