It was an early start today because we were being picked up from the hotel at 8am by the cycle tour company. I had the usual 2 cups of coca tea along with scrambled egg sandwich, mango juice and coffee. I packed a bag of things and headed outside to find the van.
Our driver was called Aldo and he explained that we would be driving for 2 hours to get to the start point. Along the way he pointed out the half way point, the points on the journey where we would have to make a turn and the little village that we would finish at. He said if we wanted to make a toilet stop, or photo stop or anything, we just had to say "Aldo stop" and he would stop. He drove a 4x4 with the 8 of us in the back and played Pink Floyd (and a selection of other western albums) on the CD player.
When we arrived at the 4200 meter start point we all got out of the truck. He pointed to a pile of rocks and said behind there is the girls toilet and the rest of the mountain top is for the boys!
We geared up with helmets and cycling gloves and set off down the volcano on the road we had come up. I had a backpack full of water, extra clothes and my lunch for later.
I had thought they would dump us at the top and see us at the bottom which is why my bag was full of stuff. This turned out not to be the case at all. There were 2 support vehicles, one stayed at the back all the time and the other moved up and down the cyclists. Everyone cycled at a different speeds and the support vehicles were never crowding us, but they would drive past frequently to make sure we were ok.
I coped pretty well with the elevation. Can't tell if I'm getting used to the altitude or whether all the coca tea and sweets I'm eating are working. I don't want to stop taking the coca products just in case!
The view down the mountain was impressive but like the first day of skiing I was concentrating on the finding a smooth path over the very bumpy and uneven road surface rather than enjoying the view. Perhaps road surface is a bit of a generous description. Most of it was a bashed down sand. Think skiing piste but for sand.
The road zig zagged down the volcano so there were lots of sharp turns. Toni and I ended up at the back of the pack because we were taking the turns nice and slowly. Many of the turns were quite deep sand but the bikes could handle it so I didn't have to put my foot down. On one occasion I couldn't make the turns quick enough and my arm brushed against a Hawthorne bush so I have 6 bloody scratches which still sting even now.
As I approached the bottom, my confidence had increased and I was taking the corners like a pro, the road conditions were better as it got closer to the end point town which helped. One of the roads even had some tarmac, although only for about 500 meters. While whizzing along the road a dog shot out of some bushes and chased me barking like mad and trying to bit my feet. It was a quite frightening. Speaking to the others later, they also mentioned meeting the dog. The local owner called it away from me, so it probably wasn't rabbid!
All in all it took about 2 hours to get to the end town where I had my sandwiches and chatted to a Dutchman in our cycle group. He was from Utrecht and was backpacking around Peru on his own. I spoke about our group and sang praises about Steve's Nepal trip (hello if you are reading!).
Aldo loaded the bikes onto the roof and off we set back to Arequipa. The weather was still sunny and warm as we drove back through the shatti towns on the outskirts of the city. It was really fascinating to see life going on and kids in tracksuits going to school.
We noticed that all the shops were grouped together. We passed 10 mattress shops next to each other, then 10 kitchen appliance shops next to each other. In England it pays to be the only shop of a particular type in a location to reduce competition and drive up prices. The opposite seemed to be the case here. We guessed that if everyone knows where to buy mattresses you'd be able to get a better deal and if you built a mattress shops on it's own you wouldn't get any customers because everyone would go to the mattress shop district to get a better deal. Not sure which is a better way but I do know which makes more money!
I was wearing my "Trust me I'm a Programmer" t-shirt and Aldo said he liked programming. He started to tell me the programmers joke about going to the market and getting 6 pints of milk and some oranges or apples, but I stopped him because I'd heard it before. In retrospect I should have left him finish to see if there were any cultural differences in the joke.
We were all caked in volcanic sand when we got back so straight into the shower. I hadn't noticed at the time but my t-shirt had ridden up and exposed my lower back to the sun which I hadn't put any sun cream on. I now have a nice red line across my bum!
Val, Richard & I decided that we enjoyed the fruit smoothie we had at the market on the previous day so much that we'd go back for another. We spent about an hour being lost but it didn't matter because Val wanted to try some different enchiladas so each time we bought one we asked for directions. None of us spoke any Spanish but we eventually spotted something we recognized and found our way there!
I had melon and leche milk which was a bit of an experiment as I'd never had it before. I wouldn't get it again give a choice. It was funny because when I handed my empty glass back she refilled it with what was left in the blender and gave it back to me. I smiled, thanked her and drank it like a good boy!
An American girl came and sat with us and we swapped stories of good stuff to see.
We thought we'd been so healthy so we went for a beer in the roof top bar. A couple of the others from our group had had the same idea so we had a little reunion!
Headed back to the hotel to change for dinner but there was no hot water so I just got dressed. We went out as a big group and ended up in a nicer restaurant than yesterday but it was the same chain so the menu was exactly the same. I didn't mind because I wanted to have pizza which I didn't want to have last time.
While waiting for the food I dispensed advice on cameras and phones to the group. I am the youngest and once they found out I was in IT it was like dealing with my parents all over again - I'm supposed to be on holiday!! Not that I mind.
I tried to upload my blog when I got back to the hotel but their internet connection was unusable and the local 3g was too slow.
Completely knackered I was in bed by 2230.
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