Thursday 6 August

(magnify) Street seller near the bus stop

We wake early and are breakfasted and packed by five to eight. The mototaxi that we ordered last night is waiting and the resort owner and housekeeper are here to see us off.

We arrive at the Yungay Express office ridiculously early soon after eight – the bus does not arrive until quarter to nine. Our seats are half way back, which should give us the smoothest ride and on the right hand side for the best view of the canyon. But annoyingly we have a wide roof pillar right next to us, which obscures a sizeable part of the view. Most of the other passengers (perhaps all) are Peruvian.

(magnify) Tunnels along the canyon

It is not long before we are into canyon country. The paved road has long run out and it is quite a rough ride.

The hills on either side get higher and the river faster. The road narrows to a single track, close against the rough rock wall to our left and a steep drop to our right. Sometimes it seems that the wheels of the bus must be right on the edge. We pass through a series of roughly cut tunnels, some barely bigger than the bus.

(magnify) Río Santa

Eventually the canyon widens a little. The bus makes a couple of stops to let people off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In a few places we pass what appear to be mine workings – a ramshackle wooden building clinging to the side of the cliff and sometimes a visible mine entrance, probably abandoned.

We continue through the canyon for most of the morning. Eventually we descent a series of zig-zags to Huallanca, a small and neat town nestling between the hills next to a hydro-electric power station, presumably built there to accommodate the workers.

Close to the river

The narrow and bumpy track continues between more high cliffs and through more tunnels. At one point we execute a complicated reversing maneuver on a hairpin corner with dust lying inches thick on the track, but we have met very few vehicles coming the other way in all.

We are both definitely needing the loo by the time we reach our lunch stop – a small outpost of a couple of buildings where we reach the beginning of the paved road. The valley here is wider. We are stopped here for about half an hour. The loos are pretty nasty and Rachel finds that squatting behind a disused or half-finished building is substantially better. (It doesn’t help that the squat loos seem to have been designed for use by gymnasts – the hole is at least half a metre from where you are supposed to put your feet!)

Mining in the canyon

We resume the journey at a much greater speed thanks to the paved road. I notice that the sky is clouding over and soon we are under the coastal blanket of sea mist, giving the surrounding desert a feeling of gloom. As we continue the landscape rapidly changes, becoming greener around the river, which is now wide and shallow.

We reach Chimbote at a quarter past three, quite a lot earlier than the guide book had led us to believe. We have been warned by the guide book not to stay here, and certainly not to venture outside the bus terminal except by taxi. Our aim is to connect directly to Trujillo and spend a few days there.

Lunch stop

Our bus stops at a busy junction for quite a long time and we begin to wonder what is happening, but finally we do pull away again and soon reach the terminal, a very orderly compound, on the far side of town. A clear sign indicates the Trujillo bus and someone helpfully points out the ticket booth and then helps us to buy our tickets.

We are on the bus and moving less than half an hour after arriving. Unfortunately we do not get far before a long halt just on the edge of town to pick up more passengers.

Compared to the dusty bus we arrived on, this one is rather smart, and I feel a bit of a tramp sitting on it in my dusty clothes. My big rucksack, which had been in the underfloor storage, is plastered with dust.

Though we have made the change in Chimbote more than two hours earlier than we had expected, we lose at least an hour of that in various hold-ups along the way to Trujillo. Mostly roadworks, but at one police checkpoint we are stationary for a long time while the police collect ID cards off everyone (thankfully they did not want our passports), and then come back to take one passenger off the bus before returning the rest of the ID cards.

The taxi from the bus terminal in Trujillo to the Hotel Continental is just four soles. The driver makes a half-hearted attempt to suggest somewhere else (as predicted by the guide book) but I firmly tell him that we have a reservation. (I had been practising this line in anticipation.)

The hotel receptionist is expecting us. We unpack, shower, and then go out to find dinner. There are lots of fast food chicken places but we want something freshly cooked. We finally find a likely-looking establishment a few blocks from the hotel after searching the surrounding streets in a kind of figure of eight pattern. The menu is a bit tricky to decrypt but we end up with fried chicken, which is fine.