19th Oct.1991

Maldonado is where the river system (which connects with the Amazon) meets the road which links up with the rest of the country. Trucks do use it every day, but I still can't believe it. The previous road from Brazil was nothing! I won't bother with all the details, but I'm back on tarmac with a very second-hand looking bike, a broken pannier and a couple of broken ribs, there was so much rock, and sections with big shiny round stones, with running water that went on for miles rather than yards. Very steep as well.

The trucks have high sides and a ridgepole with tarpaulin for carrying passengers on top of the load. I followed one with 3,300 gallons of petrol, a load of timber on top, and 15 people on top of that. I saw it's rear wheels leave the ground on one side as it lurched over rocks and ruts at walking speed, with a couple of hundred feet drop to the river on the side it was leaning towards, and nobody seemed bothered. To cap it all, everybody I met told me about the village at the top of the pass which had been taken over by terrorists who were shooting people, especially gringos, as they passed through, to stop trade. Advice ranged from going through fast and alone, to going through with trucks, to going back to Brazil. As it happens, I got some duff information about distances and was planning to go through early in the morning, but went through the previous afternoon in cloud, snowing and didn't even know I'd passed it.

I couldn't ride too far each day for the pain - sometimes only 40 miles, so it took me from Tuesday when I hurt myself (had a puncture on Monday) to Friday to reach Cuzco. I managed to get some painkillers Friday morning, which helped. I've forgotten how many rivers I've gone through where the bridges had collapsed. Some I walked through with all the luggage (4 trips) and then took the bike through, others I chanced. The muddy ones were the worst (silty water) because you had no idea what you were riding into. Also there were a couple of "walking the bike across one log while I shuffle across another log with nothing between the two."

The people in the mountains are incredibly poor - mostly barefoot even in these temperatures, and some of the living conditions are very Middle Ages. I stayed in one town, which was better than some, but had troughs down the centre of the streets for rubbish, and people just pissed off balconies into the street or their own back-yard. The kitchen of this hotel was a black hole with a kerosene lamp after dark, everything done on the floor and half a dead pig hanging from the ceiling. The stairs to the bedrooms went up from the kitchen, past the pig and I saw the owner sloshing down in the morning with a plastic chamber pot from the night before. I was quite glad to leave that one. It was also the first hotel where I didn't feel safe.

To round off a good week, last night I had some local anaesthetic with some friends who were on the same boat in Brazil (but flew here) and on the way back to the hotel got robbed. I keep everything in different places for this reason, so they only got about £35 worth and one credit card - no documents- but they took my glasses and shoes - bastards! I've got a spare pair of specs but had to spend most of today trying to phone England to cancel the card. Apparently that happens hundreds of times every day in all the cities in Peru.

Anyway I've sussed out a route for the next bit. The roads from Cuzco in all directions are only surfaced for 30-50 miles then back to normal, although I'm assured much better than the one I came on. A number of bus companies use all of them, so they should be passable. I’m going south over another 4,300m pass to Lake Titicaca, 260km is un-surfaced but the rest is OK. There is also a railway, one of those switchback things that zigzags up the steep bits. Somewhere near the top there's some hot springs and possible accommodation, so I may stop there for a night. Then it's across the lake by ferry into Bolivia and La Paz. Then I think I'll try to get down to the coast in Chile and follow the Pan-American road for one or two thousand miles, as that part of Chile is supposed to be really nice, got to head south soon as 1 want to be in Tierra del Fuego for midsummer-ish and maybe Christmas. The Swiss couple and some other friends of theirs are all meeting up there for a party. That's the best part of 5000 miles away yet so anything can happen in the meantime. The bike has 65,000 miles on now, 30,000 in America, and something has got to die sooner or later, only thing so far is a few more loose spokes, and the grinding paste I've been riding through has eaten all my stock of brake pads. I'll buy some car ones and cut them down if I can't find any soon.

Don't let them close too many small breweries while I'm away.

All the best Steve