Mittwoch, 13. Oktober 2010

English Summary No. 6

It's quite a while now since we left Cusco in the direction of Abancay. Many ciclists warned us about peruvian peoble to be unfriedly, hostile even and often shouting "Gringo!" in a not very pleasant tone of voice. As to now, we can't complain about anything. Of course, we got the "Gringo!"-calls as well, but so far it was meant friedly most of the time, and we haven't met any mean people throwing potatos or stones at us.

When we left Cusco the hills didn't let us wait and the first climb began in the city up the first pass, the Abra Arcopungo. After some flat 30 km we pedaled up the Abra Huillque which is about 3'700 m high and a bit higher than the pass before. It was hot in the afternoon and we were sweating. A small group of people sitting close to the road noticed that and invited us to a beer. Of course, we couldn'd say no but we couldn't drink a lot of beer either as we had to keep cycling for a while. But it was a very nice gesture and we really appreciated it. It was already getting dark when we arrived in Limatambo but this was a small village and we had no problems finding a nice hospedaje.

Next morning we enjoyed the second half of the long downhill ride to Río Apúrimac where our first "real" pass began. The river was at an altitude of 1'900 m and we had to make it to the 4'000 m high Abra Soraqasa. Of course, we weren't going to do that all in one day. It was very hot again and the road steep. So, when we passed a stand where we could buy delicious lucuma-icecream, we took a break, and where ever there was a creek we wettened our shirts to cool down a bit. It was still early afternoon when we arrived in Curahuasi but we decided to call it a day and found a hotel.

Obviously, another hot day on a steep road. But again, lovely people greeting us "Gringita!", kids following us in villages and we got the second invitation, this time for lunch (boiled corn, cheese and Chicha, local corn beer). After two hours more sweating we made it to the top and thouroughly enjoyed speeding down into Abancay. It would be the last fast downhill ride for quite some time. After Abancay there was no more pavement, until Ayacucho we would cycle on dirt roads, sometimes rather good, sometimes rather bad.

The next mountain turned out to be steep, the gravel road not too bad but extremely dusty. And it was even hoter then on the days before and hardly any water along the camino. Late in the afternoon we found an acceptable camp spot, but still no water. But as there was rather a lot of traffic we managed to stop a truck and its friendly driver gave us 4 liters of water for free. Our camp spot was ok, just too small for Martina's tent, so we slept beneath the stars. I quite liked it, unfortunately there was a lot of humidity in the air and our sleeping bags very wet in the morning.

The next day brought a lot more climbing but also some downhill streches. The area was densly populated, so we couldn't find a secluded camp spot that afternoon. We asked a family in a small village whether we could camp in their garden. We could. The kids were extremely curious and checkt out closely the tent and our bikes and asked about fivehundred questions. They were cute, but they were also hard work after a hard day of cycling.

In the morning, we made it up the Abra Huayllacoya, at some 4'150 m altitude. Our next coal, the town of Andahuaylas, was at 2'900 m. To our bad luck the road leading there was quite bad, so this theoretically nice 40 km long donwhill ridewas slow and bumpy. But we got into town shortly after noon and decided to stay two nights and relax one day. Although, this one-day breaks are usually filled with activity like clothes washing, blogging and shopping, so they are not really breaks but rather some sort of re-booting of the system.

We left Andahuaylas on a cool early morning, had a few flat kilometers and then got nearly stuck in the steepest climb since the Carretera Austral. For some reason, the people there were quite cold and wouldn't greet us. About half an hour later they were friendly and cheerful as ever. Strange place. We had a break and an good juce in a village called Nueva Esperanza and then had to follow a "desvío", a different route, because of road works. Unlike the stories we heard about rude workers, we didn't have any problems at all. They even gave us water when we asked whether there was a creek higher up.

We ended up camping nearly on the top, at some 4'200 m and it was a very cold night. In the morning, one of the workers came over to chat and we got a lot of water again. ¡Muchas gracias!

This time againg, getting down from the pass, Abra Soracocha, was dusty, bumpy and hard work. In a small village, we stocked up our provisions and kept going down to the river. This night was warm, at 2'000 m, but very unconfortable. We hadn'd checked our chosen campspot carefully and it turned out to be full of little thorns and we didn't dare to use our mats.

As we were at a quite low elevation we had to fight off Zancudos early in the morning. Zancudos are very little beasts, look like harmless flies, but their bites itch for days and weeks. Nasty bichos! The lower part of this next climb was interesting in terms of landscape. Since Cusco, everything had looked the same: green fields in the valleys, brown and yellow fields higher up and yellow dry grass on the top of the hills. There were no fields here, but cactus, thorny trees and bushes. The land looked wild and beautifull.

Later there were fields againg, of course. And a maybe 10-year-old girl who invited us to some soup. Wow, againg! We also met her mother, aunt and grandmother, both parties eaqually intrigued by the other. We took some pictures and had them printed in Ayacucho. I hope the mail people found the girl's house. And on we cycled, always uphill, one curve following the other. In the village of Chumbes we had another juice and a nice talk with a group of French tourists. And we went on, still uphill on the same dusty road. It wasn't late yet when we arrived in Ocros, but we were quite tired and decided to stay. After all, we had just climbed 1'200 m. That was a good reason for a shower. It was even hot!

20 km more in the morning and we were almost on the top of the next pass, which actually was more some kind of high plain (with hills, of course). We enjoyed a few kilometers downhill just to climb even higher than before. Up there, we made a strange observation. Large patches of grass were burned black, some spots still smoking. What had happened there? We still don't know, but later on saw people burn their fields. We have no idea why they do that, but they do it on intention. Only, on our high plain there were no people who could have set the fire. One more mistery in this country.

We camped on 4'300 m and expected the night to be cold. Of cours it was, but not nearly as cold as the other night on 4'200 m. Not logic, but we appreaciated it. Some more small ups and downs and we reached a lot of construction vehicles. There was another "desvío", the main road would only be opened in two hours. We should have waited. This alternative "road" was the worst we have seen so far, including some riverbed-like parts on the laguna route in Bolivia. It was just as stony, but with a 5 cm thick layer of dust. We climbed down, very slowly, very dusty and very unnerved. We had lunch in a small village after which it was less dusty but eaqually bumpy. We finally reached the main road again but things weren't speeding up. We had to wait several times because of the construction works. The last kilometers to Ayacucho were very dusty again, we were completely covered when we finally arrived in the city.

We stayed three days but didn't see much of Ayacucho. We spent half a day cleaning our bikes, I spent another half day looking for a bicicletería. I was in three of them, just to have my gear changing fixed, but the people there had no clue what they were doing. The Problem was just a bit different afterwards. Of course, we also spent a lot of time writing our blogs, checking other blogs for information etc. etc.

We knew from the elevation profile that the part to Huancayo was not going to be super hard. There was pavement for some 45 kilometers, some hills and one pass, with a paved road again. Perfectly doable. What we didn't know was that the dirt road section was very bad indeed, much worse than most of the road before. The ups and downs were short, yes, but very steep and it was hot again and many careless cardrivers. Nothing new, but very annoying. The landscape was interessting, though. Desert-like, ful of cactus and our "favorite" thorn bushes. We knew there was at least on hostal in the village of Mayocc, so we counted on staying there. And we did, only that the hostal was rather bad. No running water, no working toilet and some sort of biting bichos in the beds.

We were happy to leave in the morning. The road continued like the day before but with longer and even hotter climbs. We were close to running out of moskito repellent but were unable to find new stuff in the small villages we passed. This night we camped on the rivershore, which would have been quite nice had it not been for all the trash laying around. The next day was very similar, dusty and stony, but no more steep climbs. We reached Izcuchaca and the paved road in the afternoon and found an acceptable hostal.

Now there was only one pass left bevor Huancayo, a climb of 1'000 m, and on pavement. No problems there. And the weather was good, it was hot, but not too bad. In Acostambo, a small village, we took a short break and had a chat with a nice shop owner. We reached the highest point around noon and enjoyed speeding down on the other side. What was left was a flatish stretch into the center of Huancayo where we started checking out hostales for quite a while. Huancayo was not exactly a cheap place but we found a nice hostal that didn´t break our budget.

After two days in Huancayo we left the city. The first day was easy and flat. Even in the hills we reached in the afternoon the road only climbed slowly and we didn't have any problems with crazy car drivers. After some 100 km we found a suitable camp spot in the narrow valley and decided to stay there. While the night temperature seemed to be about average, it was freezing cold in the morning and after half an hour cycling in the shade of the hills we could hardly move our fingers and toes anymore. We stopped as soon as we found a sunny spot and sat there until we were warm again. And that happend on about 3'600 masl!

The next town we reached was La Oroya, "La Capital Metalúrgica de Sudamerica" with its many mines and huge chimneys. As it was still morning, we just stopped to buy bread and drink a papaya-pineapple juce. After La Oroya begun the climb to the high plateau of Junín. It wasn's steep but we soon had the wind against us, annoying as always. For the first time for quite a while we saw Alpacas and later even Vicuñas. What a nice change to all the cattle in the last weeks.

We slept in the small but nice town of Junín and tried to make an early start in the morning. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be so easy to find fresh bread at that hour, so Martina spent a while searching the town for an open bakery. And the bread she brought was still warm and smelled deliciously. We could have eaten it all on the spot! But it was meant for lunch, too bad. So, instead of eating all the bread we set out for the day. First, the road led along the flat shores of the huge lago de Junín, later it got a bit hilly but nothing serious.

The plaza of the village of Huayre was well worth a short break as it featured a huge purple monument of a maca. Maca is some sort of local vegetable, a bit similar to potatos, which seems to be quite important for the area. After that there was not much more spectacular to see. We climbed a little pass where we nearly were hunted down by a pack of agressive dogs. Bit later we saw a large herd of fluffy, all white alpacas, and not much later reached the turn off to Cerro de Pasto. As it was still early in the afternoon, we kept going in the direction of Huánuco. That descent down through that valley was quite fun as it got narrower the farther we went. As some point we felt more like in a gorge, but soon the walls widened up again and we reached the village of Huariaca, where we spent the night.

The next day was easy as we the road went eighter downhill or flat. The only disturbance was the fact, that the pavement had a lot of holes, like it had been bombed, and in some streches was inexistant at all. Finding the way into the center of Huánuco turned out not to be as it had been in Huancayo, but after asking a few people, we finally made it. There were many hostels but most were rather expensive so I searched around for a while. The place we found was ok in terms of price and had a very nice warm shower. Awesome!

In Huánuco we were busy with the usual "break-day business". Washing clothes, writhing blog, sleeping. We also did a little trip to a temple ruin named Kotosh near Huánuco. It was interesting but not overwhelming. We planed to stay two days but ended up staying three days because Martina had some stomach problems.

When we left Huánuco we knew we would have to climb a few more hills. The first one was supposed to be on a very bad dirt road which turned out to be narrow but paved, so no problems there. Shortly after lunch we met Agustí, a Spanish cyclist and exchanged some information and chatted a while. Later in the afternoon be began wondering where it would be possible to sleep, as there were no flat spaces where we could have camped. In the tiny town of Pampa we managed to find a room with a single bed, a latrine on the other side of the street and water from a creek (and a rat from upstairs). Ok, it was better than nothing.

Next morning we had some 10 km left to the pass and were happy for the cool temperatures of the morning. Shortly after the top, we met Dave, ciclista from England and chatted for a while. Then we enjoyed the downhill ride on another narrow and winding road, got down to a river and started to climb the next hill. In the early afternoon we arrived in a small town called Tingo Chico, where we decided to stay. Martina still didn't feel very well.

During the first hours in the morning we felt like we had crossed some invisible border into another culture. Nobody called us "Gringas!", sometimes we even were greeted "Hola Señorita!". Wow, what a change.  Although, after the next hill, the Gringo-callers were back and, the closer we got to La Union, peoble didn't even return our greetings anymore. We arrived in La Union before noon and soon found a place to stay. We wanted to visit the near ruins of Huánuco Viejo.

After a rough taxi ride and a 15 minutes walk we reached the complex and were shown around by a friendly guard. Bevore the arrival of the Spanish this place used to be a city with some 30'000 inhabitants, now there are a few stone walls and doors left as well as what seemed to be some sort of plaza. In the old days the city was connected with Cusco by the well-known Inca-Trail. To Cusco it's 1'400 km, the whole system of trails leads from Mendoza, northern Argentina, to Quito in Ecuador, which is about 6'000 km. I still wonder how the Incas controlled such a big empire, messages were transmitted orally with runners as they didn't know writing and had no horses.

Here in La Union, our next goal, Huaraz, didn't seem so far away anymore. We expected to make it there within three days. Till the next town, Huallanca, the land was relatively flat with open valleys and narrow gorges. In Huallanca we did some shopping and than tackled the next pass. We wouldn't reach the top in one day, so we took it easy. The road wasn't overly steep but it was hot without any cooling wind. We passed a big mine and shortly afterwards we turned into a broader road with better pavement. We checked the map and were puzzled when we saw that this road ended with no town, there was just nothing there. Strange. When we saw the many trucks coming from and going there we figured there had to be a mine there. Isn't that typical, the road to the mine is in a perfect state, the road to the peoble isn't even entirely paved.

The afternoon grew late, we were heading up a steep mountain with a lot of zic-zacs and couldn't find a suitable camp spot. There weren't exactly many houses, but still enough to make the camp-finding task  difficult. Finally, after many zics here and many zacs there we found a flat but stony place,  nicely hidden from the street. Not perfect, but close.

Another cold morning, more zic-zacs until the turn-off into Parque Nacional Huascarán. After a few minutes on the stony dirt road that leads through the park, we saw snowy peaks for the first time since Salkantay, shortly after Cusco. Wow, finally! Ok, we had our mountains, we were in the park, but we weren't on the top of the pass by far. We kept fighting against stones, dust and sand, wind and more steep climbs. To our surprise, the Nacional Park was full of domestic animals like cows, sheep, horses and alpacas. Shouldn't a nacional park be the area of wild animals who don't have any other space left? Maybe in Europe or the US, not here. But then, where would all the people and their animals, who have allways lifed there, go when the Park was created?

Anyway, we kept going up and down until we reached the highest point, some 4'800 masl, then the road went downhill 200 m and uphill again. Then, finally we were looking down into the valley of the río Pumapampa and we knew that for the rest of the day it would be easy downhill riding. Well, we were right about the downhill although it wasn't exactly easy (very stony, sandy and dusty). We took a short break to see the pinturas rupestres, ancient stone painings, and then kept going. It was already late in the afternoon when we reached Carpa, the Ranger Station. To our very bad luck there was nobody there and we couldn't pay the 5 soles entry fee:-)

The next morning was extremely cold, so cold that Martina's gear changing cable froze. What a good pretext to take a break as soon as the sun had risen. This part of the road was as bad as the day before and I was quite happy when we had reached the paved road to Huaraz. Yeah well, it was paved, but had a lot of holes and parts of it looked like it had been bombed. But we made it to Huaraz in the late morning, spent quite some time looking for the hostal that had been recommended. But we found it, also found some food and then  slept for the rest of the afternoon. We were completely exhausted, I suspect more mentally than physically. We have anticipated our arrival in Huaraz for so long and planned to take a break here and do some trekking. And now, after climbing so many hills and spending hours and days on dusty roads, we were there!

Our first evening in Huaraz was going to be decisive for the next six weeks or so. We were looking for a restaurant when a guy appeared out of nowhere and offered to help us. He turned out to be a mountain guide, looking for new clients. As we planned to do a trek in the Cordillera Blanca anyway, we were interested and listend to what he had to say. Victors talk must have been rather convincing and we ended up booking a 5-day trek with him.

To be short, otherwise I'll never finish this text: Inspite of the partially bad weather we liked this first hike (Circuit Quilquayhuanca) so much that we made another trip to the Cordillera Huayhuash (11 days). This was a bit easier as we only had to carry our small daypacks, the rest of the gear and the food was carried by donkeys. The views were simply stunning and the mountains and lakes were incredibly beautiful. After this trek no. 2, we did two more hikes in the Cordillera Blanca, one of which we had bad luck with the weather (Norte de Alpamayo, 7 days), the other (Santa Cruz, 6 days) was nearly as awesome as Huayhuash and we simply loved it.

We had arrived here in Huaraz on August 25, now its mid October and we plan to leave for Trujillo soon. What a pity as the city of Huaraz, definitly not very beautiful, has become our home. It felt so good to come back here after the trekkings, to a known place, and not having to find our way in a new place. But it's time to leave now. Who knows, we can come back anytime...

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