Tuesday, September 25, 2012

3,000 Metres and Climbing

Mototaxis are designed for a purpose. That purpose is to ferry people around towns and cities for as little as the passenger is willing to pay. When presented with the idea that a mototaxi can be used to climb mountains or drive long distances, Peruvians scratch their heads and utter words like 'loco'. But that's part of the fun. The first few days of the junket have been an adventure all their own. Having decided to head to Huancabamba from Piura, the map shows a straight yellow (second class) road leading off the main route to the southeast. The only clue on our map to the challenges that lay ahead were the distances between the towns. On certain sections kilometer measurements were three times longer than their apparent scale.

The answer was simple - the Andes stood between us and our hostal for the night and the distance vertically was at times more than the distance horizontally. Taking a mototaxi up a 3,000m mountain in the late afternoon may not be everyone's cup of tea, but we had joined two other teams, Al and Sam from Thunder from Down Under and Jim and Ben from Kamikaze Kabs, for the journey. The views over to the west were nothing short of spectacular as the sun started setting through the haze that backlit the valleys and foothills thousands of feet below us. The road was a track carved out of the sheer cliff face and cars, busses, trucks, and the rare mototaxi clung on to it for dear life. Corners are blind and as we ascended into the clouds a huge tourist bus lunged at us from out of nowhere honking wildly. Size has right of way and with only a foot or two to spare the bus driver forced our taxis to the very edge of a 1,000m sheer drop so he could pass.

The track's grade was probably a steady 9-10%, steeper than your typical mountain road in the United States which are rarely more than 6%. Then there were sections that were three times as steep that the little mototaxis simply couldn't cope with even if they were empty - let alone laden. Thrashing the clutch and throttle controls and lots of pushing got us around most bends until Jim and Ben's clutch gave out all together. Stranded in the impending gloom, the mists swirled as silence settled over us and we decided what to do next. A night on the mountain, in the open, at elevation, in Peru is, we were told by two passing motorcyclists, an open invitation for assault. Muy peligroso, amigo, muy peligroso!

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