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  • Ryan Wahle

At what elevation do cows turn into llamas?

Updated: Mar 4

Due to lack of internet this post is five days late.

We had no idea what was ahead of us. Not knowing that our last shot at WiFi would be in San Mateo, we continued on-the thought of a trout farm paradise and quiet roads on the horizon. Taking us through two longer and steeper tunnels, the last day of highway proved to be just as treacherous as the first three. After six long kilometers, we turned off the highway onto a quiet dirt road. We were ecstatic! We began to bike through the greenery and mountains, now able to notice the stunning scenery we were traveling through. The mountains loomed over our heads so high up we couldn’t see the peaks.


We continued into a small village made up of two trout farms and a tiny square occupied by three donkeys. A sweet old woman named Doris let us camp on her grounds in exchange for the purchase of a few trout. We indulged in trout cooked a variety of ways, bought a horrid bottle of overly sweet wine and warmed up with tea as the rain and mist rolled in. It was peaceful and quiet and felt like the first real day of our adventure on Peru’s great divide.


The following days we made our way easily up to 12,800 feet and posted up near a river below the town of Choccna for two days to acclimate and let our stomachs figure out the local food and water. The quiet town had only one primitive store and the majority of its occupants seemed to be different kinds of dogs, donkeys, and cattle. This was a town that had seen better days, but had character because of it. The housing followed a similar story. Broken rock, mud, and concrete as the foundation and patchworked metal and tarp roofs to shelter from the storms. We spent a day below the town sunbathing, swimming in the frigid river, painting and relaxing. We cooked the trout we had purchased from the trout farm on a fire and had a completely delectable backcountry meal.


However, our beach vacation couldn’t last forever and the next day we loaded our bikes, hiked them out of the canyon where we camped and set out for the town of Yuracmayo, nestled at 14,100 ft. Traveling up another nine kilometers

we noticed the greenery fade and open up to colorful and bare peaks. Mining plagued the region as a plethora of red iron, yellow surfers, and blue aluminum deposits covered the landscape. The town was a complete ghost town. There where no shops or people and much of the infrastructure was falling apart. At the base of our first big pass we set up camp—attempting, but failing to avoid the prevailing wind. Finally, as the sun set over the glacial peaks, the wind subsided and made for a peaceful night.


The next morning we set out for our first pass. The 15 km to the 4900m pass burned our lungs and legs. Frequent breaks required stretching and constant snacking. By 11am dark clouds began to fill the sky. The wind picked up and we still had four more kilometers till the top. By the time we reached the top snow was falling and the wind was whipping. We didn’t have a chance to enjoy our summit Snickers as we swiftly threw on coats and raced the storm down. A mixture of rain and snow pelted us as we escaped off the mountain. Thunder struck, rain poured, Ren—huge smile on her face enjoyed the ride. Ryan and myself—a bit delusional from the altitude, were happy to be off the top. We biked down through flooded pastures, llama and cattle farms, and past towering waterfalls. Before an hour was over, we were back down to 4100m—a sufficient place to camp. By 2 pm, exhausted by the climb we settled in between some boulders by the river and made a feast of anchovies, quinoa and lentils before settling in early for the night. Now on a new side of the pass, it was apparent that the rainy season was upon us.


-Megan

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