The Cañon Del Pato (Canyon of the Duck) Doorway to La Cordillera Blanca
We’re winding our way along a narrow dirt road in the mountains of Peru, passing through tunnel after narrow tunnel. Each tunnel has been blasted through the rock mountain side, the mouth a big dark jagged abyss as we enter. Some are so long and the road twisting though the mountain side there is nothing but darkness and the jagged rocks surrounding us as we make our way through the single lane. Others are short enough that you can see the bright day opening up on the other side just a few hundred feet ahead.
We are driving through the Cañon del Pato, where the Cordillera Negra comes within kissing distance of the Cordillera Blanca. It is a steep sheer rock canyon with the only thing separating the two mountain ranges is at this time of year, a raging chocolate colored river. The road winds along the side of the river, cut into the side of the canyon and is narrow and single laned with pullouts every so often in case you meet another car coming from the other direction. The whole area is fairly drab, consisting mostly in a range of brown colors, including the layer of dust from the road, but still manages to be beautiful. The sheer rock faces of the canyon are deep brown and dark red and create a beautiful background of colors. The canyon itself is an arresting site, but it is the tunnels that make is such an amazing drive.
Luis and I keep discussing when and why these tunnels were built. The only explanation we can come up with is either mining or hydro power companies built it; which seem to be the dominant reason roads are built in such inhospitable terrain anywhere in the world-resource extraction. Our guide book says there are around 30 tunnels through the canyon. I have become so caught up in the beauty of the drive I have forgotten to count. I can say that there are quite a lot…
The Cañon del Pato is the northern entrance to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. It is has been a much anticipated drive for us here in Peru, with many overlanders telling us it was one of their favorite drives. We had actually tried to come in through this route a month and a half before on our way to Lima the first time. Unfortunately, the road was blocked by multiple landslides due to rain. Then we got a major flat tire on the way out and ended up having to buy all new tires in Lima (after nearly 3 years and countless miles, it was time for new shoes). We had actually based our decision to head back north to the Ecuador border instead of going south to Chile when we needed to renew our truck visa on wanting to see the canyon and the cordillera Blanca. 1,200 kilometers of backtracking, was it worth it? As we were driving through this beautiful place, we decided that all the trouble of dealing with Ecuador again and having to buy new tires was worth it. What a drive! We’ve had some amazing drives on our journey (remember the Copper Canyon in Mexico), and Peru is turning out to have quite a few gems.
Our first night in we were looking to camp on the side of the road somewhere. We had some GPS points from PanAmNotes where they camped and had read lots of accounts saying you can just find somewhere to pull out. Unfortunately, when we got to the GPS spot, there had been a landslide in the area and the road down to the river was now buried. We could see the nice perfect flat spot, but no way to get there. We drove along for awhile trying to find another good spot. We finally found a little road and followed it down. The spot wasn’t perfect, but we thought it just might do. The problem was that although you couldn’t see the car from the road right above us, you could still see it from a little ways down. After hanging out for a few minutes, still debating if we should stay, a truck pulled down the same road as us and stopped a little ways up and started dumping yard waste. I guess we were camping near the dump. Luis decided to go talk to the drivers of the truck and see what they had to say. He came back and said they didn’t recommend us staying there, but we were to follow them to a municipal soccer field that had guards all night long. We followed them up the road, and sure enough, found a nice place to camp next to the stands. It wasn’t the most breathtaking place but at least we were up off the road, had some lights nearby, and even had our very own guards looking out for us!