Today I arrived in Tarma after a great day of cycling which brought us from the higher cold elevations of Cerro de Pasco and Junin to the warmth of 3200 meters in one long winding series of hairpin curves over the last 22 kilometers of 66 kilometers of paved roadway. It was invigorating to feel the warmth of 30 degrees Centigrade again after daytime temps as low as 3 C the last two days and nighttime temps even cooler. Our trip from Huanuco to Cerro de Pasco began with a constant but low grade climb on narrow pavement. We are leaving the Cordillero Blanco yet still have some views as we move along on this day. At 60K we veer off of the tarmac and onto another rock pitted gravel road to continue our climb. The countryside consists of high sierra pasture land for sheep, goats, Llamas, some cattle, and alpacas. There are many rock sheep pens and the occasional ranch whose dogs greet you in less than favorable disposition. It is cold though the constant climbing keeps our blood moving. If you think of the foothills of Colorado this is somewhat what the overall landscape resembles though much higher. Our goal for the night, Cerro de Pasco, is located at 4380 meters according to our Wiki booklet. The day will be our largest accumulated elevation gain of the entire trip. My lungs feel the thin air and the toil of climbing. We take more frequent rests than our usual days – yet the day grinds on. An odd view greeted four of us, who had been riding together, in one of the small villages on the way – what I first discerned as a rummage sale was in actuality a wedding party. We pulled over and dropped down to mingle with the party and listen to the music. The “rummage sale items” stacked high in the air were gifts of mattresses, pillows, various small pieces of furniture and an array of other articles. Virtually every party goer was dressed in their best and had consumed a number of cervesas by the time we arrived. The band consisted of a couple of woodwinds and an odd harp like instrument with a large attached sound chamber (I will try to attach a photograph) Apparently they only knew one song but it didn’t appear that anyone cared. We joined in to the dance but had to turn down the many offers of cervesas as we still had a long pedal ahead. Leaving the village after a coke we continued the climb but were beginning to wonder, as the K’s and hours went by, when our Garmins would indicate the kind of altitude we knew Cerro de Pasco was located at. The last 10K’s were an unwelcome answer to tired legs and bursting lungs. A number of people had opted for the truck at lunch time and now I wondered why I was still on my bike. After 9 hours of consistent climbing we now worked our way up a steeper series of what seemed like never ending switchbacks which finally brought us to 4380 meters and the mining town of Cerro de Pasco. About 70,000 people live here and depend on the lead, silver and zinc produced from deep in the earth. Copper has long been exhausted. To say it was cold would be a vast understatement. One feels the cold much more sharply at high attitudes. Thoughts of a hot shower and warm hotel room were not to come to fruition. Our hotel, like all the other hotels here, has no central heating system – in fact no heat at all. They did have 3 small electric space heaters for rent which were grabbed instantly by the first takers but the managements idea of heat was to bring us all a small thermos of hot tea and a little packet of Oreos. There were 4 blankets on my bed. All of my warm clothes were in my camping bag buried deep in the bowels of the truck so I couldn’t get to the restaurant fast enough to eat and return to the bottom of those blankets. I pulled a wool stocking hat on my head and left all my clothes on. Too cold to attempt any typing. Hotel Sol de Oro. Man.
We delayed our start to Junin the next morning by an hour to allow the sun to get high enough to present some heat. Thank God it was a blue sky and a happy sun that greeted us. The trip route was again on gravel and followed Lake Junin for almost the entire route. Lake Junin is the largest lake entirely within the boundaries of Peru (Lake Titicaca is 50 percent within the boundaries of Bolivia) and is known for its varieties of birdlife. I saw a variety of shorebirds including a large stork like pair in one location. After the long hard day yesterday, my friend Terry and I were determined to just cruise through this day, stopping often and taking photos. Even though our destination was at 4100 meters (Junin) we still have to climb to 4400m and then drop back down to the town. Again the elevation was taxing. The scenery along the lake was fantastic though and as we came around one corner we were greeted by the unexpected presence of a group of flaming0s. We stopped for photos as did a few other riders which made the group of birds nervous and they arose in flight moving further down the swaying vegetation of the lake. It is the dry season here and the banks are extended. The lake itself more resembles a very large river than an uninterrupted lake. We take photos of the various changing landscape along this waterway. We also find groups of llamas and alpacas as well as the never ending flocks of sheep. Llamas and alpacas are domesticated here – the llamas are sometimes used as protection for the flocks as they are easily trained and very effective in this role. Also they provide beautiful woolen fiber and very edible meat, yet cost nothing to maintain since they graze on the same grounds as the animals they are protecting. Alpacas produce the most valuable fiber – it is illegal in Peru to trade or slaughter them for meat. The wilder varieties of similar species, the vicunas and guanacos, are harder to spot and quite honestly I don’t know if I could distinguish them for certain from the alpacas.
Our arrival in Junin brought us another cold hotel and not even a glimmer of hot water from the shower tap. Since we were originally planning for a bush camp (cancelled by the staff because of the cold and worn out bikers), we enjoyed an evening meal prepared by Ellen with help by the rest of the staff. We had to serve it outside however, as there was no room at either of the hostels that we filled up in this small town. I was again happy to find a place under the covers and we were fortunate to find the sun again this morning for our ride to a warmer climate.