Flat Tires and the Altiplano


I am all for people protesting for their rights. I don´t mind a riot now and again. But for the sake of God why all the glass? All travelers on inflated tires suffer… even the common man. An otherwise beautiful day of riding was punctuated by 5 flats!

I managed to get to the bottom of the valley below Abancay when my rear tire went mushy. I hate that feeling. I have to take all my panniers off to flip the bike over get the wheel off. Then, due to my wheel set, I have to wrestle the tires off the rim, usually skinning a few knuckles in the process and made doubly hard in the rain. Then I have to inflate the new tube with my travel pump… which takes roughly 300 pumps. That adds up to 1500 pumps for the day.


I had gone through all my spare tubes and had to start using my patch kit. I was following a river uphill in a very scenic gorge with a tail wind. The ride would have been one of the most pleasant and productive had it not been for all the flats. Glass was embedded in the tires and would go unnoticed causing multiple flats.

After 10 hours I managed to reach Chalhaunca 75 miles upriver on two patched tires at a mushy 35 psi a piece. As I came into this small town the streets were again nearly paved with glass. I got off and gingerly walked the bike through the mess as people hurled glass bottles into the road behind me. All the llanterias, or tire repair shops, had cars, bikes, trucks, and motorcycles lined up in front of them. It seemed the only thing the Paro protesting was accomplishing was making a miserable day for the people driving around town. I bought another patch kit and spent the night repairing all my tubes.


Out of Chalhuanca I had 20 more miles following the river up before I zigzagged west up to the Altiplano. This is a high plateau at roughly 14,000 ft. The scenery is stark, the weather is windy, and there are lots of Alpaca and Vicuña roaming around.

Vicuña are a more slender and rare species similar to an Alpaca or Llama in appearance. They live on the upper slopes of the Andes and have the finest wool in the world. They can also survive on very little water which is a good feature on the arid western slopes of the Andes.

Once over the edge of the plateau I had about 30 minutes of sunning cycling before a headwind kicked up. Even on gentle downhills I was reduced to walking the bike, head down, through the wind as slow as 2 mph at times. There is nothing to stop the wind up here and when it blows you feel it.


The wind brought rain (this wasn´t arid Altiplano) and I was shivering with all my clothes layered on. I went over a pass at 4300 meters before descending into a valley where I planned to camp with my new tent. However, the small valley was the resting spot of a small town and its Alpaca grazing land. The town did have one restaurant with a bed available for rent… it was the dog´s bed and I have never slept in a dirtier room in my life. I wanted to leave town and camp but daylight was up, I was soaked, and the road out of town was straight up again.

The town was called Marcapampa and was a typical Andean highland village. There was no electricity this night, there is no wood or anything to burn so no fires, and it was pouring rain. What a dark, miserable, and cold night. I don´t want to live on the Altiplano, that´s for sure. I have been here before, a year ago, and am always astounded at the hardships the people who live here must face to survive. The Alpacas are their livelihood and gawking at a gringo was their entertainment during my stay. Everyone spoke in Quechua, giggling with each other, but I did catch “Los Estados Unidos” enough to know they were laughing at me.


Maybe its my fashion sense that gets people laughing?

I made it to Puquio, in another valley off the Altiplano, and passed some interesting sights. I have seen caves in the cliff sides ever since arriving in the Andes but these ones looked like they were being put to use. It looked very Hobbit like and a good place to have a campfire and a few beers with some friends. Most likely livestock used this as shelter during bad weather.


4 Responses to “Flat Tires and the Altiplano”
  1. sweet caves.. do you recall if there are any animals OTHER than alpaca/vicunas that may reside up there and call a cave a resting place?

    by sara
    on 27. Nov, 2009

  2. Amazing pictures. You are almost a local there! Keep up the good work.

    by Pony
    on 28. Nov, 2009

  3. Hopefully you’re through with the flat tire issues. Next time you have to pull a tire take some duct tape and line the inside of the tire with a few layers. I’ve done it before with some success.

    by ed
    on 30. Nov, 2009

  4. Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this information together.
    I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and commenting.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

    by Google
    on 06. Oct, 2014

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