After a full day of climbing, we arrive in a small village where the grey sky makes the atmosphere extra sad. It is cold and people walk wrapped in warm blankets over the street. We ask for a place to pitch the tent and one of the women says that last time a gringo, a foreigner, slept under the portal of the church. "Maybe you can sleep inside", the woman thinks aloud. We had almost forgotten how we were always looking for accommodation if the weather was bad in Argentina and Chile.
We knock on the door of the local health post and are offered an old classroom. There are posters from 2014 on the walls and there is so much dust that suggests that the door hasn't been opened for four years. We brush the dust outside and have a roof for the night. At eight o'clock in the evening, the nurse knocks on the door with two large jugs. One filled with sweetened tea, the other with a syrupy drink made of purple corn, their evening evening meal.
Early in the morning the village is shrouded in the clouds when we put the bags on the bike. We cycle on the only road in the village, while the children whisper 'gringos en bicicleta'. In front of a little mud house stands a little girl who quickly spurt inside and loudly yells "mami, mami, gringos". No matter how young they are, they know we are foreigners and they quickly learned the word gringo. So far we have never been called gringo in South America, but since we are in Peru, we hear it dozens of times a day, at all pitches. From the car, along the side of the road, drunk men with a bottle of beer, children with a football and old females with large packs of straw on the back. They all speak to us with gringo, or gringa when they specifically appeal to Zoë. 'Gringa, no tienes fria' (Don’t you feel cold) asks an old woman like Zoë to cycle in short sleeves and shorts, and she laughs out loud with her silver teeth. After a long stretch on an unpaved road we arrive at the main road where stands a number of small tents with smoking fires. We stop for a moment to drink water and the five women storm at us, all with a plastic plate filled with corn, rice and a fried fish. They literally push the fish under our noses, when Zoë asks if they have 'Choclo con queso'. ‘La gringa wants corn with cheese' they all laugh.
A few days later we cycle up the mountain with our large rain capes. The Peruvians stare at us with dumb eyes as a red and green gringo ghost cycles uphill through the rain. 'Mucha lluvia' they say. Indeed, a lot of rain, and that in the dry season. The Peruvians also don’t understand anything about the weather in recent years. In the winter months, June to September, it normally hardly rains in Peru, but we have been cycling in the rain for several days. Once we cycle above 4,000 meters, the rain changes into snow and the landscape turns white. Suddenly there is a big snowman in the middle of the road. Many villagers have come up the mountain to play in the snow. They have built the snowman in the middle of the road. We are posing next to the snowman and suddenly fifty telephones are pointing at us because a snowman with two gringos are two rarities in one day.
The bad weather disappears after a few days and the blue skies return. We cycle a beautiful route along a river. The road is wide enough for one car with a steep cliff of a few hundred meters to the river. Yet it is the most accessible route for lorries that checkmate each other more than once on the narrow road. 'It's faster with the bike', we laugh when we pass the trucks that are busy with a life-threatening manoeuvre. On Google Maps, which we always use to plan the routes, the road looked perfectly asphalted, but in reality there is little left. We get loads of dust all over us and those same truck drivers will probably think 'inside there is no dust' when they pass us by again.
There is a long descent to Huanuco where we can rest a few days at a warmshower. In the descent we have some bad luck, an aggressive dog bites Zoë in her leg and Olivier feels something ticking when he brakes. There is a crack in the rim and we still have 80 kilometers downhill. We carefully descend using only the front brake. "I think it will be difficult to find a rim," Zoë says. "No, it's a big city" Olivier says hopeful. The crack in the rim grows at every bump and speed bump, and there are quite a few in Peru. When we drive into Huanuco, the rim rubs against the brake at every rotation, which is already completely open. We stop at a bicycle repair shop. 'Hola gringo, que pasó? he asks. '28 inch, you will not find it here’ he shakes his head. The next stretch on the bicycle is the most beautiful, but whether we can cycle that is the big question.
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