January 19-23: ruins, beaches, and a mountain refuge


On January 19 we rose early to hop on a bus to the Kuelap ruins, called by some “the Machu Picchu of the North.” The town of Chachapoyas greeted us with sunshine — a rare occurrence during the three days we spent there as it was raining almost nonstop.



The drive to the ruins took two and a half hours each way and led us past tombs built and used during the Chachapoya culture (a people also known as the “warriors of the clouds”). The tombs in the rock are visible at the lower end of the lighter, exposed part of the mountain pictured above.



The fortified city of Kuelap was built and inhabited by the Chachapoyas before the Inca conquered it — and eventually burned it down.



Three narrow entrances lead from the plateau into the city proper.



Visitors can currently only use of these three entrances as excavations are still being undertaken all over the site.



Kuelap’s similarity to medieval castles is striking…



… and the views from atop are spectacular.



Our guide was a spunky young gentleman (above, right) who never stopped talking — in both Spanish and English, and with a few German and Catalan phrases mixed in for good measure. Here he explained that the Chachapoyas were living with their dead by mummifying important ancestors and then storing them in holes inside their homes.



Tourists have only recently begun exploring the site, and it still is in remarkably good condition overall.



Kuelap’s remote location (see above for the only access road) has thus been a blessing. Sadly, intrepid Peruvian tourism bureaucrats have begun planning a cog railroad in the hope of multiplying visitor numbers in the near future.



Our group spent over three hours touring the fort and marveling at the masonry as well as the rhombus decor typical of the Chachapoya culture.



Homes consisted of circular stone walls with cone-shaped woven straw roofs. Archaeologists believe that the round structures were rooted in the Chachapoyas’ adoration of the sun and moon.



This part of the fort was probably the most sacred area; it housed the main temple as well as several homes for priests-aristocrats.



The interior of Kuelap’s main temple contains bones from probably thousands of Chachapoyas.



Archaeologists are still unsure about the meaning of some of the stone carvings found at Kuelap. In addition to this human face, we also discovered a few crocodile shapes.



A few llamas are roaming around as well…



… and their presence rounded off a fabulous visit — indeed, a journey through time.



On January 20 Harry and I left the town of Chachapoyas and drove west toward Chiclayo in what ended up being one of the longest drives we’ve done during our trip: 470km in one day, and over nine hours on the road. It was wonderful to once again rely on la bestia‘s torque and perseverance.



Of course we took regular potty breaks and enjoyed the views.



The scenery changed slowly from mostly green mountains and meandering rivers…



… to more arid landscapes…



… and finally, Martian deserts along the Peruvian coastline. Following six hours of seemingly endless hairpin bends, we were back on the Panamericana.



Since it was already dark by the time we reached Chiclayo and we did not know where to stay, we continued until Pimentel, a beachfront resort town where we were allowed to street-camp in front of a private club. The next morning (Jan. 21) we went for a long walk on the beach.



Harry did not mind the humidity…



… and paced up and down for over an hour.



A few additional hours of driving on Jan. 21 took us to Malabrigo, a surfers’ paradise and pleasantly less (over)developed compared to concrete-chic Pimentel. With the help of iOverlander we found a hostel where we were allowed to camp right above the beach.



We fell asleep to the sound of crushing waves.



On Jan. 22 we left the hostel after lunch (more on that below…) and continued southeast on the Panamericana. Taking cues from Peruvian drivers, I completely disregarded the two continuous yellow lines and overtook slower cars and trucks whenever possible. Not a good idea, as it turned out: a police patrol–positioned strategically behind a hilltop–pulled me over. I showed my papers and was informed that I had committed an infraction. No arguing about that. Then the officer asked me to accompany him to his patrol car where he would issue the citation. As he was slowly completing the form, he told me that I would have to pay the fine in the town that I had passed twenty minutes earlier.

“That’s not the direction in which you’re headed, right?,” he asked. “No,” I replied. “I’m driving south.” “Well,” he said, “I can help you.” “Is that so?,” I mumbled. “”Yes,” the officer whispered. “But you need to give me something, and then I will help you.”

“You know,” I replied, “I have broken a traffic rule, and you are right to give me a ticket. I have no cash on me right now, but I shall gladly drive back to that town, go to an ATM and then pay for it at the police station or municipality or wherever.” He was visibly stunned. “But… I can help you!,” he exclaimed. “That’s kind of you,” I replied, “but it won’t be necessary.”

At this point, I noticed that most of the ticket’s text boxes were still empty. The officer looked at me; he seemed unsure what to do. “Okay,” he said after five long seconds, “I will help you anyway. I won’t give you a ticket. But next time you come to Peru, you won’t cross the yellow lines, right?” “Right, officer,” I replied. “Thanks.”

Twenty minutes later–still mesmerized that my deflection had warded off another bribery attempt–I noticed two cop cars following me. Was I about to get pulled over yet again? I stopped on the emergency lane and slowly reversed toward the approaching police vehicles. When the officer–a different one, I should stress–had reached the driver’s side window, I explained to him that I had just been stopped by some of his colleagues and that I was surprised that the Peruvian National police was apparently hunting down tourists. He asked to see my driver’s license. Then my U.S. vehicle registration card. Then my passport. Then my Peruvian car insurance certificate. And finally the temporary import certificate for la bestia that I had received at the border a week ago. Unable to find fault with any of them, he went back to his car and drove off.



At first I thought that these incidents had merely taken a bit of a toll on my stomach. But when we reached Tortugas, a small fishing village surrounded by desert (the photo above shows it in the morning of Jan. 23) where we decided to stay for the night, it quickly became clear that this was more than just psychosomatic stress.

I shall spare you the details; suffice it to say that I did not sleep much last night — and that I cannot recommend the fried fish dish at Flora’s restaurant in Malabrigos.


Peru 23Jan16

Driving-with-diarrhea ain’t fun. I did it anyway, mainly to get out of the heat and back into the mountains. On Jan. 23 we set out early, and as I was downing re-hydration solution we climbed steadily from sea level to almost 14,000ft (4.224m). Suddenly…



… we saw them: the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, and the city of Huaraz at their feet. Depending on the speed of my recovery, we are going to stay here for a day or two.


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