June 24, 2015 (Wednesday)
Peru Travel Diary Chapter 2: Chachapoyas
The bus arrives at Chachapoyas at 6:30 am (the day has dawned) and I'm still asleep (dreaming that I had lost my case with clothes, but it was found again, but unlocked, and I'm looking through it to see if anything's missing). I get off, collect my bags, and am about to look for a taxi to the Plaza de Armas when a man walks up and greets me. I recognize him as José, the manager of the hostel where I stayed last time I was here, Chachapoyas Backpackers. He's the only person in Peru that I've met so far who speaks good English, and I've come to Chachapoyas again to ask him if he knows any good shamans.
As it happens, José is at the bus terminal to meet the girl I saw in Chiclayo, and he gets a taxi for all of us to his hostel (a pleasant place, with kitchen, recreation room and lots of guests). After being warmly greeted by José's wife Dona, and checking in (I get the same room as I had before, for 30 soles, $9.40, per night) I go to the panadería (bakery shop) where I always had breakfast here before. Soon after, the girl walks in. Her name is Anna and she's French (speaks good English). I find that she's also headed east to find some shamans. However, she's only staying a couple of days in Chachapoyas. Today she's taking an excursion to the renowned (but not well-known) pre-Inca city Kuelap, built by the original Chachopoyans, some of whose descendents today have remarkably European faces, perhaps inherited from Spanish soldiers who settled in this area.
I return to the hostel. Places to stay in Peru are of various types. There are hotels, hostels, hostals (hostales), residencias, hostal-residencias and more. Hostals are an inexpensive type of hotel, and are found only in Spanish-speaking countries. Hostels are of the sort you find in Western countries, usually with one or more dormitories as well as private rooms, a kitchen available to guests, and an area for meeting other guests. In Peru hostels are mostly found only in Lima, but occasionally in other towns or cities, including José's Chachapoyas Backpackers here.
Go out at 7:15 am for a short walk around the Plaza de Armas and then to the panadería. Anna walks in, but is not staying long. She just gets a café con leche to go, since she's going on another excursion today.
I tell José that I'm making a study of Peruvian shamanism and does he know any shamans? He gives me the name of a contact in Tarapoto who can put me in touch with some. I ask if there are any in Chachapoyas, and he says, Yes, but they're all talk.
It's cold in Chachapoyas (this being the start of winter), so I decide to leave soon for Tarapoto. I walk to the bus station and find that there are collectivos the day after tomorrow (Sunday) leaving at 6:30 am and 8:30 am. The latter is a good time, since I can get breakfast at 7 am and a journey in the daytime means I get to view the scenery. So I buy a ticket for 8:30 am on Sunday — a bit soon to leave Chachapoyas, but I believe the 8:30 am collectivo only runs on Sunday. Probably a mistaken belief, as I later realize.
News just in that Greek Prime Minister Tsipras has invoked "the nuclear option" in the Greek debt crisis by calling a referendum a week from Sunday. The Greek people will now have to choose between (i) accepting (yet another) bailout deal from the Troika, with added austerities (which actually only saves the German banks from going under) or (ii) saying "Fuck you!" to the Troika and formally defaulting on their $300+ billion (criminal) debt, thus bankruptng the German banks and probably precipitating a systemic banking failure. It's actually a choice between (i) Greece abandoning its sovereignty and bending over and allowing the German banks to take over the country or (ii) putting up with some economically hard times (even worse than at present), perhaps for a year, but retaining Greek ownership of Greece for themselves and future generations.
But will the referendum be rigged? The Troika cannot make concessions to Greece because that would encourage Spain, Portugal and Italy to demand concessions, so the whole 6-month drama would have to be repeated, but this time with larger countries, who might decide to leave the EU if concessions are not granted. And the Troika cannot allow Greece to default because that would cause the German banks to go bankrupt. So their only hope lies in the Greek people choosing to accept a bailout with added austerity (thus postponing a Greek default until the next crisis point). If the Greek people reject the Troika's offer then Greece defaults and the German banks go bankrupt. So the Troika must make sure that the Greeks vote in "the right way". They can only be sure of this if the referendum is rigged.
Today, for a change, the day is sunny, and I decide at the last minute to take the standard tourist excursion to Kuelap, the fortress on top of a mountain (at an altitude of 3000 meters) that was allegedly built over 1000 years ago. So I buy a ticket (30 soles, $9.40), get a seat in a minibus, and we leave at about 9 am. It's a 3-hour roundabout drive to Kuelap (including a stop at a restaurant for a mate de coca — coca tea).
An hour after we leave Chachapoyas the view is of mountains, and I note the horizontal striations visible, showing that these are not volcanic mountains but rather are made of limestone, weathered in parts to reveal the striations. This reminds me that these mountains were once under the sea. This land has been pushed up from sea level to about 2,400 meters, over the course of millions of years. The force needed to do that is beyond comprehension. It has been provided by the Pacific plate pushing its way under the Nazca plate, forcing the land up.
We're really in the boondocks on this road to Kuelap. The houses are primitive. Some have attached pigsties. Kuelap is on top of a mountain, and the road winds back and forth as we climb. As we arrive it begins to rain, though lightly. I forgot to bring my umbrella, but my overcoat (with hood) mostly keeps me dry. The admission fee is 10 soles ($3.12). From the car park you have to walk up the hill to the Kuelap Fortress. A sign says it's 2.5 km. If you have one foot in the grave then horses are available to carry you up; otherwise you start the climb and hope that you will not end in the grave. Fortunately there are several rest areas placed along the path where you can recover from the exertion needed.
As you approache the fortress the view is of a massive wall composed of irregular-shaped blocks of stones, fitted loosely into layers, about 10-15 meters high, a very formidable obstacle to any attacking force (see the Kuelap Photo Gallery). The main entrance is closed because the (modern) stairway is apparently unsafe, so one has to go further to a second entrance, with the original stairway built of irregular stones, almost too narrow for two people to pass. We have to wait in the rain while an earlier group of tourists descends.
Kuelap Photo Gallery
Having ascended to the main level, our guide, Christian, explains the purpose of the various structures that we see, although it is still somewhat speculative as to what those purposes were, since Kuelap (and similar sites on nearby mountaintops) may have been built 1500 years ago, and the inhabitants (who were finally conquered by the Incas in the late 15th Century) left no records.
They built houses which were circular in shape, about 4 meters in diameter, with a raised platform (for sleeping?), a storage area beneath the floor and a conical thatched roof. Some of the houses (of the wealthier residents) have stonework displaying simple geometrical patterns.
As we tour the site it rains intermittently, and is cold (as it probably was all the time for the people who lived here). The whole site is about 600 meters long. At the northern end is what may have been a lookout tower. At the southern end is a curious circular building whose walls have layers which are wider as they ascend in height, so it's like an inverted truncated cone. Its purpose is unknown; perhaps used for ceremonies.
Kuélap — The Walled City in the Clouds
A couple of hours after arriving at the fortress we descend the path to the carpark. The tour of the fortress has tired me, and I stop occasionally to rest. Back at the carpark we board our minibus. It's a 3-hour drive back to Chachapoyas, including a stop at a restaurant for a bowl of soup. As we're approaching Chachapoyas I notice that the Moon is a waxing gibbous moon about 80% full. So it will be a full moon a few days from now. Full moons are a good time for ayahuasca ceremonies. I think, vaguely, maybe I can arrive in Tarapoto in time for a full moon ceremony.
As it gets dark and we approach Chachapoyas we pass a large area on which are built hundreds of identical, small houses, all white and facing in the same direction, but all of them are dark. Apparently no-one lives in any of them. I ask Christian about this, and he tells me that the houses are too small and no-one wants to live there. It seems that the Peruvian government was fooled into financing this huge project which resulted in large financial benefits to some corrupt officials and contracters at the expense of the Peruvian taxpayers, and the whole thing is now useless.
We arrive back about 6 pm. A dinner of instant noodles. I talk to Dona, preparing to pay for my four nights at the hostel. I point out to her the currently visible proximity in the night sky of Venus and Jupiter, which is a fairly rare astronomical event. Dona is disappointed that I'm leaving so soon (for some reason both José and Dona are fond of me). I say that Chachapoyas is too cold — but today has been sunny, so that's not a good reason to leave. I actually have a lot of work to do on my laptop, and this is good place to work, so the intelligent thing would be to stay longer. But I don't think of that. I have my ticket for the collectivo tomorrow, so I'm leaving.
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