21 to 22 May Kms travelled – 15,119
Leaving Chiclayo at 6 in the morning I was soon pleased that I didn´t press on the night before. The road ahead changed from irrigated fields, to scrublands and then into the open Sechura Desert, which showed the signs of an area habitually challenged by winds. At least with such an early start I had beaten the worst of it. And in fairness to Peru there were ready signs that they were actively trying to calm this area of the landscape, with tree planting projects in evidence along the more open areas. Before tackling this stretch of land I did the silly thing of reading up on the area in my guidebook. It noted that the Sechura has been recently home to bandit attacks and bike riders should not attempt to cross it solo. While I´m sure they meant cyclists, I couldn´t help releasing a sigh of relief as we rolled into Piura, some 200kms later.
That is until I breathed in again. Sorry, but the place stank like a cesspit! I´m sure it was just the outskirts of the town which resembled a landfill site, but nevertheless, come on Peru! We know you can do better! I wouldn´t have mentioned it, but at Sullona further on I found the same. Holding my breath as much as possible, I didn´t stop. It was here where the Pan American again gives you some options. I chose the route recommended to me in Cusco, namely the more interesting inland road (1 – not 1A) up to the quieter and easier border crossing at Macara on the old PanAm.
Some 60 kms from Sullana saw a run through a series of small towns which gradually thinned out into lovely rolling green hillsides. In fact, the border seemed to come too soon as I was enjoying the cooler and more diverse landscape. But arrive it did – the international bridge (Puente International). A grand title for a strip of road spanning about 10 metres of river! But it was the border, and was crossed with ease and a few nice conversations. More detailed information on the crossing can be found on The Borders page of this website (see link above).
Hello wonderful Ecuador, which held such promise and about which I had heard so much. It was green, a more comfortable temperature, and provided my first stop for a late lunch – I was a bit peckish to say the least. That stop was Macara town which, after a good feed for peanuts, also provided the location to change out my remaining currency to American Dollars – official in Ecuador. Now mid afternoon, and with some rain coming down, I decided to call it a day and found a cheap hotel with secure parking – and more crawly things than I had experienced on the trip to date. Ah well! At least it had a (cold) shower!
As we left Macara in the morning on the old Pan American (35), with the lush green mountainsides surrounding us, we were riding in the clouds within minutes. And minutes later we were back out of them again, which is just as well as this was an area where the road had started to disintegrate. Well, perhaps that is an understatement. Some of it had clearly slid down the side of the mountain! And more still had slid down onto it. So it was 40kms of potholes, dirt riding, avoidance of landslides, and a whole range of animals (pigs, goats, cows, donkeys) all the time with the most spectacular vistas. I loved it.
I loved it even more when after passing some road works we encountered the most perfect brand new asphalt surface imaginable. Staying in third gear, we rolled on and off the throttle winding up, around and down some of the most wonderful mountain roads. I was singing in my helmet. This was fantastic, and a short stop at a military checkpoint confirmed that more was to come, aside from some poor road around Catacocha.
Well, those cool army types were spot-on on both counts. There was more fantastic riding to come before arriving at Loja, but first we had to traverse some 25-30 kms of some of the poorest road to date. This included some long strips of gravel and dirt, which were actually easier to ride than the so called paved bits – which I´ll leave to your imagination. But once passed the sins of the road were immediately forgiven, as I returned to my Irving Berlin repertoire... heaven, I´m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak... Really, the riding and scenery was that good!
Each valley entered seems to have its own micro-climate, with either hot air rising, or cool air falling. Some with low cloud, some with clear blue sky. Naturally this meant the roads running across each valley got a little hairy when riding over 2,500m high peaks, but only for a short while, then back down drops of 500-800m into the wonderful land built for bike riders.
And then Loja arrived, in which we quickly found a safe hostel and went for a walk. A nice place that also seemed to have been built for bike riders – or at least petrol heads of all descriptions. I don´t think I have seen as many bike and car shops, workshops and parts suppliers in one place for a while. Shame we really didn´t need anything, as Ecuador was proving to be a pretty cheap and spectacular place to be.
Thought for the day
It is custom and practice, a lack of alternatives, poor education, or simply a lack of care and interest that can cause a people to reduce a beautiful (if barren) landscape into a rubbish tip? I struggle to understand. The smell alone must send out alarm bells regarding heath issues, particularly given the proximity to homes. It certainly doesn´t help a country clearly striving to improve its lot – as the area encountered would be one of the first found by any travellers heading south into Peru. Don´t worry all you prospective travellers – if you are heading that way, pin your noses and set your sights on the incredible country that awaits you further on. I loved Peru, and would like to go back.