From “Pucallpa” my journey led me further south. The day before departure, I checked my bike again and realized that some parts were missing. My pump, an extra rear light, my “Multitool bicycle tool” and my “Leatherman” were missing. After checking and checking several times, it was clear to me that the missing parts were stolen. It probably happened when I carried the bike bags off the ferry and the bike was unattended in the meantime. Or maybe the items were stolen from me in town when I went to get a new sim card and organize my shopping. In itself, this is not so tragic, but it was still very annoying for me, because everything had a value of just under 300 euros and the items are absolutely necessary for my tour. Based on this incident, I realized to be even more attentive.
In any case, you can see here one of the downsides of a solo trip. Two people can take turns with shopping or other errands. One person can always keep an eye on the bikes and valuables while the other is on the road. As a solo traveler this is not possible, especially when in Peru I was often forbidden to leave my bike in the entrance area of a store.
Although I was quite annoyed, I didn’t want to let it get me down, ordered a replacement and had it delivered to “Cusco”, hoping not to have a major breakdown on my way there, and this despite the fact that probably the most strenuous part of my tour was now ahead of me.
For the next 4 days, I drove south through the sweltering, tropical heat of the rainforest, until it was steeply uphill into the Andes. In “Puerto Bermudez”, shortly before it went over into the mountains, I asked for an overnight stay at a hotel. The owner, Tania, immediately started a conversation with me. After hearing about my story and the mission of my tour, she was so touched and also invited me for a free night. The next morning, she even organized breakfast at a friendly cafe. That was super nice and a great gesture. Above all, it helped me to find courage again after the theft. There are also some nice and helpful people.
For the next 150 km from “Puerto Bermudez” the road was a very bad gravel road that went from the jungle to the mountains. Unbelievably exhausting and tiring, my progress was very slow and after 6 hours of driving I was still more than 30 km away from the next village. Just when I realized that I would hardly make it to the next town that day, a pickup truck (colectivo) stopped just in front of me. Some passengers had to go to the bathroom and since there was still room on the truck bed, I asked if they could take me and my bike for a few kilometers. The driver asked the other guests to move together on the loading area, so that I could stow my bike and luggage. I still just secured the bike with a makeshift expander belt, when the vehicle already started to move.
In short, this was by far the most extreme, fast, dangerous and exhausting car ride I’ve ever had. The car drove with frightening speed along the gravel road, went through creeks, steep serpentine roads, where it went on one side several hundred meters almost vertically downhill. On my GPS I could see that we were sweeping along the track at over 90 km/h in places. At every pothole, I or the bike was about to fall off the loading area. At times it catapulted us high into the air when we went through a deep bump. Once it hurled us upward so hard that two girls riding with us hit their heads nastily on the vehicle’s linkage. Since I was already very exhausted and especially thirsty from my bike ride, I mustered the last of my strength to hold on. After 45 minutes of pure tension, I was about to give up when the vehicle promptly came to a stop. A woman in the passenger compartment got out and threw up. This was my chance to grab my water bottle to take a sip. I also secured the bike with a second expander strap so that from now on I only had to hold on to myself.
A few kilometers before the village there was a turnoff. The driver stopped to let me out and asked if I didn’t want to continue because his way would be on my route. Since I didn’t know my way around at all and didn’t have any cell phone network in the middle of the jungle to check if the route was really on my route, I trusted the driver’s word and stayed in the back of the car. At least I saved myself another 60 km on the gravel road. What I didn’t know was that we would be sweeping through the jungle like madmen for another 3 hours. We crossed the most breathtaking landscapes and drove up and down extremely steep mountains. Unfortunately, I was permanently so busy not to fall off the loading area that I could not enjoy this natural spectacle. In the darkness we finally arrived at our destination. The small town was not on my route at all, but at least from here an asphalt road led back to my original route. I got off the car, went to the nearest hotel and threw myself into bed, exhausted. Not once on my tour had I been so exhausted, shaky and lacking in energy as after this car ride.
The next day, I first had to drive 70 km through a valley to get back to my original route. From there it went the next 200 km uphill to 4200 meters. Fantastic to observe was the transition from rainforest to desert.
Less beautiful was the extreme garbage on the roadside, which continued on my whole route through Peru. In addition, some people in this region were very unfriendly to me, ignored me when I asked a question and expressed themselves to me as a foreigner degrading. In addition, I had to notice that all cars, partly intentionally, wildly honking extremely close and much too fast drove past me and endangered me sometimes strongly. Again and again I had no choice but to swerve into the ditch or to get off the car, otherwise I would have been rammed or run over.
For three days I drove uphill to 4200 meters. Driving up from 100 meters NN to this altitude was definitely not child’s play. Above 3500 meters, the last 700 meters of ascent became an absolute struggle. After a few meters of effort, I was always so exhausted that I had to take constant breaks. Permanently I had dizziness and the feeling of not getting enough air. I totally underestimated this, because I had hardly had any problems with the altitude before until Ecuador. After the 2 weeks in the Amazon rainforest, I simply should have taken more time to acclimatize. Nevertheless, I continued to fight my way uphill and as soon as I reached the top, I felt much better.
Here a dreamlike plateau awaited me and I decided to spend the night there in the tent. As soon as the sun had set, it became suddenly freezing cold. From 19 o’clock I held out it only in the sleeping bag completely wrapped up with my clothes. That night the temperature dropped below -10°C in the tent. One or the other time I woke up because of shortness of breath and had to calm myself to breathe slowly and deeply. I had to pull myself together quite a bit to keep calm. Eventually I found my breathing rhythm and fell back asleep.
Despite these difficulties, the night on the plateau was an absolute highlight. This fantastic view and this dead silence, made this place very special. When I was ready to leave the next morning, a farmer came by who had seen me from a distance. He asked me to help him push his truck because the battery had failed overnight. We tried to stop passing cars to help us, but none stopped, instead they almost ran us over. Disappointed by the lack of help from others, we managed to get the truck running after several attempts. Sadly, there is an absolute skepticism towards strangers in Peru, which may also be due to the tense political situation in recent years.
My way continued to “Huancayo”, where I took a few break days. Since the traffic in the city was so extreme and the drivers absolutely reckless, I got scared of being hit. This made me exhausted and quite irritable, since after my brain tumor surgery, many influences, such as traffic and the constant honking of vehicles, quickly overwhelm me mentally. Therefore, driving through the city was anything but fun. Overloaded with influences, I was happy to have a few days of peace and quiet to first recharge my batteries.
The days in “Huancayo” I spent in the “Hospedaje of Liliana”. This was once again an absolutely inspiring encounter. Liliana is a real power woman who lost her leg in an accident a few years ago. Despite limitations and being a single mother, nothing could stop her from opening her own hotel.
I was very honored that Liliana considered me a great inspiration. Stories like mine give her courage and strength to continue. With the help of the hotel, she hopes to have earned enough money in the next year to be able to afford a prosthesis. Her wish is to be able to go on excursions with her children again without hindrance. I was very touched by this. It is so incredibly beautiful to see how my journey and my message motivate and encourage people like Liliana.
From “Huancayo” I went to the highest point of my “Panamericana Tour”. I had to overcome a nearly 4700 meter high pass. Several hundred meters further down I camped and I had with -15/-17 °C (I could not read it exactly on my thermometer, in any case it was A….cold) in the tent the coldest night of my tour. That was by far the coldest thing I had experienced up to that point.
From there the way led me nearly 200 km downhill to the Pacific coast. Never in my life would I have expected what was in store for me. Here Peru showed its most spectacular side. The nature was simply breathtaking. Passing herds of llamas, we entered a narrow, steep valley. The landscape was always formed differently by the water. The steep gorges turned into a gigantic canyon. The mountain stream had the green-blue shimmer of a brilliant emerald. I had never seen anything like it before. Coupled with the snow-capped mountains, I found myself marveling anew after each bend in the road. If Peru has one thing, it is breathtaking nature!
After 200 km arrived at the Pacific coast, the absolute contrast change followed. In the city of “San Vincente de Canete”, about 150 km south of Lima, there was again an extreme amount of traffic. Typical for most cities in Peru are unfinished houses, which are inhabited in shell construction. In addition, the sometimes extreme poverty of the population and the mountains of garbage along the streets are striking. Especially on the Pacific coast the garbage problem was immense. In this desert-like landscape there are countless half-finished ghost settlements that seemed uninhabited. Again and again it stank to vomit when gigantic heaps of garbage were burned and wild dogs rummaged through not yet burning sacks with decaying meat waste.
So my way along the “Panamericana” led me further and further into the desert to “Ica”. After all, the 200 km were on the newly built “Panamericana”, which was expanded to a highway with a very wide shoulder. So I could leave this area very fast. Near “Ica” is the “Oasis Huacachina”. It is fascinating how water and life are present here in the middle of the desert. From “Ica” my way led me further south to “Nazca” and from there again steeply uphill to more than 4500 meters.
Just before the famous “Nazca lines” the whole desert turned a deep red. Chili peppers were spread out over several kilometers to dry. Even the air smelled only of chili.
Immediately after the chili fields, we passed into a higher plain. Here, on several hundred square kilometers, are the famous “Nazca lines”. From the ground only single lines can be made out, but from the air or the nearby mountains gigantic images can be seen. For passing tourists an observation tower was built, from which at least three of the many images can be seen. More than 2000 years ago these pictures and partly, as with the ruler drawn lines were drawn by the Nazca culture in the desert sand and extend over a gigantic area. How did people create such works of art over 2000 years ago? That remains a mystery to this day. The German physicist Maria Reiche dedicated over 40 years of her life in the lonely desert to track down this mystery of the “Nazca lines”. Absolutely amazing is how these lines, despite the millennia, are still so well preserved!
Since my front wheel had already been wobbling dangerously since “Huancayo” and it turned out that the ball bearings were worn out, I was advised to continue riding only in an emergency and to change the ball bearings as soon as possible. The next bike store that could order exactly my ball bearings was in “Cusco”. From “Nazca”, I was able to ride with the truck driver Jamie for 200 km. On our ride, he taught me a few words in “Quechua”, the indigenous language of the Andean people. Again, what was special about our encounter was that his youngest daughter is severely physically disabled after an illness. Mentally she can perceive everything but unfortunately only communicate through her eyes. Jamie works as hard as he can to make therapies possible for his daughter, which unfortunately is hardly financially bearable for the normal population of Peru. He is therefore trying to find sponsors so that his daughter can at least receive regular therapy. Jamie is firmly convinced that his daughter can find her way back to a normal life through the necessary therapy. What also touched me very much was that Jamie was, according to his opinion, a very bad and ignorant person, husband and father before the illness of his daughter.
Through the illness, he found faith in God over a period of years and has since changed his entire life. It is always amazing how severe strokes of fate can change a person for the better.
After 200 km Jamie dropped me off in the middle of nowhere at 4300 meters. He had to leave the main road to get to a copper mine. According to him, it was only about two hours by bike to the nearest town. From there I could then take the bus to “Cusco”. Besides, it would be mostly downhill. The Peruvian two hours turned out to be a 100+ km, 6 hour ride. It was beautiful but also extremely cold. The small climb went up to 4500 meters and dragged on forever. On the plateau there was nothing but solitude and rugged, beautiful nature except for the smallest of homesteads with large herds of llamas/alpacas. The biking was extremely exhausting. To get to 4500 meters, it felt like I was riding 2000 meters of elevation in one piece.
Besides the llamas and alpacas, which are domesticated, live here in small groups, the very shy and protected species vicunas.
In the evening I arrived in the city “Chalhuanca” and was God glad that my front wheel, despite dangerous sounding scratching noises, had survived until then.
The next morning I took the bus to “Cusco” and brought the bike the very next day to the bicycle repair shop, with which I had been in contact for some time. Since the bike had to stay in the workshop for three days for repair, I used the time to explore the city and make a trip to the “Palccoyo-Rainbowmountains”. At almost 5000 meters I was impressed by a mountain landscape, so gigantic and breathtaking, as if it was from another world. Several mountain ridges discolored into rainbow-like layers due to years of oxidation of various minerals. Only through the melting of the glaciers, the mountains have been discovered for a few decades.
After I had been on the road for over a year now and Peru had become very challenging for me due to the extreme influences, the dangerous traffic and the many mountains, I had quite a sag and a big motivation low. Somehow I didn’t feel like going to new places, having new experiences, and taking on more challenges.
I didn’t feel well, the altitude and my by now very limited travel budget strained my nerves even more. Before the start of my tour, I had assumed that I would only be on the road for a little longer than a year. Due to the many great encounters, the invitations of the people and also the different TV stations, the tour had become much bigger and more extensive than I would have ever expected. The important thing for me when traveling is to take your time and not be in a hurry. Of course, this meant that the travel budget was now severely limited.
A long-cherished wish of mine was to visit the famous Inca site “Machu Picchu”. As it is the most famous tourist attraction in South America, it quickly costs 200 euros, so it was not compatible with my financial situation. Of course, this annoyed me.
In conversations with other travelers, it turned out that it is currently quite difficult to get to “Machu Picchu” without waiting several days in the nearby town of “Aguas Calientes” for the entrance. In addition, it was very crowded with 1000 tourists a day. All this finally kept me from going there. In the end it was a real relief.
In addition, after traveling for over a year, I found it increasingly difficult to be separated from my girlfriend. I find that we make the absolute best of the relationship for the distance and try to keep as much contact as possible. However, talking on the phone or a video call now and then does not replace physical contact. So after a year we reached a point where we missed each other a lot and in the routine of talking on the phone we didn’t always talk out everything that was on our minds. Since I had more time and peace again, we now had more detailed and very deep conversations. This gave us the opportunity to address everything that had accumulated in the last few weeks. I am extremely grateful to Susanne that she supports me and my tour so much. It is wonderful that we can always address everything. In addition, Susanne has the ability to ask very good questions that stimulate a lot of reflection. This made me realize again for what reasons I am doing the tour and that I don’t need to put myself under pressure. That was really nice, because afterwards we were much more connected again. I also had conversations with my family, which gave me a new perspective again.
After a few days of rest and reflection, my mood improved significantly and I was motivated again to continue my tour.
I had a touching encounter in “Cusco” with Robert. The partner school of the language school I visited in Guatemala and with whom I was in contact, organized a language tandem evening. Here I met Geraldine, whose brother is a former brain tumor patient.
Since she was very touched by my story, she asked me to speak with her brother to show him a new perspective.
The very next day, I met with Robert and was very excited about our conversation and sharing.
“Often I feel that my family doesn’t understand me at all. They think I’m lazy and don’t feel like dealing with them….
Unfortunately, they don’t see that I’m tired and exhausted quite often and can’t take in anything at those moments.
I like my family but I also need a lot of time for myself. When I’m stressed or exhausted, I tend to be irritable and say hurtful things that I don’t really mean…”.
That was about the wording of Robert at our meeting.
Robert is also a former brain tumor patient and just like me, he had a tumor removed when he was 15. Two years later, a second operation followed because his intracranial pressure had quickly increased very much. After several months in the hospital and rehab, he came home with no major motor limitations. What no one saw, of course, were the extreme mental problems and challenges. Over the years, he has fought his way back. However, the mental overload has remained. Some days he handles it better than others.
I can understand Robert 100%. Almost every problem he described I know too.
For years after my brain tumor surgery, my strategy was to suppress my feelings and function as best I could. I allowed myself far too little rest because I didn’t want to be seen as different or weird. This only ever worked for a certain amount of time until I was totally exhausted, had extreme headaches, and just needed rest and especially lots of sleep. Often I was sick for a few days, simply because my body needed to recharge its batteries and only then did I allow myself time off. My breakdown/burnout, which I had about 1.5 years ago, was probably the eventual result of this. The exchange with other sufferers, especially talking about my feelings or challenges helped that above all I can understand myself better.
Since I’ve been talking to other brain tumor patients on the tour, I’ve learned an incredible amount for myself and learned things that no doctor had told me or that I would ever have learned without talking to others. That’s why I told Robert about my experiences, to show him by my example how important it is to talk openly about your feelings/challenges. First of all, no one who hasn’t had something similar can understand how you’re feeling, and secondly, outsiders can’t understand you until you’re open about it.
I hope Robert is more open with his family and in turn they are more understanding.
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That’s the way to go!