Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Vuelta a Mejia

Mejia is a small costal village swollen by its summer visitors. The Pacific’s waves roll in over darkish sands and rows of gazebos offer shade from the fierce sun. Most of the visitors are here for the weekend and travel on buses from Arequipa leaving as early as 4am for the 2 ½ hour ride. The village comprises worker's homes to the east of the main road and wooden summer cottages to the west. At the edge there is a significant number of upper class rented or owned summer houses and apartments. There is a small church well attended by the locals and a square where children play during the evening throwing small balloons full of water for it is the time of las carnivales.

typical wooden summer house in Mejia

Mejia beach
Close to the town are the Lagunas de Mejia, an ecological park of several lakes set in marshes. The area supports a vast array of bird life and there are chacras with sheep, cows and goats. The final part of the race passes through the paths that access the lakes offering glimpses of the marshes and the sea to the other side.

Lagunas de Mejia
The day began fitfully as we were supposed to be down in town by 5am. I arrived on time but before anyone else – probably not surprising. This was my second visit to the point of departure as originally the bus was set to leave the night before but plans were changed unbeknown to me and one other.

We left  Arequipa for the race shortly before 6 having stacked about 40 bikes on the top of the bus. We had a small breakfast on board and arrived shortly before 9 to find that the organisers were impatient to begin. I had been signed up for the D category, over 60s but no one had informed me it was a shorter ride, so with much confusion and at the very last minute I changed from D to open D joining the A, B and Cs, some 50 or so competitors.

So we set off and I was quickly swallowed up by the group and equally quickly left behind with some others. I wasn't sure if this was all an adrenalin rush or they were going to sustain the pace. I had thought that my fitness at the lower altitude would be of assistance but I struggled breathlessly in around 30 degrees. I had wanted to keep pace with my new acquaintance Bruce, a wiry Australian of around 50+ who had mentioned his need to retain the ashes, but his lighter frame outpaced me on the hills and I settled into my own rhythm.

The course was roughly circular at first taking in some farm trails before giving way some sandy hills that took us in a wide loop inland and back over the dunes towards the sea. The going was very tough. Even on the flat the sandy surface resisted one's efforts and many times on relatively easy climbs I had to dismount and push. The down hill sections were uncertain as hitting deep sand at speed was a question hope over reason but I managed to stay upright. By the time we got to the marshes and lakes I was accompanied by a small group and we hung together. At times we had to depend on locals to tell us the direction as we only saw one set of marshals the whole race. He final route was straight with a training wind and I was able to make some ground on others. For a while we took to the asphalt and I found a young man with whom to share the work.
Team Inter Group

I fancied I saw Bruce's white shirt off in the distance and felt I was gaining only to fall back again impeded by a trail 20cm deep in warm brackish water. Arriving at he line Bruce told me he only had 30 seconds on me but had been held up somewhat by lack of directions. Anyway I was pleased to have competed and got a small cheer. Bruce and I both gained medal in our class, mine was a first place but since I was the only over 60 in the race it constituted a phyric victory, Nonetheless it was a great ride and was suitable ended by retiring to the beach to share beers and empanadas.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Exploring town and country

Conflating two bike rides over the weekend on Saturday I decided to explore the South of Arquipa and to try to find the velodrome and an old building belonging to the Founder of Arequipa,  variously described as between 7 and 11km South of town. The road out of town is pretty busy as it runs through an industrial park and leads to the main bus station. There is a steel mill churning out much of the bar used for concrete reinforcement. By dint of asking several people I eventually found the Velodrome, a pretty good open air venue in some need of repair but generally usable. There was little evidence of action although people said it was regularly used for competitions but not for training. Pity, I would have liked to have ridden it.
el velodromo de Arequipa

Again, trying to ask my way to my next destination I was mis-directed and ended up at the Palicio of Goyeneche. I gather this is a smaller edition of a colonial palace situated in Central Arequipa and attracting tourists interested in colonial arquitecture. At any rate this one was closed so instead I climbed some steep hills to Sachaca where there is a lovely colonial church and a mirador from where one can see across the surrounding countryside and city. I stopped for cheese ice cream which is an Arequipa speciality. Overall it was a pleasant but somewhat uneventful exploration of this part of the city's edge. 

queso helado

Church at Sachaca, charming village with mirador

view from mirador

The next day 26 cyclists of Team Inter set off for Tres Arbolitos at the foot of the volcano el Misti. Unfortunately the Volcanoe was covered in cloud . Nevertheless the trail up through the ditrict of Selva Alegre offered some good views of the city below and a gorge of about 500feet with the trail at its precipitous edge.  Eventually, after around a 2 hour steep climb we reached the foot of a rocky hill of about 500 feet leading to a plataue where,  surprisingly,  grew some Australian Eucalyptus trees. 

Foto! Foto?

los arbolitos
With the altitude and a chilly wind it was a pretty strenuous ride and climb, and arriving as we did strung out along the trail it was a long and cold wait for the final members of the group to come down the rocky climb.

By the time we left the descending cloud had reduced visibility significantly but notwithstanding we  flew down the trail without mishap except for one of the adrenelin seeking downhillers parting with his bike on the final and steep decent whereby the bike travelled onwards and fell into a 10 foot deep hole and left him parked beyond the mound he had jumped. Luckily he was OK and passed it off as part of the 'downhill' experience.


cautious descending

Back in town we sought out a restaurant serving adobo, a sort of spicy pork dish of stew with a large chunk of fatty meet on the bone eaten with bread dipped in the stew. We drank Kola Esocesa a local brand of Kola supposedly originating from a Scottish family business.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Arequipa 4 (ride to la Joya)

Ride to La Joya

Sunday's ride gathered 14 cyclists ready to ride to La Joya in the province of Arequipa, a rural town of about 25,000 people. Although we would need to climb for around 45 minutes we would then have to lose around 4,000 feet. We stopped by the road at a small but busy open air market and drunk surtidos. Here is a recipe in case you are interested. I enjoyed watching the Jugodora pulling together the ingredients. It was very tasty and refreshing.

El Especial:
100gr. de fresa
100gr. de piña
100gr. de papaya
50gr. de plátano
250ml. de leche helada
1 huevo
1cda. de algarrobina ó miel de abeja
50 gr. de azúcar

Moving on, and as usual, the road part of the ride was somewhat intimidating with occasional long-base petrol lorries passing frighteningly close to our group of orderly cyclists. Further on there was some great road descending until we gathered by the side of the road to leave it via a well made track.
A little uphill before the payoff
There followed one of the most exhilarating rides I have enjoyed. The path was made of sharp and grippy sand and we sped down winding trails with banked sides, almost seeming as if they were made specially for cyclists. Eventually we left the path and actually made progress by riding the tops of mountain ridges, sometimes crossing down a valley to pick up yet another super ridge. The landscape here was lunar with absolutely no evidence of human or animal occupation, the very occasional cactus but otherwise entirely isolated.

great trails
After a while we came to some abandoned mines and shortly after a deep gorge which it emerged that we needed to descend carrying our bikes whilst scrambling down the rocks and up the other side. 
Hard going

Note the colour coordinations

I look steady but fell off 3 times!

This was very arduous and my lungs were bursting at the still relatively high altitude. Later on unfortunately Jaime our organiser suffered a complete break of his rear mech and we had to remove it, shorten the chain and set him up with a single-speed.

Eventually we joined a trail which led to bridge overlooking the first sign of green vegetation we had seen for 4 hours. Down in the gorge a fast running river fed an oasis like plantation where the deep greens contrasted against the predominant browns and greys of the arid landscape. 
No gold here!
Add caption

Quite a new bridge, thankfully replacing the one with holes in it!
From here we had a few more hills to negotiate until plunging by way of a rocky trail, accompanied by a fast running man-made river into the dusty town of la Joya. Here we were met by others who had come by a shorter route and were revived with beers and a lunch of fried chicken, potatoes and corn accompanied by Inca Kola, rehydration fluid as good as any. We played with offering chicken bones to several dogs and we attracted a Peruvian dog that was quite cute.

Peruvian hairless dog

Later we lifted the bikes on top of a bus and headed back to Arequipa where, due to the onset of rain I elected to take a taxi, bike on top, back to my apartment. A fantastic day.