Ayacucho-Tambillo-Ocros-Andahuaylas-Laguna Pacucha-Quillabamba-Huancarama-Avancay. 400km.
(This route will be completely paved before too long; the diggers and steamrollers are tirelessly at work. Right now, only the turnoff to Laguna Pacucha until the last descent before Avancay are dirt sanctuaries. Although parts of this segment are undoubtedly pretty, I’d choose the Pike’s Huancavelica to Avancay alternative if travelling earlier in the season.)
Ever so slowly, we’re closing in on Cuzco – not a task that the Peruvian Andes makes particularly easy, it must be said.
From Ayacucho to Avancay, one goliath pass lies sentinel after the next. Duly, we’ve been spinning our pedals patiently to 4,000m in altitude, only to lose all climbing credit immediately, freewheeling down to half that elevation – into a hot, sticky and fly-infested land. Still, compared to the rugged and remote mining roads traversed between Huaraz and Huancavelico, these ribbons of road that unravel between one valley and the next have been far gentler in grade. And, until Andahuaylas at least, almost completely traffic free.
Somewhat disappointingly for connoisseurs of dirt roads though, much of the powder has recently been smothered under a coat of fresh asphalt, and widened to dual carriageway proportions. It’s all part of a concerted effort to link up the Longitudinal de la Sierra – which I presume will eventually connect the length of the Peruvian Andes by way of pavement.
These ‘improvements’ have made our task more straightforward in terms of effort, if a little less exciting in the spirit of adventure. It’s not so much that I begrudge a quiet, paved backroad. It’s more that I bemoan the changes that asphalt so often brings: the inevitable onset of faster driving, kamikaze overtaking and a general sense of traffic malaise. Cars whistle through small villages at breakneck speeds. Kids no longer play in the street. I have a theory that it’s the beginning of a real and lasting erosion in communities.
Still, I can’t complain about the incredible reception we continue to receive, even if it does revolve around us being gringos – as locals so delight to yell out as we pass. It’s become standard issue that we’re quizzed about our countries, and our eventual destination, at every pitstop we make. How will we get home? Are our bikes for sale when we do? Kurt’s fat Pugsley, often mistaken for a motorbike, draws particular curiosity, envy and tyre fondling. But perhaps what I like best is how most conversations end. Feliz viaje. Have a great journey. These words ushered by everyone, from hunched-over grannies in the street to restauranteurs where we stop and feed. There’s a sense of pride that we’ve chosen Peru to visit and explore. Road crews we’ve been passed only fleetingly have shown particular enthusiasm in wishing us well for what lies ahead. It’s inevitably a small interaction, but always one that feels genuine, and indicative of how people here reach out to talk and connect. I’m not sure I can imagine the same interest and support from JCB drivers in the UK…