Category: Chachapoyas

CouchSurfers redeemed

Our “overnight” bus to Chiclayo was really more of a half overnight bus. We left at 8:00 pm, and arrived at 4:00 in the morning. Our CouchSurfing host, Edgard, had said that he would pick us up. Unfortunately, though, I had told him we’d get there around 6:30. So we had several hours to while away in the bus station before he arrived.

Just when I had given up hope that he would come, he finally showed up. And boy,  it was worth the wait. As bad as the CouchSurfer was in Huaraz, Edgard was the total opposite. He has a large, lovely house – although he lives with his son, father, cousin, and aunt, we still had our own room all to ourselves. After letting us rest for a couple of hours, he fed us breakfast and then took us into town.

The first order of the day was to buy our bus tickets to Lima – although Caro and I were going to different places, we both had to take flights from Lima. Determined to get us the absolute best price and departure time, Edgard took us all over town to see the prices of every single bus company. Although it was tiring, it worked – I ended up paying 49 soles for a bus ticket that normally costs 110. I’m not really exactly sure why it was so cheap but hey, when fortune smiles on you don’t ask questions! 🙂  I’m used to paying more as a foreigner in Peru, so it was nice to experience the opposite for a change.

After buying our tickets, Edgard and his cousin Fernando took us out to lunch at a seafood place. They ordered a bunch of plates that they thought we should try, answered all of our questions and taught us plenty more that we didn’t even think to ask, and paid for everything. Truly swell, swell guys.

Edgard actually had to leave that evening for work in Lima. But before he left, he made sure to treat us one last time, this time to a fancy dessert. It was all made with stuff native to Peru – lĂșcuma ice cream and chirimoya cheesecake (both tropical fruits only grown in Peru) and pisco sour, the national drink of Peru that’s made of fermented corn and lemon juice.

Edgard had just enough time to take us there and pay for the food, and then he had to go catch his bus. So we were left on our own, enjoying the food and marveling over his hospitality. After we finished, we found a lovely little walkway in the middle of the city called the walkway of the muses. It has meandering paths and plenty of well-kept shrubbery, but it gets its name from the marble statues of the nine muses of Greek mythology. This place was also recommended to us by Edgard, and I’m really glad we found it. It’s amazing to me the things of beauty that can be literally right around the corner, but if you don’t know about it you may never find it. The only downside to the paseo de los muses was the clown that was walking around talking to people. Although for me, it was more funny than anything else – while I dislike clowns, Caro hates them, so it was rather amusing trying to distract the clown from her while she ran away and hid :D.

The next day, Thursday, we had the pleasure of seeing Robert, our friend from Chachapoyas, one last time. He was passing through Chiclayo on his way back home to Lima, so we met up with him and spent the day at the beach in Pimentel. Although it was a cloudy day, it was still fun. We walked around for a while, just seeing the sights – my favorite was watching a traditional fisherman go out into the water on his little reed boat.  After that, Robert and I started a 1-on-1 game of soccer while Caro wrote in her journal. He said that I played well, but I think he was going enormously easy on me. After a while we caught the attention of a couple of Peruvian boys, and we got a 2-on-2 game of volleyball going. Without a net it was a little strange, but I still enjoyed it. After all of the hours sitting in buses, it was really nice to do something active.

The next day, Fernando took me, Caro, and his aunt Irlanda to the ruins of Tucume and the museum of The Lord of Sipan, about 20 miles away from Chiclayo. I must admit, I think by that point I was a little spoiled. If Tucume had been the first place I’d gone to, I’m sure I would have loved it. But the fact that is already seen so many other impressive ruins I think left me a little jaded to the ruins of Tucume. I will say, however, that as interesting as all of these ruins have been, I’ve still seen all of them with a touch of sadness. The main focal point of pretty much all of these archeological sites were either temples or sacred sacrificial sites. None of these people knew the Lord. The fact that so many thousands, even millions, of people have died not even having a chance to know God really breaks my heart.

I wish there was something I could do to change that. But we can’t change the past, only work to make the future different. There is still so much darkness in Peru – “religious freedom, but spiritual oppression,” to use the term a friend coined. By the end of my time with Caro, I was really desiring to do something to change that.  And, would you believe it, but I got an opportunity to do just that before I even left the country!  Our plans changed drastically towards the end of the trip – rather than going to the jungle together, Caro flew down to Argentina and I went back down to southern Peru to translate in a medical mission trip.  It was truly the highlight of the trip – better than Machu Picchu, better than the great CouchSurfers, better than seeing Mario.  Make sure to read all of the details in my next few entries!! 🙂

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 KarajĂ­a and Quiocta. KarajĂ­a 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 KarajĂ­a 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 KarajĂ­a in real life are wayyyy up high on the side of a mountain, difficult to see and impossible to get closer to. KarajĂ­a 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 :).