Leymebamba: La Congona and Prince Charming

Waiting for the already half an hour late 8.30 AM combi from Celendín to Leymebamba, I was feeling sorry for the three chickens unmercifully zipped inside a bag and placed on the roof of the bus.

This was, until I started to feel sorry (and afraid) for myself, and think that they were better up there, while 18 of us had been squeezed in a 15 people combi. Also, I totally got the wrong place, right at the end. Reminder for next time: book a seat as close to the exit as possible.

Ready for my third time on the both stunning and dangerous Celendín – Chachapoyas road, I texted all my insurance details to Henna, hoping she wouldn’t freak out, and especially hoping she wouldn’t need to use any of that.

But hey, here I am, sound and safe, writing from my beautiful room (25 S) on the very Plaza de Armas of this lovely little village, Leymebamba. After the shithole where I slept two nights ago in Celendín, and after traveling 5 hours on an overloaded combi, I decided I deserved the treat.

With a little more than 4000 souls, there is not much to do in Leymebamba. For this very reason, it has been the perfect place to spend two days before heading to Moyobamba.

Yesterday I just chilled and walked around the (three) streets of the village. I spent most of the evening playing volleyball and talking to ten-year-old Joana who was eager to know the Italian word for whatever her eyesight could catch around her. I also met her family, including her 16-year-old sister-in-law, breastfeeding her baby.

Everyone is opening their eyes wide at me when I say I’m 28, not married, with no children, and no plan to have for a loooong time.

Today I set up early for La Congona, that I now call La Cagona, because “casi la cagué”, I almost screwed it up.

Archaeological site of the Chachapoyas culture, a pre-Inca civilization, La Congona can be reached on foot by hiking uphill from Leymebamba.

The path starts from Calle 16 de Julio (yes, one of the three in town, you really can’t miss it) and climbs up the mountain. The Lonely Planet says it takes three hours, a local guide said two. Taking all the steep shortcuts, I wanted to make it in two.

And yes, after one hour I was up in La Fila, a village with a couple of houses and a school, and I was all cheering inside: I was halfway through, I would make it in two hours!

Of course, that was not the case. After researching in a couple of blogs and asking the few locals I met on my way, it sounded like I had to be careful to take the right path or I would never reach La Congona. Actually, all you have to do is to follow the main road.

Do so until you arrive in a flat area (around one hour after reaching La Fila), and then take left. Keep walking for maybe 20 minutes, until you see a wooden gate on your right. A proper wooden gate, not some trunks put there to stop people from entering some private property. It has a red arrow painted on the right side, but no sign. Follow the path after you reach a second gate. There is a small hidden path on the right: follow it uphill and after a couple of minutes you will see the first ruins.

Of course, I took the wrong way not one, not two, but three times. The first time I realized after hiking 30 mins in the wrong direction. That’s when I met Prince Charming.

Yes, girls, Prince Charming does exist. He might not be as gorgeous, nor young as the one from Snowhite. Also, his horse was brown and not white. But yes he was dressed in blue, and there is a reason why his Spanish name is Príncipe Azul (the Blue Prince)!

Lucio got off his horse, helped me up, and led me towards the crossroad where I had taken the wrong path. He made sure I understood where the path was and on top of which cliff La Congona was, and then set off to sell milk in La Fila.

But this is not it! Around one hour later, I realized another (older, but still dressed in blue) gentleman was riding a horse right behind me. Apparently, Lucio had asked his friend to make sure I was on the right path, and to take me on his horse in case I was still far from the destination.

I was not, but hey! Rescued by Prince Charming not only once, but twice, how cool is that?

Then, of course, I still managed to get lost. Twice. I passed through barbed wire, got into private properties, got scratched all over my legs, arms and face. But when all hope was lost and I was ready to give up, I decided to try one more time, and I did find the path.

So, feeling a little bit like Indiana Jones, I made my way through the thick vegetation and finally found the so awaited ruins.

There is absolutely no sign telling you were they are or how to get there, and the path is covered by plants, so it’s not easy to pass through. But hell what a reward it was to finally get there! It was so much better than Kuélap, just because I had hiked my ass up there (for four hours, people! Not two, not three: it took me four damn hours to get there).

Then, the icing on the cake, it started to rain. Hard. And it didn’t stop till I reached Leymebamba again.

But I was in a great mood, and not the rain nor the mud could stop me from singing my way down at full lungs. OK, maybe that dog attacking me did make me shake a little, but now I’m not that scared anymore: I just quickly search for stones and pretend to throw them (so far the pretending has been enough). Then came his owner riding a horse (of course), telling me he attacked me because “he saw white”. Awesome. Chicken meat, how yummy.

I spent the last kilometers downhill chatting with a woman, trying to keep her horse’s pace. It was cool to get to know her, considering that she met my white ass before my face. Two hours and I didn’t see a single soul, but she happened to pass just while I was peeing.

Anyway, the lady was complimenting me and all for doing the whole hike alone, and then she tells me she goes down to the village once a week to buy rice and other supplies. Two hours downhill, and three hours uphill, under the sun or the rain (like today), every week. She eats what she grows and raises, selling some corn to pay for what she can’t produce.

She has four children living in Chachapoyas and Lima. I didn’t ask any question about the husband, because after a few weeks here I realized that the husband is mostly never part of the picture. Most of the Peruvian men I’ve got to know so far have a few children here and there, but they are not together with their mothers anymore, if they ever have.

You get more insight when talking to the women: they have, most probably, been abandoned, and have had to raise their children alone. 28, single and without kids? Yes, sir. And for a long while.



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5 Responses

  1. Bryan Matsumoto says:

    This is great Elena, I laughed out loud about the woman seeing your white ass lol. My boyfriend and I are in Leymebamba and just hiked to La Congona, and 2 other ruins Cataneo y Molinete in one long marching hike with a guide. I found your blog just now, wanting to know more about what we saw… That’s awesome you did this all yourself! We were *wiped out* by the time we hit our beds, and took half of today to recover. Fantastic blog. I didn’t realize that, what you said about the women and the men just leaving them with kids, really shitty — and now makes sense, as we have met a number of women raising kids alone. Thanks for this great blog, I’m going to see what else you’ve written about that we still have to visit! (Kuelap/Chachapoyas area, and back to Lima) Gracias!

  2. Elena says:

    Hey Bryan! Thanks for your comment, I am very glad you liked the blog and could find some useful information in it! I’m curious to know whether the site changed or it is still as wild as I saw it almost two years ago? I believe the pain I had to go through to find the place made it all special, but at the same time I guess that going there without a guide I missed these other two that you’re talking about – Cataneo and Molinete? It was just so hard to reach the first one LOL 🙂
    Truth is, Peru stroke me very much as regards men’s (un)involvement in their family lives and that made me start seeing how the woman is really the pillar of the society there. I guess that planted the first seed of a raising feminist awareness in me. You might as well read this blog entry http://thebackpackersway.com/2017/02/amor-serrano-machismo-in-peru/ that is my first reflection, but I will write more about the topic now.
    I wish you two the best of times, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as you keep reading my blog!
    Buenas rutas!

    • michael rigsby says:

      Hi Elena, On this long winter of Covid, I’ve been dreaming of traveling again and thinking of a trip my partner and I took to Peru in late 2018. I came across your blog about La Congona . We went with a guide and got dropped off somewhere above the ruins (and above Cataneo and Molinete). I thought by doing so it would all be an easy downhill trek. How surprised we were that it was one of the hardest day of hiking we’d ever done. Like Bryan, we were wiped out at the end! I’m not only amazed that you hiked it on your own, but that you even found the ruins! Even as I kept trying to keep track of landmarks along the way, I kept getting turned around. I don’t know what we would have done without the guide! I feel like we perhaps met the same woman you did. As I was feeling tired and sorry for myself near the end of our hike we passed a woman with a big bag of rice heading easily up the hill to her home! And after we left Leymebamba, we too headed to Moyobamba and then on to Tarapoto
      Now I’m dreaming of heading back to Leymebamba and heading up the Utcubamba River to the ruins at La Petaca and Diablo Wasi.

  3. Stefano Pesenti says:

    Loved your report and fine sense of humor… greetings from Leymebamba 😉

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