DAY 573 - THE PAN-AMERICAN HIGHWAY
DAY 573 - Puerto Supe, Peru - 12268 km
From the snow capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca to warm sunsets of the seaside in just one day. I’ve been breaking personal records during the past weeks and today I’m on the longest downhill ride, from 4000m to zero. It tells something about the incredible diversity of Peru’s landscape.
I’ve diverted to the coast to escape the rain season. The coastal range and south of Peru is much drier. The huge difference in altitude changes everything. From climate, to vegetation, to even the culture and its people. It’s warm and sunny, though far from exotic. A dry land with a continues line of black pavement: the Pan-American highway.
After more than a 150km winding down the mountains I end up in a small harbour town called Puerto Supe. It’s a dusty, windy place with nothing special to visit. People stare at me when I cycle through the streets, somewhat surprised, perhaps even proud. Tourists never visit places like these. It’s a few kilometres from the Pan-american highway and only the end of the day brings me here to do some groceries and find a camp spot on the beach. The man behind the counter of a grocery store welcomes me: “Of course you can camp on the beach, it’s very safe here.” Whatever ‘safe’ means, it’s look like anything but a safe place. There’s garbage everywhere, stray dogs feasting on left overs, little fires burning the trash. The air is so thick with haze, that it reminds me of scenes from the post-apocalyptic film ‘The Road’. The houses are of bare concrete and none of them seem to be finished. Concrete wiring sticks out from the flat rooftops, ready to built another floor. Later I learn there is a reason for this, because I’ve seen it all over Peru. It has to do with tax. If your house is being constructed you don’t have to pay property tax, resulting everyone living in unfinished houses. It’s altogether a place you’d rather avoid. It’s not on any backpackers bucket list, but when you’re on a bike tour you go through dozens of those places. There’s no place I feel unsafe anymore. I don’t feel like the rich ‘gringo', I sort of blend in. The colours of my bags are faded from many days under the sun. My bike is dirty and scratched, the tires worn out. My skin is dark and dry, my face grim and unwashed. I look somewhat like a homeless on a professional touring kit.
At sunset I reach the beach. Everything is one colour orange-brown. The sand, the dunes and the hazy horizon. I celebrate my arrival at sea with a beer and ciggarette, while I sit in the sand and stare at the sun going down. I lost count of the times I spend a night at the Pacific coast. As always the waves are high and rough. The water is too cold to swim in. I hang around on the beach doing nothing. Some fishermen are wrapping up and show me their catch of the day.
I’m on my way to Lima. The Pan-american highway in Peru follows the coast for its majority. It’s fast and easy riding, but the scenery doesn’t change much and there’s a lot of traffic. It reminds me of the long distances in Turkey and Iran which I also did on freeways. Funny enough I’m longing back to the mountains, although I know it probably rains there now.
A strong headwind prevents me from making good distance. I’m on a long stretch of nothing and at some point I’m running out of water. I totally underestimated the distance. Being on the busy Pan-american highway, the main connecter of North and South America, I assumed there would be plenty of gasstations and restaurants. I scanned the road ahead on Google Maps, but it appeared there was nothing for about 60 km. I was halfway with a headwind and almost out of water. Eventually I made the call to return. I put on some music on and the wind blew me back to the last town in an instant. It was a glorious ride.
For one day I’m Lima. I spend New Years Eve on my own. It was an epic year, which I preferred to go out quietly. On New Years day I flew to Bogota to catch up with friends I made there. A last minute request for work made me fly to New York for a week. Life on the road is full of surprises.