Cycling Peru's Great Divide

No mountain too high, no valley too low

by Bicycle Junkies
5128 views

There’s no such thing as a ‘flat’ road in Peru. It’s like a rollercoaster ride above 4000 and even 5000 meter. From one high pass down to cross a stream and up again to another pass. In a matter of one or two hours we drop 2000 meter, to climb up again in the next days. When we reach the highest point at 5000 meters, we are completely alone. Haven’t seen a car in days, there’s nothing here but a breathtaking view.

Perus Great Divide
Every self-respecting world cyclist in the Andes, must know the Pikes on Bikes routes. These pioneers really know their way in these mountains and they seem to be able to find the most horrific routes, through the middle of nowhere, unpaved, steep, single tracks, high altitude etc. So horrific, that we’ve been cycling a couple of their routes already and we loved it! In Peru we also decide to ride their route, since the mountains are so much more interesting than the busy coast. We want to ride Perus Great Divide (PGD). After leaving Cusco and my bugs behind, we set out to Huancavelica to follow PGD from there on. Once leaving Cusco we get an introduction to Perus roads: a lot up, and a lot down! And again, and again and again.

Cycling Peru's Great Divide
Just a couple of days before we reach Huancavelica, we meet two young cyclists with no more than two rear panniers. They’ve just left PGD and tell us that there were many parts they had to walk: too steep, too muddy, etc. They look at our full panniers and I see a smile, which more or less means: “good luch with that!
But nothing is stopping us! Perus Great Divide.., here we come!

‘Scary’ people these Peruvians
I admit it, when we camp in the middle of nowhere I sleep better knowing nobody will ever be able to see us. By the end of the first day on the PGD we think we’ve found the perfect camp spot: down by a stream, behind some trees and a little below the dead end track. Not a soul in sight, so we push our loaded bikes away from the road and find a nice spot to pitch our Hilleberg tent. No more than 5 minutes later (!!) we see three curious boys watching us from behind the trees! God only knows how they’ve found us!

One of them asks us if they can come down. Sure! They sit down a couple of meters away from us and are watching in silence while we put up our tent. Quickly I change clothes and hand them some of our cookies. That breaks the ice! Soon they start asking all sorts of questions and they want to have a look at our ‘bedroom’. The sun is setting and they say goodbye and dissapear on the dead end track. We follow our normal ritual and start cooking our pasta meal only to see them coming back again, accompanied by their parents and a big bag of potatoes.. as a gift for us! We chat for a while and then they leave when our meal is ready to eat.

But.., just after finishing doing the dishes, again we hear voices. This time two teenage girls and their older sister carrying a baby on her back in a colorful blanket come and visit us. They give us a bag filled with freshly baked popcorn! How sweet! But, that’s not all.., they also invite us for breakfast tomorrow morning. We are so touched by this friendly gester. Needless to say we slept like two little babies, knowing we are amongst very friendly people.

The next morning Linda (one of the girls) comes to pick us up to bring us to her home. It’s a simple home. There’s nothing on the floor, it’s just mud, a few dogs are walking around and baby clothes are hanging to dry. In a corner, below a roof is a kitchen. She quickly puts a blanket on a small wooden bench and we may sit down. We both are given a bowl of Andes soup, with quinoa, vegetables and a piece of meat. The taste is really good and the meal is nutricious for our next cycling day. In the mean time the girls are getting ready for school; doing their hair in front of a broken mirror hanging on a stone wall. It’s all primitive, but on the other hand exactly like ‘home’ with giggling girls in front of a mirror!

With three Dutch kisses we thank them and say goodbye. Without asking, so spontanious, they gave us food and a warm feeling. It’s an incredible feeling, hard to describe, but makes us so happy. These are the stories we will remember and make our journey a life full of adventure. I hope that one day we can return the favor…

Cycling Peru's Great Divide

A pretty heavy ride
PGD follows high mountain passes and drops to deep valleys. To give you an idea, from 3700 meter to 4700, followed by 3710 – 4550 – 3830 – 4800 – 4480 – 4760 – 4390 – 5000 – 2930 – 4000 – 3820 – 4700 – 4130 – 4930 – 3500 and finally 4830 meter!
With gradients up to 20%, hail early in the afternoon, snow and rain it’s a pretty tough ride. Even the best tracks turn into a muddy one and the downhills are even more slippery with loose rocks, we reach no more than 7-8 kilometers per hour on the downhills! At night it freezes and in the early morning we find ice on our tent. But, the views, the white peaks, the many lakes, the turquois colored river, the many waterfalls and the pure loneliness makes this one of the best rides ever.

Cycling Peru's Great Divide

To make things a little more complicated: the 4×4 road we were riding turns into a narrow single track after Huancaya! We have to push our bikes over very narrow and steep ridges. Sometimes we meet locals, walking here with a few sheep or cows and for some reason they aren’t surprised to see two stupid gringos here. They are friendly, always smiling and interested in our travels.

Cycling Peru's Great Divide

The PGD is a combination of hard labour and enjoyment. Perfect for us. Because of all the hard work we appreciate the highlights even more. Sure, it was a heavy ride, but so much worth it! See for yourself:

Cycling Peru's Great Divide

Cycling Peru's Great Divide

Cycling Peru's Great Divide

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