3 June WP560 3587 meters above sea level.
We take a small mountain road and find a great campsite high in the terraces but Elayne is not feeling the best, according to the GPS we are above 3500mtrs. We find some great old stone houses with beautiful stone walls, the stones fitting so well together it was clear to me the traditional Inca stone work skills were still being used. The house is very small and nobody is at home so we take our time exploring the area, as Elayne is not acclimatizing to the altitude so well.
THE NEVER ENDING SCENERY IS ON EPIC SCALE.
We leave our terrace side camp high in the mountains and it’s not long before the scenery changes we climb a huge mountain pass on great roads ( no more major road works to be seen) the scenery is stunning the Andes are here with a BIG BIG BANG…
Snow capped razor edge points towering into an ultra blue cloudless sky the scale is huge and we fell a little insignificant with all this grandeur around us. Below the snow line there are terraces gardens worked by hand the woman toll at altitudes you will find hard to walk let alone work!!!!
Women are the only workers we could see , girls as young as 10-12 working as shepherds keep and eye on their small heard of Alpaca’s their colourful dress and hats you can spot miles away, On every small Plateau Alpacas grazed on a hint of green grass you could barely see, the backdrop of terraces thousands and thousands of stone terraces all made into little kraals placed high along every conceivable possibility to grow crops or graze animals at gradients that would be difficult to walk let alone construct this patch work rockery….only Inca engineering skills could build these that’s for sure.
The road is like a black snake cutting back and forth, endless gear changes bends any adventure motorcyclist would dream about, bends that disappear into the sky as you squint your eyes trying to see where they go. Fighting to regain your vision for the onslaught of the next bend is it left or right as I blink madly. I am even leaning into the bends like a mad motorcyclist ,my shoulders straining to keep from the edge drains which are at least 500mm deep and in most cases either side of the road draining water constantly from the melting peaks…..DON”T DROP YOUR FRONT WHEEL INTO ONE OF THESE BABIES … I THOUGHT…… YOUR STEERING GEOMETRY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!!!!!
Elayne is glued to the Altimeter and we watch the meters tick away higher and higher we climb Victors engine starting to chough and splutter black smoke starts pluming from the exhaust pipe down to third, then second the road now looks like something from scary fair ground ride. Always the same scenario just as we approach another summit a gaggle of trucks packed together bellowing black diesel smoke from their exhorts crawling together grinding their way higher their first gears howling as we crawl past them just edging in front before another killer bend approaches. The bends are hard to explain multiple switch backs as I watch our rear tyres hug tight as possible as I glance in the side mirrors, I pull hard right on the steering wheel knowing there is only 1.5 mm of steel holding the steering together …..We are at full lock and just make it round a bend which looks like a few ZEEDS….SSSSSS….. AND UUUU”S STUCK TOGETHER….. CASCADING FIGUER EIGHTS….I look over the edge to see what …..It is a clear shear drop with no barriers the consequences where obvious.
Our temperature gauge for the engine indicates we are getting warmer as we start to climb again the electric fan kicks in we are crawling up in second gear for the last hour. Elayne calls out the Altimeter 3000mts the highest we have been for along time, but the road still snakes higher and higher into the sky.
I am sweating at the wheel trying to steer softly around the bends knowing my steering is hanging on by 1.5 mm of steel. I take the bends wide as possible trying not to turn in to hard on the steering and put much undue strain on the steering yoke. It is a perfect day crystal clear the sun brilliant but with little heat as the ice cold wind blows through the Bug we are pretty cold for the first time even with all our cold weather gear on. Our plastic windows are rolled up we can see for miles and miles the valleys below every detail is perfect the vista is breadth taking in every sense of the word. Several old Mercedes Trucks approach from the submit down they come towards us they are crawling down their Brakes are smoking the smell is everywhere they are clearly overload the air brakes hissing on and off as they pump the brake pedal, their low gears screaming away on the steep decent a slapping tyre beats the bitumen as a retread is peeling away from one of the trucks rear tyres. They all blow the horns as we pass each other with us crawling up they wave smiling chewing their coca leaves, sometimes there are 3 or 4 occupants stuffed in the truck cab all of them waving and smiling as if to recognize our endeavor to make it here, they strain their necks heads popping out of the side windows of the truck cab to checking every detail of our funny little car their faces straining in their rear vision mirrors as cold becomes to much for them .They pass us and we watch them not more than a few meters from each other the newer truck in front we are sure he was providing the emergency brakes for the ones behind??/ They disappear around the many bends and we see them occasionally popping in and out of the mountain as they descend lower and lower. Elayne has made an interesting observation THERE ARE NO TRUCK EMERGENCY RUN OFF’S…….. CRIKEY YOUR RIGHT……I REPLY…..we did not see one on this pass or any other pass through- out Peru???????
4000mts Elayne calls out as she now has the Altimeter removed form its dashboard mounting tightly gripped in Elayne’s hand…….. “ we are still climbing Elayne calls out “…..but now Victor is just hanging on to second gear and chugging but I cannot hold the gear and pop first gear into the fray and hope that will do the job. We have no power but the gradient has not changed that much …..WHY ARE WE GOING SO SLOW …. Elayne is eager to get lower ……I try to explain you can press your foot down on the accelerator pedal it does nothing, in fact its better trying to lift your foot off as much as you can so that poor old diesel can swallow some high Andean air.
4700mts Its higher than our highest pass in Tajikistan ……we arrive at the top of the pass which is over altitude 4760mtrs and pull over, I climb out but Elayne is finding it hard to breath and opted to say in the car. I leave Victor’s engine running the electric cooling fan in full flight the air is thin and I struggle to climb up several hundred meters and survey the unbelievable vista …….HEAVEN……cannot be to far away. Nudo Ausangate alt. 6396 mtrs is clearly visible one of the highest mountains in this area. I stand in ore 6396mtrs with many others still well over 5500mtrs to the left and right of Nudo Ausangate they are just beautiful huge mountains the sky is a perfect blue the suns angle is creating shadows from their relief making them look even more impressive if that was possible,…. YOU COULD REACH OUT AND TOUCH THEM….. I spot to large birds far off in the distance …..Are they CONDORS?????…..I could not tell but they sure looked great anyway.
I return to Victor slowly puffing and panting trying to explain my possible sighting of two Condors and the wonderful view…..I really can’t breathe Chris you will need to get me down as soon as you can. Elayne does not look well and after all that humidity and heat she has suffered for months it is now for sure Altitude sickness and she looks terrible. The wind is freezing it cuts right through like an ice cold knife sending shivers down your spine, you can’t stop your jaw from shaking, we have not adjusted from our Hot Amazonian Jungle Climate, and I to feel the cold biting through something I have not experienced for a long time.
We climb back in to Victor to face the decent but to what Altitude I was not sure, Elayne was not looking well at all as we pulled back onto the road this time hoping our brakes would not boil and fail , and with no run offs making the decent not the most inviting journey. The road is something else to see as you glimpse over the edge on another hair pin bend watching the road snake down way out of sight AS IT WRAPS ITSELF AROUND ANOTHER PRECIPICE and another ,the tightness of the bends ever increasing as the buggy’s steering geometry struggles to navigate around these bends……oh for power steering…BUT THE CUTTER BRAKE WILL HAVE TO DO……….My shoulders are killing me as I try to balance the pressure on the steering keeping in mind the problem I have ,wrenching on the cutter brake left then right bend after bend thousands of bends.
Down we go Elayne is transfixed to the Altimeter and does not seem to care about the magnificent scenery and the smell of burning brakes waft though out the car a strange combination of ice cold air and cooking brake pads. I keep raving on about the landscape and what a contrast it is from all the Red dust and vivid green jungle scenery ….but Elayne is not in her chatting mood her head is dropped into her scarf and woolly hat pulled hard over head she just wants to get lower below 3500mts. I keep asking her if she has any pains in her head or feeling any strange feelings she cannot explain ….she nods NO just get lower as soon as you can. I keep my decent speed to the maximum/minimum if you know what I mean knowing my motor bike size brakes were way under sized for the eventual final weight, they were always marginal on the flat, but this pass will put them to the limits.
I stop several times to let the brakes cool down as I did not want to get them to hot but toke the opportunity to always find the best photo spot to stop. We approach a small village and pull over along side the village square, but we are still above 3500mtr, but Elayne feels a little better as she spots some food stalls……IT’S A GOOD SIGN I THOUGHT ELAYNE FEELS HUNGRY…. People have gathered around us some eating and placing their babies on the front guards for that all famous picture, their is one very old worn mobile phone camera clicking away they share the mobile phone camera with several family members all wanting a picture with the new arrival. We walk over to the food stalls as people hunch over eating packed around small wooden tables with piles of cooked trout rice and potatoes in large aluminum pots and pans. Just a few ……Pesos…………and we have a great hot meal tasty Trout and potatoes some rice. The Massive snow capped mountain scenery surrounding us as we savor the last morsels of food.
Peruvian women are in sharp contrast their colourful costumes and those all famous hats keep our eyes working overtime as they walk around babies on back eating their trout and spinning wool all at the same time. Most of the houses were small mud brick some only with plastic windows. Elayne walks back to the Buggy as a thousand hands are exploring every nook and cranny 6-7 young boys and girls pressed hard up against our zipped up closed plastic windows each side trying to see into the little alien car, the crowd parts as Elayne try’s to climb back in to her seat being joined by several children with terrible snotty noses wiping the nose residue along their cuffs and across their faces, it all seems fine to them. This was an occurring theme as we visited many other villages throughout Peru……VERY SNOTTY NOSES.!!!
It has been one of those days your eyes darting from one beautiful view to another only the smell of your burning brakes, bring you back to reality. It…. Really is visual overload but poor Elayne is trying to keep a brave face the altitude being another hurdle she will have to endure while we battle a way across the Andes to Cusco ( 3600mts)