Into Northern Peru – Dancing on Mother’s Day – Chachapoyas, Kuelap, Gocta, Leymebamba

It’s hard to know what’s round the next corner on this journey so it was without much surprise that I found myself one evening dancing with a large number of strangers two feet smaller than me at a mother’s day town party in hot Perico (Northern Peru). With thirst and tiredness at a non-trivial level it was the last thing I felt like doing but I couldn’t let down Peruvian mountain bike champion Milton. He was helping organise the event and had kindly offered me hospitality at his home after we had a chance encounter a couple of days before. With the bright lights and huge height disparity the… staring… was… merciless. The show had arrived (me) and dancing was compulsory; it required inviting the local girls to dance and then awkwardly trying to copy their Peruvian moves. Milton managed to grab a shot of one of my many X factor moments that night (I edited in some music for comical effects):

Other anecdotes that night: Peruvians have a drinking ritual in which they share a large bottle of beer between a group. This is how it works: Step 1. They pour some beer into a cup and then pass the bottle to someone else.  Step 2. They then drink the cup and pass it on to the bottle recipient. Repeat. All night. I tripped up on step one with a total stranger thinking he was offering me a sip of his beer so I took it and drank straight from the bottle.  I realised my error and awkwardness later when Milton explained to me how this worked.

The bigger picture – this is how the rest of the trip from Vilcabamba to Cajamarca went down:
After the last leg of the TEMBR it was with great excitement that I headed out of Vilcabamba towards Peru.  It’s huge mountains and incredibly varied landscapes make it an extraordinary place to visit and I was excited with the prospect of finally getting there.  Here is my route up until Huaraz (where I’m writing these lines with a self-diagnosis of some kind of pneumonia):

The steep roller coaster dirt roads were relentless up to the ‘La Balsa’ border in Peru.  They then turned paved onto San Ignacio before a long decent into hotter climes following a river down to a big open flood plain and rice fields.  It was exciting to see new the landscapes and felt fresh to be in a new country. After Perico and my X factor debut the road continued down to the casa de ciclista in Jaen and then headed down into the Amazonas a couple of days later.
(NB: casa de ciclista location: head up about two blocks on the righthand road from plaza de las armas to the bicycle shops on the right and ask for the Obando family)

Into the Amazonas descending down from Jaen. Not long after I was heavily sweating under the morning repairing punctures by the side of the road. Inconveniently my discovery of each tiny pin-prick from the thorns were inconveniently discovered consecutively resulting in many hours wasted. I found a couple more days later. Don't wheel the bike off the road!

Into the Amazonas region descending down from Jaen (I went for the road bridge option instead of the ‘ferry’). Not long after, I was sweating and swearing under the morning sun repairing multiple punctures by the side of the road. A pattern began to repeat itself. Each repair was followed by 10 minutes of cycling before the alternate tyre would begin to deflate immediately followed by a surge of irritation flooding my veins. The fourth time required some quite strong philosophical control. Hours of the day wasted. Days later searching for holes in my mysteriously deflating tyres became my ‘favourite’ pastime.

Experienced on the road from Bagua Grande up to Chachpoyas. This exotic looking local dish was less tasty and more boney than it looked.

Experienced on the road from Bagua Grande up to Chachpoyas. This exotic looking local dish was less tasty and more boney than it looked. The Peruvian waitress was, however, quite possibly as tasty as she looked. Their long term notoriety in beauty relative to other indigenous communities was chronicled by the rough notes of early (and brutal) Spanish conquistadores (notably conquistador Pedro Cieza de León, mentioned in the museum of Leymebamba).

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Gocta, a few hours from Chachapoyas. The 3rd highest waterfall in the world.

Catarata Gocta a few hours short of Chachapoyas. (Not) “the 3rd highest waterfall in the world”. The two tiers are: 231m and 540m.  I cycled up to the lower Cochachimba side, camped in the church building site (with permission) and hiked first to the bottom then the top of the 540m waterfall.  Several hours…

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The top of the 541m waterfall, the edge was  not a safe place to be (understandably) so I didn’t get any closer

I continued on up the majestic canyon and chose a 400m climbing detour to Chachapoyas from the main route; on the way up I started to feel fatigued and opted for a couple of days rest in the famous tourist town before descending back to the route the same way (other route options look possible).

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After my detour to Chachapoyas I enjoyed seeing these llamas at Kuelap ruins. Animals have such a calming effect on the human spirit don’t they?

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A mock Kuelap construction (situated amongst ancient authentic constructions) at Kuelap ruins. Educative or destructive?

Kuelap was of some interest (depends on what you like?). Leave your bike up at Tingo and hike up for a few hours (avoid the midday sun if possble). There is a very basic 15 sol hostal 50 metres from the entrance (ask the security guards). My afternoon here was enhanced by a chance meeting with a rather attractive French girl who I disappointingly lost all contact with afterwards. You too may meet attractive French girls if you go to Kuelap (don’t count on it though).

Further down the road is Leymebamba which also holds some interesting history. 200 Chachapoyan mummies were salvaged from closeby Laguna de Los Condores in 1997 to protect them from public abuse several months before.  (Many mummies had been damaged or robbed from the site). These were housed in the Leymebamba museum resulting in a huge spike of tourist development for the town; well… from nearly zero tourists to some tourists. No photos were allowed so I can’t help promote them here as much I would like. They’ve tied my hands (not literally). It was fascinating to see them though…

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Then a 60km unbroken descent into hot La Balsa

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Followed by…

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…a 40km unbroken ascent to Celendin

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And into Cajamarca with its lethal mototaxis. Here I made Casa Mirita my home for a few days doing chores restocking and sitting an enormous natural hot bath in Baños del Inca

Next up: cycling through a Peruvian mine

2 thoughts on “Into Northern Peru – Dancing on Mother’s Day – Chachapoyas, Kuelap, Gocta, Leymebamba

    • Yeah it was fun to bike. 🙂

      Peru has been very impressive so far – I’m still only a few days past Huaraz

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