Crazy drivers, strange castles and desert, desert, desert on the road from Lima to Trujillo
By now we are used to South America’s crazy, city traffic, so carefully planned our departure from Lima for 6am on a Sunday morning, when everybody should have been asleep. However, the ride out along the Panamerican Highway was the most nerve-wracking of the trip so far and we were glad, 50km along, to get onto the quieter coastal road with French cyclist, Joel, for company.
We left our hostal in Miraflores via deserted streets thanks to road closures for a running race later that day. Lulled into a false sense of security, we quickly woke up as the road spat us out into central Lima and we began dodging taxis, combis and tuk-tuks all driving without any indication or sense. It was a harrowing ride, the scariest departure we’ve done so far. We averaged 23km within the city trying to keep up with the traffic, and on the outskirts stopped for a rest, exhausted.
Soon after, we became a convoy of three when we were caught by Joel, a fellow cycle tourist heading north towards Panama. He’d been two days behind us since Nazca, and had heard of us from a fruit seller near Pisco. We decided to carry on together for safety in numbers.
About 50km outside of Lima the traffic eased off and we were faced with a decision between a longer route over hills, or sneaking past the toll booths onto the Serpentin, a wiggly road cut high into the coastal cliffs and which bikes aren’t allowed on. We chose the snake pass, which was quiet with stunning views of the pounding Pacific below. We were glad we were on the side hugging the cliff, as cycling the other side would have been hairy with the sheer, unprotected drops.
We stayed the night in Chancay, a nice town with a bizarre castle. A popular tourist spot, we were ushered through a museum which contained the fortress’s artefacts, stuffed lions and ancient, mummified Peruvian babies. We discussed the strange contents over huge portions of Chinese food, a common cuisine in Peru.
The next morning we left early to make the most of the grey mist that envelopes the coast before the sun burns through about 11:00. The road all the way to Trujillo takes in fertile, green valleys before heading into the barren desert and weaving its way around and over huge sand dunes.
We stopped for the night in the coastal port of Supe Puerto, just short of Barranca, where we persuaded a local restaurant owner to cook a meal for us. Hesitantly she agreed, and ran out to buy supplies as we had obviously missed feeding time for the day.
Our next stop via the desert hills was the town of La Caleta de Culebras, which we pushed onto hoping to find a picturesque seaside village, rather than stopping in bustling Huarmey. Instead we found a ram shackled town, where half of the adobe brick buildings looked like they were in the process of either being destroyed or rebuilt. We were relieved to find one hospedaje where we could sleep and a small shop for supplies.
After a few long days in the saddle I was feeling tired, and it didn’t take much convincing to persuade the boys to stop at lunchtime in Casma. Our afternoon break turned into two days in bed as I came down with a fever. Joel left us to hit the surf spots of the coast, and we restarted slowly with a 20km stint to the coastal resort of Tortugas. This beautiful bay was a perfect place to recover and we spent on our hotel terrace in the breeze, watching birds plucking fish out of the sea.
The next day we eased back into life on the bike with a 40km pedal to Chimbote, cycling into town alongside two Peruvian bikers out for a Sunday ride. The bumpy hard shoulder was a concern as a spoke snapped on Paddy’s rear wheel and we limped into town and to fix it.
Along the coast we’ve been staying in hostals and hospedajes because accommodation is so cheap, between 25-50 Soles (£5-11) for a room. The same goes for eating. Whereas in Argentina and Chile, we would make lunch and dinner ourselves, it is actually cheaper to eat out. A ‘menu’, comprising of two courses, costs about £1.50 each.
Our last stretch to Trujillo was a 136km day, the map indicating there was nowhere to stop in between, although halfway there was a decent sized town called Chao. We left the city, passing the carcass of a burning cow on the side of the road, a gruesome and strange sight, particularly as we hadn’t seen cows anywhere recently. Road kill and rubbish seem to be incinerated on spot rather than dealt with appropriately.
The first 80km stretch took in well-cultivated valleys with rice paddies amongst the sugar cane and prickly pear fields. After that the terrain became more undulating and the westerly wind off the Pacific Ocean wasn’t working in our favour, making the going tough just as we were tiring and thinking of hot showers.
The strong wind along the coast is a hot topic amongst cyclists. A Canadian we met cycling south said he was jealous of our tailwind having cycled into the wind for weeks. However, we’ve found that as the road winds around, we can feel the full force of the wind both positively and negatively in the same day, if not hour.
Exactly that happened when the road turned inland slightly, and from a slow slog we were suddenly flying uphill at 25km per hour. We were blown the last 10km into Trujillo, a big help with focus on the road, trucks and trying to avoid slipping on the gravel hard shoulder.
At the entrance to the city, we stopped for a refreshing ice lolly, our mouths parched from a day in the desert. They were so good that we had seconds. Our ride into the city was as hairy as usual, but we met many friendly locals along the way, keen to find out more about our trip.
We were staying at the world-famous (in the cycling world) Casa de Ciclistas in the city, run by the friendly and helpful Lucho. Here we were reunited with Joel, who had spent several days in the cyclist bunkhouse, finding it difficult to leave. We also met bikers from Switzerland and Argentina, making us six in total, all heading it different directions.
It was a great place to share stories and route details and we were able to get Paddy’s wheel trued properly, so it was nice and round again. We also spent time reading through Lucho’s visitor book, spotting a few familiar names including Mark Beaumont, Family on Bikes and Heinz Stucke.
Tempted to stay longer with Lucho with the offer of his wife’s famous chocolate cake, we nevertheless had to get back on the road, as we begin our journey towards Ecuador. Before then we continue north where we might manage a day by the sea and a proper chance to relax and recover from Peru’s crazy drivers.