Camino Del Puma - Part 2

by Igor Shteynbuk

Click here to read Part 1!

a guest post by Derek Schad and Andie Capace

Day 1: Arequipa to Zona de Neblina: With its narrow streets and chaotic traffic, we walk our bikes from Arequipa's city center to its outskirts. We throw a leg over the saddle and we are off. The climbing begins. We climb our way into dusk and into the "Zona de Neblina" -- Zone of Mist -- where we set up camp in a small patch of forest hidden from the winding mountain road.

Day 2: Zona de Neblina to Santa Lucia de Salinas: Waking up to Volcan Misti, the climbing continues. The altitude hits and so do the thunderstorms. I swear I've never been so close to a bolt of lightning. We are greeted by a flock of flamingos at Laguna de Salinas. We eat gummy bears and I collect a vertebrate of some unknown animal on the shores of the lake and affix it to my bike. A talisman for the days to come. With rain and darkness closing in, we find camp underneath a picnic area with a straw roof.

Day 3: Santa Lucia de Salinas to Yalagua: In the morning we break down camp and meet Claudio, owner of the picnic area and land where he hosts tourists. A smooth paved road eventually leads us to dirt, where we bypass herds of vicuñas and Volcan Ubinas. Going over our first 15k’ pass, we are met by intervals of hail storms and glaring sun. We descend 4500’ and are pierced by stunning landscapes that cannot be transcribed into words -- think prehistoric, completely untouched. As our descent continues, we are met with torrential rain. The dirt road turns into a muddy river. The village of Yalagua, seated at the banks of the Tambo River, is a welcome site for these two wet, cold and hungry kids just riding bikes.

Day 4: Yalagua to Ichuña: Three generations of women walking towards us on the dirt path, smiling. I stop to say hello, crashing at their feet (clipless user error!). The grandmother, Julia, offers her hand and pulls me up from my stupor. Appearing well into her 80's, her grip was that of a 25 year old -- firm and strong. The mother offers me towels to sop up the blood now spilling from my knee. The small child, Flor, looks on -- observing, learning how to offer help, how to care for others. We say our thanks and goodbyes. Derek and I sit at the edge of the dirt path eating lunch. Along comes another woman, carrying a large bundle of vibrant purple flowers on her back, fastened to her body in a patterned blanket. "Ooo! feo!" she giggles, pointing at my knee. She tells us to meet her in the plaza just down the road for some "tuna", prickly pear. An hour later we are sitting in the Exchaje plaza with our new friend, peeling "tuna" and letting the juices run down our hands and faces. We mime our way through conversation -- exchanging stories, whereabouts and well wishes -- for soon enough we were on our way.

Day 5: Ichuña to Juncal: After 4 days of relentless climbing, my body gives way while grinding uphill -- I topple off my bike and lay there on my hands and knees sobbing into the dirt, struck by a physical and mental exhaustion I have not experienced in a long time. Derek hugs me from behind and walks with me to the top of the hill. He makes a cup of coffee and suggests we sit for a while. We slow down, looking out over the wild expanse, reminding ourselves why we are here -- not to complete milestones, but to experience this -- life. With the afternoon thunderstorms closing in, we decide to take the rest of the day and stop over at the next small village we pass through, Juncal. There we shack up at a hospedaje where we hang our wet clothes from rusty nails protruding from the walls, and lay down next to one another, listening as the rain splatters on the tin roof overhead. It was shaping up to be a cozy night until...we found a bed bug...and then another. We gather our belongings and pitch our tent in this woman's yard in the dark of the night.

Day 6: Juncal to Chucuito: We wake up, break down camp, make coffee and I get bit by a dog (all ok). We climb over the high point of the trip -- 16,371 ft -- and we descend through picturesque rolling hills and prairie lands. Derek makes us roadside ramen. We hit flat ground for the first time since starting this thing and we are hauling -- good thing too -- since we are chased by packs of wild dogs on three separate occasions on our way out of the prairie.

Day 7: Chucuito: Rest day, checking in and signing off – DnA



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