Today, the climbing truly begins–8,200 feet over 66 kilometers. There is no downhill today. There’s no secret to climbing; you spin the pedals and eventually you get to the top. The world contracts to breath, legs, and road; shifting gears, shifting positions—until the rider looks up. And no matter how strong or how fit, there is suffering; its the tradeoff for the personal accomplishment, the exhilaration of the descent, the communion, the human on a bike partnered with the vastness of the earth.
After leaving the haven of La Casona, we continued up the forested river valley at a relatively easy grade. There were waterfalls seemingly every half mile or so—locals had laid PVC pipe along the road to bring the water to their homes.
As we climbed the vegetation began to change, subtly; fewer tropical plants, replaced by hardier bushes, ground cover, and rock. At 40K a sweeping right hand turn took us up the mountain, away from the river and the grade started to bite. I counted the kilometers until lunch at 52K.
Marcapata, tonight’s destination, is beautifully situated on the top of a ridge at 9800 feet. The town goes up the hill and down the hill, narrow, stepped, streets paved with stone and lined with two story masonry buildings. Only the city center, housing the plaza mayor and the commercial district, was flat. Not dissimilar to a European hill town.
Accommodations at the Rodriguez hotel had no hot water and no shower; we shared two toilets. Big wide windows with no shades looked directly over the road, and trucks went by regularly. Dogs barked, roosters crowed. Fortunately, just down the road there was a hot spring facility with showers and deep hot pools. Fabricio shuttled us down there and I spent a glorious hour warm and cozy. Dinner was prepared by the Rodriguezes, assisted by Viorica, to a menu we ordered.
Peruvian food is simple and tasty. Rice, potatoes, beef, chicken, trout and vegetables are the components of every meal. There are several popular preparations—sopa is soup, often with noodles, saltado is a stir-fry; chaufa is a fried rice, la plancha is a simple grill. We are pretty much eating the same thing at every meal, though, especially in these small towns without a robust commercial dining scene. I’m looking forward to a couple of nice meals in Cusco!