We left the dusty, sand-fly ridden city of Huanuco, with our cycling friend Japhy, for the high mountains and central Peruvian altiplano. We climbed slowly and steadily over 100 kilometers, taking in the breathtaking scenery of the green hillsides and the rushing river that guided us up to where the air is thin and the alpacas roam free.But by far, the best part of the trip was meeting the incredibly generous Peruanos that greeted us with smiles, curousity, questions and gifts galore. About 60km up the canyon, we met our first overwhelming welcome in the small town of Huariaca. Three cyclists, loaded down with gear is a sight not to be taken lightly in a small mtn town. The minute we stopped, we were surrounded by dozens of curious onlookers, old and young. Some were confident enough to ask a lot of questions, some were drunk enough to slur out some responses and others were just too shy to spit out a word, but their eyes remained transfixed on us and the seemingly-foreign machines we were riding. By the time we left, we had to find innovative ways to strap on the steak dinner, juice, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant they offered to sustain our trip.
As the ominous clouds appeared over the horizon, we decided to hit rubber to road before the rain fell. We made it a few kilometers before we took shelter under the eave of a house on the side of the road. There, we met a number of neighbors and conversed with them at length while we waited out the rain. Amazingly, early the next morning after we had climbed 20km from our riverside campsite, we ran into Denise again, a woman that we had met during the rain rendezvous. She wanted us to wait a few minutes and came back with two heaping bags of bread that she had just baked. She was further up the canyon, selling her bread to the small towns that dot the roadside. She insisted that when we return, we stay with her at her house.
With gracious smiles, we grinded out some more climbing until we reached the pueblo, 30 de Agosto. During a water break, a few kids yelled out ¨hola gringos¨from their school courtyard. We returned with a ¨hola Peruanos¨which they thought was hilarious and pretty soon, dozens of children were filing up the hillside to get a closer look at us. Their teachers joined us too as we celebrated Japhy´s 13,000th km on the road. We took one great big picture together, shook eachother´s hands and shared our curiousities with one another. By the time we got to Cerro de Pasco (4333m/14,298ft) we were smitten with the incredible friendliness of the people we had met. We stopped to catch our breath and use a little internet. One of us hung out with the bikes, while the other two were connecting with the outer world. Every time we switched, the crowd grew bigger and so did the things in our arms. We met extremely generous adults that took it upon themselves to make us feel welcome and playful kids with curiousity and questions. It seemed that the adults were trying to out-do eachother with gifts. First, it was bread, soda, then fresh, hot apple juice, yogurt, candy, cake and crackers. It was absolutely amazing. They had fun taking pictures of us with their cell phones. One woman, I remember, being so cute had gold caps on her front teeth, but they were cut out in the shape of hearts!
By this time, we had hit the altiplano, the highland landscape that leveled out into a more or less flat, wind-swept, grassy plain. We continued to receive warm welcomes and friendly smiles as we traversed across the land. The fourth day brought us to the begining of our downhill to Huancayo. We rode steadily all day, clocking in 160km as the landscape changed all around us. By 5:oo, we rode into town, found a comfy bed, a huge $2 meal and crashed.