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!