Crossing the border: Puno to La Paz

Our final days in Peru were spent cycling around Lake Titicaca. The first glimpses of the lake were mainly of reeds but the views improved as we headed towards Bolivia. We pensively followed the progress of storms around us, hoping they would not come our way.

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We enjoyed a tour of Juli’s Plaza de Armas on the front of Bremma’s tandem….

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…. checking out the local thatching standards along the way.

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After a final blat along the altiplano, we finally reached the border. There was no jail time for overstaying our visa but we did have to pay $1 for every extra day, plus s/25 for the pleasure of the experience. As usual, the border control officials were not open to any humour of any kind and documents were processed without even the peep of a smile. After 3 1/2 months in Peru we were very sad to leave. I highly recommend a visit, if you’re contemplating a future trip.

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So, into a new country: Bolivia. A simple form to fill in and documents processed without even establishing eye contact and we were good to go.

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First stop in this new country was at the lakeside ‘gringo’ resort of Copacabana.

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With a Barry Manilow ear worm we entered the busy town and found a restaurant that would let us set up camp for the night.

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The following day was a stunning ride up out of Copacabana….

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….. and down to a short ferry ride across Lake Titicaca.

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We are impressed with their enthusiasm to decorate their cars.

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The weather was kind and we were afforded some stunning views of the lake from the Bolivian side.

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Unfortunately the weather deteriorated. It began with impressive thunder and lightening storms across the lake and then continued with heavy rain overnight, followed by consistent rain all the next day. We had a very wet ride into La Paz. It was also one of the most terrifying rides I have experienced. There were potholes nearly the size of Lake Titicaca, heavy traffic and pedestrians taking their chances through it all. It was a white knuckle ride down the steep cobbled streets in the the centre and I was running mainly on adrenaline. I was so relieved to arrive at the Casa de Ciclista, a haven for weary cyclists in the middle of La Paz. Some may say it somewhat resembles a homeless squat but to us it feels like home for a few days. We have met up with our Aussie cycling chums once more (previously seen showing off their Christmas calves) and are enjoying some good eating, drinking and socialising.

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New chains have been purchased, laundry is being done, repairs are in process. A good time to catch up on jobs and then we head south across the Bolivian altiplano and towards Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid territory.

 

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Cusco to Puno

We ended up spending 8 days in Cusco. It was fun to have company for celebrating Christmas and New Year. A very sociable time with much eating and drinking. We did manage to fit in some sight seeing. Here is the Plaza de Armas, just after a heavy downpour.

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Lots of ornate stonework and doors.

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Passing by Inca stone walling after buying panetone.

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Couple by couple our cycling buddies headed off. Ben and Tina (Australians) heading to La Paz where we hope to catch them before they fly out.

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Brendon and Emma (Australian) heading south who we have crossed paths with regularly since. Check out their website http://www.totallytandem.com . Maybe make a donation to their charity World Bicycle Relief as an offset for all those Christmas excesses….

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And Sanne and Koen (Dutch) who were heading northwards into the jungle.

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Finally we dragged ourselves away from the delights of Cusco (especially the bakery two doors down from the hostel) and headed off on the road towards Puno. The architectural influences from Cusco were to be seen in the villages along the way.

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The road was good and it steadily wound it’s way up the valley. Fresh sprinklings of snow could be seen on the tops every morning.

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This is the preferred form of transport in Peru. It can carry food, agricultural supplies, gas cylinders, animals and people. Sometimes all at once.

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We made friends along the way…

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The road was paved with a shoulder so the kilometres went smoothly by.

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We passed through the main guinea pig / cuy breeding area. We thought these murals were rather special. Tipo III particularly reminded us of musk oxen.

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I received the sad news that my Grandad had passed away and spent the hours climbing our final mountain pass in Peru reminiscing memories of him. I particularly enjoyed remembering how he used to give us lemonade telling us it was ‘magic water’  and his love of indoor fireworks ( a legacy remaining in our family). When we reached the top we toasted him – the cyclists way with water bottles.

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We were then onto the altiplano and the kilometres flew by. A real delight after all the climbing we’ve had in Peru. The rainy season is chasing us but at least on the altiplano you can see it coming…

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With dampness in the air we dropped down into Puno for a rest day.

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Two more days of cycling until we reach the Bolivian border. We have overstayed our Peruvian visa so will have to pay a fine at the border. Let’s hope it’s as easy as that.

We spent time in Cusco researching and planning our next few months of travel. Flights have been booked and we will be flying from Santiago, Chile, to Inverness, Scotland on 17/18 March. From Inverness we shall be spending 5/6 weeks cycling home to Moretonhampstead, Devon, visiting people and places along the way. If you live anywhere between Inverness and Moreton then drop us an email and we’d love to catch up with you. Even better, come and cycle a leg with us…………

Quillabamba to Cusco – via some old ruins

We headed out of Quillabamaba and went to the Yellow River Coffee Farm (http://www.quellomayo.com). This is a great eco home stay that we would recommend to anyone heading to Machu Picchu the back way or cycling in the area. The food is superb and the hospitality is brilliant.

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They let us leave our bikes and panniers there so we could hike up to Agua Calientes and then up to Machu Picchu the following the day. The hike to Agua Calientes has some ‘challenging’ obstacles along the way.

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I was somewhat reluctant at first to get in. Can’t think why?

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The river was crossed successfully, phew. To counteract the adrenaline rush of ‘the basket’ we relaxed in the hot springs at Colcamayo. Not a bad way to spend a crew hours on a wet afternoon.

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A short ride in a collectivo from Santa Theresa to the Hidroelectrica brought us to the start of the 2 hour walk along the train tracks to Agua Calientes. The scenery was so lush and green, affording us glimpse of Machu Picchu on the hilltop above us.

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The next day we were up early and had the most fantastic day looking at some ‘old ruins’! I’ll let the photos do the talking….

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We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Machu Picchu and didn’t want it to end. Soon enough it was time to head back to Yellow River and to get back on the bikes. Before that we had a drier walk back down the valley….

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…. and the river crossing again.

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We had another night at the Yellow River and learnt a lot about farming in the area. In South and Central America the coffee plants are suffering with disease and pests at the moment. The farm had lost 80% of its coffee beans this year. They are working hard to sort out the issues ( a little help from the government would be appreciated) which seem to be climate change related. So, savour every sip.

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After the coffee farm we had to climb up out of the jungle and back into the Andes. We had a miserable day of riding in the rain which ended in us catching a lift in a pick up to make sure we made it to a town that night.

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We stopped for a day in Ollantaytambo. We needed a rest and the town is the longest permanently inhabited town in South America, with original Inca features still evident everywhere.

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Above the village is an Incan fortress.

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And then it was a final big up and over to get us to Cusco on Christmas Eve.

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We had arranged to meet up with two other cycling couples (Australian) at the Estrellita hostel and were delighted to see that a Dutch couple were there too. So, the eight of us did a big Christmas cook up, feasting all day, chatting and playing games.

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A slightly unusual looking Christmas dinner but delicious all the same.

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And then, what happens when you gather 8 cyclists together for Christmas (and a bit of beer is involved)? We show off our fabulously toned calves…

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Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you all!

We shall be taking a break in Cusco for a few days as we’re feeling pretty tired.

Huancayo to Quillabamba

This next section of the journey was extremely varied: from dry cacti ridden landscapes to jungles with bandits and colonial cities. I stared down the barrel of a gun and we left town to the sound of gunshots, but I’ll get to that later….

After Huancayo we climbed up and then dropped down into the Mantaro valley.

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Sometimes the other traffic on the road would wander into our lane.

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We spent a great night in the town of Izcuchaca. The hostel we stayed in was one of the nicest we have stayed in so far. Our room had a balcony that overlooked the old colonial bridge across the rio Mantaro. As well as having a pretty view, it meant we could easily get out the stove and cater for ourselves.

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We also had a view of the owner’s guinea pigs. I don’t think they were being bred as pets…

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We followed the river down the valley, which gradually became drier and rockier…

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… with lots of cacti.

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Further down the road we bumped into the Ayacucho Cycling Team, who were happy to pose for a photo.

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We spent a couple of days in Ayacucho, a very pretty colonial city. It was time for a rest day and, unfortunately, both of us were suffering from dodgy stomachs. The town had some interesting architecture and some good cafes offering proper coffee. It was with reluctance that we dragged ourselves away from there.

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Whilst in Ayacucho we had to make a decision on which route to take to Cusco. There is a paved road that heads there, however, it is a busy road and has several mountain passes to cross. We had discovered on a government highways department map that there was an alternative route that went northwards, however, it wasn’t on any of the maps we had or could find. We downloaded the government map and decided to head that way as it was likely to be quiet dirt roads through the jungle. We were keen to experience a different type of landscape and we are always keen to seek out the roads less travelled. However, there was this niggling thought at the back of our minds as to why this road didn’t feature on any maps – why were the government keeping it secret?

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We climbed up and over to Tambo and into the final day of a 20 day fiesta. We found ourselves drinking beer, eating food and dancing to a band when we really just wanted to be tucked up in bed. Leaving town in the morning, picking our way through the aftermath of the fiesta we, unfortunately, discovered that the next section of road was undergoing some major roadworks and was closed for periods of the day and sometimes all day. We did not relish the prospect of being under pressure to pedal within road closure deadlines and the amount of work machinery on the road was alarming to anyone on two wheels. Whilst pondering this dilemma we fell into conversation with other motorists awaiting the road to open and organised a lift through the roadworks. So, the bikes, our luggage and us were squeezed into the back of a pick up (alongside chickens and sacks of potatoes) to endure the most terrifying and uncomfortable 4 hours of the trip so far.

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The road is only open for a few hours at a time and the volume of traffic needing to get through within that window is quite large. Thus ensues a ‘wacky races’ style of driving along precarious mountain dirt roads. I closed my eyes and thought happy thoughts, Badge managed to brave a photograph.

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We were pleased to reach San Francisco / Kimbiri safely, if somewhat bruised and covered in dust. Dropping down to these towns we had entered the jungle and the vegetation and animal sounds changed dramatically from what we had encountered so far in Peru.

After leaving Kimbiri we turned onto our road that’s not on a map and went through a military checkpoint. Their presence made us ponder on what we would find along this route, however, they were very friendly and thought it was a super idea that we were cycling around Peru. We decided it was a prudent move to make friends with the good guys with guns and they were delighted to pose for a photo.

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It was hot and humid. We were excited to see the bananas, coconuts, pineapples and avocados growing around us.

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We stopped for a drink in a village and were immediately surrounded by a group of young boys. My fears became reality and I turned to discover a gun pointed into my face. Luckily it was a toy gun and it was soon pointed elsewhere. The boys were buying fireworks and  letting them off outside the shop. It was an eye opener to see 8 years old being sold fireworks and matches and then being allowed to ‘play’ with them. They were curious and soon engaged us in conversation. Their excitement at meeting ‘gringos’ resulted in us leaving the village with them chasing behind throwing bangers in our direction, which sounded just like gun shots. Quite a send off.

We knew we had to be careful when choosing where to stay the night on this section of road and to make sure we were out of sight. There weren’t any options for hostels/hotels so camp spots had to be considered well. The jungle is not easy for camping so our best option was in or behind abandoned buildings. These proved to be excellent camping spots but you did wonder why they were abandoned….

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We climbed up and up and then over into the valleys heading towards the Machu Picchu area.

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At the top there was another military checkpoint. The friendly soldiers there explained to us that this was a new road, only 5 years old, which was why it wasn’t on any map. They were curious how we had found it but delighted we had. It is going to be marketed as an alternative gateway to Machu Picchu and they hadn’t seen any gringos through here before. This explanation cleared up some of our questions and we set off feeling excited about our quiet back route in.

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About 10 k down the road we met a car coming the other way that told us there was an armed robber on the road further down at kilometre 40. This changed our mood and we stopped to ponder on what we should do. We repacked our panniers putting cards and cash in hidden separate places. Memory cards were taken out of the cameras and hidden so we don’t have any photos of the next section of the road. We decided to carry on as there wasn’t really any alternative. As kilometre 40 approached the stress levels increased and a million scenarios raced through my mind. And then……. before we could register it…. kilometre 40 was passed and we were pedaling through the 30s without incident. Later along the road we met a lovely lady, who gave us a papaya, but warned us about armed robbers on the road at night and told us we must not be visible at night. She explained that the houses we had been camping in were abandoned due to terrorism. We were pleased to reach Kiteni and a hostel for the night.

The following day we chose to take a bus for the next 120k to Quillabamba. Our stomach troubles had resurfaced and we were keen to get into safer territory. We are now enjoying a rest day in Quillabamba, a great jungle outpost with a profusion of delicious fruit on offer. Antibiotics have been found and recovery is beginning. It has been an interesting and challenging route to get here but the scenery and experiences have been rewarding. As ever, all the people we have encountered have been friendly and nice. We are now researching different options for visiting Machu Picchu, but first we are going to visit a coffee farm.

 

Huaraz to Huancayo

We finally managed to leave Huaraz after being based there for 38 days. Santiago’s House was beginning to feel like home. Due to the trekking, rest days and research days, we had been off the bikes for 31 days. Still, Badge’s new hairless, aerodynamic face was sure to improve his cycling performance.

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Huaraz is a great place to base yourself for cycling and trekking. It has a good vibe with interesting sights around every corner.

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From Huaraz we headed southwards and back into the Huascaran National Park where we would cross the Cordillera Blanca range again to enable us to begin our journey southwards to Cusco. This part of the Park is special for the Puya Ramondii, the largest species of bromeliad and the world’s largest flower.

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The rainy season is beginning to catch up with us and sometimes it’s necessary to seek shelter in unusual places.

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The valley we rode up had many interesting features, such as an unusually deep pool….

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…. and ancient rock paintings.

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We were heading up towards the glaciers again and towards a pass of 4800m.

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The ride down the other side was stunning and we had good early morning weather to enjoy it in.

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We had excellent views through to the Cordillera Huayhuash before we finally left the Huascaran National Park.

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And then we were back onto tarmac roads for a short while. We passed the ‘Corona del Inca’.

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Roadside entertainment.

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The landscape was varied, as well as the weather.

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Shrines and tunnels popping up unexpectedly.

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We are constantly amazed at where the farmers manage to plant their crops. Every available space is used, despite its gradient.

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We passed through Cerro de Pasco, famed for being the highest city in the world (4330m). It could, also, have the title of ugliest city in the world due to the enormous mining pit in the middle of it. I may be biased due to entering the city through its rubbish dump being chased by a hail and thunderstorm. Thankyou to google images for a photo of the town to help you form your own opinion –

We quickly moved on from Cerro de Pasco and visited the Bosque de Piedras, (Huayllay National Sanctuary), noted for its incredible rock formations.

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We camped next to a small holding within the Sanctuary….

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…and awoke to some furry friends who had spent the night hunkered down next to our tent.

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We headed out back on the dirt roads to meet the road heading westwards around Lake Junin. We also met Ben and Tina, another cycling couple, who we had bumped into in Huaraz and Cerro de Pasco. Finally we met up on the bikes and rode together for the next few days. It was fun to have company and formed our own mini peleton. We had a stop enroute to help this man build his wall.

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Lake Junin is home to flamingos, which was a first sighting for us.

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We also saw vicunas….

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… and visited the largest subterranean cave system in South America (or so they claim).

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Most importantly we shared time and helados with some good friends.

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From Tarma it was back to the two of us and we struggled out of town up the hill that is famous for being the world skateboard championships venue.

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The signpost says it all.

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It has been different cycling through more inhabited areas but it does have it’s positives, mainly the availability of juice bars.

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We have reached Huancayo,which is roughly halfway through our journey south to Cusco. It has been 7 months of travelling now and we realise that we have been in Peru for 2 1/2 months. This country just draws us in. December tomorrow which has crept up on us. Time to start humming the carols whilst pedaling.

Trekking: Santa Cruz and Alpamayo circuit

Many people have asked about ‘Puppy’ so I will put your minds at rest. At the end of the trek some local people took him on. He did try to escape and come with us so they had to cling onto him until we were well into the distance. They knew where he had come from and would return him, however, I don’t think they were in any hurry to. Last seen tickling him behind his ears and feeding him a hearty meal. It was tempting to take him with us but the responsibility of a hamster weighed greatly on us so I think a dog might just be beyond our capabilities. At the end of that trek we had a conversation that went along these lines: ‘I think the Huayhuash trek would be too much. I’m hurting after 5 days and one pass. That trek is 12 days and 8 or 9 passes. The cycling body is just not ready for it.’ ‘I agree. Would be nice to do another trek though. How about the Santa Cruz one? It’s 4 days and one pass.’ ‘Sounds great. Yep, let’s do that one.’ So it is with great bewilderment that we find ourselves embarking on a 10 day self supported trek, with 8 passes over 4000m, linking the Santa Cruz trek with the Alpamayo trek. Who came up with this idea? Finger pointing at each other. Noone prepared to take the blame. Yet again, in the Hyne household, the enthusiasm is high and the ability is low. Gets us into trouble every time. So, what does 10 days worth of food, that you will have to carry on your back, look like: IMGP1242

After being used to propelling ourselves by bicycle it was quite a change to be taking local transport. Our journey would involve 2 collectivos and a tuk-tuk to get us to the start of the trek. The first collectivo was the usual type of Hiace van that you see buzzing around the valley. They wait until they fill up with people and then depart. People then hop on and off along the way. Always packed full and always driven at breakneck speed. Was it a good sign that the driver crossed himself before we set off? This took us from Huaraz to Caraz. To get to the next collectivo spot we needed to take a tuk-tuk across town. Not quite sure its engine was beefy enough for us and our heavy packs. The final collectivo was a Toyota Corolla (standard vehicle here) to take us up the steep dirt road to Cashapampa. Given how we have seen plenty of Corollas still alive and functioning after being tested over the dirt roads here, Badge now has a new respect for them (expect to see one parked outside Ivy Cottages on our return!). Motorized transport survived, we headed off up the valley and were treated to a stunning camping spot right in the heart of some 6000m peaks….

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…. with a beautiful alpenglow evening….

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..and a frosty start the following day.

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The first pass was Punta Union. This is the only pass tackled on the Santa Cruz trek. This trek is very popular and many backpackers include it in their itineraries. Therefore, we saw several groups on this section and there were even signposts.

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Most of these groups are not self supported. They have a guide, a cook, a donkey driver and several ‘burros’. With heavy packs and cycling conditioned bodies we looked enviously on but our stingy cycle touring ways would not allow the expense (got legs, use them!) and it just, somehow, didn’t seem right. We concluded it might be something we could think about on our 60th birthday years (or could we stretch it to our 70ths?!). We were, therefore, surprised to see that the majority of the people using the burros were in their 20s. Time to toughen up, youth!

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Pass number one tackled, we moved on to pass number 2. A steep climb upwards, with a path that was so hidden you couldn’t see it unless you were on it.

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Small woodlands clinged to the sides of the mountains.

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At over 4000m, when the life seemed to start slowly seeping out of me, it was thriving all around us:

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It may appear that Badge is making a Winston Churchill V sign in reference to Remembrance Day, however, he is also celebrating summiting Pass number 2. IMGP1313

We were treated to a condor sighting on this pass which just completed the climb perfectly. From now on we saw no more gringos (tourists) for 5 days. It was just us, the wildlife and some shepherds.

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Before we knew it we were over Pass number 3 and the bad hair/headware was setting in.

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Perilous river crossings were teetered across… IMGP1330

…and beautiful camping spots were found. It was at this sunny spot that I realised, when Badge stripped off for a wash in the river, that he had become more hair than man. His head hair had become so out of proportion with his skinny body that I thought he may topple over.

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We trekked up some beautiful hidden valleys, full of woodlands, pastures, waterfalls and flowers. At the end of each valley there was always a pass to climb. Each one was different in difficulty, geology and landscape.

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Pass number 4 took us close to the glaciers.

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Several times we awoke to a frosty start. Much thought is given to tent pitching in the evening with reference to the likelihood of the morning sun. We fully understand the worshipping of the sun gods.

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Badge had some serious competition from the locals when it came to hairiness.

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This sunny early start rewarded us with a lovely view of Alpamayo ‘the world’s most beautiful mountain’. Can’t disagree with that claim.

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We were fortunate to keep the sun for a while and it stayed with us for Pass number 5. However, this was a ‘double pass day’ so we had to head onwards and upwards.

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The sun did not stick around. Everything looked, well it looked rather Scottish to me. Or am I starting to miss home…

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No time to stop and play games on this interesting pond feature,

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we had to tackle Pass number 6. Bit chilly on the top.

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The scenery was stunning when we crested the top. We were surrounded by 6000m peaks.

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We were heading down into the Alpamayo valley and hoping for another glimpse of the mighty pinnacle.

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You could almost touch the glaciers.

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The mountain goddesses were kind and let us have one more sighting of Alpamayo before we left the valley…..

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…. to climb over our final two passes of the trek. These last two were big ones, another ‘double pass day’. The packs were weighing less but the fatigue was kicking in. It can’t be easy carrying all that weight on your chin….

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Pass number 7 was greeted with joy. We were nearly to the end of the climbs. There were signs that people had travelled this way before.

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We had one final pass to conquer and it certainly kept us on our toes. There were at least 4 false horizons. It tested us and found us wanting.

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However, somehow we managed it and were delighted to be at the top of Pass number 8. Chocolate and toffees may have something to do with it.

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Then it was down into the murk. Everything looked, well it looked rather Dartmoor-like to me. Or am I starting to miss home…

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November is the start of the rainy season here and it has begun in earnest now. We have been lucky enough to not be too effected by it so far but there seems to be no escaping it now so we shall be heading southwards very soon.

We dropped out of the murk and into the patchwork fields of Hualcayan. Back into civilisation and the promise of chicken and chips for tea. We managed to catch a lift with the bus that goes to Caraz with the Hualcayan teachers in it. Unfortunately, a few other villagers wanted to as well. This did not seem to be a problem as 16 people can fit in a 12 seater van no problem……

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So, back into Huaraz for Badge’s birthday. How does a newly 45 year old celebrate his birthday……. beer, curry, cake……and……a……..hair/beard cut!

*WARNING: the following images may offend some poeple*

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I appreciate the beard had quite a following and some of you may be devastated at this news. Tough! You didn’t have to sit opposite him at every meal and be followed by small children pointing at his chin! Have no fear, there’s another 6 months growth on its way….

Trekking: Quebradas Quilcayhuanca, Cayesh and Cojup (con perro!)

The perros (dogs) in Peru have harassed us in many different ways. When we are on our bikes their ears prick up at the sound of our wheels and they brace themselves ready for the chase. As we pedal on with the perros in hot pursuit, many snap and snarl at our panniers and ankles. With the fear of rabies and loss of leg, we have to arm ourselves with stones to fend them off.

When we headed off trekking, the perros trotted up to us, keen for a pet on the head and then followed us as we walked along. The larger dog below followed us for three days. He appeared to be a seasoned mountain dog and sensibly headed homeward when we headed up and over the 5100m mountain pass. However, the smaller dog (‘Puppy’) followed us for the full 5 days of the trek and even skittered over the top of the pass.

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We took a small minivan packed full of people and shopping up to a village near the end of the Quilcayhuanca valley. The first day we headed up the valley, staggering under the weight of our packs. The cycling conditioned legs were shocked into trekking mode and the shoulders and hips were suffering. That first evening involved a lot of stretching and feeling old!

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The day was dry but the night was wet. This did not deter our furry friends who stationed themselves near our tent, ready to fend off the cows and horses that were grazing nearby.

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As we continued our journey up the Cayesh valley, Spring was in evidence with flowers breaking through.

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A quiet camp spot with a view of the mighty Cayesh.

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We explored further up the valley and watched seracs tumbling down from the glacier above.

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A condor had his beady eye on us.

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Back into the Quilcayhuanca valley, heading up towards the start of the pass over into the Cojup valley.

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Big snowy peaks popped in and out of the clouds.

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At 4600m, this was a high camp spot and it went very cold at night. So cold, we had to haul the Puppy into the tent porch before he froze overnight.

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Leaving the camp spot for the climb over the pass.

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Near the top we were walking through pockets of snow. At 5100m we were gasping for breath….

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… and ready for the descent into the Cojup valley.

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The following day started gloriously, awarding us fantastic views of the 6000m peaks.

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We lingered over breakfast, soaking in the scenery.

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Uncertain friends.

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Back in Huaraz we could see the valleys we had been to from the roof terrace of our hostel. A sunny day allowed us to relax and enjoy the view…… before planning the next trek.

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