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Sat: Yucay – Ajcha Alta (35 km, 1150 m of ascent)

We made an early start and cruised along the valley road. At Calca (17 km) we bought petrol for our stove and food from grocers’ shops and the market. The food – bread and cheese – was for lunch, since we rightly doubted the existence of restaurants on the climb.

We

View up
the valley

weren’t sure how we’d find the climb, but we made a fair pace, gaining 400m per hour. We’d timed the start so that the day’s buses and trucks from Calca all passed us soon after we’d left, kicking up dust. The surface is good and the gradient even. (A gas company has recently improved it as far as the Abra Huilcapuncu and then on to the Ampares road.) There are some excellent views looking up to the mountains.

We were so far ahead of ourselves that Colin was able to insist on stopping at the baños at Machacancha where Tracey confessed to having left her swimming costume in England to save weight. The baths are pleasant, though there’s only so long one can rationally spend in them.

Lunch was scoffed at Totora. The road now meanders around a broadening of the valley formed by the confluence of 2 rivers. Following Omar’s account we’d planned to camp at around 3800 m, so it was time to start looking. The terrain doesn’t lend itself to concealment, but we found a place we thought would do at about 01871 85357.

As we were pitching the tent a smiling local, Simeon Mamare, strolled past, telling us that it wasn’t safe: there were robbers and dogs. He suggested we follow him to his house, and rather uncertainly we did so. He invited us inside, but we preferred the option of camping nearby (0185238 8534954).

Getting there was no picnic.

Simeon’s
children

After we’d pushed alongside him for more than a km he pointed to his village, Ajcha Alta, down a formidable slope. We made an uncomfortable descent.

Then we struggled with our stove, an MSR XG-K: a perfectly good stove, no doubt, in the hands of those who know how to use it. We’d gained experience of it by lighting it on our garden table in Cheltenham, and having proved the point switched it off. Trying again at 4000m in the back yard of an Inca dwelling, the owner inquisitively looking on, we had nothing like so much success.

We made things harder for ourselves by having read a formula which implied that at 4000 m we would need to boil water for 25 mins to make it safe. Only at the end of the holiday did we trim this to a few minutes without coming to harm.

Simeon took pity us and supplied us with a few potatoes from his family’s dinner.

Map: The route joins 27-s (Calca) soon after leaving Yucay.

Sun: Ajcha Alta – Baños de Lares (40 km, 600 m)

Breakfast was no easier than dinner the previous night. We paid our hosts a small tip, took photographs, and set off. Simeon asked if we had any friends who would pass by. Evidently he is happy to have the business. His wife and children carried our panniers as we pushed our bikes to the road and Simeon to our astonishment brought one of his own from his house.

On

The climb to Abra Huilcapuncu

the road he accompanied us as far as the junction, where we turned left to the Abra Huilcapuncu (4320 m). It’s a superb ride with clear views of snowy peaks. The road generally follows the true left bank of the streams while an old Inca route follows the right bank. We have heard of people cycling down it, but then some people will go to any lengths to find a lousy road surface.

It’s a breakneck 25 km from the pass to Lares.

The descent

The road is mostly smooth though it may turn to mud in rain. Lares is a small town with restaurants, shops and hostals. We stopped there for lunch and then rode a few km to the baños.

The baths are pleasant and include a campsite amongst the facilities. There is running water everywhere except in the lavatories.

Map: the descent from the pass is unsurveyed, and we didn’t buy maps of the Yanatile valley.

Mon: Baños de Lares – Quebrada Honda (79 km, 700 m)

The road down
the Lares valley

An interesting road down a beautiful valley. Sometimes the road coasts high above steep valley sides and then snakes down to the bottom. The surface isn’t bad, but it isn’t as good as yesterday.

22

Confluence

km from the baños the Ampares road joins at a spectacular confluence. There are many fords, some too deep to ride, and generally without bridges or stepping stones. They are announced as baden for the amusement of German visitors.

At 47 km we reached the village of Colca which has restaurants, a hostal, and a shop. Here we had lunch.

The road on is in much the same style. We arrived at Quebrada Honda, the district capital, in the early afternoon and decided to stay the night in the rather basic Hotel Selva. The altitude is about 1300 m, so it is hot. Organised cycling tours stop around here, usually camping in the football pitches of nearby villages (which needs permission from the police). It may well be possible to camp lower down.

Each of the last 5 days has allowed us to finish cycling soon after lunch. But we realise that we are behind schedule and have 100 km to cover tomorrow. We console ourselves with the thought that the valleys are now quite flat.

We get no sleep that night as a local family celebrate a name day in the traditional way: by playing trashy music through giant loudspeakers.

Tues: Quebrada Honda – Quillabamba (100 km, 1600 m)
(plus optional restaurant detour: 4 km, 100 m)

Red flower
tree

This was the killer day. The valleys may be flat but the roads aren’t. They climb high above the floor and plummet down again at the roadmaker’s whim. The road surface and the views are still good, the heat intense. Look out for the spectacular ‘red flower trees’ which no doubt have a more formal name.

Villages are a little sparse. Our first stop was Quellouno, 47 km from Quebrada Honda, which we reached before 10 am. This was our low point at about 800 m. There is a basic shop and a hostal.

Here we crossed the R. Yanatile and the road surface became bad, and was to remain so for the rest of the day. After a few km we looked down on the confluence with the R. Urubamba, and soon after reached the Kiteni junction where there are a few restaurants (and mineral water for sale).

We pass cocoa farms and papaya orchards in harvest.

A little after noon we reach the first instalment of Echarate, a serial village, 68 km from Quebrada Honda. We are told in a shop that we’ve missed the first restaurant but there’s one further on. We buy some mineral water and are given some bananas.

The second instalment is at 75 km: a string of shops serving passing traffic. The road to Quillabamba goes straight on, but a left turn crosses the stream at a bridge, and we are told that there is a restaurant 5 mins beyond it.

We cross the bridge and climb steeply on a sandy road. After 5 minutes we ask after the restaurant and are told that it is 5 minutes further. The gradient is slightly less vicious, and after a second 5 minutes we again ask, and get the same answer: another 5 minutes. Tracey is upset, which is unfair on the lady she asked who was alone in telling the truth.

This third instalment of Echararte has 2 restaurants. It was 30° in the shade inside them. A schoolboy talked to us in good English, telling us of some nearby waterfalls and giving us some more bananas.

Back to the bridge and onwards along a desparately bad road. Tracey asks:–
       “Are you looking at the scenery at all?”
       “No, I’m watching my odometer.”
       “That must be like watching paint dry.”

Eventually we reach Quillabamba at 4 pm. The final climb into the town wins a prize for awfulness. The Hostal Quillabamba, which has a swimming pool, is an excellent place to stay, and deserves to be arrived at earlier.

Tracey’s notebook reads: ‘We are heroes’.

There are plenty of shops in Quillabamba and a very good market with excellent fruit and veg.

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