Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Andes in Northern Peru

In Caraz, we decided to drive northward through the Peruvian Andes to the Ecuadorian border at La Balza. This was a great decision, which took us through beautiful mountains, deeply dissected by steep river canyons, and dotted with small villages.
Camping Guadalupe Caraz, Peru

From Caraz, we followed the Santa River downstream to the famous Cañon del Pato. We had heard lots about this place with its single-lane road and 35 tunnels hewn into solid rock. The canyon was every bit as scenic as we had expected, and we thought the road was ample; we already had driven narrower roads in the southern Peruvian Andes. Little did we know that soon we would drive up and down high canyon walls on steep switchback roads that made even those in the South look plenty wide.
Cordillera Blanca
Cordillera Blanca
Cordillera Blanca snow peak
Over 18.000 feet, 5.500 m

Just past the village of Tatica, the road got narrower and steeper as we wound our way to Cabana and Pallasca. From there, switchbacks clinging to the side of the canyon wall drop down to the Rio Chuquicara. Looking across to the opposite canyon wall, we clearly saw the village Mollepata about five miles away - as the condor flies - at about the same elevation as we were. And a mere hour later, we had driven the 16 road miles to the village, eight down and eight up.
This type of "progress" is typical deep in the Andes. Go slow (and stay alive), enjoy, and do it in good weather. Even then, as the driver, I had to stop if I wanted to look at the scenery. Many roads are less than 10 feet wide, always curving, and often clinging to a cliff.
market in Caraz
Caraz, Peru

And so we meandered on northward to Angasmarca (where thankfully they had gasoline), the huge gold mine near Huamachuco, spending a weekend with a friendly family near Cajabamba, onward via Cajamarca (on a paved 2-lane road, no less), past Celendin to the Utcubamba River near Chachapoyas.
Yungay Campo Santo

The Chachapoyas were a pre-inca civilization, of which relatively little is known. We visited their most famous ruins, called Kuelap, a fortified city of round structures on a mountain top. The site is as impressive as its administration is dismal. Once the new cable car line is completed, the site can be reached much more easily. It'll be interesting to see how the resulting increase in visitor numbers will be handled.
Canyon del Pato
Cañon Del Pato
Duck Canyon formations
37 tunnels

We were now on the home stretch to the Ecuadorian border. We followed the Utcubamba River downstream to hot and humid Bagua Grande, then on up to San Ignacio. From there, we leisurely crossed the border to Ecuador and went on to Vilcabamba. Our next blog update will pick up from there.

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