Peru Part Deux

We're not even halfway through Peru. The scale of this place is, at times, unreasonable. Reading the signs along the road, the country claims to house the highest/longest/deepest features on the planet. The claims are not always accurate, but whether something is the third or thirteenth highest in the world, it's still a sight to behold. Peru has offered mythical-sized versions of mountain passes, switchback counts, waves, tunnels, waterfalls and even parties in pueblitos. The sheer size of this country is maxed and to traverse it on tiny bicycle has been humbling. Progress is slow, but it's all felt well worth the time and effort. Today we'll leave Huaraz, the trekking hub for the Cordillera Blanca, juiced up on a couple day's rest, excitement for the road ahead, and the fuzzy-headed remnants of a few bon voyage Pisco Sours shared with our friend Kate, a fellow cyclist working her way south on a homemade bamboo bicycle. 

 Nearly to the top of our third and final pass on a 5-day loop through Huascaran National Park's Cordillera Blanca. Easily one of the most anticipated sections of our trip. 

Nearly to the top of our third and final pass on a 5-day loop through Huascaran National Park's Cordillera Blanca. Easily one of the most anticipated sections of our trip. 

 Laguna 69 at first light. A campout and subsequently early start ensured we'd beat the busloads of tourists. The alarm sounded in the tent at 4:45AM after a restless night's sleep in a field. A crazy cow had kept us up most of the night with irrational behavior—grazing a tight circle around our tent, tearing into the garbage, chomping Aidan's helmet and knocking our bikes over countless times. At one point, Aidan lept from his sleeping bag and said, "No, no, no, not okay." The cow had pressed his snout into the triangular plastic window of our tent, fogging it up as he peeked inside. Each event involved chasing the cow off for a hundred yards or so, making convincing "heaw" noises hoping this time she would stay away. 4:45 came far too soon and we thought pretty seriously about "just another hour" inside our cozy sleeping bags. One glimpse outside at the shock-clear starry sky was all the motivation we needed to shake the ice from the tent, toss on a pot of coffee and start the hike.

Laguna 69 at first light. A campout and subsequently early start ensured we'd beat the busloads of tourists. The alarm sounded in the tent at 4:45AM after a restless night's sleep in a field. A crazy cow had kept us up most of the night with irrational behavior—grazing a tight circle around our tent, tearing into the garbage, chomping Aidan's helmet and knocking our bikes over countless times. At one point, Aidan lept from his sleeping bag and said, "No, no, no, not okay." The cow had pressed his snout into the triangular plastic window of our tent, fogging it up as he peeked inside. Each event involved chasing the cow off for a hundred yards or so, making convincing "heaw" noises hoping this time she would stay away. 4:45 came far too soon and we thought pretty seriously about "just another hour" inside our cozy sleeping bags. One glimpse outside at the shock-clear starry sky was all the motivation we needed to shake the ice from the tent, toss on a pot of coffee and start the hike.

 Andean Lupin produces an edible bean (chocho) that is claimed to be the next Andean superfood. It's been a good run, quinoa. Big mounds of beans line village street stalls, typically dressed up with onion, lime, cilantro, tomato, salt and something spicy. A perfect pannier snack.

Andean Lupin produces an edible bean (chocho) that is claimed to be the next Andean superfood. It's been a good run, quinoa. Big mounds of beans line village street stalls, typically dressed up with onion, lime, cilantro, tomato, salt and something spicy. A perfect pannier snack.

 Color-coordinated. 

Color-coordinated. 

 Sitting at roughly 15,000 feet, the Laguna 69 hike is surprisingly hard. Being one of the most popular tours booked from Huaraz, we had written it off as a serious challenge. The degrees of discomfort on the faces of the (unacclimatized) tourists making their way up confirmed that we were not alone in our surprise. 

Sitting at roughly 15,000 feet, the Laguna 69 hike is surprisingly hard. Being one of the most popular tours booked from Huaraz, we had written it off as a serious challenge. The degrees of discomfort on the faces of the (unacclimatized) tourists making their way up confirmed that we were not alone in our surprise. 

 Get in where you fit in.  

Get in where you fit in.  

 How insufferable are couples that dress alike?  

How insufferable are couples that dress alike?  

 We rode all but ten miles of the famed Huascaran Circuit. The ten miles we spent in the back of the truck, sharing chocolate bars and conversation, allowed us to skip a really nasty section of the road, littered with large rocks, countless holes and aggressive horseflies. The nice folks who dropped us here said that the state of the road was criminal and that the government officials responsible should be in jail. 

We rode all but ten miles of the famed Huascaran Circuit. The ten miles we spent in the back of the truck, sharing chocolate bars and conversation, allowed us to skip a really nasty section of the road, littered with large rocks, countless holes and aggressive horseflies. The nice folks who dropped us here said that the state of the road was criminal and that the government officials responsible should be in jail. 

 From the ridge where the pass cuts through you can see the valley floor directly below—maybe two miles away. All told, it takes 8+ miles of bumpy, dusty road wiggling to get down. Best to stay on the inside edge while peak gawking.  

From the ridge where the pass cuts through you can see the valley floor directly below—maybe two miles away. All told, it takes 8+ miles of bumpy, dusty road wiggling to get down. Best to stay on the inside edge while peak gawking.  

 Aidan snaking his way down.

Aidan snaking his way down.

 Pan de agua—bread made without butter, similar to a fluffy pizza crust—is an Andean snack staple. 1 sol ($.30) will get you a bagful. Lightweight and versatile, it's the energy/carb vehicle we've been searching for since the death of tortillas in southern Guatemala. Our very own banana bread pictured above. Recipe: one piece of pan torn in half with a banana shoved inside. The possibilities are endless. 

Pan de agua—bread made without butter, similar to a fluffy pizza crust—is an Andean snack staple. 1 sol ($.30) will get you a bagful. Lightweight and versatile, it's the energy/carb vehicle we've been searching for since the death of tortillas in southern Guatemala. Our very own banana bread pictured above. Recipe: one piece of pan torn in half with a banana shoved inside. The possibilities are endless. 

 Huascaran twin peaks—el Norte on the right—is the highest point in Peru. Worthy distraction on our laguna slog.

Huascaran twin peaks—el Norte on the right—is the highest point in Peru. Worthy distraction on our laguna slog.

 Huascaran Norte, on the right, has a tragic history. In 1970 during a 7.9 earthquake, the front portion of the mountain broke off and buried the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca in a wave of ice, rock and mud in less than five minutes, killing some 20,000 people. A beautiful, but ominous backdrop for those towns. 

Huascaran Norte, on the right, has a tragic history. In 1970 during a 7.9 earthquake, the front portion of the mountain broke off and buried the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca in a wave of ice, rock and mud in less than five minutes, killing some 20,000 people. A beautiful, but ominous backdrop for those towns. 

 Frosty color pops atop Punta Olimpica.  

Frosty color pops atop Punta Olimpica.  

 Falls like snow, soaks like rain

Falls like snow, soaks like rain

 The snow finally started to stick to the road a couple hundred feet from the top of the pass. We pushed the bikes through most of it to avoid any serious slip outs and were fortunate not to share any switchback corners with the 2-wheel drive tractionless Toyota Corollas that make up the majority of Peru's taxi fleet.  

The snow finally started to stick to the road a couple hundred feet from the top of the pass. We pushed the bikes through most of it to avoid any serious slip outs and were fortunate not to share any switchback corners with the 2-wheel drive tractionless Toyota Corollas that make up the majority of Peru's taxi fleet.  

 There's an unspoken agreement to pull the cameras out during the not-so-fun moments as well. Moody photos result. 

There's an unspoken agreement to pull the cameras out during the not-so-fun moments as well. Moody photos result. 

 Moody photo. 

Moody photo. 

 The original pass is the low point cleft in the far ridge, but is currently (largely) unused following the construction of the world's highest tunnel—15,525 feet. Many people cycling this loop go up and over, but the whiteout conditions and fresh snow sent us through the tunnel instead—one of the most surreal experiences of the trip. The tunnel is almost a mile long, downhill, and dripping with all kinds of down-the-back-of-the-neck surprise waterfalls. It is pitch black except for the blinding "light at the end of the tunnel." What nobody tells you about that "uplifting" phrase is that if the light at the end of tunnel is too bright, you can't see anything in between. Our spelunking style headlamps proved all but useless and we just rumbled through the dark waterfalls like moths to a flame until we eventually popped out the other side. 

The original pass is the low point cleft in the far ridge, but is currently (largely) unused following the construction of the world's highest tunnel—15,525 feet. Many people cycling this loop go up and over, but the whiteout conditions and fresh snow sent us through the tunnel instead—one of the most surreal experiences of the trip. The tunnel is almost a mile long, downhill, and dripping with all kinds of down-the-back-of-the-neck surprise waterfalls. It is pitch black except for the blinding "light at the end of the tunnel." What nobody tells you about that "uplifting" phrase is that if the light at the end of tunnel is too bright, you can't see anything in between. Our spelunking style headlamps proved all but useless and we just rumbled through the dark waterfalls like moths to a flame until we eventually popped out the other side. 

 The dryer side of the Punta Olimpica pass. We paused for a couple photos and numb-limbed jumping jacks.  

The dryer side of the Punta Olimpica pass. We paused for a couple photos and numb-limbed jumping jacks.  

 Heating up water for a night bottle—a sleeping bag essential at altitude—according to Tara.

Heating up water for a night bottle—a sleeping bag essential at altitude—according to Tara.

 All this + instant noodles + spices = delicious soup

All this + instant noodles + spices = delicious soup

 Pampa, a near perfect camping surface once kicked clear of rock and cow patty. 

Pampa, a near perfect camping surface once kicked clear of rock and cow patty. 

 High drama palette on the descent from Punta Olimpica to Chacas. After nearly 24 hours of rain and snow, we were pleasantly surprised by a great hostel in town and—thanks to a heavy Italian influence—the best pizza of the trip.

High drama palette on the descent from Punta Olimpica to Chacas. After nearly 24 hours of rain and snow, we were pleasantly surprised by a great hostel in town and—thanks to a heavy Italian influence—the best pizza of the trip.

 An absurd afternoon. 

An absurd afternoon. 

 No guardrail, single lane, and 15 miles into a 30 mile descent and someone decides they need to stick a sign in the dirt as an FYI. Peru is the best.  

No guardrail, single lane, and 15 miles into a 30 mile descent and someone decides they need to stick a sign in the dirt as an FYI. Peru is the best.  

 It was gusting 40+ miles an hour on our descent. The wind from the ocean coming up the canyon into the mountains. The disappointment of reaching the end of one of the longest downhills of the trip, made better by a soul-lifting tailwind ride up the river. 

It was gusting 40+ miles an hour on our descent. The wind from the ocean coming up the canyon into the mountains. The disappointment of reaching the end of one of the longest downhills of the trip, made better by a soul-lifting tailwind ride up the river. 

 From the internet: "  Espostoa lanata   (= Woolish Espostoa) is a species of cacti of the genus Espostoa. Its common names are : Peruvian old man cactus, cotton ball cactus, snowball cactus, snowball old man." So, yeah Old Peruvian Man Ball Cactus. 

From the internet: "Espostoa lanata (= Woolish Espostoa) is a species of cacti of the genus Espostoa. Its common names are : Peruvian old man cactus, cotton ball cactus, snowball cactus, snowball old man." So, yeah Old Peruvian Man Ball Cactus. 

 We don't often ride this late in the day. Because, the reality of magic hour is that sad, totally dark freezing hour is mere minutes away. 

We don't often ride this late in the day. Because, the reality of magic hour is that sad, totally dark freezing hour is mere minutes away. 

 Ricardo of Llapo has six daughters, fifteen grandchildren, is 80 years old and gifted us two avocados. We rule at asking questions with numbers as the answers.   

Ricardo of Llapo has six daughters, fifteen grandchildren, is 80 years old and gifted us two avocados. We rule at asking questions with numbers as the answers.   

 Every small town, or pueblito, has its welcoming party of plaza dwellers. We usually make friendly, brief conversation and then ask for the nearest food joint.

Every small town, or pueblito, has its welcoming party of plaza dwellers. We usually make friendly, brief conversation and then ask for the nearest food joint.

 Connecting Huamachuco to Angasmarca by way of some dirt and endless farmland. In these surrounding hills there are numerous unexcavated ruins with signs that, when roughly translated say: "There is important archealogical stuff here, we just haven't gotten around to digging it up and making a big deal of it yet."

Connecting Huamachuco to Angasmarca by way of some dirt and endless farmland. In these surrounding hills there are numerous unexcavated ruins with signs that, when roughly translated say: "There is important archealogical stuff here, we just haven't gotten around to digging it up and making a big deal of it yet."

 Some campsites seem more discreet when set up in the dark. Part of the fun of wild camping is the hiding out, which on this morning meant ducking for trucks. 

Some campsites seem more discreet when set up in the dark. Part of the fun of wild camping is the hiding out, which on this morning meant ducking for trucks. 

 Really though, Peru's camping potential is endless. 

Really though, Peru's camping potential is endless. 

 We made fast friends with a French couple sharing campsites, meals and stretching techniques over a couple days in Northern Peru. 

We made fast friends with a French couple sharing campsites, meals and stretching techniques over a couple days in Northern Peru. 

 Timeout amidst a 14-hour stint of nonstop Spanish conversation over the sound of brass bands, braying bulls and constant fireworks (bombas). A nice gentleman gifted Tara this kerchief so she could blend in better with the caballeros. 

Timeout amidst a 14-hour stint of nonstop Spanish conversation over the sound of brass bands, braying bulls and constant fireworks (bombas). A nice gentleman gifted Tara this kerchief so she could blend in better with the caballeros. 

 Fateful timing to hit the final night of Pallasca's annual blowout celebration honoring San Juan Bautista Eight brass bands rotated nonstop. Fireworks exploded from 10AM to 6AM. Barely controlled lassoed  bulls charged crowds of people. Beer sprayed. Bottles broke. A night to remember, but probably not repeat. 

Fateful timing to hit the final night of Pallasca's annual blowout celebration honoring San Juan Bautista Eight brass bands rotated nonstop. Fireworks exploded from 10AM to 6AM. Barely controlled lassoed  bulls charged crowds of people. Beer sprayed. Bottles broke. A night to remember, but probably not repeat. 

 The guys played from sunrise to sunrise, with at least two bands playing different songs, simultaneously, at all times.

The guys played from sunrise to sunrise, with at least two bands playing different songs, simultaneously, at all times.

 T-bone and the trombones. 

T-bone and the trombones. 

 And when the conversation dwindles, pose for photos. We posed for a lot of photos. 

And when the conversation dwindles, pose for photos. We posed for a lot of photos. 

 From mountain green to desert brown, all in a big day descending. 

From mountain green to desert brown, all in a big day descending. 

 Peruvians love to tell you about the diversity of landscape and climate in their country. And it's true. On this day we left green mountains for sand stone hills and colorful, mineral rich streams. 

Peruvians love to tell you about the diversity of landscape and climate in their country. And it's true. On this day we left green mountains for sand stone hills and colorful, mineral rich streams. 

 With lines extending far beyond the photo frame, the sheer magnitude of Peruvian landscapes is mind blowing. 

With lines extending far beyond the photo frame, the sheer magnitude of Peruvian landscapes is mind blowing. 

 Blown minding.  

Blown minding.  

 Sister cactus to the man ball.  

Sister cactus to the man ball.  

 The Canon del Pato's 35 one-lane tunnels are exhilarating on a bicycle. 

The Canon del Pato's 35 one-lane tunnels are exhilarating on a bicycle. 

 The stretched out version of the switchback.  

The stretched out version of the switchback.  

 Burros help with treks in the Cordillera Blanca. Their indifference to schlepping serious weight around is an inspiration.  

Burros help with treks in the Cordillera Blanca. Their indifference to schlepping serious weight around is an inspiration.  

 The French—Aymeric and Valentine.

The French—Aymeric and Valentine.

 A trip milestone and nice moment atop the pass where we caught our first glimpse of the Cordillera Blanca.  XO, A+T

A trip milestone and nice moment atop the pass where we caught our first glimpse of the Cordillera Blanca.  XO, A+T