As we stopped to eat lunch at the top of our third and hardest pass yet we saw a few cows as well as a smiling traditionally dressed lady in her thirties coming up and over the other side. She was obviously surprised to see us “gringos” on this rarely used rocky mountainous road, and animatedly began asking us questions in Qetchwa. Once we explained that we only spoke Spanish, she smiled and then waved us over, motioning for us to bring over one of our plates to where she was opening up the large colorful blanket she carries as a bag on her back. She then scooped three huge scoops of, well, who knows what, from a steaming bucket full of white potato/quinoa/unknown grain/milk mush into our bowl before swinging her blanket back over her back in order to follow her cows back down the mountainside. Welcome to the Great Peruvian Divide; a network of small rocky roads which connect rural villages throughout the Andes where smiling toothless villagers stop to encourage you along your way as you fight for every kilometer as it’s always uphill.
After leaving Cusco, Kevin and I will embark on what is sure to be the most challenging, yet in all likelihood, the most rewarding part of our whole trip; The Great Peruvian Divide. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the beginning of this 35,000m elevation gain route – that’s like climbing Everest four and a half times from sea level to the top – since we first read about it on the Pikes on Bikes site. This route will take us up and over almost thirty high altitude pass (all around 5,000m) along a road which doesn’t appear on a single map (nor Google maps). We will pass through extremely rural villages where Quetcha, not Spanish, is the norm, and we will climb and descend passes which aren’t even possible for most cars.