Dirt road bliss. Cajamarca to Cajabamba – via Cachachi; Peru

I hadn’t planned on posting any blog updates until I reached Huaraz, but these last couple of days have been so blissful that I feel compelled to jot something down. Plus, there’s free wifi in the town square in Cajabamba, so I’m making the most of it.

This ride has crystallised my thoughts on dirt road touring, at least in this part of the world. Main, unpaved roads are all good and well, but they can be dusty, wide, and bone-jarringly rough. Sometimes it feels like I’m riding them just for the sake of keeping to dirt.

Unpaved backroads, however, are where it’s at – on this particular stretch, I saw one truck and two pickups all day. The surfaces ranged from perfect hardpack to loose, babyhead rocks, with pretty much everything in between. Villages were quiet and mellow. Views were majestic – and it felt like I had them to myself. This is the kind of touring I live for, motivating and driving me to keep riding.

I have Tom, Sarah and Joe to thank for showing me the way, who travelled the route late last year. Their fleet included a Surly Pusgley and a Big Dummy, both eye-catchingly unusual bicycles – one fat, the other long. Although this ride is somewhat circuitous and adds some hefty climbs to the mix, it’s a sublime way of avoiding a 100 km stretch of pavement between Cajamarca and Cajabamba. Few people seem to ride it. In fact, I met one gentleman who’d chatted to Tom, Sarah and Joe at the exact same spot that we were speaking – from what he had to say, there hadn’t many a cycle tourer in between…

Just in case you were wondering…

Jesus comes and goes, and I find myself on an easy going dirt road. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong one…

This, however, was the one I was after. And far better it is too.

You never know when your next chance for a Chocman resupply will be…

And so the climb begins…

Within a few switchbacks, I’ve earned some far-reaching views…

Up and up… A post lunch departure and my misplaced turn mean it’s already getting to that gorgeous last light of the day…

I’d planned to camp out close to the top of the pass, but locals I meet are worried for me as I’m travelling solito – alone. ‘They’ll rob you up there,’ one lady promises – though who ‘they’ are, of course, is another matter. It’s a fear I’ve heard countless times on this journey, despite the countless acts of generosity I’ve experienced. Still, I accept their invitation to sleep under a barn roof instead. It’s a homely spot, and I even get to make a pillow out of the straw. That evening, everyone emerges from the woodwork as I cook up dinner for the usual round of question time.

The next morning, making up for lost time, I’m on the road just as the sun’s rays are clipping the wheat fields.

More rocky bliss.

Despite how worrying local people find the idea of camping out to be, this amongst the pines would have been perfect, shielded from the wind.

Waking up to a view like this…

28km of climbing and I’m almost there.

Local call this area El Silencio. To me, this sounds wonderfully poetic. To them, it’s a barren, inhospitable stretch of land away from comfort and safety of their houses. Admittedly, I imagine it could be pretty bleak place to weather a storm.

A touch under 4000m. I love being up at this altitude.

Descending down the other side.

Surrounded by wheat fields, the odd house dots the landscape, between small villages were elderly women spin wool – held up on sticks in their hand like candy floss.

Ogre has been doing me proud of late. Its big wheels have been enjoying their diet of rocky trochas – Peruvian tracks.

I mean, what more could you want?

Bundles of corn hanging out to dry make fine decorations.

More examples of traditional building techniques, as dirt and straw are compacted to make houses.

Beyond Huayanmarka, a short climb leads me to a second pass, at 3750m.

Then it’s down half a kilometre in elevation to Cachachi for a feed.

Freshly made over the fire pit; the perfect meal for a hungry cyclist.

There’s not much to Cachachi. People here are inquisitive and friendly, and more than a little surprised that I’ve ridden up from Jesus.

There are two ways to Malcas – I’ve been told the one via Chugur is the most ‘adventurous’.

I even manage to poach some primo singletrack on the 1000m descent back down to the valley floor.

Down at 2100m, it’s oppressively hot, and I feel every bump in the dirt road that leads me to Malcas. From there, it’s another 25km on pavement, rounded off with a final climb that leaves my legs for toast…

Cajabamba – and my abode for the night.

Home from home:

15 Peruvian sol, or about 6 US dollars, is about my budget these days for a room. Tonight, it gets me a surprisingly spacious abode. There’s space for my bicycle – which I’ve manhandled up the twisting, narrow stairway – a desk at which I’m now sitting, and a firm bed. I even have a view to the main plaza through a grubby window. The shower room at the end of a long, creaking corridor is little wider than my shoulders, and I make sure I don’t study to drain too carefully. The owner informs me (so confidently I believe him) that half an hour before I’m ready to wash away the dust of the day, I need to flip an old fashioned switch; it gives a little sizzle as I do so. After a generous hour, the water is indeed, subtly warm. But the place has Peruvian charm, and after a long day’s ride, I feel at home…

The need to know section:

Follow signs from Cajamarca to Jesus, where there are shops and restaurants – it’s around 23km and paved. 2km beyond, in the hamlet of Chuko, look out for right turn just before a small wooden bridge. Ask for Cachachi; villagers will shake their heads and tell you its miles away, on a terrible road… The climb is around 28km, from 2600m to 3980m. There’s plenty of water along the way, both from taps and streams.

After reaching the top, the road descends, before rolling its way around the hills. The village of Huayanmarka (3500m) is around 15kms from the top. As you leave it, turn right at the first junction, climbing up for almost 7km to a gate at 3750m. From there, it’s a descent down to Cachachi.

Cachachi has a restaurant and a store. There are two ways down to Malcas, the next place to ask for. At the corner of the plaza, a dirt roads spirals down via Chugur. It’s steep and loose in places, with some tasty singletrack shortcuts. It levels out after descending 1000m over 20km – the last 12km along the valley floor can be rough and bumpy. The other option is to go via Chimin, which is the more travelled route. Both emerge in exactly the same place, around 32km from the top.

From there, you can cross the paved road and continue on dirt all the way to Cajabamba – apparently, there’s a big climb…. I was pretty spent, so hit pavement for the last 25km – steel yourself for some unexpected switchbacks as you close in on Cajamarca, which can be energy sapping at the end of a hot day.

I left after lunch from Cajamarca and missed the turnoff at Chuko, so only made it 18km up the climb, to the last house (43km, not counting my wrong turn). As there had been a robbery and murder in a distant village a couple of months earlier, villagers were skittish about me camping out. Still, if there had been more light I’d have kept going, as there’s some great spots amongst the pine trees a couple of kilometres further on, or on the more exposed plateau another 10km up. I made an early start the next day and rode through to Cajabamba – around 103km, depending on how many shortcuts you find on the descents!

23 thoughts on “Dirt road bliss. Cajamarca to Cajabamba – via Cachachi; Peru

  1. Gary

    It surprises me you’re finding WiFi so often, I (we) appreciate the frequent updates. I went backpacking in the Huaraz area around 10 years ago and felt it would be great touring. I can appreciate the big climbs. I remember those electric hot water heaters that would give you a tingle, sort of scary!

  2. Dave

    Hi Cass,

    Thanks for blogging about your trip, it’s been a great read. The riding looks amazing, and I’ve enjoyed reading about your conversations with the locals.

    My wife and I toured through South America last year, and we were surprised how often we found WiFi around, even in little town plazas. So there you go, no excuse to stop blogging! 🙂

    1. While Out Riding Post author

      Thanks Dave.

      That’s interesting, because I’ve really struggled with finding wifi in Peru- only seems to be in the fancier hotels. I’ll have to check plazas more often!

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the cable to hook my macbook air up to ethernet, or I’d use that in an internet cafe.

  3. Bridget Ringdahl

    glad you are getting your pass kicks again 😉 the cordillera blanca and central will keep you up there!
    ps off the topic: how many days did it take you to cycle from the south side of Tsomoriri (or Karzog) to Pang? Were there any pueblitos? Off on friday !thanks!

    1. While Out Riding Post author

      I’m afraid my memories are a little hazy of the exact amount of days. I can, however, recommend the ‘back’ way. Ride round on the lake on singletrack, which links with a hiking path to Pang. Took me 2 and a half days I think. Didn’t see a soul, expect a nomad camp on the last day. There were a couple of intense hike and bikes to clear some canyons. But beautiful ride if you go super light – I just carried a makeshift tarp, coke can cooker I made in Leh, and too many instant noodles…

  4. Gerco

    How do you like the Ogre compared to the Troll ? Are the 29-er wheels a plus ?Is the time that a touringbike needed 26 inch wheels behind us?

    1. While Out Riding Post author

      I´m going to get round to writing up some notes on this soon! Personally, I prefer the way a 29er rides for dirt road travel, but 26ers are still very much alive and kicking for world travel. Although I’ve been surprised to the availability of 29er tyres in Ecuador, there´s no denying there’s still a real lack of touring worthy, large volume 29er tyres on the market, which is a shame – still so much more choice in 26. And there are certainly places where 26ers make a lot more sense – Africa, for instance.

  5. joecruz

    Hey Cass,

    Your narrative and these images bring me back to this route in a startling, immediate vivacity. The first four or five photos, especially, are instant teletransportation to a beautiful place and kind memories. Too, I remember the ones from “descending down the other side,” laughing and grinning with Tom and Sarah and just marveling at the places bicycles can go.

    Thanks for the reminder of what rough track cycle touring can be, and keep on pedaling.


      1. gypsybytrade

        Krampus! A small and two larges, will that do?

        Cass, The Knard (3″ tire) would easily fit the sus-corrected Mukluk fork; if you’re lucky you could squeeze one in the rear, but I can’t be sure of it. It would be close. I love the new wheel/tire concoctions.

        And for anagrammatical concoctions, the Surly man in AK with the “Big Donkey” and the “Karate Mummy” has suggested the “Damp Monkey” and the “Donkey Ramp”.

        1. While Out Riding Post author

          The Knard looks like a cool tyre – a good balance.

          Looks like the current example of the Krampus is a ‘prototype’, officially. I wonder if the productions ones will be riddled with more eyelets for distance riding, or if Surly see it more as a play bike.


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