Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2012, 5th – 10th August: Border, Chachapoyas, Chiclayo & Huanchaco - Peru

For the full complement of photos corresponding to this blog entry, use the following link to the set of photos in my Flickr pages:

Journey from Border with Ecuador to Chachapoyas

The first half of this journey (on the Ecuadorian side of the border) is documented in my previous blog release.

Having obtained the relevant Peruvian entry stamps, we negotiated a price for a colectivo (shared taxi) to take us as far as San Ignacio which was the last destination reachable before nightfall. An hour and a half was passed on another dirt road with numerous skirtings of diggers and trucks that were working to keep the mountain sides at bay. Hotel rooms in San Ignacio were very hard to come by because of a festival in the town, and I had to settle for what was the worst room I have stayed in so far in South America. I doubt the ´en-suite´ had ever been cleaned and it had a wonderful aroma of many years of dried-on piss.

Road in a Transient State: En-Route from Border with Ecuador to San Ignacio
The journey from San Ignacio to Chachapoyas had to be made in three stages; San Ignacio to Jaén, Jaén to Bagua Grande and Bagua Grande to Chachapoyas. The first leg (to Jaén) was in a combi (a shared minibus that leaves when it is full) started with a long stretch on a dust road. The combi had a missing window and the dust just poured in, so the hair of all of us soon turned grey along with our clothes and even more so our backpacks that were on the roof. Things became more pleasant once we left the dirt road behind and enjoyed a smoother ride on tarmac for the first time in a day and a half. The passing countryside was beautiful, with irrigation channels being used to water the flat valley – affording numerous rice paddy fields.

The State of My Backpacks After Various Very Dusty Legs of the Journey

We switched to a different combi in Jaén. The countryside on the way to Bagua Grande was different, being dryer and more arid. In Bagua Grande we switched to yet another combi to take us the three hours to Chachapoyas. During this final leg of the journey, the landscape changed once more as we soon entered the canyon formed by the Utcubamaba river. The hours passed with beautiful view following beautiful view, with the mountains bordering the canyon sometimes rising very high above the river. Some sections of the road were dramatic, with the route cut into the rock of the canyon on one side and the river roaring past on the other. The weather was wonderful, with the blue sky adding to the natural spectacle.

The Spectacular Route from Bagua Grande to Chachapoyas
through the Canyon of the Utcubamba River

Chachapoyas for The Kuélap Ruins & The Gocta Waterfall

Chachapoyas is a pleasant colonial town close to many archaeological sites, the largest of which being Kuélap. The ruins of the walled town of Kuélap are perched on a mountain ridge at an elevation of 3,000 metres – which would have afforded a secure position against would-be invaders. It was constructed between 900 and 1100 AD by the Chachapoya people. It remained secure until the 1470s AD when it was finally conquered by the Incas – though it took a number of years for the town to fall to them, reflecting it´s militarily strong position and resilient double-walled defences. The Incas managed to build a few of their architecturally styled buildings inside the town walls, characterised by their rectangular shape as opposed to the circular design of the Chachapoya constructions, before the settlement then fell to the Spanish conquistadors.

The Outer Walls of Kuélap in their Commanding Ridge-Top Position

In the days of the Chachapoyas, access to the areas inside the double-walled town was restricted to three thin entrance ways. The buildings inside were always circular and originally had steep-sloped thatched roofs. Reverence to animal spirits is in evidence, with motifs of animal eyes included in decorative bands along some walls and animal shapes carved in some of the rocks used in construction.

Ruins of Circular Dwellings With Commanding Views

One of the Thin Entrance Ways to Kuélap
While the thatched roofs have long since disappeared, many of the walls are reasonably well intact and one can gain a good impression of the construction of the houses and communal buildings. The defensive walls are still in good condition, particularly the outer one, making an imposing sight atop the mountain ridge. The views down the steep mountain sides and across the valleys are not only spectacular, but show how important the topography was in defending the settlement against the Incas for an extended time.

The Gocta waterfall, also near Chachapoyas, was not in full flow when I walked through the hot valleys to its base as I was there near to the end of the dry season. Nevertheless, it was an impressive sight. The claim of being the third highest waterfall in the world, at 771 metres, is perhaps a little cheeky as it is in fact made up of two separate drops – the second and highest being around 540 metres in height, but still, that is pretty high.

The Gocta Waterfall Near Chachapoyas

Chiclayo for the Ruins of the Túcume Pyramids

The city of Chiclayo is a take it or leave it place, but was a base for exploring the ruins of the pyramids at Túcume. The coastal area between Chiclayo and Trujillo contains many similar archaeological sites which were built by the Lambayeque / Sican peoples. Unfortunately, they chose to use adobe brick construction (an un-fired earth-straw mix), which is rather poor at withstanding the effects of wind and rain over many years. Consequently, the structures are no longer pyramids, but just ´shapes´ that only provide a weak reference to their former glories. The sides of the pyramids are now made of numerous ´fingers´ carved by the water as it washes away the construction making them look like natural rather than man-made features. However, one can just about see evidence of the original adobe bricks in some places and the wooden joists marking different levels. I believe that if the condition of the pyramids in the region was good, then as an archaeological attraction the area could match the pyramids in Egypt.

Ruin of Adobe Pyramid at Túcume
Were one´s visit to the area restricted to the pyramid sites, one might be forgiven for concluding that this Lambayeque / Sican crowd weren´t up to much. However, my visit to the Museo (museum) Tumbas Reales de Sipán in Lambayeque near Chiclayo proved otherwise. This houses many artefacts recovered from the Sipán pyramids (similar to the Túcume ones but built earlier by the Moche people). These peoples were real gold craftsmen, creating beautiful and ornate gold adornments worn by dignitaries and religious leaders – including face plates, breast plates, head gear, earrings (really big) and staffs. The important folk were buried, along with their gold regalia, in complex tombs within the pyramids. The importance of animal spirits in their spiritual belief systems is evidenced in the gold creations; including snakes, birds and the heads of foxes.


I broke up the journey from Chiclayo to Huaraz by stopping for two nights in the small coastal town of Huanchaco, near to the city of Trujillo. It is a spot favoured by surfers. However, they all don wetsuits, while I had a swim in just trunks and that was f,f,f,f,freezing. I can only assume that there are some powerful ocean currents bringing cold water up from the far south of the Pacific. These likely explain the cool air temperature in town too.

No comments:

Post a Comment