Category: cemetery

Adventures in the jungle of Chachapoyas

We left Cajamarca for Chachapoyas at 4:30 in the morning. Mind you, we are not intentionally masochistic – there’s only one bus a day that leaves for Chachapoyas, and that’s the time it leaves. Apparently it leaves that early in the morning because the road is so dangerous that they have to do the entire route in the daylight.

At first I thought that was silly, but after riding that road I realized that they were totally correct. You know you’re in for a treat when they hand out barf bags to everyone before the journey begins.  Almost the entirety of the 13 hour ride is a single lane road. And not only is it incredibly windy, but one side of the road has a mountain that butts right up to the side and goes straight up, so there is zero visibility around the corners, and the other side of the road is a sheer cliff that falls away hundred of feet below. Oh, and of course there are no guard rails or street lights. That would just be silly :p. At first I wondered why the bus driver was honking his horn so often, and then I realized that was the only way to warn any potential oncoming cars that we were right around the corner. Yikes. Needless to say, I was QUITE pleased when that ride was over.

We found a hostel with Alies and Willem, a young couple from Holland who had been on the same buses and tours with us since Cajamarca. Although I saw them a lot, I didn’t really start talking to them until the bus ride to Chachapoyas. But they turned out to be really interesting; I’m glad I made the effort. Anyway, even though Caro and I were tired from the trip from Cajamarca, we decided not to take a rest, and jumped right into it the next day. We started with a tour of Kuelap, called by some a second Machu Picchu. Although it was super cool, I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment. Not because it wasn’t incredible in it’s own right, but the two are just so different it’s difficult to compare the two.

Kuelap is a pre-Incan settlement that is known for its circular buildings. They were eventually conquered by the Incans, and in some places you can actually see where the Incans imposed their own rectangular buildings over the preexisting circular structures. That was pretty cool, although it was also a stark visual image of the brutality that comes from a people conquering and imposing its own culture on another people.

The jungle-like atmosphere of Kuelap gave it a sort of eerie, otherworld sensation. Chachapoyas is considered to be a part of the amazon jungle, and the tropical plants had well overtaken the parts of the ruins that had not been excavated and taken care of. It gave the entire complex a muffled, almost dream-like quality. I really really enjoyed it. Even more so because, unlike Machu Picchu, Kuelap is not well known, and so there were very few people there.

The next day we went to Karajía and Quiocta. Karajía is a group of sarcophagus that were carved into the side of a mountain, while Quiocta is an enormous cavern about an hour outside of Chachapoyas. I really really enjoyed Quiocta. I’ve always loved rocks and caves and things underground, and Quiocta has all three.  The bats definitely freaked me out a little bit, but lucky for me bats are generally more scared of humans than the other way around :). And the mud!! Oh my word. We all had to rent knee high boots to help us trek through the thick, icky mud that was often well over a foot deep. But the closest boots they had to my size were a size and a half too big, so I kept slipping out of them. My poor feet were left with blisters that I expect will leave permanent scars. But that’s ok. It was totally worth it :). Scars show that you have lived, right?

After Quiocta, I must admit that Karajía was a bit of a disappointment. The pictures make it look fascinating, but what they don’t tell you is that the pictures were all taken with high-res and long-zoom cameras. The tombs of Karajía in real life are wayyyy up high on the side of a mountain, difficult to see and impossible to get closer to. Karajía for me was really just a scenic walk. But that’s ok, Caroline was happy, so I was happy :).

Our last day in Chachapoyas found us heading to Gocta, the 3rd largest waterfall in the world. That was by far the most exhausting of the three days – getting to Gocta requires a trek of nearly 3 hours each way, and it’s not a flat, easy trek, either. Huge inclines, steep slopes, jagged stairs, and slippery mud were all part of the package. But, while it was definitely an exhausting hike, the group we were with made it all worth it. There was Kate, the adventurous Australian with the fiery red hair who was traveling all over South America by herself. And Maribel, a native of Chiclayo who was just the sweetest thing you’ve ever met. And Javier, who was born in Lima but has spent the last 14 years in Miami. And of course, Robert. By happenstance, Robert was on the same tour as us all three days that we were in Chachapoyas. The first day I hardly spoke to him at all, but by the last day we had become friends and were talking up a storm. Aside from being just a swell guy, he was also super encouraging. By the end of the return trip from Gocta I was REALLY struggling; if it wasn’t for Robert’s encouragement I probably would have given up and asked for a horse to be sent for me. But thanks to him (and, of course, the jugo de caña, a sweet drink made from pure sugar cane that is sold on the way to Gocta to give travelers energy), I can say that I made it there and back without a horse!  Hooray!!

Although we weren’t actually at the falls for very long, Gocta itself was actually really interesting. The tremendous force of the falling water creates a windy vortex of sorts at the base of the falls. It was wild. Thirty yards away it was warm and still, but then as soon as you got closer to the falls it because super windy and very cold. Was a very unique juxtaposition of weather within a very small area of land.

Since we planned on taking a night bus to Chiclayo that evening, we had already checked out of our hostel. However, after the trek to Gocta and back, a shower was not optional, so we paid the hostel owner 5 soles each (roughly $2) to let us take a shower in the bathroom in the back. I think it was actually the owners’ home and personal bathroom. Welcome to Peru, lol. And then, it was time to catch our bus to Chiclayo! I went to the bus station with mixed feelings. By this time, I knew that Chiclayo would be my last city with Caro – we had swapped out the trip to the jungle for a medical mission trip in south Peru for me, and a trip to Argentina for her, so after Chiclayo we were going to have to split up. While I was sad to leave her, I was also super excited about the mission trip. I’ll have to leave the details of just exactly how God got me there for another time, however. That’s a story in of itself :).

The ancient and surreal mysteries of Nazca

Thursday morning Mario headed with me to the bus station. I was heading to Nazca to meet my friend Caroline. She was my French teacher at Berry, and we’ve been great friends ever since. Anyway, while I’m quite confident in my ability to navigate a Spanish speaking country, Lima was loud and chaotic and enormous and dangerous, and I was very glad for Mario’s guidance. I tried to take the same bus Caro had taken to Nazca, Suarez Peru, but apparently that bus doesn’t exist. No one had ever heard of it, lol. (Actually I asked her about that when I finally met up with her, and she was confident in the name of the company; I guess there are just too many bus companies even for Peruvians to keep straight! :]) So I took a different bus line, and arrived in the transit city of Ica about 5 hours later. I had to find a different bus company to go from Ica to Nazca, a journey of another 4 hours, but I finally got there. I’m glad that I actually ended up going to Nazca, because I had a brain fart and was originally trying to go to Cusco. Whoops. I didn’t even have any jet lag to blame that on, lol.

Exhausted and with a blazing headache from not having eaten all day, I just wanted to go to sleep. But when I got to the hostel, I was told that Caro had the only key, and she had gone out to look for me. Dang. I waited for her for a while, but then decided to venture out and see if I could find her.  As I was walking through the tiny town, a Peruvian man started talking to me. At first I thought it was just normal street vendors trying to hawk their wares, but for whatever reason this time I decided to engage him in conversation, rather than ignore him.  All in Spanish, I told him that I was an American who had just arrived and was looking for my friend. “Is your friend French?” he asked me. I’m sure my look of confusion was strikingly evident. “Yeah, her name’s Caroline, right? I know where she is. Wait here and I’ll bring her to you.”

I was somewhat skeptical, but true to his word, he arrived a few minutes later with Caro in tow. She had gotten to Nazca 3 days before me and had apparently made friends with the entire town. On at least four or five other occasions, people walked up to me already knowing who I was because they’d met Caro. It was somewhat bizarre, a bit unsettling, and also completely hilarious. She was a total celebrity :-).

Anyway, I was only in Nazca for about a day, so the first thing on the agenda the next day was definitely seeing the lines of Nazca.  The Nazca lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs stretching nearly 50 miles across the dry, arid plains of the Nazca region in southern Peru.  They were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.  Although they are believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD, no one really knows their purpose.  Theories range from religious rituals to giant astronomical calendars to irrigation schemes.  Created by removing the pebbles that litter the ground to reveal the whitish-gray ground beneath, they range from simple geometric designs to stylized animals such as hummingbirds, monkeys, sharks, and orcas, and can sometimes stretch over 650 feet across.  It’s incredible to me that with such simple construction techniques, they’re still around after all this time – the arid and windless climate of Nazca has ensured that the lines have remained relatively intact.

Since the lines are so enormous, it’s best to see the lines from the air.  We actually got to see the lines of both Nazca and a nearby region called Palpa, as well as ancient aqueducts that had been constructed by the inhabitants of Nazca. It was really quite terrific. I love the mystery behind the lines. Thousands and thousands of intricate pictures and geometric designs large enough to be seen from the sky, preserved for hundreds and hundreds of years in the arid climate, and still no one knows why they are there. It was worth the money and the hassle to go there, but I must admit I was very glad when the plane ride ended – the choppy turbulence in the tiny 4-seater Cesna and the dipping and swooping of the pilot so that we could better see the lines was really wreaking havoc on my poor stomach.

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Here’s an aerial video of us flying over the lines:

After a short rest from seeing the lines, we ventured out again, this time with a tour company called Enigma Nazca tours. If you are ever in Nazca, I highly recommend them. They took us first to see a burial ground called Chauchilla. Like the lines, it was a somewhat eerie experience. The climate is so hot and dry in Nazca that the bodies had been mummified almost instantly – many of them still had skin on their frames, and almost all of them still had hair. It was fascinating, but somewhat unsettling at the same time. The bodies were in open-air holes, so really the only thing separating us from them was a thin cord.

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After Chauchilla, we headed over to an ancient ceremonial temple called Cahuachi. Believed to be a ceremonial and pilgrimage site, the over 40 pre-Incan adobe structures span over 1.5 kilometers squared.  There were very clear markers as to where we were allowed to go, but because we were the only ones there, our guide Cristian let us go past them and explore the entire site. He was pretty cool :-). He also apparently danced bachata, and I was seriously soooo close to asking them to pull over on the side of the road so we could dance a song together. It’s been ages since I’ve danced bachata. But alas, I didn’t ask…maybe next time ;-).

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Apparently the Enigma tour guides also enjoyed their time with us, because at the end of the day they took a video of us and promoted it on their website.  You can check it out here (although it’s all in Spanish): Enigma Tours video.  There were also a few pictures of us that they uploaded; the caption said, “we’re so happy to have met such charismatic tourists!” :).

Our last stop in Nazca was at the workshop of a traditional pottery maker named Toby. What a character. He gave us a fascinating demonstration of how he makes the pottery, and once he found out where Caro and I were from he kept throwing in random French and English words, too. I wish we had had time to stay longer – I really enjoyed the time spent there. But alas, we had to catch an overnight bus to Cuzco – more on that in the next entry!!

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How time flies

This week we had classes on Friday, to make up for the festival on Monday. I also had 3 tests and 2 papers due, so I was pretty tired by Friday afternoon. I went to the doctor several weeks ago and got some antibiotics to help me get rid of my cough, so at least I didn’t have to deal with that – I’m finally back to my usual self, woohoo!!! But I was still exhausted, and when I was invited to go dancing, I almost turned it down. I was just sooo worn out…plus the dance club didn’t even open until midnight. But I finally decided to go, and I’m so glad I did! I was the first one to leave – I left at 2:30 – but it was so worth the sleep deprivation. Next time I’m bringing my dancing shoes, though…I never went home on Friday, so I ended up trying to dance in flats. It was rather uncomfortable. It’s so refreshing to have finally found a dancing scene here in Seville… 🙂

Oh, I forgot to mention that I also went to the Museum of Flamenco Dance on Friday with the people from my dance class. It’s a private museum, created by a super famous Flamenco dancer, but it’s also one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It’s full of interactive rooms, and clips of different dancing styles, costumes, pictures, and more. It was quite an interesting trip. After the museum we made our way to a little store that the professor knew that sold the cool shawls that they sometimes use when dancing Flamenco. I’m sure I will never be able to use it in real life, but I splurged and bought a shawl, anyway. It’s white, all lace, and lovely.

Saturday I made my way to the Seville city cemetery, per Jon’s homework. Goodness, the comments I got from people at school when I mentioned that I wanted to go to the cemetery!!! I’m pretty sure that half of school is now convinced that I’m an emo kid in hiding, lol… But, all morbidness aside, el Cementerio de San Fernardo is really quite a lovely place. It is huge, and unlike any cemetery I’ve ever seen. There are sweeping pathways with meticulously manicured plant and floral decorations, enormous ornate sepulchers that house whole families, statues dedicated to famous personalities such as toreros or flamenco dancers, and thousands of the more “normal” tombstones. Sevillanos are not only buried under the ground here – all around the outskirts of the cemetery, there is a network of above ground catacombs, with separate crypts for each individual coffin and an inscription etched into the stone on the front of it. In the center of the cemetery, there is a statue of El Cristo de las Mieles – legend has it that . Además, a few days ago was the Festival de Todos los Santos, when everyone goes to the cemetery and cleans the graves and puts flowers or trinkets on them. All of the decorations were still there, and it was incredible beautiful and peaceful. I really wanted to take pictures, but I figured that would have been sacrilegious or something – at the very least inconsiderate to the hundreds of other people who were there.

I had been planning on going by myself, but I mentioned my plans to Justo and he would have none of that. San Fernardo Cemetery is pretty far away from where I live, and it would have been rather complicated to get there – I would have either had to take 2 buses, or walk about an hour to get to the second bus stop. So Justo offered to go with me, and we went in his car. Afterwards we went to a supermarket and got some food to make a picnic lunch, which we then took to a nearby park. Again, I must extol Justo’s awesomeness. He had told me before he picked me up to bring my research paper that I wrote for one of my classes – while we were at the park, he sat down and read the whole thing, correcting my mistakes and explaining to me why they were wrong. He’s a very good teacher. My señora absolutely loves him – he is mature, has a steady job, speaks three languages, doesn’t party late at night, and is the best intercambio (in her opinion) that any of her students have ever had. I give her lots of props that she hasn’t suggested that I date him yet, lol :).

Anyway, that’s about all of the excitement that I have to report for now. Sunday morning I went to church, and I spent the entire afternoon working on my second research paper. It’s not due until December, but I don’t have time to work on it during the week, and I’ll be traveling the last 2 weekends in November, so I want to go ahead and get it done. Can you believe that I only have 5 weeks left in Seville??? And three of those weekends I won’t even be in Seville – I’m going to Grenada to see La Alhambra, then Paris for 5 days for Thanksgiving, and then Morocco in December. It’s absolutely insane how fast time is going. I was trying to decide what I would miss most about Seville. It’s hard to choose. My church and church friends come to mind quickly, but so do my Spanish friends, such as Justo, and my host family, and the food, and culture, and dance, and architecture…I suppose I’ll have to wait and make that decision closer to my departure date :). Well, it’s off to bed for now for me…my brain hurts from reading and writing about the Restoration of the Spanish Monarchy all day. Sending all my love, as always!!