Onwards and Upwards…

.. at last. I was able to leave Chivay after just over 2 weeks of convalescence so to speak. Still not 100% and with a persistent chesty cough I decided I was going anyway. I did however take it easy on the first day, just cruising gently back up the valley of the Rio Colca, back to Sibayo at just under 4000m and 36km away. As I cruised slowly up the valley I met an old gent on a chinese-made boneshaker riding in the opposite direction. We stopped to say hello. He asked what I was doing and where I was going.. so I told him. He sucked his teeth, rubbed his fingers together and stuck a finger in my chest, knife-like, and twisted it. The implication of course being that I would either be robbed or killed if I went there. It is the same the whole world over; ride through one valley and the people, lovely as they are, will tell you that the next valley is full of bad people that will kill and rob you… get to the next valley however, also full of lovely people, and they will express shock that you’ve cycled through the first valley without being robbed or killed, because you know, that valley is full of bad people.

This crew kept me happy in the evenings in Chivay while I was recovering. Really good fun, 3 super folk from Argentina working their way around South America, while the chap on the left is a native of Puno. He had some interesting stories to tell of his days working as a ‘freelance’ gold miner down in the Amazon basin.. hard work. Oddly, and rather amusingly, his favourite show is Britain’s Got Talent on Netflix…

It is great to be on the road again. I have had to replan my journey somewhat, as I write I’m finding that I’m still not 100% fit, the infection left me quite run down and I’m not recovering properly from hard days on the bike, so instead of a linear journey along remote, committing trails heading north I decided I needed to keep my options open a little better with choices for some more rest days and exits from the mountains if I find I need to. There will still be some deliciously remote, committing sections of a few days at a time but not for a week or two to give me a little more recovery time. I’m now engaged in something of a loop, taking in some areas I wouldn’t otherwise have visited together with a little more opportunity for the street photography I enjoy so much. The harder sections, visiting areas I badly want to see will come later in the journey, and eventually return me to Arequipa – a city that represents no hardship in revisiting. It also means I have to come back next year for a couple more months and finish the Peru Divide proper :-)

As I write I’m in the town of Espinar, also known as Yauri. I didn’t originally plan to come via here but I’m glad I did.. today is Peru’s Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day) and the town has been in full on party/parade mode. It’s been super. The next post will be dedicated to that however so all that remains is for me  to tell the story of the last week or so in pictures as usual. There are rather a lot of them so I do apologise if this post is a bit slow to load… you might want to go and get a mug of tea or something.

Happily the weather was fabulous for my departure from Chivay, it had been filthy wet, bit snowy and very cold for the few days prior. Here a view of the upper reaches of Colca Canyon.
Tuti looking rather lovelier in the sun than it did on that cold, cloudy day I rolled past in the opposite direction 2 weeks ago
This is the rather lovely village of Sibayo, as opposed to the grubby strip of highway I stopped at when I had to part ways with Cass to head to Chivay and medical help.
I stopped at a little comedor for some lunch and asked in the kitchen about a place to stay. One woman overheard me from outside and said “I have a room, come and stay with me and my family”. So I did… and that is how I came to spend a rather lovely evening eating alpaca stew with Benita, her husband Caesar, and their 10 year old son Ciamillo. Really terrific family with a simple but rather lovely home. I had a little room with a comfy mattress and a huge pile of blankets. Essential!
Sibayo sits right by the Rio Colca at about 3900m. It is a lovely spot. With time to spare I spent some of my afternoon in contemplative mood.. right here by the river.
Bridge over the Rio Colca
From Sibayo it is a dirt road climb straight up to 4700m. Benita sent me packing with a hearty breakfast of quinoa porridge, eggs, bread and coffee.
Fine views of the Rio Colca
It is a terrific road, still at lower elevations here.
As height is gained the views begin to open up.
Super riding, quite steep at times
at about 4500m here
not quite at the pass, fabulous riding.
The road eventually plateaued with a series of false summits, some cruel, before the final summit.
I love alpaca expressions…
This is the seemingly deserted pueblito of Condorcuyo. I sat on a rock in the plaza and ate some bread and avocado by way of lunch…
Another tiny pueblito, Pusa. The people in these places are overwhelmingly friendly and always want to talk. Foreign faces are few and far between in these parts. Time spent engaging with the people really adds to the richness of a journey.. it would not be the same without, especially travelling alone.
My destination for the day was the remote outpost of Caylloma. The last 10kms were cruel, across a floodplain of the Apurimac river, slightly uphill, into a raging headwind with empty legs. I could see the tin roofs of Caylloma shining in the sun through a distant gap in the mountains… seemingly coming no closer as I ground my way along the in-really-rather-shitty-condition track. The views however were fabulous….
Caylloma is a tiny little outpost sitting at about 4300m that can feel quite desolate, especially in the afternoons when dust devils rule the streets and the harsh, high altitude sun bleaches the colour from the landscape.
But.. it has a wonderfully colourful church, and in the softer light of early morning and late afternoon rather comes to life. As usual it is a friendly spot to spend some time. The old church tower visible to the right was trashed by an earthquake.. of which there are many around here. Many establishments have little signs indicating ‘safe zones’.
In the end I had to stay 3 days… aforementioned problems with recovery and chest… With no electricity for a significant proportion of my time there I did little else than people watch, enjoy a few conversations… and sleep.
Days spent in a place are never a waste of time however… plenty of street photo opportunity. Here collecting plastic bottles for recycling.
Caylloma. The main business of the area is mining.. I suspect this new housing is for families of guys working the mines.
From Caylloma, rather than the somewhat committing 5 days journey to Cotohuasi, given need for some more recovery, I thought it wise to head instead for Espinar just 2 days away. There is a reasonably direct road but I decided to take a more interesting route…
The track climbs pretty much straight from town up to a high pass at 5000m.
It is a fabulously switch-backed climb.. very steep in places. Hard work.
Stupendous views enroute
As one ascends the sparse vegetation disappears, leaving just a beautifully stark landscape..
..with terrific and varied mineral staining in the rocks.
The summit of the pass is a deliciously desolate and lonely place. Bitterly cold with snow flurries in the gale-force winds.
The road plateaus for a while… the riding is sublime.
Descending to roughly 4500m there are just a couple of tiny pueblitos in the valley…
and as always the people are ace. This chap filled my bottles for me.
No matter how remote and tiny the village, school children are always immaculately turned out.
Now the interesting part… I was able to hook into a remote mule track that took me back up to around 4700m. This was a b**tard hard climb, steep, soft, rocky.. and legs already tired. The little suspension bridge at the start was rather pretty I thought… for concrete…
The climb rapidly became super interesting….
The afternoon weather clouded in with frequent snow flurries. It suited the isolation.
Climbing higher, kind of bleak… stunningly remote.. and very boggy in places. I was happy.
I reached the high point at about 4pm. with darkness just an hour or so away I figured I needed to get down a couple of hundred meters quickly and find somewhere sheltered to camp. The Surly ECR excels in such terrain, rocky, sloppy and slippery it is reassuringly surefooted when its rider is somewhat shagged from a long day in the saddle.
with little choice available my camp spot was functional rather than breathtaking. It served a purpose however and had some shelter from the wind. Snow flurries swirled around me as I pitched my tent.
Not having seen anyone for hours I was spotted by a shepherd making his way down a hillside opposite. He came over to say hello which was rather nice in such an empty place.
At sunset the cloud began to break up and I was treated to a fabulous patch of dying sunshine on a distant hillside.
It was a frigid night….
Morning dawned bright and clear… happily I had some early sun exposure to thaw things out a little.
As I was cooking breakfast these two chaps showed up. Prospecting, they said, for gold. Camped somewhere in the mountains nearby apparently. They were somewhat bemused by the appearance of a gringo on a bicycle in such a spot…
I thoroughly enjoyed my morning in the sun. Still on the same mule track, it was filthy wet and muddy in places…. both self and bike absolutely lagged by the time I finally made it down to the valley bottom to join the dirt road to Espinar.
more great riding…
… and a mucky bike.
another tiny pueblito… two old ladies pointed me to a tap where I could fill my bottles and wash off the worst of the mud :-)
It is a rather wonderful feeling to descend from the cold, bleak highlands to the more intimate, and warmer, countryside of rural Peru a few hundred meters lower.
Stunning road…
I thoroughly enjoyed this mellow stretch, gently descending in warm sunshine along the Apurimac river valley.
Through a number of small pueblitos. I was in Espinar by mid-afternoon. I felt bad when my filthy bike dumped a few bucket loads of dried mud all over the immaculate floor of the hospedaje I’m staying at. I’ll make it worse tomorrow too when I tackle the cleaning job….

12 thoughts on “Onwards and Upwards…

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