Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

Hospitality on the road

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Many travel blogs write about the surprise and delight of gestures of kindness from people met along the road. Happily our experience has been no exception, and came in the form of Ray and Michaela.

Back in Cusco, we were tucking into some fabulous food at the bar of a restaurant when we got chatting with the chap sitting next to us.

It turned out Ray (a Canadian architect, now ‘retired’ and working on a bunch of architectural and social initiatives in Peru) was an avid biker, with a deep knowledge and network of motorbiking friends across South America. Needless to say, we flooded him with a barrage of questions about our route, which he patiently helped us with over the din of the restaurant.

After lots of note taking, and an introduction to some great basil ice cream, we said our farewells. We left the restaurant feeling far more excited and confident about the trip ahead, well-armed with all Ray’s tips.

A couple of Whatsapp messages later and Ray had extended an invite to stay with his partner Michaela who lives Mon – Fri in Ayaviri, a town sitting along our route between Abra La Raya and Lake Titicaca. Now, Michaela definitely didn’t know us from Adam, but yet here we were with an offer of her place to lay our heads for the night. We leapt at the chance.

Ray & Michaela with their BMWs

A few more WhatsApp messages later with Michaela and it transpired that we’d be hitting Ayaviri on the weekend right when she would be away. To our amazement she offered for us to come and stay anyway. Certainly not something we’d be accustomed to doing for a complete stranger back in London! We made plans to meet up in Ayaviri on the Monday morning to at least say hello, when both Michaela and Ray would be passing through town.

Apartment keys changed hands thanks to this chance encounter on the road

After a delightfully relaxing Sunday in Michaela’s apartment, we met Michaela and Ray for breakfast on Monday morning – with Sara-Ann’s banana pancakes on offer as the best way we could think of to say thank you. Based in Ayaviri, and working with a visionary and enthusiastic local priest, Michaela had been restoring ancient works of art from the cathedral and is now developing and running the new local museum. Alongside this, she also runs a school to train members of the local community in the art of restoration so they can continue the work themselves.

A tour round the museum from Michaela gave us a peak into the painstaking work and techniques that go into restoring these centuries-old paintings and statues, peeling back the ancient layers of paint like an onion. A real labour of love. With old churches full of such works of art dotted all over the countryside (and much of it also being stolen for sale), Michaela also wants to set up a national inventory database to at least start logging this rich wealth and history that Peru holds, so it can then be consciously restored and protected for the benefit of future generations. She is quite some lady. For more information you can see her website here: http://www.centroculturalsanjuanpablo.com. The knowledge she shared stays with us when we spot old churches dotted across the countryside as we pass through through small towns and villages on our bikes.

In front of the museum: Michaela & Ray, the cathedral’s rock-music loving priest Padre Miguel (second from left) and Jesus, an art restorer  (far left)

Some of the restored works of art on display

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An impressive work to behold, albeit rather un-PC!

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