Right into My Heart

September, October, November in Peru, Bolivia

albano, Inchon (South Korea), January 2000

Peru - and suddenly the landscape becomes flat. I reach Sullana and the next day Piura. The most outstanding feature of these cities are the omnipresent motorcycle taxis. Muggings of cyclists have been reported about the panamerican highway south from Piura. One of the victims was my former fellow-traveller Jonas, so I decide to take the old road, which is a little longer - and safer, so they say. Usually, I have no problems with people asking me, what time it is, but the man on the left side of the road doing this, when I leave Piura, is ill-placed with his joke, since my friend's bad experiences started the same way. I have different problems: The spines of the desert and my touring tyres don't agree with each other, and I am more working on the wheels than on the pedals.

Here, too, I meet hospitable people, but I reject an invitation after having moved just about ten kilometers that day. This evening, I arrive in Lambayeque, where I visit the Brüning museum, which displays the wealthy finary found in the grave of the Lord of Sipan, an important dignitary of a past era. I make a short stop from Friday to Saturday in Chiclayo. This city has less inhabitants than Piura, but looks bigger. On goes it through lush green due to irrigation or gray to brown sand desert, with just little tough vegetation, all about the same all along the coast. The night before reaching charming Trujillo, I enjoy an invitation from two guards that watch a not yet working truck weigh checking station.

Most of the following nights, I just pitch my tent in the middle of the dunes. Interesting meetings are rare. Kind of special are the pilgrims walking from Lima to the northern frontier of the country. Two days before, I reach the capital, the sadness of the environments is even increased, when I am driving on the four-lane highway, challenged by a relentless south wind from the sea, surrounded by fog and passing trucks. The next day, my bike itself passes as a truck, when the police allows me to use the flat coast road, on which usually only heavy traffic may run.

I carefully approach the huge city of Lima. Only after a night in the suburbs, I ride into the centre. Again, I find tremendous contrasts: broad avenues and narrow lanes, wealthy historical buildings as well as shabby huts - and this without visiting the upper class districts on the coast. The differences are also reflected by the restaurant prices. I take a few rest days and profit from the cheap computer rental during the night for some work on my internet pages, among other things.

On Saturday, September 25, I am back in the saddle, headed to the mountains. But before getting out of the city, I run into some difficulties of orientation. I choose a bad place for stopping and asking a not very helpful taxi driver for the right way. Just a few seconds pass, before somebody has torn my watch away from my wrist. I drop the bike and pursue the two young men trying to make off with my property. Before I reach them, they throw the chronometer away, and I harvest the approval of the spectators. Somehow, I finally find the right road. For this night, I make a rare find: a campground. I may eat with a high school class passing the week-end there, but the next morning I get some work posing for common photos.

Today, the road gets steeper, and I pass the night in a dormitory in San Mateo. One of the guests arrives late, shivering. I lend him my jacket to warm up. I am a little astonished, that he even sleeps in it. Unfortunately, I miss his departure by sleeping, and my garment has also disappeared. With my last pullover on, I continue, ascending through a deep ravine. Around noon, drizzling starts and gets colder and colder while gradually turning white. In order not to freeze, I push my bike until arriving in Casapalca, where I may spend the night in a restaurant.

The next day, with better weather and through a slightly sugared landscape, I finally reach Ticlio, the highest point on nearly 5000 meters, but with a fast breath, a high pulse and a slight headake. One day more, and I arrive in Huancayo, a small and pleasant city. When I go shopping, I discover its most pleasant attraction working with an optician. I go out with her this evening, and we tumble in love. I don't leave the city as I had planned, but stay two days longer, for obvious reasons.

I continue riding, through capricious weather, on October 3, and may pitch my tent in the entrance of a little school house. The coming day, the people of the surrounding villages all gather along the highway to see - not me, but the motor race. And they have some fun with me passing besides. Another night at school, this time inside the classroom, in Mantacra. It is not easy to get rid of all the courious children visiting me, but I finally succeed with lots of explanations about Switzerland, an English lesson and some rounds of card-playing. Some more days pass on gavel along the Mantaro valley until I reach historically important Ayacucho. I just stay for one day and have extensive welding done on my front rack. I am not really in the best mood, missing my big love.

There is more gravel ahead, and the mountain ranges seem to run at right angles to the road. Several passes of more than 4000 meters alternate with low valleys. These days, I state, that even the best Peruvian maps are not too accurate. One day, I make 160 kilometers on the map and only half of this on the road. Some pleasing events interrupt strenous pedalling: Before leaving Andahuaylas, I receive the blessing of an eager believer. The day after, the suspension of the rack breaks again, but a farmer passing on his tractor assumes my repair work. Two days later, I stay with the police at a checkpoint - we trade lunch for English and German lessons. This takes place after a tremendous change of the road condition. On the immaculately paved new main road, I master the last uphill before reaching the high plane and Cusco on October 17.

It is not peak season, but the city is still bursting with tourism from all over the world. The splendid old town and the abundant cultural life more than justifies a stay. And as in any other place living from tourism, locals know how to skim off their share of the bustle, with a double-priced «international» menu, for instance. There's another bustle going on within my stomach. Pain and intermittent diarrhoea keep me a few days from the planned side trip to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

On Friday, I finally take the train to Aguas Calientes, and the next morning before the sunrise and before the first buses, I am walking up to the amazing site. I am still not alone. Lots of hikers are just accomplishing their conquest of the inca trail (with locals carrying their gear). But the real masses arrive only a few hours later with the morning train and seize the place. Back to Cusco. After another rest day, I leave the city behind. The nearby flat route, compared with the past weeks, leads to Puno on Lake Titicaca, where the stomach bugs ride another attack. Then, going along the shore of the lake, I reach its outlet in Desaguadero. The river of the same name makes the border between Peru and Bolivia.

The road to La Paz is in excellent condition, except for the first few kilometers, that are not paved yet. Just before I reach the capital, the weather shows, once more, its fierce face: stiff wind and cold rain, nearly snow. But soon, I reach the rim of El Alto, and a long downhill leads to the centre, which lies down in the hollow of a valley. There are countless stalls along the lanes surrounding my hotel, where you can buy virtually everything you need - for reasonable and even negotiable prices.

But first, I need Bolivian money. Today, it's day of death, so the banks are dead, too. And so are the machines. The money changers, however, are alert for a good deal, as always, and don't want to shell out the small change. So, I first go for a huge pizza on credit, and finally, I get a decent exchange rate in a restaurant. Another deal is the parcel, I send home; quite a long procedure, in which drug defence authorities, customs and postal service are involved. And finally, I have to decide for a flight away from the continent. I opt for a Lima - Tokyo transfer. I want to go back to Lima anyway. There is somebody waiting for me - in Huancayo.

On Saturday, November 6, I leave La Paz, and one bus ride follows the other. Crossing the border to Peru goes without a hitch, but when I leave the next bus, I forget my last pullover, and the night between Puno and Arequipa bears some sleepless hours due to the combination of an urgent need and a missing bathroom. The tariffs for the bike transport are quite opaque: Sometimes, there is no charge at all, sometimes the bargaining starts at the level of a passenger fare. Early Tuesday morning. I arrive in Hunacayo. My sweetheart is waiting for me at the bus stop. We give each other a tight hug.

Two weeks later, on November 23, we find ourselves at the airport in Lima. My plane is waiting for me. A last look, and I'm swallowed by the departure lobby. With tears in my eyes, I arrive at the security checkpint, where my kitchen knife is daclared a dangerous weapon, not allowed in the cabin. I get a receipt. And a few minutes later, I also get my knife back - from an employee of my airline. Nice try, but they didn't manage to cheer me up. Weeping continues on board. My overnight stay in Atlanta is included in the airfare. I feel kind of lost in the huge Sheraton room. The next flight leaves the continent. In mid-air, Wednesday becomes Thursday. We touch the japanese ground in the afternoon. I assemble my bicycle during the early dawn. Where could I sleep tonight?


© 1-19-2000 albano & team