Peru and Beyond

Written by Michelle

The package didn’t arrive. Every morning for ten days we woke up hoping for positive news. And every morning we ended up walking downstairs for “una noche mas” and handed the friendly hotel staff another 40 soles (about $12). At this point, the package had been in customs in Quito, Ecuador for a few weeks now, so it seemed reasonable to think that it would get through customs and arrive in Cuenca any day now. Once it arrived, we were going to embark on the 20 hour bus ride back to Cuenca to pick it up. However, upon further discussion with the Ecuador post office, we were informed the arrival of the package could be at least another 30 days, no one knew for sure.

Another month?  Evan and I were going pretty stir crazy. We were ready to get moving. We were ready for long hard days on the bike through the gorgeous Peruvian mountains. After being in Ecuador for nearly three months, we were excited to explore Peru. We could not wait another 30 days in San Ignacio.

San Ignacio was a charming little town that did not see a whole lot of tourists. But, we had the opportunity to get quite comfortable there. We discovered what our favorite items were at each of the three panaderias.  We made friends with the lady who ran the little tienda next door.  She was very curious about our lives and our travels, so we attempted many conversations in spanish and she was always happy to send us on our way with some bonus fruits or free popsicles. We loved the hustle and bustle of the Peruvian towns. Spotting cars/trucks/buses was incredibly rare. Instead, motorcycles, motorcycle tuk tuks, and motorcycle trucks filled the streets, which made the it feel like we were constantly in the middle of a go-cart course. San Ignacio had a small market and a few very small tiendas. We felt the most limited here and were forced to get the most creative with our meals, but we enjoyed the challenge.  However, quinoa, lentils, and rice were all plentiful. Luckily our hotel room had a balcony, so we were able to cook many of our meals on our camp stove.  Unfortunately Chifa, Latin American Chinese food, was not nearly as tasty as it was in Ecuador.

 

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Motorcycle tuk tuk taxi
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Varies dinners prepared on our balcony in San Ignacio

 

We decided to not wait for the package. Without the package, we did not have adequate water storage for multi night trips, among other misc. gear that would assist us in getting a more desired bike set up for dirt/singletrack riding.  This got us thinking, thinking of a slightly new plan. Ultimately, we decided to take a break from South America. Although not receiving the package was not the reason for deciding to take a little break, this was definitely one of the many factors. The idea to take a break from South America got us excited as we began to plan a summer trip through Canada and the US.

We booked airline tickets out of Lima, said goodbye to our San Ignacio friends, and started biking south. Now that we only had a few weeks left in Peru, we wanted to make the absolute most of it. We bused to Huaraz, a beautiful mountain town at the base of the Cordillera Blancas, and embarked on a 6 day backpack. Huaraz is a very colorful, fast paced, and lively town that is rich in the indigenous Quechua culture. Due to it’s proximity to the mountains, mountaineering and gear rental shops are plentiful.

 

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We biked past endless rice fields south of San Ignacio
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Collectivos are awesome!
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Street side chicken stand

We don’t typically bring our cameras in the markets, but we did in Huaraz in order to capture some of the interesting sights within the Latin American markets.

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Market life in Huaraz
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Interesting meat options
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Huaraz street scene

From Huaraz we took a Collectivo and a taxi to our trailhead. We hiked over six major passes through the Cordillera Blanca, and all but one of them were near 16,000 feet. Cordillera Blanca is the world’s highest and most glaciated tropical mountain range. I was blown away.  I thought I have seen my fair share of gorgeous mountain valleys and aesthetic mountain ranges, but the Cordillera Blanca blew them all away.  The intricate crevasses and glaciers that took over the faces of 20,000 ft mountains were unlike anything I had ever seen before. Each mountain pass brought us back down to the swampy valley floor, which left our feet soaked morning to night. No matter how much you think you are used to it, putting on soaking wet socks, dripping shoes, and damp clothing in the chilly mornings is never fun (which is something we became quite familiar these last few months). The trek was mostly through wilderness, but we passed two tiny remote mountain villages that were home to sheep herders living a very traditional lifestyle. Unfortunately, Evan developed enormous blisters on both of his heels after the first day of hiking.  They continued to get worse and the last few days his heels were completely raw as he suffered up and down the mountain passes.

 

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Our first day: Backpacking into the Cordillera Blanca
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The valleys go on forever!
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Nearing the top of our first pass- 15,700 ft

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The glaciated snowfields don’t show up in the pictures, but they were incredible!

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Descending the second pass
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Remote indigenous sheep herder
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Sheep herder taking a rest

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Plowing the field
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Descending pass number 3

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Dry feet were not an option

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Remote mountain living
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Dinner!
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Ascending another pass

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Gorgeous!
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Typical

On our second to last day, we pushed through a never ending valley.  The flat sections were the most painful for Evan’s heels, so he wanted to get the flat over with to help make the final day a bit less painful. Our last campsite was among ancient ruins along the river.  It was common to rain during the hike, but it was almost guaranteed it would rain in the evening. However, this evening rain started earlier than the others.  We had just finished setting up camp and were forced to take cover.  As time went by and darkness struck, we laid in our tent with a huge appetite. Since we were unable to cook up our dinner, we dreamed up of all the food we would enjoy upon our return to the US. In Fort Collins, Mary’s Mountain Cookies, Lupitas breakfast burritos, Caninos pasta special, and tasty sour beers topped the list.  In Chicago, we were dreaming of my mom’s homemade Chicago style pizza, homemade enchiladas, and my dad’s extra thick Belgian style waffles. And in New York, we were looking forward to Evan’s mom’s homemade fruit pies, blueberry muffins, and biscuits, and the best NY style pizza places and Italian pasta restaurants near his hometown. However, the rain poured down and our starved appetite brought us back to reality.  We ate the rest of the cheese (that was a bit slimy as it had been squashed in our backpacks for the last week) and called it a night. The next day our last 3000 foot ascent brought us to the top of our last pass, which was followed by a 6000 foot descent back down to civilization.

 

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The look of painful blister walking
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Camping among the ruins
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Ascending our final pass
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Evan’s raw blisters

There was no better way for us to finish off our time in Peru. We were so grateful we decided to spend the last of our time deep in the mountains, as opposed to riding traffic filled pavement into Lima. We loved Peru and we were not ready to leave. Even up to the last few hours prior to heading to the airport, we were contemplating not catching our flight. With the cool mountain towns, hustle and bustle of tuk tuks taking over the streets, interesting markets, and amazing mountains, Peru was my favorite. We still have so much south of Lima to discover. However, it is always good leaving when we know we will definitely come back. If it does not financially work to return after our friend’s weddings in the fall, we know we will return another time.

 

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An 8 hour bus ride brought us to Lima- such a contrast from the Peruvian mountain towns

Once back in Fort Collins, we prepared to take the van and bikes east to Chicago, New York, then up and westward through Canada. We were quickly reminded and eternally grateful for how much love and support continues to surround us. So many friends and family have gone so out of their way to ensure our trip is a success. From Marcia and Rick who picked us up from the airport late at night and let us stay with them for a couple nights, to Wendy and her family who stored our huge van in front of her house these past 9 months, to Jennifer and Andrew (and Noosa and Mittens) who gave us a comfortable room and shared their house with us in Fort Collins for a week, and David who worked hours on our van (despite his jam packed schedule) to complete our electrical system for the external battery and all the wiring, and Mark and Laura who graciously accepted to store our mountain bikes and skis/equipment while we are away, and Tracey and Ellen who had us over for welcome back dinners, and everyone who joined us out for celebration beers, but especially Andy, Oana, and Eddie who made the drive into Fort Collins to visit. In Chicago, the love was felt from my parents who threw a Memorial Day party and all the family that was able to attend, my sister and brother in law for making us a gourmet shrimp dinner, George for driving down from Michigan to spend the weekend with us, my mom for making us so many wonderful meals, and my dad for working endlessly on our bikes and helping us finalize the van heater wiring/installation. In New York, Evan’s parents have gone out of their way to welcome us, satisfy all of our food cravings,  provide us with a comfortable and enjoyable visit, and ensure we have what we need to have a successful next leg of our trip. Thanks to so many others for laughs and fun visits and sorry for those we were not able to see! So much love in just a couple weeks!

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We arrived at Wendy’s house in flip flops and short sleeves in mid May to pick up the van. After couple glasses of wine and shots of Crown, we spent the night and woke up to 1.5 feet of snow. Colorado wanted to make sure we didn’t fully miss the winter season!
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Making pizza with my mom!
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Delicious blueberry pie in the making thanks to Evan’s mom

We are excited for the next part of our journey. After New York, we will begin our bike/campervan tour up through Canada and the Western US! Instead of focusing on covering long distances, our bike route will allow us to capitalize on the best terrain with the most aesthetic riding we can find. Our goal is to focus on high quality singletrack and dirt road bikepacking routes with a strong emphasis on exploring wild and remote mountain areas. This is a really exciting addition to our travels, as we will have the opportunity to truly explore the most spectacular places by bicycle, instead of being forced to spend so much time on busy roads while in transit.

To check out detailed pictures of everything we packed with us on the bicycles, click here.

Thanks for following and stay tuned for future posts!

6 thoughts on “Peru and Beyond

  1. Fantastic post! What beautiful scenery (besides Evan’s blisters which made me only eat half my oatmeal while reading this). So good to see you and I cannot wait to read more as you venture into Canada! You both are amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So great to see another blog post! It was amazing seeing you two recently and I look forward to your continued adventures. The Peru mountain pics looked incredible. I second Jennifer’s take on the blisters, I was eating my lunch while reading and quickly scrolled over that photo… Poor Evan!
    Happy biking and mucho love.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Was great seeing you and Evan while you were in visiting your parents. Enjoyed reading the updated blog. Please continue to post as your adventure continues.

    Safe travels.

    Love,
    Aunt Patty & Uncle Carl

    Like

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