We’ve reached Cuzco, and we’ve decided to take a week off. During which Emma, our next revolutionary will be acclimatising to the altitude, and we’ll be proper little tourists and visit Machu Picchu and some of the other amazing sites in the Sacred Valley.
We’ve also got some maintenance to do, I’ve got to replace my bottom bracket that’s been wobbling since La Paz, and Simon has to replace his rear mech, after his back wheel slipped into a storm drain arriving in Cuzco on Friday night. Luckily there’s a decent bike shop just down the road from where we’re staying so, touch wood, there shouldn’t be any problems getting the bikes back in action and ready for the road ahead.
Currently we’re hotly debating whether to head to the coast to Lima via Nazca, of the famous lines, or to stay in the Andes and on unsealed roads to Huarez. I’m in favour of heading to the coast as I miss the sea : (
So if the tracker at the top of the page is static, don’t worry, it’ll be moving soon enough.
The last few days have been pretty interesting for me. With a date set with my folks in Cuzco, I left Fearghal and Marina in La Paz, and headed “on my own way”. The road was pretty flat on the way to Lake Titicaca which was to my legs´ great relief, as they hadn´t been on a bike for over a week. When I cought my first sight of the lake, I felt almost at home, the open expanse of water feeling to me, quite like the Irish Sea. The road meandered across the small landmass that almost links both sides of the lake together. The rickety looking wooden barge that took me across the gap was first propelled with a big wooden pole, Cambridge punting stylee, then the mighty 50cc engine roared into action and propelled the barge the rest of the way. By the time we got to the other side, it was getting dark, so I began climbing up the mountain with the aim of finding a campspot that was safe, and with a good view of the lake. After an hour of night cycling, I succeded, set up my tent, took out my food and stove my mouth watering with the prospect of a big stew. I went to light the stove…….damn, left my fire stick (fancy lighter) in the hostel in La Paz. And so it was that I had a yummy can of sardines for dinner, mmmm!
Fuelled on sardines, I had a 25km climb up to 4251m (just what I like first thing in the morning) which was made slightly easier by the idyllic scenery around me. After an afternoon eating in Copacabana and another in Puno, I started the final leg to Cuzco. I had been warned that the road to Cuzco was closed due to protests, but I headed off anyway. As I neared the closed off area, I had loads of locals tell me “no passer, no passer”, and another tell me that the protesters are were crazy and violent. Was this a spook story for the silly gringos or was it real? To find out, I headed on. I was in the middle of sticking my “real” wallet and passport down my lycra shorts for safekeeping, when a motorbike passenger jokingly pretended to slash my bike with a couple of huge sickles, like the ones Getafix used in Asterix books. This made me anxious to say the least, was I letting myself in for a robbing and slashing by a group of nutty Peruvian protesters?
On my way to the first group of protesters, I happened across a guy who was trying to fix the wheel of his bike. My trusty Leatherman dealt with his problem quickly, and then I had an adversary. When I got to the large group of lads, my heart sank when one of them said I couldn´t pass, but my new friend overruled him and let me through. Exellent I thought, that´s it. Not so, for the next 40km I weaved through rock and glass that was strewn all over the road, over huge mounds of earth and past about 10 more groups of angry Peruvians. Sometimes they were friendly so I just smiled and waved. Other groups took more convincing, asking for directions (making them feel superior) followed by my “my leprechaun looks like me” joke, always put them into hysterics and they let me through. A canadian motorbiker told that the last blockade was the worst. It wasn´t, they waved me through then gave me cheese accompanied by choclo (corn) taken from one of the delayed trucks.
And what was the protesting all about? I´ve heard thats its about food prices, about mine problems, and the most common being that they want asphalt in their towns because all the other towns have it, but, I´m still not sure.
Things have been a bit odd in the revolution camp for the last few weeks. We arrived in La Paz to a home from home in Loki Hostel. My stomach was still playing gastric tricks on me so I laid low for a while, munched antibiotics to combat the bugs and probiotics to combat the antibiotics. Then, Simon and Marina climbed a very big mountain while I headed to Lake Titicaca, leaving the bike and traveling by bus to see my Mum who had some business in the jungle near Iquitos with a shaman.
When I got back to La Paz Si was Cuzco bound as he too had a rendevous with his folks on the 28th. So I headed off all on my ownio. It was refreshing to cycle by one, stopping when I felt tired, and going as far and as fast as I liked. It gave me a good chance to reflect on the last few months in Bolivia and the road ahead.
Cycling by one also allows for more headspace, with my body engaged in the kineasthetic mantra of spinning my mind relived previous tours as the kilometres rolled by; I smelled the pine forests of Poland, and the eucalyptus trees of Victoria, I relived eating black cherry tarts in Germany and dill pickles in Estonia. I indulged in long forgotten memories of grey kangaroos eyeing me with suspicion by the roadside.
At the border town of Desaguadero, shabby and restless and full of the dodgy types that seem to thrive in liminal and lawless places, I was reminded that a team of one is not all freedom and space, as I darted through immigration trying to keep one eye on my bike outside. A pack of 6 kids with dull glazed eyes had offered to look after it for me, and I had to leave it unattended while I queued for a passport stamp, so I wasn’t exactly relaxed.
Arriving in Peru, a new country with new material culture to oogle was refreshing, as was the notable increase in the quality of food; fried trout and potatoes never tasted so good. I arrived in Puno, the tourist hub for Lake Titcaca, after dark, and during yet another thunder storm, drenched tired and, no thanks to the erratic driving of peru’s taxi and bus drivers, in one piece. Luckily Simon and Marina- who is en-route to Cuzco by bus- were still there so we all headed out for a nice meal in the touristy district and they regailed tall tales of their mountain.
Simon left for Cuzco the following day hoping to make it to the Inca capital in time to welcome his folks. I opted to hang out with Marina, who was waiting for the blockades erected by some unhappy miners on the road to Cuzco to be lifted, and see some of the sights.
Tomorrow I’m back in the saddle, and if my wobbling Bottom Bracket allows me, I should be in Puno in time to catch Machu Picchu with Emma our next revolutionary. I’m also really looking forward to catching up with Simon and hearing his tales from the road over a Pisco Sour or two.
The internet sometimes feels like a cluttered place, choc full of lots of useless applications that make geeks excited and leave the rest of us cold. When I first came across twitter I thought, what a waste of time, who cares what I’m doing right now? After a quick snoop around and after reading loads of 40 character posts like: “Morning all”, and “Think I might have a coffee before checking my emails” my first impressions were confirmed, WHO CARES, and I promptly decided that my life didn’t need yet another platform to express myself to an unlistening world.
However, when we were building the site for this expedition one of the key things we realised was the importance of currency. Things go cold really fast online. We noticed that it was frustrating following other expeditions who’s site might lay dormant for days and sometimes weeks, so we set ourselves the challenge of making our site as uptodate as possible. Knowing that we wouldn’t be sitting in-front of a computer all day we reckoned we could do this using a Blackberry for textual updates on twitter and a Spot Tracker for instant updates on our map. We originally wanted one of these too but our budget didn’t stretch : (
Now that I’ve been using twitter for almost six months, i’m hooked. I find it really useful medium for quick communication with other twitterers and for following their adventures thoughts, and it allows us to keep our site current without pulling up a chair to a computer screen. True enough, I do still get irritated by many of the geeks’ that I inadvertently wind up following, pointless tweets. It seems like many of the people who are compelled to answer the question, “What are you doing now?” seem to do little other than sit at a computer and tweet.
Others use it wisely and creatively and allow us to share a little of their interesting lives. People who actually do things make Twitter an exciting tool for documenting events current and up todate.
I’m particularly excited by @Alhumphreys’ walk in India which he will document in real time,
Huayna Potosi, 6088m (19,974ft) high, about 20km from the Bolivian capital of La Paz, high in the Andes. After hearing about it from a guy we met in Uyuni, it was quickly added to my “to do” list. Fearghal was meeting his mum in Puno so myself and fellow revolutionary Marina signed ourselves up with a guide and all the kit needed for the climb, plastic boots, crampons (spikes that attach to the bottom of the plastic boots), ice axe etc.
The road to the base camp was like most of the other roads in Bolivia, rutted and dusty, and our driver seemed to have some kind of natural urge to drive on the edge of the cliff face (despite this being on the left of the road, and in Bolivia you´re meant to drive on the right).
We spent the first day ice climbing and practicing walking with crampons on the glacier and on the second morning, we climbed from the base camp (4700m) up to the rocky glacial moraine to the high camp at 5130m. After numerous cups of matte de coca (tea made with coca leaves that helps combat altitude sickness) and lots of high calorie food we hit the hay. I lay in my down sleeping bag, listening to the storm outside, hoping it would pass by the time I woke.
I got up at midnight, went outside, and was greeted by a beautiful clear starry night, the near-full moon lighting the surrounding glacier and snowy peaks. We donned our crampons and head torches and headed into the night, climbing slowly and steadily up the glacier. Our trail wound past deep, dark crevices and under huge walls of snow. As we climbed higher, we could see the lights of La Paz below us. Our first major obstacle was a 45degree ridge, one side of which dropped near vertically to the glacier below. As we climbed it, only a foot or so from the edge, I was trying to concentrate on getting the maximum grip from my crampons and Ice axe in the crumbly snow.
At around 5700m, my stomach started feeling a bit nauseous, and breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. Every few paces, I´d stop and lean on my axe, trying to catch my breath, my throat raw and lungs burning from the lack of oxygen. We each took a “soroche” pill, and after a short time, both of us felt much better. It was lucky, as the hardest part of the climb was just ahead, the summit ridge.
We began zig-zagging up the side of the ridge, then it steepened so we had to climb, rather than walk, getting grip from the toe spikes in our crampons and thrusting the head of our ice axes into the snow. I was trying to concentrate on not looking down, but then the sun started to rise and an orange glow came over the peaks now well below us. It was impossible not to look at such a beautiful sight. After another hundred meters of climbing we got to the top of the ridge. This was literally knife edged, each side dropping precipitously to the ice below. At times there wasn’t enough room to place both my feet side by side, I felt like a tight rope walker. Cornices (overhanging edges of snow) had formed on the side of the ridge in places, and I could feel my axe piercing right through to the fresh air underneath.
After a tense period of climbing, we came around a corner, over a last climb, and up to the summit. The view from the top was absolutely awe inspiring, truly one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. The peaks of the Cordillera Real pierced through the blanket of cloud which stretched right over to the Amazon. Crevices cut huge slashes in the glacier that glowed orange in the now risen sun and the giant shadow of Huayna Potosi was projected onto the ground below. The sky was a deep dark blue and framed the incredible picture that was painted all around us.
Down-climbing the summit ridge proved pretty tricky, especially as I had to lead. We were getting tired, dehydration was now setting in and the sun attacked us both from above and below, being reflected in the snow. Towering ice cliffs and huge gaping crevices that weren´t lit by the pewney light of my head-torch on the ascent, were now in full view. After a short stop at the high camp for much needed food and liquids, we made the final descent down the rocky cliffs to the base camp.
My knees were burning from the impact on the descent, I was still dehydrated, my stomach was back to being nauseous, but I had a great big smile on my face.
As we stood overlooking the sprawling brick jungle of La Paz, it sadly dawned on me that this is the end of my cycling trip. It’s been an incredible three months filled with rib splitting laughter, salty tears, falling from grace, gaining cycling proficiency, eating for five, and growing very attached to the two revolutionaries.
It all began last December when I met Ferg and Si in Buenos Aires. I remember reading their latest blog regarding loss of social graces, and thought that my new feminine presence might scare them back to their gentlemanly ways. Quite the opposite happened as I quickly tumbled down from grace and quickly joined the lads in their style of life.
Uruguay served as the perfect starting point, rolling hills helped train me up to speed, the warm summer weather allowed for comfy camping and tasty food was readily available.
The citric plantations of North-eastern Argentina offered a great balance of encounters and long leisurly lunches; and cranking out large distances.
Veering west into the Chaco became ground-hog day. 1000km of flat and bland landscape, roasting temperatures, and a slight head wind wrecked my head. Thankfully, the Andes rekindled spirit and energy as we climbed steadily into breath-taking landscapes. I never thought that the ascent into the Andes would be the highlight of the cycle. And finally Bolivia…well, toughest cycling yet and I’ve never been so filthy in my life.
As I prepare to watch the boys continue the expedition, I’ve decided to match-fundraise the amount of kilometres pedalled during the trip: 3000km. So how do I feel? Super chuffed for having joined the boys at sea level, as a mere cycling novice; and winding up in the highest capital city in the world with legs, lungs and a heart of steel!
Ok, its March, the snowdrops poked their heads out weeks ago and the daffodils are following suite. Its chilly but the end of winter is near. Its time to put that new year’s resolution into action, dust off your bike, lace up you running shoes and blast away those winter cobwebs. Now is the time to commit, to something that stretches you, and start training.
We’ve been pushing now for 4 and a half months, and you’ve been enjoying our hardship, trails and tribulations. Now we challenge you to suffer a little bit for a good cause.
You’ll be glad you did. Attemtping something that takes you out of your comfort zone makes you feels alive. Starting to excercise boosts your confidence, energy and mental outlook. Completing a challenge, or at the very least giving 110% of yourself to something, makes you realise what’s possible. Well at least it did for me : )
Join the Revolution!
We’re calling on people to take part in the Wicklow 200, either a 100 or 200km bike ride through the Wicklow mountains. Raise over 150euro and we’ll give you an expedition T-Shirt on the day.