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Cordillera Blanca + Northern Peru

Before leaving the coast behind in favor for Cordillera Blanca, Peru’s trekking and climbing Mecca, I had a “mission” to do in a fishing village called Végueta. I was contacted by a man before I started the trip when he read one of the articles about it. He asked me to visit an old employee and friend of him from his fish meal factory that he ran in the 60’s/70’s. He didn’t have his address so I had to ask around for a while when I reached the village. This man, Pablo, got very surprised but glad when I showed up and explained who I was. Pablo lives with his three daughters and I took them out to eat grilled chicken which was much appreciated. The next morning, Pablo showed me around where the factory had once been (the government “stole” and sold everything after the revolution). What was left was only concrete foundations that suggested where the machines had been standing, and it was sad to hear all his stories from when he worked together with “El Tio Gringo”.

Dinner with Pablo and his daughters

Pablo at the old fish meal factory

After having cycled on the busy main road since Arequipa, it was nice for a change to turn off and head up towards the mountains. In the valley leading up to the pass at 4,100 m, people were shouting “GRINGO!” and “Hello Mister!” at me all the time and road workers even took the traffic cones and used them as megaphones. This can be very annoying but over time I’ve come to accept it and just ignore it. One night I found a lot of fireflies at my campsite. I collected a handful of them and released them in the abside, turning my tent into a discotheque – brilliant! In the same valley I also encountered a bird chirping very similar to R2D2 in Star Wars. Another funny encounter was when a random guy appears from the side of the road asking if I by any chance might be carrying a metal detector (yeah right). He was convinced that he knew where to search for gold that the Inca’s had hidden from the Spaniards.

The second day of the climb I got chased by a group of extremely angry and persistent dogs, that didn’t stop after I had taken all standard countermeasures. I decided to use the pepper spray for the first time, and teach them the lesson not to attack cyclists. However, I think the altitude (almost 4,000 m) affected the pressure or something, because it didn’t come out in a straight squirt. So what happened? It said “poff” and came out in a cloud, part of which I instantly got in my face. My eyes were quite ok from wearing sunglasses, but I had a stinging and burning feeling in my nose and mouth that lasted for about an hour.

The mountains in Cordillera Blanca and around Huaraz are stunning! Over twenty 6,000+ m peaks can be found here in a relatively small area. They have a lot more snow than the Bolivian mountains because of greater participation, and many of them are sharply shaped and highly technical. I continued to Caraz, another village further down in the valley. From here, I rented a backpack and left for the Laguna 69 and Santa Cruz-trek.

Following the trail up to the sapphire-blue lagoon Laguna 69 was like walking in a painting. Plenty of tall snow-capped peaks, including great views of Huascarán, Peru’s highest at 6,768 m. The lagoon itself is located below the glacier of Chacraraju (6,112 m). When I reached the lagoon, I found a lonely cow strolling around. I gave it a piece of bread and it felt like we were best friends. But I should have known better… All of a sudden the bastard lunges at me! I barely had time to react but jumped slightly up and to the side like a clumsy matador, but it hit me in the thigh, leaving a sore bruise!

Huascarán (6,768 m)

Laguna 69

The cow that attacked me

Next up was the Santa Cruz-trek, one of the most commons treks people do here. Normally it’s a four day trek but I did it in two and a half because I felt like a mountain goat jumping around in my sandals. The highest point, and most spectacular scenery, was offered by the pass Punta Unión at 4,750 m. From here, you got a close-up view of Taulliraju (5,840 m) and also a glimpse of Alpamayo (5,947 m), which by some is considered to be the most beautiful mountain in the world. If I would have had more time and the season would be right, I would love to do some climbing in Cordillera Blanca. A good reason to come back!

Taulliraju (5,840 m)

Alpamayo (5,947 m)

When I left Caraz after one day’s rest, the road turned into gravel and the valley became more and more narrow. I passed 47 (!) tunnels on the way down through Cañon del Pato, most of them short but some longer, curved and one-way only. Interesting cycling!

Tunnel at Cañon del Pato

Tunnel at Cañon del Pato

I’ve never been afraid of robbery while camping/cycling so far, but northern Peru is definitely an area where you should be more careful. Before I came to Trujillo for example, there were a lot of plantations and no hostels when it was starting to get dark. In the shantytown, I saw an abandoned lot of land with a brick wall around it and went inside to check. People lived illegally there, but I went to one of the huts to ask if it was ok if I camped there. The “leader” of the community came bursting out and asked me what the F*CK I was doing there. I hurried away, desperately looking for somewhere else. When I came to a more normal house and told them what had happened, they said that I had just stepped into the criminal headquarters where even murderers lived. Great. Even the people in this house were suspicious about ME, but luckily they let me camp outside the house.

Just before entering Trujillo, I met the Canadian cyclist Rémi Lafrenière who must be the fastest I’ve met so far. He is cycling the big loop from Alaska to Ushuaia and then back up again along the east coast visiting all countries in the Americas (65,000 km) in ONE year. 200 km daily average with a loaded bike…!

Rémi Lafrenière, 65,000 km in 1 year

In Trujillo, I headed straight to the most famous Casa de Ciclistas, or “cyclist’s house”, in South America. The place is ran by an absolutely lovely family: Lucho (who I unfortunately did not meet), his wife Araceli, daughter Angela and son Lance “Armstrong” Junior, and they have been welcoming cyclists to stay in their house for over 20 years. The place has got a very special feeling to it. I enjoyed browsing through the guestbooks and read about the other cyclists that had passed by. Among them, I found the “legend” Heinz Stücke himself, a man that has been cycling around the world for almost 50 years. It was only one more cyclist there during my stay, but we had great fun with Araceli & Co. We laughed, drank pisco and danced salsa until the early morning hours.

Casa de Ciclistas, Trujillo

A night out in Trujillo

After Trujillo, I took the bus like almost all other cyclists to avoid Paiján, a place where a group of men have specialized in robbing touring cyclists. From Piura, I continued to the touristic watering hole and surf spot Máncora. There were barely no waves at all and low season so I didn’t stay long. That´s all for Peru folks, I am now in Ecuador but that’s another story!

Máncora beach