La Paz – Achacachi – Moho – Juliaca – Nicaso – Pupuja – Ayaviri – Sicuani – Checacupe – Pitamarca. 230km of railway link Juliaca to Checacupe (at which point we veered north to bikepack across the Ausungate range), before wending onwards to Cusco.
The train line runs roughly parallel to the main road, avoiding pavement and associated traffic for 80% of the way.
Sometimes this means riding railside singletrack, connecting dirt roads, or even across the actual railway sleepers. Disclaimer: not recommended for bikes without fat tyres!
I have Kurt to thank for this one. And the venerable Pugsley too. Without either of them, it’s unlikely I’d have considered riding over 200kms along/on top/beside an Andean railway line.
As it is, tackling the Cusqueñan railtrail proved to be one of the more unusual highlights of this Americas ride, and a memorable way to reaching the old Incan capital of Cusco, especially when coupled with the Ausungate traverse (more on that little gem later).
Certainly, it helped lift my spirits after a sorrowful Bolivian farewell – a country that lived up to my every expectation – and provided a fitting finale to the end of this journey.
After the striking scenery of the high Altiplano, the paved ride around the quiet, eastern shores of Lago Titicaca seemed relatively uneventful.
Segmented by a flurry of quality dirt across the actual border, the fun didn’t really begin until after the sprawling settlement Juliaca – a noisy, rambunctious city, even by Peruvian standards, home to the gracious Giovanni and his newfound Casa de Ciclistas.
In fact, given the relative peace and serenity of Bolivia (drunken fiestas notwithstanding), Juliaca’s gridlocked traffic and swarms of tuk-tuks came as something of a jarring surprise.
Visa stamps procured in nearby Puna, it wasn’t long before Miguel and I were escaping the city on a scrap of dirt, squeezed between the main highway and the rail line, preferring to bounce along rough tracks and dodge trash than have trucks and buses buzz by.
The plan was to make maximum use of our fat tyres, following the historic railway line that runs to Cusco – as Kurt had done the year before – before peeling off towards 6384m Ausungate, reported to be amongst the most beautiful mountain folds in the country.
And, bar the odd push and grunt, it all pieced together spectacularly well. At times a decent dirt road even ran alongside the rail lines, completely bereft of traffic, except for kids pedalling to school.
But generally, we picked our way along a footpath, beside the actual rails, or we dipped onto singletrack worn smooth by motorbikes that shortcut across the pampa.
We passed little more than old railway villages and llamas, surprising children and elderly folk alike.
Before the advent of the highway, this was the main mode of transport for locals; now it’s just a couple of tourist trains that trundle past by each day.
Gringos who stop in such settlements are thus a rare commodity – cue a barrage of enquiries at every stop. ‘No te cansa?’ Don’t you get tired?
The lady at the store seems particularly preocuppied with the state of my riñones – kidneys. Clearly, she didn’t grasp the plush comfort afforded by fat tyres.
In another railroad village, an old man in a smart trilbe rolled over for a chat, leaning on his Indian singlespeed with a solemn air. Once we’d fielded his tirade of questions, he commented:
‘How sad. It must be so cold at night. And what do you do when it rains?’ It was true, the first of the storms had arrived, signalling a shift in the seasons.
By afternoon, sunny skies were laden with clouds. They circled us conspiratorially and lent further drama to the landscape.
But we pedalled on, scything across the valley on our fat tyres, following a trail of endless rails…
A note on fatbikes:
The more I tour, the more I’m smitten by these remarkable bikes, and the unparalleled scope they offer in terms of exploration – ample reward in my mind for their inevitable compromises on pavement and their extra heft.
Beach, ripio, snow, singletrack, rock… and now railways. Truly, these machines have inherited the All Terrain Bike crown. More thoughts on travelling on my Surly Pugsley coming soon…
If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings.
You can find it here. Occasionally, I pop some pictures up on my Instagram feed. And if you haven’t overdosed by then, I’ve also started a While Out Riding Tumblr edition, focusing on photography.
From here, we turn away from the railway line and head up, up, up… to hike ‘n bike across mighty Ausungate. More soon!