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Peruvian Daze: Mountain biking across Peru

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Mauricio de Avila / All photos by Nicolas Switalski
Originally published on Pinkbike

If you can’t imagine pedaling up to 14,000 feet in the Andes, only to descend along narrow paths through lush green valleys, let these extreme bikers tell you about it.

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 on 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 enriching 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 [mountain bike]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.

downhill
(Photo courtesy of Nicolas Switalski)

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 with 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 Brazil, 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.

bridge
(Photo courtesy of Nicolas Switalski)

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 singletracks to ride, complete with flowy sections, wallrides, huge rock gardens and tons of switchbacks. Obviously, Machu Picchu 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, that’s 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.

group
cake
(Photos courtesy of Nicolas Switalski)

It is amazing how the locals manage to live in the mountains with “so little” gear or tech. Their skin is thick and their calves strong, they walk more miles on a daily basis than most of us throughout 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.

This is an edited portion of the original article that appeared on Pinkbikes on January 15, 2017. To read the full article and see more photos, click here.

If you want to experience this adventure first hand, reach out to Nicolas through his Trail Quest Facebook page or website.

Follow Nicolas Switalski on Instagram.

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