The Second Month: Letters from Darkest Peru
Our cyclist fails to find Paddington or any marmalade sandwiches but finds a vibrant, spectacular and kind country and celebrates her birthday in style…….
Article by Laura Bingham
We have arrived in Peru and what an amazing place! Crossing the bridge from Ecuador to Peru was a wonderful feeling and I felt a strong sense of pride and achievement that such a big milestone had been met; now we’re even closer to our goal. So far on this leg the terrain has been quite flat which has made everything so much easier. The constant pulling and pushing up the steep mountains of Ecuador has made my legs strong and now cycling with a trailer and panniers feels easy. There are so many magnificent things to see in Peru and passing through the Amazon has been spectacular, what a blissful place!
I have been trying to think about the best way to describe what it’s like to go and ask for food from a total stranger. The closest comparison I can think of is when you go up to a stranger and ask for their number or to go out on a date with you. I realise that some people may find this much easier than others but I think for most people, men and women, it’s scary and especially if you get knocked back. Constant rejection is a real confidence killer and this is exactly what it’s like, imagine having to do it several times a day! Whilst we were travelling through the Andes in Ecuador, I had built up a real fear of asking people for help as we were turned away almost every time. It got to the point where I would rather suffer in pain then go and ask another human being for help. Surely helping others is something we naturally want to do, but not for some people. When we arrived in Peru, this fear I had developed disappeared. It became just a case of asking and receiving but sometimes people would just offer, especially in the rainforest. The people here were much kinder and open to visitors, so much so that I’ve put all the weight back on that I had lost before!
When we were a few days in to Peru, we stopped off at a beautiful river to cook and rest for the afternoon. We still had Dario with us, however, he had started to become a little rude to both Cho and I and we were starting to not get along with him. There was a house next to the river where we had stopped and the family came out to give us oranges and a large piece of pork to eat. They stayed and chatted to us for a short while then eventually asked if we would like to stay. The family were very kind and when I started to suffer with stomach pains later that evening, the mother gave me something called ‘Sangre de Drago’ which is the translation of ‘Dragons Blood’. I fell to sleep instantly and woke up feeling fine – great stuff…
On the 21st February I celebrated my 23rd birthday, and what a way to spend it! I was blessed with the most wonderful family who had taken us in and made Cho, Dario and I feel very welcome. They made a real fuss of me and ensured our plates and cups were never empty. We had arrived at their home on the eve of my birthday and when the next day came we thought about leaving to get some miles under our belts but the family insisted we stayed and celebrated the day with them. At around midday, the daughter of the family came in and brought me a huge cake! I had been feeling low with the thought of my birthday and missed being home with my family and friends on this day, but they had made me feel so loved that they pretty much felt like family to me!
The next day we left and Dario decided to part ways with us which, to be honest, was probably the best decision. It was good it being back to just Cho and I – we’re a great team! We soon arrived in Moyobamba, which is the capital city of the San Martín region in Northern Peru, and coincidently this is where Cho’s half sister lives but he had never met her or her son’s, his two nephews. Whilst we were passing through the city, we met two men who we sat down with and enjoyed a drink. They later introduced us to their friend who owned a set of bungalows in the city, which he ran as a hotel, and he kindly offered us one for the night. I settled in as Cho went off to explore the city for a few hours and when he returned he came back with his half sister beside him! It was amazing, like fate, and I was so thrilled for him. Cho has been so good to me these last few weeks and I seriously wouldn’t be able to get through this without him, it was a wonderful feeling to see him so happy. We stayed in Moyobamba for the next few days to give Cho time to get to know his half sister and nephews before getting back on the road again.
It’s been great to meet so many different people and hear their stories. We all come from such different backgrounds and live a completely different life. One day I was talking to a woman who told me that a while ago, some white people had come in to their village and kidnapped some of the children. They murdered them, stole their organs and dumped their bodies in a river – which wasn’t an unusual event! I had gone in to a shop in the same village where two young girls were sat behind the counter and because of the colour of my skin, they burst in to tears and were terrified as they thought I might eat them! They eventually calmed down and I was able to sit and talk to them for a little while, but it was very sad to think that I was a terrifying sight!
The last few weeks travelling through Peru have been incredible and the Amazon has been my favourite part of the trip so far. Every day is tough and we are faced with more and more challenges to overcome but its weeks like that which make all this worthwhile. I am writing this on our first day ascending the Peruvian Andes and I can’t help feeling a little anxious. I hope that the people continue to be this kind unlike in the Andes in Ecuador. I’m worried about where we will sleep, how hard it will physically get and when we will next eat; fortunately we have some supplies but these will only last us so long… Wish me luck!
Track me on my website www.laurabingham.org/ and see what I’m up to on my Twitter and Instagram – @LauraBingham93