Perú: Huancayo to Ayacucho – glorying in the heights!

Onwards we ride – Perú seems able to give us so much, and it continues to provide.

The flatness from Huancayo doesn't last long - looking back to the irrigated ruralness
Nearing the end of a days work - we are beyond a ceviche lunch in Pazos plaza (welcome break from arroz y ensalada for Sarah) and onto a surprisingly busy more main road heading towards Pampas
Sun lowering, dusk hinting and penetrating wind at above 4000m
A flat spot with a view is found - we seek and yearn after these times. All pegs in and guy-ropes out for whatever could happen overnight. We sleep cosily in our palace and wake in cloud

A 15km rattle-down covers us in rock-dust with passing trucks holding their line on the best of the road – reluctant to vary or compensate for rugged-up and brightly clad cyclists.  Pampas sits in the valley floor amid neatly arranged fields.  We’ve thought to follow a road up and over to the Rio Mantaro that our map shows – giving us a possibly flatter ride to Mayocc.  The standard routine is followed as we head for the Parque Central.  Sarah’s shopping and cooking day, so I sit by the bikes and begin to clean and lubricate our chains.  A boy optimistically indicates that he wishes to shine my shoes (why isn’t he at school? not an unusual situation – it seems that maybe a third of school age kids are working, not learning).  I gather a group of men, and questions about the bikes start – we’re naked to them – public property there to entertain and add a story to their day – a great thing about travelling by bike if we’re inspired, but an effort at other times when we miss our privacy.  Sarah returns – unhappy – gringas and giggling at her arrival in shops – feeling exposed and freakish.

“How do we get to the big river – Mantaro?”

“You can’t.  You have to go via Churcampa – everyone goes that way” (younger man, who wants to speak English – for our benefit? to show off?  better use English back – might offend if we don’t)

“Can we get to La Esmeralda by moto?” (ok, so he doesn’t think a bicycle can go uphill – try the motorbike trick – name the only place on the section of river we want to get to)

“No.  If you want to go to the river, you have to go back up to the pista” (not getting anywhere here – it’s on the map, but maps are only ever approximations these days)

“But our map shows a road…” (Why are our bikes there to be poked and our tyres to be squeezed – what is it about men, boys and bicycle tyres!  No personal space allowed…)

Others engage – we try to coax useful information from the sages who ponder and mutter.  Our english-speaker glances at another, who admits that a path exists.  We approach the questions from all angles – there’s no majority consensus – 40 minutes in a ute – 3 hours by mototaxi – a horrible track, even to walk.  The opinions swirl and wash around us – we’ve not the patience for this game today – othertimes this can be fun and a challenge – not today.  We fail to connect – don’t want to offend, but bristle at perceived assumptions about what we can do – back down, smile, thank and slink off – a sour taste in our mouths.

We take the recommended road via Churcampa as we haven’t the energy to do anything else.

It turns out to be stunning – and a truly glorious thing.

Our road tracks a rising contour from left to right - civilised gradients and sunshine, until a junction 25km from Pampas forces a steeper ascent and our legs groan
The reward for effort - to look back and see the line you've crawled - past a water pickup in preparation - and another sky-camp to come
Not long now as the sun sinks - wildness all around apart from the electricity pylons - not hard to ignore - surprisingly
A night in snug comfort with bright moon and stars on our ridge-top camp - morning comes with coffee and porridge - and frost
Sarah caught in silhouette - the road skirls along, over and round the ridge-top

We are slightly lightheaded and persistently breathless with the altitude – 50km above 4000m, as we follow the bright, hard-packed dirt road.  Literally a Sendero Luminoso.

I idly wonder what my haemoglobin would be if I measured it.  This is a place that demands a lot of our iron stores – not easy for a vegetarian to keep up – Sarah’s taking multivits – enough?  Tiredness and fugginess explained?  Maybe big distances and long days at altitude…

Descending towards dry heat and midgies, flowering stems of maguey-like cacti crowd the way
Eeny-meeny-miney-mo.. Hairpin shortcut to the left and easy angled road to the right. Heading down to river-bottom at Mayocc from Churcampa, with lots of skittery fun to be had taking the steeper line :-)
River confluences - the low-point before a hot-hot, but well graded climb towards Huanta
Rosmarie - a 50-something year old Swiss solo cyclist left Paraguay 6 months ago - only limited by the need to be back for her daughter's wedding sometime in 2012! We're inspired. (Photo S.Hedges)
Whitewash with slogans are everywhere in central and south america - houses, walls and gorge-sides - politics reaches the people
A road for peace - we are in lands where the Sendero Luminosa (Shining Path), a maoist group, were most active. The sign talks about making reparation to the province most affected by political violence in Perú
¿After-school work? Children work in teams to wash trucks and taxis on the road-side as we approach Ayacucho at the end of a long day. There are more than 14000 primary school age children in Perú not registered for school and only 61% of children attend secondary school.


  1. Tom and Sarah
    We so look forward to every new page on your blog – and are constantly amazed by your adventure, your wonderful photos and inspiring commentary.
    Ma and Pa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s