THT meets the Pikes on bikes in Huaraz

The Huaraz Telegraph has had the pleasure of meeting a number of cyclists journeying through Peru, among them James Hall and his wife who cycled 12,000km and were running out of brake pads until James´ sister sent them some from home. Also on the road were Harriet and Neill from the UK. These die-hard adventurers spent 19 months of cycling and hiking in South America from 2009 to 2011, and last year the couple was in Huaraz during the dry season from May to October, and were not only cycling in the area they were also writing a guide to the Cordillera Blanca. They are back this year to do some cycling and complete their unique guidebook that will be designed for trekkers and cyclists. We met with the lovely British couple and asked them about cycling in the Andes and writing a book about it.

This is what they wanted to share among the readers:

People back home are always worried that we will get mugged or robbed when we´re away, but by far the most dangerous thing on South American soil is the traffic. Not only are the roads in really bad condition the drivers aren’t terribly safe. It didn’t take long for us to use the smaller roads, after spending time cycling on the larger main roads, simply for safety reasons. Unfortunately there isn’t much information available on the smaller, dirt roads, unlike Argentina that has good maps, Peru has so many roads, finding an accurate map is almost impossible. There is also a distinct lack of practical information about specific unpaved routes. So we started taking notes of all the routes and roads we had taken, and launched a website – pikesonbikes.com and andesbybike.com – featuring valuable information on passes, unmapped routes and stats.

We are doing all our writing for Trailblazer Guide Books, which publishes a select list of practical guidebooks written by travellers for travellers. There are many guidebooks available that cover the Cordilleras but this one is focuses specifically on this region. Over the past few years we have made various attempts to reach the Cordillera Blanca but have always run out of time, on this occasion, however, we had plenty of time so we also did a lot of trekking. I would like to stress though that although it´s nice to travel you do need something to occupying yourself with while on your journey; writing the guidebook keeps our minds fresh.

In Britain very little is known about this area (Cordillera Negra and Blanca), which is surprising because the scenery is fantastic and just as good as in other places we have visited, and we have been all over the world. If you go to Stanfords in Covent Garden, London, which is probably the biggest travel shop in the world, you´ll find loads of maps, guides and books covering a multitude of countries, but publications on South America are limited especially on the Huaraz area. So it´s up to us to determine what treks and routes are included in the book because the editors back home have never been here and don’t know what´s really important.

When asked about the tourist industry in Huaraz they said: “Like in most countries there are good and bad aspects of tourism. We have seen guides asking local communities to burn the rubbish otherwise they would throw it in the rivers, especially in the Cordillera Huayhuash. The toilets on the Santa Cruz trek are just useless. There are toilets in the whole of Peru which work fine, even in the smaller villages where there is trekking, but the ones on the Santa Cruz trek just don’t do their job… But the most striking thing we have seen is the vast amount of toilet paper. It´s everywhere!

If you were trekking in in Europe and you see a group trekking with their guide, you expect the guides to follow the national park rules, right? If they didn’t, you´d expect them to get into trouble, or lose their accreditation or something like that. Here though you see agencies and guides doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t be doing, but no one seems to hold them accountable. We have seen things on the Huayhuash circuit and our question was where do we go? What can we do? We know who they are but we don’t know who to complain to or report them to. Also villagers should care more about their living environment and try to keep it clean. The Huashuash is stunning but there is so much human waste and toilet paper – we have seen people defecating by their tents even though there were toilet facilities available nearby. And this is not the fault of the agencies; it´s definitely the responsibility (or lack thereof) of trekkers because most of the day you come across clean functioning toilets in good condition.

As is evident from their website – pikesonbikes.com – this UK couple is not only adventurous, they are also very organized, and keep stats and accomplishments up-to-date. On their website you will find information on the furthest distance travelled, (152km – Near Porvenir to Argentinian San Sebastian, Tierra del Fuego), their lowest speed (1.9kph – pushing over Shingo La, Zanskar, India), and some fun facts including the longest distance they were followed by a dog (30km – Near Puyuhuapi, Carretera Austral, Chile). On the subject of dogs Neill informed us during the interview that traffic is far more dangerous than all the loose dogs that run around, even though he became bitten by a dog two days later while cycling in the Cordillera Negra and, after many hours of filling forms in and a 48 hour delay, was given a course of rabies injections at the public hospital.

Neill and Harriet are also accomplished photographers and have taken some amazing pictures of landscapes, portraits and street art. For the keen cyclists among you, their website is a must for all things bike related. We´ll keep the reader informed as soon as the guidebook comes out.

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