Leaving Lima, I biked south along Peruâ€™s desert coast. Confronting headwinds and fog, I decided to turn inland and followed an impressive canyon into the Andes. Climbing above 13,000 feet, I found the land was grazed by llamas and alpaca, and one night I even camped next to a flock of llamas (video and photo bottom left and center).
After spending a few days in the city of Ayacucho (where I visited Institucion Educativo Luis Carranta), I continued on, this time on one lane dirt roads through the Andes. People live along these roads â€“ every inch of land that can be farmed in the mountains is farmed or grazed. These people donâ€™t often see foreigners, and everyone wanted to talk to me.
Everyone along this road speaks Quechua, a native tongue, as their first language, yet they almost all also speak Spanish. I learned a few useful phrases in Quechua (â€˜I am 27 years oldâ€™, â€˜I come from the United Statesâ€™, â€˜I am hungryâ€™, â€˜you are prettyâ€™), and found these extremely useful in making friends along the road.
Biking by one school, a number of the students rushed out of their recess to talk to me, and I talked to them about my project. The biggest environmental problems here, I think, are deforestation and poor trash disposal. Click on the video on the right, and you can see students saying â€˜take care of the environmentâ€™ in Quechua.
People have little money along this road. The most people make in a given day here is about 10 soles, or 3 dollars, with many making far less. Some people beg for money, and people always ask me about money â€“ how much does my bike cost? how much can you make in the U.S.? â€“ and these are my least favorite questions. I never tell them how much my bike costs (I now reply with â€˜how much does your best friend cost?â€™), but it is hard to be fully comfortable knowing that my gear cost far more than it costs to make their houses. Everyone I stayed with seems to have enough to eat (and often share it with me), but, one man whose house I camped next to explained that there are people â€“ people who donâ€™t have land or who have mental problems â€“ along this road who simply donâ€™t have enough to eat.
In one town, some kids came out and pushed my bike from behind, helping me up a hill. They begged for money, and I gave them some bread. They pushed me some more and then one of them opened up the rear of my pannier and tried to steal my tent stakes. I yelled, turned around, and quickly caught the kid. The locals heard me yell, and soon the entire town crowded around me, and we had a friendly but awkward conversation. I got my tent stakes back, but somehow didnâ€™t feel good about it.
The majority my interactions, however, were like those I had with Edgar. I asked Edgar where I could buy matches. He responded by giving me some matches. I gave him my business card. He gave me some oranges. I gave him some cookies and showed him I could count to ten in Quechua. He invited me in for lunch, and you can see him on the left in his kitchen. And then there were the 3 different families whose houses I camped next to, and who all invited me and fed me in their kitchens.
After many more thousands of feet of climbing and passing an impressive Incan ruin, I arrived in Abancay, where the pavement began again. After two more days and 12,000 feet of climbing, I rolled into Cusco, Peruâ€™s tourism capital and the former capital of the Inca Empire.