TIME IN HAND

Peru’s Great Divide (Part 1) – Huaraz > Conococha > Llipa Nuevo > Cajatambo > Oyon > Paquian > Vichaycocha > San Mateo > Chosica

After such an incredible short trip through the Cordillera Blanca, I was reluctant to leave the area in a hurry – those snow-capped peaks really are very special.  However, I had somewhat inadvertently given myself a deadline to get south when I had ordered some replacement parts from the US for my panniers to be delivered to the Post Office in Cusco, where they will keep them for a month!  Given that it would be at least three weeks’ solid riding to get to Cusco from Huaraz, especially across the more remote routes that I wanted to take, I figured that I’d better get going!

It was hard to leave such an amazing spot though…

I was planning to follow Peru’s Great Divide, a route established by Neil and Harriet Pike (from Bristol!) and detailed on their AndesByBike website.  This was the first section of a number of routes that they’ve pioneered heading South, where at all possible using dirt roads and avoiding the main highways.  The elevation profile for the route is quite punchy…

The first day was a drag up through the valley heading directly South from Huaraz.  I anticipated a fairly unspectacular day along a reasonably busy road getting the miles in.  The landscape quickly turned spectacular though, with views of the southern end of the Cordillera Blanca…

Stopping to take a few pics in a town I was passing through, I bumped into Nicolas, a northbound Frenchman, who was just completing a 2-3 week circuit of the Cordillera Blanca.  He mentioned a few cyclists that he had passed who were headed South.  Having come all the way from Ushuaia, he said that he was on the verge of calling it a day for his trip – the realities of life on the road in South America were beginning to take their toll on him and he was missing French cuisine too much!  I can sympathise on the cuisine front – whilst it’s absolutely sufficient and there are several hearty dishes that are perfect for the ravenous cyclist, I can’t help but feel that there’s a lack of creativity and variety, despite the tremendous range of fresh vegetables and fruits widely available.  It’s funny – I’m often asked by Peruvians how I like the food and I usually reply positively but with a sensitively-phrased version of the above.  They are obviously proud of their cuisine and are generally able to reel off a list of all sorts of specialities from different areas (in particular from their home towns) that I must try.  When you get to your average restaurant out in the sticks though, if there’s choice beyond the ‘menu’ (usually a pasta soup followed by rice and chicken and a tea), then it is the same 5-8 dishes usually comprising some or all of the following…

  • Caldo a la Gallina (chicken soup)
  • Polla a la brasa (chicken and chips)
  • Lomo Saltado (sauteed beef tenderloin)
  • Tallarin Saltado (stir-fried noodles with beef)
  • Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken)
  • Arroz Chaufa (special fried rice with chicken)
  • Ceviche (raw fish marinated with citrus – always a bit odd at 4000m and at least 6 hours drive from the coast!)

My personal favourite so far is probably Tortilla de Verduras which is available at most Chaufas (Peruvian-Chinese restaurants), and which is essentially a big vegetable omelette, sitting atop a large plate of Arroz Chaufa!  Just the thing for a hungry cyclist.

Anyway, I digress…

Mid-afternoon, a necessary but decidedly unfortunate water stop where I had to tramp through some long grass to a stream left me picking sharp needles out of my woolie socks, no joke, for the next two weeks… d’oh!

Towards the end of the day, I reached a beautiful plateau…

That night was spent in the decidedly average transit town of Conococha, albeit in a room with a view!

The next day I headed off the asphalt, across the plateau…

…and started a long descent through the valley, underneath the mighty Mount Yerupajá.

Eventually, I arrived in Llipa Nuevo, where I got a room in the municipal building and headed out to find somebody who could cook me some dinner!  At the shop, I discovered that a few cyclists had passed through the day before – an Austrian couple (Wolfgang and Sabrina – who I had very briefly encountered in Leymebamba with Si) and an as-yet-unidentified Englishman!  Good to know that I wasn’t the only one and, if I got a bit of a hurry on and put in some bigger efforts, I might catch them up.  Interestingly, the shop owner intimated that she was rather disappointed that these other gringos hadn’t chosen to stay in the village, so I was happy to be once again doing my bit for gringo-Peruano relations!

Talking of which, walking back up the street, a local offered me some Chicha and, in the spirit of ‘WWBD’ (What Would Ben Do), I duly accepted!  Chicha is the local homebrew alcohol in Peru (made from maize) which, as my host insisted repeatedly, “es natural”!  This was actually a particularly good brew, with strong hints of apple and apricot and hopefully no spit.

A few other locals soon joined us and the conversation ranged widely but inevitably came round to the subject of the Premier League and ‘Los Lobos’ (The Foxes – Leicester City)!  Lots of the games are on TV here, and even in the remotest of villages there seem to be quite a few satellite dishes around.

After dragging myself away before I indulged in a little too much Chicha, I headed round for dinner at a family’s house that I had arranged earlier.  It was a fun dinner – in particular, answering all the questions of the four kids.  Inevitably, they were most interested in what games I had on my iPhone, which turned out to be a disappointingly poor collection.  I continued my educational efforts though, in trying to explain to them why it was a bit rude(/racist!) to call me ‘gringo’ and that we are really all one and the same!  You can but try.

The next morning, I made an early start – the view from my room was pretty special…

…and the descent down into the canyon was awesome too, with a really good (dirt) road surface for once…

The thrill of the downhill was short-lived, however, and I soon began the long, hot dusty ascent from the bottom at 1400m, up towards Cajatambo at 3400m.  About halfway up, a chap fixing his motorcycle by the roadside warned me that the road was closed ahead due to a rock fall but that I might squeeze through whilst the workmen were on lunch!  Needless to say, they had restarted work by the time I got there and there really was no chance of getting past…

Having initially said that the road would reopen at 3pm, the foreman started to talk of 5pm, which frankly seemed far more likely given the amount of rock strewn across the road!  It was frustrating, given that I had pushed on hard all morning to make good progress but there was another route of a similar distance which required backtracking a couple of 100 metres down the mountain first, so I decided that I might as well try that rather than sit around waiting for the road to reopen.  An hour wasted and extra climbing on what was already a big day, but hey!  It was a perfectly good road and not crazy steep but tough-going, energy levels getting pretty low, only topped up by regular bread and honey stops.  I’ve taken to carrying a large pot of local honey with me – it’s a great natural energy gel.

Finally, I made it to the top as the sun began to disappear behind the mountains.  After a tough climb of over 2000m, I was pretty elated and the incredible views matched my mood…

4 Comments

  1. epic as always Campbell!!!
    just can’t get over those star photos! please tell me your somehow taking super long exposures with the theta! rather than the milky way just staring right at ya!
    keep up the adventuring dude!! and watch out for those rock throwing cows!!

  2. Mate, another cracking read and inspirational stuff! Loving that you are hanging with the locals so much – are you restrained enough not to drink too much of the local brew! Your chat up lines must be very good to get dinner and a bedroom for the night at people’s houses! #respect

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