Days 180 to 195: Abancay to Huancavelica (Peru Divide, Part 1)
I AM BUGGERED! The last two weeks have been spent on a network of gravel backroads affectionately known as “The Peru Divide”. It’s probably the toughest cycling I’ve done as the road bounces back and forth between altitudes of 2500 metres and 5000 metres... and again... and again. The gradient often pushes past 8% which is about my limit on a fully loaded bike with my gearing set-up so there’s periods of walking the bike too. I’m spent, exhausted and all other similar words in the thesaurus. And with plenty of rough gravel and early sunsets (530pm) I’ve quickly had to learn that 50km to 60km a day is sometimes enough out here.....
There’s very little in the way of big settlements on the Peru Divide, it’s mainly just tiny villages. Some of the villages are so small that there’s nowhere to sleep but the locals help me find a place to put my tent. My first night was spent in a tiny village called Pucuhuasi, camped out the back of a local family’s house and they bought me cheeses from their own cows which was a nice touch.
Other villages might have some basic accom for the equivalent of £2 to £4 which is just a room with a bed, and a bathroom with cold water shower and toilet minus the plastic seat down a hallway. It’s about zero degrees or even less when I get up so I’ve been passing on the cold showers since no one has any heating apparently either. I nearly beat my personal record I set in the Argentine/Chile mountains couple of months back - that was 8 days without a shower but here I came close with 7.
The tough and remote terrain means almost zero traffic... on a busy day I might see a few cars in an hour, and on a quiet day I just see a few all day. Everyone toots and waves even if some look bewildered as to what I’m doing out there. The remoteness also means I’m often nowhere near any sort of village at nightfall; the other night I slept in an enormous valley at 4600 metres where despite the huge vista I could see no sign of human settlement, not even farm animals. Proper all alone in the mountains.
The remote terrain and rough roads did combine to produce one ultimately comical incident even if I wasn’t laughing at the time. Sharp gravel descents tend to up the puncture ratio, and having survived 4000km across Argentina, Chile and Bolivia with just a solitary puncture I ended up with 2 in the space of 8 days on the Peru Divide. That wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that when I went to fix the second one I realised I didn’t have my small travel pump anymore..... what a dick! No idea what happened, I can only think I left it in the village where I fixed the last one. Cue an 8km walk with a fully loaded bike with a flat tyre until the backroad I was on connected with a slightly busier road to Huancavelica (which is where I was headed anyway) where I flagged down a ride the rest of the way. I was actually pretty lucky in some respects as Huancavelica is the largest place on the section of the Divide that I will cycle, and probably the only place I could buy a new pump. Seems fortunate now but on the day it didn’t stop me from arriving into Huancavelica as the grumpiest man in Peru!
Being the only significant town I’ll pass through during my 3 weeks on the Divide, Huancavelica (population 40,000) was time for a rest day where I kept on eating all the time and found a booze store with a small bottle selection of Peru craft beers. Now to continue on the Divide for the last week and the final push up to Lima!