Big mountains, high Paramos and never ending gorges on way to Ayacucho

After a rest day in Huarez I got organized to take on my biggest challenge on the bike yet: the carretera Pastoruri, a traverse of the Cordillera Blanca with two 4800m passes.  The first night I camped in the park around 4000m amongst some ruins and the weather wasn’t looking very flash. It was raining, cold and windy, but – ojala – the next morning I woke up to sun and blue skies. The landscape was strangely familiar to home but on a much larger and higher scale. The road was rough gravel and as soon as the inclination got a bit steeper I was puffing hard. It followed up a tussock valley with clusters of the impressive Puya Raimondii plant, also known as the Queen of the Andes. It is a species of bromeliad endemic Bolivia and Peru, and whose distribution is restricted to the high Andes at an elevation of 3200-4800m. It may reach up to 10m in hight, with more than three thousand flowers and six million seeds in each plant. Its reproductive cycle is approximately 40 years. The road than climbed up past the Nevado Pastoruri, a popular tourist excursion, and than over the first 4800m pass. I got rewarded with amazing views of snowy 6000m peaks and deep valleys, the sheer size of the Andes deployed in its full glory to my feet. I biked along under glaciers only a few meters away and than over the second pass. This is easy one of the most amazing routes I’ve been on in my life and I had to stop every few hundred meters to take another photo and gasp for a breath of air. I have come across one  car, one  German family  and one local couple on horses in a day. Once the gravel road joined back onto the main road to Huallanca I got rewarded with a long downhill to this nice little Andean town. I celebrated with a nice trout for dinner.

The next morning it was raining and I was happy to be on a downhill run through a lovely gorge to La Union, a small little hamlet servicing as base for tourists to visit the Inca ruins of Huanuco Viejo. It had stopped raining by than and things looked a bit brighter. The road followed down the valley and up the other side over a 4000m pass called ‘Corona del Inca’. Another front has come in by than and it was cold and raining and I had to stop my fingers from freezing on the downhill. It got warmer as I got lower, stopped raining and by the time I hit the valley floor at 2000m it was nearly tropical and the kids were swimming in the river. What a great downhill on a narrow one lane road through some local mountain villages. Huanuco, ‘town with the best climate’, was noisy and busy. I took a bus back up the mountain to over 4300m the next morning to the Mining town of Cerro de Pasco. I carried straight on from there, but 10km out of town my rim and tube of the front wheel exploded. A taxi took me back to town and I got a whole new front wheel for my bike the next day. I had to change from my 32 to the more common 36 spoke wheels and a new hub. While waiting for my bike to get fixed I had made a trip to the ‘Bosque de Piedras’ a vaste area of limestone bolders in all shapes of animals. From Cerro de Pasco the road than went over a high windswept altiplano, along a lake rich of bird life and than dropped down back to 3000m before reaching the beautiful Mantaro valley and the town of Huancayo. The next day I enjoyed a long breakfast and chat with a local woman living in Houston before visiting some of the local artisan villages by bike. In Huayllay I bought some alpaca items which will keep me warm on my way over the Altiplano.

The ride from Huancayo to Ayacucho went over a hill (approx. 3800m) and into the beautiful Mantaro Gorge with stunning vistas. The gorge carried on for over 100km, the single lane road was amazing and has recently been tarsealed…bonus! Hardly any traffic and little sign of human habitation…. hence no dogs to chase me. I was aiming for a couple of villages showing on my map but neither of them seemed to exist. Just before dark and as I had run out of water a while ago I reached Acos, a village at the end of the gorge where I stayed the night in a simple hospedaje. The next day I left the gorge and traversed a dessert like stretch of pampa with lots of cacti before climbing back up to Ayacucho.

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