Huaraz at last

A crazy ride to Huaraz. What should have taken me one day, ended up taking me five, and involved landslides, mudslides, rockslides, muddy dirt roads, wrong turns, another flat, a crash, and the closest call I’ve had yet, with exposed bridges over a windy canyon and class IV rapids. …Some serious adventure riding peeps.

The initial plan was to ride to Huaraz directly through the mountains from Cajamarca and Huamachuco, …but that was not to be. I found the correct turn-off and was heading down a dirt track in the right direction, only to learn the road was closed and had been washed out by a landslide. I never reached the landslide as I first came across a construction zone, where I was informed that I could go through but the construction zone would be closed in about an hour for blasting, as the flagger pointed me towards the men laying explosives, and that the road wouldn’t open again for at least 6 hours. She also mentioned that I could only go another 30km because the road no longer existed after that as it had been washed out in a landslide. According to the flagger, it would be another week or two before they blasted a new section and re-opened the road. She made it pretty clear that if I crossed the construction, I’d be stuck on the other side for the rest of the day, with nowhere to go but back to Huamachuco after dark, so that’s when the decision to head to the coast and Puerto Chimaca came into play.

For a place that claims the longest wave in the world, and only 45 minutes from the second biggest city in Peru, Puerto Chimaca was remarkably quiet for a weekend. I walked down to look at the famous wave during peak time on a Sunday, only to see no more than 10 surfers out at once. First impressions of the chill, laid back Puerto Chimaca had me thinking I might spend some time here. I rented a board and wet suit and gave it a go, only to find the water cold and plagued jellyfish. Suddenly the lack of surfers made sense. Hopping the wet suit was protecting me and not feeling like the stings on my wrists, feet and neck were that bad, I stayed in the water for about 1.5 hours before giving in to the jelly fish and ending the session. Again, first impressions of these jellyfish weren’t bad and it wasn’t until I woke up at midnight that the stings really surfaced and started hitching and stinking like crazy. Time to leave Puerto Chimaca!

The right wrist was worse but couldn't photograph it.

During my stay, I did enjoy some great food. Chaufa de Mariscos (chaufas are mostly Chinese style fried rice but these varied between Chinese style stir fry and more Spanish influenced paellas, delish). I pigged out on these on 3 different occasions filled with lots of fresh local shell fish. Another treat, and Spanish influence, were Spanish tortilla sandwiches served on the street for breakfast at about $.30 a pop. They’ve been fairly common throughout Peru but these were definitely the best I’ve had yet.

I set off for Huaraz, this time with plans on riding through the canyon road from Chimbote. To my surprise the road was well paved with only a lot of fallen rocks to dodge around every corner, making for some fun riding that keeps you on your toes. About a third of the way there, the road went over a bridge and turned 180 degrees. Nothing unusual in these switch back, mountain/canyon roads, so I didn’t think twice and pushed on. The bridge was pretty exposed with gaps about 10’ wide between the suspension I-beams, open holes in the center, and planks to drive on, on either side. …and it was windy, very windy with about a 40’ drop over a class IV river. I got across the bridge with a bit of a thrill as I was thinking, wow, that was a little scary but laughing it off as I continued my beautiful ride. About ten miles later I came across another one of these exposed bridges. As I got towards the end of this one, the 4 plank wide path turned into a single plank. I rode over it only to find a gap about the size of a manhole cover on the other side. I gas’ed it, lifting up the front wheel and made it across safely but not without a little scare. This time I wasn’t laughing and started feeling a lot more nervous but relieved that I made it across. I come across another one as soon as I rounded the corner. It was only a few hundred meters between bridges so I hadn’t had time to build up too much anxiety and decided to attack it from the left side as I could see the warped planks seemed a little better, with slightly less gaps and rock fill-ins. Two thirds of the way across, the wind changed direction and a gust hit me from the right, sending me sideways. My front tire went into a gap between planks only to pop up on the outermost plank pointing outwards. I immediately corrected but I must have been within an inch of flying off the side, a 40’ drop, into shallow, rocky, class 4 rapids. After I cleared the bridge, I should have stopped to gather up my nerves (and take pics) but all I could think about was getting to my destination and cracking open a cold beer.

these pics lifted from Mark Hohman's site. He also crossed the sketchy bridges

I rode on, hopping that was the last of the exposed bridges and not knowing what I’d do if I came across another one. I looked down at my GPS to figure out how much further I had to go. (I don’t have a map of Peru for my GPS but some of the towns show up by default so I can kind of gage direction). It seemed like I’d been going north a little too long and should have been heading east by now.  I had a moment of panic thinking I may have missed my turn, but thinking back, I couldn’t recall any turn off. I continued and eventually relaxed as the road started heading east. I passed a coalmine, the cause of the dark grey river, and eventually reached a town, a town that I shouldn’t have reached. Panic stuck again. I was on the other side of the road that was washed out from the landslide that I couldn’t access from Huamachuco. Doh! I confirmed my fears with a local and sure enough, my turn off was about 20 miles back. Yikes, … and on the other side of the terrifying bridges of course.

working in a coalmine...

...going downtown

I turned around and by the time I reached the first bridge, I had so much anxiety that I could barely hold the handlebars straight, as my arms were shaking so hard (and the steering’s super loose from a couple of broken spokes and a faulty wheel bearing). I decided my best plan of attack would be to slowly walk the bike across, straddling it the whole way, but when I reached a section where the planks were missing and had been filled in with rocks, I slipped the clutch to lift the rear wheel over them only to stall the bike. NO!!! I quickly put my foot down and it slips off the plank into one of the gaps in the middle. AGAIN NO!!! I quickly jump off the bike, pushing myself  to the planks on the other side, thinking if Rosita’s going over, I’m not going with, but luckily she fell perfectly and rested on the cross beams as well as the planks on the other side.

This time I unloaded everything from the bike, stopped to take a few pictures and waited for a truck to come by so I could get some help lifting the bike. The truck driver was really helpful and held the bike stable as I lifted it up, making sure I didn’t drop it over the side. I got it across and parked it as I calmed my nerves and repacked everything.

The next bridge wasn’t so bad. This time I unloaded everything first and I made it across fine. Two down, one to go, I’m thinking as I start to relax a little, but even 5 miles later, about 5 miles before the final bridge, I came across a rock slide that had occurred in the hour and a half I was off track. A couple truckers suggested I ride back to the town, but there was no way I was crossing those bridges again if I could avoid them so I parked the bike and set up camp. 24 hours later the road was cleared and I was on my way.

I missed the turn again but this time I knew where it should have been, turned around, asked directions and found myself on a muddy and rough dirt road that looked like it would dead end shortly at a rock quarry or mine. To my surprise it kept going and about an hour later, just as it’s getting close to dark, I come across another rockslide. This ones the locals tell me will be a few days at least before it’s cleared up as it’s not a priority road and there just aren’t enough resource to clear it, with all the landslides happening everywhere. I pitched my tent again and spend the night.

The next morning, I found myself up early and heading back towards Casma, the option with a paved road to Huaraz. Before getting there, I swing 3 km out of the way to check out Puerto Casma, both curious of the dot on my map and thinking breakfast on the water would be nice. The town was a fishing village with a small cannery for smelt. I took some pictures, talked to the locals and enjoyed some more delicious Spanish tortilla sandwiches before heading out. Unfortunately on my way out I got a flat tire just as I entered a turn and crashed with the front wheel washing out, bruising my ribs and shoulder. I’ve had a dozen flats and feel I’m pretty good at changing tires but with my sore shoulder and ribs I was struggling to get the tire back on the rim when a fisherman pushes me out of the way, grabs my tire iron and brute forces the tire on, …only to pinch my spare tire. Doh! I’m feeling frustrated and patch my first tire only to pinch it myself this time. Damn! …and then I do it again (no joke) and this time I step on my glue spilling it all over the road so I’ve got nothing to patch the tire with. Frustrated, I’m feeling like an idiot but one of the fisherman from the audience of fisherman watching the gringo struggle with his tire, also the local police officer, offers to drive me into Casma to pick up a new tube. He had his wife watch my bike and make sure everything stayed safe and I boarded his tuktuk to a ride into Casma. Bought a new tube, had a llantera change it and we’re on our way back to Puerto Casma. This time we get stopped by a random police roadblock. I’m thinking not a big deal, and sort of glad to see it happens to the locals too but as it turned out, the police officer helping me is out of his jurisdiction and technically can’t drive his tuktuk into Casma. Funny stuff, as I witness a police officer paying off another police officer. Got to love the corrupt police in Peru. I reimbursed him of course and ironically the first bribe I’ve paid out on my trip. Too funny. Anyway, shortly after the police block, the chain on the officer’s tuktuk breaks. He’s got the tools and we fix it. 5 hours later, my bike is back together and I’m on the road again. So much for my early start.

I get stopped by a cop as I turn onto the road to Huaraz and he asks me how long I expect it to take. I tell him I don’t know, 3 maybe 4 hours, mas o menos, depending on the weather. He nods and confirms “three hours”.  It’s 2:00pm so I’ve still got 4.5 hours of daylight and feel a bit relieved when the officer confirms my time estimate and that the road’s paved the whole way. Even so, I’m certainly not going to rush it. About an hour in, my temperature gauge shoots up and I pulled over to find the radiator’s empty, …again. Cracked? This is the 3rd time. I gather some water from the river and fill her up. An hour later, it’s another rock slide. This time a british couple, Paul and Helen  are clearing the way with their land rover. It was really cool to see and the locals were pretty impressed too. 

It was only a 20-30 minute delay and then off to ride into the clouds. Visibility disappeared slowing down the ride considerably and I finally pulled into Huaraz in a torrential downpore just as it was getting dark. I found a hostel with a parking lot half a block away and checked in. It turned out to be a beautiful hostal, with two terraces and a great price. I woke up the next morning to blue skies, sunshine and stunning views of the snowy peaks of the Cadilleras blancas. Huaraz rocks!

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One Response to Huaraz at last

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