Leaving Lagos Llanganuco, I was excited to push ahead and really start heading towards our goal of Cajamarca, even if the route was a bit different than I had hoped. First though, we spent a day in the sleepy city of Caraz, which is surrounded by massive mountains in every direction. The day off was so I could recuperate from my cold, and a trip to the pharmacy as well as some decent food and a good amount of sleep meant that the next morning I was ready to get moving.
Heading north on the paved road out of town, it felt good to start spinning my legs. We wedged our way between mountains and began descending towards the Canyon del Pato, or Duck Canyon. This canyon lies between two mountain ranges, the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negro, narrowing as plummets down to around 2,000 feet in elevation. At points the ranges are within 15 meters of each other and a narrow, one lane road snakes along the cliffs edge, cutting through 35 plus hand carved rock tunnels along the way. Coming from the south and heading north, the road mostly descended and we had an easy, scenic ride coming from the lush, green mountains of the high Andes down into the rocky desert. The tunnels were pretty enjoyable, but very dark. We had our lights on flashing mode so any cars that might be coming through would see us, so the longer ones were a little disorienting, but they were easier to ride through than I anticipated.
On the other side of the canyon, we rolled through the small town of Huancavellica, home to a huge hydroelectric dam, then onto a few smaller towns, winding our way down through loose, gravel roads. We had planned to keep heading north, meaning a big climb back into the mountains, and we eventually came to a crossroads, one way heading down toward the coast, and the other way a long switchback up a few thousand feet back into the rolling hills. After our first day of climbing Phil and I came up with a compromise that we would take a bus back up into the mountains and continue forward from there, but after several hours of waiting, only two buses had come by and neither had room for two more. We were dirty and the sun was getting low, so we compromised once again and headed down towards the coast. We caught a bus that took us to Chimbote, and then grabbed a transfer to Trujillo. By midnight we found ourselves getting kicked out of a closing bus station in the third largest city in Peru, far away from the quiet mountains we had expected.
From what I had been told, Trujillo was a fairly dangerous city and I told Phil that we should just be cautious and keep riding at a steady pace. A quick ten minute ride however, put us into the old colonial center of the city. The cobblestone roads were pretty much abandoned and we rode through the large Plaza De Armas surrounded by churches and overlooking balconies attached to colorful buildings. The next morning we walked around, got some food at an all vegan restaurant and then headed north towards the city of Huanchaco. On the way we rode through Chan Chan, the worlds largest adobe city and the largest pre-Colombian city in South America at about 25 square kilometers. It’s been pretty worn down by the weather so most of it is really just mounds of clay, but a small section of it has been restored, and we spent half an hour or so wandering around, eating our chicha morada popsicles (made from purple corn juice). Then we hopped back on our bikes and spent some time exploring the dirt roads and trails that meander around most of the site before hitting the road again and rolling on toward Huanchaco.
Huanchaco is a small surf town and has a completely different vibe than Trujillo. We stayed at a place called Surf Hostel, and spent the evening walking the boardwalk, checking out some street art and eventually finding the vegetarian restaurant we’d been looking for. The next morning we woke early so we could catch our bus to Cajamarca, but as we were leaving I discovered a flat tire. I quickly threw a new tube in and we were off, albeit a bit behind schedule. After battling headwinds and arriving at the bus station we were informed that the bus had already left and the ticket we bought was for a different bus station, where the bus was currently en route. I was pretty sure at this point that we would miss our bus, but we pushed through the city traffic as fast as we could and ended up just catching it.
Another 10 hour bus ride and 9,000ft in elevation gain later and we found ourselves in the capital of the Cajamarca region. Of all the cities and towns we went to on this trip, Cajamarca was one of the most charming. The plaza is big and open, with many small shops and cafe’s, and a large park overlooking the whole city. This is also the place that I really started to notice just how many Volks Wagon Bugs there were in Peru. I started counting and taking some photos, and over the course of my three weeks in Peru I am confident that the number is in the triple digits. Apparently they were always made in South America, mainly in Brazil, and were produced as recently as 2003.
At this point in the trip I was starting to get pretty antsy. I had come to ride my bike, and so far we had taken quite a few buses. I was looking forward to leaving Cajamarca and doing a solid week of riding back to the coast, mixing paved with dirt roads and exploring some of the higher elevations. Phil was skeptical and was pretty clear in his desire to stick to paved roads, so after two nights in Cajamarca we rolled out of town on a cloudy morning uncertain of the route before us.