Published: July 13th 2010July 13th 2010
More accurately- off the beaten gringo trail and off the lonely planet map...
I can´t remember where I left off but we flew from Iquitos (and skipped the 5 day boat ride) to Tarapoto, where we recharged a little then headed off towards our next adventure. We broke up the trip to Chachapoyas with a stop at Moyobamba, which has thermal baths just outside of town. The baths are set nicely into the hills and are popular with local Moyobambites. The larger cold pools were filled with kids but the hot mineral baths were very relaxing. They the set baths about 10 feet into the ground, with the walls made of rocks, the ground covered in soft pebbles and the seats are large bolders. After spending some time here, we decided to find a place to check into and -- what do you know? Right outside the gates there is a farm owned by a chinese-peruvian family/couple with a few pretty bungalows set right in a row. Though a little pricey, we took a bungalow to ourselves (all 8 beds in it..) and also ordered up dinner here, which ended up being a delicious chinese vegetable stirfry including eggs and
fruit juice from the farm itself.
The next day we headed to Chachapoyas up in the mountains, to the edge of the jungle. Chachapoyas borrows its name from the population of people who once inhabited this area - 'the people of the clouds' lives around 1000ad and were eventually conquered by the Incas (like everyone else). The town itself is small and the trip there was challenging, but we were rewarded by a suprising vegeterian restaurant! Getting veggy food in Peru is tough and most of the time ends in begging a meat-based restaurant to cook up rice with eggs, potatos and maybe some veggies. This place was a much welcomed change and included delicious soups, soy meat and a wonderful fruit-yogurt-drink.
Our first trip from Chachapoyas was a one day trip through a tour agency to see Gocta Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world (there is some debate to what number it is but it seemed like a silly argument - it was beautiful regardless). The total falls are a 770m, or roughly 2200ft, drop into a lush valley. The trip was a short van ride and then a strenous two hour hike up
with dramatic sky background
and down trails to the base of the waterfall - where the water has fallen so far that looks more like vertical waves of mist hitting a small lake and flowing further downward. We usually prefer not to take tour groups but this waterfall is in a community-run area which demands that to see the falls, you hire a community guide. This as well as a difficult trasport situation (and at the suggestion of lonely planet) we went with a tour group - luckily the guide spoke only spanish and pretty much left us alone to hike and enjoy the falls.
One the way back we stopped in the town outside the falls for food but it was so small that we were unable to find someone to change a 50 Soles bill that we had with us - we came to another place and spoke with one of the Peruvian people in our tour group who was eating there. He said not to worry and to sit down - he ordered for us and made sure that they brought enough vegetarian food for us, etc. During the meal it came out that his daughter (sitting with us) studied
in Pennsylvania and spoke Enlglish, which was great for making conversation. When it came time to pay - he insisted on paying for us and that we not worry about it. It was a really nice thing to do and we felt reallt greatful (esp because the hike had left us starving).
We spent the next day relaxing in Chacha and preparing for the next day´s trip - which was to Kuelap, a mountain top fortress three hours outside of the city. We decided to forgoe the tour agencies and do this DIY, so we went to the main area where taxis and combis wait for passengers. We were looking for a ride to Maria, which is a tiny town with hostels and a two hour hike to Kuelap. We were informed that taxis to Maria lefts only at 4am or 4pm, which didn´t work for us and so we took a taxi to a town called Tingo, which was on the way and decided we would play it by ear and get as far as we could. An hour and a half later we go to Tingo and met a French couple (traveling with a 2 yr old!)
who told us in Spanish that the hike from Tingo was 5 hours and very difficult. We decided that if rides left Chacha at 4pm for Maria, they would pass Tingo at about 5:30 and maybe we could flag them down. We asked about this at a nearby restaurant, where a woman gave us better advice (all in spanish!) - walk 20 minutes to a town called Nueva Tingo, where there are more frequent rides to Maria. We started the uphill walk but soon werelucky enough to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck for the short ascent to Nueva Tingo. From there we spotted the corner were taxis and combis seemed to stop for food and bathroom. We asked a few for rides but they were full, so we waited until a taxi stopped nearby. He said he was going to Kuelap and so we took this ride, as it was considerably better than Maria.
We arrived at Kuelap at 2pm, bought tickets and started walking up. We didn´t have a place to stay but the book and the french couple both mention a place inside the gates. We started walking up and realized why
the rides here had seemed endlessly upwards on narrow mountainside paths - because we were now on the top of the world. Kuelap was built on the top of a narrow mountain ridge - which beautiful views down both sides. The path took us past a few homes and when we saw someone outside, we asked if they had a room. One young girl said yes but the woman who ran the place was away. The next place we stopped at was not a house but a complex of buildings and a group of tables outside under an awning. The tables has women sittingaround brushing little pieces of something with toothbrushes. We asked about a place to stay, but they didn´t have one - they recommende the house we had already seen. I asked about the work they were doing it and it was archeological peices from Kuelap.
We continued up into the fortress though nervous because we had no place to stay, no lunch or plans for dinner. But the site distracted us from these problems with its incredible location, beautiful stone work and dramatic atmosphere. Parts of the fortress were closed because archeologists were actively working to
restore and recover it, while others were still completely overgrown with jungle-looking trees and shrubs. The effect was incredible. We pieced together information from the guide book and a few sparse informational plaques on the fort. Mostly we just walked around - each side of the fortress showed incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
We decided that we needed to figure out accomodations and headed back down, luckily the woman had returned home and given the girl working there permission to give us a room. The room was simple, with an incredible view. We relaxed there until dinner - which was served to us in the woman´s home kitchen. We sat around a small table with 5 men from the surrounding homes in the dark room- lit by candles and whatever embers were left in the fire. The dinner was rice, eggs and potatos - our favorite, and delicious.
The next morning we paid up and left without breakfast and went searching for a good meal. We asked a few houses, who told us to keep walking further but we were having no luck and wandering further from Kuelap. We were passed several times by people on horseback,
one of whom was a small girl - she asked if we were walking to the next town and I said no, we were looking for breakfast. She told us she just so happened to be selling breakfast. She dismounted from the horse, laid down the blanket from her saddle for us and served us hard boiled eggs with salt and cooked corn from a large pail in her saddlebag.
After a delicious and surprising breakfast, we headed back up to Kuelap to wander the ruins for a few more hours. Once we felt done with this, we wandered to the parking lot near the gates and asked around for a ride back to chacha, eventually finding one from a shady-looking cab driver, who at first said he was waiting for people he brought to the ruins but then changed his mind and offered us a ride.
Once back at chacha, I promptly left my cell phone in the taxi and we went in search of dinner.
The day after, we embarked on our next adventure - which was to Ecuador!
Stay tuned for border crossings and more!
There are more photos below