(July 14 – written by Nancy) (posted on 15/7 due to being off the grid for the last 4 days)
Well, it’s been a tough but generally enjoyable section for the last couple of days. It was really nice to be on this stretch with our new German friends, being able to share the scenery and sitting around camp at night chatting about the day and life in general with others. It felt like we were very remote, but we often found little villages or settlements along the way where people have made a life out in the dry dusty but beautiful Andes. It must be a hard life but they all seemed to be happy to give us a smile and a hello, and even chatted with us when we stopped for a drink or fruit.
Our campsite last night was just down from the town of Yuramarca so we heard a bit more traffic overnight than we had in the last couple of nights, but no one bothered us in our abandoned gravel pit. The wind died down completely and most of the noise came from the braying donkeys across the valley up near the village.
We were all up relatively early and on the road at 8AM again to continue our climb. First the 2k uphill to Yuramarca, then another 10k or so to the town of Huallanca (or Cuidad Luz, as it is also named on certain maps). On the way we passed the three cyclists from Venezuela, who stayed in Yuramarca last night. They were only going as far as Huallanca today, and apparently intended to try to sell something at a market there to raise some more funds (as far as we could tell).
Most of the day today was uphill, but generally at a decent gradient and the road was mostly paved. We did have a bit of a headwind, but it didn’t impact us too much as we entered the Canyon del Pato (Canyon of the Duck), famous for its winding road and 35 tunnels. It was quite scenic – the tunnels were not too long, though we did have to get out our head torches to use in a couple of the longer ones. They eyes don’t adjust too quickly moving from bright glaring sunshine to complete darkness! Lots of on and off with the sunglasses as well.
The road through the canyon was a very narrow single land road with a precarious drop-off on the canyon side – so steep that you couldn’t see the river below without peering well over the edge. And the edges didn’t look all that stable! Forget about any real guardrails – there were a couple of metal bars in a few places but nothing that would stop you from falling over the edge with a wrong turn. I was happy to be going the direction we were going, even if it was uphill, as it meant we were riding on the mountain side of the road next to the canyon wall. Most of the corners had signs telling drivers to honk their horn to warn oncoming traffic. There were some small pullouts on the road but I am not sure what vehicles would do if they met on other spots – lots of backing up for one of the vehicles I guess! We didn’t see any vehicles meet but we did see a couple that seemed to be driving way too fast for the road conditions.
We started to see what looked like hydro projects in the canyon, and despite how dry it looked there were spots where water was gushing out of the mountainside so clearly there is water in there somewhere. There is also a small dam on the river – it’s hard to imagine they get much power from it, given the small river flow but perhaps every little bit helps out there in the remote regions.
As we neared the end of the canyon we started to see glimpses of the other famous attraction in the area – the Cordilla Blanca. This mountain range is apparently the most extensive tropical ice-covered mountain range in the world and has the largest concentration of ice in Peru. We could only see the tall peaks popping out occasionally behind the mountain range just next to us but even that was pretty impressive – jagged peaks completely white with snow. We will see much more of it in the next couple of days as we head south.
We made it to Caraz about 1:30 after a hot last few kilometres and found rooms at the Hotel/Hostel San Marco right off the town square. Nothing fancy but a relatively warm shower (electric, so a bit of fiddling required) and a clean room with just enough room to fit the bikes and our panniers. Everyone was pretty tired from the last few days, so after cleaning up we found a nearby cafe for a coffee and snacks to tide us over until dinner. We headed up to the local market to check it out and ended up with bread, cheese, avocado and eggs for breakfast tomorrow. It appears there is lots of cheese and honey production in this region. We haven’t had cheese in quite some time and after tasting a bit we couldn’t resist – so I think we’ll be eating a lot of cheese tomorrow!
We had a rest at the hotel and then headed out to a Chifa (Chinese) restaurant on the square for dinner. The Germans then went off to find a Pisco Sour (drink famous in Peru) while Dave and I settled for an ice cream and an early night. There are two other cyclists at the hotel as well, one from France and one from China. All of us are taking the day off here to rest and of course to watch the World Cup final, which is on tomorrow morning. I am not so interested in watching the match but am happy for a day off to sleep in and relax! And perhaps try out a few more of the ice cream flavours….