Saturday, 6 March 2010

Kuelap and Gocta, historic and beautiful Northern peru

Chachapoyas is the capital of the region Amazonas and as such reasonably busy. The plaza is pretty and from here one can take tours to the pre-Inca fortress of Kuelap. Setting off for the tour with a group of mainly younger tourist from European countries it felt strange to be in such company. Some of them had bussed through the night from Trujillo, about 12 hours and were immediately driving off on a tour – not my style of travel. The drive was about 3 hours on a narrow unpaved road with some great views as we took a wide arc to return high on the other side of a deep gorge.

Kuelap is impressive but probably doesn't have the wow factor of Machu Pichu. That said it is very much worth visiting and our guide made it all the more interesting with great descriptions of its purpose and the Chachapoyan culture. It is a huge complex with the remains of many circular dwellings and attractive angular and diamond details in its construction. On the way back we had lunch and in all it was a very successful tour.

The next day I set of for my 2 days of relative luxury at the Lodge/hotel belonging to Lluis my friend from Tarapoto. This is a newish project within sight of waterfalls at the little known Gocta. To get there I shared a car on a fast road following a river down deep gorge to the dusty hot bus interchange of Pedro Ruiz. In the car was a young Israeli woman working to conserve a species of monkey and doing her PhD from Kent Uni. By coincidence she is married to a man from Tooting and I was sorry that I didn't have time to visit their project which sounded very interesting. You can check in out HERE

The waterfalls are the 3rd highest in the world and are reached via a 2 hour walk along a recently constructed path from the village of Cocochimba. I had a companion for this walk, Javier, one of 15 local guides. He was great, pointing out interesting plants, explaining the method of processing sugar cane and recounting local legends about the waterfalls. On route I had a slight fall and was glad he was around. The walk was great and the whole area provides beautiful views of the surrounding cliffs and mountainside.

On returning for a light lunch I had no specific plans but managed to while away the rest of the day spotting various birds, listening to music and watching the sun set, until the Cusquena hour! Great day except for falling on my butt!

The next day I set off solo to see if I could reach the upper part of the waterfalls. Initially this needed a 12km walk to San Pablo on the other side of the valley. The road to San Pablo is crossed by a handy but steep path or iff you are lucky (I wasn't) you can catch a car going up.On the pathe I came across the smallest church ever. From San Pablo there a newly constructed path takes you to the falls. Passing first through small farms of cane, banana and maize the surface turns to white sandstone with tall erect cliffs on which there are ancient petroglyphs. From here you an see the hotel a white speck across the valley. Eventually it is expected that the two paths from Cocachimba and San Pablo will link up at the foot of the falls offering a 5 to 6 hour trek from one village to the other.

Presently the path enters a longish section of virgin forest giving an indication of the area prior to the now predominant farming. At this point I was somewhat worried by the possibility of bespectacled bear which I knew lived in the area so was pleased to come upon a upon a gang of workers completing the paths. I was the only walker out that day and they seemed surprised to see me without a guide. The last section is a bit of a scramble but I guess will be improved within a few months. The view of the upper falls is if anything more dramatic than seen from below and if you enjoy a walk provides a fulfilling tartget. I returned the way I came and stopped off at another viewing point which is where the path will eventfully descend to the base of the falls.

Arriving back at dusk I had been walking about 9 hours with some significant climbing and felt tired but happy that I had completed this journey on my last day at Gocta before returning the Chachapoyas and then Lima by way of a 22 hour bus ride!

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