Perú has always been prominent in our imagined travels in South America. Colombia and to our surprise, Ecuador have proved to have fantastic riding and people to match. But, the moment Tom cleared the clouds at the top of our 60km continuous descent into Balsas and gloried in the scope of the ride Perú struck home. “Now, I know I’m in Perú!”
Our dirt-road route into the country, which has been very popular with cyclists this year (most of whom are ahead of us) has been well worth doing. We’ve found the number of korean-made moto-taxis (tuktuks to south east asian travellers) a drain – they buzz and hoot with gay abandon. Another, even more petty, aversion we’re going to have to get over is the method that just about every child and adult uses to get our attention and express their happiness to see something new in their lives. “GRINGO!, GRINGA!” All shouted with massive grins and waving arms – in contrast to our gut perception of the word as an insult. It’s starting to get to the stage that in some areas, if we pass people and they smile and say ¡Hola!, it’s a bit like passing a dog that doesn’t leap up and chase you until the next dog takes over (few and far between…)
Having exhausted the paved road shortly after Yangana, the grind slowly up followed by rattle cautiously down pattern established itself more firmly.
One of the better 'rattle-downs' went on for quite a while, through the village of Valladolid and well into the river valley beyond. Fun though it might be, we try not to contemplate the biting insects waiting for us at lower altitudes..
As the downhill run through Valladolid peters out and we haul ourselves uphill again we realise it's camp o'clock. Without the prospect of much flatness we spot a suitable open-walled shed and pounce! 'Parked' next to it, this car apparently does work enough to run the improvised generator it's hooked up to. Making things work despite everything against you is the way forward.
It wasn't the most restful of nights though - the denizens of the shed tuck into breakfast the next morning. Not shown are several cautiously friendly dogs, some ducks and lots of small piglets.. (Photo S.Hedges)
Looking back to Zumba after a particularly effortful ascent. 27km short of the border with Perú, Zumba is the final shopping stop short of the next country - number 11 in our case!
Dusk caught us still short of the border with Perú, so we added the local church porch to our inventory of camping spots. As bedtime vistas go, it passed muster. The following morning the local 'man who likes to know' quizzed us in a friendly way with the usual questions; and the usual warning that everyone in the next country is a thief who will steal your shoes! (Photo S.Hedges)
After a day climbing up to San Ignacio from the border, the going gets easier with a gently undulating road that follows the river. Lots of the settlements are on the opposite bank to the road, linked by flying fox arrangements big enough to take live-stock!
There's plenty of irrigated rice growing along this stretch; here complete with vultures watching for straggling cyclists....
After some expansive, dry and cacti-laced valleys reminiscent of northern México, the gently inclined road up from Bagua Grande hits river gorge territory. There were a number of near-miss plunges as I tried to scope the river for a future return trip with a white-water kayak!
One reason for taking this particular route was to visit Kuelap, a pre-Inca mountain-top fort that is said to be only rivalled by Machu Picchu, but without the thick layer of visitors. Getting there means a steep, muddy walk up from Tingo, or an antisocially early mini-van from Nuevo Tingo. Since we were staying in NT, we opted for the latter - but missed it, so treated ourselves to a calf-crippling 20km walk with the view to compensate...
Getting into the citadel today brings you to a place of calm peace, but would have been a bit more of a challenge in days past (Photo S.Hedges)
Once you're within the walls, Kuelap is full of tightly packed circles. (Photo S.Hedges)
Bromeliads adorn the walls and trees that lean upon each other
The diamond pattern, often with a central circle adorns modern buildings throughout the area too
After Leymebamba at the head of the valley, the easy going ends, and some slower but still very manageable climbing begins. 30km up with not much view to speak of - Sarah in 'high-vis' mode
Then not too long after rugging up even more for the 60km long descent with loss of 2.6km altitude, our low point at Balsas comes into view
and just in case, here's a fully zoomed close-up! Hot, lush Balsas with the start of 45km up-hill hairpins on the other side of the valley
40+km of continual downhill brings us into the heat, the layers come off, and we fly on down the twists and turns chased by an opaque wall of rain and cloud
After out-running the rain into the mango-drenched stickiness of Balsas we quickly stock up for the next climb; and without discussion use the last hour of daylight to gain some height away from the worst of the insects. Packing after a night of rain, we soak ourselves in the view, and get into the headspace for a steady 6.5 hours at 6km/hr up out of the valley (Photo S.Hedges)
Not too long after this look back, the clouds and rain closed in once more
Heading on from Celendín, and especially after Encañada, the land is rural and faster going down into Cajamarca.
Once into Cajamarca, Tom gets yet another puncture in his front wheel. He's been soldiering on with a badly bulging and worn tyre for nearly 3000km leading to plentiful holes in the tube underneath. Now it's out with the old and on with a lovely, round, grippy new tyre. (photo. J Cruz)
meanwhile in the dentist's shop which happened to be nextdoor, Sarah has a chipped tooth fixed in the time it took Tom to change a tyre and patch the tube! A very efficient set of circumstances :-) (photo J. Cruz)
Now we move on towards the Cordillera Blanca and more all day climbs (and joyous descents). We are also, now 3 :-) Joe Cruz had been following our tyre tracks for a couple of days before he overtook us in between Celendín and Cajamarca. His Surly Pugsley (normal looking bike, but huge tyres) has accelerated Tom’s yearning to add one or something similar to his stable as it would be perfect for the pea-gravel and sand in Australia… (http://joecruz.wordpress.com/)