Perú: Ayacucho to Abancay – protests and rollercoasters

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.

Irrigated and lush - the valley floor is a different world to its parched surroundings - the road less travelled from Ayacucho

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!

Dental floss and a speedy-stitcher - tyre repairs on the fly
A while later we make an Helados stop - and I get to trying to fix some brakes - in the end a frustrating task as I would need to true his back wheel and give him a new cable to do a proper job - he insists on giving us drinking water in payment (Photo S.Hedges)
The next morning we are briefly 'on high' - looking back a moment
before dropping down (again) past Ocros and a wonderfully vegetarian almuerzo
In Ocros we get hints that all won't be well a bit further on - the exact nature of this problem isn't explained - we might have to wait a bit - we might not. Still the road goes down - in the end we lose nearly 2km elevation over 50km descent
As we get to the river, there's a gathering queue of trucks and cars - and a blocked road. We consult - and pass by, though after being warned to be very careful
Our road runs along the river - a drop to the right. And people throwing rocks at us from above on the left. We don helmets (I had nearly decided to jettison mine as an unused item) and make cautious progress. Whole communities work together to protest issues - we are graced with passage, but privileged to really feel their distress at injustices imposed by the powerful mining companies
Fast inter-village progress - obstruction-free. Brought to a halt close to dusk as we turn away from the river by a too-imposing mass of people - "No hay paso"
This isn't supposed to be a numbers game - 10 000km happened in southern México, now we've doubled it. (photo S.Hedges)
Proximity to the river and a warmer altitude brings biting insects - we are told the pungent juice from these leaves will repel them - tests are still ongoing...
Not sure of being held up again further up the road we make an early start (even for us) - on the road at 6am! Streams of trucks released from the blockages trundle past us. Later we are told that the demonstrations have finished - the roads for hundred of kms to come are littered with evidence of the people's support
50km down, 50km up - evening sees us above 4000m again - camping we yearn for - a bedtime view to induce sighs of contentment

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.

Laguna Pacucha - the beginning of a route less travelled from Andahuaylas to Abancay

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…

Camping near the head of the valley out of the lake, the next morning brings cloud - and down - with masked drop and swirling visibility
A sharp corner sports a bright range of memorials - those who didn't or couldn't slow down. We do, and pass on downwards
As a diversion from the next up (the rest of the morning....) we take a footpath - slightly teetery, but fun
In splendid isolation above the road down to Huancarama - this archeological site is tourist free, in contrast to Machu Picchu
After a night of prolonged heavy rain, thunder and much lightning (and dry snugness), clouds and mist continue to ebb and flow around the final drop into Abancay

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