Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Still Fighting It
The hills have begun to make a reappearance on the Peruvian coast. What before was a flat desert has led to...well, it's still desert, but with a landscape. The wind has not changed its pattern at all: light in the morning, devastating in the afternoon, and always against me.
The road here isn't terribly busy yet, at least not as much as I've seen elsewhere. I thought it was going to be much worse after Trujillo, but not really. Sometimes the road is closed to one lane in each direction and a flagger stops the traffic, allowing only one direction at a time. Not a problem really, the traffic is light enough that it's never more than 5-10 minutes.
But inevitably, 3-4 people have to leave their cars and walk to the flagger, insisting that they be let through. Do they hink they are going to change their mind? Like it was dangerous before, but now that someone complained, it's not? Or the flagger had no idea that people wanted to go, but now they understand and allow it? This makes as much sense as honking at a red light (which I've seen). Those who don't get out of their cars? You guessed it, they honk.
One day in particular, I was stopped by a construction worker. I hadn't realized it, but the traffic was completely gone. Apparently the road was closed completely, and somehow I snuck through without notice. I didn't understand every word the guy said, but I managed to get the picture; a machine was working in the middle of the road for the next 20 minutes. Naturally, the wait lasted twice as long. Normally I wouldn't mind, but it was noon and the wind was still light.
45 minutes later, the wind was almost knocking me down. "OK, now you can go!"
I finally had Peruvian ceviche. Not bad! I decided to get the mixed one so I could try a bit of three fish at a time.
If you don't know what is ceviche, it's raw fish, cut into pieces and doused in juice, usually citrus, or maybe a chili or aji thing. Lime juice is the most common. A few vegetables are usually served on the side, like onion or corn, cut into small pieces so you can mix it with the fish if you want. In short, it's like sushi, only it tastes like something.
Half an hour after ceviche, my nose was unexpectedly clogged. That's weird. I don't feel sick, and in the desert, what would cause an allergy? And why did this happen so suddenly? Then my eyes turned red and itchy. Then my throat felt tight. Then the area around my eyes was swollen and I couldn't open them all the way. I kinda looked like I was Asian, only with a long, pointed nose, which was a strange look.
Never in my life have I had a food allergy, and they usually go away as you grow older. Adult onset is rare. I checked the menu later to see what I ate, and not one of the ingredients was something I had not eaten before. What the hell happened?
In any case, I think that's the last ceviche I'll have in South America.
One night after a long day, I wound up in a somewhat major city that had an unusually large number of cheap hotels. Now I could be picky.
Six in a row didn't take credit cards. To their credit, half of them had WiFi, but still didn't accept credit cards! One said I had to lock Valeria out front, which is an automatic no.
I ended up paying twice as much somewhere else, just for the ability to use a credit card. I'm aware that it was monumentally stupid, but I guess that's the mood I was in that day. And if even one of those places thought, "We just lost a customer, maybe we should get on this," then I think it was worth it.
I do not care how big the bed is. I do not care about cable television. I do not care about air conditioning (OK, so I do, but less). I do not care if I get a private bathroom. I do not even care if the room is clean. I only want WiFi and credit cards. That's it. And since those are rare in Latin America, put that information on your sign and I guarantee you will attract more customers. Who cares if you have a pool.
Political elections are coming up, and there are campaign posters everywhere. One of the strange things about them is the X found on every one. Most candidates use some sort of symbol for themselves, so they are easier to remember, whether a shovel, a cartoon image of a family, or simply the first letter of their name. And almost always, the symbol is displayed in a box with an X over it. I was confused until a local explained that on the ballots, you vote for someone by writing an X in their box. So when you see a billboard that has a tree with an X over it, it means "Vote for the environment," not "Screw the trees!"
Besides the billboards, you see a lot of political graffiti. Trash cans, rocks, park benches, overpasses, sides of buildings where they probably did not get permission. It's not isolated to one candidate; this is par for the course here. Would never fly in Texas. I can't imagine anyone thinking, "Hey, that candidate, or at least their followers, broke the law and publicly defaced something! I think I'll vote for them!"
I was excited to go to Lima because there was another Casa de Ciclistas there. I like those places, more than hotels, more than hostels, as much as WarmShowers hosts! It's not fancy, but it feels more at home than any other arrangement, and you even get to meet other globetrotting cyclists. And unlike some WarmShowers hosts, at least in Latin America, they're reliable and easy to find.
My rear brake, which I managed to "fix" in Ecuador by scuffing the pads, hasn't been working for about a week. The braking power mostly comes from the front brake anyway, so I'd been getting by with just that. Before the mountains, I thought I'd go ahead and scrape the pads again, because I would need both brakes there.
I started noticing that my front brake was weaker than normal. It was drizzling during the day, and the brake became even weaker. After a long climb, I finally began to descend, going around a curve immediately. I lightly put on the brakes, just to slow down a touch for safety (I'm gun-shy on downhill curves).
Nothing. I pulled harder. Barely anything. The road straightened, yielding a slight decline. This wasn't even the steep part yet. I squeezed both brakes as hard as I could, and finally got to the point that I was merely maintaining speed, rather than accelerating. But I couldn't stop. 100 m ahead the hill plunged down, and seemed to have a lot of curves.
Luckily, I was in the desert. I steered to the right and onto the sand and let that stop me. Time to see if we can fix these things...
I would've replaced my brake pads with my spares, but as I've previously mentioned, I was sold replacement brake pads that don't fit my brakes. The best option I could think of was to remove all of them, scrape them up, and put them back. I went ahead and wiped the discs with my shirt, hoping to remove some oil from the braking surface, if possible.
With everything in place, I tested the brakes. Nothing. Nothing at all. I was able to walk Valeria down the road just as easily with the brakes applied or without. There was no way I was going downhill like this, or anywhere, really. I stuck out my thumb. Good thing I'm going to Lima today! I might be able to find replacement brake pads there. And if I couldn't, the truth is that it could be the end of the ride. Having something shipped to South America takes months (largely due to customs), and you have to pay hundreds in import tax to receive anything, even if it's worth $20.
It took a while, but a truck stopped and picked me up. Instead of taking me to Lima, they took me to the town at the bottom of the hill, where they had a friend who owns a bicycle shop. I had my doubts that he would be able to help, but I was willing to try.
The guy looked at my brake pads and told me that they are very unusual in South America (after I specifically asked for the most common type, and ones can be repaired easily, my bike shop sold me something rare). According to him, I wouldn't find them anywhere. However, he thought that there was something he could do.
He took a brake off another bike, something like a cross between a BMX bike and a Harley (I could see a kid loving it). What do you know, it fit on the mount! So since I couldn't change the pads, we replaced the entire brake. The "new" (used) brake now uses more common pads, the same type that I have as my spares.
The BMX’s rear brake unfortunately didn't fit on Valeria, so we stuck with what I had. Somehow, however, the guy messed with the position in which it was mounted, and that seemed to do something!
"The brake brand is not good," he said. "The brake is not strong. It does not stop you, it is for emergencies."
No matter how cheaply made the brake is, if I can fix it when it breaks or replace the pads when they stop working, it's better than the one I was sold.
The price for the new brake and the labor? Free. The guy thought what I'm doing is cool and wanted to help out. He only asked that I take a picture with him and his kids. People here can be overwhelmingly generous.
So at this point, my previous front brake pads are shot. I have a new poor quality front brake with new pads, and the pads can be replaced. My rear brake pads are worn, but still functional. Nobody knows how long they will hold, and when they're gone, there is no replacement. Meanwhile, I still don't know how to replace my shifter cable, and even if I did, I would need an incredibly rare tool to do it.
Only about 8,000 km to Ushuaia. Hopefully everything holds out! If something goes wrong with my brakes or shifting, I won't be able to fix it, and there is no shop that could.
The brake-related delay ate into my time in a big way, trying to fix it both on the hill and in the store. I was still two hours away from Lima, and it was 5:00 PM. If I wanted to get to the Casa de Ciclistas, I'd have to spend at least some time riding in the dark.
As expected, Lima had a lot of traffic and a lot of honking. But what was not expected was that once I got off the main road, there would be bike lanes on most larger roads! In addition, the bike paths are separated with a curb between them and the street! I felt overwhelmingly safe there; it was nice to ride without having to worry about dodging buses or cars pulling over in front of me. Of course, people treated the bike lane as a sidewalk, even though the actual sidewalk was right beside it. Probably 75% of pedestrians were on the bike path, not the sidewalk. But at least they moved when I said "Excuse me."
On my way to the Casa de Ciclistas, I must have seen more than 100 budget hotels, many with their prices listed. A pretty normal thing would be about $4 for a room, $6 for a private bathroom with TV, and $10 for a double bed. One had another: $8 for “TV XXX”. I had a chuckle at that.
It was a long day and I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. Now, in a large and crowded city, there were plenty of restaurants, less street food and small cafes. Fast food is popular here, and essentially treated as a restaurant. KFC is the most popular, and there are plenty of local places with a similar format. Latin Americans seem to like fried or rotisserie chicken, usually with fries. At one point, I spied a Popeye's next to a Dunkin' Donuts. My mouth watered. I was hungry, it was a long day, it was late, and after the debacle of the brakes, I was in want of comfort food. Greasy fried chicken and warm, soft donuts sounded like a dream. I decided to go get some junk food after arriving at the Casa de Ciclistas.
When I approached the center of the city, Lima was increasingly silent! I didn't understand what was going on, until I got to the smaller roads and started to see the signs:
"Honking the horn not allowed"
"No noise in our neighborhood"
"Do not stop in the lane"
A continent and a half would benefit from these. They need to be erected on every block in Latin America.
I found the road for the Casa de Ciclistas, but not the address. The number was 3509, and the highest figure in the entire length of the street was in the 1300s. The posted address must have been a mistake. There was no way I was going to find the place. It was well past dark. If I had known that I wouldn't find the Casa de Ciclistas, I could have been at one of the dozens of WarmShowers hosts, or could have found one of the two - TWO! - Hostelling International locations in Lima. But now, I was forced to get a hotel room.
I decided not to backtrack and instead go ahead and stay at the next place I found. The problem was I was heading into the financial district. Not many hotels there, and the few that were there cost at least four times what I'd seen earlier in the day. One was charging about eight times more! I might've just accepted it, but none of them had WiFi, nor accepted credit cards. No, I'm not paying eight times over for the luxury of sleeping, simply because it's here instead of there, especially if you won't even take credit cards. It was dark. I was still tired. I was even more hungry. But I kept going.
I finally found a cheap piece of crap place and took the only room they had, small enough that Valeria was tightly wedged between the bed and the wall. They didn't accept credit cards or have WiFi, but at least it was only three times more expensive than what I had seen an hour ago. And it had a small private bathroom.
To my surprise, the shower had hot water! That's a rarity here. It's not common anywhere in Latin America, but it's only recently become a problem. In Central America, after a long, hot, humid day, a cold shower felt great, or at least didn't feel bad. It's begun to be cool here, however, and a shower of cold water feels like death. I can't tell you how happy I was standing in the steaming water, enough so that even I had to use a little from the cold tap. Then it got colder, and I closed the cold tap to keep it hot. Then it turned warm. Then it turned lukewarm. Then I hurried and got out of the shower before it got worse. If it had stayed hot, I might still be in there. It felt that good.
I walked down the street to a local KFC copycat, right next to a KFC. I devoured a quarter chicken and a salad. It took me less than five minutes. I stared at my empty plate. Should've gotten a half chicken. As I walked back to my lodging, I strongly considered a second dinner at KFC. Enough that I went inside and read the whole menu and picked something. But before I got in line, I thought better of it and left. I then bought probably 2 kg of fruit, took it to my room, and ate half of it, saving the rest for the morning. Tomorrow would be a short day, and I had a WarmShowers host all lined up. Things should be a little better.