Some of you may wonder how the heck I could get to the Andes so quickly after I had just posted about the South of Mexico. Well, I have to admit, I cheated a bit by skipping Central America, Colombia and Ecuador.
I have had this idea for a while after biking through all the hot and humid places in Mexico. Despite having lived in the Asian tropics before I started this journey, I was never that crazy about beaches and jungles. They are beautiful places and often an amazing experience but roaming around on my bike in those geographies was never as rewarding to me as in alpine mountains or vast deserts. I experienced the strongest endorphin flashes on unpaved and remote mountain roads. After careful research and with the help of websites such as Andes By Bike, a really insightful collection of routes, I was convinced of the following changes I had to make:
- Focus on Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and totally dedicate the remaining 7-8 months of my journey to the Andes, the deserts of the Altiplano, and the lakes and glaciers of Patagonia.
- Modify my bike from a classic bike-touring setup with four panniers to a bike-packing arrangement with two small back panniers and various frame, saddle and handlebar bags. (More on that including an updated gear list soon)
In early May, I took my bike apart and securely packed it in a well-cushioned cardboard box. Many thanks to “People for Bikes” in Mexico City, an excellent bike dealer who assisted me with the material. On May 10, I finally boarded my 6-hour flight to Lima, the capital of Peru. I am always a bit worried flying with any of my bicycles knowing how crazily some airport staff treat your luggage. Luckily, all went well.
Once I had finally arranged a taxi suited for my oversized bike box, I was able to absorb my first impressions of Lima on my way from the airport to the city. The deafening blare of car, truck and bus horns was actually not what I had expected. Traffic was very dense and much more aggressive than in, for example, Mexico. It immediately reminded me of India and China, where the size of your vehicle matters most and where pedestrians lie at the rock bottom of the road’s hierarchy. The taxi driver was laughing: “Bienvenido a la hora pico de Lima” – (Welcome to Lima’s morning rush hour).
Lima is a metropolis of almost nine million people and home to almost a quarter of the country’s population. Over the last 25 years, many people migrated from the Andes mountains to find work in Lima, where the economy has been booming. As so often, when cities undergo super rapid development, there is no systematic infrastructure across the metropolis. Similar to other developing countries, there are ultramodern seaside neighbourhoods situated right next to poverty-stricken suburbs clinging up barren hillsides where people struggle without running water and very simplistic housing.
After Cairo, Lima is the second-driest world capital, rising above a long and very arid coastline of crumbling cliffs. With fog rolling over its colonial facades and high-rises, Lima often gives a gritty first impression and some chilly temperatures due to all the dampness. However, I was lucky and enjoyed a few very sunny days in town.
For more than 300 years, Lima was the seat of the Spanish rule. Its rich history is evident in the Old Town’s wonderful architecture as well as in excellent museums that recount the cultural achievements of a wide array of coastal and Andean civilizations.
Lima is a world class city which makes life similar to any other global metropolis. But what really sticks out and rivals the very best cities on the planet is the Peruvian cuisine. It reflects local practices and ingredients – including influences from the indigenous population and cuisines brought in by immigrants from Europe, Asia and West Africa. The only thing that matches Limeños‘ love for food is their passion for Pisco, a grape brandy that is the main ingredient of Peru’s national drink, the so-called Pisco Sour.
I am not a food blogger, and I know that some people easily get bored with culinary topics, but I can’t spare you from sharing some of the amazing dishes (and drinks) you can find in Lima.
Over the last 5 months which I spent in Spanish speaking countries, my Spanish skills have improved a lot. It’s more than enough to survive but when I arrived in Lima, I was quite challenged reading Peruvian menus and understanding the local culinary terminology. I found many unfamiliar words and local creations I had never heard of in Mexico. Some are explained in the captions above, but my favourite still is the Peruvian word for sandwich: “sangüich” – quite logical when following Spanish scripture. Other variations are sanguches (sandwiches) or the so-called sangüicheria (sandwich shop). Indeed an amusing concept. 🙂
Before getting back on my bike, I wanted to visit one other place which is not part of my upcoming cycling itinerary: the small Andean mountain town of Huaraz located amidst the Cordillera Blanca (“white mountain ridge”), which many people consider as some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. I already came across Huaraz twenty years ago, when I was reading about various trekking and mountaineering destinations. So I was extremely curious about this adventure town, certainly with a plan in mind to do some decent hiking. Obviously, proper mountain boots are not really on a cyclist’s gear list. Hence, my options were limited. I read about Laguna 69, a small glacier lake located within the world-famous Huascarán National Park and decided to join a group for this day-long trek. And I can tell you, this hike was a perfect peek into the awesome scenery of this picturesque region. The bus drives you from Huaraz (3,100 m) to approx. 4,000 m elevation, from where you hike up a valley passing alpine meadows, wild creeks and waterfalls and eventually arrive at the emerald waters of Laguna 69 at an altitude of 4,600 m.
I absolutely recommend this scenic hike to anyone. It is not difficult but you should be aware of the altitude and expect some breathing challenges due to the reduced oxygen concentration.
So what’s next?
In a few days, I will get back to my biking routine which I honestly have been missing. I have about 9000 km of mountains and deserts ahead of me which will lead me through the south of Peru, Bolivia, pretty much all parts of Chile, and the northwest and southernmost part of Argentina. The next few weeks will involve a lot of high altitude cycling between 3,500 and 5,000 m. My next week-long break will be in Cusco, where I will hopefully have a chance to visit the famous Machu Picchu World Heritage Site.