Roads in the mountains of Peru aren’t always what they seem. Just because you’ve been riding on high-quality pavement for the past two days, doesn’t mean the same road will even remotely resemble itself farther ahead. Also, simply because it appears to be a main road on the map, even with the same name as a main road, doesn’t mean it is a main road at all. This is a lesson about Peruvian roads that I had to learn the hard way.

The entire ride from Abancay to Ayacucho was with a view.
The entire ride from Abancay to Ayacucho was with a view…Janelle Kaz

The journey spanned from the mountain cities of Abancay to Huancayo. I thought this journey would take me two days, with a stopover in Ayacucho. Leaving Abancay, however, I missed my turn and rode for two hours in the wrong direction, thoroughly enjoying the road, blissfully unaware of my mistake. Once I became aware of my error, a slight state of panic set in. You see, it was going to be a long day already, likely nine hours on the road (though it is very hard to tell how much time a road is going to take in Peru based on maps). I knew this mistake would cause me to have to navigate in the dark, through some intense mountain roads.

Up over mountains and down into little villages, over and over again.
Up over mountains and down into little villages, over and over again.Janelle Kaz

I had two options: I could continue on the same way, making a track through the mountain and reaching Ayacucho from the south. That direction was clearly raining and who knows how many hours longer. The way I had come was a flat, curvy road along the river, in the sun. I decided to turn back and went as fast as I could, shaving off 40 minutes. I got some gas near the turn I had missed and set off in the right direction, three and a half hours later than I intended.

Blissfully unaware that I was headed in the wrong direction as I snapped this photo.
Blissfully unaware that I was headed in the wrong direction as I snapped this photo.Janelle Kaz

The entire road to Ayacucho was essentially switchbacks, dog attacks, and gorgeous views. It was beautiful, and exhausting.

After nine hours riding and with daylight fading, I stopped to change my tinted visor for the clear one. I had been over countless mountains, up and down, through small villages, and then back up again. So many different ecosystems. Where I stopped to change my visor was outside of a village that was particularly warm and tropical. Little did I know that I would be riding up and over another mountain, in the pitch dark and bitter cold.

It was not ideal, to say the least. An overcast night made the mountain pass completely black. Peruvian roads are so unpredictable that I decided to follow behind a car so that I could have an extra pair of eyes and lights out in front, and perhaps the car would deter a dog from running out at me.

Incredible land formations and the roads that snake between them, riding the mountains of Peru is a beautiful challenge.
Incredible land formations and the roads that snake between them, riding the mountains of Peru is a beautiful challenge.Janelle Kaz

I was freezing. I couldn’t tell if this mountain was higher than the others, as I couldn’t see the surrounding landscape or the views. Moonless, starless, carless—only darkness. My body shaking, I finally saw some lights on the mountainside in the distance, and I prayed that they were the city lights of my destination. As I got closer, however, I realized the whole hillside was on fire; deliberate burns in the night. I then began to pray that it wasn’t my destination.

Finally, the road started to descend, switching back and forth down the mountain with the air temperature rising. I made it. Almost 12 hours riding, from my wrong turn leaving Abancay to my destination in Ayacucho.

You’ll experience many different ecosystems and associated climates as you cruise through extreme elevations. Photo taken with Sena 10CPro.
You'll experience many different ecosystems and associated climates as you cruise through extreme elevations. Photo taken with Sena 10CPro.Janelle Kaz

I stayed with a small family near the city center. Angela, greeted me, while her grandfather told me that Indian was a very good brand ("muy buena marca") and that my bike was as powerful as a small car.

They had a huge golden retriever, maybe the biggest I’ve ever seen, who was waiting patiently behind a gate on the stairs. Angela was happy that I went over to Capitán, as he was called, to pet him, as they’d had problems in the past with him being too “enthusiastic” with people who did not welcome his demands for affection. They also had a friendly, one-eyed Siamese cat, named Pirata.

Spending time with Capitán, this huge, lion-like golden retriever who demanded affection, was exactly what I needed after a “ruff” day.
Spending time with Capitán, this huge, lion-like golden retriever who demanded affection, was exactly what I needed after a "ruff" day.Janelle Kaz

I hadn’t drank or eaten anything all day, so I chugged my now cold ginger tea from my thermos and asked for more hot water. I had an avocado with me and was just planning to eat that, but they offered me bread and sat down with me to have tea. Although I was exhausted, it was really lovely chatting with Angela and her mother, and actually made me feel better to talk with them.

Afterward, I went to take a shower, already naked and waiting for the hot water that never came. Instead, I wet a washcloth and used water from the sink to wash myself.

My body was aching and I was still cold from the mountain. I went straight to bed.

Entering the Wild West with a turquoise river, sandstone formations, and cacti jutting up from the landscape.
Entering the Wild West with a turquoise river, sandstone formations, and cacti jutting up from the landscape.Janelle Kaz

In the morning, it was my plan to take the same main highway I had been on for the past two days to Huancayo. I left after breakfast, knowing that I would be following the river and the journey would likely take seven hours. I was impressed with myself for getting back on the road after having such a long day before, but I anticipated a relatively easy day ahead of me.

I left Ayacucho heading northwest, entering into a landscape that reminded me of the American Southwest. Cacti jutted up from the earth, with a turquoise river snaking around red sandstone formations.

The main road I had been on the past two days transformed into a single lane etched into the cliffside of the canyon.
The main road I had been on the past two days transformed into a single lane etched into the cliffside of the canyon.Janelle Kaz

I was stopped by traffic police who wanted to know where I was from and where I was going. I told them Huancayo, and they allowed me to continue on my way.

I then entered into the most beautiful desert road I’ve ever been on. It was more like a driveway really, a single-lane road etched into the cliffside of the canyon. Some parts of the road were extremely rough, like the dirt washboards I first got to know in Chile. I took my time and enjoyed the way, eventually growing weary and wondering how much longer this canyon would go on. The road was mostly dirt at this point, with very precarious corners on the edge of the canyon, with only a single lane for me and any other oncoming vehicle.

Canyon views in the sun as the road snakes along the river.
Canyon views in the sun as the road snakes along the river.Janelle Kaz

There were multiple river crossings, but one that I came to looked quite large, so I stopped to first have a look. I also noticed a shabby-looking wooden, rickety bridge that was double tracks off to the side. While assessing the situation, a guy on a small motorcycle approached from the opposite direction. Watching to see what he did, he rode across the little bridge, with a few of the wooden boards shifting place as he rolled over them on his lightweight Chinese moto.

I decided the bridge would be more sketchy than the river and went for it. There were some cantaloupe-sized rocks that made the crossing a bit tricky, but I made it.

With a couple more river crossings and plenty of precarious cliffs, I was exhausted, mentally and physically.

Pavement turned to dirt and gravel as the road toward Huancayo continued on.
Pavement turned to dirt and gravel as the road toward Huancayo continued on.Janelle Kaz

Eventually, I saw something that looked like dust from construction; it was blowing up the slope of the canyon. As I got closer, I saw a sign that read, "Peligro No Pase (Danger do not pass)," and realized it wasn't construction, but a massive landslide which had taken out the entire road. I had ridden for four and a half hours at this point and couldn't believe what I was seeing. There was a young man walking with a small backpack who I asked in disbelief, "No puedo pasar (I can't pass)?" He said no, obviously. I looked back at the landslide in dismay. When I turned back to the guy, he was gone. He had scrambled down the cliff into the canyon and was hopping along rocks on the river. He was going around the landslide in the riverbed. I envied him a bit.

Peligro No Pase—“Danger do not pass.” The landslide which completely took out this route between Ayacucho and Huancayo (Cosme District).
Peligro No Pase—"Danger do not pass." The landslide which completely took out this route between Ayacucho and Huancayo (Cosme District).Janelle Kaz

I had no idea what I was going to do. Clearly I had to turn around, and thankfully I had seen a gas station in one of the small pueblos, but I was so distraught. I couldn't believe that I had to go back the way I came once more (as I had done yesterday), and do this treacherous road all over again.

This was hard for me to accept. I hate having to turn around and go back. This was a nine-hour day on a very challenging road and I was right back where I started. Difficult days are the ones that make me wish I wasn’t traveling alone. But those are the days where you really get to meet yourself, to see how you persevere in the face of challenges. Not just whether you push on, but do you do it with anger? With resentment? Or with gratitude for the other things that are going well?

The curvy canyon road seemed to never end, until it did at a landslide.
The curvy canyon road seemed to never end, until it did at a landslide.Janelle Kaz

Motorcycling long distances gives you the opportunity to observe your own thoughts, and in this moment, it was interesting to see how conflicted I was, as I felt so exhausted and defeated, yet I was in this unbelievably beautiful landscape.

I didn’t bother to change my face shield from the tinted to the clear one this time, even though I knew I’d be riding in the dark, so I rode with the shield open. Tears were streaming from my eyes, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I was crying them, from a source of emotion, or if it was due to the wind and dust blowing into my eyes. The sun setting on the mountains cast breathtaking shadows on them, so gorgeous that I realized this could also be a source of my tears. It was a very strange feeling and a little embarrassing to admit.

I wasn’t really in the mood to stop and take photos but the way the light cast shadows on these mountains was so beautiful in the moment, it possibly made me cry.
I wasn’t really in the mood to stop and take photos but the way the light cast shadows on these mountains was so beautiful in the moment, it possibly made me cry.Janelle Kaz

Back in town, I found a hotel with a hot shower and secure parking for $10 per night. I decided to take the next day as a rest day and figure out the best route around the landslide. I found the perfect spot to do so on a second-floor balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas of Ayacucho, and spent the day there.

In searching for route options, it looks like the only way is through Lircay District to the small mountain town of Huancavelica, but to get there, apparently there is a river crossing that is about 60 meters (almost 200 feet) in length. Angela’s mother, who works in Huancavelica, said that it is mostly dry this time of year and she’s seen other motorcycles cross it (likely those light Chinese ones). I will have to try, but I hope if something goes wrong, there will be people nearby who can help me.

Whenever I have tough days on the road, I remind myself that “Either everything goes according to plan, or you have a great story to tell. Either way, you win.”

Recuperation with a view from the balcony of ViaVia in the main square in Ayacucho, Peru.
Recuperation with a view from the balcony of ViaVia in the main square in Ayacucho, Peru.Janelle Kaz