Pinkbike's Share the Ride Brings Bikes to Kids in Peru
By Vanessa Stark.
Photos by Robin O'Neill
It’s October 2nd 2018, myself, photographer Robin O'Neill and eight other mountain biking obsessed women from B.C. are standing on a raised stage facing a school yard full of six to 17 year-old kids. Most are wrapped in a beautiful vibrant Peruvian blanket, no doubt hand-woven by their mothers. Their inquiring eyes peer at us from beneath Chullos (traditional ear flapped toques/beanies) and bowler hats.
Here in Peru’s Sacred Valley, schools are identified by numbers, not names and this small rural school Huama Institucion Educative 50161 is nestled in at 3000m/9,800ft high, deep in the mountains of the Lamay district. Accessible only by a winding unpaved road and with very few vehicles in the town, the villagers have limited access to the outside world.
Our group of friends from Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton are in Peru mountain biking with Whistler-based Big Mountain Bike Adventures and their guides, Peruvian brothers Nico and Chente Chirinos Pastor. Today, we are honoured to have the opportunity to be presenting donated bikes, helmets and bike gear to school kids from a small poor rural village through Pinkbike’s amazing Share The Ride program.
For a decade leading up to this day, Big Mountain ran scores of guided trips that went through the village where the only interaction was a quick stop and a few photographs with the curious local kids, and sometimes lunch at a homestead. "It was tough to not be able to give back," says owner Chris Winter. "We've been looking for sustainable ways to give back, but nothing has worked over the years." Local guides Nico and Chente recalled times when they received hostility from the villagers, getting yelled at and even rocks thrown. They then approached the leader of the village and ended up negotiating a positive solution where they built a mountain bike trail and they now pay a small fee for each group that passes through the village. The small gesture has instigated a friendly relationship between the villagers and mountain bikers.
Just below the stage is a row of 13 brand new mountain bikes and helmets that are about to be donated to the school. The bikes will be shared by all the students through their school’s physical education program. The school yard is full of wide-eyed kids, some holding hand drawn signs.
After the Peruvian flag is raised and the anthem is sung, there are several speeches. We are graciously thanked by school officials and in turn we express our gratitude for the warm welcome. We are then treated to music and a beautiful traditional dance performed by the older students. As the dance finishes there’s an air of impatient excitement among the kids. Finally, it’s time to try out the bikes!
The first person to step forward is a young teenaged girl dressed in a beautiful vibrantly embroidered traditional Peruvian skirt. In the rural culture of the Sacred Valley girls are taught to be submissive and reserved, they tend to have children at a very young age and do not to do things like ride bikes. Perhaps the presence of 10 mountain biking women helped empower her to be the first to courageously step forward or maybe she was just feeling that magical lure that bikes have, that universal feeling of joy and freedom.