Thursday, August 18, 2011

Peru – Cajamarca to Chachapoyas: so near, yet so far

Cajamarca at night
We're back in the Andes after our short beach stop in Trujillo. To our pleasant surprise, it isn't cold at all. We made a lot of headway towards the equator and although it's still not shorts 'n' t-shirt time we can leave our gloves and hat buried deep inside the backpack.

The 6 hours bus ride to Cajamarca leads through beautiful canyon land with fertile valleys full of palm trees and rice paddies. As we are drive more inland, the Garúa haze is also finally giving way to sunshine and bright colors. Gee this coastal weather could be depressing if we stay much longer.
Nice hat, Señora

As we approach Cajamarca, we start seeing women with oversized cowboy hats. The hat fashion up here is something like John Wayne meets Speedy Gonzales. We can't decide if they look hilarious or kind of cute.

Cajamarca is not on many foreigners' itinerary as it's not all that easy to get to and not near any famous archaeological site. The best known attraction is the "Baños del Inca". Hot springs that, as the name implies, were used by Inca warriors and royalty to heal their tired bodies in the therapeutic waters – just what we need after months of battling cold weather.

Let's bathe with the Incas
The Baños are set in a very nice garden and there are several bath choices. We opt for a 30 minute session in a private bath cabin. The empty tub is full in minutes with the water gushing in as if it came out of a fire hose. Wow...we wish we had this kind of hot water in some of our hotel's showers.
These hats are also good to
take a Siesta
The spring water temperature is 71°C (160°F) and definitely too hot. Thankfully there is also a cold water outlet to temper it down a bit. After 20 minutes in the hot bath, we both have beads of sweat rolling down our foreheads and we need to get out. Who thought that 2 months of chill is driven out of our bodies in just 20 minutes of hot spring soaking. Bolivia needs places like this!

His and her version
We only have one full day in Cajamarca and spend the rest of the time wandering around the city. Julane is patiently scouting the streets to get that perfect picture of the oversized cowboy hats. Her patience (or should we say Patrick's patience) is rewarded with an elderly couple that has his and her's version... Not bad eh!
Another couple's look
Although, you could consider it stalking the way we followed them around for 20 minutes. We just wish that our camera lens wasn't so badly scratched up: it's real had to get a perfect shot without any glare with the damaged glass lense.

This way back to the Baños
The architecture in Cajamarca
has a nice colonial touch

Cowboy Heidi?
We also find a pleasant way to cool our hot bodies down: Gelato from heaven! It's actually called "Heladeria Holanda" (Dutch Ice cream shop) and we are in love with their creations. Although a fellow Dutch traveler that we met on the bus to Cajamarca tries to convince us that Dutch Ice Cream isn't really a Dutch treat. We go back for seconds. If they would have been open later that night, we would have gone for thirds. Patrick, who is normally not too keen on sweets, is dreaming all night about the incredible Lucuma (fruit) Gelato.

Wish I was at "Heladeria Holanda"
and not on a  Nestle ice cream cart!
His dreams are loudly interrupted at 4am by the alarm clock... time to get up and catch our 5:15am bus to Chachapoyas some 12 hours of "Dirt Road Rodeo" away. We actually will stop an hour short of Chachapoyas in a tiny town called Tingo at the foot of the famous Kuélap ruins. Since Kuélap is rather special, we want to dedicate a separate Blog post to it. Check back in a couple of days for the Kuélap post.

So back to our ungodly early bus: We are at the terminal at 5am and are surprised to see that we are not the first passengers entering the "Virgen del Carmen" Bus. Will this bus actually leave on time or will we have another unnecessary exercise in sleep deprivation like we experienced in the Colca Canyon?

Is this tiny road over there
where we are going?
Surprise, we leave on time and even leave without a passenger that must still be dreaming of Patrick's favorite Ice Cream. The ticket lady calls out a name for a few times without finding a passenger responding. Tough luck for the missing passenger, we are rolling out of the terminal right on time.
We both get to see the sunrise and the landscape through the back of our eyelids until we reach the town of Celedin where we are woken by the abrupt stop of the bus. 3 hours down... 8 more to go!

If you look on a map you see that Chachapoyas is only 130km (80 miles) beeline from Cajamarca but if you look at a topographical map you'll see that the road is, in fact, the world's largest roller coaster with several 1000 meter ups and downs. The faster way to Chachapoyas would actually be via Chiclayo and Bagua Grande which is like a 250 mile detour but all on paved roads. Anyway, we are on the shorter dirt road as we want to stop in Tingo.

The road condition isn't all that bad (compared to Bolivian standards) and the scenery is breathtaking. But the road does take its toll on our fellow passenger. We hear occasional gagging sounds from the rear and see the frantic passing around of red plastic bags. Even Patrick, who hardly ever gets motion sickness, feels a bit nauseous. Julane is surviving on her last half of a motion sickness pill, the supply has run to an end after way too many trips through the Andes! We climb to 3200 meters just to drop down to 700m again an hour later... then up again... and down.

A welcome break at Leymebamba 
Our buttocks are slowly getting sore when we stop in Leymebamba for a 20 minute break. The first in more than 6 hours We have no idea how our driver manages to stay awake without a break!

From Leymebamba to Tingo we both turn on our "back of eyelid vision" again and wake up a couple of minutes before reaching Tingo – amazing how that wake-up at the right moment thing works which is a skill that we learning on the Tokyo subway. It took 11½ hours to get here. We are knackered but the scenery was well worth the time and cost – at 45 Soles ($17) quite expensive actually for a basic bus in Peru.

We spend 2 nights in Tingo (see next Blog entry) before continuing from here to Chachapoyas, which it's an easy one hour drive away.

That is an unusual passenger
that was riding with us to
Chachapoyas. Our backpacks
were just beside him too!

We arrive just before dark and can barely walk from the terminal to the central plaza and check into the first best hotel. We are dead tired (not from the drive but the hike to Kuélap...stay tuned for that story later.

Chachapoyas gets much more tourists than Cajamarca but we unfortunately are here on a Sunday and the town is ghostly quiet. That suits us well to just walk a bit, giving our legs some cool down exercise and collect information for our trip the next morning towards the Ecuadorian border.

Chachapoyas on a Sunday.
Where have all the people gone?
The town is pleasant but nothing like Cajamarca which we rank as one of the more fascinating places that we've been to in Peru. Chachapoyas is lacking a vibrant feel; maybe because it's a Sunday, but we also don't find the architecture as interesting as in other places. To us, this city is just worth visiting as a base to explore the surrounding ruins and the "Catarata de Gocta" waterfall.

Tomorrow, we are heading from Chachapoyas to Vilcabamba in Ecuador, a two day journey that will require 6 different buses and takes 2 full days. We are truly heading off the beaten track!