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Sat 28 May: Birmingham–Lima

We flew with KLM, who managed not to lose our bikes.

The weather at Lima weather was the customary grey garua.

Mon 30: Lima–Caraz (2260m)

Huandoy

A long ride on the Moviltours bus.

Notes: we stayed at the Perla de los Andes. The Chamanna, the best of the hotels in Caraz, had recently closed and Los Pinos no longer serves food, leaving Caraz underprovided for tourists. We called in on Alberto who runs Pony’s Expeditions. As before, he was a mine of information. He reckoned he and a friend had been the first to cycle to Lake Safuna, and that we would be the first gringos. We ate in his café.

Weds 1 June: Caraz–Yuracmarca (1400m) (52km, 330m ascent)

Cañon del Pato

The road begins on tarmac (which was being repaired at the time), and turns into gravel after 20km or so at the approach to the Cañon del Pato which we’d ridden previously in the opposite direction. We descended the 35 tunnels to Huallanca, our low point, where we enjoyed ice creams in the sweltering sun. Then there was a climb to Yuracmarca where we arrived in time for lunch and stayed for the night.

We were in the new part of Yuracmarca serving the junction; the old settlement is a little distant. After lunch we visited it, and a helpful man told us that the direct route to Yanac was dangerous, and that the new road via Huarachiri was preferable; but we weren’t very keen on the extra ascent it implied. He said that we’d be okay if we took care. We had disconcerting memories of the ‘dangerous’ road to Munsiyari in Kumaon the previous year, which had been swept away by a landslide and was impassable, but stuck to our plans.

Notes: the junction part has a very basic hospedaje, and frustratingly a more comfortable looking hotel which was not doing business. A lady running a stall outside said something to the effect that it opened for reservations only.

Thurs 2: Yuracmarca–Yanac (2880m) (35km, 1610m)

don’t look!

A tough ride which starts with a zigzagging ascent to Sta Rosa (9km, 460m), a largish village with no evident facilities. There was no traffic. The road then becomes more benign until an unwelcome sight comes into view: a doubtful-looking set of zigzags cut into white rock. It looked as though rockfalls had closed it, but as we got closer we saw that the road was still functioning. The old route, contouring across the slope, had been swept away, and the zigzags had been built to avoid the worst instabilities, but evidently weren’t much more secure.

Near the top we scarcely believed our eyes when a bus passed us in the opposite direction.

The road now traverses a rather idyllic shoulder and begins a long but uneventful stretch high along the side of the Manta valley. No settlements before Yanac.

We arrived at our destination in the early afternoon, not having eaten. There was a tantalising smell of food in the air. We asked a lady in a shop if there was anywhere to stay: ‘Yes, you can stay here.’ She showed us her rooms, which were an improvement on the previous night. We asked if there was anywhere to eat: ‘No’. We cooked a meal on our stove in the courtyard where hens pecked each other and made inroads into the apricots being left to dry.

In the afternoon we strolled round the village, which is a pleasantly traditional cluster of adobe houses.

Note: 5hr 10' in the saddle.

Fri 3: Yanac–Sihuas (2800m) (70km, 1380m)

It was a short ride as the crow flies to Tarica – 18km, but 500m climbing. Tarica is the hub of the upper valley, with several hospedajes and places to eat, one of which made exciting claims. We didn’t validate them, but we had an early and filling lunch there anyway.

After Tarica the road climbs steeply up the opposite side of the tributary valley, climbing 300m over 4km. A traditional house offers cheese and bicycle repairs.

The road now crosses its spur and heads up another valley at a gentler gradient. The land is high and empty enough for camping to look possible.

The road seems to be reaching the head of its valley, and a couple of dead-end tracks can be seen to the left, but there’s another stream and some more climbing. After a while you come to a junction signposted with the names of some villages – Cashapampa and Ragash one way, Pasacancha the other – but making no mention of Sihuas. In fact both routes go there. We chose the Pasacancha road to avoid being short-changed on the Abra Cahuacona, which comes a little later.

The pass is at 4200m. You’ll see that we reached it in 2 days from 1400m with no acclimatisation: this was bad planning, and certainly not the recommended approach to altitude. But we felt okay.

After the pass it is downhill all the way. When the road crosses a ridge there should be views towards the mountains, but they were hidden by cloud.

From the junction at Pasacancha a road heads to Palo Seco via Hda. Andaymayo without detouring through Sihuas. This will provide a slightly easier alternative which doesn’t take advantage of the facilities there.

But we carried straight on, descending faster down a hillside, arriving in Sihuas in the early evening.

Notes: 6hr 45' in the saddle. We stayed in the reasonably comfortable Hostal Milagritos and had our evening meal in a chifa.

Sat 4: Sihuas–Palo Seco (3800m) (41km, 1480m)

An easy 11km descent to a bridge at 2400m, then a vicious zigzagging climb. Sicsibamba, back at the altitude of Sihuas, has a shop where we stocked up on a couple of things we’d forgotten but no restaurant was open. More climbing, the road now trending high up a ridge.

farmhouse

Huillca

The roads and villages on this side have the characteristic feel of the Callejon de Conchucos, quiet and traditional. The adobe houses with gently pitched tiled rooves have a Tuscan feel.

When the pass was in view we rode through a small settlement – perhaps the village of Palo Seco – and carried on. We loaded up with water for fear that the pass should be dry, as indeed was the case. Just beyond the pass is a crossroads: a left turn heads down into the jungle while the right turn is our road.
 

ford

 

Safuna road

We followed it a little, hoping to find a pleasant camping spot, but had to make do with the hard surface of a quarry.

Notes: 5hr 55' in the saddle. We’d have had to ride quite a bit further to camp on grass.

Sun 5: Palo Seco–L. Safuna (4240m) (38km, 1040m)

The road carries almost no traffic, and is vestigial at times – a little rough at the beginning, but better later. At first it follows just under the ridge gaining height slowly; it crosses a false pass and then zigzags up to the true one (4330m) at 20km; descends steeply, crosses a ford, and joins a broad valley near Collota (3900m – just a couple of shacks), turning south to ascend another valley leading to Huillca. Alpaca graze here. The road crosses another ford and becomes very indistinct.

 

at Safuna

Safuna Alta

Huillca is three huts at the head of the valley. We used a footbridge to cross the stream: the road itself is probably served by a ford. There is some steep climbing up another valley which levels off a bit. A deadend track heads up to the right, and the main road descends to another (deepish) ford. From here it zigzags to the glacial lake of Safuna Baja. You have to drop down from the road to camp – a little tricky. The road attempts to climb higher but no traffic gets this far and vegetation is reclaiming the ground.

 

Safuna Baja

Pucahirca

Notes: 5hr 45' in the saddle, making the fourth successive hard day. We were feeling it.

Camping is on the edge of the lower lake, which is the only practicable source of water.

There is a concrete overflow outlet from the upper lake rather like on a domestic sink, reducing the pressure on the slender moraine walls. We think the road was constructed in the course of work on the outlet, and is now used only for occasional checks.

The Alpamayo trek passes through Huillca so the herders are accustomed to seeing gringos pass. They’re a little reserved: a few waved and smiled, but most ignored us. We were warned not to leave belongings outside the tent overnight. We were also warned about the dogs, but they were well under control.

Today was the final stage of the Peruvian presidential election. Didn’t we choose the right place to spend it?

Mon 6: Rest day

We walked to the upper lake, read books, and ate.

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