Monday 8 June 2009

Huancayo to Ayacucho

We stayed in a cheap hospedaje at 10 soles a night(A$4), basic with cold water, but run by a friendly and helpful family. Huancayo is a busy noisy city and quite dangerous. In 1985 I was chased down the street by a gang of thieves so we were on guard walking around town, particularly in the busy market area.

Over 1000kms and the bikes are rolling along without too many problems. No punctures so far.

However, one concern for me is the speed wobbles I´m getting from the front wheel on long descents on paved roads. It´s very disconcerting hurtling down the long switchbacks and the front rack and panniers get into this awful lateral vibration and the front forks shudder. I´m not carrying much weight up front and I can´t find the source- either the Rockshox forks, the Old Man Mountain racks or a design problem as my Velosmith Mark 1 didn´t have this fault. I now put more weight over the wheel (water) and this has stabilised it a bit. No problems on the dirt roads so we´ll be sticking with these in the next 10 days or so.

I bought 2 spare chains (Taiwanese)in Huancayo for the abuse on the rough dirt roads ahead.We will interchange these every 500kms or so.

Jude´s brake pads (Kool Stop) squeak as she bounces down the gravel descents. At least I can hear her coming and know she´s OK.. Just hope it´s not a human squeal.
My bottom bracket came loose on the ride to Huanuco so I had it tightened there. Managed to find the tools in a small bike shop there (mind you, I should have had them in my tool kit).

My Rohloff is going along sweetly but Jude´s is leaking a lot of oil and it coats the skewer in thick oil. I can´t find the leak as it usually comes from the threaded plug screw. Tim, any ideas?

Well, we left Huancayo at 7am under cool blue skies. It hasn´t rained at all in 5 weeks, not a drop. On a nice sealed road climbed to a small pass and then down to Izuchaca. Then a long hot climb towards Huancavelica. Late in the day, we found a nice hidden campsite at 3500m among a grove of eucalypts, with fresh water.

Next morning we came upon this colourful village, Cachillallca, with brightly painted houses.

Many of them had interesting motifs like these.....

At a bridge (Puente Palca), we were stopped by the police for an hour for a mountain bike race to pass. We had some funny conversations with the locals who were bemused and curious about our trip.

Some lads at a small village on the way. Everybody was excited by the annual bike race and couldn´t understand why were going in the opposite direction with loads of gear. ¿Que pasa?

The hillsides at this elevation (3700-4100m) are covered in wheat fields. A woman is gazing over this patchwork Brueghelian landscape.

Sheaves of wheat drying in the sun.

A farmer is threshing wheat by the old-fashioned method - hitting it with a long stick.

The rock here is a black limestone, a contorted karst landscape, which the locals call `El Bosque de las Piedras´, or Stone Forest.

The road went through many twists and turns and ups and downs until it peaked at 4170m. at an aptly named Sachapite (pronounced as `such a pity´). Then a long winding descent to a gorge and the city of Huancavelica at 3700m. This is the view from Sachapite down to the valley.

Huancavelica is set in a gorge surrounded by verdant mountains. We found a nice hotel and at 40 soles (or US$13) a night, we were really treating ourselves for 3 nights.
The churches in this town were of an interesting design, altars of silver, mined nearby, instead of the crass and heavy gold ones found elsewhere from colonial Peru.

We decided to take the little-used backroad to Ayacucho from Huancavelica, via Lircay and Julcamarca. It was a good decision as it had little traffic and some wonderful scenery and interesting indigenous culture. Everybody along the road greeted us with surprised but welcoming greetings.

Riding at elevations over 3700m, this is now llama country, and we had some comical moments with the cameloids.

Bad hair day

A Tibetan llama in Peru? So what, what are you looking at, gringo?

Llamas as beasts of burden carrying freshly-dug potatoes from the chakra.
A flashback to the sixties? The Llamas and the the Papas.

Follow the llama. Cycling along these high roads you encounter llamas on the way to work, all very apprehensive and nervous of the gringo on a bicycle.

Red seems the fashionable colour in these parts.

The road out of Huancavelica was steep and in bad shape. For 10kms lots of messy and muddy construction. Here Jude is dwarfed by a large truck carrying fill for the road. The drivers were really courteous to us and we could ride behind them as they packed the gravel down for us.

More peculiar geology and botany. Bumpy limestone and pimply cactus.

Close-up of the common pampa cactus - Lots of pricks and a bit of fluff.

Late afternoon views over the pampa. The man-made corralls merge into the natural landscape.

We were desperate for a campsite at dusk and luckily we found this trail leading over to a hidden valley and a lovely spot for the night. Not too hidden as it turned we had visitors, a family on their way home from the chakra who invited us to their home to stay, and a young shepherd called Walter who left us in tears as he walked home in the dark (still a mystery why).

Next morning from the camp, pushing my bike up the rocky path back to the road.

Climbed higher onto the pampa, through some ugly mines and slagheaps, and into this surreal world of black pinnacles. The dusty and stoney road winds its way down to Lircay. You can spot a bus in the distance.

Eucalypts imprisoned in a black forest of stone.

Lunch in Lircay, nothing of interest so we headed up the steep-walled and narrow canyon cloakec in thick vegetation. No villages, just clusters of stone and thatch dwellings. The locals use the ichu grass from the pampa to line the roofs.

Higher up towards the pass, rope from ichu grass is used as tie-downs.

A campesina taking her flock of sheep down to lower pastures. No wheeled traffic on this road but plenty of people on foot as they headed to their fields for planting and harvesting potatoes. They all lead their animals down with them - sheep, llamas and mules.

The road climbed from the canyon in a series of switchbacks and onto the pampa. Here Jude is riding high overlooking the escarpment. Our campsite was way below in the distance on a windy exposed knoll.

Just below the pass we found small herds of vicuñas. This group were in feverish excitement as 2 males were challenging over the harem. Lots of chasing, bucking and snorting.

Just below the pass, Jude is rounding the bend on the final stretch. This was her altitude record at 4530m. It was a beautiful tranquil spot.

On top of the pass looking north back to Lircay - a distance of 38 kms and an altitude gain of 1300m.

Then the descent down the other side, gentle gradient and OK road surface. We made it to Julcamarca just at dusk after a long day and found a great little hospedaje by the plaza (12 soles). A pleasant village to spend the night. Had a few beers that night to wash down the dust.

We had expected a cruisy ride the following day as the locals in Julcamarca told us the road went gently down a river all the way to Ayacucho. Well, it´s a lesson not to be comforted and fooled like this as it was an atrocious road. Climbed 200 metres above Julcamarca and then a rapid and very steep descent down a pulverised and rocky road. Droppped 900 metres in 17kms! Look out! Steep switchbacks ahead!

Then across a bridge and then an awful stretch of constant ups and downs on a dusty bony road in dry cactus country, passing eerily deserted villages. The only highlight was the impressive sky and unusual cloud formations.

...and the odd little cactus

Once we reached the main road we were hankering for the quiet and vast pampa once again. It was very hot, dry country down here at 2500m and the traffic became heavy again.

17 kms on a sealed road and an hour later we were in Ayacucho, Bolivar´s `City of Blood´. It was also the birthplace of the brutal Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) movement which unleashed extreme violence upon the surrounding countryside. The subsequent military reprisals were just as harsh and the land and population was bathed in bloody atrocities. I tried to travel to this city in 1985 but it was off limits because of the violence.

No bloody revoutionaries these days, but plenty of ice-cream whipping ladies in the plaza....

... bicycle fireworks.

...and revealing colonial art above a mansion´s doorway.

Erected in the 17th century and still standing proud.

We´ve spent 3 days here in this delightful city and now it´s time to hit the road (figuratively speaking of course, no more broken bones please).
We´ll leave tomorrow morning (June 16) and head out on an unknown road to Vilcashuaman, a famous Incan ruin and then hopefully join the main Abancay road beyond Rio Pampas. We may have to raft across, as were not sure if there is a bridge. Should be fun! Next post from Cuzco in 10-12 days.

We met some young Canadian cyclists today who are also heading to Cuzco, but by the main route. Their website is
It seems there are quite a few touring cylists riding through the Andes as it´s the dry season. We expect to meet more as we approach Cuzco and La Paz. Good to catch up with fellow cyclists and trade stories from the road.
Judy met a German couple on the road to Junin heading north a few weeks back, but I was too absorbed in the Stones `Moonlight Mile´ on my MP3 to notice them resting by the roadside and shouting to me...

"The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind
Just another mad mad day on the road
But I´m just about a moonlight mile down the road"

See you all down the road......

2 comments: said...

Hey Pedro, I seem to get here a day late each time....Hope you're both travelling well, certainly looks like it. Thinking of you both! Lots of love Josephina

Andi said...

Hey dudes,
how are you both? fit as, of course. The perenial travellers, eh! This is what the country side will look like if we allow Gunns pulp mill to go ahead. It is dramatic and Spectacular though. keep well, Andi(trackie)