Getting in and out of cities without a map has become a matter of practiced routine. The inward plan is usually to head for Parque Central, or the Plaza de Armas and work from there. Heading out – pick a nearby village or town on our route and start asking questions – follow the directions given – make sure the donor isn’t drunk or patently unreliable. Taxi-drivers are the best bet – sometimes they even know how far it is to a given place in kilometres! (not hours by car….) If in doubt, keep asking until you like the answer.
There are two possible roads for us to follow in a Cuzco-direction from Ayacucho. We (naturally) want to take the more minor of these – it follows a river valley, and our map says that it’s the shorter of the two. We’re going along nicely – stringing directions together – until suddenly it’s looking dodgy. Next step – ask the taxi-collectivo driver – he tells us he will drive ahead and guide us to the correct road. He is profusely thanked – we’re onto dirt and going well.
The length of our trip and the road surfaces we chose have been taking their toll on our kit. I’m onto new tyres now – the front a nice Schwalbe Marathon Extreme new in Cajamarca – the rear a CST Comp Cheyenne new in Junín (locally bought and just over $10, so a fraction of the price of the other). Sarah’s rear, now front tyre (I swapped them – the front tyres take less of a beating), is gradually tearing itself apart too now. It chooses this section to dramatically deflate – I jury-rig things with some sewing – we have another Schwalbe waiting in La Paz. Only another thousand kms or so!
After Andahuaylas we climb again. The road is a chicane of tree-stumps and littered rocks – dregs of recent protests. Unlike the road before – smoothly surfaced – the way is rough and discouraging. Turning off the more main road to crest the ridge down to Laguna Pacucha we relax.
The wind’s behind us (briefly) and the path smoother. Along its shores are villages – complete with those discerningly interested in our bicycles.
A little while later we’ve explained the usual things – We’re Australians (fudging in my case), we’ve cycled from Canadá (yes, all the way – yes, on bicycles), we carry a a tent, warm clothes, a little stove and no – we’ll be alright camping out at night in the cold. Things get more detailed – How many gears?, How much does your bike cost? (Always reluctant to answer this one – an accurate answer may alienate them from bicycle travel – a fudged one could show disrespect). Could we buy this bike in Perú? Will you give-sell us your bicycles? (No! – how would be travel without them! – we were offered $30 for both bikes by some teenagers a few days ago…)
We are encircled – gently and in friendship – handlebar grips are tested – key aspects of frame and accessories are pointed out to all and discussed methodically. Tyres are carefully palpated and their longevity commented on. The size of my load is noted, and the strength and fitness we must have to have come so far is exclaimed at. Are we admired? After we disappear down the road, are heads shaken and our madness so far beyond their lives. Or have we made a connection, enough to inspire maybe? Enough to take them on a journey? It would be nice to know, though possibly it’s better to hope and not be disappointed…