Leaving Cusco: an Andean antidote

September 20th, 2013

Having spent a month in the heaving streets of Cusco receiving visiting relatives and trying to repair our parasite-riddled bodies, finally it was time to leave fancy coffee, organised tours and Incan ruins behind and get back to some cycling.

Leaving Cusco was difficult in that we had to say goodbye to good friends and as always after extended time off the bikes, our legs had become soft, lazy and unwilling. The exit itself wasn’t without its challenges either. Leaving on the main road was ugly and not a route I would want to repeat in a hurry; red-mist descended quickly as Peruvian drivers proudly displayed their prowess in terrible driving, and both James and I came extremely close to losing both our tempers and our lives on more than one occasion.

Realising our mistake at spending more than five minutes on the main road, we turned off at the first opportunity and escaped back to our natural habitat – the campo. The Cusco antidote we had been looking for and our last foray into the Andes before the altiplano in Bolivia: fresh rarified air, legs burning at the first proper climb for five weeks, no traffic, snow-capped peaks, camping, speaking Spanish again…all of the ingredients needed to recharge the cycling batteries and shake off city life.


sarah and James cycling away from the hotel along a cobbled street in Cusco, Peru

The only good decision we make on the day we exit Cusco… (Photo © Salva Rodriguez)

Coffee and croissants at the French bakery in Cusco, Peru<

…is to enjoy good coffee and flaky croissants at the French bakery on Avenida Tullamayo before we leave the city. Sadly the delicious breakfast can’t protect us from the carnage of the autopista…

A bici-máquina overlooking the lakes at Acopia, Peru

…but soon we are off the main road and the only traffic we encounter around Acopia, and its four beautiful lakes, are bici-máquinas and donkeys.

One of the four lakes near Acopia, Peru

On the pretext of admiring the view around the lakes, we stop frequently to rest our legs and take deep breaths.

James with Felipe and Marco of the police force of Yanaoca, Peru

Outside of Yanaoca, Marco (pictured right) screeches to a stop on his police motorbike to check we are OK and invites us to drop in at the police station to chat with him and his colleague Felipe…

Peru National Police Force blankets, Yanaoca, Peru

…after cake and coffee with them, it’s clear we are not going any further that day. We set up the tent in the yard at the back of the police station but after much discussion amongst the force who decide it’s far too cold for us to sleep outside (despite our reassurances), we are ushered inside and given the honour of sleeping in the police dorm, in between official insignia stamped sheets and blankets.

Alpaca on the road between Yanaoca and El Descanso, Peru

The road turns to dirt after Yanaoca and offers the usual assortment of entertainment: alpacas so hairy they can barely see…

Peeling a potato near El Descanso, Peru

…and unexpected snacks – a lady stops us begging for a photo and in return gives us a bag of piping hot potatoes. Why anyone would want a photo of a sweaty gringo couple on their bikes is beyond me but the spuds are tasty. Peru has more than 150 varieties of potato of all colours, shapes and sizes…this pink one, teamed with salt and avocado, was delicious.

Sarah cycling the road to Hector Tejada, Peru

Back onto pavement briefly (joining a main road between Cusco and Arequipa) we hit dirt again and lots of flat, towards Hector Tejada…

The moon above the hills near Hector Tejada, Peru

…where a full moon shows itself halfway through the day in a cloudless deep blue sky…

Half an orange, Hector Tejada, Peru

…and we gorge on sweet juicy oranges in the town square.

Church near Hector Tejada, Peru

From a distance, churches look like ships on the horizon.

Road sign to Arequipa near Hector Tejada, Peru

A network of back roads in this area represents the chance to drop down to canyon country and Arequipa. Before we leave Cusco we toy with the idea of visiting the canyons, but have to abandon the idea when parasite destruction takes longer than expected. So from here, it’s straight ahead to Jauni and leave the canyon riding until next time.

Room at Francisca's house in Jauni, Peru

We are again ushered indoors for the night when we reach the village of Jauni. Shopkeeper and generally lovely lady, Francisca, offers us a room at the back of her house…

James tries to fit through a small doorway in Jauni, Peru

…the only problem is squeezing through the impossibly tiny doors to get there.

Sarah and Francisca eating boiled eggs outside the shop in Jauni, Peru

The next morning we emerge into fierce sunshine to share freshly boiled eggs and chat with Francisca…

Egg boxes and broom outside Francisca's shop in Jauni, Peru

…noting the rhythms of life in a village – selling eggs, decanting petrol, sweeping.

Mud bricks drying in Jauni, Peru

Land provides shelter – most houses here are made from mud taken directly from the earth – we pass hundreds of hand-made bricks laid out to dry in the sun.

Laguna between Jauni and Ccaycho, Peru

Happening upon an huge unspoilt lake teeming with birdlife is always a nice surprise…

Little girl and her bike near Ccaycho, Peru

…as is finding another keen cyclist. On her way downhill to the school at Ccaycho…

School at Ccaycho, Peru

…where we had slept the night before, kindly hosted by the school’s director Gerrado.

Little girl cycling to school in Cacycho, Peru

A pleasant 7km downhill gets her from home to school in no time, but I imagine her return journey isn’t as much fun.

Huge rock on the road between Ccaycho and Vilavila, Peru

We carry on climbing; tiny specks against ominously placed rocks…

Cemetery on the road between Ccaycho and Vilavila, Peru

…past a cemetery with a view.

Roadsign with llama and baby at Chavari, Peru

Our final major climb in Peru is a lung-buster and only the llamas are really accustomed to life at this height.

James at the top of the pass near Vilavila, Peru

The achievement of cresting the ridge at 4850m evident…

Sarah cycling downhill to Vilavila, Peru

…then time to wrap up and enjoy the downhill to Vilavila.

Sarah filtering water and being watched by a group of schoolchildren in Vilavila, Peru

In Vilavila, the schoolkids want to know all about our water filter. James cruelly plays on their innocence telling them that you put water in and get chocomilk out; they are crushed when they learn the boring truth!

Large rock formation in the valley on the way to Lampa, Peru

As always, cake is never far from our minds. A long valley ride towards Lampa, reveals rock formations that clearly resemble the firm favourite and much-missed lemon drizzle (we’re blaming you for that, Lars!)

Silhouette of James and his bike on the way to Lampa, Peru

We reach the altiplano just before Lampa, and there’s nothing but straight lines and our own shadows to keep us company.

View of the church and a red brick building from a hotel window in Lampa, Peru

Small, pretty and friendly it’s not hard to choose Lampa over the nearby city of Juliaca as our base for arranging our Peruvian exit visa…

Lady walking along the street in Lampa, Peru<

…wandering the streets in the last of the evening’s golden light …

Side door of the church in Lampa, Peru

…and taking a closer look at the stunning church in the square, before setting off again towards Lake Titicaca and the Peruvian/Bolivian border.

Route notes
From Cusco, we took the pista south towards Juliaca, turning off just before Checacupe. We rode towards Acopia and onto a network of back roads to Lampa via Yanaoca, El Descanso, Hector Tejada (aka Pallapata), Jauni, Cacycho, Vilavila, Palca and then Lampa. It’s a mixture of paved and good dirt, with the main pass just before Vilavila. From there it’s onto the altiplano, and flat and fast to Lampa. Our total distance from Cusco to Lampa was 413km, and took us 5½ days riding.


9 Responses to “Leaving Cusco: an Andean antidote”

  1. Edmundo Says:

    Damn man, how could do that?? Now I want a machine that turns water into chocolate milk…


  2. Jenny Says:

    Stunning pics as always! Shame to hear the microscopic meanies forced you guys off the bike. Nicaragua has been slow and painful for us due to our intestinal squatters. Lets hope the buggers stay away this time so we can all enjoy more cake!


  3. anna Says:

    Can’t beat the French bakery on Tullamayo. My project is to get fat while I’m here in Cusco and to that end I am on diet of a minimum of six pastries a day. However… I have given up – gasp – coffee!

    The route looks lovely. It’s tempting. The canyons seem like pretty hard work.


  4. Gayle and Mark Says:

    As ever great photos, we reckon a photography career beckons when you finally return to the UK! Glad you are away from the danger of cities and into the stunning countryside again, but being a tree hugger I have to ask…don’t you miss the trees and forests being so high for so long?! Have fun, take good care and look forward to the next instalment :-) loads of love the Wharton clan xxx


  5. Ma and Pa Says:

    Pictures, writing, views, friends – just everything – wonderful as always. Thank you both so much for persevering with updating all of your many fans with all that you are doing. You would be amazed how many people are hanging on always for the next instalment! Big hugs and all love. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


  6. Neil Says:

    Wicked! The non-main road parts look fun! Especially that giant lemon drizzle cake…
    Keep taking the slow roads will ya so we can catch you in Uyuni?


  7. Lars Henning Says:

    I love the way the writing in your posts flows with the photos. I’m honoured to receive mention in reference to the lemon drizzle but slightly ashamed now that my vindictive cake treachery has been revealed to the entire world! You guys seem to have a have knack at finding your way into free accoms down there. Any tips?


    Sarah Reply:

    Hey Lars…yep, named and shamed for cruel cake torturing! The casa de ciclistas in La Paz has an oven and we are seriously considering trying to bake a cake here but that may be a foolish and disappointing activity…maybe we will just wait until we get home and convince my mum to throw us a cake party on the day we get back! As for accommodations, we tend to get talking to people in small places. Usually ask for a quiet and flat place to camp and then what turns into a genuine request just for space ends in an insistence that we come indoors for the night. The folks up here on the altiplano seem to worry that we are going to freeze to death so don’t take no for an answer! It definitely helps that we speak pretty good Spanish, although we had an interesting encounter the other day when James approached a shepherdess who only spoke Quechua; she mistook him for a bearded gringo with bad intentions and stooped to scoop up a huge rock and prepared to throw it at him. She was clearly terrified and so shouting apologies, he beat a hasty retreat and we looked for camping somewhere else! Hope you’re enjoying central America and enjoy the boat ride to Colombia…it’s beautiful! Sx


  8. Margy Says:

    Dear Both, Super pics as usual, you are certainly very fortunate with all the different places you get to stay and the people seem very friendly and helpful!
    Glad to hear you are both much better, we do worry about you!!

    Take care lots of love,
    Margy xxxx


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