(July 29– written by Dave)
Brrr, it was cold this morning. My cyclo computer read 1C as we left the hostel. It was very foggy and the extra dampness that comes with fog made it seem much colder. Everyone was fairly rugged up as we made our way back out to Highway 3N. We were hoping for sun or at least a break in the fog but it didn’t come until we turned off Highway 3N, 14k into the ride.
We rode the 14k of Highway 3N with great care, single file, tight formation, me on the back as I had the brightest coat. It felt like the car and truck drivers all drove the same speed as if there was no fog. And they passed us just as fast even though often they couldn’t see ahead. It was a bit of a white-knuckle affair for all of us. We had debated not turning off onto Highway 105 and sticking with 3N. The vote to get off the crazy, fog filled 3N after 14k was unanimous!
Just as we were getting ready to turn onto 105, we saw a sign warning about vicuna. Barely visible in the fog, we could make out what appeared to be a few of their faint outlines. Almost as soon as we turned, the fog lifted and it was vicuna central for the next 5k. There were herds of them on both sides of the highway and sometimes right on the highway. The mixed light of fog and sun made it hard to see my camera display so I just pointed and hoped that a photo or two would come out.
For those who don’t know, a vicuna is one of the two wild South American mammals from the camel family. They live in the high alpine regions of the Andes. It is a relative of the llama, and is now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas. Vicunas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years, and has to be caught from the wild. The only vicuna we caught today was with our cameras. Vicuna photo overdose follows…
All the vicuna were in the first 5k up on a high alpine meadow. At the end of the meadow we reached the top of a long canyon that we’d be riding down for the next 3 hours. At the top of the canyon was a small Andean village called San Pedro de Cajas. There is not much to this village but they did have a rather large Jesus on the hill above town.
At first the road heading down was sealed but once we cleared the switchbacks below Jesus and the town, the road surface pretty much deteriorated. We had some payment but lots of rough rocky dirt all the way down to the town of Palcamayo. We reached Palcamayo just in time to catch the tail end of their Peru Independence Day parade. In fact, we had to dart across a closed road to reach the centre of the main square, just in front of the giant Peruvian flag and marching band. We enjoyed a nice light lunch on the square while watching and listening to the town ceremonies. Like many other Peruvian festivals we’ve seen, there were a number of long winded speeches. We left before festivities concluded as we wanted to reach Junin earlish to have a look around.
From Palcamayo we had smooth paved roads and downhill for about 15k. It was fun blasting down the river with little worry of traffic as well – it would seem that most locals were at one town festival or another. We had a bit of a headwind heading down the canyon but not enough to really slow us. At the end of the descent we had to hop back on the 3N but traffic was light and we only had to be on it for about 8k. The early morning fog was now replaced by hot sunshine, both Nancy and I were a little overdressed at this point but it was too much trouble to stop, strip and put on sunscreen.
We had worried about finding a place to stay on the holiday but rolled into the El Dorado Hostal (thanks for the tip EB!) and had no issues other than them starting at about 2X the price we knew we were supposed to pay. Tina and her excellent Spanish got this sorted pretty easy and we settled into decent rooms for an appropriate price. We have hot water, wifi, toilet seat and our bikes are stored in our room. Everyone is happy.
We took a stroll around Junin in the afternoon and found it a rather nice country town. It has a massive market and a bit of a tourist feel to it. Very few of the tourists are gringos, it’s more of a Peruvian tourist town. We had a coffee and ultimately settled into a recommended restaurant for dinner. Philipp tried the cuy while the rest of us had plates of way too much meat. I wanted to try the cuy but it was very small and covered in a messy (but tasty) sauce. It was hard enough for Philipp and Tina to share. Reports are that cuy “tastes like chicken” and being so small, the meat was hard to extract. For the cost, Tina reported, just get the chicken!
Tomorrow we have one more long day of riding to reach Huancayo. It’s a larger city and we’ll take a day off there. Nancy has found a nice hotel for our anniversary and my birthday. Philipp and Kathrin are going to take a historic train from there, hopping a few days ahead of us. It’s been fun riding with them and I’m sure that we’ll meet up again later in the trip, and perhaps have a pisco sour with them tomorrow night to celebrate getting this far south.
For the record, after Huancayo, we switch from the 3N to the 3S Highway network. In other words, after almost 1,900 kilometres, we are half way through Peru. Who knew that Peru was so long? And good news, tonight and tomorrow, we sleep at around 3,000 metres – we should breathe easier and sleep more comfortably – hopefully.