From the Coast
Expedition Ancash Day 1
Published: March 19, 2019 by PICSPORADIC
Bikepacking from the western coast to the foothills of the Cordillera Negra
We stand on the side of the Pan-American highway near the fishing port of Samanco – this wasn’t an official bus stop -we were at an intersection of roads. To the west: across myriad of sand dunes was the Pacific ocean, to the east was our objective: The Cordillera Negra who’s shadowy peaks towered at 16,000ft above sea level. It was hot. Our first feelings: scattered, doubtful, apprehensive.
After 3 days of travel we were here, carrying everything we would need for the next 40 days on the bike. “I brought too much stuff” Liz stated, fumbling around trying to lash a few last-minute objects to her bike. Inside I feared the same. We had not had time to do a test run – this was it.
In reality there was no way for us to prepare for the journey that lied ahead. A tour of the Ancash State: home to both sweltering desert and the amazon basin perforated by the second highest mountain range on earth and remote glacial passes. This is a limit to what you can carry on a bicycle after all. When we lifted our 70lb bikes off the bus in Samanco the task of crossing the Andes felt overwhelming and far. –
40 Days Bikepacking in the Peruvian Andes
Our plan was grand: A massive tour of the Ancash State in northern Peru – a region as diverse as the country featuring a wide variety of ecosystems.
We would start in the western desert – crossing the Cordillera Negra (16k feet) as a warm up for the high passes of the Cordillera Blanca (23k feet) before dropping to Yanama on the western frontier with the Amazon.
The idea was dreamed up after countless hours going through photos with Liz from my previous trip: Expedicion ANP. “we have to go back” told her. I longed to share the vast and rugged landscapes of Peru – The country had always had a special place in my heart, and left so much to be discovered.
We resolved to travel on as much trail as possible – taking with us some seriously capable full suspension bikes. The last time I had been here I remember longing to go more off-road and penetrate deeper into the Andes. This was our chance.
I knew of few people would be up for a trip of such magnitude. Liz had outperformed me many times with her capacity for endurance in our Volcanarchy expedition in Guatemala and our past year racing together. I was confident in our ability to problem solve and “not freak out” when the times got tough and looked forward to us getting lost together (just a bit).
The Ancash department stretches from the western coast to the eastern amazon basin. Within its bounds are two mega ranges: The Cordillera Negra (black) and the Cordillera Blanca (white) – with some of the highest peaks in the world including Mt Huascarán at 22,000ft.
Gateway to the Cordillera Negra
Land of Sugarcane and Searing Heat
We cross the blistering coastal plains following a large river eddy – a ribbon of green with a backdrop of barren landscapes in all directions. The mountains here are rocky, adorned with scrubby cactus’ and boulders. The land is raw stretching upwards to the craggy horizon of the Cordillera Negra and it feels as if we riding through and enormous construction site. Mounds of rock and riffraff as far as you can see – the discarded building blocks of the Andes.
It’s hot – it is not yet noon and temperatures are already above 100°F. Double semis rattle past with overloaded cargo of sugarcane. I can feel my skin blistering. We down water and keep the pace up to ensure airflow.
San Jacinto and the Ruins of Punkurí
All the water in this part of Peru is used for the irrigation of cash crops. Peru in general is a very dry place. Water courses through concrete irrigation locks like veins that spider out across the plains. All water here is privately owned and controlled feeding industrial operations of sugarcane, and fruit trees.
We pass through the town of San Jacinto – home of a large sugar processing plant. I ponder as I have many times the incredible waste of the sugar industry absorbing incalculable quantities of water and energy to produce a product that is borderline toxic.
Eager to take a rest – we stop at a roadside archeological site – sponsored by the sugar company. After looking around for a while we find the guardian – who was a bit spooked to see us.
Inside was large map illustrating the spread of the Inca civilization with hundreds of ruins throughout the area. Human remains have been found in this area dating over 5,000 years old. Some 2,000 years ago people worshiped around a pyramid at this site with large sculpture of a bloated cartoon-like puma. Strange.
It’s hard to cross such dry landscape without thinking about water. –
Levels were seriously low at this reservoir.
Taking some shade visiting the ruins of Punkurí
Our First Views of the Dark Mountains
Past San Jacinto the road turns to dirt and steepens. We begin switchbacking and the load of the bikes becomes more apparent. Emotion, however rises as we climb higher returning back the natural environment after days in transit – no more city!
We climb to 2,000ft then 4,000ft -the light wanes and the temperature cools. The humid haze from the hot coast clears and we can take in the views – which are getting greener. – Cows graze in pastures and pine trees dot the landscape.
Jimbe – el. 5200ft
We reach the small town of Jimbe by dusk – the mountains of the Cordillera Negra catch the last light of day filtered red through atmosphere of the desert. The light lingers and shifts from marigold to crimson to violet and indigo. We search out a place to eat.
Children whisper, scampering in the shadows behind us. Locals give us second looks as we rock our two-wheeled steeds through the town. We knock on the only restaurant we can find. “La Caravana” and order up a dinner – then a second. In the corner of the room are two old men drinking from a liter of beer watching the violent noticias on the television from the city. Outside we can hear the children whispering among themselves – urging each other to get a look at the two gringos through the window.
I go over to talk to the two men watching television. The oldest is sitting hunched in his chair – his hand balanced on a cane. He tells me he was former teacher and owner of the restaurant. His son in law keeps the cup full of beer for him as he talks. “I’ve traveled all over” he says. “I grew up here – and crossed all of Peru by motorcycle in the 60’s”. When I tell him our plans to camp in the fields outside of town he tells us that is unnecessary -and invites us to sleep on right on the floor of the restaurant!
I order up a beer and listen intently as the man continues on his life story. “I was in San Fransisco in the 70’s” he tells me “I lived in the U.S for 5 years, my children are there now.” -He gazes at the flickering TV screen. Murder, violence, calamity traverse airways from Lima, far away on evening news. “But I came back here to my home” he says “Jimbe is a tranquil place.”
Outside in the darkness the children cup their hands over their faces against dark glass window to get a better look inside. I tell the man about our plan to cross the Cordillera Negra and that we hadn’t quite settled on a route.
“I went up there years ago” he said. “es un camino silencio” (a silent road) – “there is nothing up there.” He told us it is a full day’s ride to Huaylas on motorbike -which means 2-3 days for us on bicycles.
I think about the mountains outside – no lights dot their slopes, there slopes black silhouetted in the darkness – cold and quiet. “Camino Silencio”. Would we find water up there? Would there be any re-supply? Or would we need to take everything with us for the next 3 days: crank-stroke by crank-stroke up to 15,000ft?
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