Riding with Santa

Date: 8th August – 13th August 2012

Where: Trujillo – Chao – Hydro-electric plant – River camp – Yuramarca – Caraz

Distance: 4281 to 4440 miles

No the title does not refer to anything about Christmas, but a river…the Rio Santa flows from between the Cordillera Negra and Blanca (black and white) carving a huge canyon until it reaches the Pacific, a day South of Trujillo. This gives cyclists a chance to gradually ascend from sea level to more than 3000m. A popular route, we didn’t want to miss out, and were delighted when Darnee (Dave and Marnee) agreed to join us for the ride. We just can’t seem to leave each other!

Delight turned to ecstasy (well, nearly!) when Lucho also decided to join us with some of his friends for the first day. The ride out to Chao was made far more exciting than it would have otherwise been by the company we shared. After Geoff removed his rubbing mudguard near the outskirts of Trujillo the road stretched out for miles. Hills were made more interesting by at least one of us receiving a helping push from Lucho for some or all the hill! For the last few kms Sarah and Angela even swapped bikes (both struggled with the new balance require on each bike). Eventually, just short of Chao, Lucho and friends left us and we were on our own. We reached Chao fine and the next day easily found the turning onto the private road to shortcut us to the Rio Santa. This road was gentle dirt through a landscape not dissimilar to Mars. We were amazed halfway through the day to already see a hazy, snowy peak towering in the distance. That night we camped at a friendly hydro-electric plant, happy with our progress.

The team ready for the road: (L-R) Dave, Marnee, Us, Lucho, Angela (Lucho’s daughter), Jean-Baptiste (another cyclist)

Team Trujillo take over the highway

Sand dunes sporadically appeared on either side to brighten up an otherwise dull day of scenery

View from the latest Mars Rover Lander

Turns out Peru is quite big once you look at it…

At last a splash of colour arrives when we reach the Rio Santa

We spent the next two days continuing with the same easy dirt road, slowly elevating us to over 2000m at Yuracmarca. The scenery was fantastic with high mountains rearing up each sdie of the river and covered with mine entrances. At least two locals asked us if we were spies for a mining company. I wonder what would have happened if we answered, ‘yes’?! Oh yes, and Geoff got stung by a bee again! In Yuracmarca we were able to get a shower at last.

Enjoying a short stretch of tarmac while we become accustomed to the Rio Santa,our perpetual guide for the next week of cycling.

The sun beats hot in these parts. Geoff applying sun cream (honestly!)

The locals were only too happy to hand over their children to the ladies

The gradient of the road hardly ever indicated it was going uphill, yet still we climbed around 500m a day!

From time to time the soaring rock walls either side closed in on us right down to the road

Geoff’s bike looking even less stream-lined after suffering the first blow-out of the trip.

River camp: a slice of sandy heaven

Tunnel vision

Snowy goodness of the Cordillera Blanca kept on popping out to say hello

The ladies showing how to celebrate the discovery of a proper shower (nb note Sarah’s dirt tan)

Our new pet cuy (guinea pig) which unfortunately the owner wouldn’t sell to us

Onwards we went, down and then up through the Canon del Pato and its 35 tunnels, until dusty from top to bottom we rolled onto tarmac once more. The tarmac took us quickly further up the valley and soon snowy peaks from Cordillera Blanca were popping out from behind every hill. By now exhausted, we fastened our ipods and set off refreshed, the effect of music on tired limbs cannot be underestimated! Geoff’s favourite is any song by the British indie band James, whereas Sarah has settled on podcasts about English history to power herself up the final few hills. In Sucre we found a small shop and replenished ourselves with a quick sugar-hit of biscuits and coke. Sugar and music worked together so that we soon arrived at the small town of Caraz where we instantly decided to rest for a day, doing such menial tasks as buying a thermos and a new bowl for our cracked plastic Guatemalan one. After one month of traveling together, it is finally time to say goodbye to Dave and Marnee who have a bus booked from Lima to Santiago in a few days time (50hours, we don’t envy them!). It’s been fun!

The continuous down-hill to the start of the Canon del Pato

Entering the Canyon via a series of well-graded switchbacks

We didn’t remember much of the Canyon other than tunnel after tunnel

Almost at the end of the Canyon

Finally…tarmac

Finally…on our left, snowy peaks rose out of every hill. Nevado Huandoy

Tired, dirty and exhausted we rode up the final few switchbacks to Caraz in the evening light

Reaching Caraz’s main plaza we feasted on sweet breads whilst we took turns to scour the hotels for a room

The last supper with Dave and Marnee in our favourite Pollo Brasa restaurant

The koalas Darnee (top) and Mave (bottom) ensure the Australian spirit won’t be leaving us just yet

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