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To Chachapoyas, Why We Ride
The morning air was crisp and clear. From our hostel room, we watched people cross the central plaza on their way to work and school.
We wanted to get an early start on the bikes today. We would be riding from Celendín to Chachapoyas, with some serious elevation changes. Celendín sits at about 8600 feet. Our route would have us dropping down 6000 feet to a deep valley, climbing back up 9000 feet to cross a high mountain pass, and then winding down 4000 feet into an area that is known as the “cloud forest.”
Our shower still did not have hot water this morning.
The hostel owner had told us last night that breakfast would be ready at 7:00 a.m. When we went downstairs, however, the kitchen was still closed.
While waiting for the cooks to arrive, Ben and I took a stroll around the plaza area.
The church in the morning sunlight:
The “party” building was very quiet this morning.
The plaza had a fountain with a sculpture of some cherubs playing. The top cherub was holding a hat:
The other cherubs looked like they were struggling to get that hat, and one cherub appeared to have slipped and was falling off of the back.
Our bikes had been safe overnight in the rear courtyard area—at least one of the hostel owner’s assurances proved to be true! Here is Ben attaching his luggage:
Before we began our long descent today, we needed to climb out of the valley in which Celendín is located. Looking back, we could see the church’s twin towers in the middle of the city:
As we headed higher into the mountains, we also entered the clouds.
Here the clouds are completely enveloping the road in front of us:
The dirt roads were fairly narrow, with steep drop-offs, but there was an occasional spot to pull over and enjoy the view (or avoid an oncoming truck).
We rounded one corner and got a sweeping view of the valley below. As my eyes tracked along the thin tan ribbon of road, I was laughing with anticipation of the fun we would be having. Here is the 3-photo view, starting with the left part of the valley and moving to the right.
I was thinking, “This is why we ride!”
I took off with a shout of “Woo hoo!” Here’s looking at one of the switchbacks:
I was used to exiting a curve and finding animals in the road . . . but this little donkey was the cutest that I had seen so far:
I didn’t want to scare him, so I stopped and then inched by. He slowly got to his feet after I passed, and then he stood in the road while Ben rode by. (Guy was somewhere behind us, but he wasn't in sight, so I can only hope that he made a careful pass too.)
One portion of the road wrapped around a small hilltop (which you can see near the middle of this photo):
The road continued to twist downward, and we could see the Marinon River below:
Many signs warned us to toot our horns (toque claxon) around the “dangerous” curves (curvas peligrosas), and I entered the blind corners with a firm “Beep beep!”
There were plenty of crosses to honor those who had died.
The road seemed to have a life of its own, looping here and there, all over the mountain.
Here I am, near the bottom of the last set of switchbacks:
A small bridge stretched over the river, leading to the town of Balsas.
Ben, arriving at the bridge:
As we waited for Guy to reach us, I noticed a house with an open top floor across the river:
In Balsas, we stopped by the central plaza to share some water from the local market.
An officer came out of colorful police station next to the plaza and approached us. He asked me where we were going and where we had been. He nodded at my responses and soon left.
In front of the police station were a few chickens and a motorcycle. A woman was doing some laundry in a plastic tub across the street.
Next to the plaza was a house with a large pile of wood on top of the roof.
The streets leading off of the plaza were very quiet.
A little boy gazed at us while he drank his bottle outside of the market.
We didn’t linger in Balsas, and were soon riding down the dirt road out of town.
We climbed some steep switchbacks up away from the river.
Streaks of light-colored earth flowed across the road ahead and down the mountain, evidencing a prior landslide.
The roads were a bit narrow and slippery, with drop-offs that promised severe consequences for any mistakes.
Here I am, grooving along:
We climbed higher and higher into the Andes. At over 10,000 feet in elevation, the mountains were covered in tall brown grass.
I looked below and spied a train of donkeys along an enticing narrow path. I thought fleetingly of making a turn downhill and seeing where that trail led.
Occasionally, we spied some houses:
This elongated rock formation provided evidence of how the mountainside had eroded over the years:
There weren’t many vehicles on the road, and other motorcycles were a rare sight. We were surprised to find a loaded BMW bike coming towards us, with two riders. We stopped and met Carol and Ken Duval, from Australia:
Carol and Ken have been traveling around the world on their motorcycle for over three years! Their blog link is: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tstories/duval/
We rounded corners to find one amazing vista after another.
We kept climbing in elevation, and eventually entered into the realm of solid clouds that you can see in this photo:
We crested the mountain pass at approximately 11,800 feet:
On the other side of the pass, was a lush valley—we had entered the “cloud forest” area.
The road zig-zagged and looped its way down the mountain:
Below was the town of Leymebamba, where we would stop for lunch.
The primary source of income for the Leymebamba community is agriculture. The hillside was a crazy-quilt of crop fields:
Several kilometers outside of town was a museum, which displays over 200 mummies, as well as tall wood carvings and other items found in nearby excavations. Like many museums all over the world, it was closed on Mondays—which was today. Even though we didn’t get to see the interior, we still got to admire these three carved figures outside:
We stopped to wait for some roadwork to be completed.
A small bridge marked the entrance to the town of Leymebamba:
Whenever entering a town, we would always try to find the main plaza first. There were usually restaurants and hostels near the plaza, or people who could direct us to a place. Leymebamba was small, and we quickly arrived at the central plaza.
The cathedral had a modern clock in one of its towers:
This fruit vendor was spinning wool while she waited for her next customer:
Here was a sign for the Leymebamba museum, above an advertisement for bus trips on large, modern buses.
There were several restaurants around the main plaza. We decided to eat at a chicken restaurant named “Lucybell”:
As with many restaurants in small towns, Lucybell served a set menu—you didn’t get to choose what you wanted to eat. We sat down and were provided with bowls of soup (broth, potatoes, and a bit of seafood), and then a plate with a generous serving of chicken and rice. It was very good.
During lunch, the rain had started, and we ran outside to rescue our helmets and other items that we didn’t want to get soaked.
The road from Leymebamba to Chachapoyas rambled along next to a river for the most part, and was relatively flat. Along the river were many agricultural fields:
This large house (perhaps a hotel?) was being built right next to the riverbank.
I was looking at the extensive construction and wondering how often the river floods . . . .
We stopped at a gas station inside the city limits of Chachapoyas. There is no “self-service” at Peru gas stations. Here is Ben with the gas attendant:
A view of Chachapoyas from the gas station:
Guy had done some research before arriving, and he had a particular hotel in mind. We rode through the streets, stopping to ask directions a few times, and found the place—Casa Vieja (Old House). The hotel was converted from an old courtyard home, and it was lovely.
Our room was exceptionally clean and well maintained; the carpet was unstained, and the bedding was beautiful. And there was hot water!
The hotel let us pull our bikes into the hotel and park them in the courtyard:
After we had showered, Ben pointed out a humongous spider on the wall next to the window. I often see large tarantulas when I am out dirt biking at home, but this one was not fuzzy . . . and it was inside my living space. I didn’t know what kind it was (or whether it could spring onto things), so we decided to eliminate it quickly . . . with the bottom of Ben’s shoe. The squashed tangle of thick legs was both fascinating and repulsive.
We then walked two blocks to the main plaza, which was full of activity.
We saw a few small tour buses, and we even heard English being spoken by two people crossing the square.
Chachapoyas is the starting point for many treks to ruins that are located in the nearby mountains. The Chachapoyas area lies between two rivers and is surrounded by tall mountain peaks, which geographically isolated the Chachapoyas people from the rest of Peru for hundreds of years. The people built many fortresses with unique forms of stone architecture. The Incas tried repeatedly over a 100 year period to conquer the Chachapoyas. They finally succeeded and wiped out all traces of the Chachapoyas people and culture several decades before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru. However, the Chachapoyas left behind many stone cities that were quickly overgrown and covered by the thick cloud forest vegetation. Various stone cities have been uncovered by local explorers over the years; however, all but one (Kuélap) are only accessible to tourists via a multi-day hiking trek.
Ben and I located a post office a half block down from the central plaza, and mailed the postcards that we had bought yesterday in Cajamarca. Then we wandered around and found a good coffee shop, where we shared two large cups of coffee with milk and a cookie. Yum. On the way back to the hotel, I snapped this photo of ferns growing on a rooftop.
We shared dinner with Guy tonight at Restaurante Metaleche, which was filled with local people. I had the "poor man's" platter (about $4), which was piled high with beefsteak, rice and a fried egg.
After dinner, Ben and I searched unsuccessfully for an ice cream shop that we had spotted earlier today. We ended up in a sweet shop where we bought some handmade coconut treats (so yummy that I bought more—and I am not normally a coconut fan). The owner was an older man who spoke with a Castilian (Spanish) accent that was hard for us to understand; and I’m sure that he had an equally difficult time understanding our accents too! Ben asked him if he knew of an ice cream shop nearby, and the man said that he made fresh ice cream. He disappeared through a door to the back room and then reappeared carrying a cone with a giant scoop of fresh berry ice cream—just what Ben was craving. We munched happily on our treats as we strolled back to the hotel.
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