The scene had been set. I work until 7pm on Saturday & due to being so close to the Equator/Ecuador, by this time it is pitch black, in summer & winter. I’m not a good enough rider to head off-road at night, so I had to wait. The opportunity arose, but I was called in to work for a meeting, so it was off. I have a bike-riding friend who had done it in a day, but he rides a big 990cc KTM, which packs a bit more punch than my wee machine. I thought I’d try it in a day, what’s the worst that could happen…
Up at 5am & away by 6 (I am an intolerable faffer on a morning). Lima in winter is generally cloaked in a thick grey mist. A proper pea-souper. My goggles were a river of dirty rain droplets, as I passed the row-upon-row of optimistic roadside traders, selling everything from “Taxi” stickers to giant papaya to fluorescent kites. With a roaring tailwind I made good progress.
10km out of town, the mist evaporated & the sun beat down. By 7am I was sweating & my smile was growing. The first 50km were on road. Although the road conditions cold be compared to off-road, with huge potholes, crumbling tarmac & some tricky railway tracks to traverse. Crossing them straight on is no problem, these had been laid to criss-cross the snaking road and were almost parallel. Best to cross them at a wider angle, but with impatient drivers up my backside this wasn’t always possible. They almost gave me a tarmac breakfast, so I was glad to get off-road, onto the thin trail I’d seen. Scale is a tricky thing to judge at times & as always I’d underestimated just how long it would take.
Hairpins sweeping skywards brought an amazing panorama.
Lima to the east, drowned in a sea of grey cloud seemed a long way away.
An old lady stopped me & quizzed me. A lady of “la Sierra” (Highlands) dressed in traditional clothing, with pony tails & a big, big hat.
1) Where are you from?
2) Where are you going?
3) Where were my friends?
4) What would I do if my bike exploded/I got lost/died/worse…
Then a younger lady (with no teeth) stopped me & asked me the same 4 questions.
She was much more doom-&-gloom. She only knew of one person who had ever ventured down that road & they had died a gruesome death!
“Turn back, go back to Lima, a grim end awaits you…”
I glanced at my watch & saw that I’d been going for an hour & hadn’t made much progress at all. Best get a wriggle-on!
It’s always tricky getting a balance between cracking-on & stopping for breaks/photos/brew-stops. This place was amazing & there was nobody here at all. After 2 hours I made the top of the pass, to be greeted by a young burrito quietly waiting in line for the Municipalidad (Town Hall offices), a tiny cubicle/kiosk. Glad to have a bit of downhill as my bike was playing up a bit, but I didn’t give it much thought at the time.
I’d told myself that I needed a turn-around time. I had no idea of the conditions of the track. The first village told me that I was at 4200m above sea level. Maybe that’s why the bike was struggling, it had spent most of its life chugging around sea-level-Lima. I didn’t see a single soul in the first village & only one old lad in the next little hamlet. The road was blocked by an ancient truck parked up, I couldn’t squeeze past, so I had to backtrack & weave through the labyrinth of passageways, made trickier by a drainage ditch in the middle of the path.
Downhill was no problem for the ailing Honda & apart from a near miss with a train of donkeys parked on a blind bend (their owner was washing his clothes in the river & obviously wasn’t expecting anybody else to be on the trail), it was an uneventful ride back down to the road & onwards to Lima.
Until I got about an hour from home & hit a wall of traffic!
Nothing was moving.
I spotted a Combi dart left onto a dirt track so I followed.
The delay was due to a fire burning on the railway track & a small protest.
The Police were doing their best to delay everyone, by blocking the road both ways. Thick black smoke & the fact that at 6pm, there is a sudden & instant transition from day to night here in Peru. No lingering dusk.
The sun switches from on to off.
(Literally) blindly following the combi (who had no lights, nor were there any streetlights) down a rutted track running parallel to the parked traffic rounded off an excellent days adventure.
I’d ridden into the unknown & although it was a major fail (this time), I’d be back!