We decided to go to Chachapoyas and some of the nearby area because their housekeeper (as well as Ameru's) came from the region and told us it was very pretty and full of interesting things to see. Chachapoyas is the capital (and largest city, pop. 54,000 and is at about 2300 meters (roughly 7800 feet) of the department. Chachapoyas is the red dot in the narrow province of Amazonas near Ecuador (my work on map from wikipedia):
This photo is from some 2800 meters up (call it 9000 feet), you can see a road winding its way in the mountains across the Utcubamba River Canyon between Chacha and the impressive pre-Inca (and later rebuilt Inca) ruins. We arrived by bus from Chiclayo (northern coastal city, we got to Chiclayo by air), the bus trip was 10 hours at night (yes, Doctor, I took a Xanax to sleep through that...). We arrived at our hotel at about 7:00 Am, ate breakfast, and then took our first excursion/tour to the ruins of Kuelap.
A little bit of history. The Chachapoyas were conquered by the Incas about 1400, and many were dispersed (as was Inca custom with conquered peoples), some as far away as Bolivia. But, some remained. When the Spanish came by (they built a city near present-day Chacha even before they built Lima), they noted that the Chachas were tall and light-skinned, which has led to all sorts of theories that I am unable to comment upon. One thing happened though, they no longer speak ANY of their original language nor do they speak Quechua (the language of the Incas). Very little is known about the ancient Chachas or their language. They DID share many customs with other nearby tribes though (eg. mummifying bodies of important persons).
Kuelap was first settled about in the Sixth Century AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuelap), that date is one of the relatively few things that are known about Kuelap. The wiki article just cited is pretty good, and covers a lot of material our guides did not go into, but some of the wiki article conflicts with some of what are guide did tell us... My best assessment is that they do not know too much about it (there is still a lot that is not understood about the more famous Machu Picchu in the southern Peruvian Andes). The explanations about the fortress-like Kuelap that make the most sense to me are that the fortress was built to occasionally house the Chachapoyas Indians from hostile neighbors (centuries before the Incas even showed up). This part of Peru is relatively fertile, and there was constant conflict between almost all neighboring Native American tribes, as well as trade (this should help put to rest all of that BS about how native peoples left in their natural states were peaceful and took such good care of the Earth...). Below is a picture at the entrance to Kuelap's ruins of Lily (left) and my wife Carmen:
The walk to the actual ruins is about 1 km from the entrance there. The main fortress part of the ruins are about 600 meters (almost 2000 feet) by 110 meters. This next picture is along the western wall (a "long" side), note the "neblina" (mountain fog) coming in, very common in the Andes:
Here are the two lovely ladies at the "South Tower" of Kuelap:
There are a lot (50?) houses all of a typical round shape, Only the stone ruins remain, but they had a conical roof made of dried straw. The below picture shows a typical house, usually some 5 - 8 people (a family) lived in each one. I took this photo partly because there is a nice red bromeliad growing on the rock...:
Note a few things here, first is the circular shape (I got about one half of it), then note a an arc of rock just left of center. This arc was actually a cage or house for "cuys" (guinea pigs, a delicacy among Peruvians). The round two foot circle covered by stone is a hole where they stored food (Kuelap is at 3000 meters, so fairly cold year round, especially in the ground). Finally just below center and to the right is a rounded stone on top of a larger smooth one, these were used for grinding grain (corn and quinua).
The trip took all day. We got back to our hotel and took a trip into town for dinner. Our hotel was the "Villa de Paris" and was just fine! We stayed in the room at the far right of the larger building (near center).
There is not a whole lot to do in Chacha itself. Here is a picture of their main town square ("Plaza de Armas" -- the name for almost every town's main square in Peru) with a rainbow:
Note that it is almost always cold or raining in the Andes! If you go, make sure to be prepared! Another picture of the Plaza on a different day, the Plaza almost always has the main Church located there as well:
And just WHO are these two (also at the Plaza de Armas)?
Here is my "Humor Photo of the Day". I took this at a pharmacy in Chacha, it is a decongestant, pain reliever and fever reducer. But the name? NastiMed Plus? Plus what?
The next trip we went on was a short trip to the village of Huancas which has a nearby HUGE canyon (the Sonche Canyon). It rivals both our Grand Canyon as well as southern Peru's Colca Canyon. It is not all that deep, but it is HUGE! When we arrived unfortunately there were clouds covering the entire view. We decided to wait and see if we got lucky, and about 15 minutes later enough of the moisture had moved on and we could take some acceptable (but not great) pictures... (Both pictures are taken through haze, and pictures really do not do justice to this extremely interesting place) A view to the south along the Sonche Canyon to the south (upstream view of the Sonche River), you can see part of a panoramic walkway they built at this marvelous place:
In this next picture look for the three narrow spindly waterfalls, the easiest two to see are near the top-center and just left of center, with the smallest one about halfway between them:
A last photo that shows the depth and size of Sonche Canyon:
And yet hardly anyone outside of Peru has even heard of Sonche Canyon (most Peruvians have not either).
Hardly anybody outside of Peru (and few there as well!) has heard of the Gocta Cataract (waterfall), these are the third highest (vertical drop) waterfalls in the world. They were publicized only recently by Dr. Stefan Ziemandorff in 2005 to the world, though of course the locals living there knew all about it... (There were no real roads until Dr. Ziemandorff's expedition). There is a new (but rough) road to the nearby village of Cocachimba, much of that work done under the supervision of then President Fujimori. Once again we had real doubts that the weather would cooperate, so as soon as we got to Cocachimba I took the below photo "just in case". The Gocta Cataract falls in two stages, below you can see the first 200 meters +, and a small part of the other 500 meters behind the top of the roof:
We hired a local guide to take us part way there, just far enough to get better pictures. Our guide Martina also took us around to look at various plants of interest. One of the first things we saw was a couple who were making sugar cane juice. Their work is essentially a two-stage process, the first is crushing sugarcane with a press, usually this is done by animals (horses or oxen), but here I put Martina and Lily to work (will I get into trouble for this?):
Note the crushed sugarcane fibers coming out (of the near side, the juice exits at the bottom and goes down to the bottom of the house), this leftover material is called "bagasse", a HUGE amount of bagasse is generated worldwide and they are always looking for a good way to use this resource (having had the sugarcane juice squeezed out). Here, they use it as fuel to boil the sugarcane juice into a smaller thicker liquid for sale. The iron press was made in Chiclayo, Peru!
Martina then brought us to a better view of the falls, here you can see almost the entire 700 + meters in the two stages:
Gocta, by the way, is one of the relatively few words that still survive from the extinct Chachapoyan language.
Cocachimba sits in kind of a basin, half surrounded by other waterfalls, approximately 21 of them! Here is one of the larger ones, this one falls in 7 - 9 stages, "depending on you count them":
Martina then took us to their "huerta" (orchard, but really a densely packed plot of land with many kinds of useful plants, they do this all over the world to help stop spread of plant diseases). She told us there is just ONE orchid that is native to their immediate area, I did not ask her for the name of the yellowish orchid, but here it is in her huerta, it hangs upside-down:
We did not have enough time to go to a national park of some sort not very far from Chacha that has more orchids than any other place on Earth!
A few last commentss that will be of interest to some.
1) After we finished with Martina in Cocachimba (Gocta), we spoke with a store owner who told me some interesting facts that I did not know about gold! According to him, there appears to be a "gold belt" (I suppose similar to the Rand area of South Africa) that extends from near Cajamarca (see my article from March, 2013 with LOTS of comments about Cajamarca and Peru's gold: http://robertmixblog.blogspot.com/2013/03/review-of-panorama-cajamarquino.html). But there is HUGE resistance among almost ALL locals everywhere in Peru where there is gold, for example, the proposed Conga mine (gigantic deposit of gold, much bigger than Yanacocha) has been suspended, at least in part due to local resistance. Apparently even though Newmont and their Peruvian partner Buenaventura went to further lengths than before to protect the environment, they still have polluted the area severely.
It would appear to me that the miners will have to do two things to make big gold mines come online in Peru: pay much more to the locals than they have AND be fined, say $1,000,000 per day by the Peruvian government (with most going to the locals damaged) for any serious accidents or spills. Gold miners still have a very bad reputation there.
Hey, I am just calling them as I see them...
2) Peru is way under-explored. We were told this by several knowledgeable locals. There are still various wonders that they have NOT publicized because they do not yet have the resources to build roads and hire guards... Northern Peru I knew very little about before going there. Hardly anyone does! Yet, there seem to be a LOT of good things coming on-stream in the years to come.
This will help Peru a lot. Peru does not seem like the kind of place where Intel or KBC will set-up high-tech factories... Peru's greatest asset is likely its incredible natural beauty found in so many parts of the country. Good food too...
3) While Peru is one of the very best countries worth exploring I have suggestions... Whatever the tour agencies, travel agencies, etc. say, Peru is a hard country to explore. It is not easy like France or Italy... The roads are rough, the weather variable, hiking boots are pretty much necessary, Spanish is very helpful, etc. I do not recommend Peru to anyone feeble or elderly (altitude and lack of medical facilities <--- although that is getting better), it truly is a Third World country where you just cannot get a meal anytime you want... Stores may be closed, there may be little choice in what you can eat (at odd hours). Many tours are arduous...
If any of you, dear readers, are thinking about heading to Peru, I invite you to email me your wishes and circumstances, and I will reply the best I can (which of course will partly depend on how many emails I get, hey why not just comment below instead? Your questions may very well be similar to other people's questions...)
4) Yes, I did do some "work" while in Chacha, Ameru has no customers there (yet). I dropped off information on Ameru and our lines of bearings at three likely looking businesses. There are real possibilities there, Hyundai is becoming more popular (smile). We will see what happens in the coming weeks...