28th of April till 4th of May 2019.
When biking through Northern Peru, following smaller roads, we start to understand that houses are not built at a location where they can park the car in front of the house, as almost nobody around here owns a car. Houses are built close to a water source and have easy access by foot/horse/mule or in a rare case a motorcycle. We only see a few pick-up trucks per day which are 90% public transport or owned by mining companies. One or two buses and in small villages moto-taxis, as the one we had as private limo last week for Franks birthday.
From peaceful Laguna Sausachocha we bike only a few kilometers to Huamachuco with the gold mine looming over us.
Fields of gold.
Those mines turn the earth inside out, as it is open pit mining here. Quote from Wiki on the topic: “Open-pit mining is to be considered one of the most dangerous sectors in the industrial world. It causes significant effects to miners health, as well as damage to the ecological land. Open-pit mining causes changes to vegetation, soil, and bedrock, which ultimately contributes to changes in surface hydrology, groundwater levels, and flow paths“. I decided I will never buy any gold anymore! I will not be able to prevent buying any minerals, as they are also side products from these mining companies but if we now see what an impact they have on nature for some jewelry I think we should consider the impact.
As there almost no cars you also don’t see many car-washes, but being closer to a city we discover one and treat our dusty TM 3+ on a well deserved cleaning.
Jochen, German, biking south from Bogota gives us a warning about landslides after Mollepata. Something to consider, but first some rest and culture in Huamachuco.
Huamachuco, founded in 1553 by Augustinian missionaries, still shows its history marks with one of the largest squares of Peru and beautiful historical buildings.
Choice of colors.
Other squares until now often had one color (as in Mexico). This square, for the first time, shows some more colored buildings. One of the favorite things which are returning are the sculptured cypresses.
Wandering to find a good place to sleep with reasonable internet we meet Jochen again, he will still bike an other 60 km today 😊.
We want to see if we can finally wash our clothes and work on the blog and continue cycling on Monday. Discovering that there are some very interesting archaeological sites nearby makes us reconsider our schedule as there is no luck in visiting them today, locals say it is better to wait as rain is looming. Also no laundry to be done as the laundry is closed on Sunday. Ah well take the opportunity to shop for some other crochet material and finally upload the blog on very slow internet.
Next day we find a laundry but they can’t wash today as they are fully booked. Our hotel also can’t wash as they still have to do a lot of own laundry. Only solution is to do our own laundry by hand on the roof of our hotel. Even here in the middle of the city the hotel laundry is done by hand and open air drying.
Past and present.
An early morning gave us enough time to wash and still have enough time to visit Marcahuamachuco, the Machu Pichu of the North, but without the crowds. We try to keep our driver awake during a death ride uphill with a moto-taxi.
Arriving at the site we are the first and only ones to enter and walk between the double centric castles built 400 AD. Before they got conquered by the Incas in the 14th century this seems to have been the Northern most political, military and economic centre. We are alone between restored and intact ruins, among thousands of wild flowers, . Why did they construct it in double circles? Protection? Weather? How was it to live here as elites or religious leaders? As a provider or a slave?
They lived here at 3,200 meters in a totally walled-in 5 km long and 500 meter wide area. Provided with own water and food, round castles of different sizes scattered around the area. Where the hills as bare as they are now? Which roads did they use? Are they the same as the trail we used to walk back to the city?
Unbelievable to be here with only the two of us, a guard at each corner of the site and some cows, sheep and shepherds. So happy we decided to slow down and visit this unknown site. Great walk back over all Inca road to the city.
More info at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcahuamachuco
On Tuesday we follow https://bikepacking.com/routes/dirt-road-touring-peru/
How do you sleep.
Finding the most amazing camp spot at exactly 4,000 meter. Real wild camping at it’s best. Getting there was perfect gravel riding with gradual incline. If climbing would always be like this I would sign for it.
At the entrance of an old mine, dark clouds looming over us until we have installed the tent, thunder bursts followed with hail make us shelter in our tent. New river cascading down the hill just next to our tent. Bad weather calls it a day after 1 hour. Rain stops and under a brilliant starry sky we can prepare dinner. Very early night so we can be awake at 5:00 for the next day. It feels safe as it is far enough from the road to hear when somebody would stop. We overlook several different colored lagunas during breakfast and see some cars leaving which had arrived early morning, maybe for trout fishing?
This is how I imaged Peru would be (can we go home now?). Fun detail, when we are drying the tent a pickup stops down the road and a full family walks up to see what we are doing and want to have a photo shoot. They don’t understand why it would be fun to spend a night in the cold. They are driving around as they want to do some sight seeing during their holiday on the 1st of May.
Aim of today is to reach Santa Clara de Tulpo which should be doable. We stop to chat with a shepherd. And one of the few pick-ups stops to have a photo shoot of each of the 15 family members with those crazy gringos.
The morning is a great ride in and out of the clouds. With the previous day in mind we calculate that we will be in the village by 16:00. How wrong could we have been. In the afternoon the road becomes worse and worse with big rocks and so much incline you can’t ride at all. Rain has washed away all the earth and sand between the rocks. Downhill is so steep and rocky we even have to walk downhill. But again an amazing landscape and we know only 15km more of which most will be downhill. But we have counted without the landslides. Several makes us walk, or wade through rivers.
One of the landslides has such big rocks we even have to first carry our panniers over it and then our bikes.
We start to wonder if this road will continue as we don’t see any tracks. Rain is pouring down and it starts to be really cold. Then we see an other landslide in the long distance and a big canyon in front. As it is downhill we leave the bikes to check-out if it would be passable. We decide this new canyon, which has taken away the full road with no rocks to climb over, but only steep mud walls, is too dangerous to try to pass. Below photo is from the next day.
Taking into account that also a bit further we see more landslides we decide to first check one other road if this will take us to the village which we see in the distance, but no luck. Totally soaked we decide to look for a flat piece of land, again with no luck. Set-up camp on a slight downhill site but at least the rain has stopped and we still have food for one night. Delicious mie with tuna, onion, garlic, tomato sauce and ginger! Do you also use the water you cook your mie/pasta in for soup?
Frank is sliding down his mattress more than I as he has no curves to keep him at the same spot. Some clothes under his mattress help to keep him in place.
Sun hitting the distant mountains, which are our aim for today. We need to detour for 40 km to reach Tulpo. So happy again with the app MapOut, working off line and almost using no energy.
Morning ritual with all essentials. When we can’t bury the toilet paper deep enough we take it in a separate bag with us. We don’t want Kleenex flowers appearing behind us. What do you do?
With cold muscles first climbing back over the same landslide again with the big rocks but further down we try another road to backtrack on yesterdays route, to avoid most of the big stones and the very steep decent (that would now be up-hill) we did yesterday. A road which is not visible on MapOut or Google maps. Sometimes you have to trust your intuition.
And our guess worked out! We avoided a very bad part and finally are on our way to Tulpo. We pass through the deserted mine of COMARSA.
Gold and minerals were excavated here between 2002 -2017. At its height 3,000 people were working here. Now only 20 are still maintaining. A raped landscape is left behind. Even if they now try to cover it with eucalyptus trees it still is devastating to see. And you don’t wonder any longer how all those landslides can happen.
When you cross a river you know you will have some climbing to do.
After a very long day with again only 40 kilometers, where one of the locals sees us struggling uphill and helps us, we arrive in the very small town of Tulpo. Brigitta is so sweet to open the hospidaje and make a bed.
Dinner at eight.
We find a small shop to buy some basics and prepare our own food. Having no restaurant in town confirms how small the place is. We wonder who is the owner of the place as you see the influence of some expat or Lima person (kärcher vacuum cleaner and sophisticated water heater, ensuring we can take a warm shower!!). A great pasta with enough left over to create a tortilla the next day when Frank tightens all bolts and screws of the two bikes. He already lost one so good to have spare bolts screws with him. First some vertical meters out of Tulpo, after which the road turns to heavenly asphalt and we cruise down the eucalyptus covered, very steep mountain side, thousands of switch backs bring us to Mollepata where we can’t resist a second breakfast and spend quite some time chatting with the locals and letting Carlos try out my bike.
@Carlos; if you read this, please send us a message through the site, as I still could not send you the photos.
Leaving late and spending time for second breakfast has a benefit as we pass the next heavy roadworks (where they are widening the one lane road) during their lunch break.
In Mollepata they informed us that the Ancash road at the riverbed of Rio Tablachaca is still not passable due to two destroyed bridges. You need to ascend to Pallasca and then go down again.
The time of no room.
The climb was long, very long. First more than 1,500 m vertical downhill to end at the same altitude in the evening. No pushing, but long and hot and just 3 km before town we had to wait for at least 30 minutes as they are working on the road. All this results in arriving when it is dark (an very cold, but at least it is not raining). There is a fiesta with a market happening on the square and the 3 hostals are fully booked.
First time ever on these 80 weeks of travel and even then a solution occurs so we don’t have to put up our tent on the inner court of one of the hostals. Irma offers to us one of the quarters she normally rents out to the road workers. With a single bed but clean and with a toilet! Enough space to use our sleeping mattresses and the bed as a space to spread our stuff.
No WIFI makes us continue and the day could not be more different than yesterday. First few miles had some very steep inclines and one of the worst landslides we have seen so far.
Then we rounded a corner and enter a totally different world. As if we had landed on Mars.
More than 2,000 vertical meters downhill in 20 km to Rio Tablachaca. Nature changing from spruce and eucalyptus covered steep hills to cactus and in the end nothing. Nothing at all. As bare as some of the canyons in Utah.
Close to the river you see human attempts to grow something. Some corn, some mango trees but this must be such a hard life, as the river is fast flowing and muddy. We cross a few side rivers and are happy we did not try to check if the two destroyed bridges were really not yet repaired. Then we start to follow Rio Tablachaca, great one lane gravel road with only few cars. Passing through a very small settlement where you wonder how people can live in this very dry environment.
We pass La Galgada, a ghost town linked to an inactive coal mine. In the seventies it was a very active area but now everything has moved to other locations just leaving the skeletons of what once has been.
Just past the village there is also a pre-Inca ruin which is the perfect spot for our lunch. It seems that you are able to enter but I only see a spooky, narrow entrance and as Frank is guarding the bikes I don’t want to take the risk to be blocked in.
From here it is (almost everywhere) perfect asphalt and almost everything downhill.
We decide to call it a day in Chuquicara.
The police offered us a place to camp next to their station, but also next to the road and not sure if they have a shower. We decide to look for the hospidaje. Did not know it could still become more basic than where we had stayed before, but it is possible. But there is a shared cold shower and because it is so scalding hot, the water is even lukewarm. If you look at this dry area we are lucky to be able to take a shower at all.
The room is crap and hot but secure (no pasa nada aqui).
What a week with chosen and forced wild camping. Spending a night at 4,000 meters. Visiting Machu Pichu of the North. Lush green ecaluptus at 3,200m and a scalding hot canyon at 500 m, all within half a day. Covered only 230km but 10,500 m vertical incline and 13,200 m vertical decline.
Which places will we visit next week?