At Shane’s suggestion, we headed up to Magdalena rather than Nuevo Tingo, which would be the more standard launching point to head up to Kuelap. It did indeed have a fair bit more character and, after a bit of asking around, we found a hospedaje to spend a couple of nights. It’s worth mentioning that, whilst in bigger towns the hospedajes are generally well sign-posted, in smaller towns and villages, you really have to ask around! Almost every village seems to have one, which is handy, but they oddly don’t seem to like to advertise it. It seems to be something of a theme in Peru – shop-owners are just as happy to tell you where else to buy the goods that you are after! They are most certainly not pushy! That night we decided to cook in rather than see what the local take on pollo (chicken) or cuy (guinea pig) would be…
The next morning we got up to leave at 5am so that we could get to Kuelap nice and early, before the (limited) crowds arrived on their day tours from Chachapoyas. We left all our gear at the hospedaje, which gave me an opportunity for my first unloaded ride on the bike since Huanchaco. Whilst the relatively steep climb kept us warm, it was pretty cold out and the sun couldn’t come up soon enough to warm our frozen fingers! It’s about a 40km ride on dirt roads, looping up round the valley, which will soon be dramatically shortened by the construction of a new cable car, which is clearly aimed at massively increasing visitor numbers to the site. They are making pretty impressive progress – there were two towers built in the time that we were on the site, all parts delivered by helicopter to the otherwise pretty inaccessible terrain.
Kuelap is a mountain-top citadel (apparently it wasn’t a fortress) with massive walls, that contained approximately 300 round houses for the elite of the Chachapoya society. It’s a very impressive site, now partially reclaimed by nature with fantastic trees wrapped around it. It doesn’t get anything like the attention of Machu Picchu, which meant that we were able to wonder around it in relative solitude for several hours.
As we left, the first bus loads arrived, so we were pretty glad to have got up there early! After a bit of rolling terrain, we had a good descent back to Magdalena, made a bit trickier by a ferocious wind that had sprung up.
The next day we took the back road to Chachapoyas, which made for a fair bit of climbing but was a lot more scenic.
We happened across the remains of another Chachapoya dwelling at Yalape as we were about to stop for lunch. It was quite bizarre in many ways – there was literally just a sign for an archaeological site pointing up to a field and saying 200 metres. We wondered up the field, trying to figure out where exactly the site was, only to realise that just to our right were a number of (overgrown) stone terraces on which round houses once sat. It was a big site, with a fantastic view back across towards Kuelap and the surrounding mountains. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Peru – the plentiful archaeological sites are generally sign-posted (with big blue signs) but there’s not the money to ‘develop’ them.
Before long, we found ourselves overlooking Chachapoyas, capital of the Amazonas region.
We decided to spend our final day off the bikes and headed out on a tour to the relatively nearby Catarata (waterfall) de Gocta. It’s a two-hour hike on a path through the rainforest and, despite there being a bit less water (it’s the dry season at the moment), it was a very impressive sight.
That evening, we headed for our respective buses – Si taking the 12 hour luxury coach back to Trujillo and me the 10 hour rattling bus back along the road that we had cycled to Cajamarca. I had decided that I didn’t fancy cycling all the way back along the same road (the only one back to Cajamarca) so opted for the bus instead. Despite the driver’s protestations that there wasn’t enough space for Sally, they eventually shoved her on the roof and she arrived safe and sound! Fortunately, leaving at 7:30pm, it was dark enough that I couldn’t really see the terrifying drops out the window of the bus!
It was a fantastic week – great to spend some quality time with Si – and a fantastic route. I’ll certainly miss having someone to brainstorm suspect business plans with!