Monday, 19 May 2008

Cajamarca to Huaraz

A bright sunny day as I left Cajamarca. Good feeling to be out of the city and back on the road. This sign reflects my entire journey, cycling down the longitudinal backbone of the Andean cordillera.

I took this same road in 1985, hitching on the back of trucks and I remember the smell of eucalypts along the way. Now they are the dominant vegetation on the sierra. Here eucalypts are being harvested destined for houses in Lima. I spoke with the foreman. The owner will get 10,000 soles (or $A4000) per hectare. The workers are paid 15 soles ($A6) a day plus 3 meals. Imagine Gunns operating on this scale in Tasmania. It would really slow down their rapacious destruction of our old growth forests, wouldn´t it?

The road from San Marcos to Huamachuco
The road really deteriorated 12kms out of San Marcos. It varied from a hard bumpy surface with lots of large stones and small ball-bearing pebbles, to a sticky muddy track. It was a slow and tough ride.

The Not-So-Lonely Road
In the South American Footprint guidebook, they write that the Cajamarca-Huamachuco road was a rough ride and "especially lonely for cyclists". Well I was never really alone. Lots of indigenous campesinos walking along the road, often with animals. I chatted to people working in the fields or in the small tiendas (where I bought soft drinks). Once I came across some women sitting under a tree selling strawberries. I bought half a kilo for 1 peso (40 cents) and ate them all on the spot! The indians of this part of the sierra are very shouts of `Gringo!´- instead it´s `Buena suerte amigo´ (from the men) or `Buenos tardes señor´ (from the children). As the road climbed higher onto the puna (3500m), the scenery became wilder and more dramatic. Up here on the sierra, the women here wear more traditional clothes and the houses are made of adobe and tiles. I felt I was finally in the Andes of my imagination and remembrances of things past.

Laguna Saucacocha 3150m, 12kms outside Huamachucho

Huamachuco market

The road out of Huamachuco started out quite nicely but as it climbed onto the broad plateau towards a 4200m pass it turned into a morass of mud and rocks.

What made the day the top of the pass I realised there was another less travelled road, meandering up the opposite valley heading to Mollepata. So I had to drop steeply for 800m to meet this minor road and climb 1000m over a second pass.

The mountains around here are very rich in gold and two large mines have scarred the landscape, slicing the tops of the Andes and disembowelling the earth. I took this photo from my campsite at 4100m - in the distance is the Comarsca mine.

The following day I travelled up and down the mountainous terrain of a sparsely populated area, only encountering people in the small towns - the hills and valleys were deserted and silent.

The road from Mollepata to Pallasca dropped steeply into the Tablachaca valley and then climbed up the other vertical canyon wall in a scribbling set of zigzags, over 30 in all. I didn´t make it to Pallasca that day but camped on a narrow ledge at bend 19 (luckily I carried water up from the river).

The view from my camp (Bend 19) looking down to the Tablachaca river.

The road was in terrible shape- steep gradients, large stones and fine dust. In the late afternoon and with the sun on my back I pushed the bike up most of the way.

Pallasca town perched on a ridge 1500m above the Tablachaca canyon. A remote and lovely town of friendly people and amazingly, broadband internet!

Landscape around Pallasca region- dairy farms and self-seeding eucalypts (a human-assisted Gondwanan link).

The hospedaje where I stayed in Huandoval (almost pronounced as `Wonderful´)- a quaint, friendly little place in the remote sierra of Ancash province.

El carne - Peruvian sierra style. In Huandoval I was invited to a party by a prominent local family welcoming their son back from New York. A cow was slaughtered in the backyard...

and lots of beer was flowing, a local brass band playing.....

Cow´s head soup

Chicken foot soup

Lagunas Pusacocha - the lakes above Huandoval at 4200m.

I had climbed into an high valley at 4300m so I scaled some cliffs to access the next valley and to see Lagunas Pusacocha (or 9 lakes in Quechuan). The descent on the other side looked tricky but seemed possible. But halfway down I got into some real difficulty with wet mossy cliff faces. Twice I had to drop my bag with camera and GPS over steep ledges to get down. Finally made it...luckily no damage to gear.
Here is a view from below of the descent- harder than it looks.

The Chusgon hot springs 500m above Huandoval. I had 2 dips in the warm waters, before and after my hike into the lakes. Had it all to myself here at 5pm.

Trout Fishing in Peru
The last of 9 lakes had a small trout hatchery. I met Gaston, the young Quechuan entrepeneur who had set up the hatchery later that night in Huandoval and got into all sorts of problems with the Spanish language. I confused the word 'trucha' (meaning trout) with 'chucha', the rude term for the female sexual organ. The whole village thought this was hilarious, especially the women. I just had to put on my silly embarrassed gringo face and take the taunts, which you can just imagine.

The lads at Huandoval, who loved my fishing tales. In classic Peruvian style we drank beer outside the shop from a single glass, passing it around in a circle with a "Salud" to the next drinker.

Family at restaurant in Ancos. I had a bad fever on my descent from the sierra and the kind woman in the photo gave me some medicine and cooked me up 2 bowls of delicious chicken soup.

A long descent on a paved road from the lush green sierra down to dry cactus canyon country. The transition in landscape is dramatic and stark.

From Chuquicara to Huallanca along the Rio Santa, the road was in terrible shape and I was worried about the widening crack in the rear rim. So I put the bike on top of a bus for the 100km journey up the Santa valley. The bus almost rolled here as it tried to navigate around a truck stuck in the mud.

Cañon del Pato - 35 tunnels in 10kms. The road cuts its way through the narrow canyon. The chasm is only 15 metres wide in some places, the Rio Santa slicing its way between the twin cordilleras, the Cord. Blanca and Cord. Negra. Unfortunately very little water flows down the river now as most of it is diverted for hydro electricity (courtesy of Duke Energy).

The light at the end of the tunnel..or is it just tunnel vision? A bit scary as they are unlit and the surface is rough gravel.

Vagamundo bar in Huaraz. My namesake. The best pisco sours in northern Peru!

Another cracked rim. Velocity is slowing me down..putting another Spaniard in the works. I´m very pissed off with the quality of these rims and I would urge cyclists not to use Velocity Cliffhangers on expedition rides like this. There is an obvious design fault in the sidewall construction.

Arturo and the team at Huaraz bike shop. He replaced my cracked rim with an Alex downhill rim. Hope it holds out until a quality replacement arrives with Jude in Cuzco (going with the Sun Rhyno lite this time).

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Cajamarca May 9-14

Well, I made it to Cajamarca in one piece, sort of... Unfortunately I´VE GOT A CRACK IN MY REAR RIM... No, not the dreaded haemmorhoids this time....the rim on my rear wheel has got a nasty crack in its sidewall! Click to enlarge the photo. The obvious line on the left is the crack, 50mms long and spreading. The sidewalls are dished out from all the braking over the last 2 weeks.

(· aro is Spanish for rim)
So, I´m stranded here in Cajamarca waiting for a replacement to be sent from Lima. It was kind of lucky to happen here. I only noticed it the day after I arrived but I had felt some `grabbing´ when braking on the last hill into town and a nasty `ting ting´ sound coming from the rear wheel since Chachapoyas.

Cajamarca is a pleasant city - old colonial buildings with a nice climate at 2700m- warm sunny days and cool nights. It has good cheap restaurants and well-stocked supermarkets. Local dairy produce- delicious cheeses, yoghurt & ice-creams. Chilean wine (Cab Sav)- 1 litre packs for $2! Nice crusty cibata bread in the supermarket. Hardly a gringo in sight! Also heaps of internet cafes- 40c an hour.

So, there could be worse places to languish. I phoned bike shops in Lima and found one- which had Mavic rims with 32 spokes for v-brakes. Most are 36 and for disc brakes. It is coming by bus tomorrow..hopefully. Now, I have to find a reliable wheelbuilder in town. There are only basic bike shops here but I´ve settled on this old guy who´s been a bike mechanic for years. Will keep you posted on this one.

While I´m on the theme of bikes falling apart.......
My front racks are aluminium Old Man Mountain (US) and the metal is wearing badly on the contact surfaces with the pannier clips and guards. So, I´ve borrowed my mate Rob Cooper´s idea of coiling wire around the worn edges and sealing it with epoxy resin. It worked well on my Blackburn racks in Tibet. The rear racks are Tubus (tubular steel) and there´s very little wear. More weight and friction than the front but the metal is not as soft as the aluminium. Go Tubus!

Taller Rayo.. building two new wheels for me. It looks pretty basic equipment but he did a good job and only cost 25 soles (A$10). I had to transfer the front Velocity cliffhanger to the rear (as good quality short spokes are almost impossible to find in Peru).
p.s.(the next day) The job wasn´t as good as I thought- he had overtightened the rear spokes and one broke today on the way to San Marcos (on sealed road). Then I found a few of the spokes nipples were burred - and I couldn´t loosen them. I adjusted what I could. Hope it suffices until Huaraz.

South Americans love to protest in the streets against their governments and the establishment for their ineptitude, injustice and corruption. First it was the bus drivers blocking the streets for a day, then a mysterious crowd (soldiers?)who chant slogans at 5am down the street by my hotel..and yesterday it was a group of indigenous campesinos from Cerro Negro protesting in Cajamarca about the cyanide poisoning of their river and the theft of their precious water by Yanacocha, the US-owned giant goldmine north of Cajamarca (second largest in the world).

Atahualpa, the Incan emperor was ambushed and captured by the Spanish conquistadors in Cajamarca in 1532. In the small picture above, Atahualpa is indicating that he could fill up the large ransom room with gold and silver. He drew a line with his outstretched hand. Once that line had been reached the Spaniards had promised they would release their Incan captive.
He was held prisoner in this cell as the Spanish stripped the empire of its gold and silver treasures. The illegitimate and illiterate Pizarro brothers were desperadoes and nothing could sate their lust for gold. After accumulating tonnes of gold, they broke their promise to release their captive and executed Atahualpa in the plaza by strangulation in front of his people.
Here is the Ransom Room Cuarto de Recate - the prison cell where Atahualpa was held, the only Incan building left in Cajamarca.

Atahulpa was bathing in the hot springs outside Cajamarca when he heard of the conquistadores approach. It was shortly after the civil war with his half-brother and he was at Los Baños to soothe some war wounds. Here is his bath.

And here is my bath. I went out to the hot springs for slightly less prosaic and historical reasons - to bathe and heal some canine and cactus wounds and other sore bits.

To make the Incan connection complete I stayed 5 nights at Hostal Atahualpa on Pasaje Atahualpa, half a block from the plaza where he was executed by the Spaniards.
At 6am and about to leave for Cajabamba. Notice the spare rim looped around the rear panniers. I´m also carrying a full set of spokes for this rim. Just in case.

Belen Church

A relief on the building opposite depicting a woman with four breasts, an affliction which was said to be prevalent in a nearby village in the 17th century.