Our first impression of Peru was coffee and rice. Farmers south of the La Balsa border crossing were drying their coffee beans in sunny spots all along the road, and the narrow roads got even narrower. Every open flat space was in use and the village’s soccer fields were covered in black tarps with beans on top. Close to sunset everyone was busy collecting every single bean into bags for overnight storage just to repeat the whole procedure of spreading the beans out in the sun in the morning. From San Ignacio it was downhill to Rio Chinchipe and there the crop changed to rice. One paddy field after another was something we associated more with Asia than Peru.
It was really nice scenery to drive through. Further along the road we entered the Amazonas department of Peru, and it was a funny thought that all the rivers we drove across actually would end up in the Atlantic Ocean all the way on the other side of this enormous continent. We spent the night in Chachapoya, the capital of the Amazonas department at 2334 meters!! We felt pretty cold that night, and did not really have the Amazonas feeling… J
Chachapoyas was also the name of the pre-Inca group of people that lived in this area from 600 AD until the Incas came in around 1470. They built their cities high up in the mountains or on mountain tops. Kuelap at 3100 meters above sea level is one of the easiest accessible Chachapoyas cities todays since you can drive almost all the way up, while others you can hike to for some hours or days. We got up to the Kuelap Ruin parking lot late in the afternoon and camped up there for the night. Next morning we had the best view for breakfast. Looking down on the valley with its steep farmland and up on the ruins.
When walking the path up to the ruins, we walked on some even older history. Some of the rocks used on the path were full of fossils. The hill top had been filled out with rocks to make a larger flat area where they built their circular houses and the city. It is only three pretty steep entrances to the city and the further up in the entrance you get the more narrow it becomes, and in the end it is only space for one person to enter at a time. Kuelap was a really impressive site and the best is that there are hardly any tourists up here. This is a big site and we saw only one other tourist when we were there.
Back on the parking lot there was more action with more people and police. We had to move the Patrol a bit down on the side because they were expecting a helicopter??? After a bit of waiting the helicopter arrived and it turned out to be the Peruvian President’s helicopter. Some people came out and walked around, and we are guessing they were there to check out the site before the President was supposed to arrive in two days.
The mummy museum in Leymebamba contains the 150 mummies found at Laguna de los Condores, and they were the last we saw of the Chachapoyas culture before we headed for the coast.
We could easily have spent another week or month in this area exploring more of the sites, but we also know that there is so much more to see in Peru. Next time….