Thursday, 26 November 2015

Climbs and the Sisterhood.

Daily distances are short, elevation gains are large. A day spent climbing is not uncommon. Two consecutive days climbing is perfectly possible. Which means that there are some spectacular descents. Falling down through biospheres of ever changing climatic worlds. A freewheel from yet another of the 'claimed' world's highest cities; Cerro de Pasco starts in sleet and snow and ends with sugar cane. With a decent tailwind you needn't pedal for 110 km. Hell on brake pads, cramps on fingers, and as your not pedalling, not burning any energy, extremities get very cold. The good news is it won't last long; lapse rate says the temperature will rise six degrees for each thousand metres of drop; does. Right down to a hot, unshaded plaza, from which were evicted by a zealous police woman. (she assumes that we're riding motorbikes). The 'bad news' is: that loss will need to be recouped tomorrow.

The up and down distances might be in proportion, it's the time that's out of kilter. Four-fifths of a day are spent muscling an at times uncooperative cycle up a mountain. Where the steepest gradients are always the inside corners of hair-pin bends, whose occurrence inevitability coincides with a long articulated lorry.

Yet it's the climbs that are the more interesting. We're passed by an open-backed truck that's clambering uphill in a reek of fumes. Chickens poke their heads out of a stack of crates, on top of which are boxes of eggs. The Andeñas are reposed in their colourful refinement on trussed sacks of soft traded goods, whilst the men and boys cling to the roof bars. As they pass they indicate that there's plenty of room for our bikes. I might beg to differ but, an Andean driver's ability to add cargo to an already overloaded vehicle is ably demonstrated every day.

We carry on plodding our way uphill. I can hear a pig somewhere up ahead. A distressed pig. An angry pig. We round the corner and find that same overloaded truck at a standstill. First impressions are of a breakdown, probably a puncture. Closer, and it becomes apparent that the angry pig is the cause, not that I can see it. It's inside a polyprop bag and is being energetically added to the cargo. Again we're offered a lift amongst all the hilarity.

We carry on the plod. Tiny villages cling to the verdant valley sides, the morning is moving very slowly forward. Around one corner we come on a chalked-up board offering cooked food. The power of advertising. Of course, we stop. There's never a great choice; on this occasion there was none. The classic: "Just feed me" almuerzo menu. To be honest I can't remember what it was, other than the fact that there would be a soup containing potatoes, pasta and a solitary hen's foot, that and a meat course heavy on rice and light on meat. What does remain from that dark, earth-floored shed was the 'chef' throwing an armful of harvested corn stalks into the kitchen's recesses and the squeaks of cuys erupting from all the corners of the establishment. There must have been upwards of fifty rodents converging on there meal. It's probably best not to be too particular in these situations, either to hygiene or the sensibilities of eating pet guinea pigs.

We plod on up hill. Passing through another village. Two ancient Andeñas in their stove-pipe hats are approaching; one has an unidentifiable bundle, the other a shawl of dry kindling. They greet me and I reciprocate. I carry on the slow grind, when I become aware that the Navigator isn't close behind. Stop and turn to find that she's been apprehended by those two ladies. It's I mime to me; she's doing a lot of gesticulated explaining with her hands. The interrogation completed they give her a hug. It's far from an isolated occurrence. There's a league of sisterhood emerging. I was to meet it further up that hill.

The plod continues. Another village. Almost certainly like all the previous ones. Then towards the end we see a sign that offers a hotel experience. A note to the unwary. There is no discernible differences In the terms hotel, hostel, hospedaje; titles are interchangeable. This one was a prime example.

And a new record that panders to the stereotypical Scot. It even breaks our Bolivian score. A room for S\10; ($3). Now for that l wouldn't expect much more than a lockable door and a clean set of sheets. And that's exactly what is on offer. A window would be a lux, a working plug useful. I didn't expect a shower and I wasn't disappointed. It's just another form of camping. This place turns out to be the local pueblo's, the co-operativo's establishment, and for me that's important. What little we spend stays in the village. It's being used by that great barometer for choice: the road repair squad. Ever need to decide which eatery to frequent, just look to see where the orange boiler-suits are and follow.

I return from my rudimentary cold water bucket wash, to discover that La Dueña has been around to offer the Navigator a shower. A hot water shower. The Sisterhood strikes again.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Land Of Milk and Honey

There's that unproven claim that there's only 'six degrees of separation' between all the peoples of the world. It's a fun exercise, the chance for some big time name dropping, the challenge to connect in the fewest hops to 'the good, the bad and the ugly'.

What can be played out with characters, can be played out with words. A form of lexical travels. Try going from King Henry VIII's codpiece, to the brackets that are holding up your shelves, or 'gonads' to the New Testament. These all have a chain of connection, just as there is for the town that we've just passed through. A London's east-ender, climbing the proverbial greasy-pole, cloud-cuckoo land, the original Peruvian capital and an insight into the psychology of the medieval peasant's mind.

Pizzaro and his conquistadors in their insatiable quest for gold came upon Xauxa, (X being pronounces Sh, even when the spelling changes to using: J) an Incan centre of mineral and agrarian wealth. They name it: 'Pias de Jauja' implying a place of easy plenty, and establish their administrative capital here. The surmised belief makes it's way back to Spain in a Latinised form, from whenst it becomes Anglicised to 'Land of Cockaigne'. A place where "houses are made of barley sugar, street are paved with pastry and shops supplied goods for nothing". It's a short jump in the lexicon chain to take Cockaigne to Cuckoo and then to it's eponymous "Cloud". " A "place where roasted pigs wander with knives in their backs to make carving easy, grilled geese fly directly into your mouth, cooked fish jump out and land at your feet, sex is freely available, it's the land of eternal youth". All flights of fancy, and so Cockaigne becomes synonymous with idleness, gluttony and all the other deadly sins.

Cockaigne also gave its name to a vertical pole upon which was perched a ham joint. A piece of meat, that for the part starved peasant serf lost in the benighted stagnation of the late 1500's, would have been an improbable bonanza. To climb the greased pole, an impossible dream. By the mid 1800's the name has now been corrupted, yet still carrying the 'idlers' association, and is 'jokingly' applied to person born within hearing of Bow's Bells. A Cockney.

Jauja, the real place, has had a roller-coaster ride. First it was always a blessed land: guaranteed irrigation, karst limestone, way-station on the Inca's Royal Road. Then came the curse of the Conquest, and the virtual enslavement of its population, and the dubious status of 'capital'. Later, it hits a new high with its proximity to a wealthy population in the newer capital and a dry climate conducive to 'consumptive recovery'. Wealth again flows in, Capilla Cristo Pobre is built and the sanatorium and the cemetery fill with tuberculosis sufferers. That is until the discovery of the antibiotic: Penicillin. Today it is just another Peruvian pueblo. Not a "Never-Never Land", if ever it was. No free stuck pigs, no ready basted geese nor flying fish land at my feet. I can't comment on the sex.

If you know someone, who knows somebody, who's an acquaintance to another, and their surname is " Cockane", you can now inform them of their derivation, although it might be advisable not to suggest that they are 'idle'. If you choose to do so, pronounce it "Idol"'s how language evolves.

Name dropping time: My first employer's best man was then married to HRH Princess Anne, three hops on the chain. The same number as can connect me to President Putin, only I'm not going to show my 'working' for this one.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A New Start for the Amazon.

Two years ago we cycled over the Andes through the city of Arequipa, traversing dry arroyos that in the wet season would be feeders for what was then considered the official headwaters of an infant River Amazon. The source then believed to be a snow patch high up to on Volcan Misti.

Two years on and the parameters have been rearranged. The Rio Mantero has now been declared to be the new source. It's judged to be 80km longer. Like waterfalls, it must be difficult to decide on a set of conditions upon which to enumerate, be that volume, width, height or lies. Other contenders must exist. If only because there's so much scope for aggrandisement by contending local authorities.

It's all semantics; what's fact is we're cycling up an impressive gully. A canyon that contains an incongruous mix of bananas and sheep, pines and papayas, that steel green river and an exciting road. Ask a child to draw a twisty road and they might well produce what we have been riding for two days. One moment it is a voluptuous two-truck width, the next it's turned anorexic. Of course this is when the taxi car and the quarry lorry meet. At times the never-parallel white lines that the engineers have considerately painted, disappear over the edge, the asphalt undercut and washing away. A soft slump in the tar that makes me grateful that we're travelling supposedly on the landward side. Except we're not. The inside, the cliffside, on this wet morning, is birthing a rubble of small stones that I can hear skittering down and can see peppering across the road; that, and the best way to see around corners is to hug the outside berm. It's true that corner-approaching traffic hoot their horns, only the reverberating echo makes it near impossible to tell if they're in front, they're meeting colleagues or their hooter simply requires exercise.

That wet morning has had a dramatic effect on our crystal green river. It's been transformed into a churned up ruddy morass, carrying a burden of dissolved mountain. We follow this new incarnation, reflecting on how rare it had been to track a pristine running river. When suddenly, it returns. We back track to investigate. There's a confluence. Our newly returned green rio mixes with a raging stream that erupts out of a soft red mountain. I can hear the avalanches of rock and soil constantly gravitating down the steep slopes. It's a salient reminder of how young these mountains are and how erosion re-models a landscape.

We're only a hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean, yet these waters will travel a continent, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. That's fact. It will, however, as we travel further north, be interesting to see if we can find yet another new contender for the title 'Source of the Amazon'


Monday, 16 November 2015

Addendum Canines ~ Ropa por Perro.

I suggested that there were three confirmed classifications of Peruvian dog, but that there might be a fourth, it's existence suggested by the sale of 'pet dog' food. I was wrong. There is a fourth dog classification, and its confirmation has been a most interesting surprise.

In Jauja I spot a small dog wearing a knitted pink jersey. I surmised that a child had taken a pair of scissors and decided to cut up an old dress, by way of some play. We turn another corner and find a black pooch lying in the sun on a doorstep, this time in a blue number with a fetching football motif; three further sightings follow in quick succession. It's probably significant that all the sightings have been for small dogs, those from a gene pool that includes Poodle, Poodle and Poodle. I've seen pure breeds in sun hats, pedigrees in goggles, only these were in Sydney and Florida, but Peruvian pooches decked out in designer couture? This worrying. What is it doing for the canine machismo?

Twenty minutes later the Navigator discovers the answer. We've decided to take a walk out of town to the local lake. We're striding along purposefully, when trouble erupts out of the dark depths. It's more of an Alsatian type and comes raging out from a yard, all bared, snapping teeth. The Navigator manages to grab a stone in time and it grudgingly backs off. The second attack she wasn't quite as quick. Fortunately she was wearing long, tough trousers and that has afforded some protection. She now sports a developing bruise on her ankle. What would be interesting if it weren't so disturbing, is they have a habit of going after her and not I. Even if we swap sides, they still circle around to be able to attack her. It's a fact that we've noted before, some places have more angry dogs than others. There's been several close encounters today. We're in one of those places at the moment.

Back to the lighter side of the local dog population and their affection for dressing up. We've cycled over another pass and descended to Tarma. We're wandering through the tight colonial streets, we've passed the usual clutch of pharmacies, the ever expanding multiplicity of mobile 'phone emporiums, when, we encounter a collection of pet shops. The Navigator suggests that we check one of them out. Sure enough, there on the back wall are hangers of 'ropa por perro'. A selection of apparels suitable for your pet. I wonder if by dressing up your pet you're identifying it, making it obvious that it's not a street dog, even if your pampered pooch's muzzle is buried neck deep in a black plastic bag of rotting offal. Perhaps the dog attacks we've experienced is a reaction to this latest new fashion.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Man's Best Fiend.

"But what dogs are not for is the barbaric, disgusting, cruel, vicious, evil of putting them on somebody's plate in the most horrible way". MP Rob Flello, commenting in a parliamentary debate, requesting that Her Majesty's ambassador to China should convey the UK's abhorrent disgust with reference to a lychee and dog meat festival.
You've got to love our political masters. Every so often they've just got to offer up another serving of cultural imperialism. Maybe the good member from the 'mother of parliaments' would care to cycle the descent into Ayacucho with me.
We've got to lose 1,000 metres of elevation, and if the kilometre posts are the to be believed, there's only 10kms to do it in. The calculation and the conclusion is simple, it's going to be steep. The road clings to a hillside that has a tendency for 'quake slippage. The asphalt is puckered and contorted into waves and cracks. Tramlines of impending doom. It's a surface that requires stealth and respect.
10 kph: taking it carefully, when from out of a ditch surge two barking dogs.
15 kph: try to outrun them; all that achieves is to increase the vexation of the bark.
20 kph: I've shed one attacker, but the terrier type still wishes to nip my ankle.
25 kph: decision time. Do I let the bike have its head and see if the whirling stumpy legs will explode? However, there's a pothole approaching with an interesting possibility of attaining some good air.
30 kph: How can it bark with such venom and run at the same time, all at 14,000 ft? Guess it's better acclimatised than I am.
? kph: darn't check the speed, but would happily consider ordering 'deep fried bitch with a side of lychee'.
Peruvian dogs come in three forms. A fourth possibility exists, but is only a suggestion, evidenced by the sale of "pet dog" food.
First the pack dogs: a mongrelised mix of indiscriminate genes that roam and scavenge, entirely independent of humans. On Challá beach I had watched their behaviour, as if viewing an Attenborough film. The alpha male chastising the the over-exuberant puppy. Pack hunting guinea pigs in the scrub. Their threat to cyclists is low. They seem to treat man as an unnecessary appendage to their world.
Next, there's the 'peaje' dog. Singular, silent and solitary. 'Peajes' are the road-toll stations, places that attract traders and street food sellers. That food generally comes with bones, be they llama, cow or hen. Either way something is going to be jettisoned out of a window. Hence those solitary dogs, who've staked their own linear patch of verge side. On that first encounter with these solitary souls, it was vaguely disquieting, so used had we become by the attack from behind. Sitting on haunches, expectant yet undemanding. It was also interesting to speculate on the ancestral progenitor, for every dog had that most powerful of canine gene - the Border Collie white collar, shield and tipped tail. There's a dignity to these animals, they never beg, unlike the mooching mutts around an Argentine eatery. They will eat any and everything; last night's visitor to our tent even finished off the banana skins, then carefully peeled the chocolate wrapper to clean off the meagre scrapings inside. Their threat level seams minimal to a cyclist, if you ignore their potential inoculation of fleas. Unlike the 'psychotic property protector'.
Be that farm, shack or alpaca herd. They have an fanatical attachment to place, and an all-consuming hatred for the bicycle (or is it the gringo cyclist?). There's a stone corral high up on the hillside and from out of its shadow explodes a raging speck that very quickly grows in anger and recruits further back-up. A berserker high on hysteria, Cerebus and his cousins: The Hounds of Hades converge on us.
Two hours into the first day's cycling out of Lima, a black mutt unleashes from out of a tyre repair yard and manages to remove the bungee cord from the Navigator's pannier. Better that than a calf puncture wound. Yet, it's hard to know just how much of this canine angst is bluster and how much is real threat. The greater danger is losing bike control and crashing.
These are not your pampered pooches, your inbred societal appendages. So I have to apologise to the Honourable Member for Stoke-on-Trent (South), but when one of these feral Furies is a jaw length from my ankle, the wok seems a good solution.
As to whether our Honourable Members voted on castigating the 'heathenish chinks' and their barbaric tastes, I don't know. However I do look forward to a report that the Indian Government have debated and voted to request that the 'imperialist Brits' desist from the barbaric, disgusting, cruel, vicious and evil act of putting cow on somebody's plate.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


It's early January 2002, we're on our first trip to South America, visiting Alison, my sister and her family. We've been to the Sacred Valley and the many Quechua / Inca sights. On the classic historical, cultural Peruvian route. Returned to Lima and headed south to Paracas for a few days on the coast, away from the Lima fog and smog belt. We'd been out to the islands to visit the colony of Inca Terns and the sea lions, sailed past the Candelabra geoglyph, then on the second day, had driven out into the desert and the terra firma element of the national park.

Somewhere on one of those headlands, where the sand desert suddenly collapses into the ocean, we both independently turned to each other and admitted: "I want to be on my bike out here". Forget any elemental romanticism, the northern Atacama is too stark and severe for that. It's an uncomplicated landscape, the bones of it's geography are set naked and uncompromised.

And now we've returned again. Only it's a very different place. Gone is the hotel we stayed in, gone is 'The Cathedral', gone most of the town.

Pisco has the unenviable distinction of being the world's most unstable, 'quake prone city. It can be of no coincidence that it's patron is the 'Señor de la Agonia', for it sits on the edge of a tectonic plate that suddenly moved in 2007, resulting in a major earthquake. The shake not only destroyed the greater part of the city's infrastructure, it also removed one of the national park's iconic structures. "The Cathedral", was a geo-arch that is now rendered to a sea stack. A tooth of sandstone eroding under the relentless battering of the ocean.

Today there is little evidence of the 'quake. The original church, Cathedral de San Clemente in the plaza is now a freshly painted, partial ruin, one of it's spiral turrets swinging by a thread of re-bar, the cupola part-broken like an empty eggshell. You can still look through the broken window panes to the dust encrusted pews, the altar lost in the farthest gloom. The bings of rubble that at one time scarred the coastal road are now all cleared away; gone too are the heaps of builder's sand and cement outside homes that we slalom'd around on our visit last year.

For a denizen of a geologically stable country, it's voyeurism. To watch the human tenacity for revival, to try to imagine the mindset that lets you rebuild, to fight the knowledge and the possibility of another seismic convulsion from nature. The new church has arisen beside the edifice of the old, our old hotel has moved considerably upmarket and shrouded itself behind a high fence. 'The Cathedral' now but a stump, a memory on the storyboard that over looks the event. Only to get to that point you need to cross a giant crack in the earth. It takes little imagination to realise that this piece of desertscape will be the next sacrifice to the ocean.

It's late October 2015, and we've returned again to where it all began. To the start of the wanderlust. Still the place has that same magic that captivated me, despite my many years, my many experiences, my many lives that lie in between.


Sunday, 8 November 2015


A botanical arboretum or an herbaceous border, a Japanese garden or a water park, all have a certain magnetic attraction. I'm ever hopeful we'll discover an interesting example. Knowing that the odds are not always good, which means that we're rarely disappointed. The standards are set high, as Edinburgh's botanics, and especially its rock garden take a bit of matching. Still it's fun to search, for there's that ever present hope that serendipity might appear and an unrelated and totally unexpected story could intervene.

At a few Chilean pesos, it wouldn't be a heavy hit if it disappointed. It did. Suffering from the usual predilection for the monumental, when the ethos for a japanned garden, is supposed to be for peaceful contentment in containment, for the particular in the precise. The antithesis of what we find. Still I'm not disheartened, if only because as we wander around, I think how I would have tackled the vast site with its roaring motorway just the other side of the wall. Not disillusioned, for if we were, we wouldn't search again.

So when the guidebook describes it as 'superbly and imaginatively refurbished', adjectives that don't sit with the nouns, 'water' and 'fountain'. I'm sceptical. For the world has been populated with one too many Victorian era water monuments. Static attractions of Greco-Roman nymphs piddling fountains from Freudian urns that seem positioned way too close to their nether regions, others that are venues for late Friday night, alcoholic infused frolics that keep the local constabulary in a job. Most are deceased, now serving as rain-fed pigeon baths. So we wander along one of Lima's main thoroughfares in the general direction of this glowing recommendation, knowing that should a suitable eatery intervene first, we could be easily diverted. I'm still sceptical about viewing a fountain in the dark. For city parks and nighttimes are bête noires for city guide books and Sensible visitors.

We round the corner of a high fig hedge and meet a queue. A queue of locals, not a gringo visitor in sight, so attach ourselves to the end. If you've ever played 'Spot the Scot' at Edinburgh Castle, or at least a Scot who isn't chaperoning their 'Aussie relative', then you might understand my curiosity. We never seem to visit our own major attractions, yet this attraction is several years old and still it can attract Limeños. It must be worthwhile.

Local queueing is a situation that we know well. Rule #1, don't leave any personal space in front, it only encourages the Q-jumper. Rule #2, the line will get longer, not shorter, as the children return to their parents bearing popcorn, candy floss and an extensive collection of relatives. Rule #3, there will be a story to found concerning queue management, and finally, Rule #4, as one bank advised us, 'enter and smile'

WaterFireWorks~FireWaterWorks~Works of WaterFire. all are descriptively accurate. With choreographic coloured lights and thematically orchestrated music. We're entertained with the pastels of a ballet pink Swan Lake and the blood red cannons of a Tchaikovsky 1812 overture. A cinema screen of misted water forms in the air, onto which a series of images float. Soaring condors to pan pipes segue into bi-planes and chattering gunfire. Abba's Waterloo into Queen's Rhapsody, into ? Fire Dance and Beathoven's 5th.

The evening is cool, but that doesn't stop the children from dancing in the water parks, nor the wedding photographers clogging up the water arch. The bride in a confection of crinoline, he, a golden brocaded officer of the Ruritanian Guard. We too run the gauntlet of water and emerge unscathed, then head off to watch the ascent of South America's tallest geysering waterspout.

All this will be repeated five nights every week, year round, and on the evidence of our repeat visits, will be suitably busy. It's the best $US 0.50 you can spend in Lima, it also ticks the Chronicler's parsimonious and serendipitous boxes.


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Return to Lima Dust.

Clima fact #1: the annual accumulation of Lima dust is comparable to the annual accumulation of Lima rainfall. Only, Lima rainfall is a misnomer. It doesn't rain. Lima dampfall is more accurate. A humid coastal fog that mists a gauge to the tune of 10mm each year. Had we left our cycles in store, I'm certain they would have become ghostly apparitions under their soft focus of camouflage dust.

There is the suggestion that, when the Spanish conquistadors considered establishing a town, the indigenous peoples suggested this piece of coast as suitable, knowing full well that it has a depressing micro clime heavily prone to fog.

Less than half an inch of annual damp, and yet when we cycle out of the city in the quiet of a Sunday morning, we're navigating around puddles that are now churned into a grey glutinous paste. Our polished bikes spattered, the chains crunching with objections.

Clima facts: El Niño is a weather event that returns to the Pacific every five or six years. The temperature of the normally cold coastal waters rise half a degree and precipitates a domino effect of weather events around the globe. (Hurricane Patricia's strength and potential violence is credited to the effect). Locally it increases the dampfall on the north Peruvian coast. Hence our gyrations around city puddles and the lethal surface of the plaza in Chincha Alta that evening.

Lima traffic has a reputation. I still well recall our first encounter thirteen years ago. A mixture of jet lag, dark time and culture shock resulted in what felt like a dodgem alley. It looked manic. With some more visits and further exposure, that initial memory has only been enhanced. Pedestrians still have no rights. We need to get out of the city. There's one golden opportunity. On Sunday mornings, one of the major thoroughfares is closed to motor traffic. Which with the judicious use of a map, side streets and a degree of luck allows us a quiet escape. The same cannot be said for the end of our day.

We're back to jousting with tuktuks and El Niño. The grey light resolves into damp. The collectivos, the lorries and the buses resolved to a period of inactivity. Rush (3) hour. We're the fastest moving transport. We've made it to the plaza, an area of highly polished concrete, that has a film of talc dust and low friction mist and on it. My bike, now being pushed, is disinclined to remain upright.

The bicycle riding aspect of our travel has started. We've escaped yet another South American capital. Lima is behind us, only I suspect El Niño will be in front for some time to come.


Sunday, 1 November 2015

On the Buses...two

Kitchen layout and border posts have much in common. They both suffer from similar design challenges and are generally bereft of any input from those who have to work with them. It's all about the flow. Prep the in the onto the plate...a linear progression. Stamp out of the old country....stamped into the new....clear customs....leave. A simple linear flow. Get it right and the time saved makes life easy.

The crossings at Tambo Quemado and at Pueblo Jama have identical designs, but handle an entirely different type and volume of traveler. The former might process a dozen cars and a bus each day, the latter will do that every couple of hours. The architect's remit would appear to be: cram as many people into an as claustrophobic space as possible, strangle the flow with red tape, (our cycles require five different stamps on one document). Now ask everybody to go outside and collect their hand luggage, only to find on your return that another busload has been disgorged into the arrivals cubicle. To add insult to injury we're sent back out yet again for the hold luggage. Remember, we've got two bicycles as well as all the panniers. Surprisingly, others have even more than us.

Each time we cross into Chile, I'm left with the impression that this is the first time officialdom has encountered these modern new-fangled transports: the charabanc omnibus and the velocipede.

It would have become manic if it weren't for the shepherding instincts of the bus conductor. Issuing and re-issuing the tourist cards that were ripped from the descending passengers' hands by the Andean gale. Now their dictatorial instincts are invaluable as they direct and cajole with near-saintly patience.

We clear the tribulations of officialdom and find our delay to be 21 hours. Like a greyhound out of it's trap, we break free. Through the afternoon and into the night, pulling back lost time. There's no stopping. It's a charge for the next frontier. No stops for refuelling, neither for bus nor passengers. Nobody has any Chilean pesos. The Perueños don't like their prices and the Argentines don't like their exchange rates. Like escaping convicts were racing to cross the line. Before it closes at midnight. Thirty minutes to go, twenty kilometres short, the conductor gets us organised. We're lined up down the aisle, documents open and ready, the tachometer on the bulkhead is stuck on 98kmh. We'll make it. Just. With the passenger manifest successfully presented, we attack. (It's supposed to be one bus : one booth : one queue.) We monopolise all three booths. The Navigator gets to the front and the immigration officer looks at her and, without consulting his computer screen, says "you're the Scottish cyclist". Must be the grey hair.

Now for the Peruvian crossing. We've been here before, we know how it works. So too do our fellow Perueños; they're going home. There's an obvious progression. There's also that sense of community that three days on a bus engenders. There's a flow. The young men grab the women's bags as they clear the X-ray machine, and spirit them into the bus hold. Our bikes are treated for what they are and not as potential narco-donkeys. Simple. Fast. Efficient.

They might be coming home, but there's still 1,293 km to go.

For us, we're in a reprise mode, watching out for remembered experiences. I awake as the sun rises and I know exactly where we are. We should, it's the fourth time that we've navigated the crazy gyrations and confluences that constitute the junction of the Pan-American and the Trans-Andean outside Arequipa. It's also the chance to check on those images that you remember, but now question: was that really an halal fishmeal factory? Was that yard full of Roman amphoras that we passed last time? Yes, and inconclusive; the gate was closed.

With that snow-bound delay, we will now by driving in daylight what would otherwise have been a dark time passage. We'll get to travel that spectacular road that clings to the cliff-face to the south of Chalá. Fortunately we'll be on the landward, cliffside of the carriageway. Or so I had assumed. The drivers are in catch-up mode. A lorry in front is a total affront, which requires the instant remedy of an overtake. Generally around an inside bend, which affords vertigo views over the kerbless edge down the barrierless cliff to the surf of the Pacific Ocean. A potential white knuckle ride; yet I find I have total faith in the skills of the maestros at the wheel.

It's when I eventually lay down on a still bed and close my eyes, I'm back on that bus, back in my high perch, for there's the flow of views, a motion memory of images emerging out of the vanishing point.

The timetabled schedule for this trip is around 72 hours; add on the delay at the pass and the total comes nowhere near our actual time. Somehow, somewhere the drivers have managed to recover seven hours. We've arrived back in Lima, with all our kit and bicycles complete. They've made our life easy. We're ready to pick up where we left off earlier this his year.