I. Big ol' mountain (Parque Nacional Huascarán)
I leave San Luis early Sunday morning. I figure it's best to avoid getting caught up in any odd small town Easter festivities, recalling the Palm Sunday parade I ran into in Huanta.
At the foot of Huascarán sits the town of Yungay, where I take a break to look back on the mountain range I had just crossed. A guy introduces himself as Mike, a fellow motorcyclist from Trujillo who's floored when I tell him about the trip. Within minutes a small crowd gathers around for an impromptu photo session with a bearded white guy.
While passing through a small village north of Yungay (I think it was Callasbamba), I nearly rear-end a few tuk-tuks that are at a crawl on the highway. I work my around them only to find an Easter parade, complete with a live band, dancers waving flags and holding balloons, and four men carrying an enormous platter of food and drink on their shoulders like it were the ark of the covenant. I conclude that there's just no way to escape odd religious festivities in this country.
I started the day at ten-thousand two-hundred feet, topped out at fifteen-thousand four-hundred feet, and ended up making camp at forty-three hundred feet in the Cañón del Pato. This was the closest I had been to sea level in nearly a month and a half.
II. Cañón del Pato
In a country of dual-sport gold, this road is a diamond. One hundred miles of winding down a canyon carved by the Río Santa that takes you all from the foothills of the Corillera Blanca, through the northern edge of the Cordillera Negra, until the river meets the Pacific Ocean just north of Chimbote.
The roads most unique feature are the numerous narrow tunnels carved into the canyon walls along the entire road.
I had spent the morning riding through mist on the far side of the highest mountains in Perú, and by nightfall I was making camp in a desert canyon just sixty miles from the ocean. Thin lines of clouds materialize high over the desert in the cool night air, but when I wake up the sun has already driven them off. The canyon, with passages through narrow tunnels and high formidable walls on either side, was a gate marking the end of the Cloud Kingdom.
At the town of Santa, the river opens into a wide plain as the canyon walls give way to rocky hills and then flat sand. Even though my nostrils are caked with canyon dust, the smell of salt is overwhelming as I continue east., and I know the ocean must be close. It would seem bizarre to smell seawater while looking at a massive desert sprawl out before me, but I had already been in a place like this not long ago. Aside from the occasional sugarcane fields, the landscape is indistinguishable from the bone dry coast of northern Chile. I know that I made the right choice to stick to the mountains after Cusco rather than taking the highway through the never-ending desert of western Perú.
The ride will certainly be a lot less interesting in the desert, but nevertheless I'm glad to feel the warm air if for no other reason than it means I won't have to freeze on any high mountain passes for a little while.