Arequipa to Juliaca. 30th August 2001. Miles=11,550


Arequipa is a lovely old colonial town, which has recently, 23rd June, suffered a major earthquake. The quake has done quite a lot of damage to buildings, most noticeably to one of the two cathedral towers in the main square. It has now only one tower when it should have two. Many buildings can be seen with large cracks and sections of collapsed wall. As well as the ever-present threat of earthquakes, the town is overshadowed by three large volcanoes.

David's tooth is now quite painful and he has difficulty eating. Joan's stomach is no better and using the Internet we have diagnosed bacterial dysentery.

First, Joan. The recommended treatment is Norfloxacin an antibiotic which we bought without prescription for 3 soles a course of six. After the first pill, Joan started to get better. We should have done this earlier, but have had no access to the Internet for two weeks.

Next, David. We visited a local dentist and showed him the x-ray taken in Lima. He was quite adamant that the infection was under the tooth and there was no alternative to extraction. David reluctantly agreed and had the tooth removed after having an anaesthetic injection which was not very effective! He can now eat again.

A local museum has a well preserved body of a young girl sacrificed on a mountain top at 21,000ft in 1450 during an Inca ritual. It was discovered in 1995 when a nearby volcano erupted and melted the ice on the mountain. Nobody knows how the Incas managed to climb to this height as experienced climbers with modern equipment have great difficulty today.

We have decided on a detour to Colca Canyon. As it is not on the route we would have taken, we are catching a bus to Cabanaconde at the head of the canyon and will cycle back again towards Puno over a 15,000ft pass. This is an area where Andean Condors can be seen.

As it was only a 100 mile bus ride, we assumed that it would take a couple of hours and the 11.45am bus would get us there in plenty of time. Wrong again! The road out of Arequipa soon turned to dirt and rocks. Earthquakes had made the road very dodgy in places and it climbed to a 14,000ft altiplano and then on to a 16,000ft pass through a blizzard. At this height, we both had a bit of a headache and even some of the locals on the bus felt quite ill.

It eventually came down to 12,000ft at Chivay and took another 2 hours to make the last 40 miles to Cabaconde over atrocious roads that we planned to cycle back over. At 6.30pm, in the dark, we finally made it to Cabaconde and a very basic hostel.

The light of the morning showed us what a lovely place we were in. At 13,000ft in the mountains the top of Colca Canyon was only a short walk away. It has an average depth of 11,000ft for over 60 miles. The views were breathtaking with 12,000ft sheer cliffs down to the bottom of the canyon. Spent the morning looking for Condors. Joan saw one, but it was too far away to confirm.

We made our way back along the top of the canyon to Chivay. It was only 35 miles, but it went up and down 1,000ft at a time on atrocious roads. The scenery was again breathtaking and we did see several condors. We found again that climbing and cycling on rocky roads is very exhausting, although we were at 12,000ft. One consolation was that the wind was behind us.

From Chivay, we had two possible routes to Imata and Juliaca. The first was back the way we came over the 16,000ft pass. The alternative looked much further on the map and was unknown territory. Perhaps it would be easier. Several people had told us about a new tarmac road crossing the altiplano to Santa Lucia on the way to Juliaca. This road started at a place called Canahuas and avoided a 15,000ft pass which we would have to take otherwise. After much deliberation we opted for the longer route intending to cut across the mountains to Imata and pick up the new road. Before we left Chivay we took advantage of the local Hot Springs. It was wonderful to lie in water at 30 C, it was the first time we had been immersed since leaving home.

Off we went, a mere 20 miles to Sibayo. The road was awful. Cycling over loose gravel and fist-sized rocks, our speed was about 5 mph on the flat and 7mph downhill. We won´t mention uphill! At Sibayo, there was a choice of two hostels, but the best looking one appeared to be closed. The other gave us a very basic room with five beds, an outside toilet, outside cold tap, but a lovely view.

Cycling on over terrible road surfaces we climbed to 15,000ft. The going was very exhausting. A combination of altitude and road surface made even the gentlest of slopes hurt like hell. In places, the surface was so bad that it was impossible to ride, the loose gravel made us slide sideways whenever the road sloped.

We came across a track going in the right direction for Imata, our destination, but there was neither a sign nor anyone around to ask. David was sure it was the correct road, but would not risk it in the circumstances. It could have taken us many miles into nowhere.

Cycling on passing herds of Alpaca, Llama and stupendous scenery, there were no towns. Passing traffic was about one or two an hour. We had no option but to camp at 15,000ft. Although the sun kept day temperatures tolerable, the nights were way below freezing. In our tent and sleeping bag with most of our clothes on we were warm. In the morning, our water bottles were frozen solid. While cooking our meal of rice and eggs, which took forever because of the altitude, two young children appeared from nowhere to watch. How anybody could live up here is beyond us, but people somehow manage to eke a living in these inhospitable places.

Now gently descending, after another 20 miles, we eventually came to Canahuas at 13,500ft and realised that the previous road was the correct one. However, we were now at the junction of the start of the new tarmac road.

Tarmac! Heaven! The road stretched into the distance like a strip of black velvet. But, it had a barrier with uniformed, armed officers who refused us permission to pass. They said that cyclists were not allowed on this road as there was still much construction going on. The alternative was either to go back up 20 miles to the road we had passed, or carry on to Arequipa to pick up the old road. Neither option appealed to us and we appealed to local policemen opposite who turned out to have superiority and over-ruled the others.

The road climbed back up to 15,000ft and the going, although on tarmac, was still slow due to the altitude. After many places where the road-works reduced the surface to rubble again, we eventually arrived at Imata, a tiny outpost and searched for the hostel which we had been told was there. It wasn't. Instead, the mayor found us a room. Just a box with a bed, but better than camping at this altitude. The nearest toilet was 100 yards away and again there was no water.

We now haven't had a wash for three days and everything is covered in thick dust.

Another days tough riding to Santa Lucia where we hoped we would find a decent hostel. The tarmac had now disappeared and we were back to the appalling gravel. Up and down 1000ft at a time, every slope was painful. But the consolation was in the scenery. It was wonderful, so bright and clear, with snow capped mountains all around, and passing deep blue lakes. Wildlife included guinea pigs and funny long-tailed rabbits!

Santa Lucia arrived and it was obvious that there was no hostel with hot water. It was a run down mining outpost with tin-roof buildings. We found a room in the back of a restaurant/slaughter house. There were buckets of blood and Llama skins lying around to dry. We both managed to have a strip wash in a bowl of warm water. Oh! for a hot shower. We slept in our sleeping bag on the bed.

A short, pleasant, smooth, tarmac, downhill ride to Juliaca, stopping only for Joan to have another breakfast at a cafe. For some inexplicable reason, Joan now eats more than David.

Juliaca and a hot shower at last. All our clothes and our bikes were treated to a good wash as well.

Ourselves and our bikes have suffered a bit of wear and tear due to the altitude and atrocious roads. Our exposed skin has suffered extreme dryness and sun exposure. Our lips and fingers are sore and cracked. Much cream is needed. David's bike has a couple of problems, which at first appeared major, but on inspection are not serious. One of the seals on his Rock Shox suspension forks popped out on the bad roads and sprayed oil everywhere. This had been put back and seems to work ok without oil. His rear rim has a crack at a spoke hole as the double eyelet failed. A washer and slight spoke tension adjustment has sorted this out. David thinks this is not yet a serious problem and will rebuild with a new rim when convenient. Which way round Lake Titicaca do we go?



Dave and Joan