Winding Road to Marcapata


The previous night´s thunderstorms left the route to Marcapata, at just over 10,000ft, a muddy disaster. However, the mud was very different than along the TransAm and didn´t jam my wheels. I slipped my way up, and up, and up…


The road was washed out in more than a dozen places, sometimes deep enough where I had to take my panniers off to ferry the load across the water. This made for slow progress on a long day´s climb. The beginning of the ride was through a steep gorge with a mild upward grade. I gnawed on coca leaves and pushed the bike along until the road started to dry out.


Like always, I came upon a block in the roadway. There were cars, trucks, and motorcycles lined up and parked. I rode to the front and saw the old road on the other side of the raging river, and the impassable new route still being carved out ahead. The heavy rains had made this river crossing fairly precarious. I assessed the situation and figured I could make it through by carrying my panniers and bike over one by one. I pulled up to the edge of the water and began to disassemble the rig.

From behind me a worker with a walky-talky and an orange jump suit addressed me, “Friend, what´s your name?” I told him. “The water is very deep with boulders you could trip on.” I said I would take it bit by bit. “Wait” he says.

He used his radio to make some orders and told me to put my bike in the bucket of the bulldozer. He´d get me over the river with my bike safe and sound!


I jumped in the bucket with my bike ready to go and everyone started laughing. I guess I would go over separately in a truck once my bike made it in the bulldozer. When I got to the other side I looked back at the opposite bank and waved goodbye. There must have been 20-30 people there waving back, it felt like a Mentos commercial.


I felt very good climbing away and was told the road ahead is actually paved and that Marcapata is only 40 minutes by car. I like to hear good news but would pay for my willingness to listen to what I wanted to hear. The paved sections were very nice, and smooth, and new, and extremely short. Eventually they stopped altogether and I was left with loose cobble size rock and dirt. I looked ahead and could see houses of a town but hours later it seemed no closer. I could also see for the first time snow capped peaks.

I ascended that day from the strictly jungle climate and vegetation of Quinze Mil to over 10,000ft and short highland scrub. The first photo of this post shows the road ascending to Marcapata. I´d watch a truck pass me and 20 minutes later it was still close in distance, just straight above me. I rode around the main plaza of Marcapata filled with Andean men and woman and was stopped by a group of men.

“You want a soda? How about a beer?” Yep. They passed around a cup and we drank beer as I told them about my trip. Every time someone drank you had to cheers to the health of everyone else. Some men poured a tad out for the land as well. I kept the reigns pulled in on the drinking since I still had alot of climbing left to do but stayed long enough to be polite.


The weather was crisp, mid 40´s, and rainy that night. I took a very cold shower and went to the plaza for something to eat. I sat next to an Andean woman at a booth and ordered a dinner and a coffee, I was starving. Out came my dinner: rice, potato, some carrots slivers, and in the middle sheep brains. There was no mistaking what this was. I asked the woman “Head?” (I don´t know how to say brain) and she nodded yes. The Andean woman giggled. I ate the whole thing in minutes while thinking of Hannibal Lector. The meat, I suppose you call it, is very fatty of course and tasted normal enough. I would need all the energy I could get for the following days.

13 Responses to “Winding Road to Marcapata”
  1. I just love how helpful folks have been when you get into a tight spot like that river. Also, that picture in the bulldozer is pretty awesome.

    by Becky
    on 18. Nov, 2009

  2. And to think as a little boy you wouldn’t eat a banna. I guess you are growing up. Love ya Mom

    by Mom
    on 18. Nov, 2009

  3. Doug, I’m going to remind you of a ride you did on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder? You were killing that mountain and descending like a champ. But then… you got passed by a guy on a mountain bike, who was shirtless, doing a manual! This is your time to be better than that shirtless guy, this is revenge, this is your time to conquer the mountains.

    by Pete
    on 18. Nov, 2009

  4. Great reading… the pictures.

    by Aunt Janie
    on 18. Nov, 2009

  5. BRAINS!!!!!! that’s pretty crazy

    by mike d
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  6. you are…. my man.

    by sara
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  7. Haha! What a great post! Very happy to see that you seem to be in high spirits. I, too, love the bulldozer pic and the story behind it! Stay safe man!

    by Yost
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  8. You told me the rode was winding, but that picture is impressive, so is the welcoming attitude of the people!

    by Dad
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  9. Totally a Mentos commercial! Good stuff, Doug!

    by Josh L
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  10. Brains for breakfast….brains for lunch…brains for dinner, brains for brunch…brains for every single meal…why can’t we get some guts! oi oi!!
    -the misfits

    by ed
    on 19. Nov, 2009

  11. Hey Doug, I guess the sheep brains rank right up there with guinea pig on your list of interesting foods you’ve eaten! Great to see you’re doing well. Keep up the good work and stay positive. I’ve had a great time reading your posts!!

    by Katie
    on 20. Nov, 2009

  12. This sounds like a really amazing trip – gruelling but aresome! Love the blog, this is a great find.

    by Tony
    on 08. Jan, 2010

  13. I just did a long trip in the amazon and traveling place to place we used the transam…that is a gnarly road, we pushed our bus out of more than one ditch..

    by amazonian
    on 20. Jan, 2010

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