The Northern Highlands

At the bakery we meet a cyclist from Sao Palo. Last night, one from California. There’s only a couple ways to the border between Peru and Ecuador and this is one of them. 

We leave San Ignacio and some how manage the 108 kilometers to Bellavista. The road is downhill and almost flat in some spots. I don’t know the last time we covered this many kilometers in one day. Mexico, perhaps.

In the cool morning air we descend to the river. Within minutes, we’re across for two Soles each. 

There’s a gap in the mountains here, a wide open valley baking in the sun. I can see the mountains and the clouds on the other side. We just have to get there. Stopping for watermelon and coconuts whenever we can, we slowly make our way to the other side. Rice, sugar cane, bananas, piñas, it’s all grown here. 

The canyon sinches down and we go up. The river is a boulder garden. Rocks and pour overs at every bend. I get the willies just looking at all the obstacles. 

The canyon narrows and opens up again. The river is lazy, blue green water floating by. The road is lined with fruit stands. What’s not to like? 

Scott shows up in Nuevo Tingo late in the day. It feels good to see a friend again. We ride to Leymebamba, solving all the world’s problems on the way. 
In Leymebamba we stay a day. 

I ask the señor at the hotel about laundry. I spied a machine in a  upstairs corner. He says after I wash it by hand, I can use his spinner. His spinner is a full on fancy Samsung washing machine. I ask why he doesn’t use the machine for everything. He says it takes too much time. I smile and nod, but inside I am raising an eyebrow. Tyndall’s mom once said that the washing machine freed women. All along our route I find myself agreeing with her over and over again. 

As the crow flies, it’s less than 70km to Cajamarca. As the road winds, it’s over 200. I have heard that the climbs are long and gradual in Peru, the descents the same. It’s true. We descend 2,700 meters over 60km. 

At the bottom is an oven. I bake. The heat is alarming. Mango trees are everywhere. Cold coconuts aplenty. We have good intentions to eat lunch and regain our beloved elevation in the shady afternoon hours. It turns out the road builders have other plans for us. 
From two German overlanders we learn that the road up and out is closed. It is open from 6:00-7:00 am and 6:00-7:00 pm everyday. Construction workers are blowing things up. We cannot pass. I embrace the heat, buy a kilo of mangos, a Sole worth of bananas and fill all my water bottles. We’ll try again in the morning. 

The full moon keeps me wide eyed all night. Just as it is dipping down, the roosters sound their alarm. The air is cooler. We climb in the early morning light, watching the canyon come alive with color. 

The sun catches us and I take frequent breaks, hiding in diminishing patches of shade. 
Shouts of gringo follow us in Peru, more so than anywhere else. I feel like a bear in Denali, with bus loads of tourists stopping to peer out at me.

Seven hours later we reach the top. 

After tuna sandwiches, we descend to Celendin then make our way to Cajamarca. There we eat our way through town, replenishing calories lost.

These mountains don’t mess around. 
Where we went: San Ignacio – Bellavista – Pedro Ruiz – Nuevo Tingo – Leymebamba – Balsas – Celendine – Cajamarca 

The launcha after Bellavista runs from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. 

Near as we can tell, the road closure at Balsas is permanent for the time being. It is also open 1:30-2:30 pm, but then you would be climbing in the hottest part of the day. The campestre just across the bridge and down river 400 meters offers camping on donation. She has bathrooms, showers and lots of flat space. 


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