Down to 3000m!

Posted by on Oct 11 2007 | 11 Peru 2007, English

Suiza del Peru

Trujillo is already far away, about 1000km. We are happy that we left the gloomy coastal desert behind and are back in the mountains. But here in central Peru “the mountains” mean climbing well above 4000m passes, descending down into quite hot and tropical valleys between 1900 to 3000m just to get back up into somethimes freezing cold air.

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The colours of the desert were shades of gray. Sand was everywhere, in our clothes, hair and mouth. The wind blew from south to north. It wasn’tcold nor hot. In this dull ambiance suddenly appeared one bright green field after the other. These were cultivations of artichoke, sugar cane, asparagus and grapes growing on sand so to say hors sol! This intensive colour in all that gray is so wrong placed that it makes the whole picture of the coastal desert even more gloomy!

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Then we turned east onto a good gravel road. In the beginning the landscape was just a continuation of the desert we came from. But the sand dunes grew into mountains of loose rocks, then solid rock in colours of red, yellos and purple. Finally we reached a dry river valley with some shrub vegetation.

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Slowly, slowly we gained in altitude. The gravel road now changed into a riverbed like path.

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We were following the valley of the Rio Santa, the wind was really strong and helped us push the bikes over the rocks. It was hot and we welcomed the shade of the steep rock face.

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At the end of the day the road led steeply uphill with some switchbacks, away from the river to a village. We found the hospedaje, a shack, the only place for us to spend the night. The beds didn’t have linens, the cover blanket was grubby. Cobwebs graced the walls and door the cealing had spyholes into the sky. The toilet was another wood shed  outside. The showerhead fixed to the wall above the shit hole. We preferred to smell for another day. In the adjacent room people shared their space with ducks, chickens and a talkative rooster. They slaughtered a guinea pig in front of our door so that we had to step over a blood puddle when we left. Lucky for him and us, the second guinea pig ran off.

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37 tunnels, some of which 200 to 300m long and without light brought us up over 2000m through Cañon del pato, a steep narrow canyon.

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Back on pavement we followed the Cordillera Blanca southwards. It was still really warm, the vegetation resembled New Mexico more than the Alps even though this region is called Suiza del Peru.

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In Carhuaz we got the first glimpse of the white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

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At the plaza we enjoyed an ice cream first, then went looking for a hotel. All of them were booked out. We had arrived at the last day of the most important fiesta of this town, the celebration of “Virgen de la Mercedes”. Soon the procession started at the church and different bands marched and played at the same time. Over it all rocket after rocket was lit and every minute or so a tremenduous fulmination banged over our heads.

Our guide book had a hostal listed 1km outside of town towards the mountains. We wanted to give it a try. It turned out to be 5km outside, uphill a rocky path. When we arrived, the door to the garden was locked guarded by two big dogs. We called, banged on the door but nobody came to open. Finally, when a taxi passed we could use the drivers cell to call the hostal. It was closed that and the next day, the owner was in Lima. So we went back into town and to the explosions of the rockets. There was still no room available. We went to the police station and could camp in there courtyard for the night.

But what a night this was! The explosions of the rockets never stopped as didn’t the brass bands playing at the top of their volume. Chan slept through the night, but as soon as he woke up he demanded us to turn off that bedlam. Flo and I had a headache. We left Carhuaz as early as possible. Only about 20km down the road I felt really weak, the sun was almost too much for me and my legs and arms started aking. At the entrance of Huaraz Flo had a flat tire. The hostal recommended in our guide book was charging three times as much as listed, so we had to look for another one. By now I had a fever and needed to rest, but we also needed some food and first went for a cheap lunch. Back at the hsotal I couldn’t move anymore. Flo went to buy groceries and looking for a mechanic who could make a special piece for the trailer hitch which was broken. We stayed three days in the center town of Suiza del Peru for me to recover from whatever had caused the fever.

Zona de gran altura

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From Huaraz at 3200m we followed the high valley uphill and passed the next night on 3600m, almost as high as the highest pass so far on our journey. The cacti were replaced by green and yellow grasses. The climate up here seemed much more humid. More snowpeaks with glaciers appeared, the air got thinner and colder.

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We were wearing our wooly hats now instead of the helmets and soon had to fight a fierce headwind. The warm food and hot coca tea at a small comedore at the intersection to the central highland strenghtened our bodies for a 10km fight against a stronger growing ice wind which swept over the plains before the foothills to our first over 4000m pass.

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We were looking for a place to camp and get out of the wind. What a surprise, when we found a hostal at a highway control post. It even had hot showers and a heater in the room. ao we passed the night on 4100m quite comfortably.

Next morning we headed up to 4300m .

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It was cold and we were breathing heavily, but were soon whizzing down into the next valley. Switch back after switch back we lost on altitude. With mixed feelings we observed the change in vegetation once more and took off our jackets and hats.

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Down to 3600m was the road taking us. The starting point for the pass Abra Yanashalla at 4720m. That night we made it back to about 4100m and camped next to a shepherders empty hut. Here we were protected from the wind.

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We were at the end of the valley, where the switch backs began. Luckily the grades of most peruvian roads are comfortable to ride and we were used to the thin air now. The climb wasn’t too hard. I just got out of breath very quickly when speeding away from the aggressive shepherding dogs which were exceptionally nasty on this part of the way. Usually being ahead for a kilometer or two when fleeing from dogs I now had to stop and wait for Flo after a few 100m.

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People in these more remote areas of the country are less used to tourists. Tourists are usually just passing through by bus, if at all taking this route. We met many old peruvian women turning away from us, hiding their face behind their hfands when we were passing by greeting them with a smile and “buenas dias!”. They are afraid of the mean gaze of the evil gringo which they believe could bewitch them.

About three kilometers before the pass a peruvian cyclist caught up to us by short cutting some switch backs and carrying his bike up the slopes. He is biking the pass often because he is working on one side of it and living on the other.

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Vegetation and climate changed again back into desert and tropical warmth the further down we got. The road turned back into gravel once more. The first part was good though and we enjoyed a fascinating ride along a narrow canyon.

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But then the road got nasty again, not more than a rocky path. We still followed a valley mainly downhill but the road led us up and down its flank.

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It was hot and hard to steer the heavy bikes. I was getting into a really bad mood after just half a day’s ride. I was afraid, that the trailer wouldn’t hold up to these exertions and my back and arms were hurting from braking. I told Flo that I wanted to get a ride for the remaining part to Huànuco. He didn’t like it, but said, if I could organize a ride, we would be taking it. We spent the night in Tingo Chico, a horrible tiny village. It was dirty, the houses were falling apart and as soon as we arrived a group of kids and adults followed us where ever we went, trying to touch Chan as often as they possibly could. Our hospedaje was again a dump.

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The beds had only dirty blankets, the courtyard was a chaos of firewood, dirt, garbage and laundry. Chan had two little girls to play with and we cooked our dinner observed by the women living there. Next morning we caught a bus to Huánuco. Now Flo was in a bad mood because he feared that parts of the trailer or the bikes would get broken on the bumpy ride. I was reliefed not to have to ride more “river beds” and Chan loved the ride too. The scenery was spectacular, but we couldn’t take any pictures. Then, after a few hours the bus suddenly stopped. In front of ours was a queue of other busses and trucks. Flo got off the bus as most of the passengers did to investigate the problem. There was a bus stuck in a switch back curve. It would take one hour to half a day to get it out, Flo was told. Huánuco was between 14km and 30km away was the other information he got. When after an hour still nothing was happening, we decided to get our bikes and ride that last part ourselves. A night on the bus wasn’t what we were fancying.

This must have been the worst part of the whole way. The road was like a scree, a strong headwind made steering even worse and it was dusty and humid, the influence of the close Amazonas, eventhough Huánuco is still on 2000m! 27km downhill took us three hours. In Huánuco we got the “being a star” feeling right away again being surrounded by people as soon as we stopped to look for a hotel.

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We didn’t have lunch that day, people on the way were calling us names because Chan was crying in the trailer out of tiredness and because of the shaking. Peruvians never let their kids cry, they are put quiet with sweets or a smack, but letting a child cry is one of the worst things for them to do. Though otherwise children are not persons to be respected. They are more like barbies which can be touched and carressed and handed arround. Our mood was really bad and we weren’t very friendly to our spectators. In the hotel we ate what we could find in our bags, took a nice hot shower and then went to eat pizza. Yes pizza! How do we somethimes miss our own food. Our swiss kitchen, german dark bread, hard cheese, a casserole, quiche, salads…  The food we eat for lunch isn’t bad. For very little money we usually get a nice soup and a plate of rice with sunny side up eggs and freid plantains or fried potatoes with onions and tomatoes, but it always tastes the same.

Anyway, the next day we moved all our stuff to Claudia and Urs, a swiss couple working for the evangelic church, who’s contact we had gotten from Rahel and Joerg. Behind the wall framing their home and the terrain of their organization it was like a paradise, tranquil and beautiful laid out with gardens and flowers everywhere. Claudia invited us to a delisious “Spaetzli” dinner-swiss kitchen! We felt at home! She gave us home made jam and pickled squash, what a treat for us. We stayed for a couple of nights to clean our bikes, do laundry and we even had our own oven to cook a casserole.

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Three days on the road brought us back up over 4000m again and out of the tropical climate. Up here it was winter. We had reached the high plains of the Junin pampa at over 4250m. Thunder storms closed in onto us from two directions. We covered the trailer and packs of the bikes and put on our rain ponchos right in time. Then freezing rain and hail came down onto us.

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A strong side wind tried to push us off the road, lightening was flashing over our heads and passing trucks splashed us full of the dirty wet and blew our ponchos into our faces. We had been looking for one of the usual roadside restaurants, but without luck. So we ate our fruits and chocolate instead and continued riding. Finally we reached Carhuamayo, where, when looking for a hostal, Adrian offered us a bed for free. He had been inviting passing cyclists for years now, feeding them and giving them a place to stay. He was really happy to have caught us and served us hot coffee and Pachamanca, a preinca dish of potatoes, meat and maniok cooked on hot stones.

Adrian even gave us a stove that burned coal to cook our dinner on keep the room warm. Unfortunately we passed a horrible night.  The stove used up too much oxigen so that we all got a strong headache. Chan even had to puke. In the middle of the night we pulled open the door, the tiny window wasn’t enough for the air flow. As soon as the sun came up, Flo got up and packed the bikes. We quickly ate some bread and said goodbye to Adrian and his family. Once on the bikes we started feeling better. It was still cold, but the storms from the night before had passed. Since the road was almost flat and after 45km descended from the high plains into canyons, we covered 90km that day.

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Right at the edge of the Junin pampa we obsereved our first picuñias, a wild member of the llama family.

La Oroya lies on 3750m. It is the main smeltering centre for the regions mining industry. The landscape in the canyon around the town was dead. No plants were growing there, the rocks were covered with some white sediments. While looking for a hotel, our throats already reacted to the badly contaminated air. But we spent the most relaxing night in a long time.

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The next 130km were easy riding along the Mantaro River valley. The road was slowly descending from 3700m to 3300m with no uphills at all. If it wasn’t for the headwind we might even have biked it in one day!

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Now we are in Huancayo enjoying what cities have to offer: a cafe with really good chocolate cake, other food than rice, a supermarket that sells chocolate bars and other useful things, internet and a warm shower.

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7 comments for now

7 Responses to “Down to 3000m!”

  1. unglaublich, was ihr so alles erlebt. wenn ich das lese, kommt es mir vor, als wuerdet ihr in einem meiner traeume fahren. hoffe, es ist nur selten albtraum fuer euch. ich drueck euch immer die daumen und fuehle mich sehr verbunden. liebi grueess!

    11 Oct 2007 at 2:34 pm

  2. Mamé

    Hello dear adventurers,

    Thank you so much for the updates. They allow me to be a little bit part of your trip. I really appreciate all the pictures. They show what kind of terrain you are biking through. They also show how much Chan is growing: no longer a toddler! What a wonderful life experience for him…and for you.

    All the best as you continue realizing your dream: joy, health, laughter, strength, stamina, wonder, and may the wind be in your back.

    Hug to everyone
    Mamé

    12 Oct 2007 at 10:45 pm

  3. Hello my friends!! Epic tales. Jailyn wanted to see pictures of Chan this morning so we logged onto the blog. Chan, Jailyn says “hi? and mentions your name all the time “this is Chan’s potty, Chan’s bike seat etc.” We just got a bike trailer for her (us) and we can’t wait to get together again soon to ride with you. Nicole flew to Montana this weekend and we hope to buy a cabin up in the mountains there. Look forward to exploring this area with you someday—it looks spectacular!! We are probably going to be moving to Nepal or Bangladesh in 8-10 months so if you decide to continue biking please come for a visit. That would make Jailyn (and us) very very happy!
    take care- Cliff, Nic and Jai

    13 Oct 2007 at 6:03 am

  4. Hello my friends!! Epic tales. Jailyn wanted to see pictures of Chan this morning so we logged onto the blog. Chan, Jailyn says “hi? and mentions your name all the time “this is Chan’s potty, Chan’s bike seat etc.” We just got a bike trailer for her (us) and we can’t wait to get together again soon to ride with you. Nicole flew to Montana this weekend and we hope to buy a cabin up in the mountains there. Look forward to exploring this area with you someday—it looks spectacular!! We are probably going to be moving to Nepal or Bangladesh in 8-10 months so if you decide to continue biking please come for a visit. That would make Jailyn (and us) very very happy!
    take care- Cliff, Nic and Jai

    13 Oct 2007 at 6:04 am

  5. Hello my friends!! Epic tales. Jailyn wanted to see pictures of Chan this morning so we logged onto the blog. Chan, Jailyn says “hi? and mentions your name all the time “this is Chan’s potty, Chan’s bike seat etc.” We just got a bike trailer for her (us) and we can’t wait to get together again soon to ride with you. Nicole flew to Montana this weekend and we hope to buy a cabin up in the mountains there. Look forward to exploring this area with you someday—it looks spectacular!! We are probably going to be moving to Nepal or Bangladesh in 8-10 months so if you decide to continue biking please come for a visit. That would make Jailyn (and us) very very happy!
    take care- Cliff, Nic and Jai

    13 Oct 2007 at 6:04 am

  6. rebekka

    dear people, we have been following your yourney with great admiration and have told many people about your adventure. It is totally amazing you find the time to e-mail and it is great reading ; totally facsinating. What an adventure for Chan. He is old enough now to remember some of all the excitements. No wonder some of the native people want to touch him; most likely they have never seen such a handsome blond boy. We are looking forward to your next epistle. Your honesty about some of your frustations (or joys) are an added bonus and gives us an idea what your are experiencing. The photography is super and gives the reader an impression of the country you are travelling through. We pray for your safety and wish you all the best. Love and greetings Dick and Clara.( Hope you receive this message!)

    13 Nov 2007 at 9:34 pm

  7. Heyner

    Hola!! soy Heyner desde Lima-Peru, estaba buscando informacion sobre rutas para mi viaje en bicicleta de Lima a Ushuaia y encontre esta web que esta muy buena, aunque no entiendo nada de aleman pero las fotos hablan por si solas……pienso salir en mi bicicleta en junio del 2011.
    Los felicito, son una familia espectacular.
    Saludos!

    26 Jun 2010 at 5:13 pm

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