10 Tips for Biking in Peru
You're super stoked right now. You're on a plane flying over the Andes, your bike is packed up nice and snug in its pretty bikebox and you're sipping coca tea about to land at 11,000 ft in Cuzco. What could possibly go wrong?
1. Precious Cargo
Although lost luggage can happen to anyone, it will definitely happen to you if you don't re-check your bags at some of the international hubs you pass though. Whether its Mexico City (you'll need to actually go re-check at the counter) or Lima (you just need to pull the bags off, scan them for dangerous objects, and put them back on the belt) you must re-check the bags. Don't listen to the ladies at the counter in your home country if they tell you differently- I can promise that this is the case. Just ask my good friend Mitch.
ATMS and credit cards are not as easy to find or use as in the USA or Europe. Bring cash or be prepared. The problems that often occur are:
- Fraud alert: make sure to tell you bank and credit card company you will be in Peru. Try not to put in the wrong pin number ever!
- Cloning: This is a scam when your CC information gets put onto a blank credit card and is then sold and used by someone else. Check your statements when you can, and only let someone swipe your card while you're watching. (Restaurants will usually bring a small CC machine to you at the table.)
- ATM Cards eaten by the machine: The ATMs in Peru keep your card while you make the transaction. It is very easy to walk away after a withdrawal, leaving your card behind. Your card then gets eaten. This is by far the most common problem. Bring an extra card or two, and only use ATMs at banks where you can return and try to get your card back.
- Out of Order: If you are in a small town you most likely will not find an ATM. If you do find one it most likely will not work or is out of money. Be prepared.
3. Chicha de Jora vs. Chica Morada
Chica de Jora is a homemade corn beer. When you find yourself in the little towns of Peru that boast some of the best single track you have ever ridden, you will most likely find yourself with a glass of chica in front of you at some point. This drink will surely make you sick. Even the toughest of stomaches can't handle this yummy local corn beer. Find a way out or enjoy lots of pit stops on your next ride.
Chicha Morada, on the other hand, is a purple drink made from purple corn. It has lime, sugar and sometimes other fruits in it. Although I don't recommend filling your camel pack with it (like we do with coca tea sometimes), you can drink as much of it as you want. It's boiled before serving and harmless.
4. Pads and Tubes and All The Rest
If you have come to Peru with your bike for a 10 Day Trip or for the International Race like the Inca Avalanche Race and the accompanying Trail Fest. you most likely will need to do maintenance on your bike and replace parts. You're going to ride hard and long and your bike is going to feel it. Bring whatever parts you may need, especially things like: two sets of brake pads, a derailer hanger, maybe a tire (with different tread), any tools necessary for both quick fixes and general maintenance after the rides. If you want to bring another derailer or set of brakes, that's not a bad idea either. I have seen people change out their brakes, fix their shocks, fix stripped pedals and more. Think ahead and don't get stuck on some clapped-out bike because you didn't come prepared.
5. These are the Mountains!
The conditions here in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley can be very very dry or they can be very very wet. If you happen to ride all week on wet terrain you're going to want a second set of knee pads, sneakers, and an extra rain jacket or shell. You might also want a different type of tire. If you go light then you may just have to deal with soggy gear in cold temps. Don't forget your riding clothes will most likely need a few days to get laundered as well so bring three sets of lycra shorts, three over shorts (or skirts) and three jerseys.
6. Know Thyself
This is a trip of a lifetime- you're going to have the best story at the table. However, some of the things that make it so rad, like being in the middle of absolutely nowhere, riding on the gnarliest terrain, starting at 15,000 feet above sea level and dodging alpacas and six-year shepherds in typical dress also means that if you get hurt, you're not getting out any time soon. Ride at about 80% of your level. Take trails cautiously and at your own pace. And by all means don't forget trip insurance. Period.
7. Great Food, Questionable Hygiene
The food in Cusco and the surrounding valleys is definitely something to boast about. The hygiene, not so much. First, be careful where you eat. You can be semi-confident in a restaurant that has simple things like toilet paper and soap- most likely the employees wash their hands before serving your food. Be careful not to eat unpasteurized cheese, lettuce, or raw veggies and fruits that have not be washed properly. (See more here.) On the other hand almost all of the food is, local, freshly picked, often organic and tastes great. It's legitimately farm-to-table dining, which means that the fruits have some spots and the chicken actually has flavor.
8. Just Add an "O"
Totally kidding. Don't be the tourist who asks for "juice-o" thinking that Spanish is just a vowel away from English. Learn a few basic Spanish phrases and some basic cultural norms before you come. A small dictionary is great to help you in a bind or just for picking up more Spanish vocabulary. And be careful not to treat the locals like a Disney attraction. Politely ask with your new Spanish vocab to take pictures. Hand gestures and your newly learned words will go a long way.
9. Roasted Gringo
It's not the alternative to cuy- it's what you'll be without sunscreen. When riding at 15,000 feet you might not think you need protection against the sun, especially surrounded by snowcaps and clouds. But the thinner atmosphere at these altitudes means the sun will catch you quickly, and after a three to five thousand foot descent you will surely find yourself sweating under some rays. Bring sunscreen and use it, even when the sun is not out. Just a single hour in the sun here can burn you to the point of peeling.
(This blog, by the way, is coming from a girl.) Guys: It is a well-known fact that enough women here in the Cuzco/ Sacred Valley area are looking for a gringo man to make some cute gringo babies. Stick to riding trails. It'll keep you out of plenty of trouble.