Into the Highlands Proper

09 Jun 2017

When I last wrote I was expecting to spend just  few days recovering from a chest infection in Chivay. It turned out to be a little more serious than that involving making use of Peru’s rural medical services, somewhat chaotic initially but very helpful, and a course of intravenous antibiotics. Despite the obvious impact to riding plans it is not always an entirely negative experience being unwell in such places. It is when one needs help that is reinforced the knowledge that no matter where you are in the world people will do their best to assist. It can be quite heartwarming. I collected dengue fever in northwest Sumatra many years ago. The fever was shit but my experiences with the little Islamic hospital that helped me remain a cheerful memory.


Bridge over the Rio Colca near Sibayo. In Sibayo, I was invited to stay with a local family here. I spent a lovely evening tucking into a hearty alpaca stew with Benita, her husband Caesar, and ten year old son Ciamillo. The following morning Benita sent me packing up into the rarefied air towards 5000m with a hearty breakfast of quinoa porridge, eggs, bread, coffee.


So ultimately my bike collected dust in Chivay for more than two weeks, and while I would rather have been riding in the mountains it meant I had time to build some meaningful friendships in the village which helped enormously with the frustration. As I write I am back on the road but my ongoing plans have been somewhat curtailed due to the lasting effects of the infection. Aside from a persistent, chesty cough I find I am not recovering as well as I need to from hard days in the saddle so rather than a long, linear journey north with long, committing stretches I’ve decided to make a loop, ultimately returning to Arequipa, with more options for rest and recovery and with no stretches of more than 4 days away from towns and villages where I can stop if need be. It does mean however that I must return to Peru next year.. unfinished business and all that.


From Sibayo it is straight into a dirt road climb to 4700m


Leaving Chivay, as I cruised uphill along the banks of the Rio Colca I met an old gent on a Chinese-made bone-shaker bicycle heading in the opposite direction. As cyclists so often do we stopped to exchange greetings. I mentioned where I was headed to which he sucked his teeth, rubbed the finger and thumb of one hand together and  jabbed me in the chest with another pair of fingers, twisting them as he did so. The implication being that travelling solo in such places I was sure to be robbed and killed. I have found it to be the same the whole world over; cycle through a valley and the people there, otherwise very welcoming, will often tell you that by travelling into the next valley you are sure to be robbed, or worse, because that valley is full of bad people. Arrive in the next valley and the people will express shock that you were able to travel through the previous valley without being robbed or killed, because, of course, that valley is full of bad people. The reality I have discovered is that the more remote the places travelled the stronger the communities and the more friendly the people.


Surly ECR in Peru

At around 4700m the scenery opens out. Stunningly beautiful


surly ECR in Peru

A few remote and tiny pueblitos dot the highlands. The people are invariably friendly and keen to chat.


Peru Andes views

Views are stupendous. The riding is hard, especially in the afternoons when the winds howl and rain and snow flurries often sweep in.



This is Caylloma, a remote outpost on the puna at about 4300m. It feels desolate, especially in the afternoons when dust devils rule the streets in the icy winds and the harsh, high altitude sun bleaches the colour from the landscape. It is a handy stop over however for some rest and resupply.


climbing from Caylloma

From Caylloma the track climbs straight to 5000m...


It is a steep, switchbacked climb on rough dirt. It took 3 1/2hrs. Makes those European passes in the Alps and Pyrenees looks a bit silly...


Above 5000m is a desolate prospect. A thin, icy cold gale with snow flurries...


surly ECR in peru

... but if you don't mind some hardship and isolation it is a sublime place to go riding.


Surly ECR dirt road touring

I was able to hook into into a remote goat track for an afternoon, overnight and morning to get me towards Espinar. It was a hard climb back up to above 4700m. Soft, boggy, rocky and technical in spots.


Remote, bitterly cold, and with darkness just an hour away it was a case of descending a couple of hundred metres to find a camp spot. The Surly ECR is brilliant in such terrain, very sure footed when its rider is particularly shagged from a hard day in the saddle.


As always with the loss of daylight the temperature plummeted to negative double digits.


Sunshine to thaw things out in the morning. I was 'discovered' by these two chaps while cooking breakfast. They said they were camped nearby, prospecting for gold.


Descending to meet the dirt road to Espinar. This track was very sloppy in places...


Mucky bike. I am really very fond of my Surly ECR, it has taken me to some fantastic places.



Back down at a somewhat more hospital 4200m or so. some fine riding enroute to Espinar.


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