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Cuenca, Ecuador to Huaraz, Perú (Part 2 of 2)

posted Nov 20, 2010, 2:42 PM by Paul Gareau   [ updated Nov 20, 2010, 3:22 PM ]
Welcome back!

My next destination was Cajamarca, which is one of the largest cities in the area and the capital of the Cajamarca region of Peru. On the first day there was a big climb out of Celendin. Towards the end of the day I stopped at a small village to get some food for the night, and for breakfast (bread, eggs and milk is my new favorite breakfast), when I heard "Hello!" from a car that pulled up next to me. I almost immidiately recognized the couple inside - they were the Swiss couple who are driving almost the same route as I'm cycling, and I had met them about eight months earlier near the border of Mexico and Belize! We talked for a bit and I found out that they had seen Phil and Manu behind me, as well as a Belgian couple who I hadn't heard of, and a solo Portuguese guy who I didn't immediately realize was the same person I had been hearing about since the Baja Penninsula of Mexico. 

After doing my shopping and getting some water, I continued the climb and at one point came across a little girl who was walking towards me and playing with a puppy with a stick on a string. Once she saw me, she dropped the string, turned around and ran home. We both got to her house at about the same time, where she ran into her father's arms as he said something about her not having to be afraid. I decided to ask for some more water while I was there, but there was no water from the tap that the father ran down to, and instead he gave me some water from a jug that he called "agua limpita". In Spanish, you can add the diminutives ito/ita to many words to make them smaller, or less, and they do this more in Peru than any other Latin American country I've been in. In this case, the translation is "water, a little clean". The problem is that since diminutives are so overused here, it's hard to know how to interpret them. I decided that to be safe "agua limpita" was close enough to "agua sucita" (water, a little dirty), so I decided I'd just use it for my cooking. 

I reached the pass where I finally decided it was cold enough to put my jacket and some other warm clothing on. I didn't realize how cold my hands had gotten, and that, combined with sore thumbs from checking/changing my troublesome trailer tire twice that day, left me struggling with the tricky zipper of my jacket. Of course I wasn't in any danger, but it was definitely eye opening to be in a situation where I wasn't able to do something as simple as zip my jacket up. 

Just beyond the top, I found a new, unfinished house to stay in, and didn't even bother setting up my tent inside. I got to Cajamarca the next day, finishing my ride with two cyclists who lived there, who I had met in the nice small indiginous town of Encañada - not far from the city. It was market day so there were a lot of people and animals around, and there was good "hat viewing" since the style of the indiginous people of the area is to wear big, off-white colored hats. 

Cajamarca was a nice little city, but spending the afternoon there was enough, and I headed out the next day towards San Marcos, where people had been telling me there was a fiesta. It turned out that the fiesta didn't start until about 10PM, which is waaay past my bedtime, so I didn't get to see any of it. I left the next morning feeling pretty weak, probably because I hadn't eaten well enough the night before. I only made it to the next town of Ichocan, where I rested for a bit before finally deciding I wasn't up for any more riding that day. Ichocan was a much nicer town than the all-brick, and characterless San Marcos, and I stayed at the simple municipal hotel for about $3.50 USD. I spent the rest of the day in bed, watching the last movie in the Matrix trilogy, and working on some Spanish vocabulary. 

I was back on track the next day and arrived in Cajamarca, where amazingly, I stayed at the same hotel as the Belgian couple who I had heard about a few days earlier. We headed out together the next day, with the same destination of the "Casa de Ciclistas" on the coast in Trujillo - although it would take us a few days to get there. We reached Huamachuco on our second day of riding together where we met Nelson, the Portuguese cyclist who I had been hearing about for almost a year. He had also been hearing about me, and told me that people always ask him "have you met Paul yet?". The four of us had lunch in town, then continued onward until we found another unfinished house to stay in. 

We all left together the next day, continuing to climb to my new record elevation of 4200 meters (about 13,800 feet). The Belgians ended up ahead of us, and Nelson and I found yet another abandoned house to spend the night in. The next day Nelson and I got separated after I saw him coming around a switchback, and never appearing from the other side of the trees (he had a flat). I made it all the way to Trujillo that night, where I found the Casa de Cyclistas without too much trouble, considering I only knew the name of the street that it was on. 

The "Casa de Ciclistas" of Trujillo is pretty famous among cycling tourists, and has been visited by around 1500 bicycle travellers since the owner Lucho opened his doors to them, including some famous travellers including Hanz Steike, who is a bicycle traveller and listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as "The most travelled man in the world". 

When I arrived, Phil and Manu were there, having arrived earlier in the day. The Belgians were also around, and Nelson arrived the next day. Nelson, Phil, Manu and I hung around for three days, which was longer than I would have liked, but I was waiting for some new parts, including two new derailleurs for my bike (one to use, one to carry - I learned my lesson!). The four of us headed out together with our destination being the Cordillera Blanca. One website says: 

The Cordillera Blanca "The White Mountain Range", is located in the Peruvian Andes, it is the highest tropical mountain range in the planet, place where is found Huascaran mount (6768m / 22 205 ft), the highest tropical mountain in the world; Alpamayo (5947m /  19 511ft, the most beautiful mountain in the world.

We would all take the infamous private road into the mountains, which is owned by a Brazillian company and is used to access and maintain the channel that brings water to the dry coast for irrigation. After the private road, there is a short stretch back on public roads, before turning south and into the "Cañon del Pato" (Canyon of the Duck). The riding was all through great scenery, and not terribly steep, but the condition of the roads lead to slow progress and fairly low motivation among everyone. 

We reached Caraz in about four and a half days of riding, where Phil, Manu and I decided to stay to do some hiking. The next day we headed out for a short hike where we got some good views of snowcapped peaks in the distance. The next day we headed up to the amazing Laguna 69, where there were innumerable waterfalls, cracking ice caps and glaciers, and crystal clear blue water. I camped that night at the trailhead, while Phil returned to Caraz and Nelson (who we didn't expect to meet there) went to stay in the Park Ranger's office. The next morning I walked down the road and past two more beautiful lakes, and had to continue almost to the park enterance before a car finally passed that could take me back to Caraz. The next day I had a stomach bug of my own, and didn't leave Caraz. The day after that I rode to Huaraz where I met Nelson - we had planned to do some hiking together and spent a while getting information and talking about what we could do. We decided that we would do the relatively easy and short three day hike from the ruins of Chavín to the small town of Olleros, carrying everything we needed and following a pre-Colombian trail through the mountains. Afterwards we would return to Huaraz to stock up on supplies again, and then go to the southern range known as the Cordillera Huayhuash, where we would probably try to rent a donkey (serious!) to carry our stuff over the more challenging terrain. 

Nelson and I rushed and were able to arrive in Chavín the next afternoon, where we spent a little over an hour exploring the ruins before having an interesting experience camping in a shadow at the town's stadium. We were caught by the all-night guard who just told us that if our stuff is stolen that it's not their responsibility. Fine.

The next morning we headed out of town on a very steep trail that made us both doubt our ability to finish the trek, but eventually it flattened out and rejoined a new road that passed through several small indiginous towns. We made it to the area that we had hoped to spend the night at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and I spent another two hours or so exploring the valley adjacent to the one we would be leaving through the next day. We were able to stay in a building near the camping area, which definitely helped since it was a very cold and windy night. The next day we knew we had a big pass to climb, which at 4700 meters (15,400 feet), was the highest I had ever been. Near the top it started hailing, then thunder and lightening, then snowing. We decided to sit the storm out for a while, and just hid under my tarp until the worst of it had passed. At the top it was still cold, and a thin layer of snow was still on the ground, but it had cleared up enough to have some great views of the mountains and lakes in the area. We spent a while at the top, then descended into a grassy valley where alpacas and cows were grazing, and we decided that it would be worth it to stay around there waiting for it to clear again to see the surrounding views. It was only 2PM when we arrived, so we set up camp and then headed up to the top of a waterfall that we thought must have a big lake at the top. We got to what we thought was the top only to see another hill, and since it started raining, we headed back to camp to rest a bit before making dinner. We hadn't quite made the distance we had hoped that day and had a long walk to where we should have camped, then another 10+ miles to Olleros where we would get a ride back to Huaraz. We started the hike with a ton of food that I thought would be sufficient for four days if we needed it, but it was strenuous hiking and I had exactly enough for the three days. In the end, I decided that as much as I'd like to hike more in the area - especially in the Cordillera Huayhuash, that because it's rainy season and the views wouldn't be as good, in addition to the fact that neither of us had real hiking boots (and Nelson didn't have any rain gear amazingly) that it was best to get back on the bike and come back for the hiking some other time.

I've been back in Huaraz for three days now. Nelson left the day after we finished the hike, but I had what I thought was two days worth of things to do, and that turned into three. Among my "work" was buying a new DVD burner to back up my pictures, since mine hasn't been working, and I didn't have most of my South America pictures backed up. I've also been looking for a new bike seat, but this is proving to be nearly impossible to find, and I decided that the backpack that I bought in Panama wasn't really practical for any of the things I needed it for. It's too small for an overnight trip - both the volume and the fact that the shoulder straps aren't high enough to get the weight off my shoulders and onto my hips. It's also a little big to use just as a day pack. I spent quite a while walking around town, and finally found a good deal on a DVD burner (still more expensive than in the US) and also a place where I could "upgrade" my backpack to a bigger one for only $35 USD. My new bag is almost twice the size, but is still light, has enough capacity for longer hikes while still being comfortable, and is waterproof - which is good since I'll be carrying it on the top of my trailer. The quality of the new bag probably isn't as good as my Columbia bag was, but it should be good enough for my purposes, and I like having the freedom to go for an overnight hike (or longer) if the opportunity arises.

Today I've spent way too long on this blog and backing up my pictures, and as long as the weather cooperates I'll be leaving town tomorrow and heading towards Huanuco along what should be an incredibly beautiful road through the Huascaran National Park. I hope to be in Huanuco by around Thanksgiving, and then I'll continue South through Huancayo, Ayacucho, and to Cuzco where I'll see Machu Picchu! My only detour along the way will be to what is considered the "highest drivable pass in the world" and the longest, highest road in the world, but I've met people who doubt both of these claims. After Cuzco, I might make a trip to Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, then back to Lake Titicaca, and shortly after I'll be in Bolivia! I have a couple possible routes through Bolivia, but depending on my timing the salt desert "Salar de Uyuni", could be flooded. This would be a shame because it has been one of the things I've been looking forward to the most on this trip. During my sick day in Caraz, I planned my route through Chile and Argentina, and I don't think I'll stray much from that plan. Basically, I'll pass through the Atacama desert - one of the driest places on earth (surprisingly it's incredibly close to the place I'm concerned will be flooded) and south to just north of Santiago, before crossing into Argentina, then south through the lakes district, then back to Chile for the Carretera Austral, then finally back to Argentina to get to Ushuaia and the end of my trip. It all sounds so easy. :) I have about 1600 miles left to get to La Paz in Bolivia, and I think (hope) that I can do that in two months. If that's possible, I'll be in Bolivia towards the middle of January, but I don't have an estimate yet of how long Chile and Argentina will take. I'll get there eventually though - for sure. 



Good job if you made it all the way through this - you're a trooper. Ciao.