(July 1 – written by Dave) (posted on July 2)
We made it over Calla Calla Pass today. And what a pass it was. The going up was not as hard as we thought it might be but it went on forever, or rather, it went on for 29k. There were no downhill bits, just steady climbing for 4.5 hours. We had a couple stops but mostly we just plodded along at 6.5KPH.
At about 11k we could see the top and it looked like it was a long ways off. At 18k we started to get mixed dirt and asphalt. From there to the top we had more dirt than asphalt but the dirt was mostly smooth, slowing us only a little. Traffic was non-existent and best of all, the weather was stunning. We woke to blue skies and had them all day. We picked up a few clouds in the afternoon but barely enough to be noticed. It was a blue ribbon day.
We reached the top about 11:45 and took a few summit sign photos. This is the first summit sign we’ve seen in forever. From other blogs we are pretty sure that the sign reads short of what people with proper GPSs read so we are calling it 3601 and a new trip record. It was very windy on top and a bit chilly. We put on our rain coats and headed down the other side for a sheltered spot to have lunch. Lunch was taken with remarkable views of the Andes as far as the eye could see.
From the top to the bottom, the road drops 60k. And in 60k the grade never drops below 3%. Most of the time it was 5-7%. It took us almost 3 hours to descend the entire pass and not just because I was taking too many photos. The road was basically a single lane ribbon of asphalt cut into the hillside of some really steep mountains. There was very little guardrail and many, many sharp and twisty corners. We could often see the road way below us but had to be careful not to get overly fixated on looking, keeping our eyes on the road right in front of us was paramount.
About half way down I was given the hurry along as Nancy was concerned about us making it to the bottom in time to get 20k back up the next pass and our intended campsite. I got the message but couldn’t hold her wheel on the downhill, she was on a mission. As we went down, the heat came up. By the bottom we had stripped down to shorts and short sleeve shirts and it was downright hot. I read over 40 on my bike computer at one point – quite a change from the top.
At about 2:30 we stopped at the junction of the next pass and the town of Balsas. We were super hot and it just didn’t feel like the ideal time to be heading up another big climb. We made a spot decision to get a room and call it a day. We got instructions for Balsas from a local policeman – it is 1k off the route and was supposed to have a hospedaje or two.
The 1k started with an uphill and made us glad to be calling it a day. Balsas is a rough town. Not much to it really. It’s down on the river with massive rock canyon walls making it a real heat trap. We found all 4 hospedajes and none of them were overly nice. We picked out the best of a rough lot, Hospedaje San Critobal, and tried to get checked into in.
The woman running the place lives down at the end of the street and I had to find her, get her to come up to the hospedaje and clean the room before we could get our showers (cold showers never felt so good). The room is a “don’t touch anything” room but it will work for a night. There is a fan but no AC – I expect AC doesn’t exist in this part of the country. For other travellers, San Cristobal is the only hospedaje in town with private bathrooms. It is lacking mozzie screens over the door but we made due – see below. For $9 USD, you get what you pay for!
Tomorrow we start with a 40k climb before a 12k descent. We are planning a very early start and hoping that it cools off a little tonight. We should have left earlier today if we wanted to get out of the canyon this afternoon. Tomorrow, we won’t make the same mistake.