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Thurs: Pisac – Unnamed pass (76 km, 1300 m of ascent)

A cloudy day. We left Pisac in the direction of San Salvador. This is good flat road being improved further. From San Salvador onwards it has recently been surfaced. A little beyond Huambutio we passed a charming former monastery which is also the former El Dorado Inn.

We now joined the main road from Cusco to Puno and beyond. It’s well made with a good shoulder for cyclists but nothing we saw of it gave us any pleasure.

Urcos is a noisy and functional town with a few hostals and restaurants, but we didn’t think we’d ever want to spend a night there. We bought the materials for a packed lunch and ate them further along the road.

A whole tourgroup of Dutch cyclists passed us near Urcos. For all its ordinariness this is the most cycled road in Peru. They told us that they had climbed from Arequipa via the Colca canyon.

The IGN map shows two roads climbing across to the Ccatcca valley: a bizarrely squiggly one through Ccatcca itself and a more direct one through Loro Cunca Cucho. We’d expected to take the direct route, but the Ccatcca road is reached first and is signposted for Puerto Maldonado. We asked some traffic police who confirmed that it was the main road, and that the other one was earth rather than gravel.

So up we climbed. The Vilcanota valley looks more attractive from above, but the views were a little unchanging. We camped at about 3900m at 0219651 8487926.

Maps: From Pisac to San Salvador is on 27-s (Calca); the rest of the route on 28-s (Cuzco).

Fri: Unnamed pass – Tinqui (68 km, 1100 m of ascent)

Tracey at the pass

Ccatcca

A better day. It was a short and gentle climb to the pass at about 4100m. Earth tracks cut across the road, but they’re too steep to use uphill. There are superb views from the pass towards Ausangate whose head was always in cloud.

Now that we were descending we could take shortcuts. An earth track leaves the road to the right very soon after the summit and is a joy to ride. You rejoin the road at a crossroads where you turn right. There were several other short cuts we could have taken but we often feared incorrectly that they headed to other destinations.

We arrived at Ccatcca after about 2 hours and had a mid-morning meal in one of the restaurants. Shops there sell basic supplies.

There is a thread of villages along the valley for a few km, and then the road starts to climb gently and the villages become more spread out. There are no more shops. The climb through attractive countryside seems endless though it never gains much height. Eventually a pass is reached at about 3900m. The road surface is remarkably good for the descent, having recently been improved, and the ride is enjoyable. The narrow Mayo Tinco valley is especially pleasant.

We arrived at Ocongate 6 hours after setting out and had a late lunch there. There are shops for basic supplies (pasta, oats) and a petrol station further on. It’s a short ride to Tinqui.

Maps: the route enters 28-t (Ocongate) between Ccatcca and the pass.

Planned route to Pitumarca

Our plan had been take a day trip to the Abra Huallahualla and back – just for the sake of pass-bagging. Then we would head for Ausangate. The trekking route heads through Upis to the Pucacocha lakes and then down to R. Chillcamaya. It then ascends the valley and crosses back over another high pass. The whole circuit is occasionally used as a mountain bike route, although we understand that it entails a lot of pushing.

We were less ambitious. We planned to reach the lakes in a day and then cross the passes and drop down to Chillca on the second day. This would certainly be hard. From Chillca to Pitumarca looks easy though: a cattle track follows the stream all the way.

Such were our plans.

Sat: Tinqui – Campsite (15 km, 800 m of ascent)

It rained overnight and was dismal in the morning. We gave up the idea of climbing to the Abra Huallahualla in order to have more time.

We set off apprehensively towards Upis. Clouds were ominous, and we got no real view of Ausangate. The route is described on the accompanying map. We made good progress and were beyond Upis when we stopped for lunch. By the time we’d finished eating snow was falling and we decided to call it a day. We camped on a sandy beach.

That night our bikes were stolen. They’d been locked together outside the tent and presumably were carried away to a nearby house.

The Bog of Upis
after snow

Sun: Campsite – Tinqui

We reversed the previous day’s ride, carrying all our panniers with the help of straps. There was thunder and frequent blizzards. Between Upis and Tinqui three women coming the other way took a detour to avoid us.

Back in Cusco

Ocongate

We spent Monday in Tinqui and Ocongate denouncing the theft of our bikes to the police and anyone else who would listen. On Tuesday we travelled back to Cusco by truck and bus.

We filled our extra time by hiring bikes for day trips. See the attached map; the IGN sheet is 27-s (Calca) except for the approach from Chinchero which is 27-r (Urubamba).

L. Quellacocha

Tracey

Colin

The first ride took us to Lakes Qoricocha and Quellacocha and then, by an rather unobvious route, back to Cusco. As we passed L. Quellacocha we noted that a road continued down the valley beyond it and surmised that it must be a back route to Corao. For our second ride we decided to follow it.

This

Colin

time we tracked Ecomontana down to their lair in the Atalaya offices at 242 Arequipa. Ésteban was there, and he gave us a lot of help in recording the loss of our own bikes. He rented us two of the Ecomontana bikes and offered to come with us, though flatly denying that a road existed where we said it did.

Colin was ill that day, and I don’t think we quite gave the impression of being tough travellers. We ended up catching a bus to Chinchero before climbing the pass to L. Quellacocha. The road existed; we followed it; it turned into a footpath. Then it turned into nothing at all. Then we were beating our way down a grass gully. ¡Que horrible! spluttered Colin. Ésteban thanked us for the worst ride of his life.

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