Chachapoyas and Around: a First Taste of the Selva
The colectivo from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas plays a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, “The Bucket List”. Sitting next to me, Chris asks what I have in my bucket list.
I couldn’t think of anything, and I suddenly realized that I AM doing what I had in my bucket list. My biggest dream, traveling free in Latin America, is reality now, and there is nothing left in my list of to-dos.
I look out of the window and smile. The pink light of the sunset is shining on the Andes, that are suddenly dressed for the most elegant of the parties. Above them, the clouds are dancing their last dance, before getting lost in the dark of the night to come.
The bus ride from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas is spectacular. My Lonely Planet describes it as “a test of nerves and stamina”, and I suddenly understand what the writers meant.
Twisting and turning alongside the Cordillera, the night fell even too soon, leaving me to only imagine the stunning landscape hidden by the scary darkness.
The steep road climbs and drops in a series of worrying turns, swallowed by the night. I regret taking the night bus (there is no way I can sleep with all this turning, and I’m missing all the panorama), but I promise myself that I will travel during day-time on my way back.
The starry sky reminds me of a Saturday morning at the market. The air is warm, so I open the window to let the night breeze in and to stare, fascinated, at the millions of stars in the sky. By the way, did you know you can see Venus from Peru? A lonely bright star in the cajamarquino night, it is accompanied by all her sisters up here.
We (me and the volunteers: Henna, Amar and Chris) arrive in Chachapoyas around 5 AM and we walk our way to Aventura Backpackers Hostel. We sleep a couple of hours and after a quick tour of the market and some chatting with the other travelers, we realize it’s too late for any of the activities we wanted to do.
Following the suggestion of Tania, the Ukrainian wife of the owner, we hike 2 hours uphill to Huancas to see the canyon.
The walk is nice but almost boring, so I was ready to get disappointed. Hopefully, I was wrong, and the view was breathtaking.
At night we met our host Daniel and went to check the highly recommended “La Reina”. This bar has a wide selection of shots made from fruits and roots, which we drank with other travelers until we responsibly went back to the hostel to get a few hours sleep.
This morning we woke up at 5.30, but only Henna and I eventually left for the hike to the Gocta waterfall.
Unexplored until 10 years ago due to some local belief, the Catarata de Gocta is the third waterfall in Latin America. To reach it, if you want to avoid going with a tour, you can take a combi (5 s) from the Terminal Terrestre, and ask to be let off at Cocahuayco. From here, you can take a moto-taxi (Indian-style tuk tuk) or a combi up to the village of San Pablo.
Of course, we got off at the wrong stop. It was only after hitchhiking up from where the combi left us, being offered breakfast by the lovely group from Moyobamba who had just given us a ride and paid the entrance that I realized that we were at the opposite side of where we were supposed to be.
Having decided to hike the whole circuit (8 hours according to most sources), little would have changed, except for the fact that instead of hiking 1.5 hour downhill between the first and the second waterfall, we hiked 2 hours of steep steps. Oh, under the rain. Of course.
I used my brand-new Leathermann to cut three things today: the thread with which I sewed Henna’s blister, a prickly pear and myself. I sent a quiet and long-distance thank you to my friends in Bratislava 🙂
We completed the hike in 6 hours and totally loved it. Taking the wrong way meant that I realized that no way I’m going to be able to hike 4 hours uphill to Kuélap tomorrow, so that I booked a tour together with a couple of people I met today.
Around 3 PM we arrived in the village of San Pablo, where every person we met insisted on Henna and me go visit here and there.
After accompanying Henna, Amar and Chris to the bus terminal and getting a couple of worrying-looking skewers from a street vendor, I headed back to the hostel and fell into the deepest sleep.
I woke up a few hours later to rush to find an ATM before heading for my tour. Tip: in Peru they don’t accept torn or written banknotes, so make sure you check your foreign currency back home, if you want to avoid traveling for months with a useless 50 euro banknote, like me.
Second only to Machu Picchu, Kuélap is a stone-fortified citadel city situated at 3100 MASL. You can reach it by changing a couple of colectivos and combis and hiking up for 4 hours, or you can book a tour and be driven 2.5 hours and be left at the entrance.
Shame on me, I was way too tired after two days of exhausting hiking, I couldn’t even think of hiking uphill for 4 hours. Also, I had met a couple of French people willing to book a tour for the same day, so we decided to go together.
Built between AD 500 and 1493 and rediscovered only 350 years later, Kuélap consists of over 400 circular dwellings, some of which decorated with zigzag and rhomboid friezes, and all once topped by soaring thatched roofs.
I have to admit that I went back to the hostel quite disappointed about the visit – mainly because I believe the hike was the best part of it, and I missed it.
Nevertheless, new friendships were forged, and one more night at La Reina was a wonderful conclusion of this longer week-end trip.
As promised, I went back to Cajamarca with the 5.30 AM combi, and it was indeed worth the early wake-up. The price is the same if you take a colectivo (45 S), but the combi is your only alternative if you want to travel by day. Turismo Virgen del Carmen does though offer transportation during the day, but only on Mondays.
Besides a couple of stops because of some problems at the engine and a couple of tires that looked all but reliable, the trip was smooth and enjoyable thanks to the company of two couples of German backpackers.
The combi stops in Celendín, where you can get a menú económico for 6 S just next to the bus terminal.
I arrived safely in Baños del Inca in late afternoon, and after stopping by the volunteers’ house for some coffee and chats, I went back to Carmen’s.