Cajamarca > nr Jesus > Cachachi > Cajabamba > Huamachuco > Mollebamba > Pallasca > Chuquicara > Huallanca > Caraz
After several days chilling in Cajamarca at the lovely Casa Mirita (a homestay run by the very friendly Vicky and Mirita), it was time to get back on the road. I had needed to rest my left achilles a little, which I had aggravated during the 40k challenge (probably due to a slightly incorrect cleat setup), and which had flared up again. It’s one of those things that just needs rest (and a bit of stretching).
Anyway, it’s funny how it takes a little while to get back into the swing of things after a few days off the bike. I often find myself looking nervously around the bike, wondering if I’ve forgotten anything! I don’t exactly have the most minimal of setups but it’s sometimes strange thinking about how little stuff I’ve got. Conversely, I have spent a lot of time recently going through everything in my mind and figuring what else I can lose and have actually put together a small bag of stuff, which I reckon probably amounts to a couple of kilos, which I’m going to get rid of/send home! Weight really does make a big difference on the tougher terrain and on the climbs.
So, I headed out of Cajamarca on the back roads, roughly following this route and was soon at the base of the first climb, winding back and forth on the dirt roads. There were some nice views back up the valley to Cajamarca…
I did my best again to find a stealthy camping spot on one of the few bits of flat ground, next to an unused outbuilding. Once again, I failed – a farmer heading home at sunset walked past and was somewhat amused to find me there! He said it was fine for me to be there though, so that put me at ease! There were some great views from this spot too…
The next day, I headed on up the pass, which topped out just shy of 4000m – I’d have to wait a few days to break through that barrier! I was slightly apprehensive of what lay ahead – a few touring cyclists have had issues with villagers in that area, in particular in the small village of Santa Rosa, where they have taken it upon themselves to ‘arrest’ passing gringos! Here’s one account of that happening by Paul Griffiths.
As I neared the village in question, I was heckled from on high by some kids on a horse – I couldn’t make out what they were shouting but it seemed to be a bit more in earnest than the usual cries of ‘gringo’. A hundred metres later, I came across a group of young girls, who immediately turned on their heels and ran away to hide. I’ve seen a bit of this behaviour but this seemed to take it to another level.
Anyway, I heeded Paul’s advice and fairly sped through the village, although there weren’t too many people around. All in all, it felt like there was a bit of an odd vibe – the locals are clearly circulating fanciful stories about what gringos do and passing this onto the kids. Some of it may be well-founded – gringos in Peru have a very long history of exploitation and horrific violence, harking back to the Conquistadors, and more recently with the multinational mining companies. And also, to these locals, perhaps the concept of somebody cycling through their village on holiday (with bikes loaded with bags of who-knows-what) is pretty bizarre. It’s obviously sad that this sort of attitude has developed, essentially based on fear, but it’s oddly understandable!
When I got to Cachachi, a large village slightly further down the mountain and my stop for the night, I bumped into the friendly policeman, José (from Lima), and had a good chat. He said that they’ve had a couple of other issues with people being stopped there (and occasionally been charged a small fee to continue) but he assured me that there shouldn’t be any issues in the future!
As so often seems to be the way when touring, things always seem to balance out. If you have a really good morning, it’ll often be dulled by some sort of downer in the afternoon. Conversely, a dodgy morning can be transformed by an unexpected highlight in the afternoon.
In this case, I had arrived in Cachachi having not had the greatest morning. Once I’d got my stuff stowed in what was most definitely the filthiest hospedaje I’d stayed in so far and been to the local shop to pick up some fruit etc, I wandered a few yards up the hill to get some phone signal. A few of the kids who were playing in the street immediately ran to hide behind a lorry. After the morning’s events, I was a little fed up of this so went over to talk to a woman who was standing near them and ask why they were hiding. She explained that they hadn’t seen many gringos before and certainly hadn’t talked to one. I figured it was time to do some work on Gringo-Peruano relations and I explained to them that we might have different colour skin (and I might be a bit taller!) but that we were one and the same. They had a football so I suggested that we have a kick about on the street, which consequently led to a full-blown match on the local football pitch, followed by a long-jump contest and relay sprints! We parted as good friends and they promised that they would be nice to any future gringo cyclists that they encounter!
After dinner at the local market with one of the older guys from the football and his sister, I got back to my room to find a bunch of teenagers loitering around, keen to talk as well and see my fancy bike! Word had obviously spread that there was a talkative gringo in town and the older generations wanted to get in on the action too! We ended up chatting for about 45 mins, with an endless stream of questions, in particular how much each item cost. This is a theme that I’ve encountered quite a bit, to which my standard answer has become “bastante” (enough)!
The next morning I headed down the mountain on a long descent down the (somewhat lethal, traction-wise) dirt road, trying to contain my speed despite my Brexit-fuelled anger! It was pretty spectacular though…
At one point, continuing the theme from the night before, a chap on a motorbike stopped to talk – he had seen gringos in Lima before but this was the first time he’d ever spoken to one! We had a nice chat about what our respective countries were like. I told him about the madness of Brexit and how we’d just had a referendum to leave the EU, to which he replied “England, is that part of the U.S.”?! Aaaaarrrgghh!
After the long descent, it was a drag through the valley, back onto the asphalt and a climb back up to Cajabamba, where I was happy to collapse onto a hotel bed! Descending on dirt roads like these turns out to be surprisingly hard work, especially when you are wary of the lack of support should anything go wrong, medically or mechanically!
After several days in Cajabamba, updating the blog and digesting the political turmoil unravelling at home, I headed on for Huamachuco. It was a nice ride and, on the edge of town, I was waved down by a motorcyclist who turned out to be part of the local tourism team! The very friendly Mako invited me to stay in a spare room he had – for free! In fact, he’d hosted another pair of touring cyclists the night before and made something of a habit of it. That night, over a coffee, he told me about some prehistoric rock art that they had found nearby, only a couple of months back. I enquired as to whether I could go and see it and, discovering that it was pretty much on my route, he arranged a guide for me. It was quite a tough ride on a steep, sandy road up to just over 4000m (finally!), where I met up with Teofilo, a friendly local guide. Having hidden the bike, we hiked the hour up to the spot, which is near to the ‘Camino Inca’ (Inca Trail) which runs from Cajamarca all the way to Cusco.
On the way, we were treated to the somewhat odd sight of a rainbow in the valley below us!
Soon enough, we arrived and there they were, right in front of me! I was apparently the 16th person to see these approx 3500 year old paintings (since they’ve been re-discovered, of course)!
Having hiked back to the bike and parted ways with Teofilo, I headed over a couple of valleys to find a quiet spot to camp. Down below me was the somewhat horrendous sight of an enormous mine that I’d be cycling up through the next day. Once again, the only flat spot was on a ridge between two roads. I was completely hidden from one but somewhat visible from the other. I thought, however, that it was remote enough and high enough (at just over 4000m) to not be an issue. Needless to say, just before sunset, a father and his two sons were somewhat amused to find me there as they headed home for the evening! The search for a truly secluded spot goes on!!
The stars were incredible at that altitude…
It was a pretty spectacular, if chilly, morning too!