10 september upto 22 september: 240km
Puno – Tarata – Tacna – Arica
We ride 56km more along the Lago Titicaca with tailwind, then we change direction and leave the Lago behind us. All in all it wasn´t that spectacular. Some nice views along the way, but considering the Lago is one of the main touristic attractions in Peru, it was not THAT impressive for us.
Now we head towards the coast. Some 300km and one mountain range lay in front of us, than we should be in Tacna, the last peruvian city before the border with Chile.
There are several possibilities which way to take, but as we try to find out which one is the best for cycling we get five different answers from six people and decide to take one road which passes Tarata, a small village along the way with Termas Calientas. Soaking in hot water…hmmm 🙂
But first comes cycling and a nice surprise along the way: again we bump into Slawa and Krzysek, the Polish couple on motorbikes we met in San Juan (Bolivia) some weeks ago. Sometimes the world is small!
Besides this the choosen road turns out to be unpaved, therefore very quite and for two days more or less flat because it follows a river.
We pass only three little villages and see more cattle than humans, but even in the remotest corner one thing is omnipresent: it´s election time! Every house, every wall is painted with slogans for political parties, and even more important, with symbols as well. Every party has its own specific symbol which than reappears on the voting bill and gives illiterate people the possibility to know where to put their x.
And this electoral publicity gives a special touch to the surrounding as well. When it was sometimes difficult to discover the houses in Bolivia because they disappeared in the background with their earthy colour, here in Peru with their bright shiny colours they can can be seen miles away.
Midway to Tarata we reach Mazocruz and decide to take a bus for the other half. Weather turns worse and for one time all people we ask give us the same answer: for the next 160km the road should be in a very, very bad condition and without any villages along the way.
Busses to Tarata run only in the week-end, so we will have to wait one day before being able to go on – but luckily we arrived here on friday and not on monday 🙂
Though the next morning, as we go to buy our tickets, we question our luck. The two busses going to Tarata are argueably the worst buses we have ever seen – they are definitely a lot older than we are and definitely in a worse condition, but there are not many other options.
The previous evening we had a big thunderstorm (including a power failure in the whole town and therefore a candlelit evening), so the road is for sure uncycleable now and waiting in Mazocruz for better weather is not appealing either. The one and only “attraction” is the saturday market, when hundreds of Alpacas are brought in for sale, unfortunately not alive but divided into pieces.
Since we have three hours before the bus leaves, we go for breakfast and visit the market where we are the center of attention, apparently not many tourists take this route. One round around the market, some 300m, takes an hour because every 10m we are stopped by curious locals asking all kind of questions, which we answer with a smile 🙂
And than, at 11AM, just before we should leave: snow!!! The market people hurry to seek shelter for their Alpaca stuff and we jump into the bus and hope that it will pull off the way to Tarata one more time. Luckily for us we did not try to cycle this part: the road is of a quality that demands a full-suspension mountainbike with tyres for riding in deep sand (now mud) with a lot of stones underneath, and there is a pass of 5.500m to get over (start- and ending point are at 3.200m).
The bus takes eight hours to cover the 160km, but finally we arrive although we are not sure, if all our bones are still in their places after hours of shaking…Our compensation awaits us at the Plaza de las Armas in Tarata. Saturday evening, live music from different brass bands and hot Chicha, an alcoholic beverage brewed from maize, to fight the cold. No better way to end the day 🙂 After a good sleep we set out to do what we came to Tarata for: we visit the Aguas Termales. A beautiful eight km ride, mostly uphill but in a marvellous surrounding and we even cross the famous Inca-trail.
The termas are located in a gorge and consist of an outside pool and some indoor private cabins. Since the weather is beautiful, we go into the pool and stay in it for two hours, the water temperature is heavenly and the sun adds just that extra touch that makes one forget all the past troubles…Completely relaxed we cycle back and enjoy the extra bonus of the now downhill ride 🙂
The next day we leave beautiful Tarata. An easy ride of 88km to Tacna, going from 3200 to 560m in altitude. That´s what we think. But Peru is a bit like Bolivia at this point: always expect the unexpected…and so we have the pleasure to first go down for 10km and then climb again for 10km more upto who knows how high. But contrary to Bolivia, uphill in Peru means a loooong and moderate gradient instead of a short and steep one, so even I (Katharina) can cycle to the top, an unusual experience 😉
Then, at last the downhill to Tacna starts and we just let it roll…yippie 🙂
10, 20, 30, 40km…unbelieveably fast and for sure a longlasting memory…then we are 20km in front of Tacna and start looking for a campsite.
Landscape changed during the first 20km and we are now in the midst of a desert without any population.
Nevertheless it takes some time to find a place which is neither too sandy nor too stony because this desert is build from sunbaked sand and stones, with all kinds of strange formations and colours.
Finally we find a small ditch and once out of the wind, we notice that temperature is mild although it´s late afternoon. It feels warm like we haven´t felt for a few months, and we sleep with our tent open the whole night. For sure one sign of lower altitude, the other ones are our squeezed water bottles and toothpaste tube 🙂
As we get near the city the next morning, the mountains become hills and then a flat desert. Around Tacna we pass several settlements, where governmental projects try to establish agriculture, but considering the environment we doubt the success. Sand, sand and more sand – nature didn´t mean to create a green world here.
Tacna then is surprisingly big and surprisingly expensive. We need nearly an hour to get to the center and one hour more to find a Hostal we can afford.
The city is very crowded, a lot of narrow one-way streets and heeps of people around. We find two mercados nearby, a lot of places to eat and even some nice plazas, but as in Cochabamba the atmosphere is a bit bizarre.
As the border city to Chile, it´s a place for tax-free shopping and occupied by commercial centers, gambling halls and casinos.
The possibility to spend money everywhere and the wealth around seems awkward to us after a few months in ´poorer´ regions, but we get tangled into it and let us seduce.
A little bit of gambling, a lot of fun with air-hockey, delicious Parillada accompanied by a Jarra (one litre) of Peruvian-made Pisco Sour which here tastes like limonade and smells like rum, don´t ask how they do it…and how we felt the next morning 😉
Itˋs our one-year anniversary and we give ourselves another treat; we spend a day at a spa: sauna, jacuzzi, steambath… We thoroughly enjoy our time there, and stay about six hours savouring the joy.
Or did we go to the wrong place ? 😉
Totally relaxed and full of renewed energy we start cycling towards the chilean border. We pass the outskirts of the Atacama desert, one of the most desolate and dry places on this earth (but obviously very near to the ocean) and soon reach the border.
We are about to enter our 7th country in South America, but it has never been so complicated: first we have to fill in forms for migracion, aduana y medio ambiente (environment), than we pass passport control, and to top it off we can unload our bicycles, pass all luggage through X-ray scanners and than we are good to go, so we can pass the “Zona seguridado” and finally enter Chile.
We cycle on through the same barren landscape as before until we get to our right the first glimpse of water: we´ve just reached the Pacific!
At this point we can say that we cycled from the Atlantic in Uruguay across South America over the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, here in Villa Frontera, Chile! Good feeling 🙂
After savouring this moment, we cycle the last km to Arica, the northernmost city in Chile and arrive during the most important holiday, the “Dias de la Patria”. Everything is closed except a huge fairground at the seaside where the whole town is gathered for celebration.
The city has a rather good vibe, so we stay put for a few days, taking advantage of the good weather and strolling around the coastside, a long missed sight…