My journey on Instagram, part 4, from Chachapoyas to Huaraz in Peru.
Gocta Waterfall is one of the highest in the world, cascading down 771 metres in two drops. Amazingly, it was only made known to the outside world a decade ago. It's not a very big waterfall in terms of volume, which actually made it even more impressive to me. Instead of the water falling as a torrent, it appears to float slowly to the ground in a thick mist. It's definitely worth the walk if you're in Chachapoyas, Peru.
Today was a monster, to put it lightly. Starting at 3,600 metres, where I slept in an abandoned hut I'd read about online, I descended 60 kilometres and 2,800 metres to the Rio Maranon, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. It was a wild ride from the alpine into a desert valley down a twisting paved road that was seldom wide enough for two cars once, and almost traffic free. I crossed the river and began a 45 kilometre, 2,300 metre ascent up endless switchbacks back to the alpine. And to finish it off – 13k of descent to Celendin, where l ate two dinners because I was so hungry after the ride.
Some days you crush it, others you get crushed. After a big day on Thursday, I had very little left to give on Friday. I slept poorly, then took my time getting going, with the mild aim of tackling some of the 110 kilometres to Cajamarca that afternoon. Twenty kilometres in, it started to pour relentlessly. My legs were still spinning, but mentally I was already struggling and the rain made it worse. I eventually found shelter outside a rural school, and when the rain didn't stop, I changed out of my bike clothes, laid out my sleeping pad, cooked dinner and went to bed. The next morning I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and the rest of the ride to Cajamarca flew by. Though I'm still exhausted and looking forward to sleeping forever tonight.
The views were amazing this morning when I woke up at a cellphone tower station at an elevation of 4,100 metres. The workers there fed me dinner and gave me a mattress to sleep on, but despite that, I was unable to fall asleep until after 3 am. Today I battled fatigue but somehow got a second wind and made it to Cajabamba after 90 kilometres mostly downhill, but with enough climbing to keep me honest. It was an odd day as I rode through an area where they were untrusting of foreigners and two cycle tourists were detained for a day by local villagers a few years ago. Thankfully I didn't experience that, but I also received lots of scowls and watched children flee as I nervously rode through that stretch as fast as possible.
One of the things I love about bike touring is it takes you to towns you'd likely pass through if travelling by bus. Huamachuco is one of those – it has a beautiful central plaza, good food, a bustling market and a colorful local culture. There's also supposed to be some impressive pre-Incan ruins nearby but I'm having a rest day, so I haven't visited them. It gets Peruvian tourists, but isnt on the Gringo trail. My only issue with today – it's so nice out, I kind of wish I spent it biking, though I know I need the rest because the next stretch on the way to Huaraz looks like a doozy as I approach the highest mountain range on earth outside the Himalayas.
The central square is the focal point of all South American villages, towns and cities. Of all the ones I've passed through, I think #Huamachuco's is my favourite. It's creative, colorful and serene – and huge. The only downside is the soft rock they blare at night, but even then I was thinking this would be a great makeout spot.
"El Silencio" – what Peruvians call the high altitude areas beyond the populated valleys. Up there is nothing but incredible scenery and roads that carve their way through it, providing access to a handful of homes, a few big mines, and that's about it. I pedaled up there two days ago, leaving the farmland and entering a world of small lakes, wide valleys, big mountains and herds of alpaca. Two broken lighters has me back in civilization so I can cook again, but I look forward to returning.
The last few days can't be described as anything but a sufferfest. After my last update, I followed a path I plotted on Google Earth that traced what I thought was a series of roads that would take me up and over a 4,400 metre pass and into a beautiful valley filled with alpine lakes. I got the latter part right, but the roads were actually a series of rough trails that were mostly impossible to ride and I ended up pushing my bike for a good 20 kilometres of rocky paths. It took 1.5 days to get through, but at least the views were amazing and I can add 'cave' to the list of places I've spent the night. The going was easier yesterday, except for the rain and snow.
What do bike tourers do on their rest days? They go biking! I arrived in Caraz a few days ago ready for a break. Coincidentally, @iohangue, who's a bit of a legend in the dirt road touring world due to his amazing video series documenting his adventures (see bikewanderer.com), was also here so we met up to go for a ride. Joining us was Sylvain, who was fresh off the plane from Quebec. What better way to acclimatize than a 30 kilometre ride up to 4,200 metres? When we reached Laguna Paron it was later than expected, cold and rainy, amd the mountains were shrouded in clouds so we opted to spend the night in the refugio. This morning we were treated to incredible views of the glacier-capped peaks surrounding the lake. We soaked them in before making the long descent back to town. Tomorrow we're heading off on a circuit through the Cordillera Blanca – the highest mountain range on earth outside the Himalayas.
There were two options to cross over the Cordillera Blanca: the paved road over Punta Olimpica, or the unpaved hike-a-bike over Portachuelo Honda. Naturally we chose the latter. It started in one beautiful valley and ended in another, but in between we pushed our bikes up to a 4,750m pass and back down the other side. I'd say "never again," but I know that's probably a lie.