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…
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!
An other awesome post. Pictures and all…
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!
Actually, I got zapped really badly the other day using a wall socket. Shorted out the charger, and made me jump a couple of feet…
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! 🙂
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.
Hey sorry I’m only commenting for the first time now, I’ve been reading for months! This leg was so beautiful I had to comment. Thanks
Cheers! It was indeed a good ‘un!
You ARE quite simply AMAZING. Photos brilliant as usual and fill us both with inspiration and joy X
Not sure about that Susie, but glad you are enjoying it all!
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!
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…
cheers! this is all i needed! thanks lets see what happens …
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?
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.
Hey Cass, I think you might like some of these pics:
Beautiful. Steve McCurry is the business…
You make me want to ride along through all of these beautiful places!
That means a lot from a girl who hates camping 🙂
You can’t beat camping up at altitude, under a clear, star filled sky…
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.
Thanks Joe. You know where the inspiration came from to ride it…
I take it you’ve spied the new Surly mutant…
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”.
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.
I’ve been saying this a lot, but there more to gain than to lose. Please, more holes!