On the top of Peru

25 09 2007

So much has happened!

Sorry, this could be a longish post. Catherine, make sure Rachel is settled. Of course, Congratulations to Kev and Catherine on the baby girl! Kev, you’ve clearly got nothing to do now, so you can read it too 🙂

It seems so long ago that I was in Huaraz. We tried to have a rest day on a Sunday (a rest day meaning “sleep in, then run around madly cleaning/fixing the bikes, buying food, eating, preparing for the next section”. It turns out to be foolish – not everything is open, and at the end of the day the only goal that could be said to be complete is eating. Ice-cream mostly. So we took another day to actually get ready to go.

So we took the easy option – a short ride form Huaraz to Caraz. And slept in relative comfort for the night. The next day was fairly long – leaving at 6:30 we braved the 4°C temperature and finished the last few km’s of bitumen before turning left toward the pass. This was the same road that Ol, Jess and I took for ice climbing in July. We climbed from 3500m to just over 4800m in a day. The scenery was great – even though I’d seen it before from a speeding taxi. (see photos on flickr – adding them to this page is possible, looks slick, but takes ages – I’d rather see the city than a computer screen all day – sorry). The road could have been a fire track straight out of the Flinders Ranges – steep, rocky, basically bad (there is much worse to come).

Since we weren’t quite acclimatised (well at all) the rise hurt. Rahel suffered early, but picked up later, I suffered in the early arvo, and Jurg didn’t really enjoy the last bit. But we all survived, and set up camp in a small stall just below the glacier at the top of the pass. I abandoned the hammock and stayed in the small tent with Rahel and Jurg (thankyou again!). It turns out I would have survived anyway, it was an overcast night and the shelter took the wind and snow right out of the equation. Ie it was warm (well considering the altitude anyway). The only part of me that was cold was my feet!

Although it was warm, we all slept poorly. It was 4800m after all! Our heads hurt – mostly due to dehydration it turns out. Drinking is not easy when the water is cold, really cold. We all woke several times, so when it was time to get going (at sunrise), we took a look out at the light snow falling and wordlessly decided to sleep in. So it was cold, but had stopped snowing, when we headed off at 10:30. The morning tourists had already started to arrive to do a bit of ice climbing. We didn’t tell them about the person who was evacuated yesterday with a laceration to the neck, and a pretty well busted ankle after falling from the glacier.

We hit the first pass almost straight away (only a small climb). Took a photo and moved on – was still pretty cold and windy. Then sailed down in to the high region between the two passes. Without panniers, or a fairly strong need to be conservative with the wheels, this section would have given exceptional riding. The road was good enough to get a fair speed up, but bad enough that it required constant attention (except with the heavy bikes we took it easy). The terrain changed 3 or 4 times, with grand mountains, grand valleys, and lots of plain grandness. The scenery was great – most of the tourists get to the glacier and stop, but just over the pass the scenery is ten times better. The only real problem was the weather. Starting overcast it cleared before turning nasty as we hit the second pass (a lazy 4880m according to the satellite gods – or GPS). Lots of wind, a bit of snow – enough to see me hiding in a fortuitously found cave by the road. I think we were lucky though – the opposite side of the valley turned white on about 10 minutes. I think they got a serious amount of snow over there.

After the worst had passed, we headed down the hill, only for me to discover I’d left my glasses in the cave. So back I climbed. The glasses were gone. I knew no-one had been there, so I took of my helmet to look around. Ah ha! Found them – between my beanie (a Nana’s special) and the rain coat hood. No wonder the helmet didn’t feel right…

200m down the road (vertically) we go to the asphalt, turned left and shot down the road. The problems encountered: dogs (bloody dogs) and cold (4°C racing down a hill cold enough for ya?). Gravity was assisting as much as it could though.

Cold, tired, hungry, bitching about dogs we rolled into Huallanca and initially liked the place – friendly people and houses that looked warm. After about an hour of searching for some where to sleep and being told they were all full (rubbish they just didn’t want us for some reason), we took a really crappy room without a shower (a cold shower counts as no shower above 3000m). The price was about right – S/ 6 (a bit over A$2). The pizza restaurant we went for dinner had a menu that consisted of chicken… and rice. We decided we all hated this place and on no account would we be staying here another night (not that we had planned on it anyway). Our feeble protest at the hoteliers friendliness (or lack of). To be fair, the owner of the place we stayed was quite friendly, but this didn’t make up for the rest of the town.

Since we weren’t on the top of the world any more, we managed to sleep pretty well, and got out early as we’d promised ourselves. After the pretty ordinary afternoon yesterday, today was great! Continued downhill, through a narrow canyon. We met first a truckload of people who stopped us for photographs. We thought they wanted us to take a photo of them… but the all poured off to take photos of us! A strange experience. Down in La Union we were again the center of attention with a crowd of Peruvians around us for quite some time (while we ate second breakfast – the bread was pretty god here). At one point Rahel asked me if I was married yet – a couple of girls had sidled up and giggling asked for a photo. (The answer is no).

Down the wrong side of the river, on a very poor, but scenic track. We finally found a foot bridge after 2km and went straight past the hot springs. The shouts of so many children from inside didn’t sound like much fun to us). And then the downhill ended, and we had to climb into Pachas. Ate lunch – guess what? yep, chicken (and rice). Then we got to go down again. If all this talk of up and down is repetative, I hope you can bear with me. I am cycling in/across the Andes, and one big feature of this is the changes in altitude. Also remember that the highest peak in Oz is Mt Kosciuszko at 2228m (although the National Mapping website informs me that the real highest point is Mawson’s Peak on Heard Island at 2745m, and even higher points in the Australian Antarctic Territory – but come on thats splitting hairs).

Where was I? Yes, down into Tingo Chico. A small place, only of note because it was 4 hours ride to the next Pueblo (village). About half an hour after we decided to stop for the night, a thunderstorm broke. Again, same time as yesterday. This little village contains possibly the worst hostel in Peru. It cost S/5 each (about A$2) for the night, and we consider that expensive. I wont go into a description of the toilet facilities. We normally ask if a room has hot water for a shower – we didn’t bother here, but were a little surprised by the lack of any water, or electricity. But in reality this is how many Peruvians (and others) live every day.

It rained for about 2 hours. During that time we had dinner – at the only restaurant. Pescado Frito (fried fish) was on the menu, so Jurg and I jumped at it (it wasn’t chicken) – and it was the only thing on the menu. Rahel, wished us good luck when she saw it arrive. Jurg as me how my battlefield was going part way through. It was that sort of meal (but actually tasted pretty good, and I’m still alive now).

From the locals we got various reports that this was the first rain of the year, and the 4th day in a row. This happens often, we’re still trying to work out how to sift through the crap and work out who is telling the truth. It’s especially frustrating with directions and distances.

The next day we rode up a valley to Chavinillo. It wasn’t far, but it was up, on a really crap road, made into a mud pit by the rain yesterday. I’ve named the Valley “Valle de los Perros” – Valley of the dogs. I had a dog stick nearly all day and the next, and had occasion to wave it at many, many dogs. I’m also losing my reluctance to throw stones at dogs. It seems to the best way to get them to back off. At one point (out of the timeline I’m afraid, but on topic) Jurg got bitten on the leg and panniers (not badly, but enough to scare us all) when we both had sticks in hand and were threateningly waving them at the dogs. This should not attract the damn things. We threw a few rocks at that one.

So we reached Chavinillo, at only 1pm, had lunch, looked up and decided to stay. Again, another good call, the thunderstorm broke after we’d moved in to the room. It looks like the wet season is approaching (bugger), thunderstorms every afternoon. We had a shower here though – the water was, unlike the promised hot, warm, but sufficient to shower. We decided we’d have to get to the bitumen tomorrow – the road so far has been really, really bad.

14km to the top, and we saw the Cronos del Inca (Crown of the Incas). A big rock formation that looks startling like a Tiara on the top of the hill. The people on the top of the hill looked different to the people of the valley, and were much more friendly. They live at 3900m. Tough people.

Around the corner Jurg got bitten, and we started the hardest descent so far. 2000m down, and all of it constantly on the brakes, dodging rocks and hanging on. 5 hours of riding took us about 50kms. It was a bad road. Again without panniers, or the necessity to keep the wheels round it could have been much faster and more fun. As it was I discovered a new muscle in my hand, the one you use to brake all day. It complained loudly to my brain this it shouldn’t be used this much. Jurg discoved the sand has a tendency to throw you off your bike. The dogs kept up the reputation from the previous day, I ended up with a supply of rocks in my raincoat pocket in readiness for the inevitable attacks.

Thuderstorm on cue just before 3 (after rain again about midday). We shook into Huanuco (why do so many Peruvian towns start with “H” when you don’t pronounce it?). We ignored the historical monument – too tired and battle worn from the shaker-shaker road and calls of “gringo!” to deal with it. I ate a Chifa (Chinese Fried Rice), or rather inhaled it, in the rain, in a little park in the city. The city started out badly, but we found a room easily, the pizza restaurant two hours later, and crashed.

At the pizza restaurant, Rahel and Jurg bumped into some other Swiss, who turned out to be living here and working (I wont go into details), The up-shot is the next day we spent all day in their compound cleaning the bikes (they needed it), having a feast for lunch of Swiss cooking (yum) and being eaten alive by bugs. We’re either freezing to death (altitude) or being eaten alive in this place.

I shouldn’t leave the updates so long. This sounds like a “today we did this” without time for thoughts. And I wouldn’t have to sit in the cubicle next to a girl singing karaoke for so long. You must all appreciate the photos though. I had to sift through 190 (in only a week!) to find the few good ones.

So far Huanuco has been eating and sleeping. And typing while the day disappears. The next section is on Bitumen. Yippe! The map shows a lot of 4000m+ coming up. I hope the wet season gives me just a bit more time to evacuate this area.

I’ve sniffed out the Restaurant Govinda here. The local Hari Krishna Restaurant. I think we’re in for some Vegetarian tonight. Followed by a monster fruit salad; I may have got carried away at the market, sp now we have to eat our way through a Pineapple, Papaya, 1kg of mangoes, two hands of bananas and a liter of yoghurt. Wish us luck.


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