Saturday 10 May 2008

Chachapoyas to Cajamarca

Revash Hotel, Chachapoyas.
Although it´s lovely old colonial house with patio and greenery, I didn´t really enjoy this hotel very much - fussy & bossy owner, staff hard-selling their tours, no washing clothes allowed (I got into lots of trouble for this and later for drying them on the balcony. Tsk tsk!). Not too bike-friendly either. But great hot showers and I had a well-deserved rest.

What I really liked though were these hotel rules stuck to the door of each room;

1.Dear Client, we´d like to vencind you that the checnot line is at 1pm.
2.When you cancel your bill please ask for the deceit in this wag we are helping the cuntry (sic).
3.The hotel will has to be canceled 24 hours before leaving.
4.If you are nod heppy with the way our personal treats you or the services y that Hotel Revash is of feiving please inform the administration.

Well, I was nod heppy! There was a lot of deceit and not much wag (except for the house dog). I didn´t get any personal treats and I think the cuntry should stop the feiving and Will has to cancel this hotel before leaving. Gracias.

The Journey
Left Chachapoyas under a soggy oatmeal sky. (I´ve used the porridge metaphor because every morning before I set off I look into a bowl of oatmeal like an oracle might do to forecast the future or decipher meaning. I flavour it with some bananas, raisins and cinnamon sticks just to give it some more depth and meaning).

Dropped back down to the Utcubamba valley and followed the river along a narrow dirt road. Almost no traffic and delightful weather. Plenty of birdlife - parrots, parakeets, tanagers, woodpeckers, swallows (nesting in the limestone walls of the canyon) and interesting vegetation lining the riverbank. A short afternoon ride to a small village called Tingo.

At Tingo, below the ruins of Kuelap I found a wonderful hospedaje (guesthouse) run by Luis Leon and his wife. Very hospitable, knowledgeable and helpful. Luis kindly cleaned my filthy bike while I was up at Kuelap.
Much of this small village was destroyed by floods in 1993. The Leon´s home was one of the lucky ones. I sent them these photos from Cajamarca.

At the hospedaje I met Oriane (in the photo above), a young Belgian woman working as a volunteeer at an orphanage outside Cajamarca. We walked up to Kuelap from Tingo (4hrs) together, leaving at 6am to avoid the hot part of the day. A steep but enjoyable hike.

An amazing archaeological site. The ruins of a pre-Incan walled city sits perched on this limestone mountain ridge 1300 m above the Utcubamba valley and 3000m above sea level. It was built by the Chachapoyans (`people of the clouds´) over a 200 year period from AD 900 to 1100. It contains three times more stone than the Great Pyramid at Giza. It´s a massive fortess and citadel with 50m. high walls, more than 1km long and from a distance looks like it´s geologically part of the mountain crest.

From a stone tower, at the edge of the walling, looking east to the edge of the ridge and the cliffs falling down the valley below.

Much of the ruins are left in their natural cloudforest setting - moss-covered stones, bromeliads and straggling lichen hanging from trees give the place a forlorn beauty and a feeling of sad abandonment.

It has a unique rounded structure with meandering, curving walls. With this non-linear and creative style, John `Snapper´ Hughes would love to have a few of these Chachapoyans on his trackwork crew in Tasmania. What do you think Snapper? Some serious walling eh?

Oriane is standing at one of the three narrow entrances to the fortress. This was a clever stategic device to keep large armies from storming the complex en masse. They had to climb steeply in single file and were easy targets for ambush.

The ubiquitous serpent motif carved into the wall of the entrance.

Blossoms among the stones

Delostoma integrifolia
At the ruins I met a team of Peruvian/British botanists who gave me the names of these two species. Tiina, if you´re out there, can you please look at the others from Colombia and Ecuador and label them for me.

Oriocalyx sp.
This was the same shrub I saw on the paramo in Ecuador at 3300m. I did guess correctly when I thought it was a member of the Proteaceae family.

The botanists kindly gave us a lift in their ute back to Tingo down a long and winding road with fabulous views back to Kuelap. As we travelled down from Kuelap we had another jolly companion in the back of the ute. This campesina had an 8-hour walk back to her village after she left us.

Views of Kuelap sitting on the high ridgeline. The ruins are the outcrops on the far right of the main escarpment.

The green slopes and forested valleys as we descended into the Utcubamba valley.

Old thatched and adobe house by the Utcubamba river with children playing under the verandah.

`Cock Colliseum´ (direct translation) - a cock-fighting stadium in the village of Yerbabuena -`good herb´.

Utucumba valley - along a narrow road beside a swift-flowing river. An unusual micro-environment with cacti growing on the dry canyon walls amidst wet sub-tropical vegetation (incl. bromeliads). A very pleasant ride towards the head of the valley. Very little traffic, great picnic sites by the fast-flowong river & some interesting botanical specimens. Like this one.

I had lunch in Leymebamba at the head of the Utcubamba valley and climbed 5kms above the town to a very interesting museum.

Mummies in the museum at Leymebamba. In 1996 campesinos found six burial chambers high above a lake, containing 219 mummies. Here are 2 rather grotesque figures and one of the shrouds they were found wrapped in. They remind me of Munch´s screamer with their anguished faces and tortured expressions.

Had a few hours of daylight left so I kept climbing towards the oddly- or aptly -named Abra Barro Negro (Black Mud pass) at 3620m. Another 7kms from the museum and 350m higher I came across a group of people playing volleyball acros the road. There was a clear river running through the small valley so I inquired about camping. The owner appeared, a friendly campesino chewing coca leaves. As I was setting up my tent by the river, the dairy farmer, Mr. Chavez (no relation to `Mad Dog´ Hugo Chavez from Venezuela) came over with a huge block of cheese for me. It kept me going for the next three days.

Scenery above Leymebamba at 3000m

Clearing and burning the last gully of cloudforest. Two new colonist households ekeing out a precarious existence at 3500m, just below the pass. There has been so much habitat destruction for very little in return - just idle farms and eroded hillsides.

Relics of Destruction - some lucky survivors

A close-up of the plant above

The descent from Abra Barro Negro. It was long way to the bottom of the Marañon canyon- from 3600 to 800m. Single vehicle road with almost nil traffic. It was a thrilling ride in beautiful weather the surface was recently graded (see photo) and no potholes, sharp stones or mud. The gradient was perfect and little need for braking. It was magical scenery too!

Some very scary, steep drop-offs though. I stayed hard by the rockface to avoid vertigo. You can see the drier landscape as it descends to the bottom of the canyon with the Marañon river down below. It´s a long way down - it took 3 hours to get to the river - 60kms from the pass and a 2800m drop in altitude. As I descended I was dreading the climb back up the other side. I could see the road snaking up the dry canyon- a white line in a hungry land.

Views on descent to Marañon canyon. The landscape became more dry and barren and it got hotter as I dropped altitude. I arrived in Balsas on the Marañon, a real shithole. So, I drank a beer in the sweltering shade and waited for the sun to drop.

Cactus Camp
At 4pm started the long hot climb out of the canyon. Feeling exhausted from the day´s riding and the scorching heat, I searched for a camp in this unforgiving landscape. It looked like a scene out of Arabian Sands. No water, no people, just dry thorny scrub. A hungry, inhospitable land.
I had collected drinking water from the top of Black Mud pass so I could camp anywhere. But there was nowhere to camp. Finally settled on this little patch of rock hard ground among spinifex (which sent sharp spears of grass into my socks-ouch!), prickly cacti and hard thorny trees. No room to move. I put my water container down and a thorn went right through the hard plastic (bloody hell - thorns can be real pricks sometimes!)- my precious liquid leaking over the parched ground (later, in Celledin, I repaired the hole by melting it with a hot knife blade). But I didn´t lose much - sat it upright all night. Then the ants came marching in.. brown biting bastards. Have I arrived in Dante´s Inferno? I was a sorry sight - sweating like a true Berechree, jumping up and down like a mad voodoo witch doctor and getting stabbed and pricked everywhere by all the thorns, cacti and grasses. Finally, got the tent up just before dark. It was roasting in the tent after my meal..had to lie there naked with my mouth at the open tent fly to catch the odd breeze. As night fell, the the nocturnal nuisances came out onto the stage to play their parts in the theatre of the absurd - mozzies and moths buzzed and fluttered about in droves, bats starting flapping obcenities at my tent and owls began hooting. (Shakespeare´s troubled Macbeth came to mind- Life´s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more). It was an eerie, haunting night. Managed to get a few hours up at 4am to eat and start packing up camp. But the ants were waiting....millions of them encircling the tent and making a full-frontal offensive. In the dark, I repeated the previous night´s pantomine-leaping about, sweating and howling at the moon, and then hauled all my gear to the road in shifts, getting snagged, dragged and jagged by the scrub. Ants were running up my legs and biting my private parts. I found a swelling later from a spider bite on a very private bit!

Got to the road..still dark..and a vehicle came hurtling down the road, saw me and got such a shock to see someone out here in the wild, spun out of control and nearly went off the cliff edge around the corner. He kept on driving, probably too scared to stop as he´d just seen a weird apparition in the ghostly night! I forgot to say I was only in my jocks as I was hot cooking up some porridge and brewing coffee.

Left just before dawn, knowing I had a 2000m climb ahead of me. Long endless zig-zagging road and gentle gradient which I´m accustomed to in Peru now - none of those mad Ecuadorian 1km for 100m grades. In Peru they build roads more like the Chinese do in Tibet.

My eyes were stinging and sore from the sweating the previous day and night- they were red and burning from all the salt. So I had to ride without contact lenses and had to keep my sunglasses on to shield them from the biting glare of the sun. It was a saline problem, not saline solution. The road had turned into a dim stony blur and the scenery was an out-of-focus dry parchment.

Climbing above Marañon canyon at dawn. Camp Cactus is down there somewhere- just look for all the pricks. You can pick out the Marañon river further down.

At 9am came across a restaurant and sat down to a second breakfast- eggs, rice, salad. The road was in good condition but some sections had collapsed. Here´s a roped-off area - it could be mistaken for a bike race finishing tape rather than a warning. I doubt whether it would save a weary cyclist with lack of sleep though. I kept well clear and kept my head down as I counted off the kms. and metres. Not far now Pete, just around the next bend and..well, it will be the next one....I´m sure...

Lots of zigzagging to get to the 3200 m pass between Balsas and Celledin.

Up over the pass and a short ride down to Celledin at 2700m. Arrived in Celledin in the mid afternoon and found my cheapest bed in Peru - 5 soles (A$2). Cold shower, but that was welcome as were the 3 cold beers I drank that night. A nice meal for dinner and a well-earned peaceful sleep.

Early the next morning climbing out of Celledin. A shadow of my former self.

Dairy farmers on bicycles were bringing their milk to town in metal pails slung over their handle bars and racks. Friendly greetings to a fellow ciclista.
A double pass between Celledin and Cajamarca - 3200m and 3750m with a high plateau in between. More villages and scattered houses. Children on their way home from school, instead of yelling `Gringo´, would yell and flee down the hills when they saw me approaching.

Australian domestic culture has reached the Peruvian Andes. They´ve borrowed our beloved shithouse architecture - the corrugated iron dunny. That´s the small one on the hillside left of the house. All the houses around here have them.

Construction work on the Celledin-Cajamarca road. As I went passed, they were tumbling large boulders and earth from above onto the edge of the road.

Arrived at the Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca just on dusk- 8hrs 30mins in the saddle- my longest day´s riding so far.


boracho said...

Thank you ! Peter.
I love your photo.

boracho said...

Thank you ,Peter!
I love your photo.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your blog while looking for places to sleep in Chacha (searched for Hotel Revash and your site came up...any tips on where to sleep? ;) ).

Seems like you're having a great time! Can't wait to arrive in Peru myself... :)
I'll keep an eye on your blog...enjoy your trip!