Note: Ariana Svenson is an adventure trekking specialist with Apus Peru Adventure Travel Specialists, who gives you the chance to have unique experiences with hiking options to little known wilderness places.
OK. I admit it, we go looking for adventure. We keep our ears to the ground and listen out for difficult routes that will present a bit of a challenge. We had always wanted to visit Manu but it had seemed hopelessly expensive. Then we got the idea of of cycling down, seeing Peru's National bird, the cock of the rock, and then going home. Instead, our journey became a quest to reach the end of the road.
Its low season and the reason why there are fewer tourists is because it's the totally wrong time of year to be crossing mountain passes. Nevertheless, armed with an excess of wet weather gear we set off brimming with enthusiasm. Two minutes after arriving at the pass between Pisac and Paucartambo it's hailing and we are drenched. (See map.)
Our descent would have been truly exhilarating in good conditions - when it's freezing it is hell. Our hands, though gloved, are the first part to lose feeling - not a good situation to be when you should be able to feel your hands to brake on the hairpin corners! Your lips go first, and then your nose starts running and your knees begin to freeze up in the cold. It is pure agony. An alpine village, that appears to be warmly welcoming from above, is coldly abandoned and shut up as we pass by closed doors.
About three hours later, bedraggled and sorry, we arrive at Colquepata, from where they tell us its only forty minutes downhill to Paucartambo - it takes us over two hours, but its downhill at its best - smooth roads, good gradients and high speeds. We whip through pretty farmland, eucalypts and herds of cattle and sheep on their way home at the end of the day.
Paucartambo emerges around the corner, a charming colonial delight, with cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and whitewashed houses. People in skirts and colourful mantas (blankets) add an old world charm and one feels like they have stepped back centuries.
We hear that the ascent from Paucartambo is steep and elect to wait for a truck which dumps us in a cloud covered, musty, damp place. 1.5 hours later, we have descended more than 1000 metres (this gives the World's Most Dangerous Road in Coroico, Bolivia a run for its money) and we are in the high cloud forest where its green and lush - and it rains a lot. It pours for us. We soldier on, well wrapped up and thinking that the rocky potholed road can only get better. Cascades crash down the verdant mountainsides - as the road continues down, down, down.
We arrive in San Pedro to see the Cock of the Rock (Gallito de las Rocas) doing their dance, camp on a nice man's soccer pitch, and wake up at midnight to rain - incessant, heavy, continuous rain that pelts the tent with a somewhat dismaying regularity. We rouse ourselves within this damp quagmire to see the Cock's dance again, wondering who possibly would look for a mate in this foul weather - we were right, very few!
A flat tyre, brake adjustments, and load rearrangements and we are jolting our way downhill again, through ever more beautiful and warm jungle. Soon, we are racing along through pampas luxuriant with grasses - the rich moist air of the jungle fills the lungs that feel, suddenly, as if they have been starved in the Andes. It is heady and intoxicating - and you just want to smile and laugh, out of sheer happiness. Great flocks of big bright buttercup yellow butterflies are feeding on the road so when we pass, they flutter up and surround us, so we are cycling in a haze of butterflies - it's like a 90's video clip - utterly dreamlike!
We continue along over those bone-jarring rocks and becomes a bit of a game to try and smooth the ride, and in the middle of the flattest, straightest bit of road I lose my tyre in a ditch and at full speed those hideous teeth like rocks come up at me horrifyingly fast and I plant my hands to save my face. Two ripped open hands, a swollen bruised knee and numerous grazes reveal a far graver problem - I've bent the back rim of the bike which now rolls down the road lurching drunkenly and catching on the brakes on each revolution.