Chimbote to Lima. 10,550 miles. 30th July 2001
While walking near the market, Joan was suddenly aware of a pickpocket with his hand in her pocket. She grabbed his hand but he managed to get away. At the time, she had both hands in her pockets and her purse was zipped up in an inner pocket inside the outer. There was no way he could get at the purse but it did not stop him trying. Much to our surprise he stopped about 20 ft away and looked at us. David shouted at him and started to chase him, but he then ran away. He would have got a squirt of pepper spray if we had the opportunity.
We had had enough of coastal desert and decided to head inland to the mountain range of the Cordillera Blanca and Negra. This range contains 35 peaks over 6000mts and is second only to the Himalayas. The road up from the coast followed a river gorge with 48 tunnels and 7 bridges and was rocky and very dusty. As we learned this beforehand, we took a bus to Caraz at 7000ft. Even in the bus, we got covered in dust and grime. Every time a vehicle passed, the bus filled up with dust. It would have been extremely difficult and dangerous to cycle. The road was hair-raising and the views spectacular. In places where landslides had occurred the bus had to edge slowly past sheer drops of thousands of feet. It went through a gorge only 20ft wide in places with sheer cliffs of 3000ft each side. Joan had her eyes shut a lot of the time.
At Caraz we decided on a day trip by bike up to a glacial lagoon. According to the book, it was 15 miles and a 4000ft climb. By midday and 15 miles up, we found out that we had taken the wrong road. Still it was a lovely ride with spectacular scenery and we got back covered head to toe in brown dust from the road.
Another gentle 3000ft up to Huarez (10,000ft) with snow clad mountains on each side. Mudslides or earthquakes have destroyed several of the towns in this valley. Huarez itself had 5000 people killed in a landslide in 1941 and 19,000 killed in an earthquake in 1970. We passed the town of Yungay, which is at the foot of the 22,000ft Huascaran Mountain. In 1970, a landslide buried the whole town killing all its 18,000 inhabitants. It has now been rebuilt in the same place!
Treated ourselves to a meal in a cafe. Potato salad, chicken soup, chicken, rice and beans washed down with fruit juice (a jug full). All this for 3 soles each, a total of one pound 25 pence. Good job David is on a pension!
Huarez is a largish town catering for tourists, mainly climbers who come to climb peaks over 20,000ft. We found a lovely hotel with rooms overlooking a central courtyard and paid a huge 65 soles for the room. While we were there David found a bike shop with a Shimano bottom bracket extractor tool and tightened up his cassette, which had decided to come loose.
Still slowly ascending, the road took us through the small village of Recuay where they were having a sort of sports day and village festival. As we stood around and watched, we were aware that the commentary over the loud speakers was about us. We were invited by the mayor to present medals to the winners. David was invited to say something into the microphone but could not manage much in Spanish. One of our cameras developed a fault with all lights flashing. After resetting and rewinding, the back was opened to find that it had not rewound and 36 exposures were gone and many good pictures. David should have taken Joan's advice and opened it in the dark.
The next section of road was more spectacular scenery and we decided to find a nice place to camp for the night, as there were no indications of hostels on route. As we slowly climbed the surrounding countryside changed to bare altiplano with no possible campsites out of sight of the road. Eventually we reached a place called Conochocha which was at 13,300ft was just a collection of pretty rough cafes at a junction. We were invited to sleep on the floor of a cafe. David showed the children card tricks and Joan taught them clock patience. The foor was dirt and the temperature below freezing, but with our Thermarests and down sleeping bag we were asleep by 9.30. At 5 a.m. we were awoken by the cafe opening, and at 5.30 hordes of road workmen came in for breakfast. There were no toilets, but a trip up the road behind the rocks.
Started downhill wearing most of our clothes and covered the first 45 miles to 3,500ft without pedalling at an average speed of 19.6 mph which would have been much faster but for road conditions and road works.
After 86 mostly downhill miles we arrived at Barranca on the coast. Hotel Pacifico had a good room at the cheapest yet, 19 soles. Still against the headwind we have had since the border we cycled through more boring coastal desert, but did see two more adobe pyramids. The roads are in reasonable condition, but can get a bit rough at the edges especially in town. The taxi drivers have a habit of pulling over right in front of you and then moving off as you get level with them. David is trying to find a suitable Spanish word or phrase to yell at them!
Arrived at Huacho on Independence day. The new president was sworn in in Lima. He is the first ever Peruvian of Indian descent to be President. The last one was Japanese!
Our camping candlelight came in handy as the electricity in the hotel was on and off all evening. David thinks they used all the power driving the loudspeakers in the plaza for the Independence Day celebrations.
Yet another incredibly boring coastal desert ride. This time, as well as the headwind, we climbed 1000ft in a thick damp mist. When is the cycling going to get better? We should have stayed in the mountains.
Our readers, especially the cyclists among them may have noticed that our daily average has reduced. There are several reasons for this. First main reason is the constant headwind that wears us down. There is often nowhere to stop for shelter for up to 30 miles at a time. Also, the convenient towns for hotels are either too near or too far. We choose the near ones! A typical day is now nearer 45 miles.
We mentioned earlier that we paid a record low of 19 soles for a room. At Chancay this was beaten by a price of only 10 soles (2pounds), but it had no hot water, and the light bulb was only about 40 watts.
On to Lima tomorrow.
Dave and Joan