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Urcos to Puerto Maldonado by bike

by Laurence Rowe published Jun 17, 2006 04:11 AM
From the mountains to the jungle.

Our journey started early on Sunday morning with a 6am bus to Urcos from Cusco where we met up with Saul (whose bus from Arequipa had arrived at 3am that morning). After breakfast (soup and Lomo Saltado? Probably, it was to become our staple diet) we looked for a truck, but none would take us with our bikes. Out of one stepped a complete brass band (all the way from Puno) who struck up, marched the length of the town and back again, before packing themselved back into their truck and heading off for the religious festival of Qoyllur Riti.

The road to Puerto Maldonado has improved over the past couple of years and by 2010 will be paved (part of the InterOceanica highway project, designed to improve access for Brazillian goods to the Pacific ocean and on to China). We didn't encounter any asphalt on our trip, and had to ford countless streams and a couple of rivers.

Eventually a bus conductor decided he did have space after all and we were off. A brief stop on the way gave us a chance to stock up on coffee before we got off at the top of the first pass and rode down to Ocongate. After finding a room and having some lunch we hiked up to the cross above the town, then up to the telivision transmitter (manned by a guy who spent a week up there at a time).

The next day we had breakfast in the plaza while we waiting for a truck, again with no success (though it did give us time to manufacture some waterproof bags from plastic sheeting that proved rather durable). Eventually we tied the bikes to the top of a combi and got a lift as far as Mawayani, base camp for the pilgrims heading up the mountain for the festival. With nobody to take us any further we had to get on our bikes.


It was a long climb, but the scenery was beautiful. We stopped for lunch at the side of the road where a woman was cooking trout and potatoes on a fire. After three or four hours we reached the top of the Hualla Hualla pass (4950m) where we were met by clouds rising up from the other side of the mountain, and the first vehicle to overtake us.

Cycling uphill at this altitude is incredibly difficult. Though my legs never got tired, it was only because my lungs couldn't supply enough oxygen to give them the chance. It was slow progress, and by the top my head was beginning to ache from the altitude.

The descent down through the clouds was amazing, and gave us several opportunities to go off road. We stopped to buy water and biscuits at one village and then continued down where I got the first puncture of the trip. A quick fix and we were off again.

By this point my altitude headache was becoming pretty bad, not helped by the afternoon cloud we were cycling through. When we eventually reached Marcapata my head was pounding (altitude sickness seems to lag a few hours). But the hot springs made up for it.

The next morning I was fine and we headed off. The scenery was changing markedly before our eyes. I could hardly believe we were in the same country, it rained here! We had already descended from the highlands to the cloud forrest, today we would descend into the high jungle. When we stopped the night at Quincemil (15,000 what? we never did work that out) we saw our first monkey from the window. We passed some amazing looking white water along the way too.

Cycling in the high mountains was pretty chile. Quincemil was warm and humid. Spent the last couple of hours of daylight sitting and contemplating by the river, very relaxing.

Set off at dawn the next day to avoid as much of the hot and humid afternoon as we could. Was it San Lorenzo we had our first or second breakfast of the day? I don't remember now. Both were good, and at the second (where the road from Julica joins) we were mobbed by children wanting to see their photograph on my camera (while they achieved the most exciting pose).

We stopped in Mazuco that night, eventually finding enough accomodation (most places being booked up with all the work on the road). By this point it felt as if we were in a completely different country to the west of Peru. Motorbikes everywhere.

Set off early again for our final day of cycling, but only after having our first (and best) banana milk shakes. A lot of uphill had to be climbed, but we were rewarded with good downhill sections too. After rounding a bend the low jungle of the amazonian plain came into view. Twenty minutes later we were eating brunch in Santa Rosa at the foot of the Andes.

We cycled a further three hours on the flat and bumpy road, but called it a day at a town named 110 Kilometres where we ate some lunch and caught a bus to Puerto Maldonado.

Fancy an adventure on a bike in Peru? contact Saul. But if you want to do this one you better go quick, the first sections of tarmac will be in place by the end of this year.

Found a good deal on a jungle tour today, so off tomorrow for six days in the rain forest. Will upload some photos when we get back to Cusco.

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