Chachapoyas is in the North of Peru. It is the jumping off point for many ruins and beautiful treks. The town is really small and has a lovely white church in the main square. It is set in the valley and you can do some lovely walks just from the town. Jeff is from Denver, Colorado so trekking is in his blood I think and I somehow came to the conclusion that a 4 day hike would be good fun!!!! This was not to be the case. The trek was a step too far for me. It was a self selected form of torture - there were times when I seriously did not know if I was going to be able to make it. I cried, I laughed, I screamed, I was scared s***less, I have never felt pain like it and I have never felt so weak in my whole life. But …......... I DID IT. I SURVIVED. This was in big part to the group, who were great. It was made up mainly of Americans. They were kind, funny and just great to be around. We shared positive thoughts and stereotypes and it certainly helped to pass the time.
Putting the hardship to one side, we saw some wonderful things. On the first day, there was the 'Town of the Dead' - where we scrambled over crumbling buildings along the edge of a cliff to inspect carvings and human bones. It was actually quite scary - not the bones but the sheer drop which was only an inch away. We also went to the Sarcophagus de Karajia. This was so cool. It is where they buried the warriors and shaman. The tombs are marked by heads carved from limestone. The views were also amazing across the valley. From here we drove to Valley de Belen along a perilous road. I was up front so I had a real white knuckle ride. The valley itself was so beautiful. It was like a huge meadow with a river carved into it like a snake. There were cows and horses roaming freely in the valley. It was like going back in time. There is no electricity here and the rooms were lit by candlelight. In the evening after dinner we sat around the camp fire and drank rum and coke. It was a relatively easy day which gave no indication of what was to come!
We woke with the sun rise and stumbled out of bed to watch the clouds rolling away to once again reveal the valley. It was so magical. Today was when the hiking really started and we would have to carry our backpacks. I had downsized fortunately and had just brought my day pack with me. Some of the blokes had their big packs - I am not sure how they managed. Especially Ryan who also put the spare water in his pack and then shared it out as the day progressed. We would have been lost without this water - he was a hero. Today we walked for 8 hours, we walked up, we walked down, we walked up and we walked down. There are no flat areas around here. We went through jungle, forest, glen, and over rocks. Our guide diverted us off the path to see ruins!!! It's funny what they call a group of rocks and a hole in the ground nowadays. We had to scramble up dirt banks, cling to trees, flatten ourselves against ridges - it was like something off a survival show. He would turn to some trees and say 'This is the path' where there was obviously no path. When even he couldn't find a path he would start hacking with his machete at trees. So you can sort of imagine our disappointment when we arrived at a group of rocks and a hole in the ground. I would have been happy staying on the path. The crunch point for me came in the last 2 hours which were all downhill. It was so steep and it started to rain and my knees were crying out in agony. They had had enough and wanted to down tools. Every step sot pain through my body but there was no other way of getting off this bloody mountain. Scott, one of the Americans, was so nice - he never ever left me. He was a tower of strength and I owe it to him that I am not still on that mountain. In the evening we stayed in a stone shack. It was very basic but OK. My standard of OK is getting considerably lower. Does it have a bed and a door? - Well it must be OK! See what I mean. In the evening the guide took us to the local bar. This was basically someones front house where we had some local 'firewater'. This was mean stuff but it certainly took the pain away. I slept well that night.
The next day we were to be on mules which was a relief given my knees. Or so I thought! 6 hours by mule followed by 2 hours downhill trekking. Well oh my gosh I have never been so scared. We had no instruction and the mules had to go up or down sheer drops. Went they went up they had to almost gallop, which the first time came as a real shock. Going down we were almost vertical and when you looked down there was just muddy rock. I am not sure how I managed to stay on the mule but stay I did. When we got to the bottom, I could not stop my hands from shaking. It was incredibly narrow and the horse guides would smack the animals to go faster but there was no where to go so this caused lots of problems. One of these incidents ended up with me being kicked in the knee by a mule. It really hurt. It was like being on a reality show and when you thought it couldn't get worse then something would be added to the mix. In one instance this was a raging bull charging from behind as we were single file with nowhere to go. I closed my eyes at this point and prayed! It did the trick because as it came within a foot it just stopped. After lunch I made sure I wasn't in the last group as it to stressful with all the shouting and hitting. The front was so different and I actually enjoyed myself and had time to look at the view. At one point we were walking along a ridge on top of the mountain ridge, I felt like character in a western programme on the opening credits. It was superb. We then went down into a cloud forest - my first. The scenery totally changes and the air is damp. It is so beautiful. The horses were going through glens and actually seemed to be enjoying themselves as they vied for position. Mine actually ended up as the lead for about 20 minutes. It seemed to like it but then the responsibility was to much and we slowed down. It was fun. It was a different story for the ones now at the back. A number of the horses had fallen - one had landed on Jennie and Scott had had to leap to safety. Our guide gave up after his mule had fallen for the 5th time and walked the last bit. The horses were too tired and shouldn't ave been doing the trek. I am grateful however that I did not have to walk it as I don't think I would have been able to complete it. As it was the last 2 hours of downhill was incredibly difficult and again Scott was my walking companion as this time I actually suffered in silence. It was a beautiful walk and in the distance we could see the Fort ruins at Kuelap. I was however so pleased to get to the bottom and to our shack for the night!
Our final day we actually went to visit Kuelap Fort. Even though a lot of it is in ruins, it is still impressive. It is so huge and you could actually imagine a whole village living within the walls. It is incredibly high up and the views were out of this world. It really was worth visiting if not the 3 day trek to get here. You can just do a day trip which in hind sight may have been a good option There were the ruins of several houses inside - they had holes in the ground where they would store the bones of their dead and even a stone tunnel which would have housed guinea pigs. There were funky carvings in the wall, even an upside jaguar as the archaeologists had made a mistake when reconstructing the wall - oops! From here we went to Gocta Waterfall, the third highest in the world. It was pretty impressive. It was a hard walk as it was all up and down so we didn't make it to the base but even from a distance it was really impressive. Finally the trip was over and I got to go back to civilisation - well Chachapoyas anyway. It was wonderful to be able to sleep in a real bed and have a shower in a clean bathroom. Well it didn't kill me so I guess I am stronger!