An Unexpected Glimpse into Peruvian Culture – Ryan Wilson

An Unexpected Glimpse into Peruvian Culture
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson

EDITOR’S WARNING: This gallery contains content that may offend the lovers of fluffy animals. There are slides in the gallery which give you plenty of warning to turn back. Keep in mind, this is part of the Peruvian culture, so please maintain an open mind.

My final stretch on the Peruvian Divide Route started like much of the rest. Incredibly quiet roads lined with as much spectacular scenery and as many furry friends as one can possibly handle. Bobbing and weaving between storms (without much success), and drifting in and out of the occasional small village filled with welcoming locals.

Only a few switchbacks to the pass on the left

As far as bikepacking/dirt touring routes go, I can’t really think of a more complete experience. Where the Cordillera Blanca to the north wins on pure scenery, the Divide easily wins on way-off-the-beaten-path dirt road riding (if that is your thing). This makes for easier wild camping, and even more interesting interactions with locals who simply don’t see tourists around with any kind of frequency.

Test rides in Anccapa

If you’re going to come to these areas, you’ll have to expect (and embrace) plenty of unabashed wide-eyed stares, giggling/pointing kids, and the occasional group of drunk dudes insisting you can’t leave town without downing a liter of cerveza with them at eight in the morning. It’s all a part of the gig…

One such unexpected interaction came as I pulled into the small town of Anccapa one afternoon just looking to grab a quick lunch before heading up yet another 15,XXX’ mountain pass. It was noon, the town was quiet, and the two restaurants in town both had their doors closed and locked. This isn’t terribly uncommon as many people in these towns have other work to do during the day and only open early in the morning and in the evening.

Sorry buddy...

A tall white dude on a big bike loaded with bags can’t exactly roll into town stealthily around these parts though, so by the time I could see that everything was closed I had a gentleman inviting me over for what he promised as a “free meal”… I’m not one to turn down that kind of deal so I followed him and his friend to a courtyard that seemed to have the entire town’s population and about fifteen alpaca congregating in it.

He grabs a small stool, tells me to sit tight for a moment and that he might need my help since they were prepping for the biggest fiesta of the year… A couple minutes go by and he calls me across the courtyard. As I got about halfway there I notice a handful of men sharpening knives on a boulder, and I quickly realize that “prepping for a fiesta” actually meant that these fifteen alpaca were set to become the main course.

Now, I’ve witnessed this with a sheep in the Cordillera Huayhuash, but I can say that this was quite unexpected, so the first swift kill only a few moments later came as a bit of a shock. Also somewhat shocking was the way the animals seemed almost oblivious to what was happening as they were taken out one-by-one.

As tough as it was, I watched as every citizen of the town helped out in assembly-line fashion. Everyone has their role to play. Not hidden away in a factory somewhere, this is a part of their daily lives, and a part of the culture that the average “tourista” doesn’t get to see, so being invited in to “help” was really an honor.

Nothing goes to waste, and that was very obvious about fifteen minutes later when the cook was already serving up quinoa soup with alpaca intestine (which tastes kind of how I imagine an inner tube would taste). For some reason, my appetite wasn’t quite there, but I managed to get a bowl down as the kids took turns riding my bike around the courtyard and asking what every little thing attached to it was for…

A frosty morning 01

It can be tough to leave such friendly places, but eventually, I pried myself from the town and set off back into the mountains to continue toward my conclusion on the divide route.

If you’re interested in riding the Peruvian Divide (and you should be!), I would highly suggest checking out Neil and Harriet Pike’s site which has all of the info on resupply points, etc.

Feel free to shoot me any route/gear/supplies questions as well, and I’ll be happy to answer whenever I have internet access!

Route for this section on Ride with GPS.

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Follow Ryan on Instagram and at his Tumblr.

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  • Thank you for this.

    • Food photos just for Kyle “TR” Kelley ;)

  • FireUrEngine

    How peaceful it looks.

  • White Mike

    Beautiful.Thanks for sharing.

  • Beautiful work as always, Ryan. Thank you!

  • boomforeal

    damn

  • spencer harding

    I ran into a person whom Id met on the great divide route a few years back when I was visiting Moab. He happen to have recently slaughtered and processed some of his alpacas. I had an alpaca steak and it was pretty amazing. Glad to see the realness of the world being put out there.

    • Wasatchrider

      agreed.

      This kind of brutality is wrapped up in every McDonald’s happy meal. It’s quite literally how life works. Some people just prefer to ignore it, or do anything they can to distance themselves from it.

  • breed007

    #14 and #17 FTW.

  • Ryan, thank you so much for pulling together this amazing piece. Also, FLAMINGOS?!

    • Apparently they love to hang out in little ponds between 15k and 16k ft. Saw quite a few in this area, but they’re so damn good at avoiding people! I must have circled around this lake 3 times trying to get closer and they’d always stay on the exact opposite side even though it looked like they were never paying attention to me.

      • So crazy!

        • Ryan

          Indeed! And they go way further south too! I’d grown up thinking they were strictly tropic/subtropic thanks to zoos and Miami Vice. First time I saw wild flamingos was in a howling storm near the tip of Chile. I was so confused.

  • Milochky

    yes, yes and more yes. amazing.

  • Beautiful journalism. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Ryan

    Incredible shots of awesome places, I’ve got to bring up the deluxe coffee table book with slipcase request again. Either wait until after the Chile trip, or start a series of volumes. Please.

    • Thanks! I’m all for it but the hard part seems to be balancing cost and quality. I’ve priced them out how I would want them done before and the cost was pretty crazy… Regardless, I’ll eventually do something along these lines for sure.

  • charlesojones

    Ryan’s stuff is some of best on the internets. Thanks.

  • Thank you for sharing the journey, Ryan.

  • You haven’t lived till you’ve been electrocuted mid shower. Such fond memories. Great work Ryan.

    • hahaa

      • Laugh now – wait till it happens to you. Taller types fall victim to it easily.

    • Gotta love that tingly sensation…. Today there was a thunder storm while I was using one and I was just waiting for the shower head to turn into a Tesla coil

      • I was going to ask if you’ve been robbed yet. Another standard inclusion of travelling that continent from my experience (at gunpoint).

        • ha, well not yet… Out of curiosity, was your robbery experience near the coast? A lot of the locals in the mountains refer to the coastal areas as being filled with “bad people”. Everyone around the places I’ve visited have been overly nice and welcoming so far.

          • It was on a hike to a Volcano with two fellow israeli ‘gringo’s on the outskirts of Quito. A wiser me would have seen it for the trap that it was and would have avoided it. Alas, I followed two ‘locals’ into the woods and in an attempt to keep up with their pace, distanced the two I’d started hiking with and that was my downfall. I copped a can of mace in the eyes to add insult to injury. One of the more colourful anecdotes of a fantastic time in South America.

          • Ouch! Well that’s certainly a shit scenario.

          • I call it ‘character building’.

          • Yikes!

        • Julius

          That statement seems like an exaggeration. I understand that you are frustrated and I feel sorry for your experience, but I and several other people I know have spent months or even years on “that continent” without similar incidents. Nobody should skip South America for the “certainty” of getting robbed, but of course caution is always advisable.

          • Unfortunately idiots are a global phenomenon, so you’ve got to be careful anywhere.

          • Like I said – that was ‘my experience’. I’d go back in a heartbeat and by no means would I dissuade someone from going there. Quite the contrary.

  • C.Silver

    Thanks for sharing this incredible gallery and your words. Can you share what photog equipment you decided to bring with you, certainly with weight (or security?) as a concern for a trip like this. And for processing your shots, did you bring a laptop?

    • I’m using a Sony A7Rii with a 24-70/2.8 GM lens 98% of the time. Not the smallest/lightest/cheapest combo out there, but with the amount of weather that you run into around here I didn’t want to be trying to swap lenses too often (a lesson I learned last time). As a bonus I like the way this lens looks more than all of the primes I sold to get it!

      I’ve also got a small 21mm manual focus lens primarily for night shots or if I want something a little more inconspicuous for around town (I trying not to flash the big lens around).

      For processing I’ve got a laptop with me for lightroom. It’s also nice for researching routes since I generally only have a few hundred miles planned out at any given time. Right now my GPS is broken and the screen on my phone is on the edge of non-functional, so I’ve literally pulled the laptop out up in the middle of nowhere to look over my maps and figure out where I am.

  • Ace Metric Cycles

    W O W

  • This rocks Ryan. That place is amazing and there are surprises around every corner. I love Peru with all my heart and these images make me want to get back.

  • Richard

    Spectacular. Thanks for sharing.

  • robmcnamee

    Incredible Landscapes, and captivating glimpses of culture.

  • Pascal André Kägi

    Oh man, these are always the best. What a trip! Great work!

  • Jäybe Jäybe

    mind blown..

  • Ryan, Are you happy with your tripod choice?

    • No real complaints so far. Mine is the Mefoto Backpacker, though if I were buying today I’d definitely consider the Mefoto Air which is half a pound lighter and a couple inches shorter when folded.

  • Ryan, I really appreciate the attention you seem to pay to emphasizing points of reference in all your photo series (such as the lake in #12, and then #14), not just here but also in your North American rides. Makes for a very narrative feel.

  • Robert prieto

    Always amazing

  • Kerry Nordstrom

    Awesome stuff Ryan, ready for a Nat Geo spread for sure!