Onwards we ride – Perú seems able to give us so much, and it continues to provide.
A 15km rattle-down covers us in rock-dust with passing trucks holding their line on the best of the road – reluctant to vary or compensate for rugged-up and brightly clad cyclists. Pampas sits in the valley floor amid neatly arranged fields. We’ve thought to follow a road up and over to the Rio Mantaro that our map shows – giving us a possibly flatter ride to Mayocc. The standard routine is followed as we head for the Parque Central. Sarah’s shopping and cooking day, so I sit by the bikes and begin to clean and lubricate our chains. A boy optimistically indicates that he wishes to shine my shoes (why isn’t he at school? not an unusual situation – it seems that maybe a third of school age kids are working, not learning). I gather a group of men, and questions about the bikes start – we’re naked to them – public property there to entertain and add a story to their day – a great thing about travelling by bike if we’re inspired, but an effort at other times when we miss our privacy. Sarah returns – unhappy – gringas and giggling at her arrival in shops – feeling exposed and freakish.
“How do we get to the big river – Mantaro?”
“You can’t. You have to go via Churcampa – everyone goes that way” (younger man, who wants to speak English – for our benefit? to show off? better use English back – might offend if we don’t)
“Can we get to La Esmeralda by moto?” (ok, so he doesn’t think a bicycle can go uphill – try the motorbike trick – name the only place on the section of river we want to get to)
“No. If you want to go to the river, you have to go back up to the pista” (not getting anywhere here – it’s on the map, but maps are only ever approximations these days)
“But our map shows a road…” (Why are our bikes there to be poked and our tyres to be squeezed – what is it about men, boys and bicycle tyres! No personal space allowed…)
Others engage – we try to coax useful information from the sages who ponder and mutter. Our english-speaker glances at another, who admits that a path exists. We approach the questions from all angles – there’s no majority consensus – 40 minutes in a ute – 3 hours by mototaxi – a horrible track, even to walk. The opinions swirl and wash around us – we’ve not the patience for this game today – othertimes this can be fun and a challenge – not today. We fail to connect – don’t want to offend, but bristle at perceived assumptions about what we can do – back down, smile, thank and slink off – a sour taste in our mouths.
We take the recommended road via Churcampa as we haven’t the energy to do anything else.
It turns out to be stunning – and a truly glorious thing.
We are slightly lightheaded and persistently breathless with the altitude – 50km above 4000m, as we follow the bright, hard-packed dirt road. Literally a Sendero Luminoso.
I idly wonder what my haemoglobin would be if I measured it. This is a place that demands a lot of our iron stores – not easy for a vegetarian to keep up – Sarah’s taking multivits – enough? Tiredness and fugginess explained? Maybe big distances and long days at altitude…