In deep – a bike ride between the two deepest canyons in the world and out again

Riding through the valley of the volcanoes, along side Corapuna, the largest and highest volcano in Peru, then down to the mouth of the Colca river through prehistoric lava fields was like nothing else I have experienced. Our curiosity to find out if there was a way to cross the Colca river meant that we plunged down into the bottom of the valley, only to find out there was no way to cross and would have to do a U-turn.  We then took the long way round following the mining traffic, eventually arriving to Yanque, in the Colca canyon.  So much beauty and unique landscape, we have been truly spoilt in Peru.  You can read Nathan’s far superior version of events here. 

To view all of the photos in this set click here.

2nd August – Cotohuasi to camp

We we were up and out of Cotohuasi early (well, around 9am), which is impressive for us after some rest days – we had a 2000m climb ahead of us so knew that it would just be a case of putting our heads down and getting on with it. The first almost 30km were paved so we moved at a fairly good pace. We were leaving the balmy sun soaked valley of Cotohuasi canyon to again head back up into the sierra, I basked in the warmth of the sun as we steadily climbed; this kind of methodical climb needs music, so I had my ipod for distraction. The day we leave a town we always eat a descent lunch, including fruit and salad, then the days that follow we return back to super noodles. Post lunch we sort of lost our rhythm, and then our speed most definitely reduced once we hit the unpaved road again. This was a bumpy washboard type surface and we just could not motivate ourselves for this climb.

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Up and out of the lush and balmy valley of Cotohuasi

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Showing off my strength at lunch time

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We snake slowly up and up until Cotohuasi and the lush green valley are way below us

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Mid afternoon the tarmac finally ends

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The bumpy road means it’s time to deflate some air from the tyres

A passing car stopped to talk to us, this was a family from Spain, the father originally from Peru he was bringing his wife and children here for a road trip. The family gave us loads of water which was great as we were beginning to get a little anxious about where we would find out next water source.

We continued climbing but it was not too long before we called it a day and attempted to find a camp spot. This was not a quiet road, maybe because it was a Saturday but there was a car every few minutes. We finally decided on a less than perfect spot, but the best we could find, all the decent places seemed to be occupied by llama and alpaca herds. We were still semi visible from the road but in a small dip in a hill making us less than obvious. Back to pasta for dinner and to another cold night of camping.

Finding a space to sleep

The location of our camp in terms of how early the sun will hit is one of my key factors in choosing a camp spot (top one is to be hidde, then surface- flat, not too spiky etc., and proximity to running water is also another as this saves having to fill a water bag before setting up camp). Sometimes you get to tick everything on the list and some nights you just about make one the top requirement. Nathan is such a pro at finding good spots as before Peru I was mainly travelling in more populated places and sleeping in municipal buildings. This does however mean that when we arrive in a small village Nathan says to go me ‘go do your thing’ as I am pretty good at finding a free floor to sleep somewhere in the village, whether that is the village hall, church, or the back of a restaurant.

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It’s not ideal but it is home for the night

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We are watched all evening by the cows, Nathan is worried our tents may get trampled in the night

3rd August – camp to camp

The wind had kept me awake and I woke tired, plus sleeping in a the dip of a hill meant that the sun did not hit our camp until we were almost ready to leave. That feeling when the sun hits your camp after a freezing night is like nothing else.  Plus it has now been so long since we have found benzina (the fuel we need for our camp stoves) that we are eating a breakfast oats cold, which effected moral that morning.

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We climb for a few hours, neither of us getting into the rhythm

We made it to the top of the pass by the late morning, and had wanted to take a break in front of the sign for the national reserve, but someone had taken a dump, so we had to choose another spot. We headed on a down hill trend, but with plenty of high points to a river where we had planned to top for lunch, but again our break was ruined by the amount of soiled toilet paper, used nappies and sanitary pads that has been discarded by the river, we felt pretty disillusioned and, our moods only soured by eating dry crackers for lunch, we both felt too lazy to cook up some noodles.

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We are treated to some amazing to cheer us up

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…And so the photo taking begins

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Volcano Coropuna really captures our imaginations

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We are relieved when the junction comes and we turn off onto a quieter road

After lunch we headed off that main road, and as quick as that our moods changed, along with the scenery. We were now in stunning open pampa, like nothing we had ridden before. We stopped in the small village of  Mauco Llacta (means ancient place in Quechua), the village itself is an archaeological site as it is that old . We did not expect to find a shop here but we asked and were directed to a woman where we purchased eggs and biscuits.

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We can not stop taking photos

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The small village of   Mauco Llacta, we get to use their communal tap to fill water

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Mauco Llacta seems to have more alpaca than people

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We ride until there is no light left. The evening sky is stunning

We found a camp spot next to river ate pasta with eggs scambled into it (no sauce).  Our cold night staple of cocoa winter’s hot chocolate is back.  We measured lows of -4°c by the time we went to bed, it felt like one of the coldest nights I have experienced, and it took a couple of hours before I was cosy enough to fall asleep. The night was clear and the stars were truly magical.

4th August – camp to Andagua

Despite the cold night this had to be one of my favourite camp spots, the sun hit the camp early and I soon forgot the freezing conditions of the night. With such stunning views of Coropuna we drank coffee and chatted before finally getting on our way.  Nathan and I had not been cycling as fast or efficiently as we could, we spent a lot of time faffing, talking and having fun and taking lots of pictures. That day we cycled about an hour and a half before taking a 45 minute break, we then cycled 2 hours before taking a 1 hour and 45 minute lunch break. After all that we decided that we better cycle – we wanted to arrive of the village of Andagua that night, it should have been an easy target.

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Although the coldest night of the trip this has to be one of my favourite camp spots

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We follow our tracks to rejoin the road

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We are delighted to again see the intrepid Spanish family who give us fruit, they are the only traffic we see all day

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Drinks cordial comes in powder form here in Latin America. I add some to my water for an energy boost

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Juan The Trouser Llama…. this guy!

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Such a pleasure to have sandals sometimes

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The clouds are as beautiful as the mountains

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Random cairn collection

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Checking out the map whilst noodles cook

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I joke about possibly having lost weight when we were in the wilderness and how I can’t wait to eat a lot of chocolate to make up for it

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Nathan look mischievous whilst I snooze post lunch

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I think this is the first time I have ever seen flamingos in the wild

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We can not speed up, there are too many photos to take

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…. the mountains look different each time we turn a corner, and another photo must be taken

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…. and another

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We finally begin the descent to Andagua

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A sandy and bumpy but fun descent, we race against the remaining sunlight

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We arrive in Andagua where are greeted by the Alcalde (Mayor) and his side kick.  We stay in the same place as the Spanish family and eat in the village restaurant where the woman cooks us the most incredible carrot pancakes, which we then eat for breakfast too

5th August – Andagua to Ayo

Our Plan
Nathan had done some research about a potential crossing from the village of Ayo crossing the Colca river and then up to the village of Huambo.  From here we would then cycling through the most touristy part of the Colca canyon.  The government maps shows that there was a road, and from looking at google earth it seemed there was a track, we now just needed to find out about the river crossing.  We asked the mayor in Andagua and he said he thought there was a road but was not sure about a bridge, but imagined someone would help us cross with pulleys.  With this advice we thought we would give it a go.  With this we headed down, through lava fields descending almost 2000m over 34km.  The route was so spectacular that it took us all day.

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Andagua really put a lot of effort into the topiary, this is only a tiny sample

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…. and the fountain was quite something

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Entering into Volcano Valley

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A Pagan / Christian road shrine

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Flight ot the Condors

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First view of the lava fields and volcanoes

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We marvel over the mosr organised tourist display we have come across in Peru

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The map gives us hope about crossing over to Huambo

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Lava fields, just awe inspiring

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It is hard to stop taking photos

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We see no people or vehicles on the road that day

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The road opens up for a section

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We twist around, the track often hugged by cliffs

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We can make out structures and terracing among the stones which leaves us imagining ancient civilisations

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So many twists and turns

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So excited to see this sign, but we decide to push on the 5km to Ayo to ask about the river crossing rather than just take this turn off

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How strange to live in a village in the bottom of a valley with only one road out, and buses that leave twice a week. Ayo was intriguing to us, we are told by the proud locals that they have the best figs in Peru and must sample the fig wine

On arriving in Ayo I ask the road construction workers about the road.  They say that there is not one, and that the signs that we saw were preemptive, the road will not be complete for another year .  The only option would have been a track going up the sandy cliff, which had since been lost in a landslide.  We do not want to believe the construction workers so we head into the plaza to ask some locals, including the mayor, who told us the same.  We are told that we could potentially hire a local person as a guide to hike up, but this still is dangerous and someone died doing it the previous year.  There is no way I want to consider a hike and bike up that steep sandy surface.  Dejected we find a place to sleep in this balmy village which was in the middle of a power cut,and plan alternative routes.  He he dares does not always win, but we still felt honoured to have visited this spectacular valley.  I would love to return to this place and explore one day.

6th August – Ayo to Andagua (truck)

There are only 2 buses a week leaving Ayo so we are lucky that the mayor organised a lift up to Andagua in a construction worker’s truck.  Descending the previous day took a lot of concentration so I revel in the opportunity to look out of the window and watch the landscape slowing change as we gain altitude.  I study the forms the cacti take on, some looking like animals, others looking like the menorah (the candle used for Jewish Hannukah celebrations).  Back in Andagua we decide to take a day off, we have plenty of jobs to keep us busy and have been exhausted by our exploits.

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We bag a lift in a truck,the mayor helps to load them on. Nathan is quite nervous about the bikes.

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Relieved to have found some transport we can enjoy the views

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Juan the dog in Andagua (We now call every animal we meet Juan, since meeting Juan the pet lamb back in Pampachiri)

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Peruvian dogs, they are either vicious and want to bite me, or heart melting

 

Part 2, the journey continues

7th August – Andagua to camp past Orcapampa

8th August – camp to camp

9th August – camp to Caylloma

10th August – Caylloma to Sibayo

11th August – Sibayo to Yanque (then Arequipa by bus)

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Up and out of Andagua we take the turn off to Orcapampa

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We continue along a river and then through small settlements to Orcapampa

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Orcapampa is windy and grey, full of mine traffic and miners and a large proportion of businesses have photos of scantily clad white women outside. We are happy to find a Ferretaria where we can buy fuel for our stoves. We are also surprised to find a cash point.

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Out of Orcapampa, this road sign provided a lot of immature giggling

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A storm is brewing behind us, so we opt to stop and set up camp in case it hits us

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We find a perfect little spot, hidden from the road. It reminds us of Mexico. The rain does not hit us, and we are happy campers

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The following morning we are up and out a bit earlier than usual.  Although plenty of mine traffic and horrible washboard roads the views were at times pleasant

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By the time we reach the pass I am fed up with mine traffic, and the heavy clouds constantly threaten us.  This photo sort of sums up the feeling of the morning

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We stop to make noodles, sheltering from the wind

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After lunch we take a turn off on a small road to avoid the mine traffic, the day redeems itself

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That evening we set up camp by a river. It begins to snow so we make porridge to save time sitting outside. We have no sugar and we manage to get sand in the pot. Probably the worst dinner of the trip. The next morning we wake to a wonderland and snow continues to threaten, the sun can not break through the clouds and I am frozen.

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Vicuña belong to the same family as alpacas and llamas, they live wild in the Andes. The animal features on the Peru flag and I understand they are endangered, which I would not have guessed given the amount we have seen in the wilderness. I love how the whistle and run in a pack, single file.

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We arrive to the mining village of Tolconi.  There is some sort of ceremony going on in the plaza, we get eggs and rice served by some moody teenage gierls and plenty of chocolate bars and get on our way

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My sandals are really on their last legs

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Juan the 3rd follows us 15km up a hill, we leave him like this whilst he whimpers, our hearts feel heavy, we wonder about this dog for days

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We manage to crush 44km after lunch to make it to Caylloma

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We don’t know how but we manage to avoid the rain again

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These wind burnt faces arrive in Caylloma to the first internet in 3 weeks and a giant omelette and rice, then time for a good sleep

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The following morning we continue along for around 13km and then work our way up to a pass, the surface is quite bumpy so it is a case of just putting our heads down.   A long descent and we arrive in Sibayo as it’s getting dark.

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The following morning in Sibayo – cleaning water before hitting the road. We both slept badly ,the place we had slept had been pretty grim, I found blood on the bed covers

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It is around 35km to Chivay, a tourist town with lots of facilities. We are flying on the tarmac. We arrive to the small village of Yanque where we have a palatial house to ourselves via a warmshowers.org host.  I rush off on the bus to Arequipa where I spend the night, the following morning I have to find the long over due final rabies injection, something that has been hanging over me.

 

It’s hard to keep finding superlatives to describe riding in Peru, just wow.

The first few days of this ride, until we turned off to Andagua we followed the andesbybike.com route notes.

 

 

 

 

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