14 November 2012


I didn't sleep well at all during the night. Any time the road rash on my arm or leg touched the bed sheets I was awakened by the pain. It hurt enough anyway without touching anything. But I was able to prop my arm up using my ground pad and was able to sleep a little.
I went down and knocked on Mike's door after I had packed up. He was up but was not interested in making the ride to Piura. He had already done it once and now wanted to quickly get out of the desert with a bus ride to Chiclayo and then ride into the mountains.
Since we had spoken so much the night before about the thievery of Peruvians against cyclists I was feeling particularly anxious. I had crashed and now I worried my luck had turned. Mike had mentioned the story I had also heard about bands of thieves waiting at the edge of a city on the Pan American for the cyclist they had seen the day before to ride by where they would grab him and take his bike. I had some trouble understanding how this could happen since the Pan American is a rather large road, but I had heard all the stories about Peruvians being disinterested in helping anyone in need. There were stories of injured cyclists writhing in pain after crashing and being watched by the Peruvian indios who made no effort to assist them. These would only have been strange, perhaps not believeable stories to me, but from my experience so far of these people I believed them to be true.
I had only 40km to Piura. It was to be my last day on the bike. I planned to take a bus to Lima, across the desert and bypassing the cities I had seen already in September by bus, and which were also rumored to be dangerous for touring cyclists. There also was nothing more to see than desert and the trash that blew across it in the wind and the smell of human feces.
Because my luck seemed to have gone bad with my crash I decided there would most certainly be thieves waiting for me on the edge of Sullana. I decided to wear my shorts with pockets so that I could carry on my person my knife and passport and ATM card. Perhaps I would lose the bike, but I would put up a fight and I would not be relieved of my money and papers.
I said goodbye to Mike and wished him much luck and rode out of Sullana. There were no thieves awaiting me on the edge of town and the Pan American was straight and flat through the dusty scrub south. There was periodic construction on the road and unpaved rock and sand bypasses around it. But I saw that the new road was already paved and that it was rideable and so I pushed the bike across the embankment to the new road and rode down it free of all traffic.
There was nothing really to see and before noon I arrived at Piura. There was heavy traffic to enter into the city but I had ended up on a larger street I remembered from my map and after a few questions to mototaxi drivers I found the centro and took a room at a hospedaje mentioned in my guidebook.
The riding was now over for me. I had crashed the day before but the arm was not broken. I planned to rest and let my wounds heal for at least a week before I thought about what to do next. I was looking forward to getting out of Peru. I had a flight from Lima to Chicago on December 2. I now had time to kill.

13 November 2012


I was overjoyed to leave Negritos. I had counted down the hours until my release. Besides the discomfort of the hospedaje there were also only two restaurants in town that were only open for lunch. They were located next to each other and served the identical lunch menu. There was also no store in town for buying supplies so I was limited to buying cookies and snacks from the little bodegas along the main calle.
With the wind at my back I rode quickly out of town and started back on the 11km through the dusty hills for Talara. There was a big climb up to Talara and then I rode the oil trucker’s route back west and back across the burning fields of trash and feces to the Pan American Highway. I had ridden 25km and would have 80km of riding through the desert into a part headwind, part crosswind to the city of Sullana.
It was sun-baked scrub and mostly flat to start. I had a lot of water with me and took my first break at 50km in, the halfway point of my ride. Then, as I passed small shack, four dogs came tearing out behind me barking. I up-shifted and the chase began.
The big one darted in front of me and I swerved to avoid hitting him and coming back alongside me on the drive train side he went for my leg. I pulled my leg off the pedal and he went for it again and I lifted it higher. But now I wasn’t pedaling. I couldn’t outrun him. Then the big one went for the next best thing and bit my front pannier and with my center of gravity too high the front wheel twisted as he pulled at the pannier and I felt the bike go and I was down, sliding headfirst across the asphalt, the bike under me.
I got up cursing and furious and the dogs ran off. My right elbow was torn up and I immediately feared the worst: I had re-broken the elbow. I was out in the desert with 50km yet to ride. But worse yet I needed two good arms to take apart and pack the bike and then how would I carry two heavy bike boxes with a broken arm?
I pulled the bike off the road and checked it out. The chain had come off and the front panniers needed adjustment but everything else was okay. I flexed my fist and it felt alright, but I knew from experience that it would be 30 minutes at least before the pain of a broken elbow would appear. Then I would lose mobility in the elbow and it would swell up, drawing the elbow up into a stiff bent position, and the arm would be useless.
I cleaned off the blood and wiped at the wounds. I also saw my knee was torn up as well as my shorts with some road rash on my hip. I got back on the bike and rode. I was furious. Of all the luck. On my second to last day riding too and after so many kilometers and close calls. If I had a gun I would have gone back and executed that dog.
The Pan American became rolling country and I was riding it fast and strong with that strange feeling of exuberance that comes after a crash. But I knew that would end soon and I would feel weaker than before. A crash did not ever strengthen a man. I continued to test the elbow by extending it and found I had lost no mobility. I began to think I had at worst only a minor fracture, perhaps no fracture at all. It was true I had crashed on an oily stretch of asphalt and perhaps the oil had eased my fall, allowing me to slide more easily on the pavement. I rode on hoping the elbow would be alright.
The country changed suddenly to green. The area had been irrigated and there were fields of rice and palm trees dotted the horizon against the dusty hills. Then there was a string of little pueblos and soon after I was in Sullana. It had been more than two hours now since the crash and I could bend the elbow. I could extend it fully. It could not have been broken.

A policeman gave me directions for Calle Grau and after stopping at three hospedajes I found a pleasant one painted a bright orange. The girl showed me an area to lock up my bike and I saw another touring bike outfitted with racks. I asked and she told me there was a Canadian cyclist staying there also.

Since I had no first aid kit (another of my mysterious gear losses) I figured I had a couple of reasons to knock on his door. His name was Mike and he hated Peru just as much as I did, maybe more. He had tried to skip it entirely and go to Chile and Argentina but the airline in Guayaquil had no room for his bike. His ticket they refused to refund. He then tried to go by bus from Piura but as he was about to board they said there was no room for a bicycle. That ticket was refunded to him. Now he would ride in the mountains of Peru until December and then fly back to Ontario.
We ate a dinner of goat stew and tamales and talked about his tree planting job in northern Canada. He has worked only three months per year the last ten years and makes $25,000 planting trees. You are paid by the tree and if you are serious, and can plant many of them, it can be quite lucrative. The timber forests were recently decimated by an Asian beetle and there is much replanting to be done. It seemed like excellent work and more reliable in terms of pay than salmon seasons which can be good or bad. He explained I could work in British Colombia planting and then go to Alaska for the salmon.
We said goodnight and talked about riding the 40km to Piura the following day. We would meet in the morning and see. Piura was a dump though too, he said. He was heading back south now and then west up into the mountains. He hoped Peru would be better in the mountains but he was not optimistic. I borrowed his anti-septic cream and went back to my room to tend to my wounds. The elbow was swollen but bent without pain. I felt very lucky.

11 November 2012

Negritos 2

10 November 2012


I awoke with the dawn and quickly packed the panniers inside the tent and got out to put a new tube on the rear wheel. I decided to use the spare tube to give the rubber cement on the tube I had fixed the night before more time to set. I put the spare on--the spare I had patched a week earlier in Mancora. The air came out of the tire immediately. It didn’t inflate. There was clearly a second puncture on the tire that I had missed. Disgusted, I took the tire off and put on the other tube. The rubber cement seemed to have set. I pumped it up. The air held. Gracias a Dios.
Instead of loading the bike in the desert and pushing it back out to the road I decided the risk was too great of picking up more thorns and puncturing a tire. I now had no spares. I made trips carrying the panniers and tent and sleeping bag out to the roadside and hid them in a bush. Then I carried the bike on my shoulder out to the road. I loaded up the bike on the asphalt and started south, back into the headwind, towards the city of Talara.
I crossed a bridge and then made the slow climb up out of the flood plain to the flat land. Within a few kilometers I reached the turnoff for Talara beside a large walled-in cemetery. I rode east towards a great white statue and buildings in the distance.
The smell of Talara hit me in the wind. They were burning garbage. The smell of burning plastics mixed in with the pungent odor of human feces. On the edge of town along the shacks and shanties two little girls were playing with pieces of broken glass beside a burning heap of garbage. Mototaxis flew by me honking. The odor of human feces was powerful and impressive and trash blew across the sand.
Two old men directed me to a trucker’s route back towards the oil refineries that would then take me along the coast south to Negritos. My guidebook indicated the hotels were not in Talara but in Negritos, 11km south.
The road descended sharply and then climbed into the wind and it was hard going through the dusty hills. Finally I made the pueblo of Negritos and began to ask about either of the two hotels the guidebook recommended. Nobody knew of them. They did not exist at the addresses on Calle Grau. I rode up and down the pueblo looking until an older man explained to me that the places I was looking for were in Talara. The guidebook had misinformed me. There was only one hospedaje in town and I went to it and without seeing the room booked it for three nights.
The room was the smallest room I had ever stayed in. There was just enough space between the bed and the wall for my panniers. A small window looked out onto a cement area with a barking dog. The shared bathroom in the hallway was even narrower. The toilet had been put in nearly touching the wall so that it was impossible to sit unless you spread your legs painfully wide. Worse still, inside the hospedaje there was a door that locked all those staying there inside. One had to ring a bell and hope that the elderly woman who sat at the front desk praying would hear it and let you out. I was to be imprisoned in Negritos for three nights.

09 November 2012

In the Desert

Los Organos was a bright and dusty little beach town. I had a room at a hospedaje for $7 a night and there were a couple of good restaurants in the town square. The malecon and beach were deserted and in the evenings the setting sun turned the high cliffs behind the town a deep pink. I would have stayed longer but I had to start making my way down the coast and to Piura, where I planned to pack up the bike and travel to Lima by bus.
I said goodbye to Mariela and turned in my key and started the climb out of town. There was a headwind blowing up the coast and it was hot, steep climbing up to the height of the sandy cliffs. The country was all dusty scrub now. I rode at the height of the land for awhile and then the road dropped back down to sea level and as it dropped the cliffs ahead of me grew larger and larger.
This was more climbing than I expected. The headwind didn’t help either. My expectation had been for a short, easy day of no more than 20km to Cabo Blanco. Instead I was climbing over ranges of cliffs along the coast.
I reached the turn off for El Alto and started back along the road the map indicated would lead to Cabo Blanco. A couple of dogs escorted me loudly into a town made wealthy because of the oil production in the region. The streets were newly paved and there were numerous traffic lights and new, modern looking buildings.
After El Alto the road turned to dirt and led up to a lookout over the coast. I had expected to see Cabo Blanco but there was nothing. Off shore oil rigs dotted the horizon on the water. A sign indicated a steep descent to the water and I considered it a moment. I was going to have to climb this back tomorrow and I wasn’t even sure where Cabo Blanco was. It was then I made the decision to turn back to El Alto and ride back to the Pan American and continue on for the city of Talara and the beach town of Negritos. It was at least 60km to Negritos. I had planned to arrive there the next day, but I felt I could do it.
The Pan American turned inland after El Alto and there was no more climbing. It was a long, flat, sun-baked stretch of scrub and sand and all of it into a headwind that was gathering in strength. I put my head down and turned the pedals. It was a tough wind but it was not devastating. The devastating winds were further south in the Patagone. There you considered it a fast day to get out of your lowest gear. I was riding on the second lowest gear on my middle chain ring. It was a tough wind, but I had known far worse.
Still the wind was making it slow going. I rested under the shade of a thorn tree and ate some cookies and a banana. I wished I had more water. I should have bought another bottle in El Alto. I could feel myself wearing down in the wind and heat and there wasn’t anything out there in the desert.
I got back on the bike and pushed ahead. Suddenly the flat desert scrub ended and I was at the lip of a steep gorge. The road dropped down it into a long flood plain where the wind was particularly strong. I saw a sign for Talara and followed a road back to an oil facility. The men there said the sign was wrong and sent me back. Around a small hill I saw a wooden shack and saw there were drinks for sale. I bought the last 2 bottles of water the young couple had.
Far ahead the road went up out of the gorge and I felt a reaction against making that climb. I was tired and now I had water for the night. I could camp. A dirt road went off the Pan American, following an oil pipeline back into the hills and I got off and followed it. I found a denser section of thorn bushes that would make me unseen from the highway and pushed the bike back behind it. I unloaded the bike, cleared and area in the sand and put up the tent and got inside with my gear and went to sleep.

When I awoke I ate a banana and a package of peanuts and made myself a cup of coffee. The sun was nearly down behind the hills. I stepped out of the tent to brush my teeth and felt a sharp pain in my foot. A long thorn had gone through my flip flop. Hidden in the sand were numerous thorns. Instantly, I thought to check the bike. The front wheel had a few small thorns in it which I removed. Only one seemed deep enough to have gotten to the tube. But in the rear wheel there was a big thorn and when I removed it the air quickly went out of the tire.
Then I remembered I had only a single spare tube. Perhaps the front tire would deflate over night too and I would need two spares tomorrow. And the spare tube, which I had patched a week ago, what if the patch had not fixed on it? If that were the case I would be stuck out in the desert waiting for rubber cement to dry. Even if the spare worked, I would be riding tomorrow through thorn country without a spare. I had to take the rear tire off tonight and patch it tonight.
The sun was now almost behind the hills and I was running out of light. I quickly flipped the bike over and got the rear wheel off but had trouble getting the tire off the rim. My hands were bloody by the time I got it off. As I expected the puncture was large enough to be obvious and I didn’t need to put the tire underwater, which would have been a waste of my water. I patched the hole and found a large rock and inside my tent laid it on the patch to set. A few minutes later the sun dropped below the hills. I hoped the patch took during the night and I hoped there wasn’t another puncture in the tire.

01 November 2012

Los Organos

pictures from the ride to Los Organos

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