Hamilton in the (Southern) Hemisphere: Huaraz, Day 2

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June 1, 2013 by jiejie768

Meg, Keegan and I pose for a picture (taken by Julio) just before beginning the single-track portion of the day's ride.

Meg, Keegan and I pose for a picture (taken by Julio) just before beginning the single-track portion of the day’s ride.

This was the kind of scenery we were treated to during most of our bike ride outside of Huaraz.

This was the kind of scenery we were treated to during most of our bike ride outside of Huaraz.

On Friday, May 17, Keegan, Meg and I were treated to a relatively late start in Huaraz. The mountain biking excursion we booked didn’t start until 9:30 in the morning. Making things even more convenient was the fact that our rendezvous point for the trip was just across the street from our hotel. We got up around 8, showered and packed up our room as we were leaving that night on the night bus.

We weren’t super excited about the prospect of a spending the night on the bus following a strenuous bike ride without showering. Our fears were assuaged, however, during check-out when the Casa de Zarela owner told us we could shower in an empty room for 10 soles each when we got back from the bike trip. This was a load off our minds, and we grabbed breakfast and headed across the street.

In addition to the three of us and Julio (the guide), Daniel, a Brazilian traveller, would be joining us for a morning in the mountains. Unlike Gaspar, my best friend who never was, Daniel was very nice and seemed more than happy to share the outing with three strangers. On the van ride up to the drop-off point we learned that Daniel was celebrating his 45th birthday that very morning. Meg, Keegan and I all sang happy birthday to Daniel (in English and Spanish) and he responded by teaching us the Brazilian birthday song (which, obviously, is in Portuguese).

Keegan and his super-cool hands-free belt satchel get ready to bike through the Andes.

Keegan and his super-cool hands-free belt satchel get ready to bike through the Andes.

Huaraz is pretty big town (about 100,000 people) but Mother Nature dominates in no time once you leave the city limits.

Huaraz is pretty big town (about 100,000 people) but Mother Nature dominates in no time once you leave the city limits.

We also learned a fair bit about Julio, our guide, during the ride up the mountain. Whenever a Peruvian hears that we are from the U.S., they always ask what part. When we tell them “the Northwest” or “Washington State” or even “Seattle” we usually get a blank stare and that’s the end of that. When we answered Julio’s query, his face lit up, and he told us that he had spent some time living in Greenlake (he actually told us this the night before, but we heard more about it during the van ride). We were stunned. It’s pretty rare to meet a Peruvian whose been to the U.S., let alone one who has lived in a neighborhood down the road from my college apartment.

Julio, it turned out, had spent quite a bit of time in the States, had traveled all over Washington and had spent some time in Colorado as well. He also mentioned that he’d visited California and confessed that San Francisco was his favorite American city with Seattle a close second. It never ceases to amaze me how small the world really is.

As we rose above the residential neighborhoods and into true wilderness, we knew it was about time to hop on the bikes. We made a brief stop for a photo-op and continued along the gravel road. About 30 minutes outside of town, Julio pulled the van to a stop and asked if we wanted to start here, and get a little up-hill (“ejercicio”) in before the downhill portion, or if we’d prefer to stick to the car for a while longer. It was clear in his tone that he thought we should start from that spot. Keegan, Meg and I agreed, and Daniel gamely said that was OK, but the look on his face indicated he may have preferred to eschew the exercise portion of the day’s ride (he had ridden for several hours the day before as well).

Julio (left) and his assistant prepare the bikes for our mountain biking adventure.

Julio (left) and his assistant prepare the bikes for our mountain biking adventure. (Photo by Keegan Hamilton)

This van took us up into the mountains outside of Huaraz. From there we biked back to the shop across from our hotel in town.

This van took us up into the mountains outside of Huaraz. From there we biked back to the shop across the street from our hotel in town.

Majority, not birthday rights, ruled the day, so we got out and took in the scenery while Julio and his assistant prepared the bikes. There are only so many adjectives one can use to describe the scenery in the Andes Mountains (breathtaking, spectacular, jaw-dropping, picturesque, gorgeous) and pretty much all of them applied on this day.

Here is some rare footage of Meg taking her bike down a single-track run. After this she and Julio mostly stuck to the road (see below).

Here is some rare footage of Meg taking her bike down a single-track run. After this she and Julio mostly stuck to the road (see below).

5_31_Huraz_BikingMegJulio

Once the bikes were ready, the first hour or so of the ride was spent riding along a mostly-uphill stretch of (gravel) road. It was pretty exhausting at times, but the views more than made up for it. On several occasions I had to remind myself to look at the road and not the scenery lest I ride off the road. After the “exercise” portion of the ride, Julio called us all together and asked if we ready for some single-track riding. I had never heard the term, but it basically means following a trail that forces riders to travel single file. It also means the terrain is a lot rougher, and to my mind, more interesting.

A snow-capped peak looms behind a pair of nearer, but smaller mountains outside of Huaraz.

A snow-capped peak looms behind a pair of nearer, but smaller, mountains outside of Huaraz.

Keegan pauses to catch his breath and wait for the rest of our group during the "exercise" portion of our bike trip.

Keegan pauses to catch his breath and wait for the rest of our group during the “exercise” portion of our bike trip.

After a couple trips off-road, Meg decided she’d had enough of the single-track rides and opted to stick to the main road for the remainder of the ride. Our gallant guide, Julio, accompanied her while pointing Keegan, Daniel and me in the direction of increasingly difficult single track courses along the descent. The three of us would head off down the side of the mountain and wait at a pre-determined meeting point for Meg and Julio to catch up along the gentler, winding carretera.

I had never done any mountain biking before this, and I absolutely loved it. Keegan and I both had a blast (Meg was a good sport and insists she had fun, but under truth serum, I think she’d tell you it wasn’t her favorite way to spend a morning. EDIT by Meg: What I realized is that I like the challenge of climbing and then riding down. I don’t like the constant fear (or actual occurrence) of going over the handlebars).

As I said, the tracks got increasingly more difficult the closer to town we got. The last three or so single-track runs took us through residential areas and gave me the distinct impression of being in a Tony-Hawk type video game (though on bikes, obviously). The penultimate single track included about 250 meters biking downhill through a shallow creek; it was wet, but a blast.

With scenery such as this, it was tough to keep my eyes on the road while biking through the Andes.

With scenery such as this, it was tough to keep my eyes on the road while biking through the Andes.

During the final stretch, Keegan took a couple of pretty nasty spills, though he escaped relatively unscathed. The first came as we were leaving the main road for one of the residential single tracks. Apparently Keegan’s angle was poor and he did not notice the irrigation channel running alongside the path, because he rode his bike straight into it. He was unhurt, save for perhaps his pride.

Keegan’s second spill was a touch more frightening, but considerably less embarrassing (in so much as it could have been any of us, he was just the unlucky one). It came during our last, and most difficult, single-track run of the day. I was leading our trio (Keegan, Daniel and myself) with Keegan second and Daniel third. Towards the end of the run there was a series of pretty large boulders, and I felt myself starting to go over the handle bars more than once. Fortunately, I managed, through sheer luck most likely, to stay in my seat and make it down the hill unscathed.

It's really hard to know when enough is enough with regards to photos of the Andes Mountains.

It’s really hard to know when enough is enough with regards to photos of the Andes Mountains.

As I reached the road though, I turned to check on Keegan just in time to see him fly over the handlebars after going over the final, and biggest boulder. The fall looked worse than it was. Keegan managed not to fly over the ledge to his left and avoided having the bike land on top of him. Daniel, fortunately, was far enough behind the action to avoid running Keegan over. All told, he escaped with a bit of a scare and some bruising on his shoulder and hip, but nothing too serious. Whether because of Keegan’s fall, or simple coincidence, when we reunited with Julio and Meg, our guide told us that was day’s final single track.

(Meg later told me that Julio had casually predicted that at least one of us would fall during that last run.)

Even with the fall, all of us were exhilarated, and I, for one, could have continued for hours. I’ll have to look into doing some mountain biking when I return to Washington; I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities near Seattle.

Meg and Daniel were the last of our party to reach paved road as we neared the end of our biking adventure.

Meg and Daniel were the last of our party to reach paved road as we neared the end of our biking adventure.

The final section of our ride was a 30-minute stretch that took us through some pretty poverty-stricken residential terrain. It began with a pretty steep climb, but most of it was a gentle series of peaks and valleys that made for easy cycling. Well, the terrain made for easy cycling, the packs of stray dogs eager to take a bite out of a gringo made things a little stressful. Fortunately, Julio had taught us to brake hard and make our back tire skid to scare the dogs away. This trick worked like a charm (unless you happened to be pedaling furiously at the top of an uphill stretch and were loath to forfeit your momentum … but I digress).

Eventually we reached pavement once more and coasted the last mile or so back to the shop (and our hotel). It was a truly fantastic morning and worth every penny of the 120 soles we had paid. If we’d been staying longer in Huaraz, I would have booked another trek for the following day in a heartbeat. (EDIT by Meg: Sore butts and shoulders permitting.)

With the biking adventure over, we returned to the hotel where they let us shower, and we looked to the rest of our day. Basically we’d done everything on the agenda for Huaraz, but we still had about 7-8 hours to kill before our bus left. We decided to spend it drinking.

The view from the dining patio at Cafe Andino was as good as anywhere in Huaraz; the food, coffee and beer was arguably better.

The view from the dining patio at Cafe Andino was as good as anywhere in Huaraz; the food, coffee and beer was arguably better.

Keegan and Meg share equally exhausted looks following a morning of mountain biking and facing the prospect of a night on a Cruz del Sure bus.

Keegan and Meg share equally exhausted looks following a morning of mountain biking and facing the prospect of a night on a Cruz del Sur bus.

Our first stop was at the Cafe Andino, a spot that came highly-recommended by friends and guidebooks alike. The endorsements were spot on, as Cafe Andino had fantastic coffee, delicious quesadillas and ice-cold 21-ounce Tres Cruces (an underrated Peruvian beer that doesn’t get the publicity of the big three — Cristal, Cusqueña and Pilsen — but is as good or better — and cheaper — than all of them). We spent about three hours on the balcony soaking in the afternoon vistas and sipping on various libations (coffee, agua con gas, beer). Feeling we needed a change of scenery, we moved over to 13 Buhos at 5 for a round of Cusqueñas grandes, but we were back at Andino for burritos by dinnertime.

These mimes put on a lengthy, and surprisingly entertaining, show in the middle of a busy street in Huaraz. The performance lasted about 15-20 minutes and gathered a crowd of about 150 before the cops put an end to it.

These mimes put on a lengthy, and surprisingly entertaining, show in the middle of a busy street in Huaraz. The performance lasted about 15-20 minutes and gathered a crowd of about 150 before the cops put an end to it.

In between restaurants, we made a detour to change some money for Keegan. On the way, we stumbled across of trio of mimes who had stopped traffic and were putting on a pretty entertaining show for a growing crowd that probably topped out at 150 spectators. They had a whole act put together to music and probably carried on for about 15-20 minutes before the police finally showed up and told them to scram (no one was arrested or anything, the cops simply felt the road was better used for cars).

Bellies full of beer and Mexican food (well, Meg hadn’t had any beer, but Keegan and I drank her share) we got to the hotel at about 9, grabbed our bags and headed to the bus station for 10 p.m. departure for Lima.

Much like the ride in, the trip from Huaraz to Lima was not as restful, or as long, as I would have liked. But the volume of the movies and music was lower and the attendant left us alone, so it was a little better. Unfortunately, we still arrived in Lima at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday, May 18.

This meant we got to our hotel (just Meg and I had a room, as Keegan was leaving at 1:40 a.m. that night) long before our room was ready. They did let us stow our bags and take a nap in the sitting area upstairs. I really enjoy Hostel El Patio sometimes. We got some weird looks from the guests as they rose for the day, but we also got an extra two hours of sleep or so as we crashed on the couches.

At about 9 a.m., we headed back downstairs to see if our room was ready (nope) and ran into GeGe who was just arriving for a weekend away from Ayacucho. We told her the good news about the Subway near the hotel (she was even more excited than we had been …. there was a dance), and the four of us headed out into Lima for Starbucks and some breakfast sandwiches.

Catch up on all of Keegan’s visit:

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