Nazca to Chalhuanca
We left the heat of Nazca after getting an opportunity to speak with the DR rider, who was doing an oil change in front of the hostel. He was a Romanian guy living in California and had ridden to Canada with a friend to begin the journey to Ushuaia. He’d gotten sick in Lima and his friend had gone ahead to Cusco to make a pre-booked Inca Trail hike. He was leaving the next day for Cusco himself.
Ward toyed with the idea of trying to make up a license plate that morning, but I wouldn't wait. Google showed almost 7 hrs to the midpoint and one thing I've learned on this trip is most things take longer than expected. He decided to wait for Cusco.
In no time the road climbed in switchbacks from almost sea level to near 14,000 feet, twisting up barren stone and desert sand. Several times we waited for road crews to clear rockfall on the well maintained tarmac.
As the elevation increased, so did the dark clouds and soon the rain started. Pulling off to don rain gear, Ward produced his latest creation, a purple poncho and the orange construction pants, as well as a couple of grocery store bags and a roll of shipping tape. Finally dressed, he lifted his leg to get on the bike and the crotch of the cheap pants exploded open. He decided to repair them, while I went on ahead.
Soon after, the heavens opened for a brief bit then swapped between bursts of rain and sprinkles. Spotting some guanacos in the pampas, I pulled off briefly and grabbed a shot before the rain came again. Ward rolled in and we rode together a while until the sun came out and it was time to get out of the rain gear.
A couple of his bags got away and were blowing off into the National Guanaco Reserve but he managed to snag them just before they sailed off the cliff, sparing certain death to baby guanacos everywhere. I asked him what had happened to the blue suit and he said he’d finally tossed it in Lima. :(
It had been a long ride so far, the goal being Chalhuanca since it was roughly half way between Nazca and Cusco. Google Maps time estimation has been very accurate, showing almost 7 hours to Chalhuanca vs Sygic and Maps.me estimating 3 hrs.
The pampas in a break between rains
We’d only gone 60 miles in 2 hours and still had 120 left. At the first sign of a place to eat we pulled in and I spotted a couple of guys slaughtering a calf across the road from the restaurant. It was certainly a good sign that the restaurant was serving fresh meat.
I walked back across to the café, and Ward told me that his top case had popped open and he’d lost one of his shoes somewhere along the way. There's probably a dead baby guanaco with its head in the sneaker somewhere.
Inside the local restaurant, we and two truck drivers were the only folks inside. The restaurant owner, one of the three men slaughtering the calf, said menu of the day was "trucha frita", fried trout. The owner then popped in a VHS movie dubbed in Spanish for the two truck drivers to watch. It was an old World War II movie called "The Enemy Below" starring Robert Mitchum and Kurt Jürgens. Despite being dubbed in Spanish, we all were mesmerized by the film while downing the excellent fresh trout.
Outside the rain came heavily, and it was hard to make myself head out into it. Ward’s plastic outfit had shredded and he began searching the restaurant for a plastic bag or something to repair the outfit. There was still a long ways to go through bad weather and I’d already spent too many times getting delayed and having to ride after dark - a cardinal rule never to do. I wished him well in his repackaging, but got going on the bike in pouring rain since I knew making the town by dark was going to be iffy and with my lights having issues I was not going to chance it. I felt for Ward, but I'd never try traveling in the Andes without proper gear.
As I started the bike, my Clearwater lights were flickering and dancing, then went completely off, and my LED headlight would not come on.
A couple of days before, my high beam which was a normal H7 bulb, had burned out as well and I’d not found one, so I effectively had no lights if it got dark. The Clearwater's had been doing a song and dance for a while and I could see them going on and off on the reflective signs ahead. For brief periods they would stay lit then disappear. With as much rain as I’d been in for the last weeks, I figured some water finally made its way into some connections.
The road began climbing even higher to 14,000 feet, topping out on a huge plateau with nothing to break the wind. The rain continued sideways as the temperatures dropped from 50 down to 40 and the strong side winds began. The elevation climbed to 15,000 feet as the temperature continued to fall until 33° and the rain became stinging sleet. My face shield was so wet and foggy I had to leave it open to see the road. It wasn't long before my face was frozen but I motored as fast as I could at 65 to 70 miles an hour. The side winds were probably 30 to 40 miles an hour and despite my layers I was shivering.
Barely through the visor could I see herds of alpacas or guanacos or llamas - I never know which. I would have loved to been able to stop and look at them but it was miserable and I still had a long ways to go. I couldn't help but think how much it would suck to be broken down there with no shelter to stop the winds. The skies had gotten darker and as uncomfortable as it was for me, I knew Ward would really be suffering much worse somewhere behind me.
The next hour or two seemed forever, but eventually the weather slacked off as the road began to work its way downhill.
After an area of dense fog letting me know the road was getting lower into the clouds, I glimpsed a deep, green valley ahead. Seeing the road switchbacking its way down towards a river through the narrow canyon felt good, knowing I was coming off the bitter and wet highlands.
Chalhuanca showed to be another 30 or 40 miles away, so I knew there was about an hour left before darkness fell and I figured I would get into town about dark. I could feel the wet crotch where my rain pants had leaked from hours in the rain.
Through the canyon was beautiful and the rain finally stopped. For a short period of time I was able to enjoy the twists following the river but ahead I could see a black cloud in the canyon and about 20 miles from town the rain began again. For some reason it always seems I arrive the last 20 miles in rain and today would be no different. Here and there the road was covered by little rivers of red muddy water and assortments of rocks and gravel from the mountainsides.
Chalhuanca finally arrived, and I was wet, cold and tired. Luckily I had programmed into my GPS the coordinates of a good hotel and arrived just at dark. Water was running off me as I walked into the lobby. There were no other guests and the place was nice. He opened the gate to allow me to park in the gated area and I carried my gear in from the rain.
The beautiful room was soon covered in dripping wet gear as I tried to lay out everything I could including the cameras that had been in my tank bag. Darkness fell and I couldn't help but wonder how Ward was doing. Despite being the only guest in the hotel, they opened the restaurant for me and brought hot soup along with coffee, and I ordered a complete meal. As I sat at the meal and began to feel the fatigue, I got a message from Ward that he had arrived and was in a hotel downtown. He said it had been a rough one and was going to bed. Trying to ride through the Andes in a plastic poncho is not my idea of fun.
The rain hadn’t quit since I’d arrived and throughout the night it never stopped. I couldn't help but think about the bike in the pouring rain and the potential for more water in the connectors. Reaching the halfway point had been a long day.