Wednesday, April 27, 2016

To the Beach

From Leimibamba, it was about 500km on curvy mountain roads to the town of Huanchaco on the beach, which was my next destination. Two days of relatively easy riding - or so I thought. Google Maps had other ideas.
First step was to get to Cajamarca. I started by making a quick stop just north of town at a hummingbird cafe for a coffee and to watch the birds for a while.

They're there, if you look closely. Couldn't get close enough for a good pic without them flying away.
Leaving Leimibamba took me on a winding road up a mountain, through a pass, and down into the valley on the other side, all on a road about one and a quarter lanes wide. But it was paved (for the most part) and even had some lines painted on it, so I can't complain too much. I had to be in the rain gear as much for the riding through the clouds as for the threat of rain - I was high enough that I was often inside a cloud, and the water would condense on me and get me just as wet as if it was raining.

This is pretty indicative of how the road was, though it was one of the few times I was outside a cloud and could see.
When the clouds finally cleared, I got a view down into the valley that I'd then descend into - with all the clouds still above it.
Once the road dried out, the ride was perfect. Curvy roads, good temps, hardly any cars (really nice when it's a one lane road), and the rain even held off for me (though I kept the rain gear on just in case). It actually got pretty hot as I came down into Balsas - a different Balsas than where I'd crossed into Peru, but still named because there used to be a ferry there - but cooled off again as I climbed the other side of the valley and I climbed back up into the clouds.

On the way out of Balsas I got stuck for half an hour waiting for these guys to put in a few poles. I got off the bike and had a snack while I was waiting.
One of the few views I got out of the clouds in the second half of the day.
I got into Cajamarca and started looking for a hotel. I found something online that looked like a pretty good deal, right on the main square. I got to the square, but the road I needed to take was blocked off by a stage they'd set up, so I circled around to try another path. I ended up on a one-way that took me way up a hill and away from the square, and had to circle back around. I tried another route, and couldn't get to the square at all, and circled back around. I spent probably 45 minutes just trying to get to one corner of the square without using the closed down street, and couldn't do it. I finally parked around the corner and walked to the hotel, and schlepped my stuff the block and a half in the rain after I checked in.

My balcony window was right on the main plaza, so I opened up the windows and enjoyed the music that was coming from that stage that had been blocking me from getting to the hotel. After a bit of relaxing in the room, I finally went out for some dinner late in the evening, but nothing sounded good despite hardly eating all day. I wandered across the plaza in a light drizzle where I found some sort of funeral march going on, with horns and a shrine and everything.

Imagine a slow march with an entire horn section.
On the way back to the hotel I found a popcorn vendor with some "dulce" popcorn - basically, kettlecorn. That actually sounded good to me, so I got a bag. By the time I was done with it, I was starving and willing to eat just about anything, so I scarfed down half a chicken, some fries, a salad, and dessert in about 10 minutes in the restaurant below my hotel just before they closed up.

The hotel at Cajamarca had really good internet, which I hadn't had since... I don't know, Cuenca probably? It had been a while, so I spent the morning lounging, almost ready to get on the bike, and just catching up on some of the things I'd missed without internet. It didn't help that in Peru I had no mobile data for some reason, despite it being on the list of places where I should. Google Maps said it was about four and a half hours to get to Huanchaco, so I had no qualms about time when I finally left around 11am.

I left Cajamarca on a four-lane road which let me easily cruise at 65mph, with big sweeping curves. It moved down to just two lanes not long after, and I found myself in a situation I rarely end up in - a car behind me was actually keeping up with me on the curves. So I pushed a bit harder, mostly just for fun but also to see if he would too. He did keep up with me, but only by constantly crossing into the oncoming lane to cut corners.

This would become a recurring theme in Peru - it didn't seem to matter if you could see around the curve or not, what the pavement quality was like, what the speed limit was, or anything else - drivers in Peru have absolutely no qualms about driving on the wrong side of the road if it means they can take a turn a little faster. Peru is the only country so far where I've seen signs that say "Stay on your side of the road" - and people still don't follow them.

I managed to stay in front of him all the way up until my turnoff - which seemed a little strange. The road I was on seemed to be heading the direction I wanted to go, but Google was convinced it was faster to turn off onto a little side road that was one-lane wide (the kind where if you meet someone going the other direction, you have to squeeze over to the edges to get by). Well, if it's only 4.5 hours total for the route Google was taking me, it can't be that much different than the big road, and it looked like more fun, so I decided to take the turnoff.

(Cue dramatic foreshadowing music.)

I headed down the little road for a while before coming to a small town, maybe four cross streets each direction. Google showed the path through the town as a straight shot on one road, but the road that came into town dead-ended. I checked the map, and saw that somehow I was located to the west about three streets from where I knew I actually was. The map was clearly wrong in this cas. I had no mobile data to try looking at satellite, so I asked for directions and found my way out of town.

My next turn was supposed to be 30km later. After 40km, I hadn't seen any turns at all, so I checked my map. It was... surprising, to say the least. I was now about 20km to the west of where Google said the road was.

Google's map vs where I actually went according to the GPS tracker.
So I was suddenly out in a place where Google listed no roads, with no internet to look up new directions, and no idea where this road went. So what did I do? I kept following the road, of course.

I was a little bolstered by two facts: one, it was still early in the day. I'd only been on the road for maybe an hour and a half, so it was just around noon. And two, the road that Google said I should be on was 106, and there were little markers on the side of the road I was on that said 106. So I had hope that it would meet back up, and then when the road turned "yellow" on the map not long after I met back up, it would be faster. It would have to be, if it were possible to make this route in 4.5 hours without the little detour I was doing. (I still trusted Google's time estimation, for some reason, despite the fact that they didn't even know where the road I was on was.)

I finally got into the town shown on the map - Cospán - after 70km. What was supposed to be less than 30km ended up being switchbacks on switchbacks, up and down hills, goats and sheep in the roads, and just all around issues slowing me down. I probably averaged around 20mph for that whole stretch, it can't have been much more.

There were a lot of these little things on this road.
But I was almost back to the main road now. So I cruised through Cospán and kept... wait, what? Suddenly the road turned to dirt. Hm. Must just be like this till the road meets back up with the yellow road on the map.

It met back up. The road got worse. I found the spot where, if I took a left I should be going up the road that Google Maps thought I had taken, and it was literally two tire tracks in the grass.

The road was now pretty poorly maintained dirt, but now it started climbing, which meant I went up into the clouds, and that meant that everything got damp. Including the road. So now instead of dirt, I was riding on mud. Inside a cloud with almost no visibility. On the edge of a cliff.

This was my view for the next few hours.
I rarely got over twenty miles an hour over the next few hours. Occasionally I'd stop and check my phone and verify this was still the right road, and according to Google Maps. It was, unfortunately. At this point, I'd given up on any chance of reaching Huanchaco today - I'd be happy just getting to a hotel. Since I'd turned off onto the one lane road, I'd seen zero hotels, zero restaurants, and approximately five cars. Every single person I saw (all twenty or so of them) gave me a look as I went by that was a pretty clear communication that they were surprised to see someone on a motorcycle in this area.

These are the kinds of roads I was on. There was a little trail to the side that a car might fit through, but was muddy enough that I was scared even on a motorcycle.

The cow in the right of this picture started huffing and pawing the ground as I took this picture.

Super safe bridge, I'm sure. Times like these I'm glad I'm on a motorcycle and not in a car.

Finally, signs of something like a real road. Just kidding, it was still poorly maintained dirt on the other side of this engineering marvel.
I finally got to a point where I could see down into the river valley. I knew there was a highway down there which, hopefully, would be slightly better maintained than the one I'd been on. It still took me an hour to get down all the switchbacks and to the bridge across the river, where I arrived at... a slightly better maintained dirt road. I was finally occasionally able to cruise at something over 20mph... like 30mph. Still no signs of hotels, or restaurants, or anything. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be camping tonight. On the plus side, after an entire day of rain, clouds, and cold, descending into the valley had caused things to warm up and the clouds to roll off.

Not a hotel, but might be cool to camp inside.

Night coming, which worries me, but it did bring a beautiful desert hills sunset.
Finally, I came to a small town with maybe forty buildings. One of these has to be a hotel, right? As it turns out, no. But when I asked, someone said that twenty minutes up the road there was a town called Cascas which had a hotel. So I headed up that way - finally on a paved road for the first time in four hours.

I pulled into the first hotel I found where I paid $7 for one of the worst hotels I've ever stayed in - but at least there was a bed and a shower (no hot water though). I walked down the street to chow down some chicken and potatoes, and then crashed into bed.

In the morning I made the final two hours of driving to Huanchaco, which were all on nicely paved highways now that I'd linked back up with the road I should have taken in the first place.

In retrospect, this ride was an amazing story, with great views. To be honest, if I'd known exactly what it was going to be, I might have taken it anyway. But thinking it was just going to be a nice cruise to the next city and then getting this was... challenging, to say the least. But I endured, and I don't regret it in the slightest.

No comments:

Post a Comment