Getting out of bed on the wrong side is usually a good indicator of how the rest of the day is going to go. Attempting to exit a town, the road detouring through a garbage dump, and general being lost for an hour, is another healthy indication that they day isn’t going to go as planned. And so it was that we departed Ayacucho, mud and a mini tornado of garbage flying from the rear wheel as the accelerator was twisted harder and harder with each wrong direction acquired from the locals.
Peru is making use of it’s decade of relative peace, encouraging foreign investment, and ensuring that every natural resource that can be mined, is mined. The mining companies like to ensure their employes are able to commute to and from work without plummeting off the side of a llama track or being encouraged into the river below by a mudslide, and build beautifully smooth roads from the towns to the mine sites. Once the turnoff to the site has been reached, the road plunders back into various states of disrepair. After the garbage dump start, we ended on one of these roads, appearing out of the middle of nowhere. True to form, it ended as quickly as it started, and we spun and slid our way up to the top of the mountain, fighting deep mud, freezing rain, fogging visor and a tractor who dug a trench across the entire road. The plateau allowed us to open the bikes up, dust clouds kicking up behind, as we increased our average speed considerably from the previous 15km/h. Down the other side we went, the weather and vegetation a stark contrast from the windward side of the mountain. The mood lighted which in hindsight was the calm before the storm.
Stopping for our on the road “lunch”, a drink of any sort and at ambient temperature, a pack of chips and something containing chocolate, real or otherwise, we were advised that it was not possible to proceed on the route we were on. Murray, speaking in fluent Spanish, enquired as to why this might be. Supposedly there was a bridge some 5 months ago, which has ceased to be due to being washed down the river. No problem, Murray informs, we can cross rivers on our bikes. No hombre, this river is big, no hope of crossing it. After much discussion and arm flaying, we were informed that there was a boat that was plying it’s trade and we could cross on that. I saved my chocolate biscuits to eat while crossing the river, standing on the deck of the boat, the breeze wisping over my ears. Murray scoffed his.
Riding down the hill to the bridge/boat, Murray was leading, and I was able to witness every person en-route, running out, madly waving, making slashing signs across their throat. Silly people, we are well informed that the bridge is out and that there is a ferry service making the crossing, serving light meals and cold beverages. Around the final corner, the river came into view, as did the enterprising Peruvians who had set up food stalls, a shawl market, and anything else you would expect to find at a bridge-not-there site. The full extent of the problem became immediately obvious – a 150m wide swath of fast flowing, brown water, 60 meters below the road and about 20 meters away. This equates to a very steep drop. Further inspection revealed the boat was in-fact an oversized canoe, and the dock was a muddy embankment impossibly far down from where we were currently standing. A competitor to the canoe had set up a flying fox, cramming their passengers into a rabbit trap sized cage, hurtling them across the river, flaying to pull them in a with a stick, saving them from bobbing 60m above the river on a ride the fun fair could never duplicate. Closely examining the toothpick width supports of the flying fox, we returned our attention to the canoe.
Upon dismounting the bikes, we needed to beat the locals to stop them from keenly carrying the bikes down the embankment. No problem we were informed, we can get the bikes down, just talk to the owner of the canoe for pricing. Scrambling down the slope, video camera in tow, we negotiated the passage of our bikes with the captain of the vessel once he successfully returned from a crossing with 34 clearly relieved passengers. 100 soles total ($30), would see the bikes to the other side. Review of our insurance policies (what policies?), evaluation of the risks (the scale doesn’t go this high) and finally plotting a detour on the map (5 days), we committed to the contract with a shake of the hand, and scrambled back up the cliff. What could possibly go wrong?
Whilst dismantling all the gear on my bike, Murray broke free of his mob, and advised that we had a problem. The problem was that the original 100 soles included 2 men, not the 8 we would require to carry the bikes down the ant track. Soles were in short supply due to the ongoing problem of not being able to exchange US dollars as they have been used outside the mint, therefore rendering them invalid. Seeing an opportunity to ditch some of these clearly repulsive used US bills, we negotiated hard for an additional US$20. Everyone happy, and with Murray’s bike as a guinea pig, we began the process of getting the bike down the hill. The task involved 8 men and a few ropes screaming a lot of Spanish and sweating profusely, precariously lowering the bike while Murray and I filmed and photographed, to be used in court when the bike inevitably ended up keeping company with the bridge in the bottom of the river. Murray’s bike finding itself in the canoe, having used a lot more force than finesse, the 15hp engine was coxed to life, and the boat somehow managed to win the clearly winless battle of getting from one side of the river to the other. The same 8 men, same ropes and same lack of co-ordination dragged the bike up the other embankment, and all returned for the second bike, and a request for a further un-contracted US$20. Finally, 3 hours after arriving, both bikes were on the other embankment, the work crew trying to hit us up with cash for drinks, we reattached all the bits and pieces, and took off down the road. They really should put a bridge over that river.
It is times like this that a Hilton with plump pillows, crisp sheets and room service would be greatly appreciated. No such luck, and 200km of dirt and mud roads, rain, a pannier unattaching itself, a bike unsticking itself and tummies crying for food, followed. With sunset a distant memory, we rolled into town, only to discover hot water isn’t available on Sunday night. But of course. At least we are here, and at least we can go to sleep. Why are we putting ourselves through this again?
Rain had really picked up the next morning as we started up yet another mountain pass. The words “monument is your friend” were going through my head as we came across a river crossing with the majority of the deluge flowing through it. Picking my course, I twisted the throttle, monument being my friend, and cruised on through. At least that was my plan. What happened instead was my front wheel hit a very large, angular rock, bending the rim and going completely flat in an instant. Not the best time and place for a flat, if I do say so myself. Once Murray quit laughing and I quit feeling sorry for myself, I started smashing the rim with our trusty rubber mallet, attempting to make it into something that resembled a circle. In a moment of non-concentration, I smashed the air valve, rendering my tubeless tires useless. Using Murray’s old front tube, patched for such an occasion, an awful lot of fiddling around, and two hours later, we were moving again, front tire pressure light blinking, and my sunglasses lost forever. So it turns out, monument is not always your friend.
The good thing with starting the day with a bent rim, is that the day can only improve. And improve it did with Peruvian mountains, roads and weather turning it up for us. Screams of joy and even louder screams of engine revolutions were had as the final 20km into Abancay were glorious pavement. To celebrate we had the Peruvian delicacy of Chinese fried rice and Coke. Two more hours and one more mountain would find us at our friends house in Curahuasi.
The next day would be the infamous day where Murray found out he was sick and would need to return to Australia immediately. As Murray led the two hour ride to Cusco, I sat behind him thinking of the previous 9000kms that I had road in a similar position and of the other 9000kms that I led and he was reflecting in my side mirror. We had some amazing experiences together, and I will really miss riding with Murray. That final ride was cut into the side of the beautiful Peruvian Andres, which stretched up into the blue sky, and a blue heart.