Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ayachuco-Ocros, El Camino

Glimpse of the Peruvian Highlands.
Navigating our way through a mine field.

Our $4.50 room for the night.

Every 100 years this plant blooms. Notice the tall flowering reproductive structure and the guy standing beside it.

Crazy cheese lady.

Julie and I went for breakfast looking for a place that served fruit. We found one right away and sat down only to realise that they were'nt serving fruit or anything else on the menu besides, eggs, bread, chicken (of course chicken and rice) and fruit smoothies.

Julie was deciding to be brave by ordering a smoothie knowing that the last fruit smoothie made her ill for several days. Just as we glanced over to the woman blending the drink, we saw her crack a raw egg into the mix. I assured Julie that it was ok since they only use fresh eggs and not the month and a half old eggs that we refridgerate at home. I ate my chicken sandwich and Julie enjoyed her drink.

The bike was packed and we said good bye to Alberto, the hostal owner, and headed out of town. It had only been about 300km since I put the "80% on road tire" on and now I realised that the road to Abancay was going to be a single lane dirt road for the next 450km. The road was in pretty good shape and we were able to travel it at roughly 40-60km/hr. We had to take it easy in blind areas in order to avoid a head on collision with on coming traffic, this however was a minimal risk as there wasn't any traffic. We had the entire road to ourselves for hours at a time. I was thinking back at one point during the ride to when I brought Julie on some back roads out by Lake Utopia and she got scared thinking that we were too far away from civilization and that we'd better be getting back. Here we were now 15,000km away from home on a one lane dirt road in fair to poor shape with nobody in sight for miles in the treeless Peruvian Highland Plateau and she was fine with it!?

We had ridden for about 4 hours when I saw a lady dressed in traditional clothing consisting of a black top hat, braided ponytail, red and purple clothing walking quickly down the side of a mountain medow. She was waiving so I decided to stop for the hell of it. She was going on about something and I was trying to understand. She had no front teeth and was a little bit dirty from working out in the fields tending to her flock of sheep. Five dogs had accompanied her down to the road where we were now parked. The woman was trying to sell me some of her home made cheese. I knew that it probably wasn't pasturized, but I wanted to try it anyhow. The cheese was rolled into three softball sized blobs in a bowl with grass and dirt stuck to the outside of the white cheese. I pulled out my knife and sliced off a very small chunk. It was really soft, slightly harder than room temperature butter and tasted slightly salty. It was pretty good but I wasn't going to push my luck by eating alot. We gave her two Soles (75 cents). She was trying to hand over two of the cheese balls and it took quite a bit of convincing that we "just didn't have the room on the bike for the cheese" but that she could keep the two soles.

I was wondering where she lived, and how far she had walked to get there by 12 noon that day. She pointed to the top of the medow, there were two kids there about 15 -16 years old who she said were her own. They were too shy to come down and walked away when we began walking up the medow to see over the top to where she said she had come from.

As we crested the top I looked down the other side expecting to see a house, there was only open landscape. The family had walked there from some place very far away to graze their 60-80 sheep with their 5 dogs for the day. At this point we said good bye and Julie leaned over to give the cute little woman a hug. Suddenly her protective dog lurched from the grass and grabbed Julie by the back of the leg and backed off when she screamed. The woman scared the dog away and we walked slowly back to the bike. Julie was in alot of pain and I was worried about an animal bite in a part of the world where vaccination is unheard of. The bite went through Julies rain suit, jeans, and long-johns and superficially scratched the skin. There is a huge bruise but luckily no significant tissue damage.

We continued onward to a town called Ocros. Here we were halted by a line of traffic and people telling us that the road was closed. Indeed it was! There were rocks tumbling down the side of the mountain as we rolled up to investigate the hold up. The people told us that it would be more than a couple of hours before the working crew would dare move the debris. We stopped to watch for a while when just then a huge slide came down. I could hear it starting so I pulled out the camera and got a nice video.

We returned the 4km back to Ocros where we spoke to a mini-bus driver who said he was taking another route around the mountain. This meant ascending back up to 4300 meters onto the Peruvian Highlands and making our way around the other side of the mountain. This seemed like a good adventure so we agreed to follow. As we made our way up the switchbacks for 10 kilometers the temperature again plummeted and it began to rain. Along the way we saw several herds of wild Alpaca. They were beautifil tan and white colored and very cute.

The alternative route was really quite scenic and it was a lovely single lane dirt road that was in really great shape. We had no idea where we were going but we felt content, perhaps because we were for once following someone who knew the way. The highlans were mottled with water puddles, and small ponds. Several times we had to cross small rivers and streams and descend very rocky sections which was easy for the KLR but challenging for the Mini-bus (kind of like a euro-van)

Along the way the bus driver stopped and got out to ensure that we saw and appreciated a particular plant which looked like an aloe-vera plant on steroids. Apparently they bloomed once every 100 years and this year we were some of the few people to see one in bloom. The reproductive structure was about 20 high and the base of the plant only about 4-5 feet high and with a spherical shape and diameter of about 3-4 feet. Humming birds were visiting the plant while we appreciated it.

Suprising to us, we came to two small towns, one with a police station and public square. The road seemed to end at the square but, only a few meters away down a rocky path the road continued. We were warned that the road here was out as well. Alas we had traveled 2 hours to get here so we decided to check it out for ourselves. The road down was terrible, with huge boulders and softball sized angular rocks strewn all over the dirtroad. I had to concentrate to navigate my way through the mine field. I was worried that more rocks might come down while we passed but no-one else seemed to take any notice.

As we made our way down the passengers of the van jogged ahead to clear the roadway of large rocks for the van and me to pass easily. Sure enough the road was completely out. Infact the road was gone, a huge slide had completely removed the side of the mountain for abot 30 feet and there was now a circular path where the slide had occured on the mountain.

We were forced to turn around. This time I headed out first in a rush to beat the setting sun. It was now about 5 pm with sunset at 6:37pm. Julie and I made it back to a small village where two men stopped us and offered us a place to stay in the village school for the night so that we would'nt get caught in the dark in the highlands. There were more than 100 sheep all around and a few kids so we though that it would be a pretty fun thing to do. One man unlocked the school and the other said that he'd get his wife to make us some dinner. It all seemed like a good idea until the mini-bus showed up. The people in the van motioned me to come over and informed me that I was nuts to take such an offer and that it was dangerous to stay in that village. I thought about it for a second, They were probably right, but again, these were probaly some excited villagers that were happy to have a few strangers here for a night from a far away place. Nonetheless we packed up and followed the van back to Ocros. The villagers looked super disappointed.

Julie and I pulled ahead of the van and splashed through the rivers and made it back to the main dirt road just as it was getting dark. We had to decend the 10km of switch backs into town and then look for accomodations. We found a place with the help of a local man that was serving dinner to some road construction men. We sat down to eat and a woman brough two plates of food out. It looked pretty good to me so I dug in straight away. I was chewing on a yellow chunk of food that was smooth on one side and rough on the other like the buds of a I thought. I chewed it for a long time as it was very rubbery. It was juicy at first and eventually became dry and husk like. I swallowed it and decided to ask the guy beside me what it was. He simply replied that it was meat! It was then that I confirmed that those were buds indeed....taste buds form a goats tongue. We were served Goats tongue stirfry with carrots, potatos, peas, and onions on a bed of rice. The rest of the dish was pretty good tasting actually.

Julie and I were asking where we could sleep, finally we got the point across. Another woman walked us over to a mans corner store. Apparently he had a place for us to sleep. He walked across the muddy dirt street and unlocked what would amount to a tool shed in Canada and began assembling a bed that was in pieces. Julie and I unloaded the bike and by the time we were done he had the bed frame mostly complete. I helped with the minor details and in no time we had the shed to ourselves. The bathroom and sinks were outdoors and were located across the road and in back of his house. We were given several wool blankets and pillows. It wasn't bad really, but Julie was grossed out by the smell of the place and the blankets. I however was pleased that we weren't sleeping outside in the rain and the price was great at $2 dollars a person and $1.75 eash for dinner.

We curled up in bed and fell asleep waking up occasionally to someone walking by in the middle of the night. It was so quiet that anyone walking by within 20 feet of the place made it sound like they were coming right in.

The road was now reopened and clear to pass the rock slide. We were ready to get out of there in the morning but for now it was time to rest in the tool shed with all the cob webs and earthy smelling wool balnkets. I enjoyed the experience more than Julie, so perhaps I'll let julie choose tomorrows accomodations.

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