Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bike Rides Near Tarapoto, Peru

My first route from Tarapoto was up to the mountain village of Lamas. The first 22 miles are paved along the river leaving town. Later there is a steep rocky ten mile climb gaining 2,000 feet to the mountain top. From the summit you have a good view overlooking the river valley 20 miles away. Lamas is actually a Spanish settlement that was founded in the year 1610. It is a small town of about 2,000 people. Lamas is a famous location in Peru for ethnic jokes like what American say about Polocks. Similar to “Did you hear what the crazy man from Lamas did...” Everyone from Peru has heard about Lamas even if they don’t know where it is located. It is a clean town and not worthy of being the brunt of bad jokes. The mountain breezes and cooler temperature makes Lamas much more comfortable than the jungle below. Returning to Tarapoto I took a different road. It was a paved, twisting, fast decent that completed a scenic 45 mile loop back to my hotel.

The next day I rode to Sauce (sow-see). It is another mountain village hidden 34 miles from Tarapoto. I had to cross a large river about the size of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. I used a tiny manual cable ferry boat could carry a vehicle and a few passengers. The inconvenience of the ferry boat limited the amount of car traffic on the road to only one or two cars per hour. Although the road was built from melon size rocks it was a nice mountain route with great scenery going up the grade. It took me almost six hours of riding from Tarapoto with many stops to take photos. I was ready to go swimming in the lake by the time I reached my hotel in Sauce.

Sauce is locally famous for being located on the Laguna Azul (Blue Lake). There are grass roof Indian huts around the shore of the five mile lake. The village women are known for making their own paper. The tropical setting is highlighted by the calm water which is a comfortable 85 degrees. My motel room was small and clean with a thatched roof. There were screens on the windows but no glass. It is always a constant 70 degrees at night and 90 degrees during the day here.

At home my favorite kind of fish to eat is Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks. In Peru I learned to try new foods. For dinner I ate fish that were caught from the lake. I think I had Trout or Bass fillets. There are not any notorious man eating Piranhas in this lake. I had tried eating some of them during a previous tour. The palm size ones look and taste similar to American Blue Gills with a lot more bones and not much meat. The largest breed of fish in Peru are called Piraruca. They can be ten feet long and weigh 400 pounds. For comparison that is about twice the size of “Flipper” the TV Dolphin. One fish can feed 100 people a plate size fillet of tender white meat.

Tonight I sat on the deck of the open air restaurant eating my fish and overlooking the lake. The hotel owner said I was the first gringo (American or European person) he has seen in their town for over a year. The village of Sauce is truly a hidden paradise.

I took a new route back to Tarapoto that was a little shorter. I crossed the river on a different one car ferry. When I arrived at the river the empty boat was waiting on the bank. I was the only one around. There was not a ferry boat operator or any other people on my side of the river. All the people waiting for the ferry were on the other shore which was about 250 yards away. They must of thought I was the ferry boat captain because they all started waving and whistling for me come over and pick them up. I wasn’t going to attempt to take the ferry across the the fast current of the river. I just parked my bike and sat down to eat the oranges I bought in Sauce. After I had waited over an hour the shouts of the waiting passengers must have eventually been heard in the next village. The ferry driver came running over and took me across the river to the other side.

The narrow road leaving the ferry was as steep as a goat path and rutted with dry mud. I walked about one mile up the incline gaining 700 feet to the river bluff summit. It was 95-100 degrees and very humid too. Since I had waited so long at the ferry I was now out of water. My route had merged back into the road from yesterday. I remembered there was a crude roadside refreshment stand a few miles ahead. I paced myself while dreaming of a cold Coca-Cola.

When I arrived at the stand there were a half dozen women selling bottled drinks. The bottles were floating in five gallon pails of water. When I asked a women for a Coca Cola she pulled out a plastic Coke bottle filled with yellow liquid. She said “no Coca-Cola...it is pina” (pineapple juice). They had been refilling old coke bottles with their own homemade fruit juice.

Normally I would have declined roadside beverages that were not in commercially sealed containers. Now I was still two hours from my hotel and feeling the effects of the heat and dehydration. I drank one pineapple juice bottle and it tasted so good I had another, then another. After three bottles of roadside juice I felt refreshed. The ride back to town was on a packed sand road that shimmered in the afternoon heat. It had only been a 32 mile ride but it had taken me over six hours including the wait at the ferry. Fortunately the hotel swimming pool was waiting for me.

To contact Lon by e-mail use: haldeman@pactour.com


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