We left Ayacucho at 6am for the long slow climb to Abra Tocto. From to 2700 to over 4200m it took most of the day to reach the pass. Not a bad gradient but plenty of dust from passing traffic. Another personal best from Jude 1500m climb on a dirt road in one day! Not bad for a pint-sized 55 year lady! She often gets shouts of encouragement from the local women in the campo, with cries of "Vaya mamacita" echoing over the sierra ....or "Go, little old lady".
At Abra Tocto we left the main road for a detour to Vilcashuaman, the site of a major Incan city high on the pampa. It was well worth it although it turned out to be more than a short detour, but a real high-blown adventure of Tin-Tin proportions-
of a bridge too far, wild river crossings and roads to nowhere. More of that later...
On the way I visited a small ceremonial Incan site called Intihuatana. Jude waited with the bikes at the turn-off while I walked up the hill to find some intricate stone-walling, a sundial and water sluices. This is El Baño del Inca, or the Inca´s bath.
A night in Vischongo at a great little hospedaje called 29 de Julio, then at the sparrow´s fart we headed to Vilcashuaman over a picturesque road climbing onto the pampa. The hills were alive with wheat harvesting and threshing is done here with horses yoked and stomping on the wheat in tight circles urged on by shouts and whips from the men.
Vilcashuaman is a small friendly town with remants of the temple of the sun and moon facing the plaza. A church has been built on top of the Incan structure and people just sit around and chat on the ancient stone walls.
The ushnu at sunset, behind the plaza, a ceremonial building with the Inca´s seat sitting high on a flat-topped pyramid. Spectacular views of the valleys and mountains beyond.
Jude in la silla del Inca, or Inca´s seat.
The portal and stairway to the ushnu
We didn´t want to return the way we had come so we looked for a more direct and interesting route south. We tried to garner some information about ther road ahead. Some people said there was a road to Rio Pampas with a bridge under construction, beside an old Incan bridge Incachaka , while others said the workers had left without finishing the bridge. We decided to try our luck and left for Saurama early the next day (6am).
At a small village en route Jude was mobbed by schoolchildren curious about the strange gringos on bicycles.
At Saurama village the road ran through the football field.
In Saurama we were told by the shopkeeper that it was impossible to cross the river as there was no bridge and the water was too high. They told us to come back in August. Then I was introduced to the alcade, or town mayor. It was 11 am and he was so drunk he could barely lift his head from the table in the cantina, let alone welcome me to his illustrious domain. We left the locals staggering on their feet and shaking their heads at the mad foreigners on their bicycles.
Well, we ventured along blindly and then came upon Rio Pampas 1500m below us. It looked very daunting, very steep drop and no bridge in sight.
The road dropped dramatically off the pampa at 3600m and down into the chasm with the river far below us at 2100m. At 2800m we came across a road crew and the foreman, Roger (pronounced `Roya´ in Spanish) invited us to stay at their camp. He was very defeatist about our intentions to cross the river with bicycles and warned us about the depth and fast current.
Needless to say, the next morning we continued on our mad quest. As it was a day off, Roger kindly accompanied us. In fact I think he was worried we would drown in the torrent, so he walked down to the river, helping us out with our bikes at the messy landslides.
Inca Chaka, the remains of an Inca bridge, spanning the Rio Pampas. A very rare sight as there are only 2 or 3 left in existence. But we were about 500 years too late and this ancient bridge was not going to help us get across the river.
Roger came prepared with thick rope to escort us across. We both went into the water, Roger with a long pole and myself with my bike over my shoulder. It seemed possible at first but when we hit the deeper water the current almost knocked us off our feet. It was a struggle to stay upright in the fast water and rolling stones and I feared losing the bike, so we abandoned the effort after two vain attempts. Jude was on the bank biting her nails and in the excitement forgot to take photos.
Demoralised and sweating in the hot sun we marched our bikes back up to the camp. Riding was impossible because of the loose gravel and rocks, landslides and steep gradient (800m in 12 kms). It took us over 4 hours to get back to the road camp. Stung by nasty zancudos or sandflies and dehydrated, we limped into camp where Roger had prepared quenching tea and some food for us. Gracias amigo!
Here is the inside of our lodgings at Incachaka camp. The final night was a memorable evening, chatting with Roger about Peru and stargazing high above the river and pondering the bridge too far......
Next morning another climb back to the pampa, to Saurama (thankfully no welcoming drunks, today) and finally to Vilcashuaman. Hot showers and beer at a comfortable hostal, La Fortaleza.
A series of switchbacks up the steep hillside from the road camp to Saurama.
Morning views across the Rio Pampas, looking towards Cocharcas and Uranmarca. It looked so near but it would take us another four days to get to the other side.
A day´s rest in Vilcashuaman at the Hostal La Fortaleza (20 soles with private bath & hot water). We inquired about an alternative road down to Rio Pampas without returning to Abra Tocto and avoiding a long climb. Roger and others said thwe road to Concepcion was good and then a rough new road had been cut to the river at Airibamba. Others said it wasn´t finished. We went with the optimists again.
The road from Vilcashuaman to Concepcion. Almost no traffic, good surface and great scenery - riding high above the Rio Pampas. Small villages with unusual inhabitants. The men were out in the wheatfields cutting the harvest and they all sported beards, an oddity in this part of the world. They all looked like little Stu Grahams (from Neika, Tasmania) and the rustic scene was like an Andean version of an Amish community.
In Concepcion there was a misconception. We were greeted with startled looks from everyone and when we told them of our plans to ride to Rio Pampas they thought we were mad. The road to Rio Pampas wasn´t complete - 3-4 kms short of Airibamba. Oh well that´s not too far to push a bike...so off we went down the road to nowhere.
Here is Jude negotiating the rough road. Very steep drops into the quebrada and terrible road surface - white-knuckle riding.
Road construction = environmental destruction
The Road to Nowhere. This was the end of the road for us. An abrupt stop just at the head of two ugly gashes in the steep terrain, So we packed our heavy gear into our 2 backpacks and ferried our bikes and gear around the gullies and up the rocky slope.
Jude pushing bike and carrying gear in backpack down the rocky scrubby hillside. It was hard to hold onto bikes and carry 30 kgs of gear on the back. Lots of slipping and sliding on the steep rocky mule track. In fact Jude went for an awful slide down a steep bank but luckily managed to keep hold of her bike long enough for me to rescue it.
It was very hot down at this elevation (2400m) and lots of thorny scrub to avoid. Not much fun but we eventually found a path heading down to the small village of Airibamba. 2 hrs later and just before dark we arrived at a lovely campsite - a soft green grassy meadow beside a canal with water, 1 km from the village. It was about 5kms from the gully with a descent of 350m.
In the morning we passed through Airibamba and they told us of the easy river crossing. Only waist deep and no current. I was keen as mustrad as it would save us 20kms of riding to the bridge and beyond. Jude was dead against and we had our first argument of the trip. Of course Tuffy the Egg´s stubborness won the day and we headed down the smooth undulating track down to the bridge.
From the other side of the river you can see the road zigzagging and where it comes to an abrupt stop at hte gully. Click on the photo to enlarge.
A hot day´s riding followed, climbing from 1900 to 2600m. An early halt to an eventful day as we found a nice hospedaje in Chincheros. Next day on the road at first light (6am), with a quick climb to Uripa (3200m) then a slow winding climb to Abra Saracocha 4250m.
View from our campsite below Abra Saracocha at 3900m
Clemens and Miriam, German cyclists we met below Saracocha pass. We also met a French couple (Boris and Marie) the previous day, below Chincheros.
We broke camp early again and bounced down the bumpy dusty road to Andahualyas.
All along the road there were remnants of the 10 days of roadblocks- boulders and logs across the road. It´s an old custom in the sierra when the locals have a greivance against the authorities they satge a paro or blockade. This time it was the government´s failed promise to pave the road from Abancay to Andahuaylas. No traffic had been able to pass for the 10 day strike, although they let foreign cyclists cross. There have been similar stories from cyclists coming from La Paz and Puno. Sometimes the protesters get nasty (eg, in Sicuani,as Bob the Australian cyclist told us recently, smashing bottles and throwing stones). There´s another large strike on July 8 which will ground all transport.
Found a clean friendly hospedaje in Andahualyas - `Cruz del Sur´ on Ave. Andhualyas.