My Daily Dosage of Desert: 2500 KM

First thing I do is escaping Lima and celebrating my alone time. I am back where I belong, having returned from a little detour, a failed deviation.

I can not stand any more stress so the busy Pan American highway is no option. Another night-bus is on my program, to the point where the Pan American highway deviate to a quieter road.

The bicycle comes out of the bus in a slight reshaped manner. I bend and reestablish, and am off to an abandoned watchtower.

There is plenty of faeces lying around in the inside of the tower but I don’t give a shit. I savor 16 hours of sleep, own baked bread, handmade cheese, Peruvian olives, and most relishing of all, quietness. I watch the vultures, my thoughts going back to my friend, and wonder whether they can suffer mental hardship?

I am now on the costanera and villages and towns are on regular intervals of about 100 kilometer. The route turns out to be anything but flat, following the waves of the Earth and swings back and forth with each slip of the land. A dip in every turn, and steep gradients where the road pulls itself back up again. Always with a headwind.

The wind is constantly in my face and so strong I wonder what happened with my good condition? Well, I have sat still for a month, but nonetheless, an average of 11 km an hour is not much.

It’s dry. There are no houses around. I am in the full sun and water is not around, except for the ocean. To be in a desolate surrounding, empty as it is, and hardly any artificial’s, where I need to rely on my gear and push myself to cover a distance while I prefer to stop; that is satisfying.

Men whistle to me, because that’s what they do, having no clue. Vultures fly over low, checking out possibilities to eat. Fishermen dressed in down-jackets or wet-suits are passing me on rickety motorbikes, rust taking over their vehicles.

I meet with curious beings, who are always on the search for food. And just like me, all I am occupied with is water and food, because camps will show up by itself. In fact, every spot is good.

The camp-spots are often of a remarkable soft sand, fluffy like ashes. Ground seems hollow and resonates my footsteps.

A fox walks past, making himself comfortable in a puddle of dried up seaweed.

This costanera ride becomes soon a hell of a happiness ride! Whether it is because I am so damn happy to be on the road again after 19 days without my bicycle, or because I am right where I wanted to be.

The desert!

Right after masala chai comes the desert, really my cup of tea. I soon find out where to seek shade, feeling like an ant in a maxi world. And when I can’t find shade, I place myself in the full sun, hoping for an overcast.

The sound of the rolling ocean soothes me if I am removed from it. When I am right next to it, I need earplugs.

Lacking sleep for a month, I finally make nights of 11 hours again. This takes some practice as darkness sets in at 7 while the sun rises at 5.00, in a softly, warm summer morning.

When I can’t find shady places and there is no overcast, I seek shelter in a never finished factory. The walls blocking the sun. But I prefer beauty over functionality, so this was a one time walled camp.

Some days, the road is risky. Then I need to turn on all alert-senses, watch my mirror constantly and peddle a few strokes harder to avoid trucks on stretches with no guard rail, but with a deep steep depth below me. Some roads host more crosses of death than others. Such stretches I am warned for by truck drivers ‘it is narrow, the tarmac is bad and there is no shoulder. Be careful. Traffic is dangerous’. Such roads are dreadful and take much energy, stress gnaws on me.

It seems with enjoying a cycling life, stress levels has shifted: I can’t handle much anymore.

Then, to end the day on the beach of a national park, with permission, where no one else comes, where birds lay their eggs and pelicans sits in formations, is a gift. A stress soother!

I am surrounded by many Turkey vultures, the resound of the ocean, the quietness where the oystercatcher has laid her eggs, uncountable crabs running, bones and bodies of birds and sea creatures.

Some stretches are flat and straight, where I still don’t make speed because of the never-ending headwind. I feel discouraged, carrying 12 liters of water; cycling slow and short distances has a price. Until I reach the highest point and look out over pure beauty. I know where I am going to sleep tonight!

This Christmas is perhaps the best I ever had. Mostly because I am alone, don’t have to overeat nor socialize to a degree which is too much, nor feeling guilty for not adjusting. Instead, I jump out of sheer joy and pure surprise. I am truly playing in happiness.

The camp I have found myself is a very compact natural abundance of cacti, which only exist at this very spot. I won’t see it again…

There is wood to make a fire. And I am so overjoyed, I’d made a little video.

Footsteps and paw prints are everywhere, all the time. Even on steep sand dunes. The paw prints are from foxes, who at night passes my camp, where their prints marks a merry round through the kitchen area and over the tracks of my tires.

Using sunscreen factor 90 my skin turns brown and incredible dry, like the cracked earth surrounding me. The callus on my feet seems to grow with an equal force to that of the wind. A head wind that is, in case I forgot to mention.

Costanera 15A Camana to Tacna

Sure, the coastal route on tarmac is probably less interesting than the high Andes on gravel. But here is absolutely no touristy stuff. The magic is here where no ones wants to be.

Peruvian people keep remaining fantastic. They are helpful and humorous, calling out to me ‘Tacna carga!?’ They are talkative and inquisitive. They are interested in my bicycle, checking tires, requiring whether I carry enough inner tubes and wave me all kind of hand signals; thumbs up, peace sign and, unfortunately, a lot of honks. They occasionally stop to ask if I need anything, sometimes offering me a ride.

From Mollendo I continue to Punto de Bombon and further to Ilo. Absolute non-touristic places with old wooden houses, paint falling off. The few smaller nondescript towns are built up around a river flowing from the high Andes. Those places are agricultural abundances and suddenly I am among cows, goats, chattering birds and so much green it hurt my eyes after the dry, light brown sand colors.

Crabs, shells, seaweed, a stranger…

One evening I set up camp in a copper mining area. I am a few meters away from the ocean and consider myself lucky with such a small rocky niche of privacy. My camp has pelicans flying over low, expanding the elasticity of my neck in trying to trace them. There are black skimmers who chase me when I am climbing the rock they are busy teaching their offspring how to be a good bird. Vultures circling above me, cormorants, osprey diving in the water. Abundance of mother of pearl shells. Lizards. I again jump out of joy!

The ocean is wild and noisy, I need to sleep with my earplugs in but that’s bothering me a bit since I have seen a fisherman next to my niche which I thought to be private. I think the fisherman hasn’t seen me and probably will leave soon as darkness has set in.

The next morning I walk out to the ocean to wash my pan. The fisherman from yesterday is, of course, gone. Instead I see a guy who seems to camp out there. He has a bicycle turned up side down and looks rather like… me?!

I can’t believe my eyes. I watch some more until I lose balance and slip into the ocean.

I wave to him, like I am on a camping?! That’s enough encouragement from my side, and he soon comes to my camp. He is a cyclist from New York. He’d run out of water in the Atacama desert and has flats continuously, a hole in his outer tube and if I know whether they sell tires in Ilo? That’s it. No more information, no more talk. He leaves his camp at 7.00, his race model bicycle with ultra thin tires and two Ortlieb’s attached. At least he got the wind in his back.

I stay until 11.00. Wash my clothes. Take a bath.

And a ceviche once in Ilo.

The mercado central are always a spectacle of abundance. The pueblitos along the coast are a weird gathering of plywood, reeds, trash and plastic shredded by the constant coastal wind. My tent is surely worth more.

When I can’t peddle any longer along the coastline I head inland. A string of olive groves and chacra’s, farms, connect towards Tacna. A city I was disgust about when I reached it by bus from the Andes of Argentina, now I look forward to it.

I choose a spot in an olive grove and after two hours of being tired I am almost attacked by two big dogs and three heroic smaller ones. An unfriendly looking woman prevent them any harm done to me. With shaking knees and a fast heart rate I try to secure a spot for camping, especially since I am cooking dinner.

The woman seems tough and not bendable. It’s really a lot easier to get things done from men. I can not stay, I must leave. It is dangerous, the dogs will rip my throat at night. It is forbidden, I must sleep on the tarmac road.

I try to explain my situation. I show her photo’s of desert camps. ‘No tengo dinero?’ she asks me? ‘Solita?’ I explain her as much as I can in Spanish and suddenly, after about 20 minutes of pleading, a wry smile appears and an appeasing ‘okay’.

Her Rottweiler dog bonds with me immediately. He crawls all over me, begging for some left-over pasta. He does indeed reach for my throat, to lick the salty sweat which gathered over 10 days. Cazinta bonds to me as well, bringing me apples, carrots and a large cane stick to scare of her throat licking Rottweiler.

It was stupid of me to assume an olive grove is a nice shady place to sleep. Imagine someone setting up camp in my garden? Cuzita might have been overly protective, but she is a lone woman of 64. Her only 18 years old son is studying in Lima. She is working this olive grove in the dry desert on her own, where about 10 other crops are planted in between. Knowing the prices of agricultural products in Peru, it is a question where she generates her income from?

Tacna, I stay longer than intended. I like it here. And as with every country in South America, I start to love Peru and don’t want to leave. Walking the streets of Tacna gives me the same dreamlike yet exceptional clear state of mind I had in that small town in the high Andes of Argentina…

When I ripped myself loose from Peru, and it’s ceviche’s, I am off to the Atacama desert, the desert where I came for!

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