Not long after I pull away from camp, the rain gets considerably heavier and I am soon fairly soaked through – it’s an awkward temperature (and windy enough) that I’d get way too cold without a jacket but, with my rain jacket on, I’m sweating a lot as well. Within seconds of stopping, it gets pretty chilly but whilst I’m climbing, I’m overheating! After a few kilometres, the mud starts to get worse too. It’s not particularly deep but is incredibly sticky and soon gets everywhere. On several occasions, I have to resort to pushing the bike after the drivetrain and rear wheel completely seize up with mud. Once I hit a short downhill and get the wheels spinning faster, it then gets partially flung off, mud flying everywhere! I keep having to tell myself how incredibly lucky I am – not only to have the opportunity to be here in this incredible place but that this is one of only a handful of occasions where I’ve been rained on during 8 months of cycling! After 20km or so though, it’s getting more difficult to see the positives and I’m getting a little disappointed as I’d been really looking forward to this section of the route. On long climbs, and times when I get bored of what’s going round in my head, I’ll often listen to a few podcasts to help pass the time. With the rain, however, I can’t get my iPod out, so I’m stuck in my own head and just have to persevere on.
Fortunately, as I get closer to the top of the pass, the rain abates and things start to brighten a little. The clouds start to lift and I am finally able to see some of the incredible landscape surrounding me.
As I get to the very top, there’s even some blue sky showing and I find myself having to stop every kilometre or so to take more pictures – it’s stunning. This is a ‘big mountain’ landscape, more reminiscent of some of the sights I was used to much further North, back in Peru. However, with the rain here at lower altitude (between 300-1500m), there are a lot more trees and general vegetation. This contrasts with the now familiar but still beautifully intricate patterns of colours that so often run through the rock here, as if the mountainside has ruptured under the pressure of its own incredible mineral wealth. With the greens of the vegetation adding to the reds and yellows of the rock and the (intermittent) deep blue of the sky, it really is a veritable kaleidoscope of colour.
I could not possibly have imagined seeing such a fantastic sight only an hour earlier. And then, just as I’m taking some photos, there’s a loud swoosh overhead and I look up to see a pair of Condors glide past. I am completely and utterly awestruck by the sight, set against the most beautiful backdrop.
That’s not all though – I turn around to see, only a few hundred metres away, about 8-10 more Condors circling at the top of a nearby summit. Several peel off and glide past me, following the first two.
Just, wow. And then, I reach the most fantastic reveal – the wide open plain below, with incredible mountains on all sides. Distant rain showers on the mountainside and rays of golden light spearing through clouds…
By now, another bunch of rainclouds are moving in though and, with the first few drops in the air, I have to set off down the mountain at high speed to stay ahead. Despite the impending rain, however, I have to stop a few more times to try and capture the light and this breathtaking landscape in front of me.