Having made it more than half way up the hill the day before, there was a mere 20km to go to the top of the climb through countless switchbacks. Just before I got to the top, I met Daniel, a German cycle-tourist who, not being crazy, was of course heading south. We sat on the side of the road and chatted for over 2 hours. Considering the lack of traffic, we could have almost sat in the middle of the road without a problem! We shared stories from the road, and advice for what lay ahead.
The only downside to such a long break was that it meant I was a bit behind schedule to get down to Ayacucho, because even though it would be mainly downhill, the route that I took dropped down, but then was up and down as it bumped through canyons. It was just over a lane wide most of the way, and so plenty of signs encouraging people to beep their horns before going through the blind corners. Most people did, but I only narrowly avoided getting hit on one bend. Thankfully I was able to swerve out of the way as the car didn’t seem to have any intention of moving.
I made it to Ayacucho, and stopped at a petrol station to ask about how to get to the plaza where I was meant to be meeting Jimmy, my Couchsurfing host, as I’d been unable to see it on my GPS. The guys I asked had a phone, and so called Jimmy to confirm, as they were from Lima and just in town for work. They finished their meeting, and, being lovely people, put my bike in the back of their truck to drive me across town to meet Jimmy.
I had a day off in Ayacucho, apparently home to a church for each year of Jesus’ life, but could only go into one of them as the rest were closed. According to Lonely Planet the name comes from Quechua (Death Outback). It’s location, hidden away in the mountains led to the formation of the Shining Path movement back in the 80s and 90s. To quote the Lonely Planet…
The Sendero Luminoso’s (Shining Path) activities in the 1980s focused on deadly political, economic and social upheaval. In remote towns and villages, mayors were murdered, uncooperative villagers massacred, police stations and power plants bombed and government and church-sponsored aid projects destroyed. The government responded by sending in armed forces, who were often equally brutal, and in the ensuing civil war almost 70,000 people died or disappeared, most of them in the central Andes.
That all changed in 1992, when the founder was captured and imprisoned for life. Now the city has a nice feeling, with an ample downtown pedestrianised zone. It’s historically important, as one of the major battles in the fight for Peruvian independence took place there in 1824.
Jimmy, his wife Victoria, and their son Yelson are Mormons, converted by some of the many missionaries that I’ve seen wandering around in rural Peru, and they’re as lovely as all the other Mormons I met up in Utah. They have their own handicraft business, and thanks to it have finally been able to buy their own place after renting for a long time. Apparently renting a place costs about $30 a month (although I can only assume that doesn’t include utilities).
The place they’re living in now is definitely humble, with the typical bucket shower and the slightly less typical lack of a toilet. They live up a hill, about a 20-minute walk to the centre of Ayacucho, and their community all share a toilet – the nearby dried-out creek.