• 22 November 2020

Continuing to ride towards Abra Azuca (5132 m), the highest road pass in South America

Continuing to ride towards Abra Azuca (5132 m), the highest road pass in South America

Continuing to ride towards Abra Azuca (5132 m), the highest road pass in South America 1024 576 Gürkan Genç

I woke up early in the morning, when outside was still dark. No need to go back to sleep. It is quite nice to start the day next to an ancient city at 3400 m altitude, but it is chilly. I prepared the stove and boiled the water without ever getting out of the tent and my overalls. I put 150 g of muesli into the boiling water and added one banana and stirred. When turn off the stove a silence comes in, I’m watching the mountains from the open door of my tent. Another day is starting. Let’s see how it will end up.

As the sun showed up, I went out of my tent and looked around. Behind me dwellings built 700 years ago and the endless Andes in front of me. I’m at a position with 360 degrees view. I’ve done for years; I close my eyes and change the time by passing myself from where I am, like in science fiction fairy tales, through a wormhole like in fantasy movies.

I go 600 year back altogether with my books I’ve read and my experiences to reanimate how the people had lived at that place and observe. The angle of view moves among the people, through the streets mowing here and there, flies over the fields where farmers are working, then I see the people working on the dwellings behind me. The people carrying newly arrived goods from Cusco are slowly moving towards the store house walking up the stairs which I’ll use soon. The women telling where to put the goods coming from the surrounding settlements and the children playing around…. After a while this view making a whole turn around the mountain disappears swallowing the whole valley. Wow, how nice it was. I start to tidy my belonging with a big smile on my face.

Yesterday an archeologist told me: “Your true adventure will start just after the part of this road.” Well, therefore I thought that it will be better to wake up early and that turned out to be a good decision. I could move only 20 km through the whole day in this valley. I don’t want to say I rode because I had to carry my bike at least for 2 km.

That was a hard task. I had to dismount the front bags and handlebar bag between 3800 and 4500 m altitudes. Move for 100 m leave the bike and return to take the bags. Then, repeated to whole procedure for another 100 m. And this continued for 2 km and maybe a bit more. Also, I had to push my bike for 10 km and this pushing session was not a pleasure. Pushing a bike above 4000 m altitude makes you to stop just after 15 steps. 

This slow speed has also its benefit; I had plenty of time to thoroughly examine the surroundings. As I had mentioned in my previous article I was walking in a valley after 3500 m altitude. The entrance of this valley was also dangerous. For example, there was a slope of the mountain on my right and a cliff on my left for about 2 km. My bike and I can barely fit on this road, it’s pretty narrow side by side. If my feet would slide to the left side I would slide down at least for 500 m or more. There is no such slope situation, if you throw a large stone from above, you can damage the roof of one of the houses below.

I’m used to taking the bike to my right and pushing it, I took the bike to the left in this area. If we get dizzy, let’s not roll down.☺ The roads stretches in to the valley where a  clear water flows along. Through the day I always caught this water somehow. This was so good, I had the opportunity to filter the water, also took a shower and had a short rest. The reason why I filtered the water was that this region lies between Calca and Cusco at most 2 days far on foot. That is, if there is a small settlement somewhere near, the waste may have contaminated the water.  Also, since I got poisoned even after drinking the water I’ve filtered in Bolivia, I started to filter also running water in these countries where mines are widespread. Just as I have thought, afterwards I came upon a settlement on the top of the hill. By the way, the walking stones on the Inca road are renovated every 10 years. I’m walking on a nice ancient road which is renovated at 10 years periods by Peruvian Tourism and Culture Ministry. At one of the short breaks I could see the scars left by the years on some stones. Also, in this region some agricultural fields were gained by terracing.

I did not choose this hard road just for its zigzagging climbs. While planning my world tour route in 2011, I had mentioned that I would pass through the highest vehicle pass in each 5 continents and shared information about them on my web page in 2012 starting on my world tour. The highest passes by car, motorcycle and bicycle are written on my route page.

This pass is sometimes mixed with the highest point which I have mentioned in my Chile memories. Anyway, this road will take me to the highest vehicle pass in South America. I had thoroughly examined this road while resting in Calca. This is the ancient road which İncas had used to arrive to the Pacific Ocean. Alongside are small ruins dating back to Inca’s period. The road ends at Arequipa which is one of the most beautiful cities in Peru.  

Looking at map you’ll see that Arequipa lies back, that is I had to ride from Chilean border till Cusco and then back to Chilean border using mountain roads. Therefore, Arequipa is not on the list of many touring cyclist. In fact, many people traveling in Peru don’t go to this city. If you will be planning to travel in this region no matter in car, on motorbike or hitchhiking use the route I’ll give below if you like adventure. You could start from Cusco but I’ll give directions for this road starting from Calca. If you like you can search this Inca road from Google.

Calca – Cusco, Anta, Cotabambas, Tambobamba, Haquira, Oscollo (after Haquira you enter dirt road. On 2019 Google Maps you could not see a road here but see it on MapsMe or Garmin GPS Open Streets Map applications). The road stretches to Pilluni Mountain. The dirt road ends in Andugua passing by Huacollo lake, Chuguaguere and HuanCarama. Here you can make a short stop and watch the volcanoes while eating an ice cream; Aplao, Majes and Arequipa. This road is the road which I had ridden on. The reason I have mentioned this road in detail is that grading the hardness of the road will be 7 over 9 (well this will differ for every touring cyclist).

  • There is one 5024 m altitude climb, one 5100 m altitude climb and the highest road pass Abra Azucar (5132 m altitude) on this route.
  • There are 4 summit climbs over 4000 m altitude and 2 summit climbs over 4500 m altitude
  • I finished this route quite easily (with ease) in 10 days riding 910 km and gaining 17 100 m elevation. Makes up 2 Everest climbs. 

The passes along the road/route

Let me remind you the highest road pass in South America is in Peru. On the other hand, the highest point is in Chile about which I’ve written in my Chile memories.

  • Abra Callacunca 3.876 m altitude
  • Abra Ojeleca 4.592 m altitude
  • Abra La Raya 4.338 m altitude
  • Paso Huchuy Cusco 4.317 m altitude
  • Paso Chillugua 4.530 m altitude
  • Abra Culipampa 5.024 m altitude
  • Abra Arcata 5.101 m altitude
  • Abra Azuca 5.132 m altitude

  • Generally, the altitude changes between 3 700 m and 4 800 m. 
  • 34 °C temperature difference between minus 6 and plus 28 °C during one single ride was a nice experience.
  • During my 10 year’s world tour, the longest descend on paved road I did was here. 
  • The 34 °C temperature difference from minus 6 to plus 28 °C I encountered during my ride was a nice experience.
  • During my 10 years tour, I did the longest descent here. Such a unique descent may be on the Himalayan part of China but the road has to descent down to the ocean and be paved which seems impossible. I descended from 4922 m to 681 m along 82 km without turning the pedals once. I was not expecting such a smooth road. I guess motorcyclist would enjoy this road no matter ascending or descending.  Also, for cyclist it is a great joy, but my arm muscles were hurting at the evening due to steadily using the breaks. Anyway, I’ve just given some information about the road, anyone who has time and likes adventure can do this. Such a quick and sharp descent might affect the body which has adopted to 3000 m and above height for days. Right after arriving at 681 m altitude nothing happened to me but then for two weeks my blood pressure rose seriously. 

Words are not sufficient to describe this adventurous road. I had ridden on worse roads, but this was the hardest route for me and ended with awesome memories.

The bicycle with its gear on it is already very heavy without bags. I place the saddle on my shoulder to carry my bike with one hand and start to walk. Its wheel shouldn’t bent to the right much, it can hit the wall, disturb my balance and push me down the cliff. Well, I climb the stairs one by one on a very narrow road. I hear noises of one or two people on the top. I hope they recognized me, because we all won’t fit on this stair. While I stopped to catch my breath, I see they are looking at me astonished. Hahaha. I salute them with my left hand and after short time arrive at the top. The guides are carrying the staff of someone hiking from Cusco to Calca. After, going back to take the rest of my belongings I meet an American woman Martha on the top. They and me have a short break to catch some breath. Martha is 73 years old, an incredible woman. I loved her smiling, her look, her talk, her energy. She had a really special glow in her eyes.

-I’m very glad to meet you Martha. Meeting someone like you at such an incredible place made this place unique for me.  

-Some people live a life they dream. I’m also very glad to meet you, a young man realizing my dream. Whatever life brings to you, never lose your hope and life energy. May god speed you. 

Martha is a scientist, a biologist. She went abroad many times due to her work but did not find the time to travel the world the way she wanted. She had 3 children from her long-lasting marriage. After preparing the future of their and children, they decided to go on a world tour. They made a bucket list. But then her husband got cancer and lost is long fight against the illness. Then, she wanted to go this world tour with one of her children and her sister. But her sister had an accident and injured her leg and her child gave birth. At the end, she started her world tour on her own. I listened to her admiringly during our 30-minute conversation. The advice and lessons she gave were very good. Would a person sincerely hug the person in sweat, who he met 30 minutes ago? I guess it’s very rare. As the day came to an end, I couldn’t help myself without saying “Wow what a woman”.

In the following days I passed the Abra Azuca pass. I arrive in a village the morning after the day I cross the crossing. The two bikers who saw me entering the village said loudly:

 – What the fuck!

They shout and laugh saying that.Either how much I write here, that field needs to be pedaled. It always surprised them that a cyclist appeared in front of them when the bikers said “we came here by motorbike” for interesting areas. It is a great miracle that this small village is here. There are no more than 10 buildings. One of them is the market and accommodation. These friends spent the night here. Luck and Eric came to Peru from Australia, rented a motorbike and had been touring South America for a while. The last country of their tours is Peru.

-You cyclists are really crazy. So, after our reaction yesterday, we couldn’t swear at you enough. But don’t think that you are one of the craziest cyclists.

-No, I pedaled with more maniacs than me. I know they have a lot of foolhardy.

-4 of them are here. They arrived late last night. They will come for breakfast soon, you will be surprised when you see it.

-Come on, cool, I wonder what way they going.

-They come from the direction you’re going.

-Ooo super, at least I get information about the road.

– Their kids are amazing.


Yes, since I know tour cyclists who go to much more crazy spots, the event I did does not sound like crazy. While we were chatting like that, Tallin, who is one of those boys, entered. I gaped and look at the boy with great admiration.

-Good morning.

-Good mornin.

-I think the bike outside is yours?

-Yes it is.

-Which country is the flag behind.


-Are you traveling the world?


While I was chatting like that, I could see the boy observing me in a very careless mood, but also with curiosity; looking at what I’m wearing, what’s inside my handlebar bag, very calm and dignified. After a minute or two, her sister Zali sat down next to her. No way!! Tallin is 10, Zali is 6 years old. His parents are Ross and Christian, and these friends are from Australia. This couple have traveled the world by bicycle on holidays for years. They continued to travel when they had children. This year they chose Peru for their summer vacation. They were heading towards Cusco but they couldn’t climb Abra Azuca. They are very tired to the past days. Well it’s normal because they use tandem tour bikes. They are in the front, children are behind, it takes strength and perseverance to come to this area with all that weight. I learned that they came to the village late last night and I asked out of curiosity.

The day before, this was a knife robbery on my way to go. They pulled the driver off a pickup truck down from the vehicle and robbed him. They wanted to stay in a safe place between the two villages. That’s why they arrived at this small campus at 23:00 last night. By the way, the air was -15C last night. In other words, these friends crossed 2 passes of 5,000 meters and 1 pass of 4,800 meters and finished the 70-kilometer road with 6 hours of pedaling time. They must have cycled for more than 12 hours with breaks.

-Hey Tallin. How was the night driving?

-We’ve never pedaled late like this before, Gürkan. It was a very cold and different experience.

You are 10 years old, you pass a very difficult road cycling 5,000 meters in the dark, the air temperature is -15C. You should not use the words misfortune, bad luck or tired, you should say it was a different experience. I started to give this answer that this little boy gave after his experiences, frankly after the age of 30. Being able to look at the negative moments we live as “I gained experience from this” is a process we know but do not apply. After the breakfast we all had together, everyone said goodbye and went their own way. I met a wonderful family on this road too.

We had agreed before to do the city trip with Viviana in Arequipa. But I entered the city with such a shoulder pain that I cannot move my left arm, and I, who do not use drugs, use two painkillers. My left arm is constantly numb. Nothing like this ever happened. On the first day, I go to a physiotherapist and have a look at my left arm. I was using my left arm with 75% performance after the accident I had in Patagonia. Although I have it treated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I cannot use it in all angles as before. This pain has been there for 10 days, but it is very bad for the last couple of days. It’s also time to have a blood and urine test. I will do it at the first opportunity, I say at the first opportunity. By the way, the date is August 2019, my contract with the Kron bike has ended. It’s time to sit at the table with them. Our adventure, which started in August 2012, officially ended in August 2019. Likewise, it ends with all other sponsoring companies in September. Anyway, let me take a tour of this city first. These things seem to be left to Lima.

The city of Arequipa was different from all the cities I have seen in this country on my trip to Peru. Yes, there are places with unplanned settlements, but the city center arrangement was quite good. Around the central square, there is a restaurant on the top of the building which has front looking the church. You can go to that restaurant not to have a meal but to have a drink at sunset. 3 volcanoes have a very nice view.

When you go directly to the city from the villages, the prices are higher. I mentioned about Alpaca wool in my previous articles. There were technical socks made of alpaca wool for athletes I had never seen in Lima and other cities, but only in this city. The pair amounted to good money. I could not buy it because I did not have a budget, then I wanted to buy it in the capital Lima, but I could find it neither in the capital nor in another city. It is possible to find technical socks made of Alpaca wool only in Arequipa. It was very enjoyable to walk the streets in the city center. The taste of the dishes made from Alpaca meat, which I had eaten in the villages before, changed. I think they use different spices when they are boiled meat or put it in a barbecue in the countryside and it tastes very good.

While I was looking at the side streets, El Turco Restaurant appeared. Right next to it is the Istanbul Bar, and opposite it is the Lokanta (“lokanta” means “restaurant” in Turkish.) restaurant. I could not help myself wondering why 3 Turkish restaurants are side by side. Later, I learned the truth. The owner of the 3 places is the same person. In El Turco Restaurant, he makes Turkish dishes according to Peruvian taste. For example, you want doner in bread, there is more avocados than meat.Hookah, raki, Turkish products in the Istanbul bar and the Lokanta restaurant served international cuisine. I did not have the chance to meet the owner of the places. But I learned that he is a butcher living in Turkey. We participated in the city tour by bus, it was a tour we wish we hadn’t. They are running around is a complete nonsense. But there are two museums that are important to see.

The first of these museums is Santuarios Andonis. Anthropologist Johan Reinhard, who was hiking in the mountains of the region in 1995, he noticed something by chance in the ice on the sunless face of the mountain, and when he approached him he realizes that it is a wrapped body. Johan finds the mummified body of this 12-year-old girl, whose body was offered as a dedication to the gods on the summit of Mount Ampota between 1450 and 1490, now known as Juanita. That body is still exhibited in this museum in a special environment in the ice. Before seeing the body, a documentary about 30 minutes is watched, after that there is a 15-minute museum tour. It was one of the most beautiful museums I have been to in a long time. This 30-minute documentary is truly a successful work for this museum to understand the Inca society. When you enter the room of the 12-year-old Juanita, they carefully control the temperature of the room and the temperature of the machine she is connected to,  they are all under control. She looks after with great care and love that was not given to her 650 years ago. I cannot get out of the effects of the documentary in a short time. Because, in that documentary, they described how Juanita’s body would be used as a votive offer for the gods and the preparation of this process by animating in great detail. Viviana and I were in deep thought when we left the museum. After that, we shared our thoughts and had conversations. Right after, we visited the archeology museum. Again, they show the mummies found in the area. I have shared with you before and explained in detail that it is the world’s oldest mummy in South America.

Arequipa became a place where I took a break and rested for 5 days, spent time in the city square and watched the people, and I was fortunate to come to this city in Peru.

By the way, I was still in pain while leaving the city. There was also a funny incident. The arrival side of the city was always uphill so I never wore my helmet. I put it in front of the bike where I last camped and continued. But when I got to Arequipa I didn’t have a helmet. Probably before I got to the city I dropped it where I camped. The way back was same until a point anyway, I would go to the place where I camped and take a chance to find it. I am very glad to go back 65 km and find my helmet. It was really impossible for people to see me when I had camped in such a place. I always used it when I was in urban traffic in the following days. Continue to Lima.


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