Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Vuelta a Mejia

Mejia is a small costal village swollen by its summer visitors. The Pacific’s waves roll in over darkish sands and rows of gazebos offer shade from the fierce sun. Most of the visitors are here for the weekend and travel on buses from Arequipa leaving as early as 4am for the 2 ½ hour ride. The village comprises worker's homes to the east of the main road and wooden summer cottages to the west. At the edge there is a significant number of upper class rented or owned summer houses and apartments. There is a small church well attended by the locals and a square where children play during the evening throwing small balloons full of water for it is the time of las carnivales.

typical wooden summer house in Mejia

Mejia beach
Close to the town are the Lagunas de Mejia, an ecological park of several lakes set in marshes. The area supports a vast array of bird life and there are chacras with sheep, cows and goats. The final part of the race passes through the paths that access the lakes offering glimpses of the marshes and the sea to the other side.

Lagunas de Mejia
The day began fitfully as we were supposed to be down in town by 5am. I arrived on time but before anyone else – probably not surprising. This was my second visit to the point of departure as originally the bus was set to leave the night before but plans were changed unbeknown to me and one other.

We left  Arequipa for the race shortly before 6 having stacked about 40 bikes on the top of the bus. We had a small breakfast on board and arrived shortly before 9 to find that the organisers were impatient to begin. I had been signed up for the D category, over 60s but no one had informed me it was a shorter ride, so with much confusion and at the very last minute I changed from D to open D joining the A, B and Cs, some 50 or so competitors.

So we set off and I was quickly swallowed up by the group and equally quickly left behind with some others. I wasn't sure if this was all an adrenalin rush or they were going to sustain the pace. I had thought that my fitness at the lower altitude would be of assistance but I struggled breathlessly in around 30 degrees. I had wanted to keep pace with my new acquaintance Bruce, a wiry Australian of around 50+ who had mentioned his need to retain the ashes, but his lighter frame outpaced me on the hills and I settled into my own rhythm.

The course was roughly circular at first taking in some farm trails before giving way some sandy hills that took us in a wide loop inland and back over the dunes towards the sea. The going was very tough. Even on the flat the sandy surface resisted one's efforts and many times on relatively easy climbs I had to dismount and push. The down hill sections were uncertain as hitting deep sand at speed was a question hope over reason but I managed to stay upright. By the time we got to the marshes and lakes I was accompanied by a small group and we hung together. At times we had to depend on locals to tell us the direction as we only saw one set of marshals the whole race. He final route was straight with a training wind and I was able to make some ground on others. For a while we took to the asphalt and I found a young man with whom to share the work.
Team Inter Group

I fancied I saw Bruce's white shirt off in the distance and felt I was gaining only to fall back again impeded by a trail 20cm deep in warm brackish water. Arriving at he line Bruce told me he only had 30 seconds on me but had been held up somewhat by lack of directions. Anyway I was pleased to have competed and got a small cheer. Bruce and I both gained medal in our class, mine was a first place but since I was the only over 60 in the race it constituted a phyric victory, Nonetheless it was a great ride and was suitable ended by retiring to the beach to share beers and empanadas.

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