cariño – means affection / honey / dear
As it goes with rest days, you can plan to take off 3 days, but they can easily turn into 5 without too much difficulty. I had loved Cajamarca, I would go as far as to say that it was my favourite city so far in South America. We had been staying with Herbert via couchsurfing, he had an architects studio in the the centre of town where he welcomed so many travelers, there were 5 of us staying there. Jo and I, then Jukka, the cyclist from Finland as well as an Argentinian couple. Cajamarca’s streets were perfect for wandering, some beautiful architecture; women selling their wares on the street, dressed in their traditional flouncy skirts and big hats made for perfect people watching.
view all photos in this set here
Fruit and faces of Cajamarca
Oh, and the food was incredible. We’d been in Peru for 2 weeks but only traveled through small villages and towns, so this was a chance to experience a real Peruano market – this is a dairy region so there was an abundance of shops selling local yogurt and cheese as well as manjar (dulce de leche) and local biscuits and coffee, the market was a cornucopia – so many interesting fruits, vegetables and grains meant that I was eating healthier than I had for a long time, and feeling great.
Doors of Cajamarca
Walls of Cajamarca
A little bit of history
Cajamarca was the site of the last battle between the Incas and the Spanish Conquistadors in 1532, sadly only one Inca building remains, although these pictures tell the story of how the Spanish captured the Inca ruler Atahualpa before he was burnt alive in the town, the Inca gold was melted down and shipped back to Spain. The Spanish did however build some pretty lovely buildings here. I didn’t visit all the tourist places here such as the Inca baths, the Inca aquaducts or some of the archaeological sites, I was happy just wandering the town. I was surprised at how beautiful this place was, and that there were no tourists, I have since found out that this may be due to the anti-mining protests that took place in the city a few years ago. The opposition to the Conga gold and copper mining protests was so strong that the projects had to be suspended after the government called a national state of emergency following protest related deaths. You can still see anti-Conga related graffiti around the city.
25th April – Cajamarca to San Marcos
26th April – San Marcos to Cajabamba
27th April – Cajabamba to school near Laguna Sausacocha
Lush, green, the roads were lined with nopal cactus and mague agave plants, we instantly fell back into the rhythm of riding our bicycles, which can occasionally be difficult after a number of days off. I think this was partly due to the terrain being a mixture of gentle up hills but longer downs, and the combination of so many things made these days just a hazy cyclists dream. There were friendly locals, women spinning wool whilst walking down the road, men walking loaded donkeys between villages, and that so distinct smell of dried corn husks being burnt to make fires – oh and the most incredible cloudscapes. However, I do have to admit – everyone who cycles with me knows that I remember all my rides through rose tinted glasses, and on the second day to Cajabamba there was a lot of dusty rubbley road works which resulted in slow dull progress, the journey made less pleasurable due to constantly following a slow moving truck transporting chicken manure – that is one smell that sort of singes into your sensory pathways. The day of leaving Cajamarca we’d slept in the town of San Marcos, despite feeling well after some good days off I had not had a good nights sleep for a long time, and was shattered. A friend of mine sent me a bit of money that she wanted me to use to get a hotel room – so instead of doing the usual hustle to find a place to sleep we checked into a pretty plush hotel – I had my first hot shower since I don’t know when and such a comfortable! Although unfortunately it was Friday night and music was blaring the square until the early hours, so in the night we got up and moved rooms – one one was at the hotel reception so I just took the set of keys belonging to a bedroom at the back of the hotel, and returned them in the morning without anyone noticing. Cheeky Cherry.
In Cajabamba we met up with Jukka again. He had left Cajamarca a few days before us, taking some more challenging dirt roads, and arriving in Cajabamba for some rest days – we made the plan to continue together. There, the theme of bad nights sleep continued, it was Saturday night and we’d chosen a place to sleep next to a nightclub – the music did not stop pumping until 3am so we didn’t leave Cajabamba until mid day. The landscape remained as wonderful as the previous days and we stopped cycling that afternoon due to rain – we slept in a small school building – the village leader coming to meet us and welcome us, but also tell us to take care. They said that there are no police in these rural places, so instead if a robber is caught he will be paraded round the street naked.
The highlight of the day was this sign.
28th April – school near Laguna Sausacocha to Huamachuco
29th April – day trip to Marcahuamachuco and day off in Huamachuco
We’d woken early to be out before the kids arrived at 7.30am, however the first ones were arriving as we were heading out, they just stared at us, but if we caught their eye they’d run away and wide, such sweet , timid children – Jukka joked with them that he was their new teacher and that school was cancelled. We headed down to Sausacocha lake before negotiating road works and rubble and making our way to Huamachuco. This town was pretty enchanting, like many of the towns we’ve been travelling through recently. I’d remembered there were some archaeological sites close by so we took an impromptu day off. We found some pretty sweet digs by asking at the church, a family who worked there had an unoccupied home, perfect.
We had also been given the heads up that if we went to the archaeology office in the town then we might be able to get a lift to either one of the 2 sites in the area. These people were incredibly kind and helpful – everyone in the town wanted us to enjoy it there. At the archaeology office, Percy who runs the place said to us – ‘aqui para serverle’ which means – here to serve you. I can’t imagine anyone at home ever saying that. The day we arrived we got taken to Wiricochapamba – this site was an administrative centre for the Wari people; a working archaeological site still being excavated, around 100 people working away, so special to see such delicate and special work in progress. The following day we managed to get a ride up the mountain to another site – Marcahuamachuco with a bunch of archaeologists. This site stretches over 3km was a ceremonial centre for the people and it dates between 400-800ad, this is older than Wiricochapampa and before being conquered by the Incas was northern Peru’s most important political, economic and military centre. It sits at 3600m high above Huamachuco which for me was one of the most impressive aspects of the ruins, and how tranquil it was, there was no one else visiting apart from us, incredible to wander around the ruins, wild flowers accompanied only by the semi-stray dogs that lived up there.
We all loved Huamachuco, peaceful, no tourists, perfect temperature, a great market with amazingly cheap produce and great meals, oh and there was a vegetarian cafe selling a set meal for 5 soles (about £1), and a free entry museum with some of the artifacts from the ruins.
30th April – Huamachuco to camp around San Simon Mine
1st May – camp near San Simon Mine to Mollepata
We nearly stayed in Huamachuco longer as there were May day festivities the following day, where people meet in the square in the middle of the night and walk up the mountains to watch the sunrise. We were all keen however to hit the road, so we did. Around 15km of tarmac leaving Huamachuco before hitting the gravel roads again. This was a pretty joyous morning of sunshine, and little traffic before we entered the area of the San Simon mine in the afternoon. Here you have a chose of continuing on a road or taking a track through the mountains, we chose the track. This led up up hill all afternoon to 4000m, which was the highest pass I had cycled so far. We were pretty tired (Jo and I were anyway) but the sight of an incredible rainbow and followed by a spectacular sunset kept powering our pedals until we found a good place to camp. We settled on an old school building with some shelter. That night I was so so cold, it was around 3degrees at its coldest and I slept in my down jacket and 2 pairs of trousers – definitely time to get a new sleeping bag and roll mat.
The following morning it was down hill all the way to Angasmarca, a pretty unremarkable village where we stocked up on food before continuing on pretty undulating ripio passing some friendly villages along the way to Mollepata, where we camped in the school building. I’d written down some details of some hot springs that we could map at, down at the bottom of the valley, but only remembered the day after, a bit of a shame…. another other cyclists reading this should remember to ask in Mollepata about this.
2nd May – Mollepata to camp
I woke with a cold, which I would then drag around with me for the coming days. Jukka wanted to take some more challenging roads via some lakes but I wasn’t up for it considering I was a bit of a snotting mess. Still that day I experienced the most switch backs of my life, down the hill to the river on leaving Mollepata then constant switch backs all the way to Pallasca for lunch.
In Pallasca a May procession was going on – a brass band and parade following a torro (bull) which they were leading to slaughter, it was a public holiday so lots of drunk men kept want to chat to us and buy us beer. We headed down hill, bumping into another May day procession, a very strange more pagan feeling fancy dress one, this time fortunately they didn’t have a real life torro, just a person dressed as one, this was such a bizarre and wild experience. We had another huge switch backed descent for around 30km to the valley of a river, and completely a completely different climate – a dry and dusty valley where we would travel for the coming days.
As my dad always writes to me – what an adventure, what a way to see the world.
- Peru provides
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