4th of May 11th of May 2019.
What is it that has made you stronger? Pushing your physical limits? Or were you able to push them because you pushed yourself mentally first ? Or do you get stronger by knowing your limits and learning to say no?
The very basic hostal in Chuquicara at an elevation of 500 meters, located at the conjunction of Rio Tablachaca and Rio Santa, ensured we had a very warm night. Just to give an impression how those hostals look, see below pictures.
Rio Santa is one of the largest rivers of Peru with it’s length of 347 km. Even in the dry season it has a considerable flow, due to the melting snow of the Cordillera Blanca.
Minimal annual rain, only the fast flowing rivers give some life, people trying to grow crops along the riverbed, but even for this it is either too dry or everything gets washed away when it rains in the mountains. I admire the people who try to make a living in these very harsh conditions.
Down in the hole.
It is not only along the riverbed people are trying to make a living, but humans also try to extract the treasures hidden away in the bellies of the mountains. People are digging for for fine coal (used for pencils) or coal for heating by pickaxes and shovels. Every day they work in horizontal tunnels, going 100-150 meter into the belly of the mountain. Seems they can sell coal for pencils for a higher price, but our contact was too short to ask how much they earn per month.
The Rio Santa canyon is even dryer and feels more like biking on Mars with some scary tunnel crossings.
What a strange landscape, how extremely dry, with ghost towns, inactive and active mines and very sporadically a tiny waterfall reaching the muddy river.
Yesterday we were following Rio Tablachaca downstream, today we bike Rio Santa upstream, which creates a totally different sensation. Also in our legs 😉.
As we don’t want to climb the extra meters to Yuracmarca, we look for a place to sleep just past that village. The area benefits here from colliding clouds, shedding their load almost every evening. With enough water on these slopes there are many fruit trees, but no space to wild camp. Only 2 hospedajes available and we choose the one where we don’t have to carry the bikes upstairs.
After yesterday’s hostal we thought it could not get worse, but it can. Well this time we have a more decent shared bathroom with very cold water. We find a nice place in the sun to observe village life savoring a cold beer (for Frank, as I have almost completely stopped drinking alcohol). During the grilled chicken diner we start to talk with Mamie, the lady cooking our diner. One of the returning topics in Peru is how many children we have. When we explain we are not blessed, a heartwarming talk develops when Mamie explains that she has 4 daughters and 12 grand children, she would love to travel as we do, but has to take care of her children. How she still misses her son every day, who drowned on mother’s day in the mighty river, he rolled down the riverbed and disappeared more than 20 years ago. We share about Sam and she feels so sorry for his family, as she knows the loss will always be there.
Leaving the next day we have to choose: go straight South over a wider road or cross the mountains to the East on the R12. Of course we choose the latter, 1,500 vertical meters on a gravel road. In the beginning lots of cactus, commercially grown for their fruits.
In Santa Rosa we finally have some reception on our phone again, so we can chat with home and arrange the birthday card for my mother, with some local attention.
If we would ever complain of our European house chores again, we should look at how people have to wash clothes here! After Santa Rosa we get passed by maybe 5 pickups during the whole day. We have the immense landscape to ourselves.
Good to have some treats.Last meters to Yanac are tough.
We arrive just before sundown and “choose” for the only place which is open. Bikes will be stored in the downstairs restaurant. When we had the opportunity to choose for a new bike setup we looked at a bike packing set-up, but chose for the classic pannier set-up as we knew we would not camp everyday. One of the main benefits of panniers is the ease of removing all your gear and carry it to where you need it. Nothing holds me back to do a quick wash of our biking shorts. In the dark we walk around the almost deserted village, but have to return to our lodging to get some food, as there is no other restaurant. Rice with chicken, missing vegetables very much!
Gravel road to Tanac loosens our muscles after which we get a really nice surprise of asphalt! But even asphalt does not speed me up. I am having such an off-day I should have taken a day off. But we only want to take a day off when we have internet connection for the laptop. So we struggle and after lunch I even push the bike (on asphalt ☹, only justification is the 10% incline at + 3.600 meter).
At one moment there are people waiting for a pick-up to the next village. They really want to know more about these strange gringos, why we are here, how life is in Holland, which cows we have, etc. As the sun is shining and I love to have a break, we end up talking with Patricia and family for more than 30 minutes.
Where do I hide.
Slow travel with talking to locals results in not even reaching the crest. Struggling to find a camping spot which is not too visible from the road and not too accessible by car. What do you think of this one?
Cars can see us but it is too much of a hike for people to bother us. Everything is installed just before pitch dark. Preparing dinner under a starry sky is always an adventure. Early night at 4,136 m with minimal traffic disturbing us at this high elevation.
Morning with a bright blue sky makes an easy climb to the corona. Fresh and with better energy we speed down the mountain. In Pasachacha we need to decide if we continue to follow the bikepacking route or go further downhill PE-12A and look for a place in Sihuas to get a rest day. Seems that the BP route has some very bad patches so the decision is quickly made as we both long for a day of rest. We are in Sihuas even before lunch and find a reasonable hotel close to the center. only bummer is that hot water is made by a wood stove, for the whole hotel! What a solution, deforestation and all the wood needs to be carried up 6 stairs!
Strolling around we find the best place (Lidia’s) to eat lunch and dinner and breakfast and dinner. Each day a new menu and different items for dinner and lunch.
Looking at all warnings of bad roads we start looking for transport, but they charge so much we decide to try our luck and see how far we will come with our regained energy. Next day following PE-12A we choose the first right following the Chullin river to re-join the BP route. Stupid there is no indication that a massive landslide has blocked all traffic. We think the locals knew about it as only 2 cars have passed us. Benefit to be on a bike is that with joined forces and patiently waiting workers we can pass way earlier than the cars. In San Juan they are celebrating mothers day at the school which we join for a brief period. Dance and mother/child games are performed in the midday heat.
Latinos looking at how gringos struggle up the hill.
Don’t know if our choice was the best as the road becomes even rougher and when afternoon rain hits us it results in pushing.
We ask a few people if we can camp but they both direct us to a spot a bit further up the road. We turn the corner and see a church in a very small village.
They offer us to camp in the entrance of the church. Setting up camp under the watch full eye of the 6-9 years old village kids, while the rest of the village congregates to celebrate Mothers Day.
Visiting the local store to get some cookies for the kids after their photo shoot. Beautiful embroidery of the skirts, dressed up to celebrate Mothers day on Friday evening.
We agree with Oliver to send all pictures via Facebook. Saturday morning uphill out of the village, thanking people on the way. And again a climb of more than 10 km on a very bad road, where we meet Oliver again.
Here we join the BP route again. Much better road!
On the way we see how the earthen walls of houses, called tapia or tapial in Spanish, are constructed. Very ecological, you just ram earth mixed with straw into a temporary frame. Therefore the technique is called “rammed earth” in English. Seems that these constructions are the best to control the midday heat and nightly chill. Only problem is these walls are susceptible to water damage.
In Pomabamba we call it a day and find a very clean hotel (but without WIFI).
A beautiful week with amazing nature. Some good climbs and descents. Some great talks with people. And when nature was making us desperate for a place to sleep locals saw our need and offered us the sheltered place at the entrance of the church.
Happy to have chosen these back roads as they show a totally different Peru. If we would have followed the main road through the mountains we would have seen a different side. Downside is we are travelling way to slow now.
Will we be able to speed-up next week?