Peru Motorcycle Diary, Chapter Two: Huanchaco to Caraz

8 May

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Day Five’s ride from Huanchaco to Caraz started slightly later than planned due to a recalcitrant alternator on one of the bikes. Push starts in full riding kit are hard work and the guys have done lots of these over the past few days, some at altitude.

The first section of the Panamerican Highway to the town of Santa brought the usual speeding, overloaded trucks, desolate landscape and corrupt policemen. Witness the Peruvian equivalent of ‘Chips’ collecting his ten soles from Carlos for a concocted traffic infraction.

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We caught up to the boys for this Panamerica photo opp.

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Yes, that’s Stuart under there.
From Santa we turned eastward and started climbing. This area is economically depressed despite private hydro schemes and mining. The road is sealed to Chuquicara and then it’s dirt much of the way to Caraz.

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A refuel stop with some interesting sites.

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Ladies’ loo.

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Franco

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Stuart

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‘Ricardo’

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‘Marco’


The group takes off down the Panamerican Highway after photo stop.

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Transporting sugar cane harvest.

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We regrouped at Chiquicara for lunch at a roadside restaurant on the roaring Santa River. In remarkably quick time the women produced huge plates of food for the hungry riders. Our rice, yuka, avocado and tomato was delicious while the carnivores had goat stew they pronounced the best yet.

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From here we all ate dirt and dust until Huallanca.

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There were power poles all along the roadside but no power yet.

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Selfie with my hero.

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Mark.

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Richard.

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At this point Stuart wisely swapped his bike with Carlos to ride the final stage in the truck. Since his stroke Stuart experiences visual perception problems in tunnels and there were plenty of those ahead. He was also tired and overheated so he made the smart decision. David drove the rest of the way.

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The vertigo inducing single track dirt road from Huallanca through Cañon del Pato (Canyon of the Duck) is the road made infamous by accident stats, both from going off the edge and head on collisions in the more than thirty unlit tunnels. It’s one of the routes featuring in the ‘Most Dangerous Roads’ episode of ‘Ice Truckers’. More than enough reason for gung ho motorcyclists to want to cross it off their bucket list.

Unfortunately for us it was also a day when a section of the road was closed for repair.

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We waited two hours at the blockade on a precipitous section. I had to force myself not to chase after toddlers roaming around the edge.

When finally allowed past at 5:30pm we hoped to make it through the Canyon before dark. Not so. Rather than organising backed up traffic uphill and downhill to flow alternately at thirty minute intervals (or some other logical system), pent up traffic was simply released at the same time leading to an inevitable log jam at the tunnels.


Tempers flared, swearing commenced and there was much animated waving of arms. No one gives an inch in Peru. Half an hour later we managed to squeeze through then it started to rain. The riders had a dark, wet but incident free journey to Caraz.

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Caraz is a small, unspoilt Andean town. Our hotel was the Grand Hostal Caraz Dulzura a little uphill. Hotel manager Carlos opened the double doors to the street, placed a ramp on the steps and the riders zoomed up and into a small courtyard to park around the fountain.

Stuart and I showered quickly and changed to go out as we had something to celebrate. Today is May 5, the two-year anniversary of Stuart’s stroke. It certainly called for a couple of drinks and a good meal. We ate at Restaurant Entre Panes on the recommendation of Rolf and Christian, two fellows we met at the entrance to the restaurant. Rolf Kalt is a Swiss civil engineer based in Brazil but contracted to work on the Poyry hydroelectric power generation project while Christian Collazos is a Peruvian hydrolics engineer. In the course of the evening we learnt a lot about hydro power, Peru and heliskiing in India. ¡Gracias por su agradable compañía Rolf y Christian!

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Rolf and Christian seated.
Day Six departed from the planned itinerary. David decided the day ride would be to Chacas, a challenging high altitude route to the very top of the Andes. The road goes through the longest, highest altitude tunnel in the world and had been recently sealed so this was an opportunity to check it out and capture some stunning photos of the Andean peaks close up.

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We chose to take an excursion to the glacier lake called Lago Paron. Carlos from the hotel put me in touch with Alberto at Pony’s Expeditions based in Caraz and I arranged an early morning transfer to walk around part of the lake. On a beautiful blue sky day we climbed up to the refuge at 4,300 metres in Alberto’s four-wheel drive on a private gravel road through the Cumunidad Campesino Cruz de Mayo. Alberto is a multilingual autodicact biologist, geologist, botanist, enthnographer and historianso it was a highly informative experience. Not many questions stumped him!

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This is a big flower growing area so ee passed a lot of people preparing for the Caraz flower market next day.

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Note the adobe bricks for a home extension drying in the sun.

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Drying the black corn used in the popular dessert ChichMorado.

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When we showed interest this woman insisted on giving us some which we passed on to Olivia who runs the hotel.

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The campesino of 3,000 people is well-organised and clean with an outside locked toilet for each family. Whilst not prosperous by first world standards they have an average life expectancy of 85 for both men and women and look strong and healthy. Whilst I can’t judge, those people we interacted with seem contentwith their lot. Quite a contrast to many pueblos we passed through.

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This sign at the lake chronicles the successful campaign against the hydrolectric power company, Duke Energy, by the local community to better manage the water resources.

After a walk around the lake and picnic we returned to the refuge. The guardian, Julio, invited us in for a cup of herbal tea while Alberto finished his siesta in his car. We discovered Julio is the same age as Stuart and had a lovely time sharing information about our families and countries.

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This a natural lake formed by a huge glacial morain (wall). The hdro water runs through a subterranean pipe.

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I couldn’t resist asking Julio to stand on the bench for this photo as otherwise his head would have come just up to Stuart’s chest.

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We finished a beautiful day with Pizza at Alberto’s Cafe de Rat. On our return to the hotel we weren’t surprised to find the riders hadn’t returned as Alberto warned us they would need between 8 to 10 hours for the round trip and they only departed at 10am. Carlos and James had returned the truck to explain what happened since there was no phone coverage. After a long day it had started to rain in Chacas and they’d encountered lots of boulders and animals on the road. Rather than return in the dark they’d wisely decided to stay at a hostal in Chacas and return in the morning.

¡No problemo! We immediately made alternative plans for ourselves for the next morning.

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Main square Caraz.

Videos from the truck of our riders.

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