Still on Top

28 09 2007

I think the titles could stay with this theme for some time. The altitude promises to stay rather high. So maybe I’ll use a subheading instead. This one could be:

Alpacas

After a good two days eating and cleaning in Huanuco, the three of us cleared out for more southerly action. Going east was fun, but wasn’t helping the arrival at Ushuia.

Basically that involved going up. Huanuco is at a lowly 1950m, and there is a lovely high plain at 4100m between it and anything south. So for the best part of two days we climbed.

Pity I don’t have a photo yet (Jurg has a few). On the first day of climbing, we stopped for lunch just before 1pm. Respectable time we thought. The place was a small pueblo; San Rafael. Soon after we’d eaten, we noticed a few small faces at the door (we had the bikes outside and keep a pretty sharp eye on them). Within minutes there were about 50 children crowded around us and the bikes. The school was just across the road, and they had been let out to go home. We talked, made faces and were stared at for a fair while before we left, with a trail of chasing kids.

The rain has been appearing with monotonous regularity about 3pm. As we approached Huariaca, the sky became very dark and threatening. I felt sure we were about to get soaked. The hostel in the town was significantly below par, and we decided to brave the weather. Luckily for us, the valley turned sharply just out of Huariaca, and the weather was much kinder up this valley. We found a nice spot by the river, and set up the tent. The hammock took a bit of thinking about to make work, but I’m getting used to pitching the hammock as a hutchy or bivvy. Especially above 3000m, this is a better option (as freezing is less likely). I may have to continue this through Bolivia…

We decided to miss Cerro de Pasco, the biggest town the next day, as it took a 10km detour. Instead we crossed another pass, this one at only 4400m (yawn). It was extremely cold. The computer was telling me it was 10°C, but for some reason this didn’t seem right. Perhaps it was the wind (& wind chill), but my fingers could have sworn it was below freezing. Traveling down the other side at 55km/h probably didn’t help the wind chill.

I don’t have a photo (yet), but I’m beginning to ride in lots of clothes. The arm and leg warmers are no longer the bees-knees. They are the under garments now. Routinely I’m in a beanie and either the rain coat or the fleece.

On this pass, the descent on the far side was only 200m. This is due to a high altitude plain. Quite spectacular to see a large grass plain after climbing up for two days. After lunch, and steadying the spinning head from another round of altitude sickness, we rode on the edge of the plain to the town of Carhuamayo. At that altitude there is an air pressure of 60kPa, so roughly 60% as much oxygen to breathe.

I had noticed on the way up a slight slackness in the rear wheel which I fixed when we arrived. That was when I noticed one of the spokes had snapped also (probably on the bumpy road down into Huanuco). So I embarked on a tour of the town, at around sunset (read: when it was really, really cold) to find a new spoke. It turns out the spare I bought in Quito wasn’t the right length after all. To cut a long story short (I seem to have a few long stories…) I found a new spoke in a hardware store (the four bike repair stores didn’t have the right length, and in fact one of the ‘mechanics’/butchers took a look at the wheel and said ‘it looks all right, don’t worry until you’ve snapped 3 or 4 spokes’) .

This morning we rode across the plain, next to Lago de Junin (highest lake of it’s size in the Americas so I’m lead to believe). Big lake. High up. It would have been impressive if I could concentrate – 4100m is pretty high and some interesting effects have occurred inside my digestive system in the last few days. This morning there was a pain that I couldn’t get rid of and there seemed to be no oxygen until we reached Junin. I think it may have been the mixture of yogurt, coca tea, bread, altitude and exercise. I’ll try it again tomorrow and see what happens. Hopefully there is less gas produced. 😉

After Junin, the oxygen returned and I could keep up again. And the rain came. For a little while. But there was a tiny bit of snow by the side of the road – I’m still not sure that it wasn’t snow that was falling and melting as it hit us. In the next town, the policeman told me that in 1 or 2 weeks the rain will be constant, all day every day. That sounds like the wet season approaches. If it gets to me in the mountains, there will be a bus involved. Riding in the rain (while freezing, ie at 4000m) isn’t a whole lot of fun.

I’ve completely missed the Alpacas. As soon as the altitude hit 4000m, these beasties were everywhere. Almost completely replacing sheep. They are even transported like sheep: I saw a taxi with five Alpacas, with thick wool, trussed up and in the back of the station wagon. There is a photo on Flickr. A point was made that the Peruvians do some strange things: often we see trucks full of people, and animals in the back of cars. The alpacas have continued, especially on the high plain – hordes of them. Today we saw some Vicuñas as well – a relative of the alpaca and llama. Now that I think of it, some of the beasties could have been llamas (although most were definitely alpacas).

Coming down off the plain today we headed for La Oroya, only because it was at about the right distance. The trip notes we found in Trujillo said “aire malo, mucha pollucion de las minas”. Even I could work that out. As it claims the air is bad, the refinery is only a few hundred meters away, and the trucks go down the main road of the town. A place to leave asap. Hopefully two days to Huancayo (another town starting with “hua”).

I hope these posts aren’t too long, and are boring everyone.


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