With the decision to take another rest day we were back on the road hopefully leaving all the ailments behind us. Gradual all day climb and we made it to a lake and decided to call it a day, worst decision with accommodation quickly had us rueing this choice as we were subjected to a curtain for a bathroom door and no hot water as promised. The curtain would have been fine if it wasn’t a shared bathroom with the whole family, or if the curtain actually limited your view into the bathroom! Jess for some reason didn’t mind all these accommodation flaws but she was devastated to find out she had left her favourite shorts in Cajabamba!!! I wasn't sure what the trouble was, she has a spare identical pair at home as she was stupid enough to accidentally buy the same pair twice in Vietnam, unless they have found their way into her sisters wardrobe, i've been told girls clothes can do this! All i know is it put her in a rubbish mood for days to come.
We left the next day still bitter with our accommodation choice; some you win, some you loose I suppose but we were adamant that today was going to be good. We carried on the gradual climb and as we got higher couldn’t help but notice the quiet dirt road across the valley running parallel to us. Yeh, the dirt road we should have been on, a quick detour down a mining track and an interesting bimble up the other side and we were back on route with only 5km added. The dirt road was dusty but rideable and we slowly left civilisation behind. Slowly but surely the landscape became more barren and the mountains became, well, more mountainous. It was really beginning to feel like we were getting into the heart of it. This is what I had been wanting to experience from Peru; the feeling of isolation and solitude, just us and our bikes. Ok, so we were riding up a well maintained dirt road, but the lack of traffic and scenery really made it something special. We crested one final hill reaching roughly 4100m then descended to three small lakes, with tired legs and unbelievable vistas we called it a day and found an idyllic spot to camp. This was by far one of the most memorable spots we have stayed and will be hard to beat in the future.
One last horrible decent saw us reach a valley and with no energy to attempt the climb that we knew was going to be beyond us with fresh legs we set up camp, this was far less idyllic than the previous night as with a lower altitude brought hordes of face invading flies that made cooking near impossible. These flies, having tasted fresh gringo even came back for breakfast leaving me in a rather irate mindset that was less than ideal for facing the mornings push.
The climb wasn’t as bad as we expected and I was spurred on by Jess’ constant talk of how at the top we had a huge downhill. This downhill took far longer to materialise than Jess insisted. After a break for food in a restaurant we came across we finally began the decent. Smooth dirt gave way to tarmac that wiggled its way in a manner similar to spaghetti thrown on a plate down to the river. The whole way down we had a constant reminder of what we may have to climb on the opposite side of the valley, luckily for us though our intended route took us along the river rather than back over the mountains.
The river route, though flatter was not to be taken lightly. We had read blogs by various people who had forgone this track with mixed success. We knew we would have to cross the river at least twice and negotiate various landslides, it was also in a very inaccessible area with imposing cliffs rising all around. We agreed to try the route and if it was looking too bum squeaky scary we would turn back no questions asked…
We left the tarmac and began a gradual decent down a promising gravel track, quickly being engulfed by the gorge and loosing sight of all signs of life other than old remains of gold mining camps that lay abandoned. The deeper we ventured the more I felt like I was riding into some J.R. Tolkien esq. scene from lord of the rings, to Mordor or the dwarf mines.
We rode on and finally came to our first impassable landslide, from here we saw what appeared to be a donkey trail cutting down to the river and so our off road adventure really began.
We descended the narrow trail and after eyeing the swift and turbulent waters we opted to camp the night and attempt the river in the morning. Scouting the river I opted for what I hoped would be the slowest section and loaded with two front bags to make my bike lighter I waded in, this was meant to be the easiest of the known two river crossing and I could already feel the force of the water pulling at my legs, to say I was a little apprehensive of the second crossing was an under statement, but after successfully negotiating two bags with little trouble my confidence rose, time to take a half loaded bike, this was a little more problematic and lets just say I’m happy we have waterproof panniers.
Eventually both bikes were fully loaded on the opposite bank and we were off pushing in search of a trail that would take us yet deeper into the gorge. Using the donkey tracks as a guide we spied another track leading us up away from the river and onto flatter land. Queue unloading of bikes and once again carrying and fetching the 300m to the top were we reloaded feeling rather pleased with ourselves. One hour in and 500m travelled, we were doing well.
We followed our donkey trail and eventually wound our way towards a house. It was here we were informed our expert route finding skills were not as respectable as we thought. We were directed back to the river where we were told there was a road, a road… I think we would have seen a road lady… nevertheless she wrapped her child to her back and led us back the way we came, all the way to the steep donkey trail we had hauled our unloaded bikes up. Adamant I was not spending another 30minutes unloading, carrying and loading again we opted to manhandle the bikes down the trail. With a definitive point we were exactly back were we started trying to bounce our bikes over the boulders in search of this road the lady spoke of.
To call what we found a road would be glorifying it slightly but there was a definite linear track cutting its way into the trees so off we went pushing with gusto hoping this “road” would soon become ride able. Jess took the lead and just when I was having flashbacks to our exploits on the rail trail we found what we were looking for. One last steep push and we were back in the saddle and riding. A few more landslides to negotiate and we were making progress.
Finally we came to the second, and far more nerve tangling, river crossing; our road we had been following abruptly dropped off into the raging torrent. Once again were left to scout out the best spot but without the help of Donkey tracks it was all down to us, this was the point we had promised ourselves that if it felt like too much we would turn around and go back, little did we know just how difficult it would be to make our way back or how far it would feel like we had come to get to this point.
As we wandered the bank a friendly local appeared, a gold minor who had a camp close by, he didn’t seem too concerned over our intentions to cross and he directed us to the best spot to do so. That was it, no turning back, we had been told it was ok to cross by some random man, I had read a blog where a couple had done it, there was no way I could back out now was there??!!
I precariously entered the torrent bagless and bikeless to test the waters if you will, slowly finding my way trying to place the bigger rocks and aiming for the eddies I could see. The water was, excuse the pun, balls deep, and if it wasn’t for the knowledge that it had indeed been done by other cyclists I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to attempt this crossing. The scenery and the noise was the main contributing factor to my nerves but the more I went back and forth the easier it got, I was able to map a path through the shallowest sections and the local minor even got involved stripping down to his pants and helping out in the river.
Before we knew it everyone was safely across and we waved goodbye to our new friend. Feeling slightly drained from our ordeal we rested and feasted on stale bread and jam, from here we had a 300m horrible drag to get back onto the track before we could ride again, this 300m stretch proved just how much this route had taken out of us, I could barely lift my front wheel over the rocks and it was a huge relief when we finally got back in the saddle and began to make our way out of the gorge. Slowly it became more built up, gold minors still resided in this section and we waved as we passed our river helping friend and promised we would stop off at his shop, just 20 minutes away.
One last single-track section later and we emerged back onto tarmac and having run out of water and snacks we made quick haste in search of the promised shop.
A little longer than 20 minutes later but we found his shop and purchased as many fluids as we could, 3L of coke was consumed and too many biscuits to disclose and we were reenergised enough to push on and try and make some distance. The days efforts had amounted to 13km by 3pm.
Luckily for us it was a long gradual decent on tarmac with little interruptions other than a Swiss couple in their off-road camper van, I was slightly jealous of their luxury as we began our hunt for another night in the tent. Finally later than our usual exploits we found a gravel pull off and on a sheltered sandy patch pitched our tent and cooked. Finally with time to reflect on what we had done. Although again we were following a GPS route and we knew other cyclists had ventured into the river gorge, this section felt like we were really in the mix. The risk was real but overall I would say worth it. I’m happy we did the route, it was tough, and the section after the first river crossing until we found the road was hell, but in regards to distance this made up such a small part of this route, a mere 5 or 6km, but in time it consumed most of our day, still, my shoes and shorts are a lot cleaner than they were before I started!
From our camp we continued the downhill, 26km of blissfully easy riding before we bottomed out at 850m, from here it was nothing but uphill to Huaraz back at 3000m. The gradient was mellow and with the knowledge of a restaurant at the 45km marker we made good time, from here we made even better time, something in that river water acted as rocket fuel and we smashed out a 90km day predominantly uphill. This put us within touching distance of our aim of Huaraz. The second day however our bodies seemed to crash, we were a day short but our bodies had given all they had, we grinded our way through the “Canon del Pato” a narrow road built by minors with no fewer than 36 tunnels of varying lengths cut into the cliff side. Our pace and legs slowed and eventually we gave in, the option of taking a bus ride to save us a horrible days ride up the main road was too much. Our bikes were roughly thrown on the roof and we staggered on. This in fairness was probably the most risky part of our whole trip. The driver, who seemed to be in a huge rush, pulled some Hollywood esq manoeuvres much to the uproar of the other passenger who made their feelings towards his driving skills very clear. Ironic really, we had just come out of what we thought was a risky ride only to be closer to death on a bus!
After surviving our ordeal, and running low on snacks on more than one occasion we had promised ourselves a hearty meal, Huaraz, a climbers mecca due to the close proximity of the mountains is full of tourists and with it tourist food. We spent more on one meal than we had the whole week on the bikes but it was worth every penny. With full bellies we made our way back to the hotel, now the plan is to decide which trek to do and do some washing!!!
The whole way through Peru we have been following a route blazed by Joe Cruz. All the information can be found here:
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.