Peru III: Arequipa – Puno

Two hours of crazy downhill fun turns into two days of hard work, climbing out of the Arequipa valley back into the high altitude region. There’s a ‘bump’ straight ahead of us at almost 4400m.

After the crazy traffic in Arequipa we soon find ourselves in nomansland again, but despite our hard efforts we cannot manage to do the climb in one day; the first night we still see the city lights deep down beneath us, while again Volcan Misti is watching over us.

Volcan Misti in the background

After a silent night we get up early to finish the climb towards the salty lake of Laguna Salinas. There’s very little traffic on this dusty track.

Following hairpins we keep going up towards some stunning arid scenery, with very few water sources. There’s a narrow tunnel to cross, a short downhill and then one last climb towards the white emptyness of Laguna Salinas.

Laguna Salinas

We leave Volcan Misti behind us and face another volcano: Ubinas. We keep riding the corrugated track around 4300 meters high, accompanied by a handful of Vicunas.

In the early afternoon we reach the settlement of Tambo del Sal, where we should be able to find some food and water. As it is a sunday, the town seems totally abandoned and the small mercados are all closed. We opt for the plaza to take a break and fortunately for us two locals also need the shop to open. They bang on the door and we anxiously wait. It takes a couple of minutes, but then the owner comes to open the doors. I hurry and follow the guys inside; tonight we have plenty of water and don’t need to find a stream to filter some.

Again, clouds are rolling in as we leave Tambo del Sal to ride towards another pass at 4427 meter. It’s getting dark, but we manage to keep it dry.

At the top of the pass we get a good look around and already see a place to pitch our tent, but first we have to drop a bit along a long hairpin.

As the sun is setting, we pitch the tent a couple of hunderd meters from the main road. Just about as we’re settling in, a woman walks by herding Alpacas and Llamas.

It’s 7 am and we are back on the road. The sun is burning a whole in the sky, it’s already pretty hot as we drop towards a river crossing. It’s up and down as we pass a couple of settlements where once people lived. It’s hard to imagine someone could live here in this barren land; no supermarket just around the corner! I don’t know, maybe it’s just houses for summertime as they come here to herd their Alpacas? It’s a hard life… but then again, they probably don’t have all the worlds worries to think about. It may be more simple, but is that worse? I guess I will never know.

We continue towards Pati, where we find a shop. The guy looks a bit puzzled as we buy his stash of water! At the plaza we have lunch: crackers with peanut butter and half a can of tuna each, washed down with an Inca Kola. Today my legs just don’t feel like it, it’s a tough ride up towards a 4600 meter plateau.

As we climb towards the plateau we hear the thunder rolling in. The wind is picking up and dark clouds are closing in on us. With no place to hide (or camp) all we can do is continue and hope for something around the corner. It’s getting colder and we see lightning in the distance. As we reach the top of the climb, hail is slamming into our faces. Quickly we round the corner and in a drop in the landscape we are able to find a flat spot for our tent, below a hill. It’s a long afternoon lying around in our tent, watching the rain.

Good thing we stopped for the night though, since after this hill there’s one huge flat plateau with nowhere to hide.

It’s a flat, straight stretch of more than 20 km at an altitude of around 4630m. An easy ride! 😉
At the end of it there’s a 100m climb before the downhill to Tincopalca (4100) starts.

It’s a beautiful downhill into a canyon.

At the town’s plaza we stop for a lunch break. There’s not a lot of people on the streets, only a couple of school kids. As usual there’s always another climb and in 10 kilometers we ride back up to 4450 meter. As it’s not really steep, we have a good pace, but then… thunder all around us, closing in. The bangs echo loudly in between the mountains, it’s scary! As we look at the sky all the dark clouds seem to be moving away from us, so we decide to continue carefully. And hopefully it will be better on the other side of the mountain pass, where we can find a place to camp.

Then, all of a sudden, a huge bang right behind us! We didn’t see that coming at all! Immediately it starts to rain. Quickly we put on raingear and are trying to get the hell out of here. Not an easy task climbing on this altitude, especially when the mud turns into a very sticky and slippery substance. Unable to continue riding we start pushing our bikes. It’s hard work; the mud is so sticky, it’s everywhere and the tires get stuck. The thunder and lightning are gone, but the rain is not; it’s pouring down on us as we keep pushing our bikes for kilometers and kilometers. With a stick in our hands we try to get rid of the mud every couple of hunderd of meters. We are exhausted, but here is no place to pitch our tent.

As we reach another high point, it looks like rain didn’t fall here and we are able to ride again. We are thankful we are riding with Rohloff hub and Gates beltdrive; the drivetrain still works after the mud has come off.

Exhausted we reach the turnoff; riding to Puno via Manazo doesn’t seem to be a good idea at this moment with this sticky mud. For a couple of minutes we are in doubt, but when it starts to rain again, we have made up our minds; we take the left turn towards Santa Lucia.

In the valley down below we manage to find a grassy spot to pitch our tent. A good decision, since the track is all muddy and sticky again.

Good thing the mornings are almost always pretty and sunny, though icy!

The bikes and bags are still very muddy, but the road has dried up and the sticky mud is gone. Well, gone… look at our bikes!

We start the day with a climb out of this valley, then a drop towards a huge lake. At the end of the lake we follow a stream into another valley and the town of Santa Lucia.

Here we leave the emptiness and quiet dirt tracks behind us as we find ourselves on smooth asphalt to Puno. In the village of Cabanillas, I hit the local market as Elmar stays with the bikes. For only a few bucks I buy palta (avocado), tomatoes, blueberries and bananas; we are going to have a great lunch!

As I return to Elmar, he is surrounded by a couple of locals, all shaking his hands and wishing us good luck on our travels. We even get blessed and a woman hands us a couple of oranges; a gift. How sweet are these people! We are so in love with this country!

The road to Juliaca and Puno is pretty boring.. straight and flat. Not a bend in the road for almost 35 kilometers, a pain in the ass.. litterally!

As I remember from the previous time we were here, Juliaca is a dump. I’m wishing things have changed, but it has not… this is one place where I would not want to be: busy, noisy and very dirty. We quickly continue and as we finally reach the outskirts, we spot a car wash.., now a bicycle wash too! With clean bikes we continue the final stretch to Puno.

Our odometer reads 117 kilometer as the usual rain and thunder start to roll in and a nice 200 meter climb! Pfff, we are pretty tired, but the climbing is actually a relief for our asses! 10 more kilometers and we are in downtown Puno.

After 5 days we treat ourselves to a nice hotel in Puno center, with a great shower and a huge bed. Here at Lake Titicaca our adventure in Peru ends… but we’ll definately be back!

Lake Titicaca

Stay tuned! There’s always a movie 😉

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M.G. January 21, 2020 - 18:51
Fantastische foto's, afschuwelijke wegen! :-) Rijden jullie volledig digitaal of heb je ook papieren kaarten bij je?
Bicycle Junkies January 21, 2020 - 21:16
Dankjewel Marco! :) We hebben ook altijd een papieren kaart bij ons; voor het overzicht en om thuis alvast bij weg te dromen. ;)
ton heine January 22, 2020 - 10:14
beste mensen wat een fantastische beelden en wat een moed om een dergelijke trip te maken. (Bijna) alleen op de hoge wereld. Indrukwekkend. En wees blij dat je geen ketting hebt! Hartelijke groeten uit Den Bosch!! Is het een idee om jullie verhalen een keer te vertellen voor een publiek?
Jan van Pelt January 30, 2020 - 21:38
Goedeavond Ellen en Elmar wat heb je weer een mooi verhaal geschreven. En je heeft weer hogtemeters zat gehad he en ook nog regen en onwer en dat je weer door de slam heen moest ploeteren wat zagen jullie fietsen er uit he mooi dat je een carwasstraat tegen kwam dan kon je ff de fietsen schoon spuiten. Maar wat hebben jullie ook mooie foto,s gemaakt toppy hoor gr Jan
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