Cordillera blanca

Lagoons and snowy mountains during the 4-day trek, “the best” downhill of our lives, visiting Ben and Katie and many hours in buses

Sun doesn’t allow us to stay too long in the tent and after yesterday’s tough biking we spend this day relaxing – bread with egg at the market, buying food for the planed trek, searching for information, buying maps, meeting Andy and dinner in the center.

Before 7am we are up and packing last things, move bicycles under roof and after farewell breakfast with our Scottish friend we go to look for a colectivo which will take us up. We get an offer for 30sol for a taxi ride without waiting for other people (normally in full car: driver + 2 people in the front seat + four in the back; 10sol per person). We accept and soon the car is passing the curvy road with nice view to the valley full of fields which look like patchwork. After one our shaking we get to the village Cashapampa where we buy one-month entrance tickets to the national park Huascaran for 65sol/person.

Our backpacks are quite heavy – carrying all equipment and food for 4 days. We are passing a young group from Israel – their food is carried by donkeys and they have also one horse for carrying always someone of them. First day isn’t long – 10km, but the 500m altitude gain in 3-thousand is not easy. After 3 hours of walking uphill a nice valley with a stream and surrounded by steep rocky walls opens in front of us. We are able to see the snowy peaks for the first time shortly before the first camp (3750m). We build tent in a lee of a big stone, bath a little in the freezing stream and make lentils for dinner which we carried soaked in one of water bottles.

Next morning we leave like the last ones – but there is no point to hurry here. We don’t carry water – when we are thirsty, we filter the water directly from the river. We go around the first lagoon which doesn’t exist anymore – last year it was torn by an avalanche. The second one is beautifully turquoise and dark blue. Lunch pause is between two waterfalls with view to the glaciers. Then long crossing of a sandy area and later switchbacks up to a viewpoint to see the most beautiful mountain in the world – Alpamay, and the Paramount pictures logo mountain – Artesonraju – and under us the whole valley… we stop again and enjoy.

We don’t have phone and therefore we don’t know what’s the time. We don’t know if it’s Monday or Saturday and takes a while to count which date it is today. We enjoy the present, don’t think about deadlines and are not sure if we’ll have time like this in our lives again. We are feeling good even when we realize that this unawareness of dates caused that our insurance is ending today and in the following 3 days in “wilderness” we won’t have the chance to renew it – we think positive and hope that nothing bad will happen.

We end in the basecamp under Alpamayo – just us on this beautiful place which becomes even nicer when the clouds disappear for a while – like in paradise. Later starts to rain, but inside of the tent is dry and we are calm. I need to pee, but don’t want to go out to rain. After some discussion with Jan I’m allowed to use our pot. Right away I wash it so it is ready for oatmeal for breakfast :).

Sun rises, clouds fly on the sky, tee, breakfast – everything is perfect. A short walk to the lagoon Quitacocha which appeared to be much closer but it was definitely worth going there – turquoise water and glacier going down to the water.

We pack our things and take a traverse trail to the valley. We fill water in the last stream and then the climb to the Punta Union pass (4750m) starts. The path is good, but steep and long which makes it in this altitude hard. After 3 hours we have a rest on the top next to the crossing perfectly cut into the rocks. Under us is lagoon Taullicocha and above white peaks of Taullirajo. Descent to the other side – valley full of dark lagoons – is easier but also very long. On the nearby mountain we watch every 5min falling avalanches and we are happy to not walk on the glaciers now.

Later light hail start to fall and after we put on rain jackets a regular rain begins. In these condition we walk at least one hour when the sun starts setting and the orange light coming through the clouds makes the atmosphere like from a sepia movie or a fairy tale where you can expect a dwarf behind every tree :).

We build the tent on a wide field next to river, prepare dinner and get to the wet sleeping bags. In the morning we have a visit of three donkeys – nice until they get too close to our food. The following grass fields are full of animals: sheep, goats, cows, hairy donkeys and small pigs.

We unregister on the ranger station and continue though villages. The locals are really used to tourist and everybody wants something… “do you have any pasta left? … do you have anything for me? … give me some medicaments”. We get to the main road just after the colectioo left and wait another 45min for next one. We put the backpacks on the roof and next 3 hours we are shaking together with another 16 people inside of the car going on the curvy, gravel/stone/hole road with views to many lagoons and snowy mountains. The other side of the pass gives us the view to the most curvy switchback road we’ve ever seen and we both think about the idea to do this downhill on bicycles. Everywhere around are white peaks (also the highest one – Huascaran) and blue and green lagoon in the valley leave us speechless… this will be definitely the best ride of our lives!

Back in Caraz we arrange with the driver that he will pick us up the next day at 5:30 at our hotel. We are full of great experiences from the last days and feeling happy because of the upcoming tomorrow.

Jan changes our bikes back to mountain gear without racks, we renew our insurance and I read in a mail that my grandfather died. I cry the whole evening and paint a cross with a message for him. 10 children were born among our friends during our traveling and this is only lost life but it is still hurts.

Alarm wakes us up before 5am and we swear again why we planed again something this early. We put the bikes on the roof of the colectivo, eat breakfast during a pause, buy candles in Yungay and shake inside of the car the same way but other direction than yesterday. In the Portachuelo pass (4767m) we pay the agreed 80soles and full of awaiting sit on the bikes. We stop at first switchback and 5min from the road we build a small memorial on a big stone, stick the painted cross on it and even when it’s not possible to light the candles, we are able to say goodbyes in silence.

And finally the time for the best downhill of lives comes … or not? The road is really shitty and despite the suspension fork we feel like we are drilling concrete. Full concentration is needed, choosing the optimal path between the stones, avoid sand… We brake almost to stop in the curves to not fall into a shortcut over the cliff. The concentration is even higher on the better parts where it’s possible to go faster. After half an hour we stop for cookies and conclude, that the same experience would be to drill pavements anywhere – just some blurry colors in background, no views, no enjoying of the surrounding or the ride!

After an hour we finally get to a better road down at the lagoons. We stop between them to light last two candles at the memorial of a Czechoslovak expedition which died here (20 climbers) during the natural disaster in 1970. An earthquake released a big piece of a glacier and rocks which went through the basecamp and continued with speed of 200-400km/h as a mass of mud, ice and rock through the inhabited valley directly to the town of Yungay. It ended tragically – only 96 people survived (most of them were at that time on the cemetery which is on a small hill). Around 20000 people died in the avalanche and another 50000 as a result of the earthquake. The sad fact is that this worst natural disaster in South America was forecasted 8 years before it happened but it was prohibited to talk about it.

We continue another 23km of dirt roads till we reach the silent pavement. Our bikes survived with just one flat tire and took us safely back to our hotel in Caraz. For dinner we have guineapig (cuy – not that tasty again) and tired get to tent. The whole day was downhill but we are more tired then after the Canon del Pato.

Next two days we slowly move again to mountains – this time to warmshower host Ben and his wife Katie. They’ve worked here for 2 years as Peace Corps volunteers. The road to Shirapurco is sometimes so steep that we have problem even with pushing the bikes. After five hours on bad roads we have only one question… Are we the first crazy ones who did this side trip? …yes, we are :D.

Ben and Katie are a young married couple who met each other on a similar project in Zambia. Here they work mostly with children. From a grant they opened a youth center where they teach English, the children can play here, study or work with computers. Ben tought them bicycle repairing and bought 2 complete sets of tools. They also played ultimate Frisbee – game which trains motion and reflex skills, team work and strategy. They live in an adobe house with nice white walls and bad floor inside but the atmosphere here is very familiar and comfortable. First evening we have tasty lentil soup for dinner and then talk till late night .. they are really great!

After breakfast we go with Katie down to town (by feet and 2x colectivo) to try local specialty food pachancha – 3 types of meat wrapped in leaves, potatoes, tamale and sweet dough… tasty, expensive and big. There are also other volunteers from the surrounding. Back in the village we play Frisbee with kids – for them it’s much easier to run in this altitude. For dinner we prepare our harula, they like it and like yesterday, we stay up long.

Jan runs to bathroom many times during the night and I hope it’s not from the Slovak food. In the morning he tries oatmeal, but it doesn’t stay long and the vegetable soup for lunch returns to daylight through all holes. The rest of day he’s fasting and stays in bed. Bed doesn’t feel well neither but in the evening they both get better and we play a dice game. In the morning is Jan full of energy again and his stomach got better. I use Ben’s trimmer to cut Jan’s hair shorter – with short hair and long beard he looks funny. Lunch and then we descend to Huaraz.

To hostel Jo’s place where our forgotten pants from Colombia are waiting we get before sunset. There are 7 other cyclists and we go together for a pizza that night where we meet again our American friends and listen to funny stories of Kurt who traveled in whole USA by trains like hobo. After dinner we buy the cheapest bus tickets to Cuzco and hope it will be all right. We watch a Tarantino movie back in the hostel, in the morning make great pancakes with lots of fruits, try Kurt’s fatbike (looks almost like motorbike) on which he’s traveling around the world and at 10pm we just watch how they push our bicycles to the small compartment using a heavy force.

Morning in Lima we are surprised that nothing happened to the bikes, leave all our stuff at the bus station and go for a walk in the capital. It’s neat, historical and quite nice but I cannot enjoy it much because of menstruation pains. While I suffer sitting in McDonald’s, Jan goes to pharmacy. He gets back with two pills cut from the plaster – without any description, but it should be exactly for my problem. After one hour with the same pain we decide to take also the second one (if I can take one every 8 hours like the pharmacist said, I can take two in case of bad pain, no?). Another hour gone and no change (I always have ibuprofen with me which works but today when our luggage is somewhere else I get period?!).

Together we return to the pharmacy and ask for the information about the pills… so: good news is that it is for arthritis and my knees won’t hurt even after the 20+ hours in bus; the bad news that it is not for women problems and the maximum dose is 1 pill per day. Jan argues with the employees there, complains to the manager and doesn’t understand how they can work with medicaments. I drink a lot of water and I know I won’t send any other pill to my liver.

On a square we meet Billy from Ireland (Medellin, Salento) and exchange experiences for at least one hour. He is pedaling everything and just came to meet his friends in Lima. In the afternoon we load (this time nicely) bicycles to the bus. We have “panoramatic” view from our seats (pity that there is big sign on the whole window) and the seat belts work. 20 hours we go on curvy roads – left, right, up, down; only one passenger vomits and and after a whole day (24 hours) we get to Cuzco…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *