Juliaca to Puno was a really short stretch (40km), in comparison to our longer distances the previous days (we are gunning for >100km/ day, finally!). Along the way, we met a kid from Germany who just decided on a whim to bike tour South America after seeing a couple of bike tourers doing the Salar de Uyuni in the middle of white desert. So he went back to La Paz and bought everything from the street. Because they don’t sell waterproof panniers in La Paz , he improvised with two backpacks, strapped precariously to the bike rack. He didn’t have a kick stand, so he uses a stick leaned against his bicycle rear wheel. He does not have a rain proof jacket, so he makes up with lots of alpaca sweaters. I hope the best for him and I sure hope it doesn’t rain on him. What an awesome impulse and I am glad that he has been safely travelling for 2.5 weeks on something that he scrapped together last minute on such a big trip.
Puno was fun because it has so many markets that just popped up out of nowhere on the Sunday that we were there. They were selling all sorts of unexplainable stuff—like tons of sheep, tons of sheepskin, really really good tamales, a street full of potato seller, and so many different types of garments.
We stayed in Puno for two nights at Hostel Los Uros, right next to the public market selling beautiful fruits and Brady’s favorite juice stands. It’s really nice to find a gringo street again, being able to find bars, MANHATTANS, and delicious breakfast.
We also visited the floating island of Uros. Brady watched the Discovery Channel a few years back, featuring the floating islands, so it left quite an impression on him. It was quite touristy, actually, with the people from the community, owning 80+ islands taking turns to give ‘tours’ to the boats visiting the islands. But, it’s the only time we’ll ever be on a floating island so it’s pretty cool. I cannot imagine living on an island put together with dried reeds on a tiny house (6’x10’) with seven other people like these people do.
Because of the lack of Bolivian visa (Even though we visited the Bolivian Consulate in Puno), we decided to keep our biking muscles and continued on to try to go South towards the Chile border. So we took a lightly travelled road (but excellent freeway) from Puno to Moquegua—the elevation chart looks like this:
The chart looks easy- a little bit up, followed by ‘flat’ section. Turns out that the chart is a little bit deceiving as we had at least 4 of 4600m passes and it involved a lot of riding on really high elevation at the altiplano.
The first day to Titire involved a lot of going up up up—we were getting used to getting back on the bicycles and going upwards (towards the sky). We spent the night at the quite town of Titire at close to 4400m at a basketball/futbol court at the ourskirts of town. A few local kids spotted us on the way in and followed us to the court. They were pretending to be hanging out away from us, feigning disinterest. They were awed by the tent, seriously worried about us being really really cold through the night. Brady even played futbol with them all the way through the sunset until it got really dark.
After the kids left, we quickly cooked dinner and turned in early, exhausted after the 105km day.
In the morning, we were awoken to a frost covered tent. All of our water were frozen. We spent the morning cooking hot water to defrost all the water that we had.
The next day from Titire to Moquegua was a long day, 165km (our first bike touring century!)—We spent the entire day climbing and descending at very high altitude. It was freezing (mountaineering gloves kinda day), the air was very crisp, dry and thin. The first 85km was gnarly and took 80% of the time during the day.
Still green with a bit of grass here. Not for long.
We took pictures at the top of each of the passes. won’t bore you with all of them. But on this picture, you can tell that the landscape turn into desert landscape. In this case, very high altitude (4650m-ish) desert.
The last 80km was beautiful, blissful downhill from 4650m all the way down to 1800m! It took us 2.5 hours to get down. However, due to the long day, we spent 1.5 hours going downhill, sometimes up to 30mph, at the very end of the day, in the dark. I was getting really worried
We got in town at 6PM, tres exhausted, but feeling a little accomplished. We had delicious pizza and pasta dinner and completely knocked out at 8:30PM.
Moquegua was different than other Peruvian cities- it has a real modern feel to it, with the houses being built of REAL concrete, not mudhuts, with the cars being Ford, or Chrysler, not some obscure Asian car brand. The people also seem different. It was also really warm—I walked around in my dress without a jacket and slept without a blanket! A huge change from spending a freezing night, the previous night.
We had a real breakfast the next day. I guess we got used to waking up pretty early (even Brady), because we left at 8:30AM after a long relaxing morning, packing, eating breakfast and lingering in bed.
Moquegua is the Northernmost city of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world where they rarely ever expect a rainfall. So the ride South to Tacna (the border town of Peru towards Chile), was all in the desert. It was HOT and it was the first day that I wore my tank top without long sleeve shirt. It was HOT HOT.
The desert ride was gnarly- with some roads completely straight through the desert, gaining and losing elevations. The worst part was the VERY STRONG head/crosswind, stopping us in our tracks as we were going downhill. I hope that this is not a preview of the net 1700km to come.
Tacna has a very modern feel to it- very Europe-y. Supposedly the Plaza was designed by Eiffel (from the Eiffel tower, Paris), and was featured in the old version of 100 Peruvian Soles.
We LOVE Tacna. No more gawking people, lots of people who look Gringo-y and the people just seem richer and more content in general. We had SUSHI! And street burger! And splurged on our most expensive hostel/hotel yet in Peru- 80 soles/ US$27. Well worth it for the last night.
From Tacna, through the Chile Border, to Arica was easy Peasy, a mere 65KM downhill. The border crossing was breeze, although the Chile border was very thorough in ensuring that 1. Our tyres were completely immersed in chemical water to kill all the bacterias and 2. We brought absolutely no fruit with us.
Leaving Peru after 2 months 😦 Peru has been amazing, people have been extremely warm, everything is really really cheap (30% of US Prices). Not looking forward to the prices of Chile, although we were excited about the progressiveness= better food and groceries.
Strangely, instead of being scorching hot like the previous day when we left Moqegua, it was freezing cold and misty—reminds us lots of San Francisco. The mist hangs in the air around the desert landscape, it was an odd view.
See the mist? Towards the right is what I think is Peruvian government’s project to provide housing for the poor. These houses are TINY (6’x10′ max). Unlike the small houses in the Andes or Uros floating islands, these are somewhat isolated with no farmland , greeneries whatsoever. No wonder that 90% of these were unocccupied. I can imagine that transport to these houses would be really difficult also.
And so we biked downhill(ish) towards Arica, towards Chile, towards a new country, towards the Ocean (where Arica sits). The air became more salty and thick with moisture. Brady was descending into his favorite place—the beach.
Arica is FAMAZING!!!! They have AMAZING food! We had our choices of burgers—perhaps, Mexican burger with bacon and eggs, along with cheese and REAL meat?? But, with modernity, comes the price. We are paying a steep price of $40 US/ night in our current hotel. The wine, however, was cheap (US $3 for a good wine), that we joyfully consumed next to our hotel pool.
We also splurged to dine at the best hotel in Arica, overlooking the sea cliff
They also have manhattan here (no exclamation mark). Sadly, it was from well whisky and was shitty.
We walked the 2km back into town, only to find it in full party mode from Chile’s win against Uruguay (1-0) for the Copa America’s quarter final. People were honking all night long, well into the morning.
We took a rest day so Brady can enjoy the ocean. We took a hike to the Morro point overlooking the port, the surf and the City.
Tomorrow, we will be heading off South towards Iqueque- it’s going to be really gnarly desert ride with almost no services and almost no water along the way. Here’s the elevation chart. Gasp. Excited about geoglyphs that we will supposedly see along the way.