I’m sitting here writing this in the city of Caraz. It’s a Sunday and someone thinks it’s a good idea to launch fireworks from the town plaza in the middle of the day. I wish I could say this is an isolated incident but sadly this is not the case.
When we crossed into Peru a few weeks ago, the first impression that hit me like a smack in the ear was the incessant noise. The streets were full of three-wheeled tuc tucs and every driver seems to believe their klaxon is as important as the throttle in making the thing go forward. We’ve been cycling as a three and each time they pass us, each of us get a honk from whatever is going the other way. When you’re only a few meters away from a truck that has a klaxon probably best suited for foggy weather at sea, you really want to find an air horn, knock on their window and as soon as they roll down their window blow the damned thing right down their ear canal. Towns here, with their fireworks, endless beeping and general chaos that Ecuador didn’t seem to have are very reminiscent of Asia. Minus the good food, unless chicken and rice is your thing.
Our route took us down to the lowlands in the Amazonas region in the north of the country, to elevations as low as 500 meters above sea level near the town of Jean before a big climb back up to more comfortable elevations. As we pass through every village, on top of the horns of passing traffic, we are greeted to the other main button that appears on the Peruvian soundboard:
The G word isn’t used as an insult in Peru, it’s just used as a generic label, possibly because we’d be far down the road by the time you finished shouting ‘extranjero’.
But regardless of all the benign or neutral intentions of all this noise, it gets to you after a while. After a few days, I am craving any opportunity to take small roads that lead into the mountains.
And in the mountains, there’s a magic number that makes all that annoying noise go away.
At Four Thousand meters above sea level, you find el Silencio. The feared quietness and stillness that Peruvians traditionally are wary of. No one lives up here except bad mountain people. Peruvians like the cities because they are full of people and noise and cyclists like to find the mountains because the cities are full of people and noise. Up here, all you have for company is the occasional llama, the herd of sheep, and passing shepherd on a horse who, respecting the noise regulations of over 4000masl, will just you a cursory nod to odd gringos who want to be up here.
Up here, you also have some completely mind blowing rocks, that’s epic-ness I haven’t seen since Tajikistan. Up here, in the often harsh windswept landscapes, you find lakes that cut a day’s riding short because it’s just too good a place not to put up your tent in front of. Up here you can find parts of the Inca Trail that is rideable. Traffic doesn’t exist up here, which is great until you have a major mechanical problem, necessitating a creative use of cable ties and Allen keys to make it a vital piece of kit last until it can be welded in the next town.
And so a pattern of life on the road in Peru has formed: We leave the noise of ‘civilisation’ and go up, climbing at least 1000m on increasingly less used roads leaving towns, villages, and farms behind until we’re completely alone. We camp for a night or two up in the silence before the trail takes us back down rocky and bumpy roads that no longer take traffic, over broken bridges and landslides, until the road is once again maintained, the farms and villages reappear, and were greeted by the signs of civilisation.
We treat ourselves to a hotel and a hot shower. Repack our bags of food and fix our bikes and, staring at the foot of another 1500m climb, can’t wait to get to the top, to be back where we belong amongst the bad mountain people and some of the most stunning alpine scenery in the world.