Up and Downs and Pre-Inka Kuelap

I successfully avoided the mud between Vilcabamba, Ecuador and San Ignacio, Peru by using public transport: a bus , a ranchero and collectivos. The road has been badly damaged after a lot of rain and was extremely muddy! Very sticky mud with a lot of clay content, good for building houses and making your bike unrideable. The border crossing was super relaxed and after signing out of Ecuador I had to look hard to find the immigration office on the Peruvian side. I was greeted with a lot of cheerfulness and friendliness. From San Ignacio the road dropped back down to a tropical hot valley floor and run along a river with many rice plantations. I stopped on the turn off to Bellavista and got invited to stay with a young family living on the side of the road in very basic conditions but with a huge flat screen TV  which the whole neighbourhood came to watch. Since it was my birthday the next day I decided to stay, enjoying the company and experiencing local life….. The next morning after a hearty breakfast I left for Bellavista, took the boat across the river and carried on to Bagua Grande. At 400m it was humid, hot and sticky and since it was about to rain I caught the bus to Chachapoyas (2350m) adding in a nice downhill ride to Tingo (1800). I arrived on dark not without my share of mud because of the works on road. It’s a tiny town and accommodation was pretty basic. The next day I hiked up about 1200m over 9km to Kuelap, a spectacular pre-Inca walled city. It was built from AD 500 to 1100 and contains three times more stone than the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt. Considering its size surprisingly little is known about Kuelap. The word Chachapoyas actually derives from the Inca – the Cloud People. The population of the settlement was said to be around 2000, and the site is made up of some 400 structures, most of which are the foundations of cylindrical houses, 3-12metres in diameter. A guinea pig run forms a small partition for the kitchen and allows easy access to snacks. Despite its size and importance, the whole place remains something of a mystery – it’s not even fully understood why it’s there, or why it seems so heavily fortified at a time when the Chachapoyan’s had no significant enemy.  Kuelap is set on two levels – uptown and downtown and  the massive stone walls, 585m long by 110m wide at their widest has three entrances to the citadel. The slot passageway narrows down in width, limiting entry to just one person at a time. The structures have been left in their cloud forest setting, but there is some indecision if it should be cleared for a more manicured ‘Machu Picchu’ look. Rex, the local Alsatian from Tingo guided me all day and made for great company.

From Tingo it was a very gentle climb along a beautiful riverside to Leymebamba on hardback dirt and a succession of idyllic villages. I had the afternoon to relax and rode to the local Museum 5km up the road, which had a good collection of Chachapoyan and Inka artifacts. But it is the room packed with mummies – 219 of them – that made the visit most worthwhile.  Some were still bundled up, bound with plant fibre rope and embroidered with faces, while others had been unfurled. They ranged from fetuses complete with umbilical cords, to adults and had all been unearthed in the nearby Laguna de los Condores.

The next morning I enjoyed a massive downhill from 3600m down to 850m over 60km…..followed by a massive uphill….but I was lucky enough to manage to catch the only bus of the day from Las Balsas all the way to Cajamarca.

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