Roads come in all shapes and sizes, and some are undoubtedly more dangerous that others (and for different reasons). Some roads are dangerous because of banditos or revolutionaries, some are dangerous because of their condition or environmental placing, and some are dangerous because conforming Modernists are unable to respond independently to uncertain, non-pre-programmed conditions (it is the last one that most frightens me, like the angry robots on an LA freeway, soon to be in silly self-driving cars!).
The road through Canon del Pato in Peru is a mostly unsealed and almost entirely deserted stretch of road that starts in Santa on the Pacific coast, follows the Rio Santa through a spectacular river valley, and ends in Caraz high up in the mountains (perhaps about 200 kms). To say the road is spectacular is almost an understatement as it is by far the most impressive stretch of road that I have ever been on (and this isn’t just the scary bit that goes through Canon del Pato).
The road is sealed about half way until Chuquicata, which is little more than a salmonella-restaurant and a few abandoned adobe houses. To Chuquicata, the road winds through a deep river valley of enormous rock cliff faces, lonely cactus clinging for their life and a few adobe houses, brightly splattered with straight-forward political advertising for presidential candidates. The Rio Santa rapidly flows through the centre of the valley, brown and muddy as it eternally eats away the gravely Andes.
At Chuquicata, I stopped and asked for directions as the sealed road went over a bridge that crossed the river to the left, but my GPS said straight-ahead on the exhausting, unsealed road. GPS is unreliable in the mountains as; one, it often difficult to get a signal; two, the path is often not listed and three, digital maps rarely distinguish between gravel and sealed roads. So I went straight-ahead on the unsealed road, not knowing how long it would take to get to Caraz as riding on gravel with two wheels is a hell of a lot harder than travelling with four.
The 125cc Yamaha, which is little more than a mountain bike with an engine, handled the road well but at 25 kms an hour it was slow going. And gravel roads have recalcitrant personalities all of their own and their moods can change unexpectedly at any given juncture.
After a couple of hours of jaw-dropping scenery, feeling intrepid, if not slightly out of my depth, wondering how to fix flat tyres on motos, I came across the first tunnel into the mountain so knew I must be near Canon del Pato. The road through Canon del Pato consists of dozens of one-lane tunnels, roughly hacked through the mountains by a big rat. The tunnels are pitch black and look like gold-rush-era mine shafts and just to make things more interesting, are one lane. On entering the tunnels, one must toot their horn hoping that the big rat isn’t still in there boring its way through the Andes.
After traveling through dozens of these things, some with rough holes conveniently blasted into the side to let the sunshine in, the road became sealed again which was a welcome reprieve as this cut hours off my travel time which meant that Canon del Pato wouldn’t have to be foolishly traversed in the Andean moonlight. I arrived at the beautiful city of Caraz set beneath snow-capped, jagged Andean peaks at around sunset wondering if I could ever bring this intense individual travel experience onto the straighter roads of many others.