Chachapoyas and Kuelap
Nov 12, 2004
As we were so disappointed with the efforts of the Chmu we thought we'd warm up for the Inca trail with a trip to Chachapoyas to see the less visited fortress town of Kuelap. We were told there would be less Gringos, and that it would rival Macchu Picchu in splendour.
We hadn't really thought this through as Chachapoyas was pretty much back the way we had come. We were looking at a four hour ride to Chiclayo, followed by a ten hour horror overnight into Chacha. If all had gone well we'd have arrived at 4:30am. As it happened it didn't and the bus broke down, so we got to watch the driver rip out the entire front suspension of the coach and put it all back again in three hours. Impressive, since he had only a bottle jack, a tyre iron and some rocks.
So we were pretty tired and not thinking clearly when we arrived, which may explain why we immediately signed on to a 4 day trek through rainforest, over high pre-Inca passes and into forgotten valleys to reach Kuelap itself. We were promised funerary sites, spectacular panoramics, 'basic' accomodation and boiled river water.
We set off the following morning. At 2500m we began the merry jaunt down into the valley of Wangli. At first it wasn't so bad, the walk was beautiful, the weather was clement and it was all downhill, but pretty soon we twigged that we were coming back the same way and the sun had got bastard hot. By the time we had seen the weird, circular mud houses built into the cliff wall at the bottom of the trail we were getting threatened with a hosing, and had to get out of there quickly. We pressed on to Karajai, where the pre-Incas had been burying their chieftains in huge chess pieces and wedging them into the cliff wall.
Time was running out for us, we pressed on into the Belen Valley, a place totally inaccessible by motorised transport (OK, helicopters don't count), where we were to experience our first night of 'basic' accomodation. The only people who lived there were 4 cow herders, out of their minds on coca leaves and rum, who muttered about demons and laughed alot. But we were exhausted and more than happy to pass out on the mud floor after a delicious gourmet potatoe experience. Sleep, perchance to dream ... not likely mate, with those damned chickens.
The next day it dawned on us that we were really, really, rediculously far from anywhere comfortable. The only consolation was that we were promised mules. Thing was, to get to the mules we had to walk all day up and over a high pass, paved with rubble that the pre-Incas had left behind. However, to spice things up we got to see some lost cities deep in the jungle off the trail. Our guide leapt over a wall, dragged us into the bushes and showed us a number of circular houses (Incas make square ones) half-hidden by vines and moss. He ripped off vegetation, rooted around under rocks and pulled out fragments of pottery and human bones from gravesites - we felt a bit like Indy or Lara. Well only a bit, mostly we just moaned about how scary the woods were and when was dinner.
Ah yes, dinner. We made it to the bottom of the trail, filthy, sweaty and totally broken. Some locals put us up for the night in another mud house, but this time we were really lucky cos they had running water. Well, running from a waterfall next to the house. We'd have jumped in naked there and then but for the nagging worry that the whole village would turn out to perve on us, but lovely people as they were, they set up a tarpaulin for us to hide our modesty under. It was, without doubt, the best cold shower in the world. As it happened, dinner was revolting, but they did sell us beer so we were more than happy.
Day three - the mule man cometh. This was good news, as we had to drag our shattered bodies up to 4000m and couldn't do it alone. Although the mules were a welcome site, they soon proved to be intransigent and difficult beasts, who responded only to frequent lashings with a rope and strangely, kissing sounds. But they did their job, and we spent a painful but amusing day alternately beating and encouraging them up to the pass. All day long our guide Carlos kept pointing uphill saying "Lancha, Lancha". He was urging us up to another forgotten (read: circular house covered in moss) city high in the hills. We thought he meant Lunch.
No point going into great detail about Lancha (seen one circular house covered in moss in the woods, seen 'em all), suffice to say we staggered into a hotel on the other side of the pass walking like cowboys and sobbing quietly. The hotel promised hot water (a lie), a chance of a good feed (a lie, the worst so far), and a night's sleep (a lie, chickens and wild dogs fighting put paid to that).
So day four was not greeted with boundless enthusiasm for Kuelap, the highlight of the tour. At least we were driven there, which was welcome, although the car was chased by wild dogs the whole way. At the end of the trip the front bumper was covered with teeth marks and Andrew's nerves were shot. But it was worth it, Kuelap sits on a high ridge overlooking two canyons and the valleys below. We saw eagles, gazed into the far distance, and admired the circular houses not swamped in the jungle.
We had made it, no-one was too badly hurt and our only remaining hurdle was to get to Lima in 24hrs. The less said the better about that journey, suffice to say we threw money at the problem and took a cab to the airport in Tarapoto. 8hrs away. We had to force the driver to buy some CD's - Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees and (thanks Leo) Roxette.
So finally, having not seen a single Gringo for 6 days we hit Lima. Hard. And Lima hit us back with Pisco Sours. Hard. So off to Cuzco to find Chris who had been scouting climbing locations in Huarez. Bring on the Inca Trail!