Finding the Best Gifts and Culture by Bike

Randy barcena riding in Peru with Sacred Cycles July 2019.
What better way to travel than to take my bike and ride places I’ve never been to before.

A couple of months ago, I thought it would be a different story. Some health issue came up that I thought I would cancel the trip. I was in and out of the doctor’s office several times and off the bike for a few weeks. I also heard the word “surgery.” I was completely bummed.

“Shit. There goes my summer.”

But weeks later, I was back to one hundred percent healthy. Whew.

I remember sitting on my parents’ couch after the clock turned to the New Year. It was still months away, but I was already thinking about what I was going to do for my birthday.
I’m not the type of person that invites friends and throw a party. I’m also not the type of person that goes clubbing just to celebrate and get wasted.

Every year all of America celebrates its big birthday in July with parades, fireworks, backyard BBQs, a whole lotta booze, and more fireworks. Whatever. It’s cool and all, but I wanted to do something different for me since we share the same birthday. I wanted to be somewhere else.

I got back home after the holidays from visiting my parents, and I immediately started researching where I could go. I remembered my friend Jason had mentioned some stuff about Sacred Rides and Peru before. He wanted to go there at some point but changed his plans. I looked at their website and the many places where operate their business. Peru fits the perfect description – I get to ride my bike somewhere I’ve never been on my birthday! It’s really all I wanted to do.

When I turned 30 several years back, I wanted to do a 30-mile ride. I invited my friend, and he mentioned that some of his other friends are also riding. Without putting too much thought, I put my original plan aside. I told him we should join them. It was a short, chill ride. I’m not sure what it is, but I still haven’t forgotten about it. Maybe it’s a way of reminding myself, “Hey, do something for yourself for once, you fool.”

By early February, I’ve already signed up for the trip with Sacred Rides, put my deposit in, renewed my passport, bought my trip insurance, and bought my plane ticket. No turning back. I’d never been this stoked before.

As the trip was coming up, my boss would often ask me if I was excited. He and his wife are both from Argentina. Beautiful, good-hearted people. They love Peru. Now, I still don’t know anything about Peru. I’ve only seen a couple of video clips of the trails and pictures of Machu Picchu off social media. That was it. Why didn’t I get to know a little more about the place before going there? I don’t know, really. I guess the less I know, the better. I like learning new things as I go versus already knowing what’s there. That’s what adventure is all about.

A pretty cute baby alpaca.
An old door in Cusco, Peru.
A pano from the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
A pano from the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

A couple of days before my trip, my boss asked me again while we were both getting our day started with freshly brewed coffee at the kitchen.

“Are you excited about your trip? Do you know anything about Peru?”

“Yeah! I just gotta get some small things done, order a couple things and I’ll be done packing. And no, I don’t know much about Peru.”

“Oh my God. Make sure to drink Coca tea. Don’t worry, it’s good for you. The hotels should have it for free. Make sure…” He gave me all kinds of suggestions. “Tomorrow before you get to work, I’ll have something on your desk.”

The next morning when I got to work, there’s a Fodor’s Essential Peru book on my desk with a nice hand-written note when I opened it. Seriously, who’s boss does that? My boss does!

It felt like he and his wife were so much more excited for me than I was. I appreciated that book though, it would come in super handy as my trip went on.

I get paranoid every now and then, especially when it comes to things that I know I would forget easily. Like, sometimes I would drive back home after already 15-minutes in on the road just to make sure for the umpteenth time if I locked my front door. But this time, it was different. I got to McCarran Airport. Checked in. Boarded. Fastened seatbelt. And the plane just took off.

“Crap. Did I bring the rear axle?”

Mountain bikers riding near Cuzco Peru
Unreal landscape of the riding near Cusco.
Gigantic door of the cathedral.

The flight from Las Vegas to Lima, the 16 hours or however long it was, I couldn’t sleep. I’d read the guide book or watch a movie on and off just to keep my mind off it, but I couldn’t help but think if I brought the rear axle. As soon as I got to Lima, I picked up my luggage, and that was the first thing I checked. That would’ve totally ruined my trip if I forgot it. It was there.

I arrived after midnight in Lima and had a six-hour layover there. I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. The excitement was getting to me. That, and it being a new place, I didn’t want to sleep in those empty airport chairs like the many who did, because I was afraid my carry-on would get stolen. Instead, I went to a café and hung out, ordered a coffee and a cake with strawberry on top. It tasted so good, something I’ve never had before. I knew I was in a new place.

A taxi that my hotel arranged picked me up at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco around 9 a.m. I know a few Spanish words. I can barely put together a decent sentence.
“Hola. Como esta?” I greeted the driver. He’s an older gentleman with noticeable wrinkles on his face, very friendly guy.

“Bien, bien.” And he said more words that I couldn’t understand.

I told him my Spanish is not good and he understood me. He turned on his Spanish-English translator app on his smartphone, and that’s how we communicated throughout the 20-minute ride to the hotel.
As soon as we’re driving through the city, I noticed something very familiar. The traffic where there were maybe one or two traffic lights with cars going every direction and only a few inches away from hitting one another, with drivers trusting each other by honking to one another to let others know who’s passing who. None of the road rage where drivers basically fight each other like in America. Narrow streets and street vendors…for the first time, it felt like I was home again. In the Philippines. Minus the jeepneys.

I got to the hotel, and I wasted no time no matter how tired I was and haven’t yet had asleep for more than 24 hours. Plaza De Armas, a place that my boss suggested me to check out was only a 10-minute walk from my hotel. I spent a few hours walking around and learning the history of the area with a guide named Juan I had just met inside the cathedral.

His English was very good. He asked me if I wanted to check out the Inca temple located a few blocks away. I said sure, but only if we get lunch first. He was hesitant at first, but I made sure the lunch was on me. I got to know him a little. He’s a college student getting his degree in Civil Engineering. When I told him that I work for an engineering firm in Las Vegas, his eyes got big in excitement. As my first Peruvian meal, I immediately ordered Ceviche which, again, my boss suggested, as an appetizer that we shared, and Lomo Saltado with alpaca meat medium cooked. So. Damn. Good.

No cameras allowed, but inside the cathedral were the most beautiful pieces of artworks I have ever seen. It is widely known that the cathedral’s interior is one of the most, if not the most, beautiful cathedral in South America. The construction of the cathedral started in 1559, only 26 years after the Conquistadors took over the place from the Incas, and it took 94 years to finish the construction. Its foundation sits on top of an Inca Palace.

The crew I rode with.

The next day, I met the group of strangers I’d be riding with. There were five riders: David, Tom, and Heather from Canada, Mark from California, and me. And we had two guides: Wayo, who is a 14-time Peruvian National DH and Enduro champ, and his assistant Ruso, who is a nine-time Peruvian National XC champ. A group of strangers that would soon form a solid bond over the course of the trip and become friends.

The riding was beyond extraordinary. The trails combined with the history was just unreal. Most of the trails we rode were built by the Inca people some hundreds of years ago. They are not groomed like any other mountain bike trails by any means. Just raw, super rowdy, steep, loose, rocky, wet, muddy, everything. That’s my kind of riding. I enjoyed it the most. Some even had the find-your-own-line–kinda like a freeriding type of deal. Add in alpacas, llamas, cows, horses, and donkeys all over the place? And the local people herding their animals in the middle of the trail? Man, it was truly epic! David said it best, “It’s like living in Nat Geo!”

For all the rides, except day one in Cusco when we rode a loop from our hotel as an intro, we would get shuttled by van to the top of the mountains. The rides start at over 14,500 feet above sea level and ride down, but there was still a good amount of climbing to get to the bottom and finish the ride – at least 1,000 to 2,500 feet elevation gain each day. I had a tough time getting acclimated the first few days even when I took Acetazolamide pills that my doctor prescribed me to help get in front of the altitude sickness. Having the pills and coca tea each day helped me not have any big issues.

After our intro ride, we packed our bags and drove to Sacred Valley the next morning where we would spend the next five nights. We went to Chinchero first, which is most famously known for weaving. The villagers welcomed us by singing us a song, followed by a demonstration on how they naturally dye the materials they use to weave their products – mostly from baby alpacas and sheep hairs.

In the book, it says Latin people are good at bargaining. Guess what? We Filipinos do, too!
I had my eyes on a blanket and a beanie made of pure baby alpaca wool. Super soft material if you haven’t felt it. Much different from sheep.

“Cuantos?” I asked the lady.

“300 Soles for the blanket, and 120 Soles for the beanie,” she answered me in Spanish.

I smiled at her, “How about 400 Soles for both?”

She smiled back, “Okay.”

The riding there brought me back to how I grew up. As I mentioned in my other blog, as a kid, I’d ride my bike from a small village to small village selling bread. Peru reminded me a lot of the Philippines, minus the breads. We mainly rode the dirt roads – stunning dirt backcountry roads with the glaciers of Andes Mountains in the background – passing by many small villages. A good portion of our original route got detoured because they closed the roads. They had a Rally Car race going on. Get this, when I was a kid, I’d ride my bike in rice fields. The detoured route got us cutting corners, and soon we found ourselves riding through barley fields. It was super memorable.

The trails we rode on day three to the last day had their own uniqueness but were very similar in terms of riding. We rode mostly the original Inca trails and on the terraces; raw, exposed, crossed many creeks and rivers, tight singletrack, encountered countless numbers of animals… you name it. For me, day four was the toughest. We had been riding four days straight.

There was a 10-minute hike-a-bike steep section to get up to the pre-Inca fortress where the real fun starts. I have hiked Yosemite Falls, Havasupai, Angels Landing before just to name a few, but this one felt like it was the toughest. I was several yards ahead of David. He’s this super friendly British dude who is now living in Canada, just outside of Toronto. Every time we would see a dog chillin’ on the streets, he would approach them and pet them like, “Hey dog, how are you doing?” Except for the times when some of the dogs were assholes when they’d bark at us and chase us while riding, then we’d just ride as fast as we can. I was so gassed hiking my bike up, and I’m pretty damn sure he was, too. I overheard him talking to the cow I just passed.

“Hey cow, how are you doing?”

I looked back at him and looked at the cow. The cow chewing his grass and gave us the look.

“Keep moooooving!”

Later that night, we celebrated Wayo’s birthday. We asked him if we can do something for him, and he invited us to his home. And there they were, displayed in his living room, his many medals and trophies he won from racing bikes. Ever had fresh meats and straight to the grill? That’s what we had. He grilled the steaks with just a simple salt and pepper to perfection. And some other delicious Peruvian appetizers which names I’ve already forgotten. Pisco sours. Beers. Wines. And more pisco sours that Mark and I helped make. We squeezed the heck out of those fresh limes with our bare hands, a ton of them. Man, it was a great party.

I was on the patio with our driver, Fernando, and Wayo’s girlfriend, Lorena, watching over the grill having beers while the others were having a party inside. We were having a party of our own outside. Fernando and Lorena can barely speak English. I can barely speak Spanish. We would try putting together small sentences which we could all try to understand. So how did we communicate? Through laughter, that’s what we did.

Like riding in National Geographic.
Can't have too much fun.
Machu Picchu.
David making new friends.

With only a few hours of sleep from partying hard that night, I visited Machu Picchu with Mark and Heather the next day. We took the 2-hour train ride early morning to Aguas Calientes and then hopped onto a bus. That place is unreal. I left that place impressed and baffled at the same time. Like, how the heck did they cut those gigantic rocks precisely, move them, and stacked them to create a masterpiece hundreds of years ago? On top of a mountain? So many puzzles that no one has figured out yet. It’s one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and I think everyone should go see it at least once in a lifetime.

While waiting for our train ride to get back, we toured the town a bit, and we tried Cuy for the first time at Mapacho Craft Beer & Peruvian Cuisine. So. Damn. Good. And they have a great selection of craft beers. If you happen to be in the area, look for the waiter named Jhon, but we like to call him Sr. Jhon. He’s this young super friendly, tiny dude, who would make you a Trip Advisor review and in return, gives you a llama keychain as a free gift.

The next day was the big day. We were having breakfast before we would go riding again. David greeted me. Everyone greeted me.

“What do you want for your birthday? I want to give you something.”

“We’re gonna ride bikes, and that’s all I want, my friend.”

We rode the rowdy trails in Lares. In the middle of our ride, in the middle of a mountain and on the side of the trail, we came up to a lady who was selling some merchandise. Her baby, just a few months old, was on her back covered by her beautifully hand-made blanket to protect him against the shining sun. She told us her baby’s name is Jose, but I called him “Joselito,” and she smiled.

David really wanted to get me something. I think he didn’t want the day end without getting me something.

“Pick whatever you want, it’s on me.”

I picked up a scarf. It’s a beautiful piece.

We finished the ride, and as a bonus, we bathed at the hot springs. We had lunch and went for another ride. On our way back to the hotel, we asked Wayo which restaurant he’d recommend and if Fernando could just drop us off. We’d just take a taxi back after. Out of all the dining places I’ve been to, Vegas included, this place is the most unique one yet. The place is called El Huacatay in Urubamba. I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re in the area. We sat outside; it had a garden-like feel to it. It was amazing, and the food is great. I couldn’t have asked a better way to celebrate my birthday.

On the last day in our itinerary, we were in for a real treat to finish our trip. Wayo took us to one of the places where they race enduro, the Finay Enduro. Out of all the rides, this was the highest one yet – 14,820 feet above sea level. I was so tired, but the level of stoke was so high, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I didn’t want the trip to end, but just like all things, it had to end. I slept like a baby on the flight back to the states. I even missed the meal they provide. While waiting for my other luggage at McCarran Airport, this gangster-looking dude with a do-rag on and arms and neck covered in tattoos approached me with a confused look on his face.

“Hey, my man, what kind of luggage is that? It’s my first time seeing luggage like that. That’s tight yo”, pointing at my bike bag.

“Oh, that’s my bike, man.”

“That’s tight, yo.”

He grabbed his things and took off.

I’ve always wanted to travel. After high school, I wanted to join the military with hopes that it would get me to other places. That never happened. My scoliosis did not allow me to join the service. Life happens, and sometimes it hits you from every angle, and sometimes it’s just hard to find a way out. But there’s always a way out. Through hard work, my situation got better, and I got to save a little. My passion for bikes never left my side, and what better way to travel than to take my bike and ride places I’ve never been to before.

Locals in Chinchero.
Local market goods.

Here are some tips if you’re planning for an epic trip like this:

  1. Check your passport if it’s still valid. Renew if you must but do it early. Or it’ll cost you.
  2. Check with your doctor and get the necessary shots if you must.
  3. Purchase trip insurance. Unexpected things happen. My trip insurance would’ve covered me had I canceled the trip when my health issue came up.
  4. Train. Train. Train. Make your training harder than your actual rides and be serious about it.

Remember, you’re going to a ride somewhere you’ve never been, and you want to have a good time not feel miserable after every ride. The more fit you are, the more you can focus, and the less likely you will crash.

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When Randy was 10 years old, he'd wake up at 4 a.m., hop on his bicycle and sell fresh baked breads from his aunt’s bakery to neighbors in rural parts of the Philippines. He enjoys solo mountain bike night rides whenever possible after working all day at the office. He thinks the best rides are the unplanned rides; the adventure rides, the ones where you don’t know what to expect. Randy's favorite trail is Gridley in Ojai, CA.

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4 thoughts on “Finding the Best Gifts and Culture by Bike

  1. Fantastic! Great writing and great riding with you buddy. Dave Peacock, Toronto Canada
    … and yeah ok, stylin’ riding kit dude!!! Lol

  2. Randy, what an amazing trip and experience for you!! Reading your blog made me really happy for you amigo, and I’m glad you got into the Pisco sours. Haha your pictures are amazing too. I’m glad you had this opportunity to celebrate your birthday and super glad your health issue didn’t get in the way of your dream. Happy Birthday!

  3. This is so EPIC Randy! What a trip of a lifetime! Beautiful pics…did anyone wipe out going down those steep steps or what?!!!

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