It is not the fittest who survivesOne last time we worm ourselves through the busy traffic of Lima. Big trucks, busses and tuk-tuks swarm nervously around us. Left. Right. Searching for a small opening to head us off by at full speed. Only the strongest is king and everyone stays calm. One hand hand on the horn and try to find to best route. Two lanes become three. The curb becomes the strip on which you can pass a line of cars from the right. This is the most crazy traffic we experienced so far and we take part in this ridiculous spectacle. We are as crazy as the average Peruvian and his dented car.
We won’t forget our stop in Lima. A new clutch for one camper, a bursted radiator in the other one and my draining stomach keep us longer than expected in the Peruvian capital. Again we need to work on our planning. Liesbeth, An and Weking roam through the streets of Barranco, the artist quarter of Lima, while I fight the parasite in my stomach in a youth hostel. The last few days were physically and mentally exhausting. The result: a spluttering body - in the literal and figurative sense. Our Spartan life takes its toll from time to time. We are physically and mentally fragile and we tend to forget this from to time.
Lima is big, busy and dirty. Not immediately a dream destination. Barranco, the quarter where we stay for a few days, on the other hand is a haven of rest. Safely hid between Miraflores and the busy city center. This part of town is the habitat of the Peruvian Bohemian. Here creative blood flows through the streets. Unfortunately, or maybe luckily, lots of gringos don’t find the road towards the SoHo of Lima. Strategically placed tourist traps prevent them from a beautiful part of the city. The remember Lima as a horrible place. It’s the place where their trip through Peru starts and ends. In short, it’s a huge transit zone from which luxurious landships leave to the farthest corners of the country.
We have to speed up again. Along the coast our running route bends inland towards huge dunes. We pass by the Nazcan geoglyphs, ancient lines in the form of animals and plants, from where we steam further down towards Arequipa. We take a closer look at the flower, the only Nazca line you can see from the top of a ramshackle watchtower along the Panamericana. Above our heads small airplanes filled with tourists stunt to get a good view on the different lines. Pilots twist and turn while their passengers try the shoot the perfect picture of the monkey, the astronaut, the condor or other figures. Afterwards they mostly haven’t seen anything through the lens of their camera and only nausea shimmers.
Right outside Nazca wind starts to blow very heavily. In a few seconds of time we can barely see anything - a huge sandstorm. We haven’t run one meter today. No choice, we’ll have to run through the storm. Right through the dust met a severe headwind. I brace myself, head first and I try to find the right pace. The sand blown against my body feel like small glass particles being drilled in my skin. I’m being sandblasted. Each time I open my mouth sand gets blasted in. The dirt drips from the corners of my mouth. Now I can’t give in. Further down the road Weking has a bone to pick with the same demons. Pachamama is testing us. “This the aftermath of winter”, a passer-by tells us. “This year it’s really crazy though. Over there the road bends towards the coast and the wind will drop.”
24 hour run
In Arequipa, the last big Peruvian city before we drive into Chile, we’ll have a few days of rest. We’ll celebrate Liesbeth’s birthday without running any marathons and we’ll make a short pitstop in the Colca canyon to spot some condors. But we’ll have to run lots of kilometers in little time. The ideal moment to challenge ourselves to a Via PanAm 24. The concept is quite simple: simultaneous with the Run To Walk Again, a relay race in Belgium, we run solidarily marathons for 24 hours.
Last year we had the same brilliant plan between Oregon and Washington, but then we got blown back by heavy rain and wind and had postpone our endeavour at 155 kilometers. We were too ambitious. With an average of 14 kilometers per hour we thought we could run for 24 hours. Alas. This time plan is simple: running for 24 hours at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour. If we can sustain that’s looking too far into the future. I’m not 100% percent fit after Lima and together we ran more than 16.000 kilometers since the first of June 2016.
It’s 10 ‘o clock in the evening. It’s pitch-dark in the desert, not too cold and a breath of wind. Running conditions are excellent. Traffic on the Panamericana slowly dies down. I’m start ready for our 24 hour run - a bit nervous as on a first day of school. Weking counts down and off we go. I run for two hours in the light of our following car. Afterwards Weking takes over for two hours and like this we carry on for a while. It’s deathly quiet beside any trucks. The drivers are surprised when they see as passing by. Our average is higher than 10 kilometers per hour. We’re ahead of schedule and it makes us feel good. It’s likely that we’ll sustain for 24 hours this year. After six hours of running Weking runs into daybreak. Slowly the night absorbs into the morning. Now we run next to the ocean. Ten meters below waves hammer onto steep cliffs. We’re jammed between the sea and a wall of rocky dunes. The road slings endlessly and disappears at the horizon into a pinhead - a worm hole that flashes you towards a new world.
After 16 hours of running we decide to switch runners faster. One hour of running, one hour of rest. In this way tempo will be maintained and the war of attrition will be less big. We’re a well-oiled machine that keeps on rumbling. Minutes keep on ticking by. All four of us are mentally strong enough to conquer the darkness. A few hours to go and we’ve ran for 24 hours to the minute. Traffic forces us to run at the edge of the road. There is no crash barrier between us and the depths at the right of us. One wrong step and we fall meters deep from the cliff into the sea. But we don’t have any time to think about this. The clock is still ticking.
One last time I lift myself out of the following car. I have one more hour to run. My body cracks with every step. I try to keep a good pace. As long there is speed, there is hope. It’s the heart rate of a runner. I count every second on the chrono. Holding on until the flickering lights of the camper where Weking is waiting for me to start his last hour of running. He grins when we high five. One hour to go and we’ve done it.
He pumps up his lungs one more time. The rhythm of his running looks swift in the glimmering of the headlights. He wriggles himself through the darkness towards the finish line. We wait for him on the last hill of the day. We’re done. We ran 255 kilometers so our average is more than 10 kilometers per hour. The endorphins are still raging through our veins, but our done for body stiffens immediately. Hopefully we’ll recover from this physical battle in Arequipa because we still have to run lots kilometers towards Ushuaia.
Again at lonely height
It’s quite busy at the Chilean border. Long rows of people queue up the cross the border from Peru. For the first time we can travel in and out of a country at one office. We’ll stay for one week in Chile. Before Arica we turn immediately left away from the coast towards the Andes. Within a few days we’ll climb to 4.500 meter and higher. The desert opens up like a film set, the high mountains becomes our new stage. Quickly we run above 3.000 meter and we seek the 4.000 meter border. F. Hendrickx & Sons and Klaas Backer moan themselves together with us a way up towards the eternal snow. The little Bolivians behind their huge steering wheel of their European trucks laugh heartily and salute when they pass by.
Air gets thinner, the intake of oxygen much harder. Op the height 4.700 meters Weking crosses the border with Bolivia, probably the most rough and unexplored country of South America. Volcanoes form a natural border. They look like solem guards. The difference between Chile and Bolivia is big. Except for a few asphalted vital roads Bolivia is connected with a bunch of dirt roads between small villages. Past the border we turn into wilderness towards the salt flat of Uyuni. For two weeks lamas, alpacas and vicuñas will be our travelling mates and human presence will be reduced to a lonely shepherd and some smugglers who try to find a safe conduct towards Chile.
After running on asphalt for a long time our body has to accustom to these new running conditions. The Bolivian plateau is dry, warm and rugged. In the far distance we see heavy whirlwinds tumbling across the landscape. Luckily they die down before they reach us. We zigzag on the sandy roads in search for the most optimal track. Little clouds of dust blow about with every step. We’ll have to keep it up towards Argentina. Here it’s not the fittest who’ll survive, but the one who can adapt to change. It’s an art we’re mastering more and more along the way.