Into Perú: Rough roads and history

I’ve left Ecuador behind in what again feels like a whirlwind few weeks and made my way into Peru. There is almost too much to write about the past while so here’s a snippet of my experiences as the England vs. Ukraine football match continues to distract on the telly.

I knew the road out of Vilcabamba was going to be a tough ride. First of all the little yellow line on my map which identified as “Secondary route – paved” changed to “Other road – unpaved/track” just after the village of Vilcabamba in a remote region of southern Ecuador. After a nice surprise and 32km of unexpected new pavement I was finally left with changeable dirt, mud, stony washed out path for the next 4 days. In 6 years they hope to have this section of road to the Peruvian border completely paved which seems disastrously slow as the route is just 101km in length. I now see why.

This route clings to the mountainside side for the most part as it follows a meandering river that skirts the boundaries of both countries. Heavy rains seem to cause dense rock falls too which either wrecks current work or makes future that little bit harder. To widen this thing must be a mammoth task and the ever present heavy machinery was the only worry I had in those 4 days as it swung back and forth dumping parts of the mountain into large earth pits on the lower slopes. The construction traffic, pummelling rain that turned any remaining soil into mud and some steep grades slowed me down so much that at one point I could see an entire morning’s cycling revealed behind me a short distance back down the valley.

Zumba was my last stop in Ecuador before the ride to what I’m sure has to be one of quietest border crossings in the Americas. Zumba is an interesting place for its geography and little more. It may have about 5,000 people living in and around it but is an absolute eternity from anywhere else significant. Its 10 hours by bus to Loja, the next noteworthy town. People have absolutely no reason to go there as it’s so far and too expensive so they stay in Zumba. Any money that is earned in Zumba is conversely spent in Zumba. In short, it’s isolated and I wondered hanging around there for an afternoon if anybody ever leaves and for what reason? Family? Government stuff? Bringing crops to market? The children in a small pueblito (village) close to there were amazed when I showed them video of sprawling Quito, their capital city and I bet it would be a long, long time until any of them made it there, if ever.

Peru has been an interesting experience so far and quite different from Ecuador. It’s starkly obvious how much poorer it is. There are very few private vehicles, just moto-taxis taking people from place to place and the level and standard of housing is far lower with dried mud blocks and galvanised roof being most common in the rural areas. So far, I haven’t warmed to it in the same way as northerly neighbours but it does still have over a month to grow on me. A most common happening is the incessant shouting of ‘gringo’ which isn’t particularly endearing unless coming from children with a smile on their face (I’ve had the opposite so far; adults with no smile and a certain level of hostility) and the furious honking of car and truck horns on the road just as they pass. It’s early days yet and what lies around the corner is bound to impress. The Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range outside of the Himalayas, will be reached within 4 days and I’ll switch foggy, green mountain passes for soaring snow-capped peaks. This was always to be a highlight and from what I hear from other travellers, it’s going to be immense.

I’m also staying at the famous Casa de Ciclista in Trujillo until my departure tomorrow. Lucho Ramirez has been hosting passing cyclists since 1985 and has seen close to 2000 enter and exit through his doors. Some are short distance cyclists, others traversing the continent and some moving around the world. Reading the comments and anecdotes in the gigantic guestbook only serves as further inspiration for my journey and shows me that a giant family with one thing in common exists out there in past, present and future. I’m very much looking forward to signing it and becoming part of a unique history in these parts.

Total miles/km: 12,172mi/19,589km

Current location: Trujillo, Perú

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