(August 3 – written by Dave)
You can probably tell from the title, we had a dry morning and no real threat of snow. So we got up and rode. The woman running the hotel said that it was probably raining and/or snowing on the pass but we were already packed at that point so onward we went.
Just like yesterday, we rode Highway 26B for the entire day. But unlike yesterday, today the 26B was a one-lane goat track. The pavement was mostly good but there was only a solid white line on the road edges – the road was never wide enough for a centreline. Cars and trucks passing were far and few between, however, each one was exciting as we squeezed by on the side of the road, sometimes on the cliff side. Regardless, the ride today was spectacular. Great scenery, good pavement, limited traffic and no rain – couldn’t be happier.
We had 38k of climbing right from the hotel. At first we were riding up a nice river canyon and grades were gentle. Eventually we had to leave the river and got into some serious switchbacks. The grade here was still pretty gentle, except in some of the corners. There were some high clouds but nothing overly threatening – a quite pleasant morning ride – even with the climbing.
The llama herds were out again today but in somewhat smaller numbers. I couldn’t help myself but take a few photos for today’s blog. We had morning tea at a roadside pullout after about 30k of climbing. We were getting hungry and concerned that it would be windy at the top. The last 9k was not overly steep, except for the last 2k which was a real first gear grind.
We were super excited to finally reach the top at almost exactly noon. It took us 4.5 hours including breaks. The altitude at the top is 4,500 metres (over 14,700 feet). None of us had issues with the altitude and the wind was not too strong so we took a lunch and photo break at the summit. We didn’t linger for too long however, as the clouds were getting thicker and darker. We were happy to not have snow or rain to this point – no sense in tempting fate. It was cold and all of us put on full raingear for the downhill.
Even though we rode up 38k, the downhill was only 20k. Somehow, that didn’t seem fair. The downhill was almost as twisty as the uphill and super fast. Philipp and I both stopped for a few photos on top and then took off lickety-split for fear that the gals would reach town long before us. The 20k were over in only a little over 30 minutes.
At the bottom, we had to stop and strip off all the layers. On this side of the pass it was sunny and hot. Plus, we had to ride uphill quite a bit in the last 13k before Julcamarca. It seemed doubly unfair to only get 20k of downhill and have to ride uphill to finish but there was no one from the road department around to take my complaint – nothing to do really but ride on.
We reached Julcamarca at about 2:30 and Philipp and I went on the hotel search. Julcamarca is a very small town and appears to get few outside visitors. There are three hostels/hopedajes but only two appeared to be open. The first one we looked at was a pit. The woman said she would clean the rooms if we took them but cleaning wouldn’t have helped much. The second place was nicer and for sure the host was more welcoming, but it was still really bad – cold outside shower, low ceilings with exposed wires, small beds and not super clean either. Option 3 was a wild camp 16k down the road and frankly, it sounded much better than either of the places we looked at – except for the dark and threatening clouds moving in.
We brought these options back the girls who were sitting in the town plaza. No one was excited about any of the choices so we convinced Tine to go into the town hall building and ask them for help. Philipp and she walked over to the hall and took a good deal of time but came back with an amazing offer to camp first in the outside hallway, then finally in the town theatre. There were no showers but they agreed to leave the toilets open for us overnight and we could get out of the weather – Perfect!
We settled into the theatre, set up the tent (for warmth) and cooked dinner. We have the whole place to ourselves – there won’t be an employee back in the hall until Monday morning. We have to let ourselves out and lock the doors in the morning, and be out by 7AM, but this is much better than the other options. As we were getting set-up, it not only rained but it also hailed. Phew, nice work Philipp and Tine.
Tomorrow we ride to the relatively big city of Ayacucho. There is another Starbucks there! We are planning on a couple days off for resting, planning and generally being normal people. Looking forward to the break after riding 13 of 15 days to reach there.