While Out Giggling… Vilcas Huaman to Antabamba

When fellow English rider Cherry left me in Lircay just a few days into my last leg of riding, neither of us expected to meet again until much further down the road. As she bused out of town in search of rabies injections I span on towards Vilcas Huaman alone, intent on taking some rest days there to watch the World Cup Final. My mind was made up and I had my route ideas for the remainder of Peru fairly firmly established. Always happy to ride solo, Cherry was soon just a happy memory as my energies focused in on the exciting riding ahead. But Cherry wasn’t prepared to snuggle down in my memories, in my absence she became restless, unable to shake some of the route ideas we’d discussed. After a time without internet when I did eventually reconnect I did so to an inbox bulging with Cherry flavored messages: “Just read the route you are taking is the TOUGHEST on the pikes routes… hope its amazing, pretty jealous now… I might skip the world up final… I am considering all options now… time off the bike makes me want something gnarly, and not sure I want to miss out on the TOUGHEST road in the Andes“. She was referring to Neil and Harriet Pikes route from Antabamba over five 5,000m passes to Cotahuasi, a route that promised to be the highlight of riding Peru. Anyone so easily seduced by the promise of tough and gnarly rough riding is my kind of touring partner. Needless to say, it wasn’t hard to persuade her to come and rejoin me in Vilcas Huaman.

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Vilcas Huaman to Antabamba is a route of gentle but considerable ups and downs… a nice little warm up for more serious Andean adventure

With laughs and farts the glue and the unbeatable joy of rolling tires on dirt the motivation, our partnership strengthened beyond all expectations. Accordingly this 8 day 224 mile (360km) ride from Vilcas Huaman to Antabamba became a journey in humor more than a narrative of landscapes and pedal turns. As you’d expect from Peru, we had some fun climbs on quiet roads, met interesting characters and absorbed countless scenes of Andean beauty. By night we got mauled by insects in a desert valley, camped high in the cold, snoozed on the dusty floor of a village leaders house, luxuriated in a fancy hotel and slept uneasily beside the freshly flayed carcass of a slaughtered bull. While by day there were blue skies, clouds, winds and rain; deep river valleys, high plateaus and a high rock forest; giggling kids on a village lunch stop, a lady with a drum and a lamb called Juan; punctured tires, broken panniers, disintegrating sandals and a dead camera… shit happened, silliness prevailed and laughs echoed around the deep valleys and small villages we journeyed. In any other country these days could have tipped the dial into ‘true adventure’, but here, in Peru, the land of bicycling paradise, this leg only really served as a run up to the main event (see next post). Neither solely utility nor high adrenalin excitement, this ride from Vilcas Huaman to Antabamba only served to remind me just how spoilt I’ve become in Peru.

Map - Vicas Huaman to Antabamba

Route from Vilcas Huaman south-east to Antabamba… click here to view the fully interactive map and elevation profile

Vilcas Huaman to Antabamba Route elevation profile

As has become par for the course in Peru, Neil and Harriet Pike’s exceptional ‘Andes By Bike’ route notes guided us along most of the way from Vilcas Huaman. Their exploration saved us a job in finding a way across the Rio Pampas and led us onto the cheeky shortcuts we so enjoy. Here is the story of mine and Cherry’s journey across the Peruvian Andes to Antabamba, Apurimac…

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Cherry arrives in Vilcas Huaman just as the right team is winning the World Cup and Tony Martin is running riot in the Tour. The next day we hit the road, starting with a gentle climb up through the villages of Putacca and Raymina

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At 13,025 ft (3,970m) we crest a pass and rejoin the beautiful world of dramatic Andean undulation

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From the pass it’s a drop down to a left in the village of Pitecc…

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… and the start of a dramatic 4,900 ft (1,500m) descent to the Rio Pampas

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The thrilling drop is briefly interrupted by the sleepy village of Pongococha before continuing down…

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… into a hot desert world of biting insects and spiky plants

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A warm night in the tents and we cross the Rio ready for a day of climbing

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The rickety bridge launches us straight into a series of switchbacks…

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… that carry us gently up the arid hill-side…

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… until the previous nights camp spot is nothing but a scar in the valley beneath

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After the switchbacks straighten out we’re carried around towards new and dramatic views of the Rio

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Over a kilometer of vertical ascent drops us into Belen where we cook up some fried egg sandwiches before rejoining the climb up and over to Chilcayocc

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Arriving in the tiny town of Chilcayocc the sun has gone and the cold is creeping in. We adopt our accommodation finding roles, me looking after the bikes as Cherry disappears off to weave a charm web. Her efforts win us a night on the floor of a dusty room in the town mayors house. A large and serious picture of the normally jovial man watches over us as Cherry whips up her special squash curry

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At sunrise we’re treated to a simple breakfast by the Mayors roly-poly wife before posing for photos with him in front of his bus

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From Chilcayocc the previous days climb continues…

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… up and over to the vibrant little village of Putongo, the starting point for another series of switchbacks…

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… that begin the climb up to Abra Putongo (14,272 ft, 4,350m)

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From Abra Putongo our road topples over onto a high and beautiful plateau (spot Cherry)…

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… before we leave it on a small track…

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… away from the traffic and onto the glorious…

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… two-track climb up to Abra Jayuri (14,436 ft, 4,400m)

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Just after the pass, at nearly the highest point of our day, we decide to pitch camp and enjoy El Silencio. Here my camera breaks and my mood sours. Cherry nurses the moral back into me with mugs of Coco Winter’s, a hot chocolate drink that will become our cold camp savior over the coming weeks. When morning breaks I’m back to form…

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… and ready for the mornings descent…

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… down through Autama…

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… and Soras before lunch in Larcay (pictured)

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Rumbles of thunder accompany our exit from Larcay…

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… and the wind gets up. Dramatic weather soon develops to compliment the dramatic landscapes

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Struggling to make headway into a violent sleet filled wind we elect to detour towards the town of Pampachuri. The three extra kilometers reward us with a night in a guest house and joys of Paola and her lamb, the fantastic smiling Juan

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Fully rested and relieved to welcome back the blue skies we spin out of Pampachuri…

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… and start to climb, first on a quiet road…

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… and then on a fun stretch of rough track

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The initial climb delivers us up onto a high plateau of distinctive rock formations and little else. After a time a man passes on his horse, behind him treads his wife, dutifully carrying a large drum. Questions of ‘why’ and ‘where’ dominate the rest of our day…

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… which continues up to Abra Millamar (13,123 ft, 4,000m)…

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… and then quickly down to lunch in Sañayca

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Cooking our eggs in the Sañayca central square we’re joined by fascinated and playful kids…

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… who delight in playing up to the camera

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A bit of Bonnie and Clyde style road block jumping releases us down onto the hot asphalt of the Nazca-Abancay highway…

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… where distance suddenly means nothing. A quick burst of paved cruising takes us into Chalhuanca which we duly christen ‘C-wank’

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For some unknown reason C-wank seduces us into breaking our usual frugal ways. Having checked into the luxury Samay Wasi hotel, Cherry jumps on a bus to Abancay to catch up on her rabies jabs. In the meantime I make as good a use as I can of the uncharacteristically clean facilities. We spend a couple of days in the hotel rinsing the rare treat of wifi for all its worth before the realisation sets in that the place is staffed by a bunch of kids more intent on inducing and recovering from hangovers than rewarding the budget busting expenditure of tight-fisted bicycle tourists

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From C-Wank we elect a straight up and over route into the next valley. Things start off slowly as rain sends us for cover…

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… fortunately a couple of jolly Chicha wielding gents are on hand to buoy our spirits…

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… and send us riding into a cold evening and frosty camp

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The next morning we’re pleased to leave the previous days stutterings behind us and get on with some riding…

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… but fate has other ideas! Cherry has a day of complete and unadulterated disaster. On this single day her sandal breaks, she suffers four punctures, has to discard a tire and two tubes with broken valves, the plastic fixings on one of her panniers snap and one of her pedal foot cage’s breaks off.

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With Cherrys world falling apart around her we don’t make it very far, only to the small community of Sarayca…

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… where a lovely lady invites us to stay with her and her freshly slaughtered bull friend. Her family has returned to the village to mark the passing of her mother, the family have bought a bull as a gift to the community. In the time we’re there a number of people come by using saws, axes and large knives to hack off parts of the animal. We lay our roll mats right next to this bloody mess which you would have thought would be traumatic for two seasoned vegetarians. In fact I think we both find it refreshing to see people so in touch with where their food comes from

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From Sarayca we drop down into the valley which will take us up to Antabamba. It’s a tedious days riding up valley through a few small villages and past a lot of old men carrying large sticks

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The scenery is at times dramatic… (there’s tiny cyclist down there)

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… but Antabamba doesn’t appear quick enough. A stunning location…

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… where people congregate on the steps of the large colonial church…

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… and babies party with aliens and Cristal girls. The perfect place to collect some supplies ready for the start of another adventure the next morning

 

Route Tips

8 days (including a few short ones), 224 miles (360 km), 27,132 ft. (8,270 m) of climbing

From Vilcas Huaman to the paved Nazca-Abancay highway after Sañayca, we followed notes from Neil and Harriet Pikes excellent Licapa (Libertadores Highway) to Saanta Rosa (Nazca-Abancay Highway) – Peru’s Great Divide route. After joining the highway we then turned south towards Chalhuanca. From Chalhuanca there are two possible routes over to Antabamba. We chose the road up and over through Yanaca to join the Pikes route to Antabamba. This option appealed on the assumption it would have less traffic than the more southerly Caraibamba, Mollebamba to Antabmaba alternative. In view of the traffic we did experience and the tedium of riding up the valley to Antabamba I’d recommend giving the Mollebamba route a try (although I have never ridden it).

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