Tarma had been a perfect place to stay. The deep shadey valley had made for some very chilly nights but thankfully the horses coats are growing a bit and Paz, the special pony that he is, has his rug for the frostiest nights. Our kind hosts had put us up on a small football pitch for a couple of days (the horses had had a long stint previously travelling from Huanuco), accessible only by stream for the horses, and a narrow pole over said stream for humans. Miraculously noone took a plunge into the stream itself, barring a couple of extremely chilly baths. Quita and Phil (the Gringo Grande) became instant hits with the (hordes of) local children.
Elmer, our self-elected guide who had found us this campspot kindly took the boys up to some ancient Inca Ruins where we explored a relatively untouched village perched precariously on top of a ridge above Tarma. Wherever we were we thanked the 'abuelos' (in this case forefathers) with donations of coca leaves, quinua seeds and cigarettes. To enrichen the experience we too were expected to munch coca leaves and chain-smoke throughout leaving us a touch light-headed. As the sun disappeared the cold came in so Elmer set the hillside on fire to warm us up - literally!
With Nick's gut feeling slightly temporamental on the morning of our departure from Tarma Quita and Ed took the reigns for the two day ride over the the puna to Juaja (pronounced how-ha). The first night took them back up to the high puna at the head of the Huancayo valley. These relatively flat tops make for some excellent shortcuts so they'd made rather better progress than the kilometres covered on the winding road. We found a sheltered gully, gave the horses the three coures meal they've come to expect (ground oats, alfalfa and green oats - lucky sods). Within hours of pitching our tent their was frost on its outer layer.
Quita and Ed descended to Jauja the next day while Nick and Phil returned all the way to Tarma in the somewhat naive hope that they might find a bag Nick had left in an internet cafe. Jauja is at the head of a huge flat valley in which we would be riding for the next few days. That night we hit long-rider jack pot with an immensely kind family who, after brief deliberation, invited us all to stay in their house... There was a shower! There were beds! There was even a TV next to a warm fire on which we watched '50 First Dates'. The boys were proud to pickup on one or two of the gags with our gradually improving Castilian.
In exchange for our stay the least we could do was offer a few pony rides for the children at the school which this kind family have set up... Thirty plus of them! Luckily the horses are old hands at this by now.
For the next two days Nick and Phil, and then Ed and Nick followed the railway line down the valley. Having an alternative to the busy main road was a blessing especially as we passed through the hectic centre of Huancayo. There were one or two moments (namely in the central Huancayo) when, if a train had come we'd have been slightly stuffed but, at no more than two trains a day we opted for the lesser of two evils, and celebrated with an impromptu shandy on making it to the other side in one piece.
Reaching Chacapampa, the high pass south of Huancayo, we were a little concerned for the chilly night ahead. Thankfully Phil and Quita had already introduced themselves to the Mayor and been shown the village dancing hall - with grazing, shelters and barns for horses and riders alike.
After this fifth and final day we were hoping to rest the horses in the Pampas valley (where it would be warm and green enough for them). By road however this distance would be nearly 55km - not a distance you can cover over mountains and at this altitude without risking the horses. Phil and Nick went ahead to scout the way with Celeste and were pessimistic as to the horses chances of doing it in a oner. Nonetheless they found a kind family with a garden and were just explaining how they thought the horses wouldn't probably arrive until the next day when Ed called to say they were about 2km away. Some outstanding reduras (shortcuts) had slashed nearly 20km off the route taken by the car and, though riding to the wrong village a few km away, all turned up safe and well in Acraquia, just north of Pampas, for a well-earned rest.