At the end of our last blog we had reached the half-way point of Peru’s Great Divide after battling the elements for 8 days and we were considering our next steps. Between the weather and the realisation that the next section of the Divide was going to be just as high, remote and with equally as limited shelter and facilities we reluctantly decided to drop down the Carretera Central to Lima.
We hadn’t expected or particularly wanted to visit Lima. A city of 10 million people is definitely not our ideal habitat, but our thinking was that from there we would have access to anywhere else in Peru to continue cycling. And while we were deciding on what to do we could enjoy some of the luxuries that being in a city brings.
Lima itself is a special brand of chaos. It’s unrelentingly noisy, the streets are clogged with vehicles that incessantly use their horns for a multitude of reasons, or no reason at all, and there are people everywhere. After the remoteness of the mountains the commercialised nature of the city, with its neon lights and billboards was definitely a shock to the system and on top of everything there is a permanent grey haze of cloud that hangs over the city which can make it seem pretty bleak at times. But despite all of that we found a lovely hostel near the center and indulged in many of the great options available for food.
During our few days in Lima we did explore some of the more interesting neighbourhoods and we even did our first walking tour of the trip, around the historic center. It was also nice to see the ocean, as for us it hadn’t made an appearance for many months. However, our main priority while staying Lima was to work out what the hell we were going to do next.
It felt like we had reached a crunch point on our trip, the knock-on effect of taking our time and never rushing during the earlier stages of our journey seemed to have caught up with us. Now we were faced with the choice of heading back into the mountains to deal with the rainy season or do something else. The lure of finishing the Peru Divide and continuing on into the Cordillera Blanca and the Huascaran national park was huge, but it would have meant many more weeks of difficult conditions and then our arrival into Ecuador would also have been in their wet season, making our plan to ride the Trans-Ecuador route difficult or impossible. Essentially this option wouldn’t have escaped the knock on effect, it would have just delayed it.
Long story short we decided to actually make up some time by getting a bus to the north of Peru. Riding the flat desert of the coast held no appeal for us, so if we weren’t going back to the mountains then it was always going to be a bus to somewhere. We were sad to be missing some of the incredible places in the northern Peruvian mountains, but also excited to be heading to Ecuador and riding the Trans-Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR). Peru had been a frustrating country for us and it was a place we were definitely not overly enamoured with. Between the protests that marred our trip to Machu Picchu, getting ill for the first time in a year, dealing with the most aggressive dogs on the continent (so far?!), and the horrendous traffic and driving standards on the roads and in the cities we weren’t too disappointed to be leaving.
Peru had one more fairly annoying incident in store for us before we could leave, Ben’s bag was stolen within a few hours of getting off the 15 hour bus ride from Lima. Thankfully there was nothing of any real value in it, but his passport, driving license and credit cards were now all gone. We were 2 days ride from crossing into Ecuador, but that was no longer going to be possible, it seemed our new plan had fallen at the first hurdle. Fast forward one week and we were back on track. Ben had been back to Lima for all of 7 hours to get a new passport from the British Embassy and we were finally ready to leave Peru.
It’s times like these that Couchsurfing or Warmshowers really are amazing. We managed to find a Warmshowers host in Piura who not only allowed us to stay for a week while we got things sorted but actively tried to help us out as much as possible. Big shout out to Gonzalo and the staff at Porta Verde country club in Piura.
We’ve probably just painted Peru in a pretty negative light but I think more than anything we have just been unlucky here. Some things are facts, like the insane drivers and the aggressive dogs, but for us everything else was just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve been riding for a year now without any real incidents, it’s just typical that when things did happen they all happened in Peru. We managed to see some incredible places in the country, and there are definitely many more we still want to see. A return trip is already being planned and I’m sure that next time it will win us over a lot more.
If the last few weeks have taught us anything it’s that we were incredibly naive when we first set out from Ushuaia all those months ago. Being our first real tour and our first time in South America we had almost no idea of what to expect. A general lack of experience, and only basic research meant that earlier in the trip decisions were getting made without really realising what they might mean further down the line. For us it was, and still is, very hard to plan long term. We pushed our schedule back by visiting the eastern coast (Uruguay, Brasil and Paraguay), and again by spending 3 months in Bolivia, meaning our arrival into Peru was late in the season. We had always known that was going to happen, but assumed wet season meant a bit of rain, and a generally optimistic attitude had prevailed. “It’ll be alright. We’re not made of sugar now, are we?” Hail and snow storms and persistent freezing temperatures had not been taken into account.
We are hard on ourselves, always trying to see and do everything, and getting stressed and disappointed when we can’t. Both of us are gutted to be missing the north of Peru, but we can always come back, the mountains will still be there when we decide to return. Doing things this way should make Ecuador a load more fun (and back to our normal relaxed pace!) Our time in Peru was definitely a learning experience, one of many that being on a long trip like ours offers. In our first year we have learnt so much about what we do/don’t like riding, the things we like about the different countries and just generally what is possible when you’re on a tour like this. So, roll on Ecuador and more good times.
Ben and Steph