Leaving Cajamarca, we decided to take a short cut. By short cut, I definitely mean dirt road that leads to a random field, which turns into a footpath following a river, and then eventually comes out behind a parking lot off of the road we really wanted to be on. Once back on track we were surprised to find separated bike lanes all the way out of the city into the next town of Banos del Inca. Yes, the name of the town is “Bathrooms of the Inca.” It gets it’s names from the local hot springs famously used for, you guessed it, bathing by the Incas. We made a quick stop at a local bike shop, where I purchased a much needed new water bottle after leaving mine on the bus, and Phil had to replace a bottle cage which had broken.
By the time we were hitting the road again, the clouds had taken over and light rain had steadied enough that we pulled out all of our rain gear. By the time we were back in the saddle it was absolutely pouring. This is what we got for lazily opting for a breakfast of soy meat and fried plantains instead of an early start. Worth it. We had expected this though, and feeling confident in our gear we pushed our way eastward toward the city of San Marco. The ride was enjoyable, despite the rain, as we got our first real glimpse of riding in the central highlands. The pavement was a much easier ride and we breezed our way up and over several climbs before barreling down into a valley and resting for the evening in the tiny town of San Marco.
The next morning we awoke to blue skies and a big climb out of the valley. The roads were much the same as the day before, some light traffic, a fair amount of construction, but overall nice views. These wouldn’t be my top choice for roads to re-ride, but we were putting some miles behind us and that felt pretty good. There were some pretty fun descents as well. One such descent caught me offguard when I hit a series of potholes at about 30mph that sent my telephone flying out of my handlebar bag and tumbling down the broken pavement as pieces went flying in every direction. After piecing it back together though, it seemed to function just as it did before. We made it to Cajabamba by early afternoon and decided to hang out for the rest of the day, and aim for Huamachuco in the morning.
The ride from Cajabamba to Huamachuco was a lot more enjoyable. The road narrowed and the yellow lines disappeared. We moved through farmland, eucalyptus forest, and followed a road that haphazardly drifted from one rolling mountain to the next. The hills were green, traffic was minimal, and the final descent brought us to the shores of Laguna Sausacocha before the road made a steep incline and we once again pushed our way up into Huamachuco.
Huamachuco was a nice little city that doesn’t seem to see much tourist traffic. The central Plaza de Armas was big and all of the bushes were cut into the shapes of different animals. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around, getting hot chocolate and eating chinese food. The next day we were supposed to ride to Quiruvilca, but looking at the roads seemed like it might be a less enjoyable ride, so I wanted to go around to Usquil via dirt roads. I had brought the idea up to Phil again and he basically said he’d rather ride paved roads, but also didn’t outright oppose the idea, so we decided to look for a taxi to take us to Quiruvilca and head north from there.
At first we had no luck finding anyone that would take us with our bikes, some saying their cars wouldn’t make the climb up to 13,500 feet. At one point we were directed down the road to a particular intersection where a few people were sitting around waiting. There was a younger guy wearing headphones, just leaning against a bridge with a backpack at his feet, and a guy sitting in a chair with his arms stretched out behind his head. We asked about a taxi to Quiruvilca and the guy shook his head yes, saying we shouldn’t have trouble finding one a little bit further down. We walked around but couldn’t find anyone and eventually came back to the guy sitting in the chair and asked him where the driver was for the empty taxi that was parked next to him. He informed us that he was in fact the taxi driver. So we asked if he would drive us to Quiruvilca and he agreed. We put one bike on the roof, one in the back of the car, and the kid leaning against the bridge walked over and hopped in with us. I guess they had been waiting to go to Quiruvilca the whole time?
On our way out of town we picked up two more people and spent a cramped couple of hours listening to the taxi’s engine stress as it worked it’s way up into the higher elevation. We passed by several mines before turning off the main road and dropping very steeply into the main part of town. I looked down at my map and realized the road we needed was back up at the main road. This was one of the roads I had specifically wanted to ride. It looked pretty rough, at points just two tire tracks in a barren, clouded landscape that was pretty different than anything we had ridden yet. This road was exactly the kind of riding I came to Peru for. We talked to the taxi driver and convinced him to drop us off back up near the main road. I pulled out my gps and when we neared the road I wanted to ride I asked him to stop. He looked at the road. He looked at us. Then he stopped a truck passing by and spoke with the driver for a second. He turned to us and told us that he knew a different road he thought we should take. Phil asked him if the other road was better, and he said yes, much better.
I knew Phil was already on the fence about riding these roads, so I didn’t argue too much, and it looked like maybe the road he was taking us to would link up with the original road anyway. He dropped us off a couple miles further down at a small dirt road that quickly peeled it’s way around the mountain in front of us. It didn’t look half bad! We put our bikes together and took off. Although I still think the original route would have been better, as it stayed at the higher altitudes longer, the ride was one of the best I’ve ever done. As blue skies disappeared behind us, the landscape stretched until it met with the dark grey clouds, hanging ominously overhead. We dropped, gravity pushing us through thick mud, hub deep rivers and chunky softball sized rocks downwards into a huge valley. Although it was rough and probably better navigated on a 29+ or fat bike, we both agreed we had made the right choice.
We followed a river for a while before ascending back into rural farm land, hanging to the edge of cliffs as we climbed for the next few hours. This was I think the most scenic of our rides, every single corner we came around was a stunning view of the giant valley floor and the massive Andes for as far as we could see. Many times we could see the road we were on twisting out in a seemingly illogical path towards no particular direction at all. Although it’s not what we had planned, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.
Towards the end of the day we rolled into Usquil, a seemingly abandoned little mountain village. We knocked on a few doors before finally finding an open hostel, and paid about $3.50 each for a bed. After getting settled we went back out in search of food and found the town covered in fog and lit eerily in yellow. We found a nice little restaurant to serve us fried plantains and rice along with tea and bread before calling it a night. At this point we only had two more days left, another day of dirt roads to Otuzco and then what we were hoping would be a huge descent back down to Trujillo at sea level.