Tariy ’09: El Cañon de Pato

Posted by Julio C. Tello,

Day 5.

Another chilly morning in Huaraz, and another dash to the bathroom to take a hot shower to warm up. Today would be one of those days that I would spend on the road for more then 12 hours, I was actually looking forward to it. Well at least the first half which involved driving through the spectacular sheer walls of el Cañon de Pato (duck canyon) on my way to Chimbote.

I exited my hotel and made my way to the bus terminal where the combis (com-bees) depart to Caraz. Now if you are scratching your head asking what a combi is, it’s a small van retrofitted to hold as many passengers as possible. It’s not the safest way to travel  in Peru but certainly the cheapest (5 s/. Huaraz to Caraz, 2 hours) and fastest. These small buses sit around 15 passengers plus the driver and his call man. I am quite used to riding on these combis throughout Lima, riding a combi to Caraz is a whole different experience. No where else is the phrase “time is money” more appropriately applied, as our combi burned rubber on its way to Caraz. Driving at what seemed to be an excess of 90 mph, the combi flew down hills and around bends in what would be an adrenaline junkies dream. I could only look on as my fellow passengers closed their eyes or focused their attention on anything rather then having to look out the window.

We arrived in Caraz in about an hour and a half, a good 45 minutes early. Caraz is a small and peaceful town in the Cordillera Blanca, a great option for those that want an alternative stay from the touristy Huaraz. The best place to stay here is the 3 star Hostal Perla de los Andes, located on a corner of the Plaza de Armas (35 s/. Single, 55 s/. double & matrimonial). After checking out the hotels I had some time to kill before my bus departed to Chimbote. As it was still early morning I headed to a bakery right next to the Hostal Perla to get some breakfast. I bought a meat empanada and an Alfajor which is a traditionally Spanish sweet with Arabic orgins, as it was introduced in Iberia, it’s translated Arabic definition is “fancy sweet”. They are delicious and one of my favorite pastries in Peru.

alfajor-peru

After breakfast I headed to the bus terminal to await the departure towards Chimbote and through el Cañon de Pato. I would be using the same transportation company that brought me to Huaraz (Alas Peruanas) and the same kind of small bus. The trip started normal enough, winding its way north between the peaks of the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, passing farmland along the way.

peru-alas-peruanas

callejon-de-huaylas-peru

rio-santa-valley-callejon-de-huaylas

About an hour into the trip the mountain ranges that make up the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca begin to close in on one another creating the duck canyon. Cutting through this geological wonder is the river Santa which makes its way to Chimbote and the coast. Wild dangerous rapids are typical of this river and at points the road, which is parallel to the the river, rises several hundred feet above the roaring river below.

 

canon-del-pato-peru

rio-santa-peru

I recommend this bus trip to backpackers and adventurous travelers looking for adrenaline. The ride can get quite scary at times as the road is very narrow at times. There was one incident where we drove over a large rock on the road right as we were making a turn, the bus nearly flipped over a 400 ft precipice into the river. Luggage went flying and people were screaming as this near brush with death is all too common along Peru’s highways.

Halfway into the ride your driving through tunnels cut into the cliffs and watching as the massive bedrock walls get closer and closer in, separated by about 40 – 50 ft at times. All the while you look down at the rapids below, also watching the buses tires as they increasingly hug the cliffs edge. At this point you also drive past a hydroelectric plant run by Duke Energy of North Carolina. Here the river runs through the generator and drops to the river below as a giant waterfall.

duke-energy-canon-de-pato

Duke Energy has their own small town further down the river, quite modern and with all the perks corporate money can buy for its American Employees. Next to this gem of a secluded town is where the Peruvian workers live, a stark contrast between the workers, divided by barb wired gates and security.

duke-energy-town-canon-de-pato

duke-energy-peruvian-worker-village-canon-de-pato

duke-energy-security-canon-de-pato

During the rest of the journey the two monstrous mountain ranges begin to withdraw from one another. Streams of water running down the Cordillera Blanca form waterfalls that empty into the river, which has begun to widen with the waters of the Andes. The road through the canyon is rubble and can be driven on year round, however rock slides do occur and the occasional rock does manage to make the ride a uncomfortable at times. Luckily the scenery will keep your attention fixed on other things to really notice the bumpy rides.

canon-del-pato

rio-santa-waterfall

As you make your way out of the canyon, a beautiful landscape of towering mountains and the river beside you make for some really worthwhile photography. For the best views of the canyon and throughout the ride, make sure you sit on the right side of the bus facing the driver.

Eventually you begin to reach the coast and the mountainous landscape becomes flat farmland with the solitary mountain or monte as they are called. It was here that our bus was pulled over by the police for a rather uncomfortable inspection. The police gather all our DNI’s (Identification Cards) all the while leaving us in the mercy of the mosquitoes, who declared war and invaded our bus through every open window and door. There was no still person on the bus as the cries and claps of the passengers became deafening as well as the curses brought upon the police officers who had detained us. After about 15 minutes of this horrible experience our cards were returned to us and we set out to to finish the ride to Chimbote.

sunset-peru-chimbote

sunset-peru-chimbote-route

Straight from the terminal of Chimbote I boarded the bus to Trujillo, already beginning to scratch my battle wounds. The America Express Bus company (Terminal Terrestre) has comfortable buses for the 2 hour ride to Trujillo, affordable too with a price of 8 soles. The ride was uneventful and since it was dark out there was nothing to see, other then the normal cheesy overdubbed karate flick on the TV.

I arrived in Trujillo at 10:30pm exhausted from the days travels. Earlier I had woken up at 7 am to catch my first transport to Caraz at 8am. I wasn’t very picky at choosing a hotel that night, in fact I went over my planned budget and spent a whopping 55 s/. for a room at the 3 star Hostal Colonial (Jr. Independencia 618). I will review that hotel in my next post as well as some locations in Trujillo. That night after checking I headed out to get a late night dinner at a chaufa restaurant which I found to be the best that I had tasted in Peru. Maybe I was just tired, or maybe it truly was a revelation, in any case I will reveal the address to the chaufa in my next post as well, as I returned the following day for lunch. That night I stumbled back into my hotel full and tired, I found my way into the shower where an intense wave of water pressure hit my body, a great shower I have to say as most shower in Peru lack pressure. I settled into bed that night glad to have survived the day, normally I would have dozed off in seconds, but itch after itch began to reveal that the battle had not been won with the mosquitoes, and that the real war was to begin that night.

Daily Expenditure – 111 s/. = $35

4 – Breakfast – Empanada and Papaya Juice
5 – Huaraz to Caraz bus ( Alas Peruanas )
20 – Caraz to Chimbote ( Via Cañon del Pato )
1 – Internet
7.50 – Lunch
2 – Snack, Empanada
8 – Chimbote to Trujillo ( America Express Bus )
7.50 – Chaufa Dinner
1 – Cigarettes
55 – Hostal Colonial (Jr. Independencia 618)

Julio C. Tello

Founder of Karikuy, an organization in Peru that brings travelers to visit and explore the country. Julio also runs the Karikuy Volunteer program and is the editor of this blog. Julio likes to write about his adventures in Peru as well as Peruvian folklore, mysteries and secluded locations.

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