Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Freshly patched tube in the rear tire, I headed up to Kuelap, hoping the roads wouldn't be too bad. Were they? I guess that depends on your definition of bad. But seeing the Kuelap ruins was definitely worth the struggle to get there.

I headed out of Chachapoyas and down to Nuevo Tingo, where the turnoff for Kuelap is. Right as I got there, it started drizzling - not a good sign. Fortunately it held off pretty well, though it did mean I had to be decked out in full rain gear the whole time just in case. And then I started the ride up the mountain - and boy was it interesting.

It started out well, with some nice pavement, but shortly turned to dirt. Still a well maintained dirt road though, at least for a little bit. But then I started hitting periodic mud patches. First just a little bit, where I could simply slow down and cruise through it. Then a little bit more, where I had to go slow and keep my feet out in case. and then I went through an area where they were digging a trench on the side of the road to divert the rainfall in the future - and with good reason. For a good 300 meters, the road was just slimy mud about six inches deep. A couple times my back tire slid out and I had to stomp my foot down to catch the bike, so my boots and pants were slathered in mud by the time I got through that section.

One of the later muddy sections. Think this, but four times as long, and mud twice as deep.
The road up there is very winding - at one point it's not much more than 2 or 3 miles as the crow flies to the top of the hill (and you can see the ruins up there) but it still takes about 18 more miles to get there. They're actually building a cable car to go across the valley there to shortcut that gap. I went by the cable car, not knowing how far it actually was to the top, and thought to myself "I must be close." Nope. The views stayed pretty beautiful as I climbed though, and the sky even started to clear up a little bit.

A few more rather hairy muddy sections later, I arrived at the top - surprised I hadn't fallen at all, to be honest. I parked the bike, bought a ticket, and started hiking up to the ruins in my motorcycle gear. I'd started a bit later than I wanted in the morning, so I didn't have a ton of time to lounge around or change into better hiking clothes. That turned out to be dangerous, as my boots didn't handle the slippery rocky steps or the slimy mud paths all that well. A couple times I just barely caught myself from face-planting in the mud.

As I hiked up, I glanced across the valley and could actually see the road I'd taken up - I couldn't believe how close it looked from here, given how long it took me to drive it (an hour and ten minutes for roughly 20 miles).

Click for larger and you can see it snaking along the side, all the way back into the valley on the left, and then it comes back out and behind the hill I'm standing on.
But when I got to the ruins, it was all worth it. I declined the offers for guides by people at the entrance and opted to just wander myself and take it in a little more quickly so I could get back on the road. Beautiful stairways, remains of buildings, and walls, and the views from the top were stunning. I was once again finding myself not surprised at all that some ancient culture picked the spot they did for building a city, as the appeal is clear.

The first view of the ruins was the outer wall from what was pretty much the only way someone could have approached on foot.
One of the two entrances to the city went up this narrow stairway about three stories. It kept narrow like this so that any invaders would have to go single file, allowing the defenders to sit on top and defend as they tried to come up.
The round walls are the remains of their houses.
Like I said, wonderful place to settle down and enjoy the view.
A view of the residential area on the "first floor" from the religious area on the "second floor."
Regal af.
More and more buildings, some still in halfway decent shape.
A house that the archaeologists reconstructed how they believe they were built, with tall conical roofs.
The view across the valley. I got views like this constantly in Peru, and never got tired of them. I especially love seeing how far down the steep hills people are willing to farm.

After wandering through and shooting some pictures (and walking just behind a tour that was in English for a little bit to get more info), I hiked back down to the bike and, after chatting with some locals waiting by the cars there about the bike, went back down to do the wonderful road once again. Same muddy patches, same winding curves around the valley, same hour and ten minutes for 20 miles. But I once again survived it without a single fall, and got back on pavement to head to Leimibamba for the night.

When I got into town, I looked for a hotel I'd seen in Lonely Planet. When I couldn't find it, I asked someone nearby, and he said it's been closed for more than a year - I suppose that's the peril of using a book written more than a year ago. Fortunately, he owned a hotel right there on the plaza which was relatively new, and he said he'd let me park the motorcycle in the lobby, since it was dirty anyway from the parts of the hotel that were still under construction. (And yes, I did check to make sure the other hotel was really closed and he wasn't just saying that to scam me.)

I bummed around in the square for a bit watching some kids play 2v1 soccer (with the littlest one as the solo player - I guess winning feels better than making it a little bit fair at that age), and then wandered over to a cafe to get some tea and a bite to eat. As I glanced inside, who should I see but Steve, the guy who I crossed the border with. After we went to the museum together in Chachapoyas, we had split ways and hadn't seen each other again, and I assumed he'd be quite a bit in front of me given how lazy I'd been the last couple days. But there he was, so we sat and traded stories of the past few days and plans for the next few while I drank a tea and had a delicious piece of lemon meringue pie.

Not much else happening in Leimibamba even on a Saturday night, so after checking out the street they'd converted into a river and getting some fried chicken and french fries for less than a dollar, I got some sleep and got ready to keep riding the next few days. The only goal was to get to the beach for the first time since Cartagena, but I still had a few difficulties on the way before I'd get there.

The main plaza of Leimibamba.
No really. There was a river being diverted onto this street and they just put bridges over it for people to walk over. There were even some guys who had parked in it and were using the water to wash their cars.

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