Friday, 8 August 2014

Video Game Rides

By Sanne

So as it were, we were unable to go to Huaraz via our planned route because of these damn road works. Peru has without a doubt been the country with the most amount of road works. The upside of this is that the government is committed to building better roads for the people, the downside is that it means long holdups for drivers, in most cases the road is closed for an entire day from 8-5 and as these roads mostly are in the mountains, there are no alternative roads to take; all you can do is wait. Instead we now had to do a 500 km detour out to the coast to get back to the mountains when the original route would have been half that. From Huanuco we rode south to the village of Ambos where we turned off the main road and onto a small dirt road that was going to take us through a valley alongside the Cordillera Raura. In Peru there are all these Cordilleras (mountain ranges) that run east to west from inland and to the coast and they are all stunning. 

In the beginning the road was pretty rough but it gradually got better and we were happily surprised to learn that it took us through a beautiful valley with next to no traffic on it. We stopped in the village of Yanahuanca to buy some food for lunch and within minutes we had a small crowd of locals around us, who were curious about us and our trip. We have found that as much as we HATE the Peruvian drivers – we adore the people (when we’re not sharing the road with them!) They have got to be some of the nicest people we have met in South America and very curious and talkative. Many times we have been approached by strangers asking us if we need any help or just simply asking us about our trip. In this particular little town Mark was lead by a local female police officer to the market to buy some vegetables – apparently there’s not much else to do there for the police apart from escorting gringos around buying tomatoes! The locals told us a quicker road to take from there which shaved 2 hours off our trip which was nice. 

The ride took us alongside a river and eventually up into the mountains and over a 4737m pass, the whole time the sun was shining down on us and there was barely a soul on the road. That was until we got about 50km from the town of Sayan; we rode past a long queue of trucks, buses and cars and when we came to the front we realised why. Surprise, surprise: f..king road works! We were told by the other drivers that it was 50kms of road works and that it had been closed all day and would open at 6pm. Well, as annoying as it was, luckily it was already 5.30 so we only had half an hour to wait. However, as the locals told us, be very careful when they open the gate, people will go very fast! Some people would have been here for up to 10 hours, so one can maybe understand their eagerness to get moving, but one would maybe assume that most people would drive with a certain amount of precaution on a stretch of road like that. 

Well, as Mark would say: assumption is the mother of all f..k-ups! As the clock inched closer to 6pm, people were starting up their engines, beeping their horns and yelling at the man with the lollipop stick to let people go. Luckily for us, lollipop man signalled that motorbikes could go through and off we went. We were really giving it some in order to beat the 1. Fast approaching sunset and 2. Fast approaching drivers behind us. We had 5 minutes on them and we knew the craziness that was going to ensue as soon as they were allowed to go, it would be like someone dropping a chequered flag and waving a thousand dollar bill in front of them; we didn’t feel like being part of that race. So with a handful of throttle (see what I did here?) we rode as if we were in our own little race, trying to ride as fast as we could on this wet and bumpy road work section, all the while keeping an eye in the side mirror for headlights catching up to us. As the sun slid behind the mountains and the sky darkened, the first lights appeared in the distance...from behind and from straight ahead. None of this one direction at a time crap, no we’re gonna let everyone go at the same time on this one-car wide road, just to see what happens! 

As the cars caught up to us, they flew past us with only inches to spare, leaving us covered in dust and mud. We knew better than to try and race them, we would always come out the loser as the drivers here are just willing to take risks that we are not, such as overtaking on plainly blind corners and just narrowly missing head-ons with oncoming traffic. Especially after my recent incident where I had chased down a car and almost gotten killed for it, I had realised: no road rage is worth dying for. By now, we were riding in complete darkness and it was like being in a video game. With our visors caked in dust we had to ride with them open which meant our faces were caked in dust, but at least we could see something. Cars were whizzing past us left, right and centre and here were we just trying to stay upright... and alive. All we could really make out was the headlights from other vehicles, the road surface we couldn’t judge before we rode over it which at times made for some slipping and sliding across wet mud, but as exhausting as it was to concentrate so much on the road we kept it upright and powered on! After having ridden in the dark for about an hour we finally arrived in Sayan, completely pooped after this crazy ride and stumbled into the first hotel we saw and crashed onto the bed. Thank god for the hot shower and cable-tv!

After a much needed sleep, we woke up the next morning to a cloud-filled sky. It seems that here in Peru, as soon as you get within 50kms of the ocean, you encounter the FOG. I’m sure there is some natural, geological explanation to this phenomenon, but frankly I can’t be bothered looking it up. If someone knows the answer, let me know, OK?  We did about 50kms on the PanAm before we gladly turned off and went towards the mountains again. From here it was an enjoyable 200km ride to our destination of Huaraz in the middle of the Cordillera Blancas. As we were stopped by the side of the road taking some photos, another motorbiker pulled up on a Vstrom and removed his helmet. Turns out it was Marius, a German lad we had meet way back in Uyuni, Bolivia. We had a quick chat with him and the three of us rode into Huaraz in the early afternoon. It quickly became clear to us that we had arrived in Huaraz at the worst time possible. Turns out it was a national holiday in Peru for the Independence Day. Today was Friday and people had holidays until the following Wednesday. Not just that, but Huaraz seemed to be the place most people chose to spend this holiday as the Independence Day collides with the anniversary of Huaraz. Long story short – it was impossible to find a place to stay. Everywhere was booked out, and the places that weren’t, didn’t have parking. We were about to give up when we finally found a hostel called Jo’s Place that also was full but had camping in the garden. We were just happy to have found a place to sleep! 

There’s not a whole lot to say about Huaraz, it’s not a particularly interesting nor pretty place. We tried to look for tyres for me but no one had what we wanted so I just had to keep on rolling on my increasingly bald tyres. We spent 4 nights here, one night more than planned because of cloud, but as we headed off on the 5th day the sky was ever so blue and the view over the mountains was marvellous. Our agenda on this particular day was to do a loop through the Cordillera Blanca that crosses over two passes and links back onto the main road again. On the map it looked like an easy little ride of maybe 300kms or so, a mix of asphalt and dirt. It was a beautiful ride. However, a lot longer than we had imagined. The whole ride took us about 9 hours. That’s right, 9. The asphalt part was easy enough, very windy but smooth. But the dirt section, man, it was pretty rough! Within long we both had lactic acid building up in our arms from all the bumping around on rocks and our asses felt like they had been spanked with a baseball bat. Up and up the mountains we went, for what seemed like forever, until we got to the snow covered pass where we slipped and slided through the slush before setting off on the descent from the pass. Here our preferred method of transport might have been a boat instead of motorbikes, as this road was really more like a river from all the melting snow from the mountain. Like our other recent video game ride, this time we were also racing against time to get off this mountain before the sun disappeared completely and like the other time, we lost. It seemed to take just as long to get off the damn mountain as it did getting up. I was so drained of energy that I seriously considered sliding off my bike onto the road and just sleep wherever I happened to fall. Around every other corner we were met by yet another rabid dog to bite at our ankles, however by now we carry rocks in our tank bags and we are not afraid to use them! Lucky for the dogs though we’re not great shots. We finished the day in Caraz, too tired to cook, shower or anything, just sleep was on our minds. We both conceded that we could easily live without any more of these wild video game rides...

In Yanahuanca with new friends

Having lunch in the beautiful valley

Another pass, another herd of llamas

Mark getting some assistance from a young girl to buy sweets!

Impressive rock overhangs that you hope won´t collapse while you´re underneath!

There´s not much room for error when coming across vehicles this size

On the way to Huaraz

Meeting Marius

Love the taste of strawberry flavoured fanny!

Cordillera Blanca - the start of the loop road

Turned up at this bridge and for some reason all the timber was missing! We made it across though.


The river-road

Slowly disappearing glacier

That was a great but long ride!

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