Mountain Bikes, Potatoes, and Piscos in Peru: Part 3
Each day, our rides consisted of shuttling to the ride start and getting picked up after we finished the adventure. How our drivers knew where to go and which left or right to take on a complex system of roads was nothing short of amazing. Roads in Peru aren’t usually marked, especially the dirt ones, and the networks of roads are almost as confusing as the trails. Throughout the trip, we developed a huge appreciation for our shuttle drivers. They kept us alive, first and foremost, and often navigated harrowing passes with vehicles coming in the opposite direction. The drivers are the unsung heroes of a trip like this.
We spent our second to last day in the nearby Lares Valley. Starting in the town of Huacahuasi, we followed a river trail and passed small farming settlements with the occasional herder and random sheep, cows, and alpacas grazing on the greenery. Eventually dropping into the Lares Hot Springs, otherwise known as Inca thermal baths, we stopped for a soak and some lunch before loading up the vans and heading back up Lares Pass for ride number two for that day.
On our final descent of the day, we dropped almost 4,500 feet of elevation in less than 20 kilometers. As we made our way to the town of Calca we rode all kinds of varied terrain from rutted-out double track to aqueducts to smooth singletrack. We hit rocky canyons and staircases and finished with a stretch of pavement that marked our arrival into town. Beers and our daily round of high fives awaited as we were once again amazed at the incredible day we just had.
With all good trips and adventures, the endings are bittersweet. Just when you finally feel like you understand the terrain, it’s time to go. And this trip was no exception. We spent our final ride on a scenic trail high above the Moray Inca ruins. We watched buses of tourists down below, but we had the place to ourselves high up on the mountain. Even from a distance, we saw this impressive archeological site that consists of deep, circular terraced depressions. The Incans used this site as an agricultural research station, creating microclimates to study how crops grew in varying conditions. They grew plants from sea level at these extreme high altitudes and even brought in soil from different regions and elevations to mimic different growing conditions. The engineering involved in this research and the irrigation systems was astounding.
After having our minds blown by the Moray ruins that morning, we shuttled up again for a final descent through the pre-Incan Maras salt ponds. The salt ponds appeared as we dropped in from a plateau onto a bench cut singletrack lined with cactus and almost impossible switchbacks. Exposed, loose, and dry, this trail was our final challenge of the trip. At the bottom of the valley, we rode into Urubamba for a meal at Tunupa Restaurant, where we dined on a lunch-style buffet that was delicious. Well, not quite as tasty as the handmade Peruvian donuts at the end of the buffet room.
I don’t typically travel internationally to the same place twice. There are too many exciting places to see and so little time. But Peru left an imprint on me the first time, making it easy to say yes to this second trip. Yes, the mountain biking is some of the best on the planet. It’s rugged, it’s wild, and between altitude and technical terrain, it pushes your limits. Life is challenging in this country. It's challenging for mountain bikers like me, but also for the indigenous people who have graciously opened their trails and their culture to the world.
Mountain biking takes us deeper into these areas and closer to the people wherever we ride. We can learn so much from the seat of our bikes, more than just about the local terrain and trails. We can learn about history, about cultures, about the people who’ve lived and worked the land we seek out. In the words of one of my favorite Canadian authors, Kate Harris, “Every day on a bike trip is like the one before – but it is also completely different, or perhaps you are different, woken up in new ways by the mile.”