We were only on our second bottle of wine when we decided to go to the Amazon. It was an easy decision to make. Our Aussie friends were there to watch the house, and we didn’t have anything else to do, as was most often the case during our time in Peru. Two days later we were on a bus, rumbling north. First stop, Chachapoyas, home of the Cloud People.
We left the balmy beach of Huanchaco and, after an overnight bus ride, we arrived bright and early, and with a Gatorade soaked camera, into chilly Chachapoyas. However, as is usual at Peruvian bus stations, we were soon in a taxi, on our way to the hotel. Although it was not yet 7am, we were ushered into a gorgeous, old colonial-style hotel, given a room, and directed to breakfast and the all-important coffee.
Showered and fueled, we made our way to the town square, home to a gorgeous cathedral, and stopped at the first tourism office we found. Most tours highlight the ruins of Kuelap, but I noticed another tour that offered a visit to the sarcophagi at Carajia, and a tour of a cave. A cave! I adore caves! Forget that most people refer to Kuelap as the “Machu Picchu of the North”, and that we only had one day. I wanted to see the cave.
With a swiftness that still surprises me after all this time, we were loaded into a rickety Toyota and began our journey into the mountains. The roads quickly deteriorated from asphalt to gravel, and the lack of guardrails made me shiver. But as we wound higher and higher toward Quiocta Cave, the stunning views took my breath away. Strange plants dotted the landscape, and I marveled at everything around me.
About an hour later, we stopped in a little village, and with our broken, but improving Spanish, we ascertained that we would rent tall, rubber boots for our time in the cave. Boot in hand, we continued through lush green farmland to the area of Qiocta cave. We met up with another tour group and made our way down the steep stairs.
Once at the entrance to the cave, the guide began to fiddle with a backpack and a car battery. Next thing I knew, he’d connected a spotlight to the battery, donned the backpack, and we entered the cave. I understood little of the Spanish narrative, but the cave was beautiful and haunting, with gorgeous stalactites and human bones scattered throughout. We waded through the mud until we could go no further, then turned around.
We returned our boots to the shop, had lunch, then journeyed onward to the sarcophagi at Carajia. As we arrived, we noticed several Peruvian women and children, holding saddled horses. We emerged from the car to offers of the use of the horses for the ride down to Carajia. The asking price for the one kilometer ride was 60 Peruvian soles, or about 20 USD. We shunned the offer, agreeing that one kilometer was not at all far. And it isn’t, when you’re going downhill.
What began as a gentle slope turned into a downward scramble, and as I looked at the sarcophagi perched on the cliffside, the 600 year old resting places of the elite of a long gone civilization, all I could think about was the climb back up. The altitude was definitely a factor as I began the slow trek and the need to stop every few minutes to catch my breath worried me. But then I rounded a corner and met my salvation.
A few of the young girls had followed us down, horses in tow. I almost sobbed with relief, as I handed Soles to two of the girls, claimed one horse, and told the other girl to save her horse for Will, as he was still behind me admiring the view. As this lovely girl led me up the hill, her younger brother cavorted behind my horse, asking repeatedly, and without gasping for air, “¿Estás cansado?” “¿Estás cansado?” Yes, I’m tired. And your cardiovascular system is freakishly impressive.
At the top of the hill, I sat in the grass with the girl, her brother now joined by a litter of puppies and they all bounced around me. The view was incredible, and I sat in silence, waiting for Will’s horse to bring him to the top. I felt that I could have waited there forever.
Will arrived and we returned to Chachapoyas for dinner, a beer, and bed. We were in for an early wake up the following day, and the road to the Amazon would continue.
Next Time: Sun Dogs, la policía, and colostomy bags.