Due to our early arrival in Lima we had the chance to add some extra activities to our “itinery”. Time on the beach was first to be added but as we were heading to northern Peru we couldn’t turn down a chance to see the lesser known of Peru’s finest ruins, Kuelap. All plans have a down side it seems and in this case we had to go back to altitude, and suffer the twisting roads and hellish bus journeys that this entails.
After the excitement of the tuk-tuk crash we arose early the next day to catch a bus down the coast to Chiclayo. We bid a final farewell to Sandy, a true ambassador to the splendid nation of New Zealand if ever there was one. Joining us on our onward journey was the lovely Linzi, who had failed to see the funny side of our Mancora hostel and legged it to another after only one night.
This bus journey was ok. The coast of Peru is, relatively speaking, quite flat so the road tends to be straight. We arrived in Chiclayo late in the afternoon where upon I promptly felt sorry for a shoe shine boy and paid him £4 to paint my trainers with white paint. I do have fond memories of buying the trainers though so if it extends their life it is £4 well spent. You may all recall that £4 buys one nights accommodation in these parts…
Chiclayo was in all honesty a bit of a hole and I can’t imagine many travellers stop here, let alone stay for a while. We only stayed one night but in that short time we struggled to find decent food and the men were seedy towards Claire and Linzi. And somebody shouted “Gringo” at me. Which was pointless because I just can’t understand how this is an insult so I smiled and waved at them.
(our only photograph from Chiclayo…taken in the supermarket…delicious!)
We boarded our next bus in the evening. The journey was hellish. The road was twisty and bumpy and combined with our driver’s need for speed meant that sleep lasted a few minutes at most before we were torn from our slumber. I can assure you that waking into a state of confusion is only worsened when you realise you are teetering on the edge of a ravine. We arrived in Chachapoyas at 5am struggling to engage our brains.
Somehow we managed to get a taxi to take us to our chosen accommodation. They had rooms and they were available so we grabbed a welcome hour of sleep before setting of on our day tour to Kuelap. At times like this I question the sanity of some of our choices. If I didn’t sleep at home I would just stay in bed all day – though at home I don’t have Kuelap to go and see.
Kuelap is a pre Incan fortress, the construction of which first commenced in 600AD. It sits atop an imposing mountain surrounded by many others and was clearly built with defence in mind.
(the road which took us to Kuelap…another scary journey)
In some ways Kuelap was more impressive than Machu Picchu. Its immense outer wall rises to an incredible height of 19 metres in some places. And as with any other ruins the stone used to construct the fortress was transported to the site through what must have been herculean efforts. The quarry for Kuelap sits at the base of the mountain some 1,200 metres below.
(the immense outer wall)
Add to that the fact that many scholars believe the amount of stone used to build Kuelap surpasses that used to built the Great Pyramid of Giza you some idea of the awe that Kuelap deserves.
(looking back in from atop the outer wall at one of the entrances to the fortress)
The buildings within the fortress are all round, that being how the Chachapoyas people built their homes. They differ completely from four sided Incan buildings in this regard. The Chachapoyas were eventually defeated by the Incas and some square Inca era buildings are present at Kuelap also.
(remains of some of the round houses)
Our guide for the day was excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the unusual experience of having everything explained to us. At My Sun in Vietnam, Angkor in Cambodia and Machu Picchu we have guided ourselves, which was great fun, though it makes us wonder what we may have missed.
All in all Kuelap was a fantastic experience. It deserves to be held in similar regard to Machu Picchu. Sadly it isn’t though. Firstly it sits in cloud forest and rain is a daily occurrence…we got soaked. Additionally it is much more difficult to get to Kuelap (unless you got to Machu Picchu like this). The road we drove along to get there from Chachapoyas was a scary experience.
Every cloud has a silver lining though. Machu Picchu gets many thousands of visitors every day. When we were at Kuelap we saw only one other small group of tourists.
That night the owner of our excellent hostel led us to his favourite restaurant. We only asked where he recommended but he happily led us half a kilometer and instructed the restaurant to look after us. There we ate some of the very best chicken of our whole trip. It really was brilliant. Here you see chickens scratching around the streets and we had the rather unique experience of eating chicken whilst live chickens scratched around under our table. A whole other level from the free range we get in the UK!
(the Plaza at Chachapoyas)
The next day we killed a few hours before catching a night bus to Huanchaco, our final destination in Peru. The girls told me that this journey was terrifying due to the driver’s apparent death wish. Luckily I slept right through it.