Friday 2 May 2008

PERU - Namballe to Chachapoyas

Bienvenidos Peru!
Namballe - just across the border from Ecuador. These are the motor taxis used in the northern Peru. Perfect vehicle for the bumpy roads and tropical climate.This young fellow, Jose, was only 11 years old. You don´t need a license to drive one of these contraptions out here in the borderlands. I had to take one of them 7kms back to the border (La Balsa) because the immigration boys were in town (Namballe) for siesta and lunch. They were really friendly and gave me 90 days w/out any pleading. One of the cruisiest border crossings I´ve ever been over.

A hot and sweaty ride from Namballe to San Ignacio. Much of the road was like this - narrow, rocky or muddy. Only 45 kms but it took me most of the day - a 1300m climb and very humid. Some neatly-dressed girls were walking home from school and kept at the same pace as the bike crawling up the hill (5kph).

Very hospitable and friendly people in these parts. I was given oranges and bananas from people on the roadside. Men would come out of their homes, shops or fields and shake hands to greet me. Women would mostly just smile or giggle at the sweating madman on the bike, and the kids would yell "Gringo!" or "Chino!" (with my sunglasses and kamikaze hat I sometimes get mistaken for an Asian cyclist).The gringo yells will really get to me ....I´ve heard it´s the same all over Peru. It started as soon as I crossed the border. The Ecuadorians are too shy and polite to shout at strangers.

Coffee is the cash crop in the NW highlands. I met a few coffee farmers in their fields as the picking of the berries begins now (at the end of the rainy season). They told me they receive a paltry A$2 a kilo for their dried coffee beans. I spoke with a young American in Zumba, Ecuador who was working with Fair Trade and visiting organic farms in the area. He said the Ecuadorian farmers were getting a better deal than their Peruvian counterparts.

After overnight rain the road turns into a muddy track. Lots of slippin´ and a- slidin´, beepin´ and a-ridin´. And uphill - from 450 to 1600m.

Ohh, some lovely red filth down here..just have to stay upright and keep pedalling.

Mud and clay put to good use - adobe brick production. More aesthetic, appropriate and environmentally friendly than the ugly concrete bricks so much in vogue in Ecuador.

Out of the highlands and down the Chinchipe valley from San Ignacio to Bellavista. Dropping slowly from 1300 to 400m. Tropical humid heat, the hottest area in Peru- peaked at 40 degrees! In the sweltering valley lots of colour and excitement from the natural world - cobalt blue, yellow and burnt orange butterflies, sparkling emerald dragonflies and these comical iridescent lime-green iguanas skitting across the burning asphalt.

Really got up a thirst so I was ready to drink anything. `Bum´ - a soft drink that I had to try. Sin o con gas?

In this valley terraced rice fields now replaced the coffee farms of the highlands.
Dirt road down to the Marañon river. Only bike tracks and footprints, as the boat can´t ferry motorised vehicles over the river.

Marañon river at 390m asl (will be the lowest elevation of my Peruvian journey)

Ferryman and bike on boat - 2 soles (2.5 soles=$A1) to cross.

My companions on the boat- 2 girls off to school.

Crab on the road, giving directions... "Keep going mate, take the next left, you can´t miss it".

Bagua Grande is supposed to be the hottest town in Peru- it hit 40 degrees as I left after lunch! But as I road further the sealed road started to climb into a spectacular canyon- the Utcubamba river, which I followed upstream to its source for the next 5 days.

The small hospedaje in Pedro Ruiz. Owner is a budding artist and has gone wild all over the walls. The cheapest accommodation so far - 8 soles or A$3.50

Utcubamba river and valley between Pedro Ruiz and Chachapoyas.

My bike is resting above the river on the left

A campesino and his laden burro passing through a man-made tunnel along the Chachapoyas road.

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