For much of the last week the team has been split up. Phil and Quita taking on the unenviable task of finding a reasonable and affordable pickup truck in Lima, and Nick and Ed with restarting the trek from Cajamarca...
Nick and Ed had enjoyed a peaceful couple of days in the lush fields of 'Argentina Farm' where the horses could relax after their truck journey. The boys decided to make things a touch more interesting by taking the wrong road out of Cajamarca. With no maps to speak of and no Peru data for the GPS it was perhaps inevitable that they'd be getting lost at some point but this seemed a touch ridiculous. Ultimately however it made for a fantastic few days of riding.
After a steady 30km day riding out of the Cajamarca valley they were lucky to knock on the door of Javier. Javier was more than happy to give the horses good grazing for the night. What's more he insisted that we slept in his house, that we ate dinner and breakfast with him, and that he would guide us over the hill above a town called San Juan and show us the paths we'd need to take to reach the village at the head of the valley. It was a tough ascent taking us directly away from the main road which we had followed the day before, and Rocio's pack needed completely re-doing mid-morning. The pack padding now includes a two inch thick foam pad which is excellent for the horses' backs but did make the saddle a bit more inclined to slip on first use. By 4pm we had reached the almost Alpine village of Huacraruco. It felt like a tough day yet we had only covered 15km!
It turned out that Huacraruco was the first village we would come to on a vast cooperative farm which we would be crossing for the next few days. Owned by Germans until the 1970s farm was run from several pretty Bavarian villages, each in its own lush green valley. Best of all they were linked by an antiquated but fairly effective internal phone system with an impossible phone line cutting directly over the 2,000m worth of mountain peaks dividing several pre-war phone/operator boxes. Nick, on a rations trip to San Juan that morning had been told that they would require permission to cross the cooperative's land from Snr Guilleime Cruzado. Unfortunately Snr Cruzado was in Cajamarca and wouldn't be back until the next morning. Furthermore it quickly became apparent that crossing 30km of 4,000m+ puna (similar to the Ecuadorean paramo) was no simple task. Local students had tried this some years before and had never been seen again - hence the need for the cooperative to register everyone who crosses their land. With these factors in mind and the generous offer of excellent grazing and a secure tent spot for the night we thought it best to await Snr Cruzado's arrival and to find a guide the next morning.
As we packed up the next morning we heard the phone system in action - lots and lots of winding, ringing and yelling. The resulting conversations sounded thoroughly confused. Having signed in with Snr Cruzado we were told that not only was there a guide for us (at a fraction of the price of an Ecuadorean contemporary) but that they had already, by this very means, phoned ahead to ensure another guide would come to meet us up on the puna, and that we and the horses would be put up in the next village of Huaycot that evening. Instructions had even been sent to Sunchubamba to prepare for our arrival the following evening!
And so it was. With our guide we were able to ascend over a kilometre within a couple of hours, cutting a straight(ish) path up through the winding track to the high puna above the farm. The view down the valley towards the coast was stunning, and we had a good glimpse of the distant valley down which we had intended to travel following our departure from Cajamarca. There was a good track across the puna yet the only person we saw all day was a local herdsman, armed with a 100 year old musket. We were in puma country apparently. At around midday Leon, our guide for the morning, became Lorenzo, our guide for the next couple of days. Lorenzo wore sandles, a poncho, and a Peruvian sombrero. He rode a natty little pony and his feet were tougher than leather - he was the quintessential mountain dweller. Within a few hours he had steered us safely down the fairly treacherous track to Huaycot where he introduced us to his brother, the administrator of the village. Again we were offered a bed which we this time accepted, and given both dinner and breakfast (hot soup and rice). The horses were even given a vast field of their own for the night (thankfully they were waiting for us in the morning!). We went to bed wondering how long this fortune could continue.
At least another day was the answer. We had descended sharply from Huaycot to Sunchubamba, another Alpine-esque village, within a few hours and were keen to continue. However, after a relatively tough few days and not knowing what we would be facing over the next, we thought it would be silly to turn down yet another offer of a bed (in our own cottage, with a log fire not that we ever lit it), paddock (with more lush grazing), and three square meals... again, the German's pre-war phone system had been working wonders! With so many people being so kind to us we were quite relieved to be able to pay a little for our stay. One surprise which the horses absolutely loved but which we had to object to was the appearance of a mare and filly in the same paddock as the boys... Unsurprisingly they thought all their Christmas's had come at once and a swift removal had to be arranged.
Having had no contact with Phil and Quita for the last few days we tried in vane to find rumoured reception above the village. In the end we resorted to an extortionately expensive pay phone and, while unable to contact the others directly, we managed to secure the services of Nick's mum to pass on word of our well-being and whereabouts. Many thanks Mrs Warner! The next day we hoped to be in a village that might be accessible with the truck. A long overdue reunion was possible but we weren't holding our breathes.
Lorenzo had sadly returned to his home below Huaycot the previous day so we were today accompanied by Juan and Carlos. Again our path cut directly up through the winding track. For the first hour or so Carlos rode Noah while Nick lead/bare-backed Capricho. We were wondering how long this would go on when the guides stopped abruptly and said they were off to find Carlos's horse. There were no signs of any fields anywhere so we assumed said steed must be tethered in the scrub somewhere nearby. We were half right. A while after they'd left we heard whistling and shouting from a ridge high above us. There was Juan chasing a mare and foal in one direction while Carlos appeared to have caught himself a different horse from which to attack from below. After a scuffle the mare was lasooed and ready to ride. We couldn't believe they were going to expect this five month old foal to follow for the next 20km but it did - and never seemed to struggle either.
The day continued perfectly. There was a feeling that things had just been going too perfectly for the last few days... Just as we had felt on the paramo in Ecuador before Ed's cut on his leg was reopened, it all seemed too good to be true. Sure enough, having not put a foot wrong for the past four days Rocio, on fairly flat ground, suddenly went quite lame with what looked like a pulled suspensory ligament. To have got so far without any lamenesses has been impressive but this was nonetheless quite a blow. Fortunately we were nearly at our destination, Cachachi, and it was an easy downhill road to the town. The guides left us with Jamie, a restaurant owner, who was more than happy to host us but who had very little grazing to speak of. Nick went off in search of an alternative and was lucky enough to be introduced to the Commisario of the local police. He was more than happy for the horses to graze around his barrack-esque buildings and quickly found a room for us to stow our kit. As a thank you we bought them dinner in Jamie's restaurant. We were sipping our cervezas when a gaggle of over-excited children came running in saying there were two gringos outside looking for us... Quita and Phil had made it. Having built up our new truck as a 50 year-old hunk of bolts we were extremely impressed by Celeste, the sky-blue twin-cab Nissan 720 pickup truck - in spite of the long run up it needed to get up the hill on the main street! It had been a hellish road up from Cajamarca (where Celeste had been having a couple of repairs) but they had made it in time for dinner. No first night in the tent for Quita though - the Commisario had found some old barracks matresses for us so we decided to enjoy the comfort while we still could.
After consultation with our trip veterinary consultant Miss Aimee Baird (not for the first time either) we decided that Rocio, while improved and sound on the flat and downhill, would need resting for a couple of days. Bute, trimmed toes, and a wedge in his easyboot could help ultimately, but in the meantime we weren't missing out by pausing with our friendly policemen. Phil and Nick needed time to return to Cajamarca to collect the excess kit that had been left there, and to pick up a couple of SENASA (Ministry of Agriculture) documents. It also turned out that Celeste needed a couple of touch ups of her own... I say touch-ups. As I type a mechanic down the road is reassembling the entire engine having replaced two valves. So it was that, after a couple of days rest and with Rocio back in shape (as if we could ever describe his belly as being "in shape"), Quita and Ed set off from Cachachi. They have made it back to the road that Ed and Nick opted not to follow a week before... All being well Phil and Nick will be joining them with Celeste in a few hours.