One of the most amazing routes we’ve taken happened partly by chance, miscommunication and blissful ignorance. We were in Peru, searching for a scenic route towards the Cordillera Blanca and an anticipated break from the desert landscape. We found a road from Chimbote to Caraz, but our maps weren’t loading properly and we could only estimate our driving time, around 3 hours. When we arrived at a gravel road after an hour or so, it was a bit of a surprise. The road was flanked by towering mountains of rock, giving the impression of a mining road. We were intrigued and wanted to explore further. There was a police officer posted at a gate ahead and after questioning our destination, he waved us on. At least we knew we were on the right track.
After a couple hours of winding along a raging river and taking dozens of photos, we had a pit stop and discovered Rambo had a small leak. As we worked under the van, a truck pulled up and the driver began speaking rapidly and pointing up. We followed his gestures and knew immediately what he was saying. In our rush to complete the job and get out of the scorching sun, we hadn’t paid any attention to our location. There we were, pulled over next to a massive slope of loose rock and definitely in landslide territory. We took the hint, time to pack it up and move on.
As we continued, the road narrowed into a single lane and the canyonside changed from lofty slopes to cliffs of sheer rock, hanging walls and dizzying drops of 1000m deep. Hour six was approaching and so was a headache from the afternoon sun, choking dust and craning our necks in awe of the bold landscape. We had already driven twice as long as anticipated so we were grateful to see a town in the distance. We had overlooked an important factor on this spontaneous journey; we didn’t have enough food for the day. After some fruit and ice cream, we made inquiries and discovered three things; we were in the Canon Del Pato, following the Rio Santa, a river that fuels a hydroelectric facility and we had two hours left of driving before we reached Caraz.
The last leg of our journey was the most impressive, evoking admiration, fear and vertigo all at once. The canyon evolved into a constricting corridor in which the river and sky were hidden by the depths of rock faces. Then the tunnels began. Single lane, unsupported arches, chiseled in the side of a cliff. Signs stating “tocar la bocina” (honk your horn), greeted us as we approached each black hole. Thankfully, we met no reckless oncoming drivers and that system worked well. I discovered later that there are 35 tunnels in all, each one stirring up a mixture of dread and excitement. Finally, we spotted the landscape levelling out into green hills. We were relieved that the drive was coming to an end but we had to stop and look back at the canyon one last time. It had given us quite the ride.
As we approached our campground that night, we were thrilled to see a couple friends already there. We had been meeting up with George and Rachel sporadically throughout the week and didn’t know they were taking the same route. It’s hard to believe we hadn’t heard of the Canon Del Pato before. It just goes to show, some of the best journeys happen on a whim and spontaneity is essential for adventure.
Follow the link to ride with us through the tunnels!