Since arriving in Caraz a few days ago we have been traveling in the famous Callejon de Huaylas region of Peru which includes the Cordillera Negra (Black Mountains) with peaks 4000m and larger and the Cordillera Blanca which consists of 16 peaks over 6000 meters and an additional 17 peaks reaching over 5500 meters. We are following the route to the Cordillera Blanca. The largest peak in Peru is Huascaran at 6768 meters which we saw from Caraz and is in a previous photograph. It goes out of sight as we move higher and further away beyond Huaraz, our last hotel night. From Huaraz we climbed through country that reminded me of photos of the higher regions of Mongolia – steep rolling vast grassy yellow hills (each higher than any peak in Colorado). We are following a one lane paved roadway for 42K then leaving it behind as we turn on a rough single track pitted rock roadbed. Halfway up the paved road a few of us decided to look for a cafe in a small village on the left of the road. It didn’t lie on the roadway itself but required a drop below on a steep cobblestone. Pedaling through the quiet narrow main street we came to the plaza and asked for a coffee shop. Even the smallest villages have a central plaza with a church, perhaps a bank and a few shops. This village had the church but not much else. We were directed to a opening which led to a meager courtyard with a tiny homemade wooden table and four cane chairs laced together with some type of fiber. An older women was peeling potatoes and the old man greeted us with a welcoming smile on his craggy face. He had lost one of his hands in some type of accident. The courtyard was obviously also their home so we pulled the four chairs outside and asked for coffee. After a small wait the old man came out with cut lime and a big bowl of soup. Brandishing the same type of Spanish that brought us the soup we tried again. This time successfully as the woman came out with a pot of hot water, a tube of instant coffee and five cups. That made most of us happy but I still needed to convey my need for tea. I asked for Manzanilla tea which is a common type of non-caffeinated tea and off the old woman left at a trot coming back a few minutes later with a clump of flower leaves and a big grin. She brewed the flowered Manzanilla tea for me and also presented herself and her husband for a photo which I really enjoyed. After our hour long break, off we went climbing through this ever higher undulating countryside till we found ourselves on the rough and dusty narrow track on our way to Huascaran Park where we will camp for the night. It was a difficult climb, getting colder as we moved along. We were presented with views of the Cordillera Blanca at every turn as we moved from one hillside around and into the next along with its new peak views. The track zigged its way along. I found myself climbing with Elizabeth who joined us in Huanchaco and I believe is riding as far as Salta. My hour stop had left behind most of the other bikers but I reached her just a few K’s before our camp. We reached the Huascaran Park sign and stopped for photos then weaved our way to the park headquarters itself. This park is well used by clinbers but quiet as this time of year. We camped in the high valley floor next to the headquarters with big views in all directions. The altitude here is 4250 meters and is quite cold without the benefit of the sun. It was a beautiful setting and a great reward for us all after a very big climb. In these high bush camps we eat early (530) then get our collective and individual chores done as efficiently as possible to crawl into our tents with the arrival of darkness and its corresponding cold. This camp was certainly no exception. We have a very big day tomorrow. A number of our members are having trouble with the altitude and have left their bikes on the top of the trucks while they ride inside. Certainly no dishonor in that as this is serious altitude. More will join them tomorrow. Heading into our tents we will have about 12 hours before we arise and pack up before our breakfast and departure. Breakfast is delayed here by an hour to allow the sun to penetrate the cold.
Huascaran Park was established in 1975 and is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The glaciers located here and throughout the Cordillera Blanca provide the region with much of its water supply, irrigation, beautiful mountain lagoons and also support the hydroelectric power station of Canon del Plato. There are 663 glaciers in the region and like most glaciers in the world, have been receding rapidly due to global warming. We get to see some of them as we pass closely to some of the seven 6000+ meter peaks located inside the park. Views of most of the 33 total white capped mountains in the regions can be viewed from different routes within the Park. We will be climbing higher today to reach our two highest points in the entire biking adventure from Quito to Ushuaia. This we will do in one day. Today.
We left our high camp at around 9am. We climbed steeply, weaving our way back and forth past shepherd huts and rock corrals, a few herders on horseback rounding up scattered cattle, small groups of sheep and goats, and the few shepherds who manage their small flocks as the sustaining part of their very simple lifestyle. I will attempt to include a photo or two of these tiny homesteads. The huts themselves have a base of rock, are round, and have a straw roof which cascades down almost to the ground. They have one small opening for passage inside. Not much room to even turnaround they are very efficient in holding heat. There are no trees for firewood but lost of animal manure for heating material. The huts would hold human heat very well. The corrals are all created of the stones found scattered everywhere in this mossy tufted grass and lichen landscape. I watched 3 herders with their shepherd dogs working their sheep herd into one of the rock pens on my way up. I found myself biking with Michelle who is a very strong Aussie woman with the type of optimism and eagerness which makes hard things easier. Traveling with a whiner when things are tough only makes it tougher. We stop often because of the altitude and the need to keep drinking. I find that trying to drink as I climb on the bike makes me breathe fast and get a little dizzy as I try to gulp it down. Stopping is more efficient for keeping hydrated. The views are astounding. We discuss how lucky we are to be here. Reaching the high pass we find some of our compatriots celebrating and join in with photos and congratulations. No one in our group (as far as I can discover) has ever ridden a bicycle to this altitude before. However, we are not done yet. Even though this is the pass, we will drop a little then start climbing again to reach a high point of 4887 meters. We have 20K’s to bike to reach this point and several descents and climbs to get there. When we reached this rocky promenade it was again time to celebrate with another photo but a shorter visit as it is now snowing and windy -neither of us has enough clothes on our bikes to keep warm. We began our descent on the rocky roadway – six K’s down we joined another narrow but paved roadway and the snow turned into rain. We had 25 miserable cold wet K’s to descend. I got so cold that my hands refused to work and my core was becoming almost hyperthermic. Despite a raincoat these temps are so close to freezing that getting wet plus the cold are a bad recipe. We reached our new bush camp at Huallanca, a rocky pullover along the river with a farmhouse across the other side. We have tents everywhere on this slope below the roadway – I got my tent up and headed for soup to warm my core then headed in to the sleeping bag to continue my efforts to be comfortable. Tonight is my turn to be a kitchen helper – because of most of us arriving late in the day, I had little time before taking on my role serving meals to all. There are six of us assigned tonight to serve and then to do dishes after our dessert has been consumed. There are about 40 cyclists and seven staff including our doctor and Lucho the mechanic and renowned cyclist. It’s quite cold even though we have descended to 3300 meters. That is still high and the setting sun brings a chill to all. I found getting my hands in the hot water to be better than I had anticipated my chores to be tonight. It is an efficient process that Bike Dream has evolved – we also all work together to get folded tables and benches off and on, our bags unloaded and reloaded on the trucks, bicycles secured and tents on top in dry areas on the trucks. I struggled with sleep that night despite being so tired – sometimes things like that are hard to understand – I had been so anticipating the rewards of a deep sleep. Quite a number of our biking troop succumbed to altitude problems by lunch time on our climb to our high point and another number chose night to ride in the afternoon descent due to cold and snow.
This next day we packed up our gear and headed from Huallanca to our new bush camp in Jivia We had about 6K downhill to the village of Huallanca. It was an amazing descent through a narrow cliff lined canyon. We were in awe. The river winding just below us. A turn in Huallanca has brought us back to a a rocky dirt single lane roadway. We have really been traveling the back byways of Peru. Then some flat cycling to 27K followed by a very steep climb for 6K. Since we had reached our pass the previous day, the waters now flow to the Amazon. We have crossed the continental divide here and are following the river. Another steep climb from the little town of La Union led us to the Incan ruins of Huanuco Pampas. An Incan king in the 1300’s had taken a wife from this area – he built the original town of Huanuco at this location. It took sixty years to build. Just as in Ingapirca, I was impressed at the cutting and fitting of the stone which formed the walls of all the quarters here that the king and his wives used – the more common quarters were formed by natural stones fitted as they were found. The ruins covered a large area higher than the rest of the pampas (flat) around it. The Spaniards found Huanuco in 1355 and conquered the city. They left after only 3 years as it was too cold for them and was retaken but unlike the ruins at Machu Pichu (sp) which were discovered only recently (1911), these ruins have been plundered and only partially remain. Suzanna from Bike Dreams gave us a personal tour. This is a seldom visited ruins because of its remote location but there are guides and archeologists staying here in dormitory facilities. There is no museum located at the ruins. I will try to include some photos. The present city of Huanuco which we staying in today (31) was built to replace Huanuco Panpas. The Pampast was a 5K round trip from the dirt road we have been biking so not all of our troop visited. There were about 8 in the group I biked with. Just before we found our lunch truck and then the path to the ruins we had come upon a school yard with children fascinated by us – stopped for photos and exchanged smiles and laughter. Children are so rewarding everywhere. After our visit to the ruins we had a tremendous stoney roadway descent that shook your entire frame yet again had unforgettable landscape features. A bush camp in Jivia followed. This was also along the river which allows us to clean the dust and dirt from our bodies. There was a bridge next to our site and we found ourselves being photographed by people riding local tourist buses. They would stop along the bridge and wonder at us all and our fancy trucks. People also came to the bridge and the road way above us and watched us for hours. It seems we are a real attraction. I found it very hard to sleep here – awoke at around 2am and awake from then on,
Our next leg to the city of Huanuco from Jivia had a steep switchback climb in the morning up to 3900 meters again and wound through several villages. We were treated to a festival happening at one village with the men and women in full costume and a full band playing. They took up the roadway for most of the length of the village. Gaiety and dance were the order of the day. Again, I felt very lucky to be viewing this festival. Before we had quite reached our high point for the dat of 3900 meters it started to rain. The afternoon consisted of this unbelievable 53K downhill on a single lane paved roadway with hairpin curves and cars and trucks who needed to cooperate somehow just to meet each other. There we were biking through this dangerous descent for, again, 53K’s to our hotel in Huanuco. In the rain on wet pavement in the cold. Again, several opted for the truck after lunch. Others had trouble with hyperthermic conditions and had to find rides. I was once again cold, wet and tired from lack of sleep. I heard of more than one close call with the steep drop-off roadsides and narrow roadway meeting vehicles on blind corners. I was very happy to reach the warmth of the lower elevations and our hotel in Huanuco. Here I hoped to catch up on my sleep. Our hotel is located on the central Plaza de Armas in this busy bustling city. There was a large festival happening last night. A raucous night of celebration in the square left most of us sleepless or very deprived as the old hotel was almost like sleeping in the square itself. Today Hardy, Joost, Patrick and I found our own hotel a few blocks away so that we can find quiet tonight. Also I have internet in the lobby of this hostel and can write my last few days adventures. I’ll now try to upload some photos.
My friend Terry has not ridden from several days. Our doctor, Annelot, has told him to take a few days off to recover from what we all presume to be altitude problems. I hope he can resume on the bike tomorrow. I have been lucky to stay healthy despite some rugged conditions. Joost complemented me as we had lunch together on completing all of the cycling so far. Any time you get a complement from these tough Dutch cyclists you have to feel good (and lucky) about your effort.
photo missing caption is at 4887 meters – our highest point in entire trip to Ushuaia