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What we did
Here’s a few stats about what we did on this leg:
- Days taken: 9 (including 1 rest day)
- Distance cycled: 596 km
- Total elevation gain: 5,060m
- Max daily distance: 103km
- Max daily elevation gain: 1,122m
- Max altitude reached: 4,850m
- Max altitude slept at: 4,747m (highest in Peru)
- Nights spend under a roof (in a tent): 7 (2)
Our first target after crossing into Peru was the great Inca capital and now modern cosmopolitan city of Cusco; gateway to Machu Picchu, regional cultural and culinary center, and the proverbial first name on the teamsheet when most tourists draw up their itineraries for a trip to Peru. And just the odd 500km away.
After completing the immigration formalities, our journey actually began with quite a boring ride on the flatlands skirting the west side of lake Titicaca (I know, cry me a river/lake), on a road that got progressively busier and against a headwind that became progressively stronger as we drew closer to the end of the flat altiplano and the beginning of the mountains that would be our home for most of the next three months.
This part of Peru is famous for its indigenous Quechua-speaking communities, and while we did see some interesting traditional village life at some of the colourful regional markets along the way, our most interesting – and useful – cultural insight was of the importance of Sunday lunch, whereby, as we discovered on our second day in the country, come around 1:30pm every Sunday, Peru’s city dwellers (in this case, those from Puno) descend on nearby towns and villages to feast on something deep fried (usually pork, fish, duck or guinea pig) whilst glugging beer or ‘gaseosas’ – the local name for carbonated drinks, by far the most popular being the Irn Bru rip-off Inca Kola. So, after making the mistake of eating our staple lunch of about 8 cheese sandwiches this first time around, on almost every Sunday since we’ve done our best to join in the fun and games.
After stopping off in regional capital Puno for a day to see the famous floating reed islands – traditional homes of the indigenous Uros people that were used literally to float away from foreign invaders, and that now seem to exist only as a way to trap unsuspecting tourists offshore so they can be flogged reed-based souvenirs – we decided to turn off the main highway, and to reach our destination via a series of mostly unpaved back roads. Our route was inspired largely by the sprawling and beautiful Big Sur blog that we’ve been intermittently working our way through over the last six months, and the fact that the main highway was quite uninspiring. This added on a few extra days and more than a few extra beads of sweat – and as we toiled up and over the first of what would be many 1,000+ metre climbs we did question whether it was really worth it. But the following five-and-a-half days turned out to be some of our favourites of the trip so far: on the way we passed some remote precolumbian ruins, unspoilt colonial villages – in particular Juli, Lampa and Andahuaylillas with their beautifully preserved 17th century churches – a series of picture-postcard lakes on Peru’s own mini-lagunas route near the village of Acopia, and the first of many spectacular deep canyons as we dropped back down to the main highway outside of our final destination, Cusco.
Away from the beautiful scenery, Peru did have a few less welcome surprises in store. These mostly revolved around – you guessed it – the food. On our first night, in the pretty colonial village of Juli, our dreams of spending the next three months indulging in the delights of the Novo Andean cuisine that we’d heard so much about were brought crashing down when the only restaurants that were open were doing fried chicken, and thanks to Peru’s Lima-centric time zone, they were all shutting up for the night by around 7pm. The one that was still open transpired – after keeping us waiting for over an hour – to have run out of chicken, and a rather regretful argument ensued which may or may not have involved the owner chasing us down the road. Next we discovered that one of our on-the-road staples – pate – isn’t sold in Peru, with its shelf space taken over by cans of tuna and evaporated milk, which together must make up more than half the stock of most of the country’s food shops. And finally, hoping to find an array of interesting and delicious local delicacies on sale at the central market in Puno, we were a little miffed to find out that the local delicacy was ‘caldo de cabeza’ – a starchy rice and potato soup poured over a whole boiled sheep’s head!
(I should say that the food on this leg wasn’t all bad: we did discover an ice cream version of the amazing sublime chocolate bars that are basically like a snickers but better, and we also had our first taste of the quite incredible alfajores, which are essentially a load of caramel sandwiched between two biscuits and coated in icing sugar. Also, Charlie makes a mean tuna and tomato pasta, obvs).
Lastly, in case you’re interested, for accommodation we wild camped (i.e., by the side of the road) a couple of times, and otherwise stayed in ‘hospedajes’, ‘hostals’, or ‘alojamientos’ – basic guesthouses whose names seem to be completely interchangeable. The camping was a lot more fun, and we vowed to do more of it in Peru than we’d done before (this wouldn’t be hard). The weather also continued to be great – by the time we reached Cusco we’d had about 2 hours of rain in the past 75 days.
Route map and altitude profile
Here’s another one of those fancy maps and altitude profiles that I made with the rather too much time I’ve had on my hands recently. In case you didn’t know, we were travelling from South East to North West.
Welcome to Peru!
Most of what we found in the local shops was canned tuna and evaporated milk, with lots of brands and types to choose from! These photos were taken in the respective aisles of a Lima supermarket, but you get the point
Me sampling some of the local liquid delicacies: first, a raspadilla, which is basically a slush puppy. Second, a ‘jugo especial’ which is a pretty serious concoction made with, amongst other things, papaya, peach, carrot, egg, algarrobina (a kind of syrup), evaporated milk, sugar and malt beer!
Our final piece of riding before rejoining the highway was some of our favourite in the whole trip – a beautifully paved, wonderfully quiet, winding road past four brilliant blue Andean lakes, it really could be Peru’s own ‘lagunas route’