The road was extremely quiet overnight. We only heard one vehicle pass, a moto just after dusk. The only things around those parts were the cows and donkeys. The road to the bottom was in better condition than the heavily rutted and muddy section we did the previous evening. There were some rocky bits but it was pretty good. We were lucky it was a cloudy day, the clouds shielded us from the sun’s heat.
When we reached the bottom we were once again in Marañón terrain. And here I thought we’d seen the last of her way back in Chagual. There was cactus and everything looked extremely dry. The mud was a deep red colour though, so that was new for us. There was a town of sorts at the bottom so we took the opportunity to re-ask directions. The person we asked said pretty much the same thing as the truck driver last night. We needed to go to La Oroya and pay a man to get across the river. We assumed this was some sort of barge or canoe based on the way people were describing La Oroya. We continued down the road a little further where we saw the remains of a once proud bridge and still standing a foot bridge. I asked Alberto if this was where we passed but he said it must be further because the people weren’t describing a bridge. We had to pay someone to get the bikes across. So we continued.
The road was clearly not a main route. It was rough in sections, very rough, but we could see some tracks. Only moto tracks though. It was challenging riding and as the road got sketchier and sketchier (a sure sign you’ve gone the wrong way) we approached a gate with a group of people standing around. We went through our usual routine asking how to get to the next biggest town and where we could find La Oroya to cross the river. They said it was back where we came from where the bridge was. Crap. At least it had only been 20min or so of detour. Back we went.
When we arrived at the once proud bridge there was a guy standing there. His name was Pablo. We asked if we could get the bikes across. He said it would be 20 soles (a bit over 6 USD) per bike and the way across was the cage sitting at the other side of the river. Interesting. He had no way of getting the cage to our side so he whistled for someone on the other side (there were a couple of houses on the other side).
He whistled and snaked the cable for 45min before a second guy showed up, Yonan. They talked briefly and then both walked out on the bridge that was missing a few sections at the other end (you couldn’t cross using the bridge). It looked super sketchy as it was bouncing around with them both on it. Yonan then got down on his knees and grabbed a rope that was hanging there. He proceeded to slide down it onto a sand bank in the river. It was madness. He then swam across to retrieve the cage… it looked that he almost didn’t make it because of the strong current. While I just described this whole process in a matter of minutes, it took Yonan at least 30min to bring the cage back to our side.
With the cage on our side the three men (Alberto included) muscled my bike backwards onto the cage. They usually put bikes on forwards so they can drive off at the other side but the crash bars were too wide so it didn’t fit that way. It took quite a bit of muscle power to get Apu on there. They then tied him up ready to be slung across. Alberto offered to go over with them to help unload the bike at the other side but they decided to just go the two of them. Whoosh, across the river went my bike.
Once at the other side we were helpless, all we could do was watch them struggle to get it off. One wrong move and Apu was going for a swim. It looked like they secured my bike using the rear cargo rack. We were both worried that wasn’t going to hold if things went south. Just close your eyes until it is over. It took them a solid 30 minutes back and forth muscling my bike off. It was a huge relief to see them park it at the top safely.
While they were on the other side struggling with my bike we decided to take everything off Chasqui (something we should have done with Apu but hindsight is 20/20). This made loading the bike on the cage much easier. This time Alberto went over with them to help take the bike off. One Keeway and three grown men went swinging across to the other side in that tiny little rebar cage.
Things were much easier this time. It only took them 5min or so to get Chasqui off and up the bank. All that was left was to collect and deliver me and all the stuff to the other side. Alberto stayed on the other side while the two guys came back for me. We packed everything up and slung over. It was actually a pretty fun ride. On the other side we thanked them both for all their hard work. We are the biggest bikes (heaviest) that they have taken over. I don’t think you’d get something much bigger on the cage. We later found out that the bridge was destroyed last year due to an engineering failure. Based on what was left of the bridge Alberto and I had suspected as much.
After all was said and done it was about a three hour river crossing. Still, even after all the craziness, it was far more efficient than going back to Huamachuco. It was pretty hot now, it was the middle of the day after all, and I had not anticipated being in a hot climate for this much of the day. My layering choices this morning were proving to be poor ones. Time to get moving.
The road on the other side was a dream, sure there were some rocky bits, but overall it was smooth sailing and we were the only ones there since there was no bridge anymore. At the side of the road was a bunch of cacti with parrots singing away. We’ve only seen parrots near the Marañón this trip, that must be their hangout. They were small but very pretty. We passed a couple of ladies and asked them for directions. It didn’t work out though as they both just looked terrified and could not help us with our questions about directions.
And then just like that the Marañón vanished from sight and we were climbing. Switchback after switchback until the terrain changed. The road was rocky, but as Alberto says “very rideable”. We even passed some traffic: a moto, a truck and a truck carrying Coca Cola products. Oh boy, we must be really going somewhere important. Supplying Coke products to the far corners of Peru is clearly a priority.
There were kilometer markers counting down at the side of the road and we assumed they zeroed out at Quiches. We were hoping to get gas there since Alberto hit reserve yesterday. We were probably running on fumes by this point. We could see rain in the distance and a few drops appeared on our goggles as we entered Quiches.
We headed straight for the plaza and asked about gas. There w some combis parked there, a good sign that there is not a rough road up ahead. Directions for the first gas location did not yield results. People did not hang out at the location they sold their gas it seemed. What ensued was a downpour and a wild goose chase looking for gas. Not a good combination. We eventually talked to a person who sold gas on the way out of town. He agreed to meet us up there. Before leaving the plaza a guy on a bicycle approached Alberto. He wanted to know where we were from and when Alberto told him Canada he not only knew where it was, he knew our capital as well. The first person to know where Canada actually is so far this trip.
We followed the road out of town and the guy was waiting with fuel bottles to fill us up. As he was filling up Apu he commented that we were really empty and that it wouldn’t be good to head over the pass this low on fuel. Yes, we agree, that was why we were trying so hard to get gas in town even though nobody wanted to serve us. The rain was really coming down now, and it didn’t seem like it was going to pass so we suited up in full rain gear. He said it was 2 hours or so to Sihuas so that is where we headed.
It was raining and the road was a bit treacherous so both of us weren’t using eye protection. We needed to see what was happening and the rain drops weren’t clearing from our visors. The peak on our helmets was actually pretty good at blocking most of the rain. The road was rocky but compared to the motocross and potholes of the main roads we were riding a few days ago these rocky roads were much better. Less traffic and surprisingly we could get into a higher gear. The rain kind of makes the riding a slog though. Alberto was not really keen to get the camera wet to take pictures and the scenery was either covered in cloud or fog.
When we started to reach the top I was quite cold. My left boot felt wet and my hands were freezing. I was losing my patience with the rain. My chain came off a few times too, not helping the situation. We had to take a few breaks to warm up our hand using the exhaust on our bikes. We were hoping the rain was just on this side of the mountains but the further we got the more rain there appeared to be. By the sixth time my chain came off we decided to call it quits and camp for the night. It was still rainy but I was cold and the chain was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
We were able to find a decent place to pop the tent just off the road. It looked like we would even have a water source but upon closer inspection there was lots of algae growing in the standing water so we went without. What a day, we had started it off too hot in the dry desert only to finish the day freezing in the rain. That was a 28 degree temperature swing! Peru is sneaky like that.