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Cajamarca to Recuay, Peru

PERU | Saturday, 24 April 2010 | Views [4216]

26/3/10 to 22/4/10         726km

Retracing our steps from Cajamarca back towards Los Baños del Inca for 5km we then took the 'Carretera longitudinal de la Sierra' towards Cajabamba and Huamachuco on our back route journey across the sierra and down to the coast at Trujillo.

The market sprawls down the side streets in Cajabamba, beautiful large sombreros characteristic of the region

A typical northern andean scene - an indigenous family looking over their small herd of sheep, brightly coloured skirts, large sombreros, a dog, eucalytpus trees growing on the hillsides for firewood, and rocky granite mountains in the background.

We had been looking forward to the indigenous town of Huamachuco for a couple of days but after a tough dirt road climb with lots of inconsiderate traffic to reach the town, we entered via the dodgy market/bus station side of town and were bombarded with 'gringo' taunts and drunken abuse. It was market day, and more importantly the end of market day which here in Peru means that every man is drunk off his feet and as travellers we are easy targets. Just what we didn't feel like after a very tough day in the saddle with rain, dirt roads and plenty of climbing. We shut off, put our heads down and rode into town past the largest Plaza de Armas in Peru to find a comfortable and cheap bed for the night which we found at 'Hotel Los Conquistadores' with an in house restaurant, hot showers, courtyard, ground floor room for 15 soles (US$5.50). 

The next morning in town was a completely different story with the drunks still sleeping off their market day but we were keen to continue on. From Huamachuco it was then up and over 4200m, over the cordillera, weathering a big storm and then a big down from 3200m to sea level in one days riding, into a strong coastal headwind and the coastal desert and vast fields of ‘caña’, sugar cane. It was actually surprisingly easy to enter Trujillo being the second largest city in Peru, it actually felt much smaller, and we barely even noticed the annoying honking of the famous yellow taxis before we had arrived at the world renowned and the original ‘Casa de Ciclistas’ of Lucho Ramirez, a haven for traveling cyclists since 1985.

Thumbing through the guestbook or ‘libro de oro’ we set about finding the entries of other cyclists whom we have met on our travels, others whom we have followed some of their routes and stories, and others like Dick and Els from the Netherlands who stayed in here back in 2002, and who have been a huge inspiration on how our journey has taken shape. We entered our names at cyclists number 1296 and 1297 respectively who have stayed and visited the Casa de Ciclista in Trujillo.

Once I had cleaned off the mud from the past six days of mostly muddy and dirt roads, I discovered that my bottom bracket was loose (no metaphor intended) and due for a replacement. So our time at Lucho’s which was originally meant for rest soon became a bit of a project with new parts ordered, new bottom brackets for the two bicis, a special Lucho ‘tune up’ for the wheels and hubs, and an oil change for the Rohloffs. And in a place like the Casa de Ciclista it feels quite normal to spend a couple of days getting our hands dirty, talking bikes, tweeking bikes, fixing bikes....which to the normal person might seem a bit strange! But here it would be strange not to!

A special late night Lucho tune-up and wheel truing!

Not just confined to travelling cyclists, Carla and Daniel from Cordoba Argentina, both arquitects who are travelling north to Mexico, and then back home via Brazil with their Renault 4 'Recoleta' whom also stayed at the Casa de Ciclistas in Trujillo during our time there.

Our intended 4 day stay quickly swelled into 10 days after Anna had some tests done which revealed some interesting parasites That she (and realistically me too) had been carrying for over a month and was probably responsible for the waves of sickness she had experienced since Quito!(lactose intolerance caused by parasites?) So with some heavy artillery antihelminthics for the both of us, and some extra days of rest in the relaxed Casa, the Casa joined us for the ride out to the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, from where Lucho then decided to accompany us another 50 km along the desert highway until just short of Viru. Gracias Lucho por todo. During the extra days at the Casa killing stomach bugs, we actually had the time to develop our friendship with Lucho, so with a hint of sadness we watched him ride back into the desert towards Trujillo.

After only 85km or so on the Panam highway and the coastal desert sands we had had enough of the winds, and the bus and truck traffic (including a collectivo van from which some idiot threw orange peel at us at 110kph) and we took the private road turn-off, 15km after Chao into the bone dry red rock desert where no plants dared to grow and where the heat intensified.  After a hot mornings ride through this blistering moonlike desert landscape, the private road soon joined the Rio Santa, a source of life and vegetation, and which we would be following all the way high to its source in the Cordillera Blanca. But first into the Cañon del Pato.

After a long day in the heat and dust but only 5 km short of the end of the private road, I hit the wall energy wise (my excuse was carrying the extra water for the desert!) so we found ourselves a perfect wild desert campsite in among granite boulders, giant cacti and towering red rock mountains above us. We didn’t even set up the tent, sleeping directly under the stars, only to be woken at 2 am with a few drops of rain on our faces and a mad rush to put the tent up. The rain never eventuated, just a few remnant drops of the storm higher up in the mountain.

Our desert campsite at ´Quebrada El Silencio´ at breakfast when the heat was already intensifying.

A short morning ride to Chuquicara on a brief glimpse of nice paved road, before the road to Huaraz really deteriorated to rock rubble. We were being pushed along nicely by a strong tailwind but the roughness of the rocky road meant we couldn’t maintain any momentum bouncing around between huge boulders, and trying to guide our bikes as smoothly through the minefield of rubble. Just as we would look up at the towering mountains above us, or the folded rock on the other side of the canyon the bike would surge sideways after suffering a blow from a boulder, and we would be snapped back into full concentration mode.

First of many tunnels we would pass through even before the famous ´Cañon del Pato´. This one blasted out of sheer rock

Anna dwarfed by the canyon landscape in this hot, dry and inhospitable land on one of the worst gravel-rock roads we have ever ridden. 

Awesome folded rock formations as the Rio Santa carves its way through the canyon.

Ali washing off two days of desert dust and grime under the ´pressure wash´ waterfall that appeared out of nowhere.

¨buen provecho!¨ a pretty typical vegetarian option around these parts...fried egg, rice, beans (menestra) and some boiled yuca...whack on some 'aji' or chili sauce...lekker/tasty!

In the small, dusty and hot canyon town of Huallanca we rode into town during their anniversary celebrations meaning the two small hospedajes were already full. Luckily one of the hospedajes allowed us to set up camp on their rooftop for free, included: shower, toilet, rooftop views of the party in the streets below, and two 3 month old boxer puppies!

Someone was in their element! Just not at 2am when the party below was still carrying on with two competing bandas, and the pups still wanted to play in the cooler evening air!

The next morning we rode past the hydro-electric village and into the official Cañon del Pato...

Ali about to enter one of the 35 or so tunnels of the Cañon del Pato, this one a huge slab of granite with a tunnel carved out beneath.

At the top end of the canyon lay the dam for the Hydro electric project. After several days of rough rock roads we were glad to hit the pavement again on the other side of the tunnels. The valley widened, the road improved (although that didn't save two collectivos that had as recently as January this year had crashed into the river below leaving behind freshly constructed roadside memorials for this that were killed on this straight stretch of road?), we pumped our tyres up again for the smooth surface and we caught our first glimpses of the icy peaks of the Cordillera Blanca in the distance.

"Gringitos! Que bonitos gringitos!" Just short of Caraz this sweet woman waved us down to take some of her fruit and to rest a little. Normally we find being called 'gringos' an insult, but it so much depends on the tone and manner in which is is done. This woman used it in a very sweet way, and was very happy to see us enjoying her country. Unfortunately the fruits were practically inedible, fermenting and soft.

In the small town of Caraz we found 'Pony Expeditions' just off the plaza and the super friendly Alberto who provided us with all the local information, maps, trail descriptions and a pack to rent for Anna for us to be able to do the Santa Cruz trek independently from the quiet and clean pueblo of Caraz. If anyone needs advice, equipment rental, maps etc. this is the place to to go for friendly service and there is no need to go to Huaraz to base yourself for trekking in the region! We also met up with Yannick there, a young belgian who we had met in Trujillo a week earlier and who was keen to join us for the four day trek.

The Santa Cruz trek is one of the most popular trekking routes in the Cordillera Blanca, but still being outside the 'peak' trekking and dry season of May to October, the trail and campsites were relatively quiet with only a few small organised groups with their trains of 'burros' (donkeys). Still, being on the cusp of the dry season meant cloud build up in the afternoons, rain every night and a wet and cloudy climb up over the Punta Union pass at 4750m. Still we had some spectacular mountain views on a couple of days, a condor soaring high above us, an andean fox visiting our camp, the mountain lupines in flower, glaciers avalanching in the night, turquoise blue glacial lakes, waterfalls and andean mountain solitude.

Llama coral camp day 1 on the Santa Cruz trek, camped among giant boulders

Nevado Artesonraju

Anna and Yannick hiking alongside Laguna Jatuncocha

On the stony steps to Punta Union above Laguna Taullicocha in the rain and clouds, poor beasts of burden carrying trekkers equipment over the 4750m pass

Effects of high altitude trekking!

One thing we didn't expect was the huge number of cows fouling the campsites and trail, and the large number of burros also fouling the trail. At one campsite we had to compete with the cows and awoke to a cow spraying diarrea on the side of our tent before scaring it off! Not what you expect when you are trekking in a world famous national park 'Parque Nacional Huascaran' and have paid 65 soles (US$24) each as a foreigner (quite a lot by Peruvian standards) for the privilege! Not to mention the lack of facilities - every toilet block at every campsite was damaged or vandalised beyond working order. Begs the question: Where does all that money go?

But still a world class trek in the second highest mountain range in the world behind the Himalayas. I hope the Peruvians can get their act together in managing it better for the future and not just as a 'money grab' from foreign trekkers, but as a valuable natural resource that should be protected. The mountain glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca are in obvious retreat over recent times with raw black rock exposed where glaciers once spread and we really wonder just how it will look in 10, 20 and 50 years. Sadly by then, maybe it will no longer be the Cordillera Blanca, and all the villages in the valley below that rely on the glaciers for water will be in real trouble... 

After the trek we had a short days ride up to Huaraz, the largest city in the region, a travellers town with prices to match and the base for most trekking agencies. We found it to be a really ugly town, lacking any character so we were extremely happy that we had stayed in the quieter and more genuine town of Caraz as a base for our trek. The next morning another short ride up the 'Callejon de Huaylas' to the small village of Recuay where we were welcomed into the home of Werner and Maria.

Werner and Maria, our warm showers hosts in Recuay enjoying a 'Cusqueña' at La Gruta.

So for now we will leave our bikes and gear here for three weeks while we head back to Ecuador to meet up with Anna's mum and brother Reyndert for an exciting Galapagos trip onboard the 'Sagitta'. A big thanks to Werner and Maria for hosting us and storing our gear safely while we're away. We'll return by mid May to continue in Peru up and over a 4800m pass in the Cordillera Blanca, but for now a much anticipated break from the long up and down roads of Peru.

To view the album 'Cajamarca to Recuay, Peru' in Picasa click here

Hasta la proxima vez

Alister y Anna

Tags: peru

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