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To Cajamarca, The Guessing Game
We woke up in the small town of Pampas, nestled high in Andes Mountains. We wound up here by chance, and had met some wonderful people who had welcomed us with genuine smiles and warmth.
One of the special people we had encountered was the owner of our hostel, Nelly Robles-Sanchez. She was a tiny person, with a radiant personality and exuberant spirit.
Last night, Nelly had said that the hostel doesn’t usually provide breakfast for guests, but she would make an exception for us. This morning, she and her husband presented us with generous servings of bread and fresh cheese, along with coffee and milk.
We invited Guy to join us for breakfast, as his hostel didn't offer food or coffee. By the time he finally arrived, Ben and I were almost finished.
Guy had been busy dealing with a flat tire this morning. We had stored the bikes overnight in a secure courtyard several blocks away. When Guy checked on the bikes earlier today, he had discovered that his rear tire was completely flat. However, he wasn't concerned. He said that sometimes "tires just go flat" for no particular reason. Ben and I looked at each other--that had never been our experience. Guy said that he had gotten the local tire shop to pump the tire full of air to see if the air pressure diminished at all during breakfast. (It did, so Guy had the tube replaced by the tire shop before we left.)
Ben realized this morning that he had accidentally left his camera charger plugged into the electrical outlet at the first hostel. He ran off to retrieve it. He soon discovered that our room had been re-rented shortly after our departure last night, and the current guest was not there when Ben knocked on the door. When Ben finally recovered the charger later this morning, the hostel owner demanded an additional sole (about 30 cents) for the use of her electricity overnight. Ben gave her the money without protesting.
While I was savoring my second cup of coffee, Guy barely looked at me and made no effort to engage me in conversation. He picked up his bread and then tossed it back down with a look of irritation when he discovered there was no jam. The silence between us seemed to have an oppressive life of its own. I tried my best to lighten things up with small talk, but it was painful.
A view looking down the road from the hostel:
Directly in front of the hostel door was a black pick-up truck that was being decorated with balloons for a parade later that day:
Beyond the truck were several rows of fresh adobe bricks laid out to dry in the sun.
Two small boys were across the street, and I started chatting with them. They were very sweet.
I didn’t have any more stickers or post cards to give away, so I dug into my energy bar stash and found a family-friendly bar that I give my own kids as a snack at home. The boys sat on a bench and munched quietly.
Ben and I took a stroll up this hill to get our bikes from the secure courtyard:
We bought water for our camelbacks at the small market located on the ground floor of our first hostel:
To the right of the market (in front of the bikes) sat a group of older women. I greeted them, and we had a long and funny conversation on the topic of women riding on motorcycles (they all thought that it was a grand idea, but they had never operated a bike themselves).
Guy told us that he had asked some of the townspeople about the route to Cajamarca. He said that we needed to return the way we had come and go through Mollepata, instead of taking the jagged red line that looked like a “shortcut” on our map.
A view as we traveled back down to the river from Pampas:
Traversing the mountain—can you find the bike?
A closer shot:
Climbing up to Mollepata, we had a great view of the switchbacks that we had covered yesterday on our way from the town of Pallasca:
Another view of the switchbacks, showing the top of the mountain, with more switchbacks along the upper left side:
Some houses along the way:
We passed by a fire that still had some orange flames flickering next to the road, and we also had to be alert for different kinds of animal life in front of us. We skirted around donkeys, pigs, sheep, cows, goats, and dogs.
A view back down at the road we had just climbed:
We stopped briefly in the town of Mollepata.
Next to the main plaza, people were loading into the back of a big truck—this was the local “bus”.
We would pass numerous of these trucks, all stuffed with people, throughout northern Peru.
As I was sitting on my bike, a young Peruvian man came up and started talking to me in excellent English. He explained that he was studying at the Language Institute in Peru so that he could teach other people to speak foreign languages. Several other people came over to listen to our conversation. The truck was leaving, however, so they quickly said goodbye and ran over to climb into the back.
Some views after leaving Mollepata:
This bridge that we crossed looked like it could use some structural reinforcement:
The soil in the surrounding hills was full of colorful minerals—green, adobe red, orange, white, and grey. These colors would often flow across the road in stripes, as shown in the photo of Ben below:
Cornering was sometimes tricky, as the road had a lot of thick silt that wanted to smother our front tires.
There were two herders stretched out in the grass, while their cows and sheep grazed around them:
In the distance, we could see the grey pilings of a gigantic mine:
Our route would take us right by the mine entrance; however, when we reached the turnoff, we saw that our road was blocked with some green stones and a stretch of pink tape.
Guy rode up to talk with the guards at the entrance booth; then he waved for us to come forward. The guards had said that the regular road was closed due to some blasting work. However, they were escorting private vehicles through the mine to reach the road on the other side. We were welcome to join an escorted crossing that would be leaving in about 15 minutes.
While we were waiting, Ben and I struck up a conversation with one of the guards. We asked if we could take his picture, and he struck a casual pose with his gun.
(I made sure that my legs were behind his loaded rifle barrel, and not beside it, in case there was a discharge.)
Then we noticed a sign that said photography was prohibited. Guy rode up and got out his video camera. As he was panning slowly from one side of the mine to the other, the guard asked him repeatedly to stop videotaping, with increasing verbal intensity and arm gestures. Guy didn’t say anything, or even acknowledge that the guard was talking to him—he just kept the camera rolling. Ben and I were looking at each other with raised eyebrows; we wanted to get through the mine and didn’t want Guy’s conduct to result in a revocation of our escorted crossing offer. I silently vowed that if this happened, Ben and I would try to convince the guards that we were not with Guy, and we would abandon him to whatever consequences he deserved. Thankfully, he stopped filming before things turned ugly.
Our small convoy included a big truck that had been waiting when we arrived, as well as two small mining company trucks. We were escorted on a series of roads through the mine, past huge dump trucks and two large open pits. (We didn’t dare take any photos.)
The view on the other side of the mine:
We passed a herd of vicuña grazing in a field.
Vicuña are high altitude animals (living above 13,000 feet) that are prized for their exceptional fine, and warm, wool.
Against a hillside, we could see small dark holes that were mine entrances:
This small graveyard was located at a “T” junction, far from any towns.
Ben and I stopped to admire the grace of this soaring hawk:
A view across the valley:
We interrupted these sheep drinking from the stream that crossed the road:
(We found that sheep are easily spooked, so Ben and I always crept by them slowly.)
We arrived in the town of Huamachuco around noon. A painted wall proclaimed the town’s commitment to education: “Queremos un pueblo sin alfabetos.” ("We want a town without illiterates.”)
We found the main plaza, where we stopped to have lunch at a chifa (a restaurant that serves a blend of Chinese and Peruvian food).
Ben, at lunch:
The central plaza in Huamachuco had bushes that were sculpted into various shapes:
Looking down the street, off the plaza:
Many of the women were wearing hats with tall crowns and wide brims, which were very different from the bolero style hat (with short brims) found in southern Peru:
After lunch, we stopped at a gas station in town. Next door, some women were sitting on the steps and hand-spinning wool.
The dirt road continued once we left Huamachuco.
We rode through a village where a group of teenage girls held bunches of palm fronds—they seemed to be preparing for a festive event.
We passed by Laguna Sausacocha:
The road wound through some beautiful farming communities:
We passed a neat stack of dried roof tiles:
More countryside views:
When we reached the small city of Cajabamba, the dirt road turned into pavement. Here I am on the main street:
We stopped to discuss our next step. It was late afternoon, and Cajamarca was still about 80 miles away. A guidebook indicated that the route was a dirt road that took about 4 hours by car. Guy wanted to stay the night here in Cajabamba, while Ben wanted to press on to Cajamarca. I voted with Ben. Then a security guard walked over and started talking to us about where we were going; he told us that the road to Cajamarca was paved, not dirt, which meant that our travel time would be significantly reduced. Off we went!
The road twisted downhill into a wide valley:
The valley road had long, fairly straight sections.
This cow moved to the side as we rolled through, but most cows did not.
There were many people walking along the road—no sidewalks.
This couple was herding their cow along the road, riding a donkey—they moved over to the side when they heard my bike:
Riding on a paved road certainly did not mean that we could ride like we were on a freeway. One never knew what would be in the road when coming around the corner. (Let’s guess what it could be! Yikes!) Here are some of the things that I encountered in the middle of my lane during the ride to Cajamarca:
- donkeys carrying bundles of twigs
- people on donkeys and horses (sometimes 3 people together)
- a herd of sheep
- dogs sleeping
- a mother goose and her babies waddling across
- large potholes
- a small river flowing across the road, with big rocks that required delicate maneuvering
- children playing (many)
- a truck stopped, selling oranges from the back
- bricks lined up in a neat row all of the way across
- a big truck coming at me, trying to pass another big truck on a blind curve
- a car passing on the double yellow, with no room to spare
- a huge boulder
- long stretches of dirt
- people bicycling slowly
- a large group of women in colorful skirts and hats, some with babies on their backs
There was always something to grab my attention.
We left the valley floor and started climbing over the last mountain pass before reaching Cajamarca. As always, roadside crosses reminded us to be careful.
We couldn't figure out what these two men were doing:
The view was spectacular:
As the sun set, the mountains looked like they were on fire:
We crested the mountain pass, and rode along a plateau.
A final sunset view:
Darkness enveloped us before we reached Cajamarca. We snaked down the mountain behind a stream of cars and entered the bustling city. The traffic was thick and constant. Guy turned down a few streets looking for a hotel. He finally stopped a taxi and said that he would pay the driver to lead us to a hotel with secure parking for the bikes. We made several turns, and then the driver stopped on a side street next to a large garage door. It was the garage to a very nice hotel, Costa del Sol. The front entrance to the hotel was around the corner, facing the main plaza; however, Guy didn’t understand this and began yelling at the driver that this was not a hotel. The two exchanged many words, with Guy yelling some more. Finally, Guy got off his bike and walked down the street toward the plaza.
As he disappeared around the corner, the garage door went up, and two parking attendants appeared to direct us inside. (Perhaps they were alerted to our presence by all of the shouting?) I didn’t know how much Guy had paid the taxi driver (if anything), so I slipped some money into his hand and thanked him for leading us to a good hotel.
We pulled the bikes into the parking area and started unloading our gear. Guy soon appeared, saying that we would be staying here even though the hotel was “very expensive.” Ben and I had a room with a big queen bed (ahh!) and hot water anytime we wanted (woo hoo!). It was total luxury.
We told Guy that we wanted to be on our own for dinner tonight. The hotel desk clerk (who didn’t speak English) drew us a map on how to get to a wonderful restaurant around the corner. The main plaza was very busy tonight, with lots of people walking about. We joined them, soaking up the energy of the city. Then we had a relaxing, romantic dinner. Everything was perfect.
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