DAY 558 - CAJAMARCA TO CARAZ (3)
It never happened before that I could see almost the entire route I would cycle the next day. I was sitting on the edge of a cliff near my camp spot, admiring the view of this incredible switchback road. It would be 900 m down and then 1350 m up, covering 30 km.
This capture took 20 minutes to make, the time it takes for a car to drive from Pallasca, the small town on the far right of the top photo, all the way down to the river. Far in the distance I could hear the roaring river, sounding like traffic from a skyscraper. It’s early in the evening, rush-hour you could say, but there is hardly any traffic in this remote region. There are only 3 cars in this picture. One on my side of the canyon going down, and two on the other side. My camera has a maximum shutter speed of 60 seconds. To create the continues light ray of the moving cars, I took 20 photos shortly after each other and stacked them together in Photoshop.
It’s quite a daunting view knowing you’re going to cycle this, but it wasn’t even that hard, because it was paved and not too steep. Going down my tires were still soft from the past days on rougher roads. Before going up I pumped them to full pressure, which takes quite a bit with the small hand pump I’m carrying. The sealant liquid running through the tubes, which prevents punctures, sometimes solidifies in the valve which make it extra hard to pump the tires. On the way up I met a retired couple from Germany, travelling in their camper van. They offered me some coffee. We chatted about the bad roads, the amazing landscapes, the barking stray dogs at night and the dear things we miss from Europe, like good bread and cheese.
At the end of the day I reached Pallasca. A quiet colonial town hidden away in an ocean of mountains. Time seemed to have been standing still here. The absence of motorised traffic makes it extremely quiet here. A herd of sheep walked down a steep street. There was no sight of the shepherd, they probably knew the way by themselves. Donkeys were parked before classic grocery stores, with all their products stacked on shelves behind the counter. No branding or store names, you could only recognise it as a store by looking inside through the small wooden doors. Vaguely I could see cans of goods reflect the outside light. Many houses turn off the electricity during the day to save energy. Some villages wouldn’t have electricity at all during daylight.
I walked in an old hacienda style hotel on the main square, next to the church, the only one which was open. Inside on the patio there was no one. People told me to call for Orlando. I needed to raise my voice because he’s a bit deaf. Eventually an old man slowly came out on the balcony of one of the upper rooms. Minutes later I installed myself in a room with 5 beds, a big tv with long antenna beams that played a gameshow, which I wasn’t able to turn off. There were big round beams supporting the sealing which hang through by the heavy weight of the cob floors. Most of the houses are built out of cob here, an ancient building material consisting of mud, clay and straw. Only the oldest colonial houses on the main square are made of stone. It’s funny that buildings dating from the colonial times are more modern than the current archicture in the country side.
There’s an interesting story to the owner of the hotel, because he is a local hero. His full title is Captain Orlando Vladimir Alvarez Castro, a Peruvian soldier who was assigned to built this road in to connect the town for car traffic with Mollepata on the other side of the canyon. It contains 61 switchbacks in total. Each member of the community, shopkeeper or teacher, and even the children, supported by food perpared by the women were involved building the road. On June 24, 1973 Orlando was the first person to drive a car into Pallasca. Before this time it was only accessible by horse, donkey or foot.
After dinner my stomach started to ‘roar’…
Out of Pallasca Orlando’s road continued south going through the hills, connecting several small other towns, eventually winding down towards the valley. I took a right into the highlands on a smaller road which would go up to 4400 m (a new altitude record). I camped at 3800 m where it went wrong… After I cooked dinner my stomach started to ‘roar’. Through the night I needed to leave the tent 4 times - food poisoning. I was completely empty. Was it the strawberries I didn’t wash properly? Water from the stream? Food from the restaurant? You never really know. I drink the water from the streams, often unfiltered, but around these altitudes it should be safe. It made me giggle a bit; I had never vomited with such a great view.
That night I lay in my tent feeling miserable, considering the options. The idea of cycling up over the high plain didn’t seem very smart, or even feasible. I had no Immodium to keep food inside, just a few pain killers. I could cycle back down to the main road and try to catch a bus, but the public busses I had seen were only minivans. It would be a small chance if they could carry my bike. Larger busses didn’t come here, because the road was too narrow and unpaved. In the morning I woke up feeling weak, but not sick. I decided to continue, just drinking water and plain bread. Slowly I made my way up to 4400 m. I took a lot of breaks to catch breath and eat the stale bread. I was doing alright with the alititude, I was just more tired because of the lack oxigen. My stomach was handling it well. Up on the plain it started raining. My hands and feet got really cold. A family of vicuñas, a wild relative of the llama, watched me approaching, making weird screaming noises to scare me off. They ran away along the horizon over the misty plains.
I looked at the map on my phone to see how far it was to Corrongo, the next town, which would probably have a hotel or hospedaje to rest and dry my clothes. Still 30km, but 1600 m down. That looked easier than it was. The road is officially closed, something I learned days later. I hadn’t seen one car that day. It was the worst and slowest downhill I’d ever done. The road was sandy and eroded, with landslides and deep trenches. The rain still coming down in a continues drizzle, the clouds blocking my views. I was too tired to succesfully dodge obstacles. Sometimes I would hit a rock and come to a complete stop, the soft front tire would almost fold off the wheel. The valley seemed out of reach, a road with no end, like a nightmare where you are running forward without making progress.
At dusk I’d reach the valley and the beginning the official road leading to Corrongo. The only marks in the sand of the road were of cattle, no vehicle would come this far. The sky cleared and I reached Corrongo just before dark. A small family run hospedaje welcomed me, they were very friendly and served me bread, cheese and hot coffee at arrival. Notifications poured over my phone screen after being off line for 6 days. My family got worried because I didn’t expected to be off line so long. None of the towns had wifi and my phone provider didn’t have cellular connection. I texted with Mark Watson, who I knew did the same route in the dry season. They had sunny days and the first amazing views on the white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. I had to wait another day for that.