Huaraz to Oyon: Weak, Wobbly and a little Woeful

Central Peru is home to some of the finest cycling routes of the Americas. There’s the mighty Cordillera Blanca to explore and then the mouth-watering prospect of the Pikes recently devised dirt road routes south from Huaraz. These also happen to be some of the higher cycling routes on the continent and therefore only really available to enjoy in the drier months of May to September. It was on account of this imminent feast of cycling that I kicked my heels in Cajamarca for a month waiting out the rains. It is also the prospect of voyaging into such magnificent remote wildness that has kept me up at night with excitement. This is what it’s all about for me, unfortunately it looks like I’m going to miss most of it. Filled with illness and confusion, May 2014 has well and truly been a month to forget.


Once I eventually got back on the road after a long stay in Huaraz I did so with company

Lying in my tent the first night of the trek I enjoyed around the Cordillera Huayhuash my mind was a riot of indecision. Debilitating chest infections have haunted me the past few years so I knew that the cough I was bringing onto that hike was bound to escalate into something much worse. Thoughts of retreating back to Huaraz and looking after myself bounced repeatedly around my head before finally being smothered by the lure of the Huayhuash. I knew by hiking in the rain at altitude for 8 days I’d be encouraging my lungs to suffer but found peace with my decision to hike. A couple of weeks recovery time would surely be worth the experience I’d have in those mountains.

Huaraz to Oyon Route elevation profile

As suspected my lungs really struggled. It took more than two weeks and plenty of prescription drugs to recover to anywhere near cycling strength. In the meantime a series of cyclists came and went from my lodgings in Santiago’s House. One of them, Jukka (Finland) arrived with the same plan as I, to ride the Pikes dirt road routes south towards Arequipa. Another, Cherry (UK) decided that this challenge also appealed to her. Thus I found myself with a couple of buddies to ride this remote and only very recently traveled route. However, for the sake of company I’d have to forfeit returning into the Cordillera Blanca to ride. But this was a consequence I felt would be pacified by the rare treat of some riding company. Sacrificing my health to hike the Huayhuash had proven a just exchange, I just hoped heading south out of Huaraz with my Blanca dreams unfulfilled would pay off in a similar way.


Jukka has been touring for a few years and even has a book published in Finland about a previous around the world trip


Cherry has been on the road just over a year. She’s on her way south from California

Five days of conservative riding with a new lighter load and I felt my cycling strength start to return. The route was already offering tasters of what was to come and spirits were high. That was until I woke up in the tiny mountain town of Cajatambo with a gurgling stomach. The next three days panned out with sad predictability; long hours in bed punctuated by frequent sprints to the toilet. A visit to the doctor and more strong drugs helped me believe things were improving but a return to the road would ultimately reveal they weren’t. Two of the worst cycling days of my life delivered us into the much larger and infinitely more accessible town of Oyon where I’m currently laid up. The others cycled on the morning after we arrived. I alternately ventured out to search of a doctor’s surgery.

Lighter Load

With high mountain passes and lots of climbing ahead I’ve shed my front two panniers and a fair amount of excess gear

Lighter Load 2

Lean and light… this is all I now have and all I now need

With a massive stroke of moral boosting luck I have managed to wind up in a small town with a big health centre. Oyon boasts a provincial ‘hospital’ where I was delighted to find a doctor excited by her first foreign patient and a laboratory primed to test my juices. Three days, three visits with three little pots of shit later I’ve been certified parasite free. Feeling stronger and progressively healthier after my third course of antibiotics in as many weeks I’m starting to re-find my positivity. Although still puny and weak, I’ve had the time to gather my focus and am feeling good within myself and with my new plan. I’ll be cycling out of Oyon on a less demanding route with the pure intention of regaining some strength before reaching Ayacucho and hitting the gnarly stuff again. It’s disappointing to have to abandon a route that promised so much but I’m nothing without my health. The exchange of exploring the Cordillera Blanca for riding companions might not have worked out as emphatically positive as I’d hoped but that’s bike touring.

The last month has been more than a little miserable but I’ve gained and learnt from the experience. And as you’ll see from the following story of my short ride from Huaraz to Oyon with Jukka and Cherry, it’s not been all bad…


Leaving Santiago’s House, Santiago himself joins us for the farewell photo


It’s a dull first days paved riding out of Huaraz which ends camped between a restaurant and river


When morning comes we hit the pavement again…


… past snow-capped peaks to lunch in Conococha


From Conococha it’s a short hop to the end of our paved riding and the start of the fun stuff


Leaving Laguna Conococha behind…


… we climb up to our first small pass…


… before shooting down the other side, past interesting rock formations…


… and incredible views of the broad pampa below


As the afternoon rolls on, clouds roll in


By morning the skies have cleared again and it’s a great day to wake up in a tent


Excitement is hard to hide as we drop off our camp plateau and descend into tremendous views of the Cordillera Huayhuash


The thrilling and picturesque descent takes us quickly down…


… into the small town of Ticllos. Here an Italian organisation, Mato Grosso has established a church into which we’re welcomed for coffee


Freshly caffeinated we eventually get back to the serious business of the speedy dirt descent…


… through the village of Corpanqui…


… to the start of a climb…


… that delivers us up past the village of Cajamarquilla…


… into the shadows of the falling sun…


… and to a night on the floor of the Rajan Police station


From Rajan we’re back on the descend. First through the virtually abandoned village of Llipa Viejo…


… and then into Llipa to pick up supplies and fill up with water


After Llipa the drop continues in dramatic fashion…


From Rajan it’s a 2010 m (6,600 ft) descent down into an entirely different environment


With a lighter load descending is a completely different experience…


… pushing the limits of speed and safety…


… we race down to the cactus filled canyon floor…


… a land of heat and dust


Crossing the rushing river at 1630 m altitude…


… we continue to drop…


… through the increasingly dramatic canyon…


… to the low point of 1,390 m (4,560 ft) and the Cajatambo river crossing


From here the only way is up. Following the Cajatambo river up through a dramatic tight canyon…


… we make the first pedal strokes on a massive 3150 m (10,300 ft) climb


With so much climbing ahead it’s important to relax whenever possible…


… a theme we carry over into our night sleeping at the Baños Termales de Uñoc (2240 m, 7,350 ft). A thermal bath and disturbing night sleeping next to rotting flesh and we’re ready to continue the climb. The old lady who runs the place takes quite a shine to our Cherry


I tend not to take buses, preferring to cycle… Cherry and Jukka on the other hand are happy on this occasion to chance a lift


Up and up we go, climbing high above the Cajatambo river we cycled up the afternoon before


The grade is never challenging and the road surface good…


… as Peruvian switchbacks take us higher and higher…


… climbing out of the heat towards the snowy heights


Eventually Cajatambo (3,400 m, 11,150 ft) comes into view. Its been a relatively short day but I am spent. The next day my stomach starts acting up and things get progressively worse. I visit a doctor and we find ourselves stranded in Cajatambo waiting for me to regain some strength


After an unexpected 4 day layover in Cajatambo we finally resume our long climb and say goodbye to the tiny backwater town


Back on the road but by no means back to health, I struggle with the days climbing, barely noticing the incredible scenery around me


After the most miserable day of my touring life, Cherry manages to coax me up to Paso Pacomayo (4,540 m, 14,900 ft). I’ve been so slow that the sun is already setting, taking all the days heat with it


We end up descending from Paso Pacomayo in the dark. It’s below freezing by the time we pitch up around 4,365 m (14,320 ft). The morning sun is a very welcome addition to camp


Just when I though it couldn’t get any worse I find myself with even less energy than the day before. I struggle, barely able to drag myself let alone my bike up gentle slopes. The start of the day up to the Mina Chanca is one I won’t be able forget quick enough


Mentally I’ve never felt so broken on a bike but I still manage to get within sight of the days high-point, Punta Chanca (4,850 m, 15,900 ft) by lunch


Finding Jukka and Cherry lunching by the lake gives me a much-needed morale boast and the final push comes easier than expected


Cresting Punta Chanca (4,850 m, 15,900 ft) I’m finally able to relax. Lifting my head I’m knocked sideways by the awe-inspiring views


Around every corner of the descent from the pass in another priceless vista


I drink them in unaware and uncertain of what lies ahead for me. Having never felt weaker on a bike I’m already trying to come to terms with the thought of abandoning the route


Our road funnels down into another canyon before a brief climb up to the town of Oyon


On arrival in Oyon we’re met by hundreds of drunken revelers who have congregated in the square for the annual fiesta. Fortunately it’s only for one night and things soon settle down


As the days tick by I get used to life in Oyon. Although I’m treated like the novelty I am around these parts I’m charmed by the continuous football matches, hot mountain sun and generally relaxed attitudes.


One response to “Huaraz to Oyon: Weak, Wobbly and a little Woeful

  1. Hope you feel better soon, fella. But do rest assured that although the Peruvians are still frantically paving roads all over the country while you rest up, they probably won’t get around to the kind of tracks you enjoy for a good few years yet…

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