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A couple of 'bambas and Yanama

Then we returned. It wasn't so hard going back and we reached Palo Seco for a late lunch, and downwards onto Pomabamba. The valley narrows to almost a gorge, and the bare puna turns patchwork of fields and orchards, the road lined with leafy eucalyptus and houses painted brightly with election slogans. Electioneering apart, the houses are adobe brick with red-tiled roofs, and the shapes remind us of Tuscany. We'd call it untouristed and unspoilt, if we weren't aware that's a gringo euphemism for quaintly rustic and poor.

From above, Pomabamba is a fine propect of tiled roofs, and it's a pleasant sized market town with a couple of spacious plazas. We found the delightful Hostal las Begonias, conveniently right next to an excellent cake shop, and we ate in the exotically named and purple-painted Restaurant David Davis. The cake shop proved useful next morning. We toured the market for breakfast street-stalls but even after half a dozen of these we were still ravenous and had to work our way through several shelves of cake. That morning the town was pretty lively, teeming with women in traditional dress, and the bank was the centre of it all; we guess that the campesinos get some financial support from the state.

All we did that day was ride the 25km to Piscobamba, a steady climb taking in 300m or so. Piscobamba is smaller and quieter; it's sited higher on the valley side giving generous views of the Cordillera peaks. There is a fine church, in traditional style but quite new. It is definitely very Italianate and we found it had been supported by the bishop of Gubbio. It is simple inside except for the rich and gorgeous woodcarving, a product of the Don Bosco workshop, an institution that's worked wonders for the Conchucos. We were shown round by the lovely Yenni, who works with the same foundation but at one of their mountain refuges.

It was a tougher call, the ride to Yanama, made harder by Colin being a bit sick. We lost a lot of height dropping to the river, hard going on a very rough road, then a climb of about 500m on a better road but in unforgiving, shadeless full sun. The road didn't correspond well with the old IGN map, a relief as the old road seemed to go mugh higher; the new road rounds a spur above the river, gives you some more mountain views, and idles its way to Llumpa. This a village spread on the hillside by the road and even more Italianate than anything seen so far, even down to the ice-creams. It's slightly funny in a nice way to roll up into a sleepy Italianate village to see Quechua women in very traditional wear, eating ice-cream cones. Llumpa has a couple of hostals; our lunch-stop, the man said a couple of US cyclists had come through a few days ago. It seems a nice place to stop, but we'd targetted Yanama for the night.

So with the afternoon even hotter, and Colin hardly better, we had another 1000m on a very bashed road for the afternoon's task. I wouldn't say I was exactly hallucinating towards the end, but things looked weird, wobbly and disconnected. For once the desired hostal was easy to find but up a bugger of a steep climb. It's the Hostal Andes Lodge, and as comfortable and luxuriously homely as a good British B&B. We had another rest-day, with strawberry ice creams.

Back over the mountains

We allowed an easy schedule to ride to Huaraz because we still didn't have much of a plan for what to do next. We would ride a far as we fancied towards the Portachuelo, and we could even ride over it, if it wasn't too cloudy. The road was easy-graded and in reasonable nick. We passed a road-mending crew who were filling in the ruts. For a few km there were houses, by the road and lower in the valley. The style of this valley was for more whitewashing, giving it a more a Spanish than Tuscan look. The road then enters a steeper valley and more wild now, with flowering shrubs and the gnarly quenua trees unique to the region. It's too steep to camp for a while, but towards the summit the ground flattens in parts and there are small lakes. This isn't compatible with concealment from the road, and nothing was as flat as you would like, but we found a reasonable spot with shrubs and flowers and licheny rocks and a grand view of Chopiquallqui. Cloud had been building up in the usual manner, and we hoped for clearer early-morning weather the next day.

But we didn't get it, that was just the luck of the draw that day, and we finished off the climb in clag, but if we were fated to sacrifice any views, it was better to miss the Portachuelo as we had had it perfect here last time. Even occluded, the western side was still spectacular, the outrageously large Huascaran more or less visible, and I suppose quite atmospheric.

The descent took too long but we made it to Yungay for lunch. And about time we got some food because the sodding stove had refused to do anything that morning. We would deal with it later. Yungay and the Huaylas valley now seemed awfully busy and developed after the Conchucos, and road riding a skive and not the real thing. We stopped at Carhuaz rather than flog to Huaraz; a good decision because not only is one side of the Plaza given over entirely to Heladerias, there is also a great place to stay, El Abuelo. It is run by Felipe Diaz who's a knowledgeable guide, and the designer of a decent map of the region, and like Alberto, he's a great guy. We'd seen a couple of enticing roads on his map, and asked him about them. He said the Pucaranracocha-Condor Mine road was problematic for camping, because of the mine; he rang a friend to ask about the Rajucolta road and reported back that it was fine. So we now had a plan: we would ride to Rajucolta and then we'd ride to Pastoruri.

Huaraz

We rode to Huaraz. We were hungry. We checked into the Andino club, drew out a lot of money and piled into the first pizzeria and ordered the largest things on the menu. We went back to lie in the sun and when the sun had gone, hog the internet in the hotel. We couldn't manage so much for dinner, not so much because we'd already eaten too much, but because something hadn't been quite right. We suspected the lettuce in the salad, and this should teach us to think we're now invincible and lettuce-proof. All the good work of regaining calories went to waste the next day. We could have done with another days' rest but we'd committed to our plan.

We had asked again in the Tourist Office about the Rajucolta road and we were told there's a locked gate and we needed permission from the Park Office. The office is a friendly and helpful place, if a little bureaucratic and there was no problem getting permits, even if we never quite found out the reason for them.

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