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Cordillera Blanca, Peru (2017)

In July, Rudi and I cycle three and a half weeks in Peru. The route follows many roads through the Cordillera Blanca: the area with the highest concentration of over five thousand meters high peaks of the entire Andes. We travel through broad valleys and deep gorges, over the vast pampas, through rural areas, and of course over many high mountain passes. We cover 1.175 kilometers, 40% of which are on unpaved roads, and rise almost 22.700 altimeters.


Before: Flight > Bus > Acclimatize

At Schiphol there is chaos - and not for the first time. They are not prepared for the holiday crowds. We get our flight just in time. (With a better organization and signaling they could have done a better job.) In the plane I am sitting next to a German who has been living in Lima for ten years. With the best intentions he tells me about his experiences. In the beginning his story is still positive, but after a while it is becoming increasingly grim (crime, corrupt police, etc.). Very inspiring to start the flight of our dream vacation.

From Lima Airport we take the taxi to bus terminal Plaza Norte. Bus company Cruz del Sur transports us and the bikes to Huaraz at night. In this lively city with more than 100.000 inhabitants, located at 3.050 m, we acclimatize for two days. In 1970 Huaraz was totally destroyed by the Ancash earthquake. We take a nice walk from the city up the hill, from where we have a beautiful view of several >6.000 m high peaks.

Day 1: Huaraz > Caraz (70 km)

This morning we finally start our cycling trip. But just when we are on our way, we got stuck in a demonstration of mainly women who are against corruption and education. Or something like that. After we have escaped the demonstration, we cycle to the north-west, on a largely asphalted road, which drops eight hundred vertical meters in seventy kilometers. The main road is not really crowded, and motorists pay attention to us.

On the way we see on our right side several white-capped >6.000 m high peaks, of which the Huascaran (6.746 m) is the second-highest summit on the continent. We drink with French fellow cyclists on a terrace. Following their advice we go looking for sticks to keep off annoying dogs (we already got stones). The owner of the café does not understand that in Western Europe families have on average less than on two children per family; in Peru, girls become pregnant from the age of fourteen, and families tend to be large (and poor). We end the day in the lively Caraz.

Day 2: Caraz > Santa Rosa (60 km)

Today we continue our way to the northwest. About twenty kilometers after Caraz we dive into the Canon del Pato: a narrow canyon carved out by the Rio Santa, with steep walls and peaks reaching up to a kilometer above us. There are no less than thirty-six tunnels within fifteen kilometers. After Hualanca we descend to about 1,200 m. Here the valley is suddenly much wider, with beautiful relief in the walls, and all kinds of colors (ocher, mint green, orange). However, we do not want to remain at this level because we have not been vaccinated against yellow fever and malaria.

In Yuracmarca we leave the main asphalt road, and take the dirt road to Santa Rosa (1.850 m). There we can sleep (paid) on an upstairs floor of a building owned by an aunt of a visitor of the store run by Ovelia. Washing can be done downstairs in a “bagno”. Communication is still difficult: we recognize quite a few words (and otherwise Google Translate), but holding a conversation is difficult. Just before we go to sleep we hear the religious singing of the villagers. It feels far from home here.

Day 3: Santa Rosa > Tarica (43 km)

We have breakfast in the village shop of Ovelia. Then we rise 550 meters over a sometimes bad dirt road. I do not understand how buses can drive uphill through sometimes steep curves filled with mulled sand. After some eight kilometers we reach the asphalt. We climb steadily up the valley. On the other side we see mountains with beautiful structures. It is pretty hot: up to 47 °C in the sun.

In Yanac we stop to have something to eat. We pay about 2.50 euros per person for a plate of soup, a plate of pasta, potatoes and chicken, two glasses of lemonade and a cup of coffee. We continue our climb up to Tarica (3.350 m). Today we have not cycled very far, but we have gained more than seventeen hundred vertical meters. There are many people in this village, amongst whom many women with their typical hats, vests and skirts. Everyone laughs and shouts "Gringos!" to us. We sleep in a basic hotel where pigs roar down our room window.

Day 4: Tarica > Andaymayo (52 km)

When we leave Tarica it is much quieter than yesterday. The men are taken to work by bus, and the children have been taken to school by their mother. During the first, steep kilometers we encounter an annoying dog. Stopping and waving the stick for a short time works out fine. We go eastwards, with the Rio Utuhuaylla on our left – only a drizzly brook to be honest. On the other side of the Abra Cahuacona pass (4.200 m) the mountains are covered with many small fields.

In Pasacancha we eat (like every day) pollo and arroz and drink Inka Cola. Outside on the street four women are knitting and chatting in traditional costumes. Apparently they find us very interesting, as they shout at us. But unfortunately we do not understand their Quecha (officially the second language of Peru). We leave the asphalt road and continue on a long road through rural areas. Without exception, all people we meet, from young to old, are very friendly. We get the impression that cycling gringos rarely pass by here.

In these rural villages people still grow their own food and they still live together with their animals. We see and hear dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and cows. The pigs and horses are usually standing along the road, leash to a tree or stone. Sheep walk with a shepherd through the village. Cows are led by girls over narrow paths from the mountain down to the house. Chickens run everywhere. Few people have a car. Some children have a bike, pretty cool in these mountains!

In the village of Pariashpampa we have a conversation with a gentleman, who teaches us the Quecha word for mujer (woman). During the subsequent descent we avoid a few growling dogs, which make it a sport to bite in tires of passing vehicles. In Andaymayo (3.090 m) we find a primitive room, where the spiders and chicken chicks just walk in. We mess with the Primus burner: the leather appears dehydrated, and the fuel bought in Huaraz keeps clogging the nozzle.

Day 5: Andaymayo > Pomabamba (58 km)

We have breakfast on the sidewalk of our room. Then we get back on our bikes. The often bad road winds along the mountain side to the east. The view of the mountains covered with many fields on the other side, is beautiful. The people are friendly, and respond to our greetings. Unfortunately, today we do not encounter any more stores that are open, so we have to survive on a sandwich, muffin, crackers and peanuts. After climbing almost a thousand vertical meters on a bad dirt road, we reach Palo Seco (3.770 m) where we end up in a kind of Scottish landscape.

The descent is much appreciated, and goes surprisingly fast. The environment changes as we move further down. We now cycle mainly through forests with eucalyptus trees. It is relatively humid here. On this side of the pass, the adults often look stoic. Children, on the other hand, sometimes burst into laughter when they see two men in weird clothes on bicycles with bags. In Pomabamba (2.950 m) we find a fantastic room in Hotel Las Begonias: a more than one hundred years old house with a courtyard, which has withstood the severe earthquake of 1947.

Day 6: Pomabamba > Llumpa (45 km)

Yesterday evening I suddenly started to shiver and I became very tired, and also today I lack energy. Not very convenient, given the almost one thousand vertical meters on unpaved roads that are on the program today. Fortunately, there is a lot of distraction. After Pomabamba the people become friendlier again. We pass through several small villages, and we see people work on their land. They are shaking the grain with the support of two oxen. We also see cows, horses, goats, chickens, roosters, pigs, sheep, cats, dogs, donkeys etc. But no llamas ...

After Huaycho we descend three hundred meters to a sublime picnic spot on the Rio Lucma. Followed by four hundred meters of climbing, over a sometimes steep and bad road, with lots of stones and sand. When we arrive in Lucma (3.070 m) the shabby houses make room for a renovated plaza, with a church, park, yellow painted houses and shops. The village even has a modern apartment block. There is a large poster on the wall that shows what to do in case of an earthquake, landslide or deluge.

After Lucma we suddenly see some snow-covered peaks in the distance. According to a man who is waiting there, one of them is the Alpamayo, "la montana mas bonita del muendo". From now on we will continue to enjoy excellent views of beautiful mountain walls with diagonal bulges, and of course on the many little fields. Just before our final location Llumpa we see many more peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. While I arrange the night, Rudi is followed by a bunch of enthusiastic boys. They want to touch the bike, and help with carrying the bicycle bags to our rooms.

Day 7: Llumpa > Yanama (32 km)

Our overnight stay is an extension to a house with a nice courtyard where, just like elsewhere, the corn cobs are hanging on ropes to dry. From here we have a beautiful view of the valley of the Rio Pomabamba. In the morning sun, the many ridges protrude nicely against each other. When we set off we see a police car just after Llumpa, perhaps to intercept smugglers from the area to the east of the Cordillera Blanca where, according to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cocaine is produced.

We continue the route down a bad, unpaved road. After a long descent we arrive at a river in this mainly dry valley. Along the Rio Yurma we climb up via a number of hairpin bends. The road is sometimes bad and quite steep. After some time we reach villages with shops and schools. The schoolchildren walk in uniforms, just like elsewhere. Some children have bicycles from the brand Ruta Solidaridas. At one point we see at the end of the valley the beautiful peaks of the Yanapaqcha, Chacraraju and Paria.

Halfway through the afternoon we arrive in the beautifully situated Yanama. This town with its clean square is a nice place to stay. There is an evangelical church here. Are Americans trying to convert people here? For the first time in days we see a tourist. From the doorway of our room in Hostel Pino we watch two men and a woman grinding straw with the help of two horses, with in the background several beautiful peaks, including the Pyramid (5.885 m), a kind of Matterhorn.

Day 8: Yanama > Orkoncocha (49 km)

After breakfast we take some pictures of the town and the somewhat misplaced church. The first part today’s cycling trip goes up and down, so we barely ascent in terms of net altitude. This changes after the village of Vaqueria (where we see tourist hikers for the first time): from now on we keep climbing. There are thousands of loose rocks and pebbles on the road. This requires a lot of our concentration and agility, in increasingly low-oxygen circumstances. When we have finally dragged ourselves to the Portachuelo de Llanganuco pass (4.700 m), we enjoy a magnificent view of the largest concentration of >6.000 m high summits of South America.

The pass road is constructed on a mountain wall. Seen from above, the many hairpin bends seem a relief to us after the torture of the ascent. Unfortunately, the road surface on this side is miserable. We bounce for eight hundred meters down to a meadow next to the mountain stream, where there is a campsite with hikers’ and expedition tents. Tired yet satisfied we enjoy, after the evening meal, the many thousands of stars. At night I wake up from strange animal sounds. When I look outside using my headlamp, I see all sorts of animals (foxes?) moving about twenty meters away.

Day 9: Orkoncocha > Caraz (44 km)

We sleep until 8:00 am, until the sun has illuminated the valley. While we have breakfast (no hurry), we see how the others on the camp site start their hike or mountain climbing. Buses arrive and drop even more hikers. But we go down again. The first part of cycling along the lake is bumpy. It is only after the entrance to the national park that the road gradually improves, and near the lower villages we can even go cruising. From Yungay we continue on the asphalt road to Caraz. At the Plaza de Armas we find a hotel with internet (Perla de los Andes).

Day 10: Caraz > Chicarhuapunta (80 km)

Today we cycle more than two thousand meters in altitude from Caraz up to the pass height of the Abra Chicarhuapunta. We cycle without luggage and on asphalt. Nevertheless, we have to make some effort. Particularly in the beginning, from the bridge over the Rio Santa, it is already quite a climb (8%) to and through the first few villages Tocash and Pueblo Libre Nuevo. In that second village two aggressive dogs await us. Always annoying ... Next follow some easy kilometers.

The Cordillera Negra (the mountain ridge west of the Cordillera Blanca) is quite dry and rough. The view of the snowy peaks on the other side of the valley is fantastic though. From Cotupampa the ascent becomes a little steeper. The third quarter of the climb is irregular and sometimes 12% in a few unpaved curves. More and more holes appear in the road surface. The valley on the north side opens. Against the steep slope, with beautiful structures from top to valley floor, we see a tiny village with fields. How is that possible?

In the final quarter of the ascent the road becomes less steep. Here you can also see the special puya raimondii. This plant occurs naturally in Peru and Bolivia, where it grows in cool highlands at an altitude of 3.200 to 4.800 m. The cluster of flowers can reach a height of ten meters, with thousands of single flowers. Halfway through the afternoon we reach the Abra Chicarhuapunta (4.314 m). During the grandiose descent we have to be very careful with all those holes in the road and the abrupt transitions between low sun and shadow.

Day 11: Caraz > Laguna Paron (18 + 14 km)

We want to go to Laguna Paron. This means, however, almost two thousand meters of climbing on unpaved roads, without overnight accommodation on the way. That is why we arrange a taxi that helps us skip the first thousand vertical meters. The bikes, all the bags and myself are stuffed in the back of the station wagon. The driver drops us off at the barrier at the border of the national park. While we fill in some registration form, we are harassed by small stinging flies. Or rather: bite flies, because the blood just runs out.

Cycling on the bad road is possible, but the speed is only 5 km per hour. Yet we slip away almost nowhere; a matter of paying attention and maneuvering meter by meter. The hornets are a bigger challenge. They buzz around your head annoyingly, and immediately strike when they get the chance. After 14 kilometers we arrive at the mountain lake. It is beautiful here, although we are feel a bit locked up between the steep mountains. That afternoon we make a few short walks. Then we take shelter in the refugio, where together with Chileans and French people we have a good time by the fire.

Day 12: Laguna Paron > Carhuaz (68 km)

At 7:15 am the sun rises between the Artesonraju (5.999 m) and the Chacraraju (6.108 m) and the ice layer on the tent disappears. We start on a nearly two thousand vertical meters long descent. We ride carefully to avoid a bump, spoke breakage or rim fracture. After a stopover in Caraz we cross the main road south-east. Between Yungay and Carhuaz we often encounter annoying dogs that suddenly run onto the road. Several times we have to stand still and threaten to hit them (Rudi with his stick, I with my PVC tube) and throw stones. We are really fed up with those dogs now.

Day 13: Carhuaz > Catac (70 km)

Today we want to go to Punta Olimpica, and from there tomorrow to San Luis. We are running out of money, but Huaraz's only cash machine is broken. We now have three options: (1) ride over the Punta Olimpica and gamble that the cash machines there are in operation (but if that is not the case we have a problem), (2) go with the collectivo for 3 Sol per person back and forth to Huaraz (but then we lose a day), or (3) cycle to Huaraz, get cash there, and then head on to Catac, from where we can go to the Cordillera Huayhuash. It will be option 3. Unfortunately, this results in a boring cycling day. We do not even take one picture. To make things worse, Rudi gets saddle pain.

Day 14: Catac > Chiquian (78 km)

We have breakfast in the restaurant of hotel Yadir, which has very nice owners. The first part of our stage is somewhat monotonous. The road over the pampa is mostly flat with long stretches straight ahead, and little traffic. On our right there is little to see. Or maybe: are those birds in the distance actually condors? On our left is the view better: above the pampa towers a mountain massif with the highest peak the Caullaraju (5.682 m). At one point we cycle along a vast grassy plain on which tiny villages and occasionally cattle can be seen.

We have lunch in Conococha (4.110 m), after which we leave the main road to Lima and cross the grassy plains. Again here are annoying dogs that even run after us for a while. After the plain a short ascent to Mojon (4.260 m) follows, where we turn right. During the winding descent we see many little fields on the mountain walls on the other side of the valley. And in the distance the tops of the Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced "waiwasj") are visible. In Chiquian we spend the night at Hotel Los Nogales: an old house with thick walls painted in bright colors, and a beautiful garden in the courtyard.

Day 15: Chiquian > Pocpa (32 km)

In the morning we have breakfast with Marc, a Canadian in his early fifties. He lives on income from shares and rental property, and regularly cycles through South America for a few months. He is a real chatterbox, but we have to move on. We take a dirt road to the river, from where we descend further through a beautiful, rough, and dry valley, with cacti and other beautiful plants. At a height of 2.620 m we have reached the lowest point. Here we turn left and gradually climb up next to a mountain stream.

With the help of a boy, we find a shop in Llamac that is open during the siesta; I reward him with a lollipop. The local campsite is located behind a closed gate, so we cycle a few kilometers to Pocpa (3.470 m). There we can camp on a field next to the stream. For the tiny village shop I am almost bitten by a sheep dog, that later also harasses us at the tent. He stays barking at a safe distance for a long time afraid of our sticks and stones. However, this does not give a pleasant feeling.

Day 16: Pocpa > Quartelhuain (13 km)

Finally at 9 am the sun reaches our camping spot. Rudi still suffers from saddle pain and his intestines; he has little energy. Fortunately, today we do not have to cycle that far, and the road is a lot better than yesterday. However, there are sometimes vicious climbs of around 10%. The higher part of the valley is beautiful. We see beautiful mountain structures, sometimes with four different directions at a glance. In addition to the gurgling mountain stream we see a small walled meadow on which an old female straightens her back. Snowy peaks emerge in the distance, with the steep Rondoy (5.870 m) as the most striking one.

Along the way we pass a mine and a miners village. A man with a pickaxe asks us for food, but we have hardly anything with us. We cycle all the time alongside the Cordillera Huayhuash. In this area there are three >6.000 and numerous >5.000 m high peaks, often with very steep, snow-covered walls. It is known ‘Touching the Void' by Joe Simpson. Here is also one of the most beautiful hiking trails of the continent. We laze and camp at 4.170 m on the vast meadow of Quartelhuain.

Day 17: Quartelhain > Hualanca (37 km)

The sun appears late behind the mountains. When we go cycling, all hikers and donkeys are already on their way. The road was sprayed this morning by a tank truck, to facilitate the heavily loaded trucks of the mine to get over the pass. Because of the mud our bikes become pretty dirty. During the climb to the Cuncush we have the striking Rondoy behind us all the time. The last part to the pass height at 4.600 m is quite steep (9 to 11%). The first part of the descent is bumpy. Then we pass a very high mine. After a day of cycling on noodles and crackers, we eat as much as we can in Hualanca (3.550 m).

Day 18: Hualanca > Carpa (67 km)

We have breakfast in the ice-cold restaurant beneath the hotel. Beside us there are contractors who probably work for the mines here in the area. Like them, we eat a huge bowl of chicken soup with a potato, a boiled egg and a lot of spaghetti. The first part of today’s cycling stage goes over asphalt from Hualanca to the Yanashalla pass (4.690 m). Along the way we notice a lot of mining activity. They dig up the mountains one by one. In the distance we see a herd of llamas on a mountain meadow – for the first time this vacation.

From Yanashalla we continue on an unpaved road to 4.880 m. After that the road continues to go up and down around 4.800 m. The views are phenomenal. We see peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash and see the Huantsan (6.395 m) rise above the Cordillera Blanca, at a distance of some forty kilometers. The more nearby mountains have peculiar shapes and beautiful colors. We see funny bright green grass pollen on a soggy surface. On the shadow side of the mighty Huarapasca (5.418 m) we see a frozen waterfall and ice on the fens. The last pass of the day passes directly between two five thousand meter high peaks.

Next we have to descend for almost twenty kilometers. With the setting sun right in front of us it is very difficult to find the ideal track. Just as the sun sets, we pass through an area with a lot of Puya Raimondii. It is a shame that we can’t take proper pictures of them anymore. We stop at the visitor center Carpa. That is already closed, but we can pitch our tent behind the building. Which requires some attention: the grass here is razor sharp, and there are also plant stakes that can pierce through the groundsheet and air mattress.

Day 19: Carpa > Chavin (89 km)

We get up early, eat a cake, ignore local women selling tourist goods, and race down to Catac. The views are boring and the gravel road is miserable. We are relieved when we reach the asphalt road. After Catac we cycle past a bistro where two dogs come running on the road. Rudi throws a stone on the head of one of the annoying creatures. Eat that! Then the climb begins. We were hoping for an easy climb on tarmac, but the strong headwind is a real bummer. Fighting against the wind results in saddle pain.

The rather dull landscape suddenly changes at Laguna Querococha, which is beautifully situated at the beginning of a valley with the 5.200 m high mountain peaks of the Yanamarey. There is even a bistro, which is quite unique in this region, where you usually just have to figure it out yourself. The third part of the long climb goes through a green valley, which, apart from the road and a few cows and horses, has nothing to offer. We are therefore happy when we arrive at the five hundred meter long Tunnel de Kahuish (4.660 m).

On the other side of the tunnel is a huge white statue of Cristo de los Andes. The road down turns out to be a gravel road with an occasional piece of old asphalt. The cars and buses produce large dust clouds: not only locally, but at some point we also see a part of the valley hanging in dust clouds. In the descent the dogs are sometimes troublesome, especially when they suddenly appear just before the bike. In Chavin (3.170 m) we will move into Hotel Inca on the Plaza de Armas.

Day 20: Rest day Chavin

Today we have a rest day in Chavin. The hotel is home to archaeologists from the USA and Italy, who come here for the ruins. Our hotel has a courtyard with a garden, a parrot, a long-eared owl, a vegetable garden, and chickens a bit further away. They often do so in Peru: just grow their own food and keep animals for their own consumption. We sleep late and wash our clothes. We also clean our bikes. Rudi does so in the territory of a leashed ram, which is friendly at first, next annoyingly curious, and then acts outright aggressively.

There are beautiful old houses with balconies around the Plaza de Armas. We have an extensive brunch in the cozy Café Renato. When we wander around in the town we see a huge bus terminal, which contrasts sharply with the relative poverty of the immediate surroundings. Along the road there is a stack of crates with densely packed chickens. They are slaughtered under the roof. Slightly further away they sell picked chickens and eggs. There are pollarias next to it. Very efficient, and not as shielded and clinical as in the Netherlands.

Day 21: Chavin > Huari (38 km)

Today we want to cycle to Huari on an unpaved route, which runs above the hills. But the moment I want to sit on my saddle I feel a huge pain. Apparently this is the result of the stage two days earlier, with 100% saddle pain during the long ascent, during which I took a different position to avoid saddle pain. Today's bumpy stage is suddenly not an option. So we take the easy tarmac road through the valley. That easy road is pretty boring as well; standing out are only the high mountains that rise above us after San Marcos and an oncoming cycling Spaniard.

We spend the whole afternoon in the cozy town Huari. On the sidewalk in front of our hotel, along the El Parque square, a box produces loud music. Encouraged by their teacher and in a North Korean manner, children practice a march in honor of the national holiday that is celebrated in two days. It promises to be a beautiful spectacle. It strikes me that young people here dress quite modern – sometimes even hip. Are these the children of higher educated parents who work here with the police, court or a bank? In any case, they stand out against the older “mountain people” that are still traditionally dressed.

Day 22: Huari > San Luis (61 km, by bus)

Today we take the bus to San Luis. We do not accept the challenge of climbing 1.300 m over more than sixty kilometers of unpaved roads. Not only because of the pain I still feel, but also because wild camping on this route would not be safe. However, taking a bus is not as easy as we think:

- On the poster of the bus company a departure time of 1 pm is listed. We report thirty minutes earlier at the departure point. They point at a van, so we wait there. The candy and soft drink-selling ladies find us amusing, and gesture that we have to fix the bikes on the roof.

- At a certain moment the driver shows up: we can indeed load the stuff on the bus. Rudi goes on the roof, fixes the bikes and bags and we are ready for take-off. Let's go Jose! The driver mumbles something about leaving later and “almuerzo” (lunch) and disappears.

- It is now 2 pm. Other passengers come and drop their stuff in the bus. Still other passengers with a baby are arriving at the van. Someone says we will be leaving at 3 pm. Passengers show up and walk away again. Someone drops an envelope. A girl puts a box of squeaky chicken chicks in the bus.

- At 4 pm we finally leave. To wait twenty minutes later. Then the driver goes criss-cross through the city, picking up a few ladies carrying all kinds of stuff. Then we finally drive out of the town. After two kilometers we stop for fifteen minutes, until the last passenger arrives.

- When we finally leave at 4:30 pm we are sitting in the van together with the driver, fifteen adults, a few babies and lots of boxes and bags. The chicken eating ladies in their local clothes are making fun of us gringos.

- The road to San Luis over the pass height (4.300 m) is long and bad. In terms of landscape it is not very interesting. Houses along the road are covered in sand. It has been a wise decision to not start cycling.

We are happy when we finally arrive at San Luis at 7:30 pm, find a hotel and still have a quick meal somewhere.

Day 23: San Luis > Chacas (22 km)

Today we drive an ultra-short stage to Chacas. After a few kilometers we are finally freed from the bad road; from now tarmac rules! In Chacas (3.380 m) we find a room in Hostal Pilar, an old house with beautiful old roofs, large wooden beams, a courtyard and nicely decorated rooms. In the afternoon we visit the small archaeological museum beneath the church. There we see, with the help of overview maps and objects, how the Recuay, Wari and Inca civilizations have developed until the time of the Spanish conquests.

Day 24: Chacas > Carhuaz (80 km)

On today’s menu is the last bike challenge of our holiday: the ascent of the Punta Olimpica. The road goes up very gradually, usually about 6%. We see more and more white mountains, and after a few hours we encounter a huge mountain wall with high mountains around the Contrahierbas (6.036 m). In a series of hairpin bends we go up a few hundred meters to the tunnel, which is at 4.740 m. Here we have a beautiful 360 degree view of five and six thousand meters high peaks. There are many vacationers from Peru here. Today is the first national holiday, and people are heading for the mountains.

We do not use the tunnel, but take the old pass road instead, which goes two hundred meters higher. The tunnel was only opened in 2013, but the old pass road is already in a bad state. In quite a few places there are large stones on the road and sometimes we need to walk. It is impossible to go up the summit by jeep. On top of the pass (4,890 m) we continue through a kind of gate between the high peaks. At the other side we have a magnificent panorama: right in front of us the Chopicalqui (6.354 m) and Huascaran (6.768 m), and further to the north many other high peaks.

The descent is phenomenal. From the tunnel height we descend fifty kilometers over smooth tarmac. Near Carhuaz I want to take a picture of sheep against the background of the Huascaran, when a local woman yells at me while smiling. "Pagan, pagan!" She calls, followed by something in Quecha. She wants to take my gloves, grabs my bicycle bag and pulls my helmet. Okay: I understand that I can’t just make pictures of people, but do I really have to pay for a photo with sheep?! Somewhat stunned we find a hotel room in Carhuaz, in the nicest street of the city.

Day 25: Carhuaz > Huaraz (34 km)

Today we cycle the last short stage to Huaraz. The busy traffic confirms that the Peruvians are on holiday and massively pulling out. It makes cycling quite tedious, but fortunately we do not have to go far. In Huaraz, many hotels seem to be booked completely full. Eventually we find a beautiful spot in Hotel Jacal, near the center. The cycling holiday is over!

After: Hike (Refugio Ishinca) > Bus > Flight

We have a few spare days before we fly back. We decide to go hiking to Refugio Ishinca and stay there for a few days. We arrange backpacks and buy some provisions. A collectivo brings us over the main road from Huaraz to Paltay. At that village a taxi brings us five hundred meters higher on an unpaved road to the beginning of the trail.

The path is well laid out, and goes up a thousand meters up a stream. The Refugio Ishinca (4.380 m) and the camping field come into view only at the very last moment. The refugio is pretty luxurious, with a bar, dining room, accommodation for forty people, good sanitary facilities, and a nice terrace. The refugio, together with a few other refugios in the Cordillera Blanca, is owned by Don Bosco Andes 6000, an Italian foundation that stimulates the economic development of the region.

The next day we walk to the Refugio Vivaque, which is situated at the Laguna Ishinca (4.965 m). The path is good, and offers nice views of the big valley. At the upper refugio we have east views of not too steep, snowy >5.000 m high summits, and behind the Laguna Ishinca rises the imposing Ranrapalca (6.162 m). After coffee and sandwiches in the Refugio Ishinca Rudi goes up again, to the moraine and the glacial lakes.

On the third walking day we get a lift right form Pashpa to Huaraz. What a luck! We pack the bikes and take the excellent night bus from Cruz del Sur to Lima. After a long day at the airport, we take the plane to the Netherlands.

Statistics

Day
Stage
Distance (km)
Elevation (alt.m)
Unpaved
1
Huaraz > Caraz
70
446
0%
2
Caraz > Santa Rosa
60
765
15%
3
Santa Rosa > Tarica
43
1726
30%
4
Tarica > Andaymayo
52
1057
45%
5
Andaymayo > Pomabamba
58
972
100%
6
Pomabamba > Llumpa
45
958
100%
7
Llumpa > Yanama
32
1038
95%
8
Yanama > Orkoncocha
49
1429
100%
9
Orkoncocha > Caraz
44
64
70%
10
Caraz > Chicarhuapunta > Caraz
80
2104
0%
11a
Caraz > Pueblo Paron (taxi)
18
1225
95%
11b
Pueblo Paron > Laguna Paron
14
887
100%
12
Laguna Paron > Carhuaz
68
675
25%
13
Carhuaz > Catac
70
1203
0%
14
Catac > Chiquian
78
968
0%
15
Chiquian > Pocpa
32
935
100%
16
Pocpa > Quartelhuain
13
709
100%
17
Quartelhain > Hualanca
37
547
100%
18
Hualanca > Carpa
67
1647
60%
19
Carpa > Chavin
89
1046
30%
20
Chavin (rest day)
-
-
-
21
Chavin > Huari
38
641
0%
22
Huari > San Luis (taxi)
61
1426
100%
23
San Luis > Chacas
22
625
15%
24
Chacas > Carhuaz
80
1635
0%
25
Carhuaz > Huaraz
34
596
0%
Totaal
Excluding taxi
1175
22673
38%
Including taxi
1254
25324
44%