Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category

The Melting Spine of the Andes

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

   Since Peru, I have followed the Andes south, crossing the continental divide at least five times and gazing at peaks that stretch to 20,000 feet. The tallest of these peaks have been covered in snow and ice, and pictures that you see say more than I can about these experiences.

You can see beneath each of these glaciers where they used to reach.
Almost at the pass Aguas Negras

    I have written about this before, but passing through Chile has made the point even more clear. So much agriculture and so many people along these mountains rely on this snow pack to grow their crops and have drinking water. So much of the land along these mountains is dry – I went for a month, once, without seeing a single forest – yet the people have water during the dry seasons because of snow and ice in the mountains. (See a scientific article about how this is a problem worldwide, and not just along the Andes).

   Chile has a climate very similar to California, and, like California, Chile grows an amazing variety of fruits and nuts. Next time you are in the supermarket in the winter (if you live in the northern hemisphere) take a look to see where the fruits come from. Quite likely, there will be a tag on the fruit saying ‘product of Chile.’

   Like California, during central Chile’s summer, it does not rain, yet these orchards and vineyards have water because of snowmelt from the mountains. Below you can see photos from where I entered Chile most recently, via the Valley de Elqui, one of Chile’s most productive regions for vineyards. Far up in the valley, above 15,000 feet, you see snow and glaciers. Further down, you see a dry landscape with a river. Even further down, you see highly productive agriculture.

Descending - can you see Dave Johnson on his bike on the road?
High up in the Valle de Elqui
The valle de Elqui has high productive vineyards - for making pisco, the national drink.

    While in Santiago, I decided I wanted to climb into the mountains to see these glaciers and snow. After visiting the local mountaineering club, I convinced Roberto to join me, and in two days, we hiked to the top of El Plomo, a 17,800 ft peak overlooking Santiago. From the top, we gazed on the tallest part of the Andes, including Aconcagua, South America’s tallest mountain. All these glaciers that you see in these photos are shrinking, and are all essential for the agriculture that I have biked by here in Chile.

Roberto and I at the top of El Plomo, 5,450 m (17,900ft)
The view from the top of the mountain
Starting the long descent
The melting of the glaciers
Aconcagua, South America's tallest mountain

Travel Summary – Brazil, Peru, Bolivia

Friday, November 24th, 2006

   Hello from Bolivia! Welcome to the 5th travel summary of Ride for Climate: The Americas.

   In the past two and a half months, I have crossed some of the most impressive terrain of this journey (see map of Peru). I traveled two weeks on a boat up the Amazon, crossed the Peruvian Andes (including a section where I had to put my bike on the back of the horse), and followed many dirt roads, camping next to houses where people live off only what they can grow on the mountainsides. I Visited 9 schools (sometimes talking to the entire school) and appeared in the national media of both Peru and Bolivia. I celebrated my one year anniversary of travel overlooking the ruins of Machu Pichu, and I am now in La Paz, Bolivia.

River boats at the dock in Manaus
Embrita is ready to go!
On the road

   Thank you again to all of the people who have helped me out and sent me positive messages from the road. As always, the people I meet along this journey continue to keep me going (even if I have to learn how to count to ten in the local indigenous language).

ENTRIES FROM PERU (and parts of Brazil and Bolivia)

  • 9/6, Two weeks traveling up the Amazon River
  • 9/14, Ride for Climate passes 100,000 page loads
  • 9/15, Biking the Peruvian Jungle
  • 9/27, Putting my bike on a horse and crossing the Andes
  • 9/28, What do I say to public schools?
  • 10/2, Climbing a mountain and melting glaciers
  • 10/15, Into Lima, Peru’s capital
  • 10/16, Water problems in Peru and Global Warming
  • 10/17, Transportation in Lima
  • 11/2, Dirt roads through the Andes to Cusco
  • 11/15, Machu Pichu, Cusco, and Lake Titicaca
  • 11/21, Announcing Ride for Climate USA
  • Huascaran, Peru's tallest mountain, is behind me on the left
    School Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Huaraz
    Just another campsite - 30 miles south of Huaraz


    Running around a boat to get exercise while floating up the Amazon
    My bike on the back of a horse
    Getting caught in a thunderstorm at 12000 ft
    learning to count to ten in Quechua, the native language of the Andes
    The view from 19,000 ft
    biking in Lima
    Camping next to llamas
    Students saying ‘take care of the environment’ in the native language of Quechua
    Biking by a political parade near Lake Titicaca

    Lima's Main Plaza and Cathedral
    Into the Andes


       In my last update, I wrote about the dangers that the Amazon rain forest might face under global warming.

    View from (near) the top of Vallunaraju 5690 meters (18,650 ft)

       I spent most of the past few months, though, in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The clearest problem in the Andes is that much of the water supply and hydroelectric power during the region’s dry seasons is based on glacial water. In the next 50 years, we will likely lose all of these glaciers, resulting in major costs to Peruvians and Bolivians. These countries are also very poor, and the costs to adapt to losing these glaciers is likely to be very high (a world bank study puts the number in the billions of dollars for Peru).
       I did not write about this in my entries, but the region is also vulnerable to El Niño, a phenomenon that causes floods in northern Peru and a collapse of fisheries all along the coast (I talked with
    some fishermen about this, and during El Niño years they said they had to find other work). It is unclear how El Niño will change under global warming, but there is some suggestion that El Niños may be stronger or more frequent, or even that the world would turn into a permanent el nino state. How El Niño may change, though, is still very scientifically uncertain.
       More likely is a loss of biodiversity. The Andes here are incredibly biologically diverse, and traveling up and down in the mountains, I have seen the vegetation change dramatically (just look through the photos from Peru). A rapid warming, as is predicted, may result in major extinctions.

       Yes, I know you all just received an email about this, but I am so excited about this project that I am telling you again: And don’t forget to tell people you know who are near our route! The trip starts April 21st, 2007, in Boston.

       From La Paz, I will be traveling south through Oruro, Bolivia, then down to Salta, Argentina. I will follow the east side of the Andes, and then likely cross into Chile at La Serena before arriving in Santiago just after the new year. If you know people on the route that would be interested in Ride for Climate, let me know!

       I now have a little over four months to make it to the tip of Argentina and Chile. Until next time, probably from southern Chile,


    (I am actually in northern Chile right now, and not La Paz – I wrote this almost two weeks ago, but found almost no internet in southern Bolivia to send it out!)

    I slept here, protected by this flock of llamas
    I found this lamb far from the flock, and biked it to the flock. The shepeard then told me 'I was going to go get him later'
    Roly, Randy, Mercedes, Yoni, Lusiano, Leonor, and me
    Machu Pichu
    Wouter leads the way
    Campsite atop Isla del Sol in lake Titicaca
    Yes, I am doing my laundry at the fire station with a fire hose.
    Bomberos de Chincha

    Flats in Peru: 2
    Miles of paved road in Peru: 1,130
    Miles of dirt road in Peru: 838
    Fire stations slept at in Peru: 9

    Machu Picho, Cusco to Bolivia, and a year on the road

    Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

       On the one year anniversary of my journey – a year of bicycling from California – I took a train to see the ruins of Machu Pichu, the famous Incan ruins that were never destroyed by the Spanish (they weren’t found).

    Machu Pichu
    Machu Pichu
    Machu Pichu

       It is difficult to believe everything that I have seen in this year – this trip has exceeded all of my expectations, from my ability to meet people to my ability to talk to schools to the quality of scenery that I have pedaled by. I do miss friends and family from home, but I am usually simply overwhelmed by this journey. I have 5 months left and a few thousand miles of biking left, and I can only hope that the last 5 months will be as enjoyable and productive as the past 12.

    Cusco was built on top of Incan ruins

       I also spent time in the city of Cusco, the former capital of the Incan empire. Here, in addition to marveling at old Incan walls, I visited La Salle school in Cusco, talking both to the morning assembly and a class of seniors (and was then interviewed for a local television program). I also gave a talk to the South American Explorer’s club, one of my sponsors, and also a great place to get information and spent time.


    I gave a talk at the South American Explorer's Clubhouse

       Leaving Cusco, I met another cyclist also heading south. Wouter, a former bartender from Belgium and roughly my age, arrived ten months ago in Mexico City with a 100 dollar bicycle, two home made panniers, some savings, and not much of plan as to where he was going to bike. Having never bike toured before, he rode to Panama with some other cyclists, and then decided he might as well also ride to Patagonia (he purchased a trailer in Ecuador, which is what you see him riding with in these photos).

    Meet Wouter, who I cycled with to La Paz
    Wouter leads the way
    Political parade for upcomming elections

       While I do enjoy traveling alone, it was great to have a riding partner for the first time in many months, and we shared stories of biking Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Peru as we biked the week from Cusco to Bolivia along a road that looped around the giant Lake Titicaca. We are now in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.

    Sunrise over Lake Titicaca
    Campsite atop Isla del Sol in lake Titicaca
    Campsite atop Isla del Sol in lake Titicaca
    La Paz

    Lima to Cusco – dirt roads in the Andes

    Thursday, November 2nd, 2006
    Ocean, sand cliffs

       Leaving Lima, I biked south along Peru’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).

    Bomberos de Chincha
    Following the Pisco River into the Andes
    Into the Andes
    I am joined by the llamas
    I slept here, protected by this flock of llamas
    The Andes from 15,000 ft - only llamas and alpaca here
    Institucion Educativo Luis Carranta in Ayacucho

       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 – every inch of land that can be farmed in the mountains is farmed or grazed. These people don’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 (‘I am 27 years old’, ‘I come from the United States’, ‘I am hungry’, ‘you are pretty’), and found these extremely useful in making friends along the road.

    A campsite near Ocros
    Roly, Randy, Mercedes, Yoni, Lusiano, Leonor, and me
    These students are saying 'protect the environment' in Quechua, the native language in the Andes

       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 ‘take care of the environment’ 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 – how much does my bike cost? how much can you make in the U.S.? – and these are my least favorite questions. I never tell them how much my bike costs (I now reply with ‘how much does your best friend cost?’), 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 – people who don’t have land or who have mental problems – along this road who simply don’t have enough to eat.

    Village of Matapuquio. The entire town came to talk to me after I yelled at two kids who tried to steal stuff from my pannier

       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 didn’t feel good about it.

    Edgar invited me into his house for lunch and taught me more Quechua

       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, Peru’s tourism capital and the former capital of the Inca Empire.

    Inca Ruin at a mountain pass
    Bomberos de Abancay
    Relaxing in Cusco's main plaza after a long day of riding.

    Transportation in Lima

    Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

       Biking across the cities of Latin America, I have become interested in the quality of transportation in these cities, and, of course, how easy these cities are to bicycle. (See what I thought of Los Angeles, Mexico City, Bogotá, and Caracas).

    These parts are always the most exciting to bicycle
    I love biking faster than traffic.

       During my week in Lima, I crossed the city several times, logging 150 miles on my bicycle. With over 9 million people, Lima has no mass transit system, and only an inefficient system of busses. Few Limans own cars, so most use the busses, which I found to be always slower than using my bicycle (see video on right for extreme example). So, do people bike in Lima? There are a few bike lanes (60 km), but they are of low quality. I got up early one morning to see if people used the bike lanes to commute (like they do in Bogota – for comparison, see these pictures), and I saw few cyclists (see videos below). The city is flat, never rains, and has a cool comfortable climate – it is a perfect place for bicycle use, yet the infrastructure to do so is poor. (At the office where people work on bike lanes, only one out of four people bikes to work.)

    Morning test of the bike routes - does anyone use them?
    Still riding the bike route - no bikes
    Lots of pedestrians on the bike route....not too many bicycles

       In the next few decades, cities like Lima have a choice – support individual car use, or support mass transit and non-motorized transit. If cities support car use, as the economy grows and more people can afford cars, their greenhouse gass emissions will grow rapidly, worsening global warming. If cities choose a less car intensive path, the city will not only produce less pollution but also probably be more livable.

    Lots of lanes - I just biked from that direction

       To develop sustainable transportation, a city needs not only good ideas and investment, it needs the people to support such projects. One problem, as I see it, is that many Latin Americans look to our cities in the U.S. as models for how to develop their spaces – the people are more likely to support projects that make their cities look like U.S. cities. And I will let you decide for yourself how to fix that problem.