Pallasca to Caraz via Cañon del Pato could be one of the top ten, day rides in Peru, there are a few options to get to Caraz but of course, we had to take the Captain’s road and he built an absolute beauty.
Dropping out of Pallasca is an overload to the senses, views forever and in each of these there is a track or road that we’ll be riding down, mostly dirt but occasionally a little old broken pavement
Out here you are nothing but a tiny speck on the landscape and one second too long admiring the view and you will get a free flying lesson
From the top, the river was a thin blue line that takes you an hour or more to reach
In such a desolate landscape that looks like its bereft of life, we find a vineyard flourishing alongside the river, no one around, just grapes doing there thing
A few miles later we pass thru a very depressing village with just a few people living there, the thought of why and how anyone would even consider living, settling or staying here is beyond us, we ride on and find an abandoned mine. By the looks of it, non-functioning for a very long time, but obviously the little village was built for the workers, the mine closed but some of the workers decided to stay…the mind boggles
…but the view from the mine…
We make the left turn onto the main road most people use and head along the road towards Cañon del Pato, not a duck in sight! There are a few former tunnels that have collapsed and been cleaned away, and the occasional bridge before the 40 or so tunnels begin
As we stopped for a break a Bently comes racing past us, then a 40’s chevy!
We catch a glimpse of a plate on the Chevy that they are on the Grand Prix of South America, a few more cars go by and the drivers are waving and having a great time.
We find out later its not really a race at all, just a bunch of very rich people who shipped over their old rally cars to Buenos Aires and are driving to Cartagena, Colombia. It set up by a company called Bespoke Rallies who obviously do this and have very wealthy clients…sadly the employees who are also traveling along are not as cordial as the paying guests.
A simple rule is in place on Cañon del Pato sound your horn as you enter a tunnel to let others know who is coming from the opposite direction there is someone in the tunnel, and you wait for them to exit before you enter, its simple the tunnels are mostly just big enough for one vehicle wide.
Nope, not the organizers, we are in a tunnel, horn blaring, LED flood lights on (7200 lumens of them) and they race in at speed, I have to skid to a stop and go in a ditch because of these jokers who think Peru is a one-way race track…the novelty of the vintage cars wore off real quick.
Some sections have things that make you stop and go…!
This rock formation just did not make sense…geology majors?
…and can you imagine this was part of your trip home?
The Cañon continues…
We end the day in Caraz, find a really nice hotel on the square with a secure courtyard to park the bikes inside and decide to hang out for a few days, its 40 soles/ $11.84…we grab food in the market and I have fun letting Egle walk first and watching all the ladies expressions when they see her hair, they all love it, sadly it was so dark in there its difficult to get good crisp shots of most of them
…but here goes, all these are shot from the hip as to not be too obvious and upset the ladies, hence the slight fuzziness because of not pinpointing a subject, just wanted you to see the characters, the expressions, and the hats!
and whats the last stall in the market selling…hats of course!
****More about the Captain
The central square of Pallasca is deserted and silent in the glaring white sun of the high Andes.
An old colonial church, built in 1625 by the Spanish monks, is crumbling, rotting away, paint peeling, walls slowly cracking and disintegrating, ghost houses surrounding the plaza abandoned and boarded up, save for a few, and the little crooked streets of cobblestone and dirt and clay run off into the labyrinth of Pallasca carving their way through a maze of decrepit, hollow houses covered in red tiles, broken, overgrown with moss, some now used for pig enclosures, pitiful laundry drying in the icy cold rays of the highland sun as the wind sifts the dust and the debris like a blind, vagrant wraith from the days of the past.
On the corner of the plaza, under a looming shadow of a Spanish villa, an old Quechua woman sits selling Andean herbs and bananas that had long gone black, her face half-covered by a wide-brimmed hat, squinting, dozing, she has been dreaming open-eyed, not noticing the dust and the sand that the wind had kicked up in her face, as if she herself had become a part of Pallasca, a stone in the cobbled street or an old wooden banister of a decaying gallery or a heavy silver ornament on one of the windows, long gone now, long forgotten.
Walking the crumbling, narrow streets smelling of moist earth, pig shit and sunsets, we abruptly come to a halt, this is where Pallasca ends, suddenly, in a pile of rock and stone, next to a rambling clay brick house, covered in soot, crippled and misshapen, the roof almost touching the ground now, and out in the yard overgrown with wines and coarse highland grasses, on a bench made from grey stone, or is it a tombstone – a strange lopsided obelisk – there is an old couple sitting. She is knitting a woolen mantilla, humming to herself softly, her fingers wrinkled, gnarled from arthritis. He is looking out at the menacing jagged peaks of the Andes, painted crimson and scarlet by the setting sun, his head trembling a little. They smile, and nod, and wish us good evening, good evening.
We stay with the Captain of Pallasca, in his white palatial nineteenth century house right next to the old church. There’s a small boy running about in the courtyard and there are voices of women and a strong aroma of soup emanating from one of the inner chambers of the mansion, and somebody is listening to the radio in the labyrinth of rooms upstairs, and a heavyset, black- haired girl is picking ripe red tomatoes in the dark green jungle of the inner garden.
The courtyard cobblestones are now broken and worn, the Spanish galleries rotting before our eyes, collapsing, supported by wooden poles and scraps of metal, the stairs creaking and decaying, the rambling, crumbling mansion bound together by nothing but the iron will of the Captain. Our room has a high ceiling, there are two beds at the opposite walls, mattresses moldered, covered in threadbare blankets, and in the middle of the room there is a small wooden cabinet piled high with photographs and medals. There he is, the Captain: young and lean and handsome, standing tall, solemn, shaking the hand of the President, saluting the General.
Once a Spanish gold mining hub, Pallasca had since become a ghost town, had fallen through the cracks, its young leaving for Chimbote and Trujillo as soon as they could, its old slowly, dutifully dying. Merely six hundred people remain, quiet, weathered, smiling in disbelief, sitting around on curbs and broken benches, pious, staring at their own hands.
Five decades ago, Pallasca had been cut off from the world, with one dusty narrow mule trail going up the mountain, and the good citizens of Pallasca rode donkeys and mules and walked and had never seen an automobile. Then the Captain arrived. Stationed in Pallasca, the Captain became hellbent on changing its destiny.
“Millions of soles had been allocated to build a road, a real road to Pallasca, and millions had been stolen by thieving politicians. All five Peruvian presidents, crooks and scroungers, all of them! They should have their hands chopped off or be put to hard work. God damn! Well, I would have none of it. Pallasca needed a road to connect it to the Pacific and the Amazon, money or not. And I was going to build it”, – the Captain tells us, leaning on the gallery banister, his voice booming. He is old now, so old, but still strong as an ox, his back straight and his hands calloused, he speaks in perfect Castellano, his face is marked but his dark eyes glimmer as he talks.
“We had no machinery and no technology, but we had vision and discipline. People have no vision and no discipline these days! God damn! I said to the Pallascans, each of you will build ten meters of the road, and it doesn’t matter who you are: a merchant, a peasant or a teacher, or a child, even. Every living soul in Pallasca had to build their ten meters. Women would bring us food out on the face of the mountain. I had not slept in months, months, I tell you – but the road was built”, – the Captain speaks hotly now, and behind him, there is an old black and white photograph, framed: the Captain, laughing with pride, carried on the shoulders of a cheering mob, waving the Peruvian flag, the first automobile entering Pallasca just behind him. June, 1973.
“Everything ages, everything crumbles and perishes… Pallasca is dying now, but I won’t move. Carajo! I will hold this place together with my bare hands, even if the Pallascans are leaving, I tell you, vision and discipline! I wrote to the Australian embassy and asked them to give me a pair of koalas: there are forests around Pallasca, immense woods of eucalyptus trees, the koalas would breed and the tourists would come, those ridiculous little bears would attract travelers, just like the Pandas in Guayaquil, you see, and Pallasca would flourish once again. We have built the road, god damn it! We have built the road”, – the Captain says, as he wishes us a good night and vanishes into the darkness of the second floor, into his chambers and into the glories of the past.
Deadly silence engulfs Pallasca as the freezing cold Andean night descends all around it. The Captain’s palace, leaning heavily on the old church, sighs and whispers in the darkness, and in the crooked cobblestone streets, during the witching hour, steps of Spanish ghosts fall soundlessly into the velveteen blackness of the night.
“…the only thing that gave us security on earth was the certainty that he was there, invulnerable to plague and hurricane . . . invulnerable to time. For he had not survived everything because of his inconceivable courage or his infinite prudence but because he was the only one among us who knew the real size of our destiny” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Autumn of the Patriarch
After hanging with the ladies in the market we rode a little stopped a little, nothing special but made sure we were on the west side of Huascarán National Park so we could do a two-day loop, across the park on the #106 and back on the #107, this took us 4 days to complete…
The pavement ends at Yungay and five minutes later you are at the National Park gate, pay a nominal amount and the gate opens and immediately you are in another world
The road leads along the extremely blue Laguna de Llanganuco fed by the Nevado Huascarán Sur glacier above it
Still carrying those tires and still don’t need them, but feel like a real adventure rider with an overloaded bike though
All the Zen dudes got here before us and made their mark like they do with Cairns, just wonder if half the people that do this actually know why they are doing it…or just copying
The track had become a small stream flowing into the lake and knowing we were headed up to and over 4000mm the thought of wet feet wasn’t good
The sun disappeared behind the clouds and where we were headed did not look too inviting at all
Looking back down the valley willing the blue sky to come with us
Looking up it was difficult to discern between the clouds, the snow and the glaciers, but regardless up we went
Even at this high altitude life blooms as we shiver
you know when you are on one of those tracks and you take a photo and the next corner will be as good or better, but you still take it anyway…yeah, that!
***click photo for a big version
The pass some riders call one of the toughest day rides in Peru, well not sure about that, but the views up here are nothing short of spectacular
We head down the other side still on dirt but the two sides don’t have too much of a resemblance after we leave the last glacier.
We set our sights on Yanama to try and find some lunch, not knowing there were two places with the same name seperated by a valley. As we pull into the first one I get a flat on the front, guessing a pinch flat from the rocky trail, this section of the town has just a few dirt streets and dirt brick buildings. The flat happens right next to the village school and what happens next is nothing short of inspiring, amazing and a little hard work…
Huascarán National Park has to be one of the best areas for riding and viewing the amazing Andes, so much so you kinda forget to check your bike as much as you should…tire pressures!
My front was low and coming down the east side of the 106 in some heavy sharp rocks I got a pinch flat on the front, in a tiny little hamlet called Yanama. I’m guessing not too much ever happens here, and most riders just ride on thru…nothing to see, well they didn’t stop and meet the kids, did they?
Within minutes of stopping I was surrounded, unknowingly stopping by a school, it appeared the teacher had told the kids to go check what the alien was doing.
The kids were great, and just being kids, asking loads of goofy questions but very politely and interested in the GPS mainly to see exactly where they were on the planet and where this alien had ridden in from…they were amazed.
Once the flat was fixed food was needed, the kids said the next little Puebla had food and if I needed Facebook its in the main square, not internet…but Facebook.
The teacher shouted one word from the doorway of the schoolroom and with no complaining the kids said goodbye, the boys waved or wanted to shake hands, some of the girls wanted a hug, in a, ‘please come back and see us again soon way’, and then they ran and disappeared through the doorway laughing and giggling as they went
The kids were right there was food, not great food, but the Puebla was as sleepy as theirs, and also called Yanama, but in this one, the aliens were not as important as knitting, this lady literally never looked up, she was so engrossed…knit one, pearl one!
A dirt road out of town revealed a great valley with stunning views down to the river below, eventually…the track started so high that you literally couldn’t see the bottom until around 20km was ridden
Eventually flattening out into a waterlogged muddy mess where a new bridge was being installed, heavy truck traffic went back and forth and destroyed the road outside little houses that appeared abandoned except for a few street dogs
…but with the sound of a throaty exhaust a few little faces appeared, I stopped and took the helmet off and walked thru the mud, the least I could do was try and make the kids day with a lollipop, I mean there was no way they were playing in this street for a long time to come
this dirt road leads to a little town called San Luis which in hindsight wasn’t a great choice, after asking at 4 hostels with point-blank refusals or no parking or one where one guy came at me with shears shouting to get out of his parking lot.
The fifth said yes, and it was by far the worst place I’ve stayed since a place tattooed in my memory in Kazakhstan…and what makes it worse is there is a beautiful little town on 20km away that I’ll stay in, later on, that is easily one of the nicest small towns in Peru!
To make San Luis worse, torrential rain started and it made the town feel even unfriendlier if that was possible, the power went out multiple times so all the restaurants closed their doors and didn’t reopen
Eventually finding a bread lady who couldn’t stop laughing like someone just told her the best ‘yo momma so fat’…joke, I had to get a happy shot in this place just to me feel better about it, and I was only staying one night…albeit a blurred one, the camera unable to focus quickly enough due to the heavy rain
you can take a photo pretty much anywhere in Peru away from a big city by an hour or less and it could have been taken today or fifty years ago…plowing with a cow doing the pulling, the only thing that makes it not an older photo is the power lines, but I bet this family have been plowing these fields for generations
From San Luis its all pavement taking the 107 to the top, but it is worth taking because of the views of the glaciers
The road to the top is all hairpins as you’d expect and at the top is the Olimpia Tunnel, the highest vehicular tunnel in the world…allegedly
and say goodbye to Egle as she disappears into the tunnel, this is the last riding shot of her I have, not long after this we had a heart to heart and decided we are looking for different things from our adventurers so mutually agreed to an amicable split. (this all happened over a month ago)
She will still be writing for the editorial front page of ADVrider, but she simply doesn’t have the time to do a ride report right now of her own, I’d just ask that you respect her privacy.
From here on out, this ride will continue solo for the foreseeable future