I left UK on May 19th for 10 months of freedom and exploration with a Round the World ticket. Will I find New Zealand as perfect as it was fifteen years ago? How has Australia changed? Will I learn any Spanish in S America?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Kuelap Part 2

Day 4
Creatures of the Night
Sarah and I shared a room and neither of us got much sleep and not because either of us was snoring but because of the tremendous continuous din throughout the night. It started at about 2am with people shouting outside our room and running up and down the wooden balcony for what we had no idea. A period of relative calm ensued only to be broken by a woman inexplicably singing , at 3am for a full hour. I had lost my wax earplugs by this stage of my trip- in my opinion they are the single most vital piece of equipment I can think of if you are staying in unknown places and not easy to replace in Peru where the Peruvians Sarah and I decided must be innnately impervious to distrubing or distracting night noises.
The singing over, the damned cockerels started up - way before dawn - and started duelling with each other over who had the loudest crow! The whole village and our hostal seemed to be filled with the dratted creatures- I think cock fighting is popular in the north and we did pass a Coliseo de .............. which had cockerels painted on the outside so this must have been it. Sarah was ready to strangle them all. We decided we as namby pamby westerners must be cossetted from such sounds and Sarah noted that in Switzerland it is illegal to flush a wc after 10pm.

At last our destination!
I took a lot of pictures on the second hand Canon EOS 100 from Trujillo which I hope turn out OK. Like Machhu Pichhu Kuelap has a stunning natural position , on a natural ridge of the mountain standing out for miles and miles in the surrounding landscape, not quite as spectacular as MP but haunting for its lack of "other people " by which I mean tourists. We were bar one other couple " the only people there" which makes anywhere special.
Huge towering walls enclose a city with the remains of elaborate round stone houses in the CHachapoyas style- there are a few curious buildings - one called the inkwell which is still under excavation - because as you would expect it resembles an inverted inkwell narrower at the base and swelling outwards - no one knows exactly what its function was but as a sun and moon are cut into it - something astromomically linked perhaps, though it was definetly used for more nefarious purposes at one point as bones with signs of mutilation were found inside. There are spectacular views from this fortress in all directions, trees dripping with air plants and red bromeliads grow in amongst the buildings and with an audible whirring of wings hummingbirds drinkfrom the flowers - there is even a rare hummingbird unique to Kuelap called ocreatus underwoodi. There are large ceremonial areas with large altars and with bones secreted within them and wells and towers. The Incas laid seige to the Chachapoyans here it is thought and successfully
conquered them as Incan pottery has been found here together with more Chachopoyan ceramics and different styles of burial reflecting suggesting occupation over a long time span.

It was a long walk down from Kuelap to the nearest town , Tingo. Janet in typically vague way said - oh its about a 2 and half hour walk . It took us nearly twice that much - walking down through villages where we commonly saw tiny tots astride huge stallions - literally one child only about 2 years popped bareback on top of
a huge horse urging it forward with a piece of rope like some Peruvian Thewell cartoon. Teh path was the nasty slippy tiny pieces of gravel and dust type - it''s like skating - someone said the other day its better to run down that kind of slope so you don't as you do stepping gingerly stay on the ground long enough to skid, you just fly down- well sounds like a nice theory but no way was I going to attempt this so it was gingerly that we went down. And down . And down. Eric and the others and the guides disapperared from view but the brave 4 continued as a team and to keep spirits up we began to sing our back catalogues of tunes - suprisingly difficult to find anything other than the Beatles that everyone knows the words to! Poor Fernando was a bit left out but we got him to sing a Peruvian song.
After weary weary hours we made it to the little tavern ( restuarant seems a little grand for it) in Tingo , locals gazing at us in curiosity and amusement I think ( not many gringos get here) for ..... rice chips and chicken before the drive back to Chachapoyas for at last ! a hot shower and my last night in Peru.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Chachapoyas and the road to Kuelap part 1- Peru

All pictures from trek to Kuelap, note the arriero with radio , they all wear them and have them on all the time; you cant see his machete very clearly though.

The group picture shows from left to right, me, Fernando, Sarah, Rob

The shop is in Chahcapoyas where we started - sells saddles and machetes amongst other things

August 21st

Fernando,Sarah Rob and I arrived on the night bus from Chiclayo in Chachapoyas at 4
am in the morning. It had been a bumpy ride but the bus didn't breakdown or get a flat tyre so we didn't need the services of a" gomeria" - a tyre fitter.
After walking in through the market to the main square Rob was keen to scour around to find the best deal but Sarah and I, dreaming only of comfortable beds hot showers
and more sleep were quite happy with the hostal ( Casa Viejo - in my guide book) that opened its doors to us and had a room at not quite bargain rates . Wow! we thought on seeing the room- palatially large with ensuite bathroom nicely tiled , with big soft towels on rails still attached to the walls-we'll stay here! Though as it turned out hot water wasn't in supply and we had chilly ones instead.
Rob and Fernando went to look for a cheaper option but when we finally got up later that day we found that they had returned and were sleeping in another room. The cheaper option had just been a bit too squalid.
It was a traditional building arranged on four sides round a central courtyard beautifully planted,with a large communal room facing the main entrance with sofas a fireplace and dining room.
We were all sitting in the main square , the object of many stares as not that many tourists make it so far north into Peru ,when we were approached by a very dapper looking gent sporting a moustache.

Adventure Trek
Carlos , from the Hotel Revash on the main square invited us to take his tour to Kuelap and we didn't need much persuaduing - we could leave the next day and it would take 3 nights - two days walking and one day on horseback. I wanted to go to the Laguna de Condores-which looks like a spectacular site - but it was too far off track and by now my trip to the Galapagos was looming and days in Peru in short supply so to make it to Kuelap would be enough. Sarah had suggested that we travel up to the Ecudaorian border together after the trek which made our choice of route more obvious - we both felt that together we would be brave enough to do the little used La Balsa crossing which was much more direct from Chachapoyas than taking buses back to the coast and up to Piura.
The rest of the day we spent on internet - that great standby- and I looked around the market - you could tell what kind of territory we were in- big machetes in leather sheaths hung from the walls together with saddles, radios and other jungle accoutrements.

Dog's Dinner
That night we ate in a smoke filled cavernous restaurant - all pretty basic in Chachapoyas - there not being much more to eat than rice papas fritas and the inevitable pollo on bare tables, and yellow stained walls. There are always dogs in towns but on the whole they always seem to look reasonably well and I have been told that all the dogs have owners who just let them out to roam all day. I never felt threatened by a dog in Peru though actually come to think of it some of the dogs near settlements in the Cordillera Huayhuash were pretty hardcore and snarled very convincingly at us . Abner ,our guide then, confirmed that yes these really were dangerous dogs.
Anyway the most pitiful dog, a bitch so skinny her ribs were showing and with teats hanging down so obviously feeding puppies stood on the threshold gazing at us as dogs do with mournful begging eyes and I fell for it hook line and sinker. I ordered first one then two extra portions of pollo and in the end a third and fed them to the dog who of course gobbled them in seconds . Fernando, always the joker, remarked I thought they were for me!

Day 1
We set off in a van next day - numbers had swelled and we now had a lovely young Swedish guy, Eric a tall Viking wearing big ................boots and a Limeño called Rafael amongst our number and two very affable Basques - Glenda and Joseph ( who Sarah had met before in Peru and whom we bumped into briefly in Chan Chan, Trujilo). Our guides were Peruvian husband and wife team Marcos and Janet who I realised after about 3 days were only about 24 years old though they looked older.
From the start you could tell this wasn't going to be an easy laid back kind of trip - a short walk from the van down to the ruins of Wanglie turned into a monumental hike down steep valley in the harsh middaysun - we crossed a dramatic ravine with equally dramatic drop on either side to roaring river and with flimsy handholds made it up under the cliff face on other side to see the circular remains of the Chahcapoyan culture's adobe houses; though they could equally be store houses or ceremonial buildings - such are the vagaries of archaeology. Two snakes were carved into rock on either side of a niche which contained mummies when it was discovered.

After a long haul back up through the cactus and spiky bush strewn hillside we were relieved to see the minibus which drove us for lunch in a small village. The restaurant also sold some fairly lurid looking locally produced pornographic titled DVDs eg " Explosion in Iquitos- the best in the Jungle" which we sat beneath to eat our pollo and rice whilst giggling schoolgirls and boys peered in to get a better look at the gringos.

More antiquities - this time the huge ceramic sarcophagi which sit in a niche in a rock face overlooking the green tree filled valley at Karajia - the human remains stored inside.These giant vases are painted red and white and are about 500 years old -the niches are not natural but were hacked out of the rock. I started not for the firstor last time in Peru to feel a bit of vertigo as we made out way on a precarious track up underneath the ledge to get a closer look.
Looking around the valley Janet told us there were other sarcophagi on other ledges , some known about some probably waiting to be discovered. Rafael told me about a place called Gran Pajaten which has only just been discovered and is only accessible by river, somewhere beyond Cajamarca in the Amazonian jungle but I haven't been able to find any reference to it since.

Gene Savoy
Here we heard our first mention of the notorious American treasure seeker, Gene Savoy - a bit of a villain by all accounts- a modern day Indiana Jones but without any qualms. He spent two years in the jungle around Kuelap looking for treasure and what he found he took with him out of Peru so no one really knows what he did find. But Janet also told us that Mr Savoy apparently shot dead six of his Peruvian porters - why I don't know and I have no idea if this is true. But if it is he hasnt been charged with anything by the authorities - and Janet implied that in his case money talks.
National Geographic have also mounted an expedition and were buzzing the area with helicopters only recently. I must say there is something that makes your blood tingle with excitement looking out on the jungle and thinking you never knowI could be the next Hiram Bingham - but the terrain is just so impossible to negotiate.
It was easy to see why this area would attract treasure seekers ,the densely covered banks and sharp escarpments could be hiding all manner of treasures and probably are - the hardest thing is actually getting to these places - they are so inaccessible - nearly sheer mountains covered with dense vegetation is why so much has survived for so long. But still even now people talk about finding El Dorado or Paititi - where the Incas threw the remains of their gold treasure after retreating from the Spanish into the jungle. Many claim to have found the location but there is no way to know for sure. The Laguna de Condores is a favourite and in such a dramatic setting. I vowed to return to see it and then to get the bus on to Iquitos to do the Amazon river trip to Manaus in Brazil which I wasnt now going to have time for.
We then drove into the cloud forest, my favourite habitat but here there was not much sign of wildlife; our guide told us with relish how good monkey tastes ( oh dear!) but how now sadly hard to get hold of as they have pretty much been hunted to extinction. Not very good for tourism either I could hardly help adding. But how can we pass judgement when we have done the same thing to animals in our own countries (but somehow monkeys are different to wild boar)?
Here the minibus turned back and our packs were loaded onto waiting horses - we walked down out of the forest and on a red mud track in the dwindling light and down onto the river plain-the river snaking in huge loops across the valley which is called Belen and where cattle and sheep grazed and there was too in the distance a wall of fire blazing in the forest beyond.

We had seen these fires throughout Peru - the locals think that these huge inciendaries bring fertility to the earth and also induce rain. But we all thought they looked alraming and must surely decimate wildlife - but I don't know.

We arrived in the dark at our lodging for the first night in rural adobe buildings with bunks made from branches. We had soup and I dont recall what else for dinner and then sat around a camp fire outside looking at the stars until we just dropped into bed.

Day 2
As the early morning mist cleared we set off for next part of the trip , walking alongside and crossing a small river and then climvibn back up into the cloud forest again until we started to walk on a roughly paved path which we realised was Incan. Eric talked to me about adventure racing and how you take drugs to keep going and I was beginningto feel in need of something to keep me going right then. The path was rutted with horse tracks , the huge troughs matched exactly a horses stride so one moment you were on a small high the next down into a trough so best thing to jump from one little mound to the next. The Incas came through this area conquering the local popoulace. We stopped to look at the ruins just off the main path of several settlements of huge proportions - the distincitive Chachapoyan arhcitecture which differs from INcan in that it is round rather than rectangular and the stonework is nothing like the pèrfect engineering of the latter. Janet led us down through tangled undergrowth through what was a huge town of more than 300 buildings. The stone walls about 500 years old are all pretty much intact. Huge big grinding stones lie on the ground ,too heavy to have been moved that far from their original places.
In the afternoon we dropped down again from out of the forest and into a thunderstorm. Drenched to the skin we made it in few hours ( I marvelled - my first real rain apart from Manu National Park downpours in Peru!) to our second nights lodging - some very dubiously smelling rooms with dodgy matresses in an obviously poor house in a poor village. We sat out on the balcony trying to dry off and then second suprise were handed real yes real! hot coffee and popcorn -very welcome -. A little coffee orchard stood beneath the house and under one tree a dead chicken amongst the others happily pecking around ( it looked squashed and a dog was pawing at it) . The green coffee beans grow on the tall spindly trees and once red are ready to pick.
Everyone was covered in red mud but the homemade outdoor shower - affording only basic privavy ( needed as a gaggle of little children had gathered to stare at us) was" broken " so we forgot tryingto be clean. Janet pointed to the other hillside on other side of the valley -there is a fiesta there tonight - who is coming? I thought yes that would be fun as have missed all the other fiestas going pretty much. In the end we all went but it was a trek in itself. The night was pitch black but at least the rain had stopped we set off with torches down a slippery rocky path to the river which took about an hour and then it was another hour up to the village. In front of a small church, its windows illuminated by soft candlelight was an area of flat open grass . There was a food tent with benches and everyone kept talking about music but we could see no band. It was pretty much pitch black but for some electric lights in a private building on the side of thegrass and the light from the church where mass was being conducted. Rob became the centre of attetion when he got out his camera and started taking picutres of the inevitable crowd that had gathered curious and shy to stare at us on one side. As soon as the camera was out however Rob was mobbed with little and not so little boys ( no girls insight anywhere) all screaming and pushing wanting their picture taken a bit of a counterpoint to the to the rather sombre goings on of the "festival".

Hot Air Balloon
We withdrew to the vertiable tranquillity of a bench and from there watched as a group of men fumbledwith something they were tryingto set light to -this turned out to be the heat source for a paper hot air balloon- red andwhite - the Peruvian national colours - stictched carefully together - there was a concerted whoop as the balloon about as high as a man, wobbled rather unsteadily at first up into the night sky - a rather magical and totally unexpected part of the night's proceedings. We watched it as long as we could see the little flame keeping it up - Iwonder how far it actually got and where the Peruvians got this custom from ? But was unable to ask such complex questions in Spanish - I should have got Rob to ask in hindsight as his Spanish is much better than mine.

The local Disco
Carlos and Janet then steered us into the low concrete building at the far end of the grass where a crowd of young boys had gathered - inside were a few elderly women sitting on benches and a few young girls.Onthe stage at one end was a band and the singer we recognised as one of Janet and Marcos's friends. It was the strange slightly arythmic to our ears Andean music - slightly African slightly Chinese at times totally alien to our western concept of a good tune.
Outside the boys pressed in on one another stared in at us through the barred windows . It took me a while to realise ah ! the girls are being chaperoned and then someone said all the boys have to pay to get in - girls are free. We were encouraged to have a little dance which we did rather selfconsciouly all apart from Joseph& Glenda who did a marvellous waltz aorund the room which entertained us all and fascinated the locals who couldn't stop staring open mouthed at a man and a woman dancing together and actually looking like they were enjoying it. As we left the place filled up a bit more but the dancers were invariably stony faced showing no emotion and it certainly didn't look like an occasion for fun or expression of emotion - so rigidly formal. It felt pretty oppressive. The solitary drunk who Glenda big heartedly danced with when invited seemed happier than all of them - maybe he'd found a way to break out of the intense formality.

We then faced the two hour walk back in the dark and I telling myself I will not fall over seemed to work because I didn't despite the rocks and the slippery path. At the bottom of the hill over the river I joked with Joseph that the whole experience of Peru can be summed up with the phrase " un pocito mas" - a little bit more - as just when you think you are there you find yet another ridge to climb or on a bus there is always room for a few more no matter how stuffed it is -Pase pase ! pass inside pass inside ! un pocito mas!

Day 3
Day of the Horses.
A crowd of children gathered to see us the next morning and Sarah reminded me that I had bought balloons for such an eventuality so I handed them out and they were enthusiasitically received. Not much enthusiasm to blow them up though - the thing seems to be just to have them though I handed some over already inflated.
I had resolved to feel fine about the horse riding but a niggling feeling in the back of my mind was telling me - but you always get thrown off - rubbish I told my instincts - nothing to worry about after all its not as if we will be galloping up into the jungle! My horse did look a little small. Joseph and Eric needed the biggest horses both being really really tall. Joseph and Glenda were about as experienced as me but we set off laughing and joking, probably in nervous anticiaption .
We set off with our arrieros - a man and his young 10 year old son walking beside us- up past coffee banana and yucca plantations with the corrugated roofs of other distant dwellings shining out of the dense green thicket. The ariiero was dressed in the manner of all men involved with horses or burros - ie he had a radio strapped across his chest which plays none stop Andean tinkling music . But this being the jungle he also wore rubber boots and had a huge lethal looking machete in his belt. I think it must be a macho thing as there is not much to slash out of the way. To climb higher our path took us across innumerable streams usually with a steep descent and equally steep`ascent on the other side. I couldn't believe the horses could manage some of them but held grimly on trying to copy Sarah (who rides as well as sails) by leaning forwards or backwards depending on the inclination. Sometimes my horse would break into a trot which was a bit alarming with all the other things that were packed away in side panniers clanging away and it took me a while to realise that it was because the arriero was hitting it with a switch to make it go faster. Poor old horses. After a very long morning during which my horse managed some spectacular recoveries but was foaming with sweat - we reached the top of the first pass where we had lunch - spectacular view over the valley - trees- as far as the eye could see. After lunch I wondered if we had much more uphill to go - the law of pocito mas prevailed and the horses really tired by now but not as much as I realised because everytime I asked is it too much for them the arriero would reply No! es mas fuerte! Very strong. But the going was relentlessly uphill and several times we dismounted to let the horses scramble up the really steep muddy slopes the path zig zagging ever upwards. The horses were all exhausted but the arrieros and our guide Marcos kept shouting and unknown to me whipping them with switches and the atmosphere became realy unpleasant - I started to sense the panic that the horses were beginning to feel - as they were close to one another - I heard Marcos shouting at my horse and I turned to tell him to stop but he and the other arriero were giggling and they started to shout and whip the first 3 horses including mine to get them up a particularly steep bit and as a bit of fun for them I think to make them race each other. No don't make them run! I shouted in Spanish but too late - the three horses paniced and bolted, mine in the middle flanked by the other two. My horse reared up trying to turn away from the crush and I can only remember grimly trying to stay on - but I was off in a flash rolling down the hillside into deep undergrowth which fortunatley stopped me falling off the mountain. I gathered myself up noting that I was able to get up as I did and amazed myself with my self composure - I was bleeding badly from my hands which were ripped and cut by the sharp vines I had caught at to break my fall and shaking from shock but apart from this and a few bruises was pretty unscathed and was able to laugh about it stragiht away . But I was furious with Marcos and the arriero and shouted in incorrect Spanish at them. I think they were a bit shocked and chastened by what happened as there was a noticeable silence but no apology forthcoming so I fumed and the others also dismounted as we all realised now that the horses had been pushed way too much. We walked the rest of the way to top of the last pass, through the most beautiful landscapes of rivers and trees the colour of the earth chaning from red to a dark yellow till finally we saw the white van waiting for us; if you go to Sarah's weblog ( www.sjs1811.blogspot.com- just click on this link and it should take you there) you will see a picture of the 4 of us , Rob, Fernando, me( a bit bedraggled) and Sarah having just finished this day - (not quite sure which log entry it is though).
Quite enough excitement for one day ! I ignored Marcos openly until eventually he sidled up to me and gave me a quick apology - not very heartfelt I felt - and blamed it all on the arriero - but I made it clear I had heard him joining in and told him we had both had a narrow escape. I wrote a trip report for the South American Explorers Club warning future customers not to let them push the horses -

The van took us to small village near Kuelap for the third night- in relative luxury -a hostal where we were promised hot showers - but as usual these turned out to be cold so only for the really brave ie Rob ,who washes day and night in freezing streams and rivers even in pitch dark- even glacial waters , with great relish!
I dont recall what we ate for dinner but no doubt it involved soup, rice and chicken!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

More Cuyabeno trip PHOTOS

Sunday, August 21, 2005

More Ecuador PHOTOS

Markets in the Banana Republic, hacineda and llama

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mindo and Volcano near Quito PHOTOS