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Cusco to Quillabamba: Our Mini Peruvian Jungle Adventure

When we arrived in Cusco, we realised we had made it waaaaay ahead of time. The original plan was to arrive nearer to Christmas, around the same time that Katie’s brother was set to arrive for his wedding, but we surprised ourselves when we reached the Altiplano in Bolivia and covered much more ground than we were expecting.

We felt stuck, we needed to plan a mini round trip and we didn’t want to go south of Cusco as that’s where we had planned on biking after Christmas. We came from the east, so we had no other choice but to venture north west and into the Peruvian “higher jungle”. We didn’t know what to expect, other than knowing that the entire region lies at ~1,000m altitude, about 2,500m lower than we were in Cusco.

The rainy season had also begun a short while ago, with regular storms and rainshowers making their appearance in Cusco. We had no real idea that the storms and rains would be even heavier as we ventured into the tropical climate of Peru’s higher jungle. Despite cycling through the jungle for over a week without dry clothes, it was an experience we now treasure and will never forget. It has even inspired us to consider making our way back up through South America via the Amazon jungle.

Day #1: The Ascent Begins

We’re quite used to climbing by now. This was a pretty uneventful day.

Day #2: Weather Beating Us Down

Rainy season in the mountains seems a little more severe than in the valleys. I wasn’t feeling great, so we took it easy and made camp early. The weather seemed worse higher up, so we figured to tackle it early in the morning.

Day #3: Cleared the Top but Starting to Question Our Journey

This was a tough morning. As we climbed higher, to an altitude of over 4,000m, cold hail and sleet came down and soaked us to the skin. We have climbed higher than this before, but always in semi-pleasant weather. As we cleared the top of the mountain and began our descent the other side, the lack of pedalling meant we quickly became cold and blood stopped circulating to our extremities. We had hoped to descend at least 1,000m to enjoy a warmer night in the mountains but, fearing frostbite in our fingers and toes, we quickly decided to stop and made camp at 4,100m in the stormy rain.

As always, once the tent is pitched and the wet clothes have been stripped off, our mood began to improve in tandem with our increasing body temperatures. The night was wet, but not totally unpleasant.

Day #4: Perpetually Wet

Descending the windy roads on the jungle-side of the mountain, we quickly realised our gear was totally inadequate for an adventure of this sort. By now, almost everything we own is completely soaked through and our break pads are taking a hammering. The combination of rain churning up the soft ground has caused our brake pads to wear down to the hard rubber which, although more durable, doesn’t provide adequate braking. We stopped after only a short while at a flash-flooded river we could not cross. Stopping for the night, we hoped the next morning would bring a reduction in the size of the river blanketing the road.

Day #5: Descending a Mountain Without Brake Pads

We were in luck. The river had decreased to about a quarter of the size it had been the previous night, and we crossed the river which had been impassable the night before. Hoping to make most of the descent to the higher jungle this day, we descended a great distance and began to enjoy signs that we were entering a jungle climate. Banana and avocado trees made their appearance, much to our excitement and wonder! Exhausted after more than 1,000 metres of descent on awful roads, we made camp in the garden of a friendly man who helped us hang up our wet clothes, allowed us to cook in his kitchen and offered us motorcycle chain oil to get our dry drivetrains working smoothly again.

Day #6: Deep In The Jungle

It’s getting warmer now and the riding has become a little easier. The roads are improving and we are slowly feeling like we will make it out of this adventure in one piece. Exhausted, we made this one a short day after finding WiFi in an improbably location. My parents are sending us bits for Christmas and Katie’s parents are getting ready to fly out to Cusco to meet us and be around for Katie’s brother’s wedding. My Blackburn Lowrider rack had snapped a few days ago, so one of the things we urgently needed sourcing was a new rack.

Day #7: Jungle Towns and More Hard Riding

Finally leaving the brutal dirt track which had turned our mini adventure into a true test of endurance and resilience, we made it to a paved road and a village we could buy some food at. We took a rest at the village shop, bought ourselves 3L of soft drinks and biked a little further until we made camp on the land of a kindly gentleman. Fearing mosquitos and other jungle creatures, we got the tent up quickly, but the night was surprisingly cool (considering we were at 1,000m) and we weren’t even troubled by critters we had expected to be tormenting us.

Day #8: to Quillabamba in the back of a truck

The day began with a whole lot of rolling hills, which by now we were completely sick of. After an hour of riding, we came across a house we thought was a shop; it turned out to just be a house, but the lady who lived there offered us some mangos from her garden. 10 minutes later, we were holding 4kg of mangos as a gift for the road. We ate a few, packed the rest away and continued biking.

An hour later, we came to a small town and asked directions to Quillabamba. An off-duty policeman assisted us with directions just before a truck being driven by friends of his showed up. The truck was heading to Quillabamba and we paid our way with 2kg of the mangos we picked up earlier. Bartering at its best! We made camp that evening under a well-frequented bus shelter which insured us an awful night’s sleep.

Day #9: Back to Cusco By Bus

An hour and a half’s biking from just outside Quillabamba to Santa Maria and we stopped for a bite to eat. Seeing all the minibuses and coaches heading to Cusco, we simply enquired to the price of transport to Cusco. Finding out they were incredibly cheap, 20S/ per person including transport for our bikes, we sat and mulled over the decision. The alternative was at least 5 days of hard biking, first conquering the Abra Malaga (4,500m) followed by a hard climb into Cinchero before descending into Cusco. Given our exhausted state and the prospect of settling down for Christmas only 40 Soles away, we agreed to hop on a bus and ride the 4-hour journey to Cusco in relative comfort.

When we arrived, we moved into a room at our Airbnb’s accommodation, much earlier than expected but still welcomed by the owner. Thus began our Christmas rest, although we have spent hours each day improving the website, launching more social media channels and getting posts like this out to you!