19th till 25th of May 2019.
When you think you can’t get more adventure in one week you get some more thrown into your lap.
After crossing the Cordillera Blanca last week and spending a chilly but amazing night at 4,600 m we are wondering how often we want/need to camp at such an altitude. The two nights in Huaraz with some different food and impressions have given some energy to our body but also drained some energy from mind and soul.
We don’t like the big cities but in Peru it is the only possibility to have access to some reasonable WIFI. Our hostal was changing to a new provider resulting in WIFI not strong enough for working on our laptop, what a bummer.
Leaving on Sunday means less traffic on the road but still PE3N is too busy for us, we have not yet decided if we take the easy way and continue facing the traffic or start following another bike-packing loop, Cordillera Huayhuash. After 30 km there should be a decent hotel with good WIFI (Google references). As it was only asphalt we are already there around noon. Locked behind a big fence we find “Villa Estrella”, a nice name, a good try but my 1 grade teacher would say: “beautiful from afar but far from beautiful”. They charge a premium, but we are happy with the floor to ceiling windows, nice beds and not to forget the strong WIFI, so we can finalize the blog (upload text and photo’s). Recuay is a very small town, bypassed by all tourism, but people are very friendly. Again wondering how the “Star Villa” will survive here.
The small shops provide us with all we need for tomorrow. Funny detail: you need to visit at least 3-4 shops before you have even found all the basics. Finally we make the decision to follow the remoter route, even if this means crossing the Andes again.
Early start and after a few kilometers asphalt we change to a 6 km gravel road, remote, no traffic and we meet some locals.
In the park.
Great chat with a shepherd and then we join the AN110 which is nicely asphalted, to climb to 4500 something meters. The 1,200 vertical meters are OK on asphalt. I enjoy the view of a wide open valley, with the mountains of Huarascan National Park in the background and imagining glaciers smoothing the path millions of years ago.
I feel some grumpiness behind me but don’t know why. Appears that Frank thinks I am way too slow uphill to be able to reach Chavin in time, worrying about time schedules, but without saying so. Once I know why he is grumpy I can’t really bother (can I?), as I can only reach the top at my own speed and still have enough energy to continue I can’t all the time bike at my limit.
Frank is getting good at herding!
After crossing the tunnel (highest point) we are welcomed by a big statue of Christ.
A bone chilling wind during a windy downhill where we get chased by some nasty dogs. Slowing down and speaking with a low voice helps.
We aim for Chavin as we understand there will be some shelters and getting closer we see there are some archaeological sites. The village is more touristic, but with minimal lodging opportunities as people mostly come for a day. Even with low speed we were still in the village before dark (18:00) as had been speeding downhill for the 2 last hours (and Frank’s worrying has been unnecessary).
Can’t be that wrong.
We just sleep there and continue the next day. Stock up on some food as we know we will have to camp tonight. Choosing between 6 km of the bike-packing route or 12 km on AN111, where the bike-packing route will re-join. As we think the AN111 will be anyhow easier we start straight away but counted without crossing Carhuayoc which has a very grim feeling and a very bad road surface. Seems that this area has high unemployment and slowly crawling uphill on a very bad gravel road through a neglected village with lots of people hanging around does not feel so good.
Mood is lifted when a lady gives us fruit, even if we want to pay she insist it is a present from her. When we pass some people working on the water supply further uphill they explain that in the mining area we are heading for, there had been a shooting and one or more people were killed. Luckily we can stop around the corner and have internet access to check the news, as we don’t really trust what we have understood. It is correct that last night there were some shootings in a mine and some people were killed, but luckily it is not the mine we are heading too, but one 800 kilometers down south, international news. So annoying you don’t understand everything and your mind takes you on a spin, so grateful we do have access to news and info.
Loose gravel and sand in combination with altitude and +10% incline topped up with the info shock makes me crawl even slower. But we continue to Antamina as this road through the largest open pit mine in Peru and one of the largest in the world is the one of the two ways going South.
After 25 km and almost 8 hours struggling, tears are added to the story as I hit the mental and physical wall. Why am I so slow? Why are we not progressing faster? As it is already 15:30 we will never be able to find a camping spot as walls are so steep here we have not seen a single space to camp until now.
Could following statement be true? (Jacinta’s Proposition)
Km in altitude x % in incline x surface (1 asphalt, 2 gravel, 3 loose gravel) / gender (1 woman, 2 man) = likelihood to push the bike.
Is this the same for you?
Tears in my eyes.
Tears have not yet disappeared in the gravel or a truck stops to see if he can take us a few kilometers to where he needs to turn left. He had seen us in the morning and now again and was wondering if we would need some help. Only a few minutes ago we discussed that if we could stop anybody we would take a lift till the summit (we are now at 3,900 m and still need to cross 1x 4,300 m and 1x 4,500 m). This is an offer we can’t refuse. An almost empty truck with enough ropes to secure our bikes. Topped off with a lamb that driver Michelino had found next to the road today and which I can bottle feed during the bumpy ride. Lets say I have not seen a lot of the surrounding with this little creature in my lap.
Wondering if the little one will survive. Michelino had even purchased milk and teat to feed it during his 12 hour journey today. After 20 km he needs to turn left and we see a beautiful flat spot under an electricity mast which could be perfect for camping.
We just had set-up the tent when security appears and kindly escorts us to a spot 2 km down the road, outside the perimeter of the mine. By the time we have transported bike/gear and walked back to pickup the tent and carry it on our heads (advantage of free standing tent is it can also be carried when set up) to our new camping ground. It is 19:30, cold and pitch dark before we can start cooking. Pity we can’t see the 24 hour mining operation during the night but the benefit is that where we were able to camp on a very quiet and dark spot. Next day finally some oatmeal again. Our electrical heater has broken down so it is nice to camp and cook!
Antamina is the largest copper and zinc mine in Peru with between 5,000 and 8,000 people working here, 24/7. In 2006 it produced 390,800 ton of copper, 461,000 ton in 2013. An immense and well structured organisation but with devastating impact for nature. Still, if it has to be excavated better to do in a controlled way in one big site, than all the different little mines which are dotting the hills outside this mega operation.
Just outside Antamina we meet Gregoire and Mathew from France. They met just a few days ago somebody who biked Peru Divide, not really positive as it seems to be extremely cold and bad weather.
One of the things Frank does not like is cold and rain, especially when camping. We already have had our share of it during the past weeks and would not mind to cover a bit more distance in a week.
Today was a fairytale.
Still instead of following the nice asphalt AN111 we decide to follow a gravel road HU103. One of the most fairytale roads we have biked so far. From alti plano with herds of alpacas, to green valleys with meandering rivers and waterfalls.
A road which I would not recommend to ride in the rainy season as a short shower turns the road in a mud puddle and we passed so many landslides we stopped counting. But how amazing it is now! How many different colors of green! At several spots people are washing their clothes in the clean river. Seems they come down from the mountain to do their washing, with their horses as carriers. During the 35 km we only see one small bus and a small car. No other traffic! What an awesome road!
And then we see that we have become so much more flexible than before.
We don’t talk a lot and we don’t have the most in-depth discussions during these through rides. Do we push ourselves too much to prove to the other that we still are having fun going over our limits, proving we can do the trails the younger also do. Are we doing this because we need to prove to the outside world we are able to bike all those really though roads? Do we do this to prove ourselves or show to each other we push our limits? Of course the views are amazing but can’t you also get some similar experience at lower elevation? Will we choose for a different course?
At the end of our fairy-tale road we don’t continue to ride the bike-packing route but turn left to La Union. Decided within a few minutes that a few days of following some other roads could be beneficial. No climbing to 5,000 meters but hopefully some better roads.
La Union, drenched in rain, where we clean our bikes before we find finally a place where we can store our bikes and sleep in a basic room with shared facilities. The neighbor leaves his TV on until 3 at night. Breakfast at the corner with bread and eggs and soup with sheep head and the tongue actually tastes good.
A panoramic one-lane road with black top for 80% brings us to Hospedaje Sol Y Sombra.
One of the most basic places but with an area where we can sit outside. As we still have a lot of bread I go hunting for some cheese which takes me around the whole village. Have a laugh with some teenage girls as they don’t understand the short hair and wonder if I am a woman or a man…
Working on the highway.
Next day we find out that 30 km from here the road is only open between 12:00 and 13:00 or at 17:00. A Chinese company is changing the road to 2 lanes. We try to speed but as it is up-hill we have to admit we will never be at the road construction, which starts at +4,000 meter elevation, by 12:00.
Choice needs to be made to spend a night at the town of Chavinillo or try to find transport to cover the last 14 km to be on time for the midday time-slot as another 40 km needs to be covered, this is all very hilly terrain with no flat areas to camp.
We decide for the latter. Winding road in a windy motor pickup, with a driver who needs to protect himself against pouring rain with a piece of plastic, brings us to the top at 12:15.
Quick dress-up and lunch from a street vendor should prepare us for crossing the road works. No time to prepare our sandwiches, luckily we are not too fussy about food. Thick red earth in combination with heavy rain makes a slide from the roads and I get a laughing fit when we are dressed as telly tubbies trying to bike in pouring rain. Our bike gets heavier by the minute as the red mud does not want to let go. We see a pick-up hovering over a slope, see vans slipping down the mountain and try to help some cars which got stuck in the mud.
Luckily our Schwalbe Smart Sam tire profile ensures we have enough grip 99% of the time. And we thought to have made it easier for ourselves by following a “bigger” road. After 20 km of total road chaos, elevation is lower and everything starts to dry-up. Turn from mud into dust.
It is dark when we enter Huanuco where we find a very clean, great room with white sheets and towels in a medium size hotel. A real hotel (without restaurant), but a hotel as it would be in Europe or USA. Double for 30 Euro. The city of Huanuco, located at 1,900 m provides some warmth to our bones, the local kitchen some meat on our bones. Saturday is used to visit again an ophthalmologist who says there is no foreign object in my eye but just irritation from being so long on the road, some stronger drops should do the work. Strange to see so many casinos here.
We can’t be bothered to discover the city except for some needed items which you can’t find in the very small villages. And for the first time in ages we find a steakhouse which really serves some delicious meat! Good closure of a roller coaster week. Stay tuned whats shakes us next week.