2002-12-15 - 4:13 p.m.
To be honest, I really didn't think we'd make it to Chachapoyas. It just seemed so...out of the way (and my Lonely Planet Guide to South America, which pales considerably compared to Melchior's Footprint South American Handbook, didn't even list any of the small towns we were passing through on the map). And we hadn't seen a tourist since we left Vilcabamba. But Melchior has this endearing form of optimism, and I have an unflagging faith in him, so maybe that's why things worked out like they did. Our hotel clerk in Jaen gave us vague directions to where we could buy bus tickets to Chachapoyas - we sort of stumbled into a small colectivo office, where, despite the fact that Chachapoyas wasn't listed on their board of destinations, they reassured us that they could get us there. When pressed, they admitted that they could definitely get us to a town that could get us to Chachapoyas, which was good enough for us, I suppose. It was late. We were tired, and traipsing through Jaen looking for another colectivo office was the last thing we wanted to do. The next morning, we caught the colectivo, and after several hours, were dropped off in another small town, little more than a crossroads (dirt roads, at that). Sure enough, there was both a colectivo and a taxicab on their way to Chachapoyas. An hour later, the taxicab had four passengers, and we were in Chachapoyas before sunset. Amazing. I should have more faith in the transportation system of Peru.
Once we were in Chachapoyas, we were determined to see some of the ruins surrounding the town - after all, it took us so long to get there, we wanted to make the most of it. We tried to set up a tour with a tour group recommended in the guidebook, but it fell through. At the last minute, we went to one of the nicer hotels in town, and they set up a tour to Kuelap. Kuelap is a pre-Inca walled city which contained three times more stone than the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt - a couple of hours away from Chachapoyas. The hotel promised a guide, and while it was more than we wanted to pay, we decided to go ahead and do it. The next morning, we met at the hotel, only to discover that the hotel had done little more than hire a taxi to take us to Chachapoyas - a taxi driven by an energetic little old man who managed to honk his horn not just around curves to warn approaching cars, but also every time we passed any structure along the side of the road, any person, or any animal within twenty feet of the car (about once every two minutes or so, for the entire two hours). He also realized that he could make more money by picking up other passengers along the way, which he proceeded to do about half a dozen times. Once we got to Kuelap, we learned that the taxi driver wasn't actually our guide (something I was grateful for, at that point) - he just looked around the ruins until he found someone else giving a tour, and asked if we could tag along. The guide only spoke Spanish, but Melchior and I were a little more interested in what he was saying than the school kids also taking the tour, who were more interested in taking pictures of each other.
By the time we got back to Chachapoyas, we were so tired and disgruntled and headachey from all the honking that I demanded we go straight to a bar for beer and french fries - comfort food. It was there that we struck up a conversation with the bartender, who suggested some other ruins that we could see, without a guide. It turns out that there was a night bus from Chachapoyas to Chiclayo (our next destination), so we had the whole day free. We decided to do it. The next day, we got up bright and early, packed our bags, dropped them off at the bus station, and found a taxi to take us to a neighboring small town (we tried to take a colectivo, but after waiting for 45 minutes for enough passengers to show up so we could leave, we abandoned it). There, we found another taxi, who knew the way to the ruins we were trying to find. He took us down a dirt road past some farmhouses, pointed us in the right direction, and promised to be waiting for us in two hours. So off we went, hiking through, essentially, someone´s backyard, following the trail and hoping we were going in the right direction. Rather, I was hoping we were going in the right direction - Melchior spied the ruins early on, and even said something to me, which, apparently, I didn't catch at all. I do remember him taking his camera out and taking a picture of some unremarkable landscape. If I had looked closely enough (granted, I didn't have my glasses on, and the ruins are kind of small, and it was hot, and I'm pretty new to this whole hiking thing), I might have seen them too. As it was, I blindly followed Melchior when he led us off the trail and onto another one. I only began to question him when the trail we were on ended. "How exactly do you know where we're going, anyway?" "I pointed the ruins out to you when we were walking down the hill." "Really?" "Do you listen to a word that I say?" Apparently not. Anyway, we found the right trail eventually, and got close enough to the ruins for me to actually see them. Here's a picture:
Pretty small, right? Maybe a little hard to spot from far away? Or maybe I've just become a little too reliant on the Swiss boy (who, it turns out, trained as a Mountaineering Specialist while in the Army) to lead me in the right direction.