Riding the dusty Rio Mantaro from Huancayo to Ayacucho

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A very dusty ride
A very dusty ride (View on flickr)

We have been riding in the low desert river valley lands at about 7000 feet elevations. The last 4 days have been been very, very hot, dusty, remote, and buggy. We are very dirty. We are taking time out of today's ride to clean the grit out of our teeth, escape form the high temps. and enjoy the pleasures of civilizations for half of a day in Huanta. A bed, a shower, Internet and food other then pollo frito (fried chicken) and arroz (rice).

It is an amazing land. We dropped down 3000 feet and everything changed from cold to hell. It reminds me of some of the landscape near Tucson, Arizona where various cacti adorn the barren landscape. I am amazed how people can eek a living out of land so barren, devoid of resources and forgotten by everyone including the government. This land once was terrorized by a group of rebels called the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) but they have long ago abandoned this place and left it to the vultures. Very few buses, cars or trucks passed by us in this rugged, dusty, forsaken place. The land is too dry to support sheep but we did encounter shepherds herding goats along with pigs, a few cows, and donkeys. It is so strange to see women in skirts, blouses, fancy hats, a babies slung on their backs tending to their herds and knitting some kind of clothing or such. The women all through Peru knit. They stand or sit and just knit. Women in other places in Latin America weave but in Peru they hands are very busy knitting away.

Wonderful woman stopped to chat on Huancayo-Ayacucho road
Wonderful woman stopped to chat on Huancayo-Ayacucho road (View on flickr)

The people here in the middle of the Peruvian highlands are very friendly, very friendly. Hundreds of times a day a day I hear "Hola, Mami" or "Buenos dias, gringita. ¿A donde Vas?" translated as "hello, mommy" or "Good day, where are you going friend Gringa?" . I respond that we're going to Cusco (an unthinkable distance for them) and then to Bolvia and Argentina (which either blows their mind or bores them, depending on how well they studied geography in school). As we climbed out of one river valley, a woman and her 14-year-old daughter walking down the dirt mountain road kindly inquired about our trip. "A donde van? " The mother had such a strength but gentleness to her. Her laugh was one of the most beautiful laughs I have ever heard. After telling her "A Cusco, despues, Bolvia y Argentina" and answering dozens of other questions, she wanted to know how hard it was to go the the United States to live and work. She is the kind of person I would want to sponsor and bring back to the USA. Perhaps someday I will. She had one last question. Her daughter had been holding a cloth up to her mouth with a grimace on her face the whole time we talked. I thought she might have been shy but no I was wrong. Her daughter had a hole in her mouth, actually in her teeth and she wanted to know what she could do for her. The girls upper lips and gums where swollen like she had been stung by bees and developed a reaction. We told her that she needed a dentist. I really think she did not know that a dentist helps with problems with the teeth. Or perhaps she couldn't even imagine the amount of money that would be required to visit one. She might have come from a remote village where there is no dentist and she herself appeared as she had never visited a dentist. Most of the mother's bottom teeth were black and rotting in place and it was obvious she never had the resources to visit a dentist.

I saw the pain in the girls face as I closely examined her problem. The swelling was obvious and she needed treatment. I gave her two baby aspirins, some water which she drank with gusto and some teeth-numbing paste I have carried in the bottom of my first aid kit for two years. I showed her how to apply it to the affected area which she mimicked but applied it to all her gums. No harm. We suggested she seek the help from a dentist. I hoped there was a dentist in the tiny village a few kilometers below. I never thought I would be a traveling medicine women but I was glad we where able to give a little help to the delightful woman and her daughter. All day I thought of the bewilderment of the two as what to do about the pain and perhaps infection.

Resting under what seemed the only tree in the canyon - Huancayo-Ayacucho road
Resting under what seemed the only tree in the canyon - Huancayo-Ayacucho road (View on flickr)

We ended up camping several nights along our trip from Huancayo to Ayacucho. Once was in front of an abandoned adobe complex. As it was to late in the day and we where not going to make it 10 kilometers to Anco, we stopped to ask the old couple sitting on the stairs of one of the unoccupied house. We asked if we could camp here which the old man responded by showing a place behind half destroyed wall. It was perfect. It would protect us from the dust kicked up by the occasional passing vehicle. After we set up camp, we prepared a meal of instant mashed potatoes, instant noodles, tuna fish, curry and a touch of olive oil. I finally realized that this old couple who had not moved far from the steps, also did not live here. They laid out a couple of blankets on the hard ground and settled in as night creeped in. There was not lights here, and a creek flowed through the property. We learned they lived up the mountain, an hour and one half walk from this campsite. They were resting here also. I realized they had not eaten so I gave them some of our dinner. I wondered what they thought of the improvised meal. If they did not like it, which was very possible, then the two skinny dogs and cat that hung around would finally get to eat. In the morning, I saw the old man feed some chickens and never saw them again.

Mayocc - one of the dusty towns on the Huancayo to Ayacucho road
Mayocc - one of the dusty towns on the Huancayo to Ayacucho road (View on flickr)

Another night we stayed in Mayocc, a small town that has next to nothing. Indeed a very poor town. They had three small hospedajes (cheap hotels). One was up stairs in a rough concrete structure with no paint. The dust from the unpaved road below billowed dust into every nook and cranny of the rooms. The other hostel had no bathroom and everyone went out to the back field with the billions of nasty gnats to take care of their private needs. Nope not for me. The third was full but Carlos let us camp in back. (Big thanks to Carlos and his sister) The best part of this place was it was not a dust bowl and it had a bathroom and a place to shower. Well sort of. It was more like a concrete outhouse with three stalls and a flimsy vinyl sheet covering each of the door entries. It was perfect except it had no water. The town had no water most of the time except for maybe a half hour in the late afternoon and another half hour in the early morning. Somehow the town worked around this and manages to get by. We hung around in the late afternoon in the shade and avoided getting eaten by the nasty little bugs. Using what precious water they had stored we took a shower using our 10 liter water-bag with a shower head attachment in the privacy of the concrete outhouse. I was in heaven as the dust poured off me down into the floor drain. And later when the water came on, I managed to hand wash our grimy clothes. A room with a single bed and a single light became available. Instead of setting up our tent we slept in one small bed for for a cost of three dollars. The young employee who worked at the hotel/restaurant slept outside our door on the concrete floor near the stairs. He must have given up his bed to us.

A little later I wandered the town purchasing the food for the next day's ride: Yogurt, bread, tuna, crackers, peach juice. Returning back to the hotel, under the light of a street lamp, a volleyball came flying my way. I love volleyball and so do the Peruvians. I think it is the biggest sport in the country. I put my bag down and joined in a game with 5 young children. We played in the middle of the dusty road, with an imaginary net. The girls against the boys. Every time the girls scored a point against the boys, the my two little teammates run up to me and gave me a bear hug as they jumped up and down yelling "Point for Peru". Many people stopped and watched us playing. One of the girls told me to use my "Arma" which I guess is a technical move in Volleyball. But as far as I understood in Spanish arma is a word for weapons. I told her I did not understand because I do not have any weapons. "Yo no tengo Arma" The towns people laughed with delight. It was a really funny moment which I thoroughly enjoyed. All was good with life: Simple moments makes for simple joys. No complicated lives with cable TV, Internet, telephone, lights, bills, etc. Just a genuine moment playing volleyball in a dusty forgotten part of Peru with some new little friends.

If you're reading this on hobobiker.com you can click on any of the pictures and see a full-size view and a slideshow.

Nancy on Huancayo to Ayacucho road on Rio Mantaro
Huancayo to Ayacucho road on Rio Mantaro
Nancy on Huancayo to Ayacucho road on Rio Mantaro
Randy on Huancayo-Ayacucho road
Making her way through the goats

You can see all the photos from this stretch of road on flickr.