Monday, 18 November 2013

Cajamarca to Carhuaz

Speed bump 
I was glad to leave Cajamarca because the hostel where I stayed the previous night was a complete fire trap. I like to have my bike in my room if I am on a day off. This involved having my bike pushed up against the door in my shoebox of a room. On my first night back on the bike I camped under the shelter of a bike and car repair garage beside a family home. They were a very friendly Evangelistic family. I’ve noticed that there is a vibrant evangelistic community in many of the small villages I passed in Peru. With the arrival of the wet season I had started to seek out more sheltered places to erect my tent.

Not the last hairy tarantula I would be seeing that day
Mary keeping an eye on things on the way into Cajabamba
Cajabamba, Cajamarca, Bambamarca... they all start sounding the same and then they start running out of names...
The dudes
The next evening being a Saturday there were several groups of people sharing a beer as I made my way into the town of Cajabamaba. Most of them signaled for me to join them and not wanting to seem antisocial I did join one or two of the groups for a cervecita. Despite later securing a place for my tent out the back of the local police station it was shaping up to be the worst place I had camped on the whole trip.
The place that the young police man pointed out for me to put up my tent was right beside two make shift wooden holding cells which were occupied. We also heard some scuttling up in the roof which he helpfully confirmed was likely a rat when I asked him. Nice. I took a shower, initially wondering to myself where the water went as there didn’t seem to be a drain. I soon found out that the water simply drains out onto the floor of the small room where I had left my clothes on the ground. Nice. As I walked back to my luxury camp spot I noticed a large hairy tarantula creeping towards my gear. Nice. An older police man dropped a large brick on him before I could get a photo of it crawling into my washbag. He told me that it is quite dangerous to get a bite from one and told me to move into a bedroom that they didn’t use with bunk beds. Considering where I thought I was going to have to stay this was like being upgraded to a suite in a five star hotel… no prisoners, rats OR tarantulas and my own bed. Nice!

So that's where the water goes, out onto the floor
Underneath the brick in the upper right of the photo lies the flattened remains of a large tarantula
Did somebody have an accident..?
Eh no, it's not a prison cell it's actually an upgrade.
Jose wasn't proud that he couldn't play an instrument
It's the Fiesta Sanjapompa in honor of San Judas, that can only mean one thing... PARTY TIME!
Pot full of Cuy, the local delicacy of Guinea pig
Who's the guinnea pig, they love it but I could take it or leave it. Very low in cholesterol apparently 
The boys love the annual festival
A few days after leaving Cajamarca I arrived into the town of Huamachuco. Initially asking at the local police station where there seemed to be a lot going on I was half relieved that they said no but directed me to "Lugar San Francisco" which was a little like a convalescent home and also a place where people could stay for a few days. It was run by Brother Daniel and Sister Coromoto members of the “Jesus es Senor” organistaion and both from Venezula. Thankfully I was made to feel very much at home, so much so infact that I ended up staying a few days! Muchas gracias Daniel y Coromoto! I was happy to take it easy there as I knew when I left that I had a few challenging weeks on the bike ahead of me.

Sr. Coromoto, Br. Daniel and some of the rest of the gang.
Dinner time
The challenge didn’t take long to start, 11km down the road from Huamachuco to be precise, when I turned off the main paved road for what I thought was a short cut. I struggled to even find the turn off. It wasn’t long before I was cycling along mud tracks, wheeling my bike across a rickety wooden pedestrian bridge because there wasn’t a traffic bridge as they were rebuilding it. On the other side of the river I found myself cycling through fields, avoiding the marshy bits attempting to make my way to the road that I could see up in the distance.  It wasn’t the usual kind of route that I take but I quite enjoyed being off the beaten track and especially enjoyed being away from the insane horn honking that had already managed to annoy me on the cycle out of Huamachuco.

Pedestrian bridge
Rocky road and not the kind I dream about
Don't use google maps in Peru 
The bog down in the valley oh..

The following day I managed to travel 14km in the space of the day. I use the word travel as I spent as much time pushing the bike as I did actually cycling it. I was kind of lost as the gps and maps on my phone were leading me all over the place except in the right direction. Guessing my way down a dirt track it eventually came to an end and lead into a field. I continued into the field. I wasn’t overly worried as I knew that there was a dirt track somewhere nearby and was enjoying the off roading. I slowly cycled and pushed my bike through the fields gradually making my way up to a ridge where I was greeted by a spectacular Middle Earth panorama. I propped the bike against one of the many boulders, sat down on the damp grass and took it all in. I was lost, miles from anywhere, not having seen anyone in hours, overlooking one of the most spectacular views of my life and I couldn’t have been happier. I think another reason for only managing 14 km all day was due to lots of stopping to take it all in as well as the bike pushing.

It was well worth pushing my bike through the fields to the top of the hill to be greeted with this view

Camping in an abandoned stone house
The next few days were some of the most memorable of the trip to date as I made my way through some incredible landscape on gravel tracks, the only drawback being that I was running low on food and water as I hadn’t realised that it was going to be as isolated and slow going.
One of the days, having only passed two cars all day I had set up camp under a large plastic cover which was beside a half finished house. I reckoned it was fine as there didn't seem to be anybody around. Half an hour later as I was taking a few photos of the sunset along arrives some security guard with a riffle. Great, the only person I see face to face all day is holding a large gun and I'm literally in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around. Thankfully he didn't mind me camping there and had come down from the hill above to check out what I was up to. He was working as security for a near by mining company. He also gave me directions for the following day which was helpful. 

Lone gunman getting in the way of my sunset photo
..that's better.
Sheep giraffe

"What are you looking at?"

So much for a short cut
Off we go

As I made it back to civilization the first village I hit was celebrating it’s annual festival. The second annual village festival in just over a week… that’s lucky or else they have these festivals on a more regular basis then they were letting on!

Second annual festival that I stumbled on. I preferred  Fiesta Sanjapompa because they gave me a free plate of food!
I made it back on to what was supposed to be a main road at Mollebamba but it was still just a bumpy unpaved road. Mollebamba was also a lot smaller than I expected meaning that there was no police or fire station for me to try and stay at. The first person I asked was a PE teacher at the local school and he was kind enough to let me stay on the floor of his small one room dwelling.  
Upon leaving Mollebamba I experienced what I think will be the most extreme example of dropping all the way down a mountain side on some impressive switch backs to the river at the bottom of the valley only to climb right back up on the far side.  I descended 1000m in the first 20 km on a windy dirt road but thankfully the climb back up on the far side was paved and not the other way round. It’s obviously a lot slower trying to climb up an unpaved gravel road as I had been finding out over the previous week or so.

Switch backs

Was chatting to these two ladies for a few minutes
Picturesque mountain village of Llapo
Scary statue in the middle of Llapo
The friendly Policia in Bambas
Slowly does it

Some impressive woodwork on display in Tauca
Even though I was supposedly back on a national route the next few days cycling was almost all on gravel with some steep climbs at stages and epic scenery as I crawled my way from one valley over some gargantuan mountains into the next valley and so on. Thankfully there was very little traffic which was probably because of the terrain and the fact that it’s not a very populated part of Peru with small villages being separated by huge valleys connected by poor quality dirt roads. Obviously cycling on your own you normally go through a range of emotions in one day but I had long since resigned myself to the fact that I would not be going anywhere fast on this stretch of the trip.  That certainly helped me to really appreciate where I was and to just take each day at a time, not to be worried about trying to do a certain mileage each day and to focus on the incredible mountain landscape I found myself in. That’s not to say that I won’t remember these few weeks of my cycling journey for both the beauty but mainly because it’s probably been the most physically demanding thing that I’ve ever done. I remember one hot afternoon I had to hop off my bike, prop it against the cliff wall beside me and sit down on the rocky ground for 10 mins so as not to freak out and also to try and get my breath back. I had been climbing uphill on dusty gravel for hours and the village I had spotted on the other side of the valley didn’t seem to be getting any closer! There was a lot of dust on these roads and I needed to clean my chain on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day with some interesting squeaks coming from it by midafternoon.

These two bikers just stood and stared and stared as I took a breather in the shade

These kind folk put me up in their spare room one night

Juan from Peru, Maria from Grenada (Spain) and Marina from Galicia (Spain) kindly put me up
for a night in the village of "La Pampa"

Back to school.
An unnecessary sign considering most drivers
keep one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn

One of the nights I stayed in a class room in the town of Huallanca which was almost entirely wiped out by a large earthquake in May 1970. The following day I must have passed through at least 30 tunnels as I made my way through Canyon del Pato which is a narrow canyon that separates the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca mountain ranges. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic as they were all one lane wide unpaved tunnels so a lot of dust kicked up whenever a vehicle passed. Not long after I passed through the last tunnel the road became paved. I felt like getting down and kissing the surface. Less than an hour’s cycling on the paved road and I had my closest call yet with a four wheel drive speeding around a corner leaving what felt like an inch or two between us (maybe it was 3 inchs). It gave me a fright and was a reality check after my initial excitement to be cycling on a smooth road.

Canyon del Pato 
A series of more than 30 tunnels are carved into the cliff
By mid afternoon I made it to the town of Carhuaz where I spoted a fire staion on my way into the centre. It was the first fire station that I had seen in Peru so I didn’t waste any time in seeing if they would be able to put me up. They kindly agreed. Being in town a bit earlier than usual I visited the ATM, I had made it to Carhuaz with 2 Sol (EUR 0.50) to my name, treated myself to a coffee and sticky bun and got some supplies for the next few days. Even though I had made it back onto paved roads that day I knew that I was going to be returning to the dirt roads the following day as I headed into the Cordilla Blanca.

Drying my cycling jersey at the fire station in Carhuaz

No comments:

Post a Comment