dry valleys and rocky canyons
This may have been one of the most surreal places I have ever been to in my life. The stark contrast in climate and terrain of Peru is just incredibly mind blowing, going from lush mountainous farm land then descending into a dry river valleys with derelict mines and end of the world dystopia feeling the next, these are places on the planet I never imagined existed.
view all photos from this set here
2nd May – Mollepata to camp
3rd May – camp to camp
4th May – Camp to Huallanca
We’d found a place to camp by some trees next to the rushing grey river – which I sort of reluctantly washed in, that night I slept so well, I always sleep so soundly when camping wild, no city noises or dog barks to keep you awake. The following morning we cycled along the flat river valley, stopping frequently to photograph ourselves riding, like ants through the ginormous steep rocks that seemed so prehistoric. I wish I knew more about geology but I understand the the shape of the rocks were formed as they used to be under water before this continent was even created, forming these patterns. You could just feel how the rocks had risen from the ground, creating small cracks in between for the river to flow. It didn’t seem natural for humans to exist in such a place, it felt more like a film set for Jurassic park, or as if ‘transformers’ would appear out of the rocks at any moment. This bike trip impresses me in ways I’d never imagined, I never new rocks could be so emotive.
There were plenty of derelict mining structures throughout the valley only adding to it’s surreal, dystopian mood. The environment was extremely emotive but we were incredibly happy, I loved riding with Jukka, we made up so many jokes about living in the valley, it’s strange beauty, and how we would set up a holiday ski resort one day there. This world that we exist in, with your bike touring family, the private jokes, the shared experience of being in such unbelievable places is something that I still find so magical about life on the road. As a 3, it felt like being in a team, I called us ‘Team porridge’, as this is how we seem to power our pedals, oh and I was the official camp cook.
We had a place called Estacion Quiroz marked on the map, but when we got there it was little more than a junction and the structures of a building which it seemed a lot of people had had the idea to use as a public toilet. This road was only paved up until we arrived at Estacion Chuquicara, it was a public holiday to the villagers were sat around listening to a brass band, people were friendly and asking us questions and wanting us to dance, here we stocked up on food and plenty of fruit as we wouldn’t make another village for a day. I washed my hair quickly in the restaurant sink, not wanting to wash it in the grey river the night before.
Being back on a dirt road felt good,every now and again a truck would pass blowing dust into our souls, I was getting pretty good at pulling my neck scarf over my face just in time, like a highway man. We were now following a new river, Rio Santa, which would lead us all the way to Huaraz in the coming days. That evening we found the most surreal camp spot, one of my favorites of the trip, there were some stairs leading off the road which led to a flat raised platform on top of the rocks, obviously once used for mining, but now completely derelict. We bathed in the Rio Santa, cleaner than the previous days river. Waking the following morning felt like we’d woken on another planet (Pia, this was where I remembered it was your birthday, so so far away from home.) It had been the perfect camp spot as we were so much higher than any passing traffic – the goal of camping wild is to be completely unseen.
We continued through the valley for half a day, only stopping to buy snacks from moody lumpy looking women in some small village, it’s main function seemed to be a bus stop over point, with men getting off buses and pissing all over the street before getting back on the bus. After this we headed up hill, we stopped for some food but just after this Jukka’s back hub stopped working, he told us to continue and that he’d catch us up. We waited in the village of Huallanca, Jukka appeared after a short while, on a bus, he wasn’t able to ride any more, with the broken hub, so we would meet again in Huaraz, 2 days up the road.
That evening I felt tired from the intensity of the last week, and it was strangely lonely just the two of us again. Huallanca was a strange place – don’t like to say bad things about places,I always remember what Leah (who I rode with for my first 6 months of this tour) would say – remember this is someones home, a place where they have struggled to make a life…. so the thought I had about Huallanca may have been partly due to my own feelings. This place had a bad smell when you arrived, it was strewn with rubbish, we couldn’t find a place to sleep in any municipal buildings as it was Sunday. This town was full of mining and dam offices and digs for hydroelectric dam workers, this also meant that 2 of the towns hotels were full of dam workers and the other 2 hotels were just seedy and creepy.
We sat for ages on the curb pondering our next move, and going back again to knock on the church door, just in case. Then a local man stopped me and asked if we were OK, I explained the situation and he said we could come and stay with him and his wife, he’d taken in a cyclist during a rain storm a few weeks before. And that is how, like so many times when arriving in a strange place your feelings can so quickly change, all it takes is one person with good intentions. That night we watched a pirate copy of some low budget horror film with the family, before passing out on the mattresses they had set up for us.
5th May – Huallanca to Caraz
6th May – Caraz to Huaraz
Cañón del Pato – Pato means duck in Spanish, and the family who hosted us in Huallanca told us that is so called because the top of the canyon is thought to look like a diving ducks tail, which I can see. This place was marked on our map as a tourist destination, so I had been aware of it for quite a while. The river below the steep canyon powers the hyroelectric plant in Huallanca giving the place a more functioning industrial feel than we had experienced in the end of the world valley during the previous days.
The series of tunnels blown out of the canyon edge and the dirt track road make are impressive in engineering terms, and occasionally pretty nerving as some tunnels are so long and dark and narrow and the traffic pretended we didn’t exist, but for this reason it wasn’t really an enjoyable ride.
The road is being maintained, so it is closed all day, then opened for an hour whilst the construction workers take their lunch at 12pm (apart from Sundays when it is open all day). JoJo tried to argue at the front of the blockade that we should pass, instead I just got my roll mat out, found some shade behind a parked mini bus and slept for 2 hours before the road was opened. After the canyon the road was tarmac again, which means faster moving traffic and less fun, we powered on through to Caraz where we were hosted by the kind people at the Rotary Club.
The following day from Caraz to Huaraz we got our first glimpses of the Cordillera Blanca and the snow topped mountains of Huascaran and it’s neighbours, we were excited to have made plans to ride them in the coming days. Apart from our views these were pretty much utility miles – being back on tarmac was a drag, the traffic picked up and buildings became more frequent as we neared the city of Huaraz. We trucked on to Huaraz where some rest days were awaiting us, I was exhausted but my head was buzzing with the excitement of the previous days, and everything that lay ahead.
Dead Flag Blues is a song by Godspeed you! Black Emperor – which went so well with the distopian, end of the world feeling that this valley gave me.
Tunnels by Arcade fire was also being sung in my head as I turned the pedals.
- Clouds, Colour and Cariño
- In The Loop – Riding in the Huascaran National Park, Cordillera Blanca