Wednesday. Cusco-Limatombo, 75km, 650m climb, 3:30 riding time.
Fantastic to be on the bike today. First, I’ve been off the bike for about two weeks, which has only happened maybe four or five times over the past twenty-four years, so there is always sense of return, a reintroduction to an old friend. That first moment when you click in and turn the pedals over is revelatory in itself. Sit in the saddle and the whole body shivers with recognition; memories of riding moments past push to the surface; a vision of the day unfolding at a human pace; the grateful connection to the machine—The act of cycling is physically mundane but spiritually glorious. And today, I get to do it in Peru.
We began the day following a motorcycle on a complicated, steep, cobblestoned route out of Cuzco, including some stretches of cobbles in excess of 13% grade. That’s about the same as the very steepest sections of Conzelman Road in the Marin headlands. With the various regroups, traffic signals and steep hills it took nearly an hour to hit the high point out of Cuzco and get out on the open road. The first section was a gentle downhill with a tailwind, and we flew through a rich agricultural valley (at 10,000 ft), fully cultivated, pretty densely populated for a rural area (of course, it was near Cusco). This led to a gentle climb of about 1200 feet or so that topped out at 12,000, followed by a 4,000 foot descent, mostly in a light rain, down a beautiful canyon to Limatombo, our first stop.
Why Limatombo? Well, it just worked out that way. Lon puts routes together based on the overall picture of the ride he is trying to create, not necessarily because each town is an important site. These tours are about riding as well as tourism, but he arranges some special situations where we can get somewhat closer to Peruvian life. And of course, riding the roads at bicycle pace is a certain kind of immersion. So today’s ride was short because he was limited by the available spots to house a group of 14.
The road continues to descend through town (we start tomorrow with 2,000 more feet of descending) and Limatambo clings to it like a barnacle. It’s hard to know why a town formed here; it’s small, maybe ten blocks long and four or five wide. There doesn’t seem to be an industry or a market, I guess it’s just a nights ride from the next place. Basically, its a truck stop. Our hotel, or hospedaje is a very simple place, one light bulb, one plug, cold shower down the hall, four beds in the room.
Some hotels are bring your own toilet paper; in this one we each were given a roll of toilet paper. The owners have a little store as well as the rooms, and generally rent to truckers. The restaurant we ate at for dinner was also a fairly simple place, clean and easy. Most of our restaurant interactions are mediated by the Peruvian staff, who I’ll talk about in a later post.
The food is basic, but plentiful, and I’ve taken a liking to a few Peruvian dishes — a saltado is a sauté of a meat and vegetables; aji de gallina is a chicken stew in a light curry sauce. The trout preparations are as varied as they were in Bolivia. And any meat prepared la plancha is simply pan fried, generally not too greasy at all. Rice and potatoes are almost always served; vegetables and salads (which I don’t eat) are not uncommon. Soup and stews are a big part of the common food, we eat soups for lunch every day at small roadside establishments. These places have a prepared menu, which is generally soup and a main course, for less than ten soles.