3 July, 1997, Thursday
For breakfast we have fried eggs and yucca root -- I am beginning to like yucca, and think of it as similar to hash browned potatoes. Everyone seems a bit slow this morning. Hugo squeezes fresh juice from oranges and its very welcome and tasty -- but we worry that his hands will become exhausted since he has such a large bag to finish! Today we are to ride to Belen, a grazing area for cattle in the valley of Huaya. The altitude is above 9,000 feet there and its supposed to be cold. Belen is community property and each person using it must stay one week per year to guard against poachers and pumas. We've been told we can sleep inside the lodge if we're not concerned about rats and roaches. So we say we'll stay in our tents instead! By 8:30 we mount our horses, cross the stream by our campsite and traverse the same path up the mountain away from Vista Hermosa that we took yesterday toward the sarcophagi. We pass several houses, the school, and turn off at the cantina, where we had "Pepsi" yesterday. From there we go north, as in vertical! We are following a pre-Hispanic road, again, with its original rocks turned at every conceivable angle. The horses have a difficult time of it. The roadbed is some ten feet below the surrounding ground level, so this tells us that these roads have been used for a very long time. Sometimes we walk our horses when its very steep.
Around noon we stop at some ruins [Pirquilla] and see a wall by the path. There are circular patterns of rock on the path, the remains of round houses -- so the road goes straight through a former village. For lunch we have canned chicken, soda crackers, and water. Afterwards, the path becomes very steep and the horses have a difficult time so we walk even more. At one point we encounter a portion of intact road, the surface is level even on uneven terrain, there are ridges every ten feet or so and a retaining wall. So this is how the road appeared originally. Too bad, our travels would have been so simple if the road was still like this. As it is, you have to watch every step you take to avoid twisting your ankle. Later, we reach the high ridge of Quillamarca and encounter a dead horse on the trail, it probably broke its leg. After descending the ridge, we arrive at a beautiful wide green pasture. Its sloping gently toward distant mountains and the Escalara waterfall. There are reportedly ruins behind this waterfall and in August, AE is leading an expedition there from Colcamar to find and explore them. After everyone arrives, we start down the rock-strewn path again, but now the grade is downhill, the path cuts very deep into the terrain.
Eventually, the pre-Hispanic trail flattens, disappears, and turns into multiple lanes, each about 2 feet wide. These lanes reflect the hooves of horses. We follow these parallel, multiple lanes over flat, grassy ground. After about 45 minutes we approach a shallow river and cross it on horseback. Beyond, a tall, mud-brick gate and the lodge with a red tile roof can be seen. This valley is spectacularly beautiful, with immense vistas of rich pasture surrounded by green mountains -- its indescribable. After crossing the river we go through the mud-brick gate and reach the lodge about 4:30 p.m. -- the pack horses have preceded us and the crew has already set up the tents. The lodge consists of two large buildings of mud bricks and parallel logs with more mud between them -- very rustic. There is a kitchen in each building, just a shelf with a few inches of mud on which a fire can be built. Some rooms seem to have beds, others are empty and abandoned. But we will sleep in tents for the last night -- tomorrow we have been promised a hot bath in Chachapoyas at the Gran Vilaya Hotel! Wow! Tonight we have fresh killed chicken, french fries, and rice. What an incredible place to sleep!!!
4 July, 1997 Friday
Last night was the pits! They had pitched our tent on uneven ground so I kept rolling off my thermarest -- I dreamed I was rolling down a cliff towards an awaiting puma! I tried moving it around but it didn't help. It was cold outside, ice was on the tent! This a.m. I awoke with some diarrhea and took Pepto Bismol. Getting up, one had to put on extra layers of clothes to stay warm. I walked to the "kitchen" and warmed up by the fire while Rosa make pancakes for breakfast. Today, we are to ride to the village of Colcamar [6 hours by horse?], then go by van to Chachapoyas for one night [2 hours]. Again, we have pancakes for breakfast but the jelly is gone by now. The horsemen begin to load our gear by 8:00. About 9:00 we leave Belen and begin the ride up out of the valley. Now its warm and I have on a t-shirt. Again, what's new, the vistas are just spectacular! Our route was on the pre-Hispanic trails yet again. But the slopes are not so steep as yesterday. Around 11 a.m. we begin to descend into small valleys with lots of grass for grazing.
At one valley we stop where Peter says that a local peasant says that a sarcophagus was discovered nearby. He hasn't been there, however. We decide to search for it. He and I begin walking up through the jungle and reach a cliff face but can see nothing through the growth. So we split up, he goes left, I go right. After several minutes of crashing through the jungle on the side of a mountain, I spot another cliff . It seems possible to climb it with care so I try. In a few minutes I reach the top and find the remains of rocks with mortar and paint on them. Being in a circular pattern, there's little doubt that sarcophagi were once here. So, I inch back down the cliff and start back to where Peter and I split up. I yell out to Peter and find that he has found another cliff further to the left, so I begin trying to find him. In the dense jungle growth, I can't see him but as he yells out I can get an idea of which way to proceed. Finally, I reach him and he points up a cliff to a sarcophagus which still has the face on it. In front there is a large hole, probably made by grave robbers who broke in to steal whatever was there. The sarcophagus was painted but most of the paint is gone now. I climb up level with the statue and take pictures. A comes up the cliff as I climb down. Later, the others reach this spot and take a look. Afterwards, I go down the mountain by myself and begin walking down our "road." In about 15 minutes, I reach Pierda Grande -- a large open pasture with grazing cows. In the middle of this pasture is a ten-foot-high rock with a flat top -- its a maverick rock -- can't imagine how it got to this spot. Spencer and Robert are cooking potatoes and vegetables over a fire they's built by this rock; we really appreciate the extra trouble they've gone to accomplish this for us. For a better view, I climb up the opposite side of the rock from where they are cooking, on top is a hidden, brass geological marker placed by a Peruvian geology team. A then arrives and climbs the rock also, so we eat on top! What a view! What a lunch!
About 1:15 we leave the pasture and start toward the village of Colcamar, where hopefully our white, utilitarian, Nissan van is waiting. This will be our last horse ride. The "road" is dry here and easier for the horses to navigate so we don't need to walk so much now. You can gauge how old these "roads" really are by studying the worn edges of the rocks, countless horses and humans must have travelled this path to produce this effect. As we journey further down the mountains, losing altitude, Colcamar comes into view. We see many mud-brick houses with tile roofs scattered over the countryside. Entering the village, we travel down a flat alley with houses on each side. The alley is populated with pigs, chickens, and dogs -- all making lots of noise! Finally, we reach the lowest point and begin to climb a steep hill, on top we see larger structures including a church. Waiting at the top are the van, most of the village residents, the police, more animals, and even Pepsi cola! We drink this with much gusto while the horsemen unload our gear and stow it on top of the van. Its a festive atmosphere! So we say goodbye to our horses for the last time. After 15 minutes we board our van and begin the drive to Chachapoyas at 3:30 p.m. The owner of the hotel in Chachapoyas has ridden with our driver to Colcamar and comes back with us. So do Rosa, George, Hugo, Peter, Robert, and Spencer.
The road to Chachapoyas has many rocks that must be avoided and its slow going in the van at first. We are still descending in altitude. But, again, the vistas of the mountains are amazing -- they take your breath away -- we can see apparent funerary sites or the remains of abandoned pre-Hispanic villages up the mountain sides far in the distance. After about an hour we reach a point where the road is graded and can go faster. The van winds through the mountains with incredible view of cliffs, valleys, uncountable shades of green fields. Later the village of Chachapoyas with its 15,000 residents comes into view. We even pass a few cars, something we haven't seen in days! And, what is that, a gasoline station? Wow! Closer in, the roads are paved with concrete but narrow. But there are no traffic lights, I can't figure how they avoid accidents because they don't slow down when passing through intersections. At 5:30, we arrive at the Gran Vilaya Hotel, a four story structure, does it really have hot water? It looks like it isn't completely finished or furnished but it is nice and much better than a tent!
Well, after checking in, everyone heads to the shower in their room to find out. Voila! They really do! How exciting! Afterwards, we walk to the town square and drink in civilization, the streets are even lighted, we've just spent days in areas with no electricity, no running water, so the modern amenities seem so novel! At 7:30 we all meet at the Chacha restaurant, which I highly recommend if you find yourself in Chachapoyas! Most of us order chicken or beef soup and an "American" steak dish. The soups are excellent, the steak appears strange but is good, the plantains and tomatoes are great. But anything would taste good now, compared to canned tuna fish! A and I split a bottle of 1991 Argentine wine that costs $9. As a surprise, they have baked an American Independence Day cake for us! We share it with the kids.
After dinner, everyone walks back to the Gran Vilaya to listen to the lecture by Peter about the pre-Spanish natives in this area. These peoples had no known writing, their spoken language has been completely lost. So, not a lot is known about them. We know they mummified their dead, they built fortresses and houses, and apparently did not use metals. There are areas even more remote than where we visited, Chilmos?, here there are even Inca structures. Its said that there are still areas from where no outsiders have returned -- they were all killed by natives. Peter finishes up by 10:30 and everyone is exhausted and heads to bed. But we're promised a great breakfast!
9 July, 1997 Saturday
We are fly back to Lima today but we aren't sure what time the plane will leave, our tickets indicate 9:30 a.m. We get up at 6:30 and begin packing before a 9:00 a.m. breakfast. Gumer, our hotel owner, leads us to a nearby restaurant and into a private room. We begin with fresh orange juice, hot tea and coffee, and rolls. Then they bring scrambled eggs. We are all having a nice time eating on a real table and with real chairs! Peter, Robert, Spencer, and George attend. Spencer and George are flying back to Lima with us. Peter lives in Chachapoyas. Robert will go back to the lodge. By 10:00 a.m. we are back to our hotel. Because of the indefinite schedule, Gumer takes us to an artifact shop. They have pieces of pottery, stone axes, cloth bags, and sundry items in the shop. It has an atrium behind it with some larger potpourri. I can't imagine who would buy this stuff since they are so few adventures here. Arriving back at the hotel, there is still no information on our plane back to Lima. So we walk to the Cultural Institute [museum] where Peter works. Taking a flight of stairs up, we reach several large wood display cases containing mummies, skulls, pottery, and stone carvings. There is also a large piece of linen with fine weaving. Its about 3x4 feet, beige with two dark vertical stripes, each about 4 inches wide. The mummies are in various states, one is completely intact and appears to be that for a child. Its three feet high and covered with brown cloth held together with rope. Peter says it was discovered only in January, he says many more are to brought out of this site. He hopes they won't be destroyed first. Peter explains that the origins of most items are unknown, they were brought to him by peasants. By 11:00 a.m. we load up the van and begin the 20 minute drive to the airport. On arrival, Gumer makes sure our luggage is properly checked. We joke with the kids and give them candy; its a festive atmosphere with Latin music playing -- after all, the plane only arrives once a week here. A vendor is grilling meat and vegetables over a fire; people crowd around for a last minute snack. Finally we see a plane coming, its a T Doble A airlines plane manufactured in 1960! Its Russian but this one actually has seats! Wow!
By noon we've said our goodbyes and we take off from Chachapoyas toward Lima. But after 30 minutes, we land in Mendoza. Everyone one gets off the plane and we walk to a food stand behind the terminal, there we buy some skewered beef for lunch. Its quite tasty. Vivian comes out of the bathroom disgusted, so I go find a tree -- its like going back to the jungle! By 2:30 we're on our way to Lima. On our return we can actually see where we are flying as compared to our outbound trip. Once near the coast, the terrain turns to inhospitable desert. It appears that rivers of sand are flowing through the denuded mountains. The ancient Russian craft leaks condensed moisture from its vents -- my oxygen mask falls out! But it did get us to Lima by 4:00 p.m.. It seemed to take forever for our luggage to be transported to the terminal from the plane. I walk over to pick up our luggage and, believe it or not, two live turkeys are coming down the luggage carousel! They are wrapped in khaki cloth but their heads are sticking out and they are gobbling! They must have been in the checked baggage! I wonder if they put check-in tags on them???!!! Sure hope they were on top of all that cargo and not on the bottom!!!
After retrieving our luggage we find Ada and exit the terminal. A and I will stay in Miraflores at the Las Casa de Los Sanchez, a good 20 miles from the airport, it seems. The others will stay at Ada's house. After checking in, everyone goes to eat at 6:00 p.m. We go to a place on the large square called the "Haiti." A and I have a "Hamburgesa Americana," which is a cheeseburger, with an egg, lettuce, tomatoes, french fries, and fried plantains -- a bit of everything. We also have a couple of Pisco Sours each. Everyone says goodby for the last time. Vivian and Nazri were flying on to Cusco, while Greg was returning to Denver.
After dinner, A and I walk into the square and buy two wooden, deeply cut depictions of Peruvian windows with baskets. It is crowded and festive, streets are closed to traffic. We can't find the ice cream shop where we got ice cream here in 1994. Spencer is to meet us at the hotel for breakfast at 7 a.m.
10 July, 1997 Sunday
Ada has asked the front desk to wake us at 6:00 a.m. but no one ever comes to do this. By 7 a.m., though, I'm downstairs looking for Spencer. I wait and wait -- we have rolls and beverages in the hotel lobby. Ada arrives in a very small taxi at 8:15 a.m. and we drive by her house. Spencer has overslept. We have to get a larger taxi to carry all of our stuff. By 10:00 a.m. we've checked in, cleared customs, and are at the gate waiting for our Aeroperu flight to Miami. As usual, Spencer, is eating eggs again, A cautions him! By 11:30 we are lifting off and I wonder what is going on in Chachapoyas! It is so different here in Lima, its resembles a desert, while Chachapoyas is so green. So I'm back to civilization but my mind keeps drifting to the jungle, to those beautiful vistas, to horseback riding, to wood fires, to natives chewing cocoa leaves, to a simpler life.
What a trip this has been, spectacular scenery, we've seen a part of the world that very few people have seen, certainly not ordinary tourists. Would I go back? Perhaps if they were to do another exciting expedition, I would.
About 4:00 p.m., we arrive in Miami, our luggage has been somewhat abused but nothing is missing, we check into the nondescript but functional Holiday Inn -- later we have pasta for dinner and crash!
11 July, 1997 Monday
Our flight to Atlanta is at 7:50, so we rise early, before tea/coffee are available and head to the airport. During the flight to Atlanta, A sleeps, a victim of exhaustion from hiking or "Montezuma's Revenge," or both. I reflect on the charming village of Chachapoyas and the numerous picturesque settlements we passed, nestled in spectacular green valleys. This area has such rich soil, its apparent why ancient civilizations, based on agriculture would have flourished. Why didn't they have palaces or kings or cities with tens of thousands of residents like the Maya? Good question, I suspect they must have had leaders to organize construction like Kuelap, this requires societal purpose. It also indicates that there must have been other "tribes" that were enemies. Perhaps they had a more democratic, less hierarchal, society than the Maya, so they didn't require images or displays of wealth. Or, perhaps this was related to their religion, which did not require so many priests and persons of high privilege.
I wonder about the custom of chewing coca leaves and how it originated, did the Cloud People chew them or did this start later? Do women chew these leaves also? I didn't see any doing this. We had some wonderful guides on this trip. Spencer Beaver was only ~20 years old, but very conscientious. He tried to see that we had good food and camping, despite our remote location. It was really enjoyable when he brought popcorn every evening! Peter Lerche was very engaging and answered many questions about the ancient peoples, his detailed knowledge of the geography and ruins was incredible. George Davila was very personable and fun to be around, I wanted to go to the lodge in Iquitos with him! Having reflected and dozed, though, by late morning, I force my mind back to the 20th century and wonder if my elderly parents are OK. We are now on a slow approach to Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta! Taking the rapid rail [MARTA], and a taxi we find ourselves home by noon. Wow, what a trip!
Trip Information: Guides: Spencer Beaver [Amazonia Expeditions], Peter Lerche [archeologist based in Chachapoyas], Rob Dover [English expatriate], George Davila [Amazonia Expeditions-Iquitos], Rosa Ramosinga [Amazonia Expeditions, Chachapoyas, cook].
Amazonia Expeditions: 18500 Gulf Blvd, Suite 201, Indian Shores, FL 33785
Calopunta [jungle ruins]
Playa Damian Cruz
* - Denotes settlement
Jay Smith, Atlanta Georgia, July 1997
Web Site: Adventurer's World