The world is full of amazing places, we all know that we've seen them in movies, tv shows, magazines, and social media. We know they are there and we know we want to be there, but nowadays in this corporate, money-driven world, those places appear more often in bucket lists than in actual memories, as people keep reminding themselves they don't have enough money or time to travel. We've all been there. But the truth is traveling might be one of the most enrichening experiences money can buy, and traveling with the purpose of riding a mountain bike through those amazing places... well, at least for us wanderlust MTB obsessed, is an experience that can be summed up in one word: happiness.
Happiness; true, raw, heartwarming happiness is what we all aim for, what we thrive from, what we seek each and every day, and most of the time, what we don't get. That's what makes happiness so damn good, the fact that it is rare, scarce and hard to reach, but in the next selection of pictures and words, we will try to tell the story about how we did just that. This is the of story of how we found happiness riding bikes in Perú.
When my partner Alvin "Chill Down" approached me with the idea of launching a new mountain bike trip to Perú for Trail Quest, our MTB tour company, I was instantly sold on it. I had been thinking of riding the peruvian Andes for the last couple of years, but "never had the time" to actually make it happen, so when he said he would do the research and put it all together, I called Nico Switalski, and pitched him the scouting/photo trip. He said yes and we bought plane tickets. A month later we were waiting at Cusco's airport for Robert, the peruvian local shredder we teamed up to make this trip happen. He picked us up at 6:30 in the morning, we built bikes in Faure's house, another local shredder, and by 7:45 a.m. we were on our way to the first ride of the trip.
Bikes loaded and gear on, we shuttled to the top of one of the hundreds (literally) of 14,000 + ft. peaks that surround the Cusco area, in order to ride the first of many ancient Inca "lines". On our way there, we met with Felipe, Miguel and Brian, from Brasil, Chile and the U.S., respectively, with which we rode the rest of the trip. Once we finished with the first trail, our minds were blown. From riding that trail, and the trails we rode after it, I actually came up with the theory that Incas (as well as most prehispanic cultures, such as zapotecs, in México) were servants to alien mountain bikers that came to planet earth on riding vacations thousands of years ago, so they had them build hundreds of miles of amazing singletrack to ride, complete with flowy sections, wallrides, HUGE rock gardens and tons of switchbacks, and, obviously, Machu Pichu was nothing but a premium bike lodge on the top of a mountain. It was THAT good, and maybe, just maybe, the "peruvian tobacco" I accidentally smoked one morning had something to do with my theory, but the trails were out of this world, thats for sure.
Alien theories aside, riding the Inca trails is a very surreal experience. Imagine pedaling all the way up to 14,000 ft. up in the Andes, hiking a little bit more, and then start descending along multiple brown singletrack lines through lush green open valleys, surrounded by huge mountains with waterfalls running down their sides, while wild llamas and alpacas run beside you, encountering local indigenous kids and people along the trail. Real people, happy people. It is amazing how the locals manage to live in the mountains with "so little" gear and tech. Their skin is thick and their calves strong, they walk more miles on a daily basis than most of us troughout the year, they don't own cars or vehicles and they have been living sustainably in the same place since the days of the Inca empire, always with a smile on their face. It is a very humbling experience to ride the exact same trails these people have been using for thousands of years, to coast through their villages and houses, and to discover they are happy to share their backyards with strangers. It is a real lesson on its own, given the times we are facing.
And the flow, the almighty flow. These trails are so gentle, yet so challenging. You can find yourself riding on top of Inca terraces filled with natural jumps and rollers, almost like a huge natural pumptrack, that gradually leads to switchback sections that lower your speed just enough to launch yourself into a thousand-year-old, 300 ft Inca stair set in the middle of the Andes, right into fast, wide open sections where you can just let it rip as fast as your skills (or balls) let you. Or as the locals call it, "ir al mango". Repeat that combination for a couple non-stop hours, twice a day, and you have our average day for this trip, almost 60,000 ft of descents and over 130 miles of singletrack in 6 days of riding.
Most of the trails we rode ended right in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, located in the middle of the Peruvian Andes. The Sacred Valley is composed of a few small towns that have been around since the days of the Inca empire, such as Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, Lamay, Pisac and Calca, being this last one the place we called home for most of the trip. Calca is a fairly small town that, unlike more touristy towns like Ollantaytambo or Pisac, provided the real, authentic experience we were looking for, and helped us avoid the hundreds of "adventurous" Europeans and Americans that flock to Machu Picchu each and every day wearing everything they could buy at their closest REI, including a mandatory Lonely Planet travel guide. Instead of "gringo" owned vegan food joints, we enjoyed having breakfast every day at the local market; fresh fruit juice, traditional "sandwiches" and local produce such as quinoa and avocado were on the daily menu. Along with Felipe, Brian and Miguel, whom moved to Calca to ride bikes after falling in love with the trails of the surrounding area, we were some of the only MTB riders in Calca and most of the Sacred Valley, and not a single time we encountered anyone else on the trails.
Something really special about any trip is the bonds you create with the people you spend time with, and this was no exception. We stayed with Felipe and Miguel at a house Robert was renting in Calca, who spent a couple nights with us in order to make the most out of the next day of riding, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. It was like living with Peter Pan's Lost Boys for a week, and actually becoming one of them. Let's just assume no one in that house was completely sane, (but then again, all the best people aren't), and the only thing that made actual sense was the urge to ride bikes every day. No rules, no cleaning, no order, no systems, just a bunch of grown-ups sleeping in couches and fixing bikes on the living room, a dirtbag dream come true. A dream we all shared without knowing it. “Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction - so easy to lapse into - that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us." Robert Macfarlane
After 8 days of riding some of the best trails in the world, meeting new people and calling them friends, being humbled by the strength and the spirit of our fellow brothers, and conquering mountaintops in order to ride them down, it was time to go back home. But different to how you could expect this story to end, we were not feeling bad about it, and we were not wishing we could stay longer. We were happy. Happy to be there, but also happy to leave, knowing that we had the best time, that we were taking back home more memories than souvenirs, and especially knowing that we were going to be back. The Incas used to have a word in their native Quechua language for that feeling, a word for when you have to say goodbye, knowing that you'll meet again: Tupananchiskama.
Tupananchiskama, Perú, tupananchiskama, my friends.
If you want to experience this adventure first hand, reach us out through our Trail Quest
- Song: Calle 13 - Latinoamérica