< Ecuador | Central Peru >

Northern Peru

2008-07-17

On other side of the border bridge were people selling cheap Ecuadorian gas, and hundreds of mototaxis. I made my way to Peruvian immigrations and fended off money changers (I had no intention of surrendering my American dollars, which are used for the currency of Ecuador). The immigration officer asked me how many days I wanted and I told him at least 60. He gave me 120. This increased my belief that the Colombian immigrations officer had no sense of humor, and punished my hilarious jokes with 15 days way back when…

A few miles south of immigrations, the land turned ever more dry, and instead of rivers flowing with polluted water as I found in Ecuador, these rivers didn’t flow with anything at all. Eventually I made it to the town of Tumbes, withdrew of nuevos soles from the ATM, and used them to get some cheap lodging. And so ended my first day in Peru…

Well, nearly. In the evening, while taking in some of the local sights, I was approached by a desperate Austrian man, whose trusting nature had allowed a taxi driver to drive away with his luggage still in the vehicle. He asked me for some money, and when I only gave him the dollar (3 soles) I had on me, he critized me for not giving him more. What the hell? That’s the last time I ever admit to speaking German at night in Peru…

The next morning I made my way south, to the costal resorts, and then costal desert to be found south of Tumbes. On my way I stopped to lend the use of my bike pump to a motorcyclist who had a flat, and his graciousness made me feel partially better about my charitable nature. Continuing on, I became increasingly bored by the landscape, and nearly fell asleep off my bike more than once.

So it was a great change of pace to meet a couple of Argentine cyclists on their two year global tour. After a bit of chatting, their continued north as I continued south.

And around the next bend began the headwinds. Why didn’t they tell me about them? As I went further south the winds built and built, and I found myself infuriated and nearly defeated. I ended the day near an oil derrick, about 75 miles south of where I started the day, too tired to be angry and too exhausted to cry. I lay with my head out of my tent staring up at the unfamiliar southern constellations for a while until the full moon outshone them all, and then slid back in and fell alseep.

The next day the winds returned, and I must have competely zoned out the entire time. Because after several hours of riding through featureless desert, with the occasional dog chase and ever-present headwind, I found myself in an irrigated valley near Sullana. I made my way to that city, got a room, got some food, and washed the dirt and cooking fuel off my hands. I’d ridden 85 miles, but now have barely any memory of it at all. Oh, while brushing my teeth on the side of the road, I accidentally spit toothpaste on my shoe. I laughed at that.

As I was preparing myself for the desert the next day, I decided it was time for a break. I pushed on 25 miles to Piura, arriving at 10:00am and set in for the day. The desert could wait another day.

In the morning before I set out to tackle the desert, I brewed myself my first batch of coca tea and loaded it up with sugar. I figured with the combination of cocainoids and sucrose I’d fly right down the desert and possibly —just possibly— cross the entire thing in one day.

As it turned out, no such luck. The now-familiar headwind was in top form with nothing at all in the endless expanse to stop it, and it pushed me constantly. I still managed to roll out a cool 85 miles that day, and I can’t decide if I should credit the coca for that result; my careful two sandwiches and a banana every 25 miles regimen; or the fact that I devoted eight straight hours to riding that distance.

In any event, I ended in the middle of nowhere, hidden from the highway behind a thorn tree-covered dune. I cooked up some oat/quinoa porridge, shoveled it into my mouth, and stared out across the dunes as the sky slowly lost its light. The wind howled throughout the night, but in my tent I was warm and secure.

The next morning I cooked up more porridge, demolished a roll of ritz cracker imitations, produced some food for the local fly population and set off. The wind was already strong. But after around 10 miles the land started to green and I saw huts along the road in increasing density. Clearly I was near some sort of population center. Sure enough another 10 miles down the road I came to a town and to the end of the depopulated expanse of the Sechura desert.

In Chiclayo, I went into a diner and saw couple with a half finished plate of thick-cut french fries. Not knowing it was half-finished, and thinking that it was just delivered to their table, I ordered one for myself. What came out can best be described as a moutain of french fries. I did my best to eat them all, but eventually the grease and salt started to give me a headache, and I went from delicious feasting to wincing with every bite. At that point I threw in the napkin and admited defeat.

The next morning I rode through a stretch of desert even more featureless than that which I’d just spent two days in. Flat sand forever. Well, and the occaisional sign saying that this was a military testing zone and that there were live explosives, so don’t enter. I took them at their word.

But eventually hills started to rise off on the eastern side of the road, and became larger and more sublime as I continued southwards. And so I spent half my time watching the road for potholes and the other half watching the hills grow larger and closer. I would choose a hill on the horizon and guess how far away it was, and then perhaps 45 minutes later, I would discover that my guess wasn’t even close. In this way, I was able to cope with the wind and desolation all the way to the beach town of Pacasmayo, where after some hard negotiation and playing one hotel off the other, I got a room for $4. The management wasn’t very friendly with me after that, but I wasn’t about to pay more for a cold shower (which I didn’t take) and a bed which I never slept on (I prefered the floor).

The following morning I got up very early, and mentally prepared myself for riding through the thieves nest of Paij├ín. I first heard about this town in Colombia from a pair of Spanish cyclists travelling north, and its reputation grew in my mind to such a point that I was sure that I’d be robbed naked and blind shortly after passing through.

After thirty miles in the desert, I came to the town limits. I set my body to maximum adrenaline rush, and pushed on the pedals so hard it felt like angry dwarves were kicking my shins with each rotation. I made it through town without issue. But everyone had, the real action took place in the sugarcane fields on the other side of town when the thieves would supposedly come in their mototaxis and attack. The dwarves put on steel-toed boots and I continued on to the next town five miles down the road. Safe. I still raced through that town and to the next one. Safe. And then into the desert again. Safe. Finally 15 miles down the road, I relaxed a bit and let my tunnel vision expand back to normal.

The rest of the ride to Trujillo was spent thanking god and cursing the wind, and in Trujillo I called up Lucho. He met me, and took me into his home for a few days of chillaxin’ in the first cyclist friendly environment I’d been in for ages. What a perfect way to take some time off!

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