Canyon del Pato and Northern Peru

One of the many tunnels in the Canyon del Pato

One of the many tunnels in the Canyon del Pato

After the 10 days of climbing in the Cordillera Blanca and 1 rest day in Huaraz I continued cycling North towards Ecuador. I followed the Rio Santa valley down from Huaraz to Yungay and beyond. This valley offers spectacular views to the peaks in the Cordillera Blanca, including Huascaran and Huandoy.

The road is paved, but has a lot of big holes in it; as a result most cars and buses are swerving wildly from side to side to avoid the worst of the potholes. I have lunch at a nice restaurant near Yungay; the restaurant displays both the daily menu as well as the world cup soccer matches of the day on two blackboards – it’s the first day of the 2010 soccer world cup!

I continue in the afternoon riding down the valley – assisted by the considerable downhill all day. After Caraz the valley narrows more and more into what eventually turns into the very narrow Canyon del Pato. Here the two sides of the mountains get to within just a few meters of one another, with the river having carved a steep and narrow passage. The road turns into a one-lane gravel path, with lots of tunnels and often steep drops to the side without any rails or fences. So the ride is a bit rough, but the scenery is stunning. Unfortunately there is hardly any more water in the river bed due to a hydroelectric power plant below. Nevertheless, the Canyon del Pato is an amazing place.

In the Canyon del Pato above Huallanca

In the Canyon del Pato above Huallanca

I reach Huallanca, a small village in the Canyon and stay for the night. There are two hostels, a nice one and a pretty barren one. The nice one has all rooms fully booked, but I don’t want to stay at the other one. Turns out I can pitch my tent on the flat roof of the nice hostel after all! Unfortunately I forget my SPOT satellite tracker on this roof the next morning – something which will later cost me 2 days to recover the device!

The dusty and dangerous bus ride through the lower parts of the Canyon del Pato

The dusty and dangerous bus ride through the lower parts of the Canyon del Pato

The next day I continue by bus down towards Chimbote on the Coast, as I had been told that the road is pretty rough for the next 50km or so. They load my bike, panniers and trailer on the roof of the bus – I will later lose the rear reflector and a hitch pin as a result of that, though! The bus ride is fairly rough and dangerous, as the driver is going way too fast IMHO and there are many places along the road where the margin for error is small and any mistake could easily send the bus plunging into the depth of the canyon.

I get off the bus in Santa, some 15km North of Chimbote. Here I will spend 2 nights, essentially waiting an extra day for the SPOT device (being sent on the same Huaraz Express bus the next day). Then I ride North to Trujillo on the Panamericana. This stretch is a mix of Coastal desert, with tall sand dunes and very barren landscape, interspersed with some plantations near Chao and Viru, where there are some small streams of water from the mountains. Once I need to cross a 400m high dune – slow on the way up, but very fast (75km/h) on the way down.

A 400m saddle with sand dunes North of Santa

A 400m saddle with sand dunes North of Santa

On this section I also reach the 20,000km mark – I still remember the 10,000km in Central Mexico, seems like an eternity ago…

Reaching the 20,000 km mark on route to Trujillo, Northern Peru

Reaching the 20,000 km mark on route to Trujillo, Northern Peru

It’s a race against time as I left a bit late for this 125km day, with more than 1000m vertical climbing due to many hills. When I finally reach the crest of the last big hill and can see Trujillo down below me I am jubilant. I ride into town and plan to go to Lucho’s famous Casa de Ciclista. I don’t know his address, though. How do you find such a place in a city of more than 1 million inhabitants? I first ride towards the center, hoping to see a bike shop whose folks might know Lucho’s place. Then when it gets completely dark I stop at an Internet place to Google the place. Unfortunately, the previous URL (geocities) is no longer valid. Eventually I find a description with the address, so now I have something to aim for. I strap my lights on and ride through the dark city streets full of traffic – not very safe… I eventually get there, meet Lucho and a few other cyclists at his place. Unfortunately he has no running water this time of the day, so I ask for a nearby Hostel. He guides me – by bike – to a nearby Hostel where I stay the night.

The next day I explore the nearby beach town Huanchaco by bus and then prepare for my overnight bus ride to Guayaquil and on to Quito. I realize that the bike part of my journey is over now; there is just Chimborazo left to climb in Ecuador during the 2 week vacation with my wife!

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