Chapter 8: Feverish Desert

Over the Andes Into the Desert

By on November 28, 2009 in Feverish Desert // 11 Comments


I´m writing this post after spending 19 hours in bed with a raging fever, maybe too much street meat? I made it over the Andes and have descended down into the Atacama desert, the driest in the world. “It feels good to be out of the rain.”

From the town of Puquio it was just under 100 miles to Nazca, home of the famous Nazca lines dating as far back as 200 BCE carved into the desert floor depicting animals, shapes, and lines. There were some large climbs in between but ultimately I would be losing nearly 13,000ft along the way.


Once I ascended to 4330 meters of the Pampas de Galeras, and the thousands of Vacuñathat reside there, I had a nearly 60 mile downhill ride. The temperature soared as I went down and the scenery changed to pure austere desert. I had great views of the largest sand dune in the world, Cerro Blanco. It sits just outside the city of Nasca and is 3860 ft high and 6791 ft above sea level.

Cerro Blanco can be seen behind me.

Cerro Blanco can be seen behind me.

I spent Thanksgiving eating a pizza and having a beer in a touristy bar in Nasca. However, I have seen turkey´s in Peru on a few farms, they were quite large too, but I have never seen them prepared as food.

Once I am rested and shake this fever I will head out to the desert oasis of Huacachina, then follow the Pacific coast until I reach Lima. I´m looking forward to exploring some of the desert along the way and reaching the ocean, marking a true trans-continental ride. Until then I am fascinated by the severe emptiness of the desert landscape.

No hay nada.

No hay nada.

Fellow Adventurers on the PanAm Sur and 3000 Miles

By on November 30, 2009 in Feverish Desert // 20 Comments


Just when you cross the Andes, almost cross the continent, you start feeling pretty tough. Then you get put in your place… twice in a few hours. I started north out of Nasca into a brutal headwind through the desert and met some fellow adventurers along the way.


The rig on one of the desert lines stretching to the horizon.

About 12 miles out of Nasca I stopped at a lookout to observe some of the famous lines made by the ancient Nasca culture. As a few tourists took my photo I saw a proper fellow cycle tourer approach from the distance. I raced down from the lookout to see what he was up to. His name was Sam:

Me: Hey, where you coming from?
Sam: Oh just Palpa (town a few miles north of our location).
Me: Oh, are you just starting your trip?
Sam: No, no. I am two years in.
Me: Woah! Jesus.

Sam used to be in high finance selling bonds in London. The market started to tank, his girlfriend went to Switzerland for her Phd, so Sam left on a real world tour. He started in Turkey and cycled back through the Mediterreanan to London. He then flew to the US and cycled East to West (the US was his second favorite leg after Sumatra!). I asked how the people were in the US as far as hospitality and he said in the middle around Missouri and Kansas he met some of the most outgoing people in the world.

After a bit through British Colombia and down the West coast all the way to L.A. he flew to New Zealand. Around NZ and about 600 miles through Australia before touring “You know, all of South East Asia and Sumatra.” Then it was a flight to Colombia to start his North to South of South America. No big deal Sam.

The desert drawing board just down the hill.

The desert drawing board just down the hill.

I won´t bore you with next stretch through emptiness with nothing but glass in the road, roaring trucks, and sand blasting headwind that absolutely desiccated my body. I was looking forward to riding in the desert but to sum up the riding of this day… it sucked.


I was a few hours into the desolation when there was a green shack selling warm drinks. I pulled off the road and out of the wind for a few minutes when lo and behold another tourer! I was laughing, two in one day… Jesus. Now Sam has quite a trip behind him but Mark Beaumont shook my hand and gave me his business card, it read: ADVENTURER. It was no joke.

Me: “You going to Nasca today?”
Mark: “Yeah. Wait, what?”
Me: “You headed to Nasca?”
Mark: “Where´s that? I thought you asked if I came from Alaska.”
Me: “You came from Alaska!”
Mark: “Yeah.”
Me: “Jesus Christ!”

He is a documentary film maker for the BBC and he constructs his own adventures that are fully funded by the BBC. He has a production team create TV series out of the footage he shoots and they plan ahead interesting things for him to do along his route. Big deal Mark, my girlfriend does that for me too.

All joking aside this dude is a stud that makes me look like his little brother in the first photo of the post. On his trip, Cycling the Americas, Mark will be mountain climbing the highest peak in North America and then cycling to the highest peak in South America and climbing that in the same season. It´s never been done before, he´s riding alone, and he has already climbed Denali in Alaska and cycled all the way here to southern Peru. He has 2600 more miles to make to reach Mount Aconcagua in Argentina by January 1st.

After hearing this story I felt like I needed a business card: Doug Gunzelmann, AMATEUR.

We chatted for awhile when the little girl, the daughter of the Señora who ran the joint, pointed to a greasy smear of roadkill on the pavement and said it was her dog with a big smile on her face. Wow. They raise them tough around here, maybe the landscape put some gravel in her guts.


Further down the road I was running out of gas again when I pulled over for a rest at a small restaurant. I saw a man in dirty clothes propped up on his bag reading an ancient copy of Reader´s Digest in Spanish. He asked if I spoke English and proceeded to ask me about the birds in the US. “Do you have turkeys, wild turkeys, not domestic ones.” Yep. “And pheasants? How about the woodpecker. Have you eaten a woodpecker.” I told them they were kind of small and I never heard of people eating them. “Oh no, I think I mean woodcock.” Yep Jorge (his name), that makes more sense.

We then switched to Spanish so he could understand my trip, then once he found I spoke some Portuguese he nearly jumped in my lap as he had lived in Brazil for 8 years. He was very curious about my time through the Brazilian Amazon, and whether I spent any time with shaman, or if I had taken Ayahuasca, an Amazonian psychedelic plant that shaman use. He also wanted to know in general what I thought of colors.


Jorge quickly combed his hair for the photo and dropped the comb by his right foot.

Sorry Jorge, my trip was an actual physical journey. I told him about the cougar and puma I saw and he wanted the exact location. Never mind that it was about 2000 miles back in the middle of nowhere over a month ago, he needed to find them! I gave Jorge my website and he gave me his, although I can´t get it to load (www.pasió It took him three times to write the letter W, even though each attempt was correct, and he seemed to reflect on his first name for a few seconds more than anyone would after introducing himself.

That aside he was very nice, spoke nearly 3 languages that I heard, and I´m sure has a lifetime of experiences that are interesting and insightful. He´s taken a different path to say the least and I would have stayed longer to listen to more of his writing that he read to me from a journal but light was fading and I needed to get somewhere (very un-Jorge-ish of me).


I also passed my 3000 mile mark for the trip. This pic shows the digits in front of some spectacular scenery.

So to the desert oasis of Huacachina for a rest. The desert here looks like the movies with giant yellow sand dunes. It is very tough to walk in and some of the dunes are extremely steep. I went for a 3 hour hike to snap some photos and didn´t make it more than a few miles away.


Desert outside Ica. Don´t lose your direction... you´ll die!

Thinking back on the fellow cyclists I met and their achievements I remembered Alexandre. I bet Alexandre and I could give them a run for their money laughing the whole way!


Nasca desert at sunset... feels like a Mars-scape out there.

Arrival at the Pacific Ocean

By on December 07, 2009 in Feverish Desert // 13 Comments


I stood at the edge of the continent and took in my first views of the Pacific Ocean. The desert abuts the sea at Paracas National Reserve with dramatic cliffs, sea life, and powerful winds. I felt a true sense of accomplishment.


There have been a small handful of cycling days on this trip that I would consider easy, or comfortable. I can remember about two off the top of my head. Reaching Paracas was not one of those two days. The prevailing winds are from the north to north west along the coast and as I approached the shoreline the famous Paracas winds were directly onshore and in my face.

It was fitting. I was completely alone, walking the bike, with my head down, and going over a hill. When I reached the top I struggled to keep the bike standing in the wind before getting frustrated and dropping it on the ground. To the end I would have to work for every inch across South America. I took a second to breath and walked to the edge of the water. The first thing I thought: about time.


Where are you ocean... here I come!

The ride out from the PanAm Sur ended up being 20 miles one way and took me about three hours with the headwind. This was my longest stray from my route but was well worth the effort. The scenery is starkly beautiful and the sense of place was unmistakable. I had miles of coastline to myself for the night to fully appreciate how long the ride has been. I still had a couple hundred miles more to Lima but I had made it to the ocean.


I spent the afternoon wandering further away from the access road looking for a nice campsite. I also took the opportunity to pose on an assortment of cliff tops and various spits of land.


The salty smell of ocean air reminded me of home.

I had been fighting a fever and the runs all day (I am guessing my gut is housing a wonderful myriad of parasites at this point) and was eager to get settled before sunset. I found a shallow cave on a cliff over the ocean where I could hear the waves breaking, and after dark, sea lions barking. I set the tent up close by in the soft dusty ground.


After dark I was outside the tent messing with my panniers I had placed in front of the carved out rock when I heard a scuff noise in the distance. I pointed my headlamp and 50 meters off I saw a moving figure. There shouldn´t be anything out here. I´m not alone.

I kept the beam fixed on the figure and jogged towards it to make sure I never lost sight. As I got close I realized it was a lone man with a large bag. He had a baseball cap down and kept his eyes shielded from my light. I think we both scared one another. I didn´t consider I came out of nowhere, rushed him, and blinded him with my light. He kept asking, “Who are you? Who are you?”

His name was Gabriel and he was from the nearby town of Pisco. He fished off the cliffs at night and hitched a ride back every night around 9pm with some other fisherman. I told him I was just camping for down below and had ridden my bike out here. I think we both were relieved we weren´t about to murder the other.


Paracas is home to the Hubolt Penguin, the Inca Tern, flamingos, Andean Condors, marine cats (never heard of these), pelicans, turkey buzzards, and the Black Ostrich. This time I only saw condors, pelicans, terns, and some other bird life. There are also these crabs that are about the size of a mans hand and can climb quickly up sheer rock. They were very interesting to watch scatter around out of the water.


I fired up the SAT phone and shared my location with my parents and girlfriend.


Yes Mom, I had something to eat for dinner tonight.

From Paracas I had under 200 miles to Lima along a stretch of the PanAm I had driven before. I knew I was in for heavy truck traffic, headwinds, more fevers, and less than rewarding scenery. However, for this night I was satisfied.


"TASTE IT!!!!!!!!!!!"