We zig and zag in and out of mototaxis, leaving the hustle and bustle of Cajamarca during a holiday behind. At the turn off to Jesus we find Genevieve and Michel. They are following the paved road to San Marcos and Cajabamba. We’re going to Jesus and up and over the mountains on dirt. I consider trying to convince them to join us, but with skinny tires, they will be happier sticking to the pavement.
Spinning my pedals, I go up, seeking solitude and silence. The road deteriorates, turning to loose, deep gravel. I put on music and keep churning. We load up on water, wanting to sleep in the paramo tonight. At the pass, there’s a hidden flat space perfect for stealth camping. The wind is a whisper and we eat dinner as the sun sets. The stars twinkle on and we drink tea. There’s the southern cross on one side, and the big dipper, just across, on the opposite horizon. The north star is gone. Silence permeates.
After Cachachi the road improves. We eat second breakfast and move on, past the parades of people out to celebrate Peruvian Independence.
The road goes down down down. We pass empty adobe houses and a car rolling along, on three tires and one rim. I wonder if they will make it to the bottom.
We hit the main road and spin on hot pavement through the valley. A woman buys us ice cream in exchange for a photo with her son. Perhaps I should use bribery when trying to take photos of the people here.
In Cajabamba the festivities are in full swing. Children wearing sequined green outfits dance in the street. Others wear traditional dance and move to a different tune. A boy dressed as Jesus stares enviously at Tyndall’s beard, stroking his own fake, temporary one.
Fancy cakes are for sale and we get a week’s worth of sugar in two slices, knowing we won’t find sweets this good for a long time.
We buy a 16 Sole synthetic blanket made in China, worried about cold nights at high altitude. It’s not as nice as the felted wool ones for sale from Cuzco, but it’s packable and stylish.
Through the mountains past Cajabamba we go. The road to Curgus is a bit of a mess. I think about our skinny tired friends who came before us. The deep silt sucks on my tires. At the end of the valley, the shortest, steepest climb I have seen in Peru waits. It’s not even long. At the top, a señora cheers me on, her silver toothed smile flashing in the sun.
In Curgus we try and fill our bags with two days of food. Tuna, bananas, and…? It’s tough. Calorie dense, packable foods are hard to find. The lady at the tienda laughs at our hodge podge of booty, and wonders where we’re going.
At the bottom of the canyon there’s a hotel and hot spring. Instead of paying for a smelly room with noisy neighbors we find an abandoned pool and make it our own for the night.
Up past Sarin we go. I really can’t belive there are roads here. Who uses them? Loggers and miners, it turns out, and people on foot with burros. Motos, too.
Stands of eucalyptus line the road, obscuring my view. The tall straight trees are being harvested and trucked off the mountain. The mountains are being pilaged for their wealth hidden inside.
The wind blows and the racing clouds spit rain. We set up our tent in an old stock shelter. As darkness falls the sky clears. The stars wink on, in time with the headlamps of the miners on the mountain across the way. Their jackhammers echo through the valley, punctuated by an occasional dynamite blast.
The sky is blue bird this morning, and the first climb comes easy.
We descend past a stunning blue lake and old abandoned mine sites into Pamapas, playing tag with a man hauling cow skins in a moto taxi on the way. He has to stop to cool his motor on the uphills. We do, too.
From Conchucos we climb, following the horse trail from town. An old Inca trail weaves in and out, and man goes down on his horse, cell phone in hand.
It’s some of the best high altitude riding we have had. Even Tyndall is moved enough to grab the camera and start taking photos. And then, we come around a corner and get our first glimpse of the Blancas. Imposing mountains with snowy bits showing here and there and a hanging glacier or two. I wonder if these glaciers are melting as rapidly as Alaska’s.
We pass the high point, find the main road (again) and cruise down, only hindered by a small landslide and one questionable bridge.
We camp above Sihaus, avoiding the fray of humans for one night.
From town, we go down more, back into a warm, dry canyon. I plug in for the climb, listening to episodes of More Perfect on the way up. I’m intrigued by the ins and outs of the Supreme Court. You should be, too.
At the top, there’s a small town. I’m gifted a bag of tostados and chochos. Up through the valley we climb, passing some of the friendliest people on the way. Offers of food follow us. Everyone wears felted wool hats, calling them something we roughly translate to “ears of wool”. A group of men with pick axes and shovels work to get the rocks out of the road. It’s a futile endeavor.
I’m drawn down by the prospect of a shower and a big plate of Chifa in Pomabamba. We make it just before dark and find everything a dirty, hungry biker could want.
Two short days later and we’re in Huascarán National Park, camped below Llanganuco Pass that will take us up 4700 meters, through the Cordillera Blancas and out the other side.
Where we rode: Cajamarca – Cachachi – Cajabamba – Curgos – Sarin – Conchucos – Sihaus – Pomabamba – Llumpa – Yanama – Yungay
We restocked in Curgos for the ride to Conchucos, but could have easily done so in Sarin instead.
To find the abandoned hot spring, go past the hotel at El Eden. You will see a rickety old foot bridge. Go check it out, I don’t recommend crossing it though. From the edge of the bridge, look down. You will see a straw hut and a heart shaped pool. The pool was full and flowing when we arrived.