Through the canyons and into thin air

Chimbote – Cañon de Pato – Caraz

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We left Chimobote, a loud and chaotic city to head into the valley of the Rio Santa. The valley starts as a very green and broad oasis in between rocky, sandy and dry mountains. Fields of all kind of vegetables show that this ground is very rich. Corn, potatoes and endless fields of sugar canes on both sides of the roads. The road is in good conditions and leads us deeper and deeper into the Andes. The mountains get higher and higher as the valley becomes more and more narrow. After approximately on hour the pavement ends and a good gravel road continues following the river. The green of the valley almost disappears, only a small stripe of green directly at the river remains. The riding is great and the roads allows high speed travelling, you can easily go 80 or partly even 100km/h. Christy is taking it more easy of course, but is constantly riding at reasonable speed. So when I want to take a nice picture of her I have to speed up for a while and get the camera out in a hurry to be able to get into a good position of a picture. I am surprised how well she is managing the bike on the gravel. The off-road training with her little Beta bike back in Germany really seemed to help her. We stop very often to take pictures and to enjoy the view of the valley, but I also try to keep us going, as I expect the Cañon de Pato, a steep canyon at the very end of todays itinerary to be a little bit more difficult and I don’t want us to end up in the dark there.

The valley is spectacular with steep walls on both sides and the dirt road winding on its ground along the river. The colors of the mountains surrounding us vary in different brown colors and areas of yellow and red earth. It is incredibly beautiful. As the valley slowly turns into a steep canyon, the road leads up the hill, offering breathtaking views into the canyon.

In a small village we stop to get something to drink. It is a very strange atmosphere. Many of the inhabitants sit around and look at us as we were from a different planet. As usual I try to chat them up, but other than the people in all other areas on our travel so far they are not very talkative.

So we drink our cokes in quite. The road keeps being spectacular and the walls of the canyon even get higher and the canyon narrower. This is where the Cañon de Pato begins. The walls of the canyon are just a few meters apart and fall vertically down to the bottom where the Rio Santa roars wildly. Other than I had expected, the road turns out to be very good and paved. But it is a one-way road with many small tunnels. Signs encourage you to honk before every tunnel, but I still end up facing traffic in the tunnel. So we squeeze us through the wall and the upcoming car. The road is covered with sand and only two lanes of where the car tires roll are free. There is nothing like a guardrail. If you happened to slip over the edge the next stop would be the bottom of the river, so we keep our concentration up and make a couple of breaks.

After a few kilometers the canyon opens up and the valley becomes wide again. On the left hand side the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca reach up to 6000m. They are covered in clouds though, so we can only guess about their beauty.

Because the road through the Cañon de Pato is way better than anticipated we make it to Caraz at around 3:30pm. We search a Hotel and find a nice place in the “Los Pinos Lodge”. We unload the bikes and as the clouds open up a little bit we get a short view of one of the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. A steep snowy mountain, seen from the yard of our hotel where humming birds fly around the colorful flowers. It was mind blowing.


We decide to make a little day trip into the Cordillera Negra. It is a mountain range in the west of the valley. As the Cordillera Negra “only”reaches up to just below 5000m, the tips of the mountains are not covered in snow, other than the white summits of the Cordillera Blanca, which gives both ranges the names.

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We expect to have a nice view into the Cordillera Blanca and get up early to use the usual better weather in the morning.

The road is very good, but very narrow. The good asphalt brings us through a small village. All houses are build in a 15th century clay brick style except the tin roofs.

In dozens of serpentines the road leads up the hill and with every curve the view into the valley is changing. The slopes of the Cordillera Blanca end in clouds that cover the tip of the mountains. They strangely only cover the Cordillera Blanca. We ride in the sun and the whole valley is sunny as well.

The mountain we ride up doesn’t seem to end, one curve after the other. Some of the serpentines are really steep, and since the road is very narrow, we are very happy that there is only little traffic. On some places the road leads all the way to the edge, where the walls go down 1500m. Again we have to keep the concentration up. Safely we arrive at a mountain pass. Instead of going on, we find a little dirt road that leads along the ridge of the mountain. We follow the track for a few kilometers until we find a spot with a great view. The clouds have moved a little bit, and it seemed as if it would clear up a little.

We sat there, watched nature slowly opening the scenery of the Cordillera Blanca. Small openings in the clouds allowed to get a little peek of the one summit, than a few minutes later of another one, as the first one gets covered again. It was fantastic. I remember the first summit I saw peeking out of the clouds. It was so high up, that I could hardly believe it was connected to the lower part of the mountain that you could see.

The sun was shining on us the whole time, but the wind was sort of cool since we were at an Altitute of over 4200m so we decided to ride down. The weather cleared up even more as we descended down the road.

The beauty of the landscape, the colors of the mountain, the white summits of the Cordillera Blanca, the incredible road and the drops next to it, it all gave us the feeling of having been a witness of a one-of-kind magic moment, even though we know the mountains have been there for millions of years and will most likely last some more.


1 thought on “Through the canyons and into thin air

  1. Pingback: Site Content | peaks, pampas, and panniers

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