8 January 2013

Peru - January 2013

01/01/2013

Wake up to the new calendar year. Narrowly missed the 700 lifers for 2012 mark (694). Breakfast was due at 08:00, so had the best part of 3 hours to try and start the new year off with a bang. I start birding just before first light, but run into problems after 20 minutes when I discover that the camera’s battery is dead. How the hell that happened, given that I charged it last night is a mystery. Of course, my spare is in my room, so I haul arse and retrieve it.

Back out, a slight drizzle has started - just hard enough to make birding uncomfortable and photography useless. I take refuge under the large covered shelter at the entrance to the Cock of the Rock Lodge. The damn place is closed, meaning I cannot access the trails or pick up some easy hummingbirds at their feeders. While sitting about, I take a general nose about and discover that like many places in Peru - the door latch has a small string tied to it and hidden at the corner of the frame. Hah, I give it a little tug and by complete accident the door suddenly opens. I enter and close the door quickly, making my way stealthily to the main building where the hummingbird feeders are located. Here I take shelter on the steps and have a few hummingbird feeders and some flowering bushes to keep my eyes on. Before I can see any hummers, I am drawn by a large flock of Tanagers moving through the canopy some 30 yards away. Then the hummers start moving about - not the large numbers I would normally associate with feeders, but enough to keep me occupied. From this sheltered position I can snap away, for many of the birds are moving too quickly for me to make immediate ID’s. Their wet plumage is not helping matters. I stay for about 45 minutes before I get cold feet and decide to depart before someone found me.


I then walk up the road, finding the location of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek. A lek is an area that males and females congregate around in order to display and mate. Most birds have a territory where they display to attract mates, but there are a decent number of species that use leks (many wading birds, Manakins etc). Essentially, the females stand to one side and watch the males perform their moves, one assumes that the females pick the best ‘dancer’. This is not the breeding season and there is no-one home when I arrive - probably too late in the morning, but I do see a female fly past me on the road. Back to the lodge for breakfast - an omelette and 4 bread rolls. All this, a hot shower, 3 hours of electricity per day and a decent bed somehow justifies the US$150 per night fee. I quote a fellow birder, Craig Evenhouse with respect to how I feel about these lodges, “let’s use the word ‘conservation’ in our mission statement so we can charge these stupid gringos an arm and a leg to stay at our lodge attitude”. Quite.

After breakfast I head back out to make the most of the remaining morning hours. Birding activity slows up a little, but the number of different species continues to add up nicely. While birding the road, the lodge manager drives past with the Russian couple. Clearly the lodge is now shut - he tells me to leave the key in the door when I check out. Hmm, this has me contemplating a few options. I duly check out later in the day, leaving the key as instructed though. I decide to bird my way down the road towards Pilcopata where I will spend the night before deciding on my next move.

It rains on and off most of the drive down, limiting my photography options. I add the odd bird here and there before arriving in Pilcopata. For such a remote part of the world, this is a fairly large village/town with a few accommodation options. I chose the best looking of the lot, which is not great, but somehow manages to provide free WiFi! I bird the surrounding areas in the late afternoon before returning to the hostel and getting ready for dinner. I head out looking for somewhere to eat, but after an hour of traipsing about find absolutely nowhere. Everyone is shut, too pissed up after a heavy days drinking. I consider getting my cooking gear out and making a tuna and tomato pasta mix but cannot be bothered. Sustain myself on cheese biscuits and Oreos. Get myself sorted and ready to write some emails, but it soon starts to rain. Take shelter and continue with my tapping. Send an email to my brother before composing one to my mother who is being admitted to surgery the following day. No word of lie, I hit send at the same moment a massive bolt of lighting knocked the towns power. The email remained unsent. Later in the evening, the power returned - while I had WiFi signal there was no internet connection. I knew the router needed resetting, but despite snooping about I was unable to locate the damn thing.
Give up my search and head off to the shower to find that it is ‘cold’ only. Give that a miss and get my head down. All these early mornings are starting to take their toll. Tomorrow is another early start, so best to get as much sleep as I can.

Birds : Tanagers (Yellow-whiskered Bush, Palm, Blue-necked, Blue-grey, Paradise, Golden, Saffron-crowned, Orange-eared, Bay-headed, Slaty, Magpie, Yellow-bellied & Swallow), Hummingbirds (White-bellied Woodstar, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Wire-crested Thorntail, Green-fronted Lancebill, Peruvian Piedtail, Long-tailed Sylph, Golden-tailed & Sapphire), Purple Honeycreeper, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Andean Solitaire, Andean Motmot, Solitary Eagle, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Jet Manakin, Yungas Manakin, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Double-toothed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Red-bellied Macaw, Black-capped Tinamou, Red-throated Caracara, Swallow-wing Puffbird, Moustached Wren, Black-throated Toucanet.

02/03/2013

Woke up suitably early to find that the rain had stayed away for a change. Drove the 14km’s to Atalaya, the intention being to cross the Rio Carbon and bird along the road towards Salvacion. My plans were dashed rather abruptly by a very fast moving and swollen Rio Carbon. To make matters worse, the rain started to fall now as well. A local fellow must have taken pity on me, for he invited me up to his house for coffee. I declined as I wanted to get some birding done, rain or no rain. 

Added a few common species along the river before turning tail and working my back up the road towards Pilcopata. Birding was terribly slow and the rain didn’t improve my mood. Eventually I found a small flock of activity, adding the rather puny Dusky-throated Antshrike. I moved further on, stopped next to what purported to be a plant and tree nursery. Finally, a decent mixed flock was kicking off. Another addition to my Antbird list (which is dire to say the least, my worst bird family in South America so far) - White-browed Antbird. A female trogon landed nearby, causing me to tick of Collared Trogon without much further than a few photos. [ed. 4 days later while going through my photos, I realised it was not a Collared, but the rather uncommon Black-tailed. How useful photos can be when one makes hasty ID’s.] 

By 10:00, bird activity had completely dried up and I returned to the hostel in Pilcopata. My original plan was to stay here another night, but given the lack of bird activity and access, I decided to head back up the road to the cloud forests. Another persuasive factor was the return of biting insects - I can handle mosquitos, but these damn sandflies are nasty bastards that leave irritable and itchy bites that last weeks and sometimes scar.

Packed and ready, I headed off just in time to see the large rain clouds moving in. I knew I had a good 20km’s of pretty flat, decent dirt road, so if I moved quick enough, I might outrun them. A few kilometres up the road my revs suddenly went through the roof and I lost drive. Shit, bike stopped and switched off to find out the problem. The chain had come off, fortunately it was still in one piece and there was no damage anywhere. Now my brain would be tested, for I had never done any form of mechanical work on a motorbike - and they are not quite the same as a touring bike. You can’t just depress the rear derailleur and slip the chain back on! 

Gear off and the tool kit out. I figured I would have to loosen the back wheel, push it forward, put the chain back on and then tighten the rear wheel again. This seemed like a good plan, so I set about removing the chain guard before attacking the rear wheel nuts. Try as I might, and this included braking a screwdriver that I was using as a lever, I could not get it to budge. I took a few more seconds thought before deciding I might be able to roll the chain on. Getting some of the chain onto the drive cog, I then engaged neutral and pushed the bike forward - chain back on. This may of course seem obvious to anyone who has owned and operated a bike for a period of time, but for a newbie, I thought this was fairly acute. 

I never stop thinking how my life would be different if my parents had not taught me to be self sufficient. We must have been the only white family in South Africa that did not employ maids or garden boys, and never did we call an electrician, plumber, builder or mechanic - mom and dad did it all themselves. Many a Saturday and Sunday did I sit atop one of the large metal tool boxes handing over spanners to my father while he was buried under one of the cars. I never thought that there was anything wrong with the cars, but pops liked to tinker, or engage in ‘maintenance’ as he called it. I learnt to iron from my mother - and to this day will not let anyone touch my clothes with an iron. I had a drilling machine with my named on it by the age of 5 and had free run of the entire workshop and garage except for the large radial arm saw - which I was petrified of using as an adult never mind a kid. 

Living on a farm for a 5 years and working as a safari guide gave me skills you cannot otherwise go to school and learn about. In fact the use of the word ‘skills’ is incorrect - I learnt or perhaps it was innate (my mathematics has always been so) to think laterally. The number of places and the amount of money I would have spent without using my head to extricate myself is unquantifiable. A few recent examples on my travels include, but are not limited to the following :

1. Locking my car keys inside a 4x4 in Costa Rica at the top of a mountain. (Solution - cut some barbed wire with my Leatherman, pull the doorframe out slightly and jiggle the door knob - actually, the doorknob had no grooves, so I had to get at the latch instead).

2. Reversing an SUV into a ditch in Thailand, extricating it and then having to do it all over when Adi promptly put it straight back into the same ditch. (Solution - fill the deep ditch with rocks and jack the car off them. Mind this was one of those ditsy little jacks, so it took a while. Took longer the second time around)

Back to Peru, felling quite smug I set off again. The chain looked rather dry, so I stopped at a small mechanic shop and had it oiled. Glancing into the distance, the clouds could not have looked blacker - the rain from behind had already caught up with me, but where I was going was much worse. Sod it, back in the saddle and hauled up the mountains once more. Stopped in a large bamboo thicket that was being buzzed by swallows. There must be an insect eruption, so I stopped to see what else might be about. Another good find, Stripe-chested Antwren - more Antbirds in one day than I had seen in the last 6 months. 

After that, the skies darkened even more and the rain tipped down. That plan that had started to evolve when I left Paradise Lodge now returned. If the lodge manager had left, then my key should still be in the door, the gas bottle would still be connected and I could have a hot shower to warm up and decent bed to sleep in - even if there was no electricity or food available. I entered the grounds quietly to have a snoop about. Bugger - the key was no longer int he door and worse the gas bottles had been removed. Clearly someone else was looking after things while the boss was away. I decided to have a better look about the other rooms just in case. All locked - but there was a large dry area that I would be able to put my sleeping bag down on. I decided to have one last look in a place I had not been to before - the roof of the dining room. While making my way down the steps, I slipped on the greasy moss landing heavily on hip and elbow (I had my 20kg backpack on too, just to help gravity a little more). Probably served me right, but at least there were no immediate signs of broken bones. My hip would probably bruise heavily, but everything else looked OK. I went upstairs in any case, finding the ‘matrimonial’ suite replete with funny shaped bath. Although this was from the outside - the doors were closed. 

After all that excitement, I would have to go back to Panticolla and pay the US$25 just to camp. I already knew who the chap was that ran the place, but he was nowhere to be found. With the end of day gloom nearing, I figured I had best get down to showering and cooking. I was told by the rep in Lima that they still had one gas bottle on hand so that i could have a hot shower - but there was no gas bottle behind the showers. Sod it, soap would only be an addition to my already wet and cold body. At least that was the theory - for that was one of the coldest showers I have had, and there have been many in South America so far. Back into my dirty clothes - I failed to see what the point of showering was, but did it out of habit perhaps. Into the kitchen for a pasta, tuna, mushroom and tomato puree dinner. Made a quick cup of coffee first before getting my food in order. Half way through, Demetrio walked in, quite taken aback to find some stranger in his lodge, cooking food and gear strung out to dry. I introduced myself and explained the email correspondence with his rep in Lima, who was now in the Netherlands. 

He disappeared for  a short while, returning much happier. He must have spoken with Marianne, for the gas bottle now appeared on the shower and I was going to be staying in a room rather than a tent. A bonus this, pity about the shower... Finished up with dinner before taking a troll along the road to look for Lyre-tailed Nightjar with my puny little torch. I didn’t actually see one, but did hear one call over the lodge after I had returned from my walk. More concerning were the lights at Cock of the Rock Lodge - clearly they must be open again. So sneaking in to look at Hummingbirds tomorrow then. Later in the evening while visiting the facilities, I spotted a large and long tailed rodent amusing itself nearby. he was rather cute, big dumbo ears and seemingly offended every time a drop of rain hit him. Try as I might, the bugger was always a few steps ahead of my photo attempts. To date I have not been able to identify the species. I hatched a plan to attract him into a fixed position where I could get all my camera angles and lighting covered and wait. I returned to the kitchen and extracted a large dollop of strawberry jam that I then smeared on a low wall next to the toilets and sat down to wait. Then the rain started and Dumbo seemed to disappear. I lost patience after half an hour and went to bed. [ed. the Strawberry Jam was gone the next morning, clearly Dumbo had me on a string].

Birds : Black Skimmer, Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Whiskered Myiobius, Dusky-throated Antshrike, Broad-billed Motmot, White-vented Euphonia, White-browed Antbird, Black-tailed Trogon, White-winged Shrike-Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Macaw, Cabanis’s Spinetail , Rufous-breasted Hermit, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Stripe-chested Antwren, Rufous-crested Coquette, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Lyre-tailed Nightjar. 

03/01/2013

Bird around Panticolla Lodge and along the roads in both directions. Despite the lack of rain, the bird activity is no good. Give it a few hours before deciding to cut my losses and head up the mountain to Wayqecha. I have just enough money in US$ and NS to cover tonight, petrol and a cheap hostel tomorrow before getting into a city with an ATM. On the way up the hill, I pass a treacherous bend where a large rock fall has caused the road to rise as it goes around the bend. Worse, the substrate is large, loose stones. I stall once or twice trying to navigate the mess but make it through without strife.

Approaching the bend, I had seen the wreckage of a truck in the valley below. I stop to take a peak, unable to establish how this moron ended up where he did. The truck has gone off what must be the widest piece of the entire Manu Road. Cannot be sure if this is a recent or old accident, but it would seem rather unlikely that the driver or his passengers made it. I cannot locate the cab, which I presume must be at the bottom of the valley - the trees keep the trailer suspended higher up. The road throws up a few more surprises, the rain has caused some large sections to slip away and others to shrink so much in width that trucks are unable to pass. I come across a truck driver and his wife hacking away at a bank of rock and stone trying to create enough space to get their Volvo F12 past. A waterfall has eroded the ‘old’ road into a single track, cracks in the current lane suggest this part of the road could give way at any stage. I scoot past and hope it hold the weight of my bike at least. There are a few more sections like this further up the road past Pillahuata - surely another day of rain and the Manu Road will have to shut. 

I stop at a small road side ‘restaurant’ - I use that term euphemistically for a coffee and some bread rolls. The it is only a few more kilometres to Wayqecha. I arrive just after 13:00, re-introducing myself to Francisco and promising not to cancel on him again. Check in and sit down for lunch, lovely hot soup and a stew. I head off for a short walk along one of their many trails. I choose the Picaflores (Hummingbird) trail hoping that it does indeed have some hummers - I am missing a few still. After 20minutes, I find one of the birds I am after, the Rufous-capped Thornbill. Little else moves on the trail and I am back in the dining hall by 15:00 having another coffee. Francisco and I trade photos before he decides to come out for a walk with me in the afternoon.

We walk the Canopy Tail which takes in a long well built metal bridge extending some 100m through the cloud forest canopy. The forest is devoid of birds at this late time of the day, so we head off the trail and up the road. Birding activity improves slightly and I get some more decent images of the Rufous-capped Thornbill. We hear some Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucans, but they won’t show. While taking a shortcut through the grasslands back to the lodge, a flash of white and a bark have us in hot pursuit of a White-tailed Deer. We don’t get another view, have to be satisfied with seeing only it’s characteristic feature - a raised and very white tail. It’s a good find, an animal that I tried and failed to see in Florida, USA. Seems odd that the species occurs at sea level and well over 3000masl. 

Return to the lodge for more coffee and dinner with Francisco and the builders. My Spanish has improved enough to hold a basic conversation and certainly understand more than I can speak. The main topic of conversation is my inability to speak Quechua. I explain that I can barely speak Spanish, let alone am indigenous language which sounds even more foreign to a European person.

Head off for a hot shower and a decent nights rest. The rooms stinks when I return, the fault of 7 day old, wet, unwashed socks and other assorted tasty pieces of clothing. A decent hot shower warms me up before I doze off. Another early start tomorrow will see me birding down to the tunnels before returning for breakfast. 

Birds : Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, White-throated Hawk, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Versicoloured Barbet, Black-streaked Puffbird, Capped Conebill, Blue-backed Conebill, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher, Barred Becard, Rufous-capped Thornbill, Black-capped Hemispingus, Rufous-bellied Bush Tyrant, Red-billed Tyrannulet, White-collared Jay.

04/01/2013

Out at 05:00 and bird the road as far down as the second tunnel. Half an hour after starting my walk, one of my bogey birds climbs up a piece of bamboo, takes a look at me and flies off - Plushcap! The hours I have spent looking for this critter to no avail. Seedeaters rarely respond to tape, and given that it is not the breeding season I half-heartedly give it a go in any case. What luck, the bugger responds but lands in an impenetrable piece of scrub. With a bit more coaxing, I just about have the space to nail a few shots, which turns into plenty when he adjusts position slightly. Happy with my shots, I leave the fellow in peace and head off down the road already satisfied with my day. If I don’t see another bird today, I could care less. 

I find a small mixed flock around the tunnels, none of the flycatchers or wrens I am still looking for, but a new Tanager almost slips by when I don’t pay enough attention. Fortunately I wise up and realise that I am looking at a new species. With all the colourful tanagers about, it was understandable that I might forget about the less attractive ones! 

With that, I turn around and slog back up the hill. Hot cup of coffee and a decent breakfast of chocolate? oats followed by fried eggs and bread rolls. Pack up my gear and start the long ride to Paucartambo and Huancarani. My plan is to stay in Huancarani for the night and search the area for the Endemic Chestnut-bellied Mountain Finch. 

The road is in much better condition today, clearly there has been no rain here for a day or so. It allows me to make good time before some heavy wind causes me to slow down a fair bit. 

Arrive in Paucartambo and make a quick refuelling stop before continuing on my way. There are heavy roadworks going on between Paucartambo and Huancarani that slows things up. It is hardly the part of the road that needs work done on it, but perhaps that is due to the maintenance being done. I arrive in Huancarani just after 12:30, plenty of time to have a quick bite to eat before hitting the fields and looking for the finch.

I sit down to a typical lunch meal of soup followed by some rice and chicken. At least that is what I thought was being served - I was in a Polloria (Chicken shop) after all. What I got looked distinctly like dried fish, so that got deposited elsewhere. Poured the chopped onion and green pepper relish onto the rice but immediately regretted this decision. It looked harmless enough, but clearly the liquid was battery acid. Tears ran and hiccups started very quickly. Crumbs, and I can eat hot food, but this was lethal stuff - I could get used to it mind you, but even though I asked what the ingredients were - I was unable to understand the response. I’ll find out at some point.
 
After lunch I drove around the town looking for a place to stay. Despite a large sign saying that there was hospitality available, I was unable to find any such thing. So I headed off into the fields and had a crack for the finch instead. With heavy wind blowing and little moving, I only lasted a few hours before changing my plans yet again. I saw on my map that I could access Pisaq via a different road instead of having to go up and over the pass to Urcos. So I tried this - thinking I would stay in Pisaq tonight instead. Would you believe it, this road was asphalted. It started to dawn on me that this may have been the road referred to in other reports. A while later I came to a bridge where I decided to take a few minutes break.Turning around I noticed a large sign saying something to the effect of, ‘Welcome to the Manu Road’. Pillock - this was the place I was supposed to have started at. Not only was it asphalted, it was much shorter too and involved one less long, steep and cold pass. Had I been on this road initially, I would not have gotten so bloody lost. 

Pass that off to experience - if I am treating this as an apprenticeship for becoming a bird guide, I guess I better make some mistakes along the way in order to know where to and where not to do. I am quite tired now, the drive has been long and required much concentration. I stop along the way checking the flowering gum trees for Bearded Mountaineer - another bird that has taken up an inordinate amount of my time with no return. I am half asleep when I see a white hummingbird across the river - being dopey, I had not taken my bins out, by the time I do the bird has moved on and does not return. Was it or wasn’t it? I had that horrible feeling that I might have seen what I was looking for, but could not be sure - there is no worse feeling in birding, even dipping is better than a ‘might have’. [ed. having seen the Mountaineer the following day, I could conclusively say that this bird was not the Mountaineer - probably a White-bellied Hummingbird.]

Drove the rest of the short distance to Pisaq at close to 100km/h, better to finish this quickly while I was awake - the adrenalin of a near miss suddenly waking me from my dozy state. Take a ride around Pisaq looking for a likely spot to stay. Find a place on the outskirts of the town for 30NS - that will do me fine. Have found a coffee shop in town that has free WiFi, so my usual accommodation requirements can be shelved for now. Hot shower, dressed and drive back into town to make use of said WiFi and have plenty more coffee. Chat with Gunnar again who kindly provides me with a number of possible sites to look for both the Bearded Mountaineer and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Finch. Tomorrow I shall be perusing the mountains, valleys and bushes around Pisaq. 

Birds : Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Plushcap, Rufous-chested Tanager.

05/01/2013

Rains all morning, so I sit in the coffee shop replying to emails and Skyping. Drink shedloads of coffee and soon I am replying to the urgent requirements bought on by this diuretic. Get some of my photos edited and start to percolate over the lack of response from UPS. I am waiting until I get back to the hostel to see if they have called them instead before launching my assault. Fucking Yanks - why I thought dealing with a Yank company in the first place is beyond me - it won’t be happening again though. Depending on how things go, I may well refuse the order and demand a refund from the morons I bought the gear from.

Rain dissipates after midday, so head off to bird the mountains around Pisaq. A few good hummingbirds, but photography of little use. I cannot find any Mountain Finches despite looking up and down various mountains, valleys and ridges. Give up on the Mountain Finches and have a go at getting some photos of a few hummingbirds. Despite much persistence, a Long-tailed Sylph never quite puts itself in position for a decent image. By 16:00 the rain is falling much harder, so I retreat back to the coffee shop for some more poison and an early dinner. 

En route I pass a number of oxygen parasites. I figure it best to place this rant in it’s appropriate place : Rage and Rumination.

A few sips of coffee and I was back to my calmer self and concentrating on other things. I suddenly realised that I had an extra day on the bike. Due to so many changes of schedule, I had arrived a day early. Since there was little to find in Pisaq, I resolved to head back to Ollantaytambo and have another go at the cloud forests that I was unable to reach on the previous trip. Weather forecast was shit again, not sure why I bother looking -  rain is a given, how much is the only question.

Birds: Bearded Mountaineer.

06/01/2013

Despite planning on sleeping in, my body seems to know that 05:00 is the time to rise. Rolled back over for another hour and rather regretted doing that. My hip is still bloody painful despite not showing any bruising. Get another hour of dozing done before I get restless. Get up, pack my gear and load up. Decide to head straight to Ollantaytambo rather than having breakfast at the coffee shop. I am not sure of the distance involved, but estimate it to be a little over 50km’s. Am in a racing mood this morning and with dry roads I crack on. Get into Ollantaytambo without obstruction and sit for breakfast, some rather lovely scrambled eggs with chicken, toasted rolls with proper butter and fresh strawberry jam, a cup of coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. There will be more of that tomorrow morning for sure.

The weather is actually gorgeous, sun out and few clouds in the sky. I decide not to mess about with the good weather. I check into a cheap hostel next to the hotel I stayed in last time. I’ll be able to get WiFi for less than half the price. Back on the bike and dash up the mountains. By the time I get to Penas, that lovely sunshine is gone and the rain starts coming down with some fury. Dry gear on and persevere up the the sharp and steep cut backs to Abra Malaga. Figure I would take a quick break and check the bogs for any Seedsnipe - one of the few families that I have yet to twitch on this trip. There is nothing about, not even an Andean Lapwing. Despite the heavy duty gloves and an enclosed helmet, I am starting to get very cold and wet. This alleged waterproof suit must have been made in China, for it doesn’t bloody work.


Over the summit I go, fortunately the thick cloud that normally engulfs this pass is absent for the moment and I dash down the pass as quickly as I can. Stop for one of two photos of some rather attractive snowcapped peaks before descending further to the cloud forests. The roads are dry and for a minute or two I think I may have caught a lucky break. I find a decent looked Chusquea Bamboo patch, dismount and immediately get pissed on from a dizzy height. I could claim not to have sworn in anger since being in South America, but that ended today as I finally lost my rag - I cannot remember the last time I spent an entire day either dry or warm since arriving in Bolivia. I spent almost 3 months in Argentina and never saw rain, met a truly great nation of people and am still in love with the place. If only it had a few more birds or a relatively stable economy. I could get used to living there one way or the other I suppose. I stop reminiscing about the past and try to concentrate on the current, which is wet, windy and damn cold. I can no longer feel my fingers, the cold having turned to excruciating pain and ultimately numbness. This is probably not a good thing, especially since I have a good 70km’s of road to go back over - that means back up the freezing pass again... And people think birdwatching is one of those low risk, comfortable, old codger pursuits. Perhaps it is, but twitching is a whole different ball game. Why did I come all this way through such crappy weather? Why did I attempt it before? To get two species of bird - that all, just another two ticks on the list.

I give up after suffering more rain and no bird activity whatsoever. Now for more pain on the way back. Hours of horrid conditions in the hope of finding two species of bird - I get neither and leave wet, cold, grumpy and empty handed. One thing you can bet your bottom dollar on though - I’ll be back again at some point. Every ticks counts, and I am leaving two behind which I cannot get anywhere else. Get back to Ollantaytambo to find the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky - Murphy’s law I guess. Stop in town for lunch - a decent pizza followed by a chocolate smothered crepe. 

Not the waste the day, I sit and tap a good 10 000 words of the blog out. Haven’t really been in the right frame of mind with the last few blog pieces, has been a battle to put down anything decent. Today my writing enthusiasm piqued again, sometimes this is the way it is - once I get started I can write novels in one sitting. Aided by copious amounts of coffee of course. Finished editing most of my images last night, so the rest days I had put aside for Cuzco are now likely to be surplus. Will use the days to sort out another blog site and establish the details and plans for the next months or so. Am also going to be putting a little more effort into establishing the pros and cons of ditching Chancho and buying a motorbike. Have rather taken to this and think that while I was destined to live life on two wheels, I may have chosen the wrong model. It’s just a thought at present, but am going to give it serious consideration. Certainly the places that I have been to recently are well beyond the capabilities of a touring bike, never mind ones utter requirement for a love of sadomasochism to even attempt it. With much of my future birding taking place up and down the Andes, I am not sure I am all that keen to be cycling up and down wet and tricky dirt roads. 

Given the late lunch, I pig out on an avocado salad for dinner before retiring to finish this blog piece. Tomorrow I will have another fine breakfast across the road before heading back to Cuzco, my fun on the motorbike over, at least temporarily. Will bird a few places en route for the Mountain Finch - much thanks to Gunnar Egblom again for giving me the gen. After that, it will be back to the hostel, drop off my gear and then sadly return the moto. I saw a small clip of motorbike riders competing in the current Dakar Rally - I rather liked what I saw. Something to ‘dream’ about if only I was able to dream at all.

Birds : Nada.



I have no idea as to the last date of my blog post, so this is a simple update from when I can remember - at least anything of interest that is.

09/01/2013

Mac is still not functioning correctly today. Manage to get an update done before it crashes again. Reload my data again and continue to problem solve. After much tapping away, I think the best move is to get rid of this useless OS X (Lion) that I stupidly downloaded last year. Apple have been moving in the wrong direction ever since they decided to ‘improve’ on Snow Leopard. All they have created since is a clunky and slow beast - much like the typical wild feline it is named after. Before anyone points to their favourite National Geographic clip, know this - Lions sleep for up to 20 hours a day, catch less that half their own prey (they steal everything else off Hyenas, Leopards and Cheetah) and have to mate every 20 to 40 times a day for up to a week as their reproductive system is about as useless as they are. How they every became King of the Jungle... no wait, actually it makes perfect sense when compared to Royal Families. 

While watching time bars, I spend most of my time with my iPhone in one hand posting updates, tweeting hundreds of messages and generally irritating everyone who follows me on Facebook and Twitter. 

The Mac manages to download all 4Gb (is this going to be even more top heavy with useless junk?) by 22:20 and I spend the next hour installing. While everything is still working, I make yet another back up before going to bed. 

10/01/2013

Start the Mac up and all works well for the first 20minutes before going cold turkey on me again. This time it is well and truly buggered, no response whatsoever. After much effort I can access the maintenance screen. I decide there is nothing for it anymore - time to format it. If I cannot reload the operating system (OS X), then I wasn’t losing anything in any case. Turns out that Apple are miles ahead as per usual. No startup disk, no problem. Format the machine and simply download the OS X onto your HDD - problem solved. Given that I had already bought the latest OS X release, there would be no charge in downloading it again. Spend the day looking at a blank screen though. The internet connection is not very good - my estimated time at the start of the download was over 8 hours.

By midday we are proceeding at speed, only another 2 hours to go. Then the internet signal packs up and my screen hangs. Have to start all over again - clearly the Mac is not storing what it is downloading!!! I cannot be doing another 8 hours, so head into town to find a broadband provider. I try a number of internet cafes and restaurants - go through a lot of coffee in restaurants to get the WiFi codes. None seem to have broadband. I head to another internet cafe more in hope than anything else - perhaps they could just point me in the right direction. After numerous cafes, I was starting to believe that broadband did not exist in these parts. The very last of the internet cafes I tried gave me this amusing answer to my question of, ‘do you have broadband?’. ‘No broadband senor, we use Google Chrome’. I tried not to laugh, I tried not to lose the plot - walked out saying nothing more.




Back to the hostel to sort out other problems. Put the Mac to one side and compose an email to UPS Peru. It is a fairly base email, trying not to let me words get inflected with my pent up frustration. In short I tell my contact that my gear arrives tomorrow or she can ship it back to the US where it probably belonged.  

With my head now spinning with various options - no Mac (flights to Lima?), no bike parts (buy a motorbike, but what to do with Chancho?). Err. 

A few minutes later I get a response from UPS saying that my parts have left customs (how about update you stupid tracking website then?) and it will definitely be here tomorrow. In some way I am happy, in another way it would have given me all the excuse I needed to swap Chancho out for a motorbike instead. Perhaps my luck is changing? With that small candle in the wind, I turn to my belated Mac once more and try something new. I know there is no operating system on the machine, but what if I try loading my Time Machine backup anyway - the option to do so is available. Time for reload - 1 hour, fish piss in the sea of time I have spent trying to get this sorted. Leave the Mac to it’s own devices and grab a quick bite to eat.


Much to my surprise, I return to the Mac to find a screen with my favourite Snow Leopard sitting amongst my documents and programs. Can this actually be the case - how did the OS X get onto the machine? Before getting too excited I power off and on again just to make sure. Sure enough all is there and it works too - well most of it anyway. The rest needs to be updated due to having an upgraded OS X. Better yet, the speed seems much improved - perhaps Apple listened to the clientele for a change. Not that they ever seem too - hell, Snow Leopard would be the OS X of choice forever and iPads would have USB ports on them...

Never mind, I can sleep peacefully for the first time in a few weeks. One more backup and then sleep. 

11/01/2013

Today is spent catching up on all the work I have not been able to do thus far. Updating lists, planning my next few months etc. Spend all day on this while waiting for my parts to arrive. Just gone 17:00, I think about another email to UPS. Decide to leave it for another hour. One of the receptionists runs upstairs a few minutes later looking for me. Much to my delight, my box is sitting in reception waiting to be signed for. It is not only the UK where you sit around the whole day waiting for something only to have it delivered a few minutes before the business days ends... Sign for the delivery but am a little concerned by the shape and size of the box - there can’t be any tyres in there. Open things up to find the tyres wrapped in half. Great, they have been stuck in this position for over 3 weeks, wonder how the side walls are faring. Without much further ado, I fetch Chancho and start tearing off the old and useless Schwalbe Marathon + tyres (they of 20 000km’s and no punctures fame). My experience - wrecked after 6 500km to go with 11 punctures. 

Tyres replaced just as it starts to get dark. Won’t be going for a spin tonight - will trial them tomorrow. On first impression they are much thinner that the Schwalbe’s (35mm) despite being 42mm wide according to the spec. In fact I am so certain that they cannot be accurate that I check the tyres themselves. Apparently these are 42mm - Continental must be measuring the fattest part of the tyre which is not likely to make contact with the road while Schwalbe are clearly measuring the thinnest part of the tyre before any weight is applied! Such a good day calls for a lazy dinner out. Find a cracking restaurant called El Mason and dine on a huge meat platter deliver on a grill over hot coals. See photos somewhere in the blog to get the idea.  

12/01/2013

First and only job of the day is to change the chain on Chancho. Breakfast out of the way, I open up the toolbox and get to work on changing the chain. It is practically shot to pieces. When I compare it with the new chain, the old one is almost 2cm longer and most of the links are worn to shreds. With the chain on, I could concentrate on sorting out my target bird lists and the like for the upcoming trip to Nazca.

Dinner in town again - same place, same huge meat platter, but made sure I starved myself today in order that I could fit in some salad and dessert. While chomping on my large steaks, I suddenly take umbrage towards bleeding vegans - I wish they would allow me to remove their canines and incisors in order that they could be the herbivores they think they are. Yes, the only redundant part of the human body is the appendix - used to digest leaf matter in our distant past. Why we evolved incisors and canines if we were supposed to eat nuts and leaves I have no idea... And don’t get me started on the bloody ethics either - these animals were specifically bred to be our food. What would happen to them if the human race suddenly decided to stop eating meat? Yes, they would all have to be killed for there would be no use for them, or they would die without human care. One might be tempted to ask where they got those lovely leather shoes from? Pillocks... Might go off on a long tangent if I started on their typical sidekick organisation Peta or Greenpeace (con) and their opposition to genetically modified food (pro). 

13/01/2013

Time to hit the high and mighty Andes today. I have got rid of some excess junk and added some replacements. Not sure what to expect today having been off the bike for some 3 weeks. Dressed and upstairs for breakfast. Duly say my goodbyes and head out for the start of the next leg. Start pedalling, but having a lot of chain slippage. Don’t get very far before the multitool comes out and I start fiddling with the rear derailleur. This way, that way and every other way - it makes bugger all difference.

I carry on cycling in the few gears that I can use without slipping. I cycle all of 3km’s before stopping. Unpack all my gear on a park bench and invert the bike. Fiddle some more with little idea of what I am trying to achieve. After a few minutes fiddling, I go for a pedal to find that I have accomplished nothing. Do this many more times before deciding I am pretty much done for. At about this time, two Australian couples nearby are having their own troubles with a motorbike rental store. I go over for a chat and advise they head further up the road to the chaps who rented me a motorbike. They tried initially only to find that the shop was closed - how unfortunate. 

Luckily for me, one of the very tall Aussies takes an interest in my cycling predicament and comes over for a look. He is a proper country boy (I think) and we chat about some unrelated stuff (the current Australian heat and wild fires) before he takes a look at my cassette and suggest that it looks very worn. He tells me that he changes chains and cassettes at the same time. While I still cannot see much wrong with it, I think he has probably nailed the problem. After a while, their problems with the motorbike situation improve and I head off to get some more advice. I tackle a mountain bike hire store who advise me of the best cycle shops in town. 

I think of finding another hostel, embarrassed to go back to the one I have just left. I decide against such silliness, I know the hostel well, they know me well etc. Go back for another night. Changed and with some research done, I head off on what turns out to be a wild goose chase. The first shop I look for does not seem to exist - but I walk up and down the hill double-checking in any case. It didn’t appear the second time around either. It strikes me at about this time that I might be wasting my time - it is Sunday and few shops are open. Worse, I am now some distance from the hostel and have no alternate store to aim for. I need WiFi.

Head to the central square where I have the WiFi codes for almost every shop and restaurant. I decide I fancy a decent coffee and head into Starbucks. The staff are new and useless - more interested in feeling each other up that serving the clients. Now, I am already frustrated  - and when I am on a mission and frustrated I tend to work very quickly and run a very short fuse. Something that has been threatening to explode over the last week (spares import, Mac breakdown etc). I manage to keep my composure - 10minutes to order a coffee with one person in front of me. Another 10 minutes for the bloke to make a Cafe Americano... In the interim I try to search for more shops, but cannot get online. 

Coffee in hand I take a seat and give the internet a few tries. Take a sip of my coffee and end up with a good few mouthfuls in my lap. Stupid lid wasn’t attached properly. I decide this is my own fault and re-attach it correctly. Second mouthful produces the same result. Duff cup and lid. Lid comes off, two more mouthfuls and still no internet. Practically full coffee gets lobbed in the bin and I head off to one of my numerous alternates. Only I don’t get very far, the clear sunny skies have been replaced by torrential rain. Things are starting to get very heated in my head now, I swear the rain drops were evaporating before they even struck me. I stand under the balcony waiting for it to clear. Get irritable and walk across the square, rain or no rain.
Back at the hostel I spend the remainder of the afternoon chatting to a friendly Irish couple before heading to my room to sort out my hair. Perhaps because the instructions are in Spanish, but for the first time in living memory I actually follow them to the tee. I even use the brush to apply the peroxide/dye mix so as not to colour my forehead and ears as I usually do. An hour later and all is sorted. Into the shower before taking a quick peak to make sure that I am not orange. Nope, the red has done the job better than I could have hoped for actually. Perhaps following the instructions would help in future. RTFM (Read The Manual - so to speak) I am wont to say but don’t often follow my own advice.

Dinner done and dusted before more conversations with the Irish couple. I decide to pass on their ‘few drinks in town‘ offer. I know the Irish way better than they think. [ed. indeed, they didn’t get home until 4/5 the next morning.]

14/01/2013

Woke early for a change, possibly in anticipation of getting the bike part. Possibly I was more concerned about not getting it and the ensuing frustration of contracting the Cuzco Curse - never leaving!

Breakfast as usual - such lovely staff this hostel has. I know I have been here a while, but I have always been greeted by name, ‘Buenos dias Senor Clinton’. Haul out my personal additives and smother the breakfast rolls with something resembling Dulche de Leche.

Downstairs to get the old cassette off before going back to the bike shop. Now, I have taken the cassette off quite a few times on this trip for cleaning - most notably in Bolivia where it got covered in mud and sand on a daily basis. Today it is not budging, worse I cannot get the required grip as the whip chain keeps slipping. So much for thinking that it was not that badly worn. Sitting down and thinking about my next move was not going to help, only brute force was going to get this off. Yank, pull and push, before it finally gave way. Step 2, off to the bike shop again to see what I can find in terms of replacements. I have thought ahead and researched the implications of using an 8 speed cassette on 9 speed shifters. Not particularly advisable, but can be done. Perhaps for long enough to get to Lima?

Ruso greets me and I show him what I need, stupidly forgot to look up the Spanish word for ‘cassette’. He counts off the rings, perhaps not believing that I want a 9 speed. Satisfied that I was not confused or using the wrong Spanish numbers, he sets about retrieving two models for me to look at. No Shimano, but he does have SRAM - perfectly good in my book. The cost is bloody steep though, the cheapest is NS255 (US100.00). Should I have bought this part in the UK or USA it would have cost me no more than US$55. However, having been through the customs mill already... I know that the bastards charge 50% not of the value of the goods, but the complete shipment - where do they get off charging customs tax on foreign delivery charges?

Anyhow, very pleased that I am holding a brand spanking new cassette in hand I march off to the hostel to sort out installation. Before starting the job, I take a few comparison photos just to prove how damaged the old cassette was. People have already asked me how could I possibly change the chain without changing the cassette at the same time. Quite easy actually, most cyclists change chains 2-3 times before they change a cassette. It was my typical over-research prior to setting off that convinced me not to bring a spare cassette. Of course, I did not factor in the effect of 1000km’s of Bolivian dirt, mud and lack of lube grinding away at it. Then again, I also assumed that a countries major roads would be asphalt. And we know what assumption is the mother of...

Hub gets a good cleaning and another layer of grease before adding the cassette. Pop the wheel back on, sort out the rear brake and head outside for short pedal about. What an amazing difference, no chain slippage and the gears change beautifully. If you have a touring bike and need some specialist parts replaced, head to Russo BIkes - easily the best Cuzco has to offer.

Ruso Chaucca
Russo Bikes. Avenida Tacna 218B, Cuzco, Peru.
russobike@hotmail.com russobikes.blogspot.com

Satisfied that I will be leaving Cuzco tomorrow, I get some further work done on the Mac and plot an altitudinal gradient map of the obscene ride I am about to start.

15/01/2013

I realise that I have been on tour 200 days now. Feels longer, but that is definitely a good thing. Finally make it out of Cuzco. The first 5 kilometres are not what I need to ease me back onto the road. Steep climb with plenty of smoke belching traffic. Then follows a relaxing downhill ride. The downhill finishes, to be replaced with a relatively flat ride. I take my time at this altitude, not wanting to use the energy my legs have in them today. Not that my intentions last all that long, for while the last climb of the day is only a vertical 400m and 20 kilometres long - it rather hurts. 

The pass is reached and now for some fun, 26km of steep downhill. I have stopped worrying about going downhill, there are so many climbs on this road that I best enjoy every downhill available. I do take my time down the hill, Chancho rides quite differently with the new tyres - profile is much lower, what I imagine a racing slick to be. Which reminds me, when this trip is over I shall be getting a carbon fibre racing bike - you can only lean over and travel so quickly on a loaded tour bike.
Reach the town of Limatambo by 14:00. This is a good place to call it a day, tomorrow I will have some more downhill before the real riding starts. 

16/01/2013

I wake early at 05:30, best to have as long on the road as possible. A few kilometres down the road I stop for breakfast. ‘Caldos de Gallina’ - chicken soup, but whole chicken pieces and potatoes cut in half. Fortunately there have not been any chicken feet in a while. Then it was back to business. In less the an hour I was on the banks of the Apurimac River - the source of the Amazon River. According to Wikipedia (unsourced) only 2 of 6 expeditions have ever succeeded in traversing the Apurimac River, never mind the entire source to mouth of the Amazon. If that is true, then I know half that number - more precisely the man who did it on his own, unsupported and on a hydrospeed. If there was a man that inspired me a teenager - Mike Horn was that person. http://www.mikehorn.com/en/mike-horn/expeditions/amazon-expedition/

While pedalling along the last piece of flat rad I am going to see for days, I notice a curious fluffy ball in the middle of the road. Only as I pass it by does it resemble a baby owl. It takes me another few seconds to act on what I am seeing. Pulling over, I watch as a few cars and a truck pass in either direction - the little owl doing it’s best disappearing act while standing stock still in the middle of the road. I feared that the little fellow must have been dead or about to die. To my great delight, the little fellow was still kicking or at least trying to.

So what was it, well, thats just the problem - officially this bird does not exist. It goes by the name Apurimac Screech Owl for now. Knowing that little is known of the bird, I thought it best to nab as many photos of it as I could. Not sure if the fellow was injured or not, I had a quick feel and felt that it seemed just fine. Perhaps a little frightened or in some state of shock, but otherwise the bird seemed fine. Given that the sun had been up for a few hours, I figured it must have been out on the road for quite some time already. I put him in a dark thicket off the ground where he could hopefully get some rest and regain his strength.

With that I left the small fellow and headed on and over the river. This would be the start of a long two days. Had to get quite a few clothes off, the river valley was awfully hot. The climb started at a relatively gentle gradient, climbing and then dropping and climbing again. I could do with this being over - just give me the climb and let me get on with it! That it did soon enough. The road snaking back and forth around valleys and ridges rising all the time. Made a quick stop for lunch (Ritz and Oreo biscuits) before tackling an array of switchbacks. It was getting on for 12:30 when I cleared the switchbacks knowing that I had only a few more corners before reaching the town of Curahuasi. 

Withe the sky grey and rain starting to fall, I perched Chancho under a porch roof and went into a restaurant for lunch. More ‘Caldos de Gallina’ and a litre of Coka Cola - not my favourite tipple but the alternative of Inka Cola has yet to take my fancy. Decision time - to be honest I was not feeling my best on the climbs today. I was getting through them, but it felt like much harder work that it should. I had about 4-5 hours more of the day in which to cycle. So my options post lunch were to a) carry on climbing for the next 4-5 hours with an already tired set of legs, only to have to camp at perhaps 3400masl, difficult nights sleep etc, or b) finish now, have a whole afternoon and evening of good, comfortable rest and tackle a much longer climb tomorrow. I went for option ‘b’, I knew that with fresh legs I would get through the first 1000metres easily, proximity and time would get me through the rest. Decision made, I would actually stay right here in the ‘hospedaje’ above the restaurant.
Spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing on the bed while tapping away at the Mac and sorting out images. Keep peaking at the impending climb - it doesn’t matter which way I scale the graph - it is massive and relentless. 

17/01/2013

Wake up slightly later today - 05:40. Bike packed, water bottles filled, air in the tyres. [ed. No EPO, that is not normal for my riding like it is for LA’s.]

What else to say about the rest of the day - not much really. Think of a steep hill that you walk or cycle up on your way to work, make it 35km long and imagine what it would be like to cycle a 60kg bicycle up it. There are no flats, no downhills - the gradient only change get steeper or less steep. I climb from 2600masl to 4100masl. Once concentration is spent on breathing and pedalling, nothing else. For most of the ride, I cycle in 5km sectors, taking a 10 minute break. During each sector I stop about every 350m for one minute and then carrying on. There is nothing fun or exciting about the ride - it is a pure slog the entire way, the only goal is to get to the top. 

I summit just after 13:00, having spent the best part of 7 hours on the road. For most of the  ride I had envisaged screams of delight and much fist pumping on summiting, but in reality I simply allow myself to roll down the first few hundred metres before stopping to take some photos. My sense of achievement is palpable - but nothing more that a personal happiness at having beaten the mountain for now. The cloud is thick and the air cold at this altitude. Now that I am going to be descending under gravity, I will get very cold. I put on my jacket and my rain longs, not because it looks like it will rain, but just to stop the flow of air. I get exceptionally cold nonetheless and spend much of the first 20km shivering uncontrollably. 

Eventually I break through the cloud, the town of Abancay still far below me, but bathed in sunlight. I let go of the brakes and race down, needing to get into the sun as soon as possible. I reach Abancay a little after 14:30 - it has taken me less than an hour to cover the same distance down as what it took me almost 7 hours to get up. The sun disappears and the rain starts to fall just as I get to my hotel of choice. Gear unpacked, straight into the shower before collapsing on the bed for a satisfactory rest. Tomorrow I have a well deserved rest day - so there are no pressing concerns today. I connect to the WiFi, but am only able to get useless sites like Yahoo and MSN to work, even Google won’t load. The manager of the hotel does what he can but no solutions today. Helpfully, he will have the engineer arrive first thing in the morning to help me out. 

With that I head off into town, hoping to find a coffee shop that might have WiFi. I find no WiFi, but do find an excellent coffee and cake shop where is shovel a large portion of cake and ice cream down the gullet. Back to the hotel for a relaxing evening when I remember the date - Mr Armstrong is due to confess his sins on Oprah tonight. Dash out for a bag full of snacks and electrolyte drinks before sitting in bed watching the arse apologise for being caught. Probably a good thing that I have no internet access, for Twitter and Facebook would no doubt have lit up. Doesn’t take long to sleep after finishing with the rubbish - can’t wait to see the moron shed a few fake tears tomorrow night...


18/01/2013

Rest day. Am not planning on leaving my room other than for a quick feed. While my body feels good - I know that it has pounded through 2441m of vertical climbing in two days. Tomorrow I shall visit Bosque Ampay, the major reason I have come this route. A heap of endemic and un-described species await. 

Spend the remainder of the day updating my blog, working on new photos and watching multiple episodes of House. Take dinner in town - lovely little coffee and cake shop that also serves some good pastas.

19/01/2013


Up early for my trip to Bosque Ampay. It is Saturday, the streets deserted at 05:45. It only takes a minute or so to find a taxi though. Some banged up old Toyota, but it manages the steep uphill out of town and the rutted steep climb up to the entrance to Ampay. Walk in and pay the NS5.00 entrance fee and get a glossy map of the area. There isn’t much to see outside except a vertical cliff in front of me - the path goes straight up. Great - after all the climbing I have done on the bike, my legs are going to be doing it again on foot.

First few birds of the morning are found in the old agricultural areas - mostly fruit tree orchards. Apurimac Spinetail call from a bush in front of me, but plays hide and seek particularly well. I get a disappointing view, but know that I will find many more further up the hill. The light is not great, so don’t waste any effort or disturb the bird by using playback. Red-crested Cotinga is also common here, sitting perched at the top of the trees, but never close enough for a decent photo. Equally common, and particularly galling are the numerous Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finches. I put days of effort into finding one, got rained on from a dizzy height all for one measly photo. Here they are relatively common - just my luck!

The trail continues onwards and upwards at a crushingly painful gradient. After 90minutes I reach the first dense Podocarpus forest of the climb. These trees bring back such good memories - the Genus also occurs in South Africa and much the same as here, normally around the high altitude areas of the Drakensburg escarpment. I liked them so much I tried to grow one in the sub-tropical climate of Durban. They are slow growers, being built for harsh environments, taking many years to reach maturity. I never did see my tree grow up - we left Durban only a few years after I planted it. Photos from my neighbour many years later show that the new owners had a liking for concrete and cut down pretty much every tree I planted - even the rare and endangered species I had propagated. 

The birding here improved with my mood almost - Apurimac Brush Finch put in a show, but never exposed themselves long enough for any photos. The same applied to the Andean Parakeets, always a few seconds ahead of me. A glimpse of a female Mountain Velvetbreast before a male obliged me by sitting still for a minute or so. Unfortunately the lighting failed me, the images not of much quality. Undulated Antpitta called from various places, but none near to the paths unfortunately.

Higher and higher I went, being interrupted by one hell of a commotion ahead. I was able to move sideways off the path to watch 4 young men navigate a steaming and enraged ‘toro‘ down the mountain side. The bull cow had a rope attached to its horns and hind leg, two men holding on for dear life at either end. They paused for a breather near where I was standing allowing the bull to fix his sights on something other than his tormentors -namely me. The enraged animal gave the ground a few rakes with his hoof, visibly exhaled  water vapour that - he was not a happy camper. That excitement over, I climbed the last few hundred metres to the first lagoon and sat down for a late breakfast of Ritz crackers and Oreos. Three pairs of Crested Duck graced the small lagoon of no more than 100mx100m. They sat quietly for a few minutes before wave after wave of concerted attacks on each other. Ten minutes of splashing water and flying feathers gave way to some peace - no obvious victor to my eyes at least. Breakfast consumed, I resumed birding around the back of the lake, picking up the difficult Vilcabamba Thistletail. 

With the sun shining brightly for a change, I put some effort into getting photos of some of the species. An Apurimac Spinetail obliged me without the need for playback. Silly fellow got himself stuck in a single small bush in the middle of an open, short cropped grass field. Not the place to be if you spend your life hidden in the undergrowth. All I had to do was keep circling to keep the fellow in place. Every now and then he would pop out to see where he was allowing me to get some very decent photos. Of course, this being a Spinetail, none of the 50 odd photos I took ever had a completely clear shot. There was always a twig or a leaf in the way somewhere.

Satisfied with my haul for the day and with birding activity dying rapidly, I headed back down the mountain. My taxi driver had given me his number, written on the brown inner cardboard of a used toilet paper roll. Only I had run out of credit, so I had to leg it back down the hill. All good and fun I expect people to think, but trails this steep give your legs I right hammering. My legs shaking and wobbling terribly just to get back to the entrance, there was at least the respite of having a hardened road to continue down into town. Half way down, I passed the ‘toro‘ - now tied lengthways between two sturdy gum trees. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, as I seemed to walk much further than I remembered driving up. I definitely timed my exit well though, for as soon as I reached the outer edge of town the rain started to fall. I stood under some shelter and hoped for a cab. A cab did come bolting down the hill, well passed me before I even managed to put my hand up - but see me he did. Cabbies are much the same in South Africa - they can see a hand or finger raised hundreds of metres away at whatever obscure angle. Which makes it all the harder to believe that they cannot see cyclists in front of them.

The short ride back to the hotel managed to outrun the rain by a few minutes and I could enter ‘dry’ for a change. Rest of the day was dedicated to updating lists, photos and shopping for food for tomorrows cycle. From Abancay onwards, the towns would become few and far between - there would be a number of days in the tent, so I needed to stock up on food. Couldn’t be bothered to sit through another hour of the Armstrong affair this evening, so watched some more House and a film.
20/01/2013

Woke up at 06:00 to get ready for departure. Took only a few minutes to cancel that idea - my legs and bum were in pain. Clearly the hike and particularly the descent had given my already worn legs an extra battering. Got back into bed and slept for a few more hours. When I did eventually drag my sorry butt out of bed, it was to go downstairs, have breakfast and book an extra night. Back up to the room for more work - this time on two further blogs that I was going to write some articles for.

Took a few walks into town, more to stretch the muscles than anything else. Couldn’t help myself but visit the cake shop for the 3
rd day running and climb into a large slice of cake with ice cream. Finished off the preliminary blog work before having a late shower and hitting the sack again.

21/01/2013

The body felt much better this morning, packed my gear and had a quick bite to eat before departure. The cycle out of Abancay was going to be easy to start with - downhill for the first 18km’s. The sun was out bright and early, making the descent comfortable at least. Reached the Chalhuanca River all too quickly though. From this point on, it was 160km of climbing. The first few kilometres were a real struggle - it would seem that the heart needs to get pumping and the blood flowing more rapidly before any amount of climbing can be accomplished.

The road would follow the valley for much of the ride. Far from being a solid but gentle climb, the road proceeded to climb and descend like a yo-yo. In some ways this was much better than a long slow uphill, I could cycle hard up the hill knowing that I would be able to rest and free-wheel down the other side. So if I climbed 50m, I would descend 30-40m on the other side. The small increase of altitude after every climb is descent barely noticeable.


As the day wore on, so I covered a much larger distance that I had expected to. The distance from Abancay to the next major town of Chalhuanca was 120km’s, something I expected to break into two, maybe cycle a little further today and leave myself an easier climb the following day. However, by the time I stopped for lunch just after 12:00, I had already covered 70km’s. At this rate I should reach Chalhuanca easily today. Of course, one has to factor in fatigue - so my aims were modest. If I only covered 10km’s per hour from this point onwards I would reach the town at 18:00. Brilliant, I set off with some gusto - looking to ‘bank’ as many kilometres as I could.

Banking is my term for completing more kilometres per hour than planned. In other words, by 14:00 I wanted to have completed 80km’s, but by that time I had covered 85km’s, so I had banked 5km’s so to speak. This adds an extra angle to the sometimes very boring cycling - it also give me some leeway for the unexpected. By the time 15:00 rolled around, I had 8km’s in the bank - which I was about to use. I stopped for my usual hourly break, knocked back the kick stand and promptly noticed that my front wheel didn’t bounce quite the way it should have. Bastard - a rather soft tyre meaning I had a pretty big leak. And now the wind and rain started. Changing flats is a pain in the arse as it is, to do so with the wind blowing your bike over and rain getting into everything is more than irritating. Thinking back on the many flats I have had - they mostly strike at the least opportune moments!

Happily for me, the new tyres are a little easier to remove from the rims. Tyre changed in record time, I was back on the road in less than 10 minutes. Had it been the rear wheel - the time would have doubled at least - much more gear to take off and reload. The remainder of the ride was pretty much the same - concentrated thunderstorms overhead, a very dark and black sky with the ever present rain. The rain became irritating in itself - couldn’t make up it’s mind. The rain drops were very large, but it was hardly a constant or heavy downpour. By 17:00, the rain had settled into a steady downpour, the constant dripping at the front of my cap increasing my irritability. I had stopped using my helmet before reaching Cuzco, although I still lugged it about on the back of my gear. However, on leaving Cuzco the bungees snapped some of the polystyrene inner and the cheap Chinese junk found the closest dustbin. I no longer desire to cycle with a helmet on. I get more protection from the baseball cap than I ever did from the helmet. Perhaps my nose will be able to grow a layer of skin that doesn’t slough off after a few days now. I plan on getting a larger wide-brimmed hat when I reach Nazca. 

I rolled into Chalhuanca just after 17:15 and spent the next 20minutes farting about trying to find some decent accommodation. I was cold and soaked to the bone - for all the good it does, I do not know why I even put the rain coat on. All I wanted was a steaming hot shower to warm up in - and hopefully stop the legs from seizing up. Indeed the shower was hot, hot enough that I had to jump out and fiddle the cold water tap. While I was at it, I figured I may as well wash the wet cycling gear too. Laundry done, I went down stairs to find something to eat. Sundays are evidently quite days in the kitchen for it was closed, but they rustled up a big portion of salad, a large steak, egg and chips in 20 minutes for me. With that it was time for bed - answered a few emails on the dodgy WiFi signal and fell asleep. 

22/01/2013


Woke to more problems today - not sore legs, or not more so than normal. Had developed a small cough and the lungs felt full of crap. The diagnosis was not yesterday horrid weather - more likely it was to do with sleeping without a pillow and petrol fumes. I had filled my fuel bottle yesterday, but the women dispensing the fuel had been a little over excited and as much fuel as went into the bottle also went all over it. No matter how much I dried and cleaned the bottle, the smell would not out. Keeping that pannier in the bedroom was not the brightest idea. Well, I had planned to spend two night getting here - guess I would take advantage of the big effort yesterday and have another rest day. 

Not that I would spend all of it lounging in bed, after breakfast I headed out with camera in hand to see what birds might be found in the vicinity. Although there was nothing of great interest in the mornings efforts, I did enjoy a good amount of activity that included 4 species of Hummingbirds and my first Andean Condor since Argentina! To make things interesting, a female White-winged Black Tyrant put my ID skills to the test too. Happy with the mornings efforts, I returned to the hotel to see the cricket score and get some more work done. Went into town to draw some money and have lunch. It was at this point that my day turned south. There was no ATM to draw money from - now the very real prospect of not having enough money to pay the hotel dawned on me. 


Brain into gear, I came up with a plan. I would wire money from and to myself via Western Union. I had noticed a sign in town, so went back to the hotel and sorted out the transfer. Easy enough and only a small transaction fee. Back into town to get my money. If only it had all been that easy - the Western Union shop didn’t do payments or payouts. What on earth was the purpose of this place if it didn’t proved the one service that it is internationally known for! They sent me to the bank, but the local bank didn’t so Western Union payments, only MoneyGram payments. Back to the hotel in the rain, again. WiFi was not working now, probably as a consequence of the torrential downpour. Back to town and find an internet cafe. Not the the speed of connection as much quicker than a snail in reverse. 

Couldn’t connect to the Western Union website - so scrapped that, I would retrieve that money another day or if the internet came back up, cancel the transfer. Onto MoneyGram - what a hellhole of a website. Setup the details, transfer the money - nope. Set up the details, then access an email, then confirm everything again, then wait for authentication, then check your email again, then go back to the MoneyGram website for some more authentication. The email tells you to enter the quantity you want transferred again, so this I do. Five minutes later and my details come up - I have sent the same amount of money twice... While Western Union had only a small transfer fee of £4.00 (about the same as what I get charged to withdraw from an ATM, Moneygram were charging almost £20.00 for a £100.00 transfer. Eventually (not the advertised 10 minutes!), an email came through saying that one payment had been cancelled and other had been referred - could I please call the toll free number. By this stage I had had enough of bleeding MoneyGram - they could jump if they thought I was going to call to authenticate my payment. Besides, the bank was about to close and I wouldn’t have been able to get me money in any case.
So after all the fun and games I legged it to the bank just before closing and changed out my emergency fund of US$100.00 instead. One does wonder just how the 419 criminals in Nigeria manage to ever get their money from these companies! Back to the hotel, internet last just long enough for me to send a cancellation notice to Western Union and ask them their purpose if their venues don’t provide payment and collection options! Dinner at the hotel tonight looks more organised, in fact I am called to dinner before asking. Hmm, I have avoided the fish so far, but tonight I seem not to have a choice. Lightly fried fillets of trout. I have been tempted by the trout every since Lake Titicaca, but have been weary of ordering it. The Spanish word for trout is ‘Trucha’ - looks simple enough, but the pronunciation is all important. Get it right and you will get a fillet of fish, get it wrong and you might get a rather large slap (the wrong pronunciation is a slang word for a particular anatomical part of a women form what I understand anyway). Another large and nutritious salad washed down with some strong coffee fills me up suitably. Probably my last decent meal now until I reach Puquio. 

Tomorrow is another day of climbing, it look like it will continue much the same before getting much much steeper. 

So what is left :

The total trip from Cuzco to Nazca is approximately 661km’s. So far I have completed 308 of those km’s. So 353km’s (53%) of the ride still to go. However, I have broken the ride into the more fundamental component parts as such :

Total vertical climb = 9316metres
Completed = 4937 (53%)
Remaining = 4378 (47%)

Total Kilometres with climb of >5% (>50m vertical per km) = 62
Completed = 35 (56%)
Remaining = 27 (44%)

However, perhaps the most salient figure beyond all the hard work remaining is how many kilometres I have before the fun starts. I can basically stop pedalling at the 549km mark, for after that it is downhill all the way to Nazca - a drop from 4133masl to 588masl. So the real mark for me is that there are 240km’s of work left. Some of that is downhill, most of it is still uphill - but the target is getting nearer!. The next few nights are going to be tricky though. Puquio, the next big town is 184km’s. If I cycle strong, that will mean at least two nights in the very high Andes - certainly well over 4300masl. Yesterdays rain fell as snow on the surrounding peak, which cannot be much over 3900masl. One thing is for sure - it is going to be cold and I do not want to be getting wet. It will probably be my first effort at sleeping in the hammock without being able to string it between any structures. Not the best place to be testing out the hammocks capabilities as a makeshift tent perhaps, but what to do? I have the strength and metal fortitude, the only question is how I am going to deal with the cold and wet. This should be interesting - there is nothing that gets the adrenalin going and the brain focussed like tackling survival.

23/01/2013

Left the hotel just after 08:00, my bill much less than I had thought. All that fooling about yesterday trying to scrape money together was unnecessary. The cycle out of town was much the same as the run from Abanacay, more climbing and descents. For some reason, my body simply wasn’t in cycling mode today - every kilometre a struggle. Despite not feeling good, I was still making decent time. Stopped for an early lunch of biscuits and orange juice after 30km’s at a small town called Promesa. This was the last of the gentle climbing, up next was a mountain of switchbacks taking me from 3500masl to 4200masl.
The first 5km’s hurt, my left thigh and calf made minor objections but up I went. I shortened the sectors to 4km’s, a distance that was taking around an hour to complete. I started climbing well, the body finally getting into the right rhythm. I stopped for my final sector stop near the summit, less than 100 vertical metres to climb. For the last hour there had been intermittent hail, small stuff that wasn’t even making the road wet. Climbing back on the bike, I managed to get no further than the corner of a switchback some 60m away when all hell broke loose. The switchback had kept me oblivious of the approaching mayhem - though there wouldn’t have been much I could have done about it. 

The hail now changed to the size of marbles and the ferocity became so intense that I could not stand upright. I tried almost in vain to get back around the corner, the hail making it impossible to look in the direction I wanted to go. Ultimately I lay Chancho on his side and jumped into the storm water drain for some minor amount of protection. I managed a glance at the clouds during a slight lull, green black. Thankfully the assault only lasted 20 minutes, but it was enough to fill the storm water drains and most of the surrounding land in a layer of white.

Now it started to get seriously cold, while the hail had stopped the wind remained. I only had 2km’s to crest the pass - what lay ahead was still unknown. I had read a few reports suggesting hidden camping site about 6km’s further along. My level of concern had just been raised a few notches - my cycle shoes were now wet and my toes numb. It would not be long before my core temperature started to drop, especially as I was not longer climbing. With some incredible luck, there was a small village perched just over the pass. It may have been an unusual place for a village, but it couldn’t have been in a better place as far as I was concerned. 

The first few hospedajes were shut, but I did find one that was available with some friendly staff. My bags unloaded and clothes changed, I jumped straight into bed to try and warm up my feet. A few hours of shivering and massaging of feet had my feeling slightly better. It only occurred to me much later int he evening that I was not even able to feel happy or celebrate at having climbed another severe mountain pass. There were still many more climbs to come on the altiplano, but they were nothing on this kind of scale or magnitude. The next major climb would be the final one before dropping to Nazca, I think I will find that a little easier with such persuasive motivation.

More concerning to me at this point is the weather. I have no idea about the location of villages up ahead and there is still another 130km’s to Puquio. Most of the cycling from her to Puquio take place at over 4300masl, climbing to a maximum of 4600masl. The temperatures are likely to remain cold. The potential for more rain, snow and hail are probably quite good - in fact the clouds have developed a regular pattern of chucking down rain or else around 14:00 each day. I guess I will have to make a judgement call on this tomorrow. After all the sweat and pain to get this far, the last thing I want to do is abandon 130km’s the altiplano to reach Puquio by bus tomorrow. However, I also have to consider the bigger picture - things changed dramatically today. It would only have taken an extra half hour or for the village to have been 5-10km’s away and I might have been in all sorts of trouble.
24/01/2013

Woke numerous times during the night, fearful I had overslept for some reason. Other than the regular clock checks, I slept soundly for a change. I decided to leave the bed just after 07:00 to a beautiful sunny morning. Took breakfast across the road and thought I could chance my arm and carry on cycling. Everything happened in slow motion, by the time I had packed my bags and loaded Chancho, it was just after 08:00. While my body felt in no mood to cycle, I managed the first 10km’s fairly swiftly. 

I stopped at a small village for my scheduled break, but also to inspect my front tyre which had seemed a little sluggish on the last uphill. Indeed, it had punctured again. Another 20mins fiddling about with the change of tube before I set off once again. The next sector was a combination of some small downhill and some long uphills. The longer the day went on, the longer the climbs became. By 11:30, it was time for another break, having only covered 6km’s of climbing on this stretch. I sat down for a rest in the sun, but this soon changed to darkened grey skies. Here I was able to see what was coming - small bits of hail started to fall. Shifted up the hill as quickly as I could to take shelter under a house with some overhanging corrugated iron. For ten minutes I kept an eye on the sky. The storm moved parallel to me before carpet-bombing the valley below in hail and snow. Perhaps I had luck on my side today, for I had only been in that valley 45min ago. 

I judged that the threat of more rain and hail lay to my right. I had only 2km until I crested yet another pass, so I decided to go for it. As it turned out, I was dry when I cleared the pass. Pass completed, I had a long downhill for a change - all the way to Pampamarca where I was going to spend the night. Checked into a small ‘hostal’ which is nothing like the European idea of a ‘hostel’. I fancied a shower if there was hot water, for while the sun was out, the ambient air temperature was manageable. This place only provided basins or buckets with cold water. Better yet, the toilet was simply a drop - certainly not of the ‘long’ variety either. Give both of those a miss then, lunch consisted of 2 fried eggs over rice with a mug of coffee. Tomorrow, the plan is to reach Puquio - I can do no more of this high altitude weather.

25/01/2013

Woke just after 05:30 to find the entire town enveloped in mist. The question now was whether to go now and chance the weather or go back to bed for another hour or so. I wasn’t sure just how much climbing lay ahead, if I was going to make Puquio then I had to go now. Loaded and packed, departed just before 06:00. Early starts like this mean no breakfast, I knew there was a small village about 30km’s away, that would have to do for brunch. 

I barely had a level section of road in which to warm up before the climbing started again. My first break arrived after only 3km’s, another milestone in my cycling expedition - 7000km’s up.  The road snaked through a valley and around the side of the mountain face obscuring the pass form my view. I knew it was about 9-10km’s of climbing, so the first two hours were going to be rather hard. I had a very welcome break half way along - a small family group of Northern Mountain Viscachas sunning themselves next to the road. Awfully cute rabbit looking creatures which are in fact rodents. Snapped some decent photos and then got on with the climbing business. I summited just after 08:00, the vast open expanse of the altiplano all around me. This is a barren environment, vegetation rarely grows much higher than a foot or so. Domesticated farm animals dominate - llama and alpaca practically everywhere. A welcome break from the domesticated animals are the native originators of llama, the Vicũna. A formerly endangered species of camelid, some good conservation work has thankfully bought their numbers up. Maker of a bizarre but rather attractive call, they were welcome road companions in the otherwise barren landscape.

I was now very high up, most of the altiplano here is over 4500masl. Despite the battering that my legs had taken over the last week, they continued to cycle well. My upper body on the other hand was not so happy about the ride. Bouts of nausea and a grumbling stomach made for a contrasting ride. The landscape while similar to the puno region of southern Peru, differed in it’s geography. Rather than being pancake flat, here the road undulated heavily. Rather than enjoying the summit, the rest of the day was one climb and descent after the next. Brunch was taken in the small village of Maya Negra, ‘Trucha Frita’ (pan fried trout and rice). Fish is about as low down on my menu of enjoyable food as one gets. With no other option, I picked through it with long teeth. Mug of fresh coffee was surprising strong. Met a local road(?) engineer, the first person that has spoken English since I left Cuzco. We chatted for 10 minutes before he had to leave, although I expect to see him on Monday at some point on my way to Nazca. 

On I went, I was still covering ground quickly enough to reach Puquio, but it was a little further than I had calculated. Instead of an 80km ride, this would be over 100km. My only concern with the extra kilometres was the weather. So far, I have been hit by storms contains various weapons - hails, snow or heavy rain at about 14:00 every afternoon since leaving Abancay. I was hoping to reach the last pass no later than 13:00, but this put a small spanner in the works. I consider the weather here to be very dangerous - right now the sky is pure blue, no clouds in sight. That can all change in less than 5 minutes to a raging hail and snow storm. Despite spending many years in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa and Lesotho - I am still no closer to predicting the next weather movement. 

The last long climb completed, I now had about 20km’s of relatively even roads to cycle. The landscape around me had changed slightly, the barrenness replaced with large high Andean lakes. Flamingos always represented something tropical in my mind as a youngster. Indeed the first wild flamingos I saw were on the sub-tropical estuarine lakes of St. Lucia in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. A rather large dichotomy to look at a lake full of bright pink flamingos over 4500masl with snow capped peaks in the background. By now I was within 10km’s of the pass, the blue sky replaced with dark clouds on all fronts. 

With the temperatures starting to drop and the road starting to do the same - I had to have a quick pit stop for a clothes change. All those days of climbing had come to this - a long 40km free wheel to the town of Puquio. Only, after 3 km’s of the descent I noticed the road on the opposite edge of the valley was moving in the wrong direction. I couldn’t believe this, why did I not know about this 2km climb. Unexpected climbs batter one psychologically, it is why I tend to over-research everything - I like to know where and when, all the time. Looking at my spreadsheet, there was indeed an unusual climb after the initial descent. So be it, another 100m climb - not much in the greater scheme of what I had already climbed. Still, it seemed to be more of a struggle because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this.
 
Yet another summit - this time it would be downhill all the way. At least it would have been without the 40km/h headwind. Spend the first 15km’s of the descent pedalling most of the way through a howling wind. The temperature had dropped even further, the chances of getting wet were high. I put the earphones in and played some angry music - for I was not happy with this in the slightest. This was supposed to be the reward for all the hardships over the last 5 days - and yet here I was pedalling downhill. I’ve probably said this a hundred times already - but I really, really hate the wind. The gradient of the road was not big enough to overcome the headwind just yet, but things were to change fortunately. 

Finally I had the road I was expecting, a steep downhill with some decent switchbacks to play on. This would be much more fun on a road bike. Chancho isn’t quite built to take bends on one knee - but with light traffic I was using the entire two lanes to fly down at over 50km/h. I enjoyed the ride for all of a few minutes, the mission now was to beat the approaching rain storm. The weather throws up some odd surprised up here - lightening bolts from a seemingly clear sky, rain and hail falling kilometres in front of their cloud origin. My flight downhill was momentarily interrupted by an 18 wheeler truck, a tight left hand hairpin giving me the opportunity to get across to the oncoming hard shoulder and execute a high speed overtaking manoeuvre. The truck stood no chance after that as I geared up and put some welly into the remaining 5km’s. The rain finally caught up with me just as I entered town - too late to cause me any problems. Another long day, 107km’s done.

26/01/2013

Nothing is going to be happening today except rest. So plenty of image editing, writing and relaxing. Despite the mammoth of a cycle yesterday, my body and especially my legs feel remarkably good. Managed a decent sleep last night despite my room being placed by the hotel entrance walkway. People are so loud in this part of South America. So far Bolivia and Peru seem to be affected by incredible noise pollution. All digital appliances are played at maximum volume 24/7. So people talk loudly even when away from such noise. I have yet to work out why they do this, a problem that Bryan (the chap I met in Cochabamba, Bolivia) found equally problematic. 

Whats left? To get to Nazca I have another 170km’s and 1600m of vertical climbing. Another 13km’s of >50m climbing/km. However, the important figure is 57 - the number of kilometres to the summit. From there it is 10km of gentle downhill before the big drop to Nazca. The only question is whether to do it in one day or break it up, leaving the entire descent for the following day? Either way, tomorrow I am going to be departing with the intention of reaching Nazca by the end of the day - so it will be up at 04:30 to leave no later than 05:00.
27/01/2013

As it happens, I got myself up and ready by 04:00 and started pedalling by 04:30. The towns street lighting allowing me to see where I was headed. Once I left the town and started climbing, it was by moonlight only. Thankfully there was a large full moon on display, reflecting enough light for me to have some idea of the road a few feet ahead of me. Perhaps it had something to do with the darkness or time of day, but I set off like a train and barely stopped en route to the first summit. Turned out to be a false summit, so more punishing cycling was due.
On the climb to Lucanus, a large white dog (part German Shepherd and 100 other breeds combined) barked from above the bank at me, then jumped down and had a chase and bark. All par for the course so far, I barely have any interest in looking at the dogs now, they chase and yap then disappear. For the first time ever, a dog actually bit - at least not me, but he had a right go at something. So much so that I was dragged sideways. With that, I was off the bike and throwing stones - they always run away with their tail between their legs when I stop. I knew something got a heavy bite, a quick inspection showed a huge tear in my right rear pannier. Worse, this was my electronics pannier - a later inspection showed that the bastard had not only torn the pannier, but left a scratch on my Mac as well. Now I lost my rag for the first time, out came the Sog and up the bank I went intent on quartering the damn dog. Of course the savage was now hauling arse in the opposite direction with me in hot pursuit. What must have been the dogs owner quickly appeared muttering apologies and presumably begging me not to kill his dog. I relented, not because of the owner, simply because I couldn’t catch the damn dog. When I get to Lima I’ll by buying a high powered pellet gun or a flare gun - anything I can get my hands on. It is now my mission to kill or destroy every fucking dog I see.

By 06:45 I had gone past the last large village of Lucanus and enjoyed the short downhill into the river valley below. High above I could see the switchbacks of the final pass. The summit was hidden around the back, surely much higher that what I was able to see. I knew from where I stood above the river that I had 1000 metres of vertical climbing to do over the next 25km’s. Again, much the same as this morning I set off like a train. My target was to cover 5km’s + a break every hour. After the second sector I was ahead by 20minutes. The third sector was knocked out equally quickly although it now started to get much steeper. Enjoyed my break and decided that the front wheel needed some more air. Filled it up and extracted the pump only for a loud whoosh to start. Great, I knew already what had happened - torn the tube at the valve head. Off came the tyre, tube out and indeed it has torn around the valve. Crappy tubes (Kenda) - these were the new ones I bought from the US. On went one of the much punctured old tubes - at least they were more durable.



A short flattish section allowed me to make up the time I had lost. I had read a report from another cyclist saying that the last climb from the Toll Booth was ‘was much easier than expected’. The local restaurant must add some ‘interesting’ ingredients if that was the case. I know I must have been tired by this stage - and as far as I can tell, no-one has ever cycled from Puquio to Nazca in one day, but this was by far the hardest gradient of the entire Cuzco to Nazca route. I could barely make 200m of cycling before having to stop and rest for 30seconds or so. On and on the road went like this. Herds of Vicuna kept me slightly happier than I felt. After a few more strong efforts, I sat in front of the final major climb - four or five short cycles and I would be there.

Like most of the summits I have been up and over on this route - I felt rather little elation in getting there. There is no ‘top of the world’ view, the road simply stops going up and starts to go down a little. I had a quick break for biscuits and more electrolytes before taking one summit photo and departing down the hill. Thanked the legs for their excellent service and enjoyed the steep downhill. Only the downhill didn’t last quite as long as I would have liked - a harsh headwind causing me to pedal the slight downhills and labour over the flats and minor climbs to come. 

At KM84, I tipped over the start of the downhill ‘proper’. From what I had read, this would be the end of all climbing - all I had to do was hold on and enjoy the ride. Of course, there is nothing like wind to destroy all the fun - this headwind was approaching the 40km/h mark making life very tricky on the fast downhills and switchbacks. At least the road was light on traffic, for I was moving all over the lane never mind the hard shoulder. Then I saw a distinctive road cutting ahead of me, only it was above my position rather than below it. I passed it off as a different road, there was no way I was climbing now. Clearly the writer of the report previously mentioned was still suffering the effects of the ‘ingredients’, as he neglected to mention a short, but steep climb at this point. Indeed, there were still many small ‘ankle snapper’ type climbs to come. Of course, they would probably have been easily cycled without the strong headwind - but I cannot imagine that the wind blows in any other direction here.

More struggling over unexpected climbs before the road finally dropped at a steep rate into some very tight switchbacks and curves. Finally I could enjoy the ride I had been looking forward to for almost two weeks. I charged down, riding as if I was on a 500cc road bike -  passing trucks and taxis much to their drivers chagrin. Made a few stops on the way down to look for birds, most of which I successfully found - Cactus Canastero, Thick-billed Miner,  Greyish Miner and Raimond’s Yellow Finch. Took a few photos of the worlds second highest sand dune - Cerro Blanco.
The enjoyment pretty much ended some 11km’s from Nazca as the blasted wind now cancelled out the effect of gravity and I had to cycle every remaining kilometre into town. The heat was incredible - something that was difficult to fathom with the wind blowing into your face. Now I just needed to find somewhere to stay - a helpful taxi driver giving me a flyer for a local hostel. Off I went to find this one as well as one a little further along the road that I had read about in Lonely Planet. Up and down I went having no luck. Missing one hostel is fine, but how could I not see either of them. Turned out that both hostels had different names on their signboards as to what they were advertised as! I didn’t like the look of either of them in any case, so went back to the town centre to find a decent hotel. I found a hotel, wasn’t particularly good - but it did have the basic fundamentals that I require. Showered, lay down on the bed only to wake suddenly at 22:30. I figured it best I eat something, 6 bottles of PowerAde were not the answer to food. A very nice Avocado Pear followed by some rank chicken wings. Hardly touched the food, but did drain an entire jar of Lime Juice over crushed ice. I felt shattered, sleep or no sleep - it was time to get back to bed. 

The final statistics of my cycle from Cuzco to Nazca are as follows :

Total Distance :       673km
Total Climbing :       9340m
>50m/km climbs :     62km

Day Route                         Distance (km)   Climb (m)

1. Cuzco to Limatambo             77               752
2. Limatambo to Curahuasi        45             1050
3. Curahuasi to Abancay           70             1391
4. Abancay to Chalhuanca        125             1742
5. Chalhuanca to Incahuaca       46             1530
6. Incahuaca to Pampamarca     37               537
7. Pampamarca to Puquio        108               777
8. Puquio to Nazca                 165              1561


28/01/2013

The long peaceful sleep I had been looking forward to was rudely awoken at 04:00. Although the toilet was only a few metres away, it required particular swiftness to make it in time. This set in motion events for the rest of day. Other than one quick trip to sit in the heat and shade outside, I remained prone on my bed or legging it back to the toilet every 20minutes or so. Whether it was the chicken, avocado or lime juice - I have no idea, but food was not something I was going to be seeing for a while now. 

29/01/2013

See above

30/01/2013

By today, I had had enough of Nazca and pissing out of all ends. Despite not being in decent shape, I decided to cycle the 15km south to stay at the Wasipunko Ecolodge where I could at least get some birding done. I arrived at Wasipunko just after 12:00, a good hour after leaving Nazca. The sun was now out in blistering full force, at least 35degC in the shade. I had probably used just about all the energy my body had left, but picked up the camera and bins and went for a short walk in any case. The birding was excellent, giving up almost all the species I was looking for within an hour.

I was even starting to feel better about myself, sitting for a lunch of tamales - something I have not had since I was in Tafi del Valle, Argentina. The afternoon was too hot to do anything meaningful, so I sat outside in the shade editing photos. Had a short nap before birding the late afternoon. A very enjoyable dinner before hitting the sack and hoping for a decent sleep. 

31/01/2013

Up early to get some more birding done. I was clearly a little too optimistic about my health as I had a few more trips to the loo during the night - but at least I had put some solid food inside me. Having said that, I was unable to manage much at the breakfast table.

With some reluctance I checked out of the Ecolodge to carry on cycling north and closer tot he coast. Todays target was not too far, just 60km to Palpa. Everything started off as normal, a decent overcast morning keeping the sun at bay. The route had many more hills on it than I had hoped for, climbing and dropping endlessly. I was still feeling pretty good at the 30km mark.

Another sector and I had reached the metal platform which one can climb to see some of the Nazca Lines. Since I was not going anywhere near a light aircraft - this was as good as it was going to get for me. Paid my NS2 to climb 2 floors and look at the scratches in the desert. To be quite frank, I’m glad I never bothered with the idea of flying over them - I was quite taken aback at how small they were (the lines, rather than the images per se). It is a bit like having me look at most forms of art, I generally find it crude and meaningless. I had this overwhelming desire to shout out, “is that it? People come all this way to look at some scratches in the desert that a pet monkey could have drawn with it’s tail?.” Quite.

Back in the saddle, the wind had picked up and the clouds dispersed. Now it got hot, really hot. I started to lag considerably at this time too, struggling to pedal even 10km sectors. Time was not a factor, so I just plodded along trying not to exert myself anymore than I absolutely had to. I reached Palpa just after 14:00, cold shower and then down stairs for an ice cream. Spent the remainder of the day editing more images and fiddling with my blog. Stocked up on fluids for tomorrows big cycle. I just hoped I would be in the right physical shape to pull off a 100km+ day.