The passing buses awakened us at dawn. But once we were on the road the traffic was light. The road followed the Rio Santa, and began to climb steeply along the river canyon. At some times it was a dead drop to the river below, at others there was no option but to go through a piece of mountain; the 90 kms of road contained something like 30 tunnels.
We stopped to find some breakfast in a small cluster of roadside houses and shops. They couldn't even muster a coffee. We were reduced to mixing Nathan's instant coffee with ambient temperature water. Not ideal, but it worked.
Were it not for the hydro installation operated by Duke Energy I wonder if the road would even have existed. All those tunnels required some serious investment. And still it was nothing more than a rough dirt, rock and sand single track. The settlement at the hydro station was well kept but didn't offer services to outsiders.
Once we crossed the first layer of the Andes, the river veered south and the road followed and became tar. We stopped for an early lunch at an overbuilt restaurant with an island dining room in the middle of a pond with the glacial pyramidal peaks of the cordillera as a backdrop. I forewent the bridge and took my seat by pontoon boat.
After lunch we turned east again and began to climb sharply. The road to remote and scenic San Luis crossed the Cordillera at 4900 meters. The signature dual self-portrait of the day had me holding nine fingers and Nathan four. Unfortunately we reversed the order and it seemed as though we were impossibly at 9400 meters. Perhaps it was the thin air.
This road was under extensive construction. There seemed to be workers lining the whole route. Mostly they waved, sometimes they whistled (Nathan said he never wanted another Peruvian man to whistle at him) but occasionally they would pretend to charge our passing bikes.
On the descent the switchbacks were so tight there was a risk of entanglement.
Overall, one of the best days of riding I've ever had.