The following is the story of Gary Quinn (59) from Liverpool, England, who put his bicycle on a bus in Lima and three hours later disembarked at Huacho. His intention was to cycle from Huacho to Huánuco. Having spent three weeks in Lima waiting for the weather in the mountains to improve he thought the time was now right. How wrong he was…
The next day he only managed 45kms (albeit uphill) to Sayán. He would normally do 75 to 100kms per day but after sampling some of the hospitality that Lima had to offer he was not at peak fitness! There was another reason for stopping overnight in Sayán though and that was because here the asphalt road runs out and is replaced by a gravel road. Or mud when it rains. And rain it did. The river Huaura was already a torrent and was threatening to burst its banks. Here Gary made a wise decision and turned back. It would mean a 100km diversion to get to Barranca and from there to head uphill to Conococha but at least the road was asphalt all the way so liable to be that much safer.
He had cycled this route in May 2014, and didn’t particularly want to do it again given that there are so many other spectacular passes in Perú, but as it turned out this trip bore little resemblance to his previous one given the road and weather conditions.
At Barranca the Panamerica Norte was flooded in places but you could get by on a bike. Similarly the secondary bridge was closed to traffic but the Police let him cross “as long as you keep to the middle of the bridge”.
That night he slept in Pativilca utterly unaware of what chaos the latest huaico was causing.
The next afternoon he arrived at Hospedaje El Tambo del Chaski. He was the only guest at first but then a platoon of police from Huaraz turned up. From them he learned that the Río Fortaleza had flooded causing damage to bridges and various sections of the road. They were there to prevent motorists from continuing onto dangerous sections of the road. “That’s it” Gary thought, “That’s the end of the road for me”. But the police thought that he could still possibly get through as long as he avoided any rockfalls!
So he continued onwards and upwards the next day. Progress was slow in places as the Diggers were still at work clearing the rockfalls and mudslides. The people queuing were in good spirits and many conversations ensued as to why this crazy gringo wanted to cycle up the mountain. The views varied from ‘Are you mad? Don’t you have family that are worried about you?’ to ‘You’ll get through on a bike in places where cars won’t be able to go.’
The latter turned out to be the case as in many places the road had been washed away altogether. However pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists could get by on a narrow track next to the river. He had to keep to the left of the road where it existed given that there were frequent rockfalls. This was not difficult as by now there was little traffic. He said his most dangerous moment came when he had to avoid a fallen telegraph pole as a collectivo came towards him at speed and to add to the chaos someone casually discarded a banana skin in front of his front wheel – as if there weren’t enough hazards on the road already!
In 2014, Gary had camped at around 9,500ft but there was no sense in camping in these conditions. So he stayed at a hospedaje in Santa Rosa and got up early the next morning to climb the final 3,500ft to the pass at Conococha. He arrived there at 1pm and the sun was finally shining. So he stopped for chicken soup and to decide whether to continue on towards Huánuco or turn left towards Huaraz. Given what he had witnessed he decided to take the safer option and to head for Huaraz. And, after all, it was downhill all the way.
Even then the difficulties were not over. The weather worsened rapidly and he found himself cycling in torrential rain when not being peppered with hailstones. He stopped twice to change into dry clothes but in the end he was just resigned to being soaking wet. He arrived in Huaraz, in the dark and in a downpour, a week after he had set off from Lima. But at least he was safe, unlike so many who had lost so much in the latest huaico.
The receptionist and guests in the hotel were full of questions as to how Gary had got here. He went off to have a shower and went out to have a beer. The receptionist forgot about him and locked the hotel door and went off to sleep. He was once again out in the rain. Welcome to Huaraz!
Gary would like to point out that he was met with nothing but kindness from the Peruvian people. There was an occasion when he was sheltering from the rain under the eaves of a house. A woman emerged from it and they had a chat. She went indoors and came back out with three freshly boiled potatoes in their skins. Delicious! And the time a Digger driver beeped his horn and waved him to stop. He thought it was to say he could not go any further but instead the driver reached down and gave him an apple. Also delicious!