One thousand, nine hundred and eighty-six kilometres later, and we've completed our Lima bypass.
We're back down on the Pacific coast again, and the last 'km' post that we noted suggested that the capital was exactly 500km behind us. Oddly, as we don't seem to have shaken off the Lima fog. This despite the fact that those murky clima-conditions are supposed to be particular to a mere 80km stretch of coastline around the capital. In fact we're back in desert and it's been raining for the last two days.
A meagre deviation of nearly 1500km, all to avoid the capital's notorious manic traffic. It also scores for us what I think of as our eleventh Andean traverse. Each has been unique, each has had a different feel to it. This one has been no different.
Mapped, the route has a sense of indecision. Focus in and set it into the third dimension and it takes on the plot of a wanderer. As we waver around bends, clamber up and over passes, then wend along meandering rivers. It's as if there was a plague in Lima, such has been our effort to avoid it.
Moving south to north has certain peculiar aspects to it. For one we have the prevailing winds at our backs, which allows for lazy starts to the day. No need to rush, in the hope to beat the afternoon gales. It also allows us to faux-sympathise, secretly gloat, with those other cyclists who all seem to be heading for Cape Horn. All heading south, ergo we get to meet them, they all comment that we're the first bike travellers they've encountered since somewhere in Central America.
Is it our euro-centric concept of Mercator's globe and an unbound belief in gravity that all the 'Enders' start in that most inspiring of place names: Dead Horse, Alaska, from where, presumably it's downhill all the way. (The accepted advice is to follow the southerly prevailing winds on the US coast, having achieved that relatively short, easy distance, they are now well placed to face the headwinds on the infinitely longer SA coast). We know, we were taught that lesson two trips past.
Then there's the fact that our track has been so obviously 'off-gringo', such that we've taken note of it, more so than on previous occasions. Between Ayacucho and Huaraz, seventeen days travel, the only non-Peruvians that we've met, let alone seen have been three meetings with four cyclists. In part because not one town between these two points warrants a mention in the guidebooks. And yet we've never had that: "two headed town" moment. The silent stare as we wander by, the spooky, silent store assistant who follows you round the near empty shelves. If anything it's been the opposite. Walking up the single, meagrely lit street, avoiding the slumbering dogs and the pueblo's rooting swine, the locals passing like dark wraiths in the night, without exception offer us "good evening" greetings. The school children newly sprung from their desks who want to practice their "hallo mister" English and then remember their good Latin manners and wish us a "Buenas tardes". The Navigator, whilst queueing for bread, watches the gent in front purchase a piece of cake, then turn and present it to her.
There is no plan, there is no timetable, there is no race. That's why 'by-passes' are so invaluable. They offer the chance to break up the trail, to vary the pace, to stop us from becoming enthralled to the linear 'Ender' route.
We're not yet finished with by-passes. Having climbed back down to sea level, we have the intention to bounce back up to height again. The town of Paiján has a strange reputation, one that I find difficult to equate with all the many Peruvian towns that we've safely slept in and safely passed through. The advice from online forums, law enforcement and other travellers, is to avoid it. Banditry is rife. And long-distance cyclists are a particular speciality. Your initial reaction is to question the relevance and the veracity of these tales. Are they the fertile imaginings, the oft repeated, inflated fifth-hand tellings of 'newbie' travellers? Only the town isn't a second day stop away from an European entry point, an international airport, but stuck in the middle of the Pan-Americana. Many of the reports are all too real, from cyclists, some into their fourth or fifth year of world travel, from people who must have acquired a well developed sense of 'street safety'. Paiján is like a black plug on our route, sending us inland. Only I suspect, even expect, serendipity to intervene; we're bound to find at least one unscripted good-feeling story along the way.