Huancavelica to Ayacucho

Apparently it’s possible to go all the way from Huancavelica to Ayacucho on asphalt. My bike however is not really suited to travel on asphalt and I do very much prefer the dirt, it’s more interesting albeit harder going… especially when it’s tipping it down with rain and the dirt turns into thick, gloopy mud….

A long climb on a rough, stony track back up to around 4200m.

I lost track of how many days I was in Huancavelica hoping for the bronchitis to improve, in the end however with no improvement apparent I figured the place was probably too high (3700m / 12,100ft) and too cold to be much of a place for recovery. I suspected the 200km ride would probably suck somewhat with a bad cough and limited breathing capacity… and I was right. Hopefully however it will prove worth the effort for a few days in the warmth and relatively oxygen rich air of Ayacucho, all the way down here at 2700m / 9000ft.

The mountain roads are often precipitous. There are many poignant reminders of lives lost.

The first day was the toughest. Things weren’t too bad to begin with, a not-too-bad chesty cough and mild fatigue (plus some stomach cramps.. I must have eaten something a bit off), but as always in the highlands the relentless climbing took its toll. I was pretty well broken and hurting all over by the time I grovelled up the final climb into Paucara, 60km, and 1400m of climbing later with a cough harsh enough to turn lungs inside out and pulled muscles in my stomach and back. As always however when travelling this way there were many highlights to lift the spirits.

These parts are very rarely visited so the villagers enroute are overwhelming friendly. A chap stopped me on the track to Yauli to ask what I was doing, where I was going.. all the usual stuff. Pondering at my solitude in silence for a moment he then says “Necesitas un amiga con grandes tetas…” (you need a friend with big tits). We laughed. He’s right of course.

This is the village of Ambato. A chap with a pickaxe over his shoulder stopped me on the road to welcome me to Peru and tell me, helpfully, that there was another 8km of steep climbing to go. Sometimes I prefer not to know… up here on these surfaces 8km can take 2 hours, and a good daily average is 40-50km.

The small town of Paucara proved to be an unremarkable place, apparently deserted on my arrival. I soon discovered why. Peru were playing Uruguay for a place in the semi-finals of the Copa de America (soccer); every establishment with a telly was packed. My timing could not have been better, moments after my arrival Peru scored their winning goal in a penalty shootout. The town erupted. I could not get any sense out of anyone for a while in my quest for food and a room; I’d hoped not to have to camp because of my chest. Judging by the remarks the women at the market found my 3/4 length baggy shorts highly amusing.

The village of Pucapampa sits high on the pampa at just a bit more than 4000m.
I had food with me of course but sometimes it’s just nicer to take advantage of local vendors. The girl ran away when I pulled my camera out but for 1 sol (about 25p) I enjoyed a little bag of hot potatoes for lunch from this stall in Pucapampa.
It sounds dull but honestly the potatoes can be very flavourful in these parts.
Pucapampa
The weather turned in the early afternoon as a storm front brought heavy rain…
I’d descended into a distinctly pastoral valley where the roads were soft dust… which very quickly turned into thick, red mud with the arrival of the rain.
It was getting kind of tedious; in the next village, Chucllaccasa I think, I took shelter under the eaves of a house along with a few locals. We sat and watched the rain pouring off the tin roofs. Super friendly as usual the local folk seemed to have some sort of nationality blindspot. Mostly they seem to assume I’m Spanish. One guy asked me, I said “no, soy ingles”. .. “ah ingles” he says. One of his friends arrives, asks him where I’m from .. “oh he’s german” he says…. Funny.
After the rain… The reason the highlands can feel so hard is the utter absence of any flat stretches. It’s all either up or down, and with the descents so relatively short-lived each day just feels like one long uphill crawl, which is fine but gets a bit hurty when you’re not feeling 100%.
Although not on a par with the stretch to Huancavelica, the scenery, along with the cheery villagers, does compensate for the effort.
From Paucara another steep climb to Huancapite on a track of loose stones buried in incredibly fine powder…
…followed by an epic descent of 25km into the heat of Mantaro river valley all the way down at 2400m / 7900ft…
It’s a big landscape. Part way down the road was temporarily closed… some work going on in the village of Andabamba a little further down. The girl manning the roadblock said it would be about 30 minutes before I could continue on so I pulled out a packet of biscuits to share and we sat and looked at the mountains while waiting for a chap to call on the radio and say they were done. There was no other traffic.
The final few km of the descent are wiggly indeed. It’s not a fast descent, the surface is very loose and in spots the exposure is huge.
It was a dusty descent…
Temperatures at the bottom were distinctly sweaty… somewhere in the 30’s. The track met the river at Puebla Esmeralda, another typically friendly little place. I stopped at a shop for munchies and something other than water to drink. The lady dragged out a box for me to sit on in the shade for a while.
Unusually she also insisted I take her photo…
She also wanted a picture with her sack. Lovely folk.
From Puebla Esmeralda I was on asphalt… very scenic asphalt however so I put some air in my tyres and made the most of it..
Middle of nowhere… I met a guy selling icecreams from a box on the back of his motorcycle. It was sooo good. He was visiting all the villages in the area I think as we kept leapfrogging each other, with a smile and wave, all the way to Huanta, 95km from Paucara.
I wanted a pic but he buggered off before I could get my camera out, so I took a pic of my bike instead. All the bags I made are holding up really well. Happily.
Descending further into the valley the landscape opened out, and dried out, into proper parched desert sort of scenery. In common with empty desert highways around the world the road featured a complement of dead dogs, swollen and festering in the heat, legs stuck out rigid like matchsticks in a potato. Oh, and biting flies.. my legs are perforated. Such roads are always the same, doesn’t matter where in the world you are….
Huanta, typically, was at the top of a steep climb.. 20-25%, just the job for tired legs after a long, hot day in the saddle. Halfway up however I was ‘appropriated’ by these chaps, and watered with helpings of ice cold beer. A most excellent way to be welcomed to a new town.
Near Huanta

From Huanta I didn’t mess around and just took the highway for the remaining 50km to Ayacucho. Feeling somewhat buggered I just wanted the path of least resistance. I plugged into some good tunes and settled down for a morning of tedium. The traffic was light, and even though there were a few heavy trucks, drivers in general are well behaved towards cyclists. It was much less stressful than sharing the road with a bunch of impatient haters during the tourist season at home.

took a wrong turn somewhere perhaps…

Ayacucho feels overwhelmingly busy after the quiet towns and villages of the highlands; it seems friendly however, a chap stopped me to shake my hand and welcome me to the place as I rolled into the plaza at lunchtime in search of sustenance. I’m going to stay here for a few days and see what happens with my chest; while uncomfortable the ride down here doesn’t seem to have made it worse which is great. The food here is good (meaning I can find stuff that isn’t based around heaps of dry rice) and the climate is nice. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, it all depends… last time recovery took a couple of months. I have a number of options although I am pondering the wisdom of taking the high track to Cotohuasi… the one I had to bail out of two years ago when all this trouble with my chest started and I momentarily blacked out in a coughing fit. It’s a long, remote, very high stretch of more than 400km with five passes above 5000m. I’d love to go that way but if my chest doesn’t recover fully it might not be such a bright idea… I may bus to Cusco and head into Bolivia that way. I hadn’t planned to visit Cusco yet again but it’s an OK place despite the overwhelming degree of tourism. There are a couple of more radical options.. if I decide I shouldn’t hit any more high stuff then it’s much, much  cheaper to fly back to Madrid than it is to fly down into Chile and Argentina.. so I could go there and slowly cycle home via the mountains of northern Spain and a ferry ride… I also have an open invitation to visit my friends in Montreal while I’m on this side of the Atlantic.. albeit a long way south.

It’s not as if I haven’t explored the Andes reasonably thoroughly over the years… In the meantime I expect there’ll be some street photography… and I really, really must wash my socks.

Oh yeah, here’s the GPS track for my route down from Huancavelica. I understand there are easier alternatives..

6 thoughts on “Huancavelica to Ayacucho

  • As ever awesome pictures and tales from the road, a delight to read. Reminds me of some journeys past. Should be in Cornwall touring in two weeks, not quite the same as Peru.

  • Worrying about your chest! A couple of years ago I had a really bad chest infection and left it too long before going to the doctor. I was prescribed steroids and antibiotics, which took effect fairly swiftly BUT an X-Ray (at St Michael’s Hospital) revealed that the bottom of my lungs had collapsed!
    Since then initially I needed inhalers, and was diagnosed with COPD, but was eventually prescribed a powder inhaler which really works and makes me forget I have a permanent lung problem. See a specialist when you get home.

    • oh gosh that sounds a bit rough. I did have an x-ray last year and the lungs seemed OK, Ive just become really very prone to persistent chest infections I think since pneumonia of 2 years ago. Such is life. I do have a powder inhaler with me, I’ve been using it for a year now but doesn’t seem to help much.

  • So, we might see you in Spain? Surely not what you had in mind, but it’d be nice to see you nevertheless. Oh, and among the great pics I have not seen any mujer de grandes tetas… Too bad

    • hehe, not what I had in mind indeed. Chest is pretty bad today, I probably need to stay here a week before I can make a good decision. As for the grandes tetas, ha, I was wondering if anyone would spot that obvious omission…. :-)

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