Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kicking Off the New Year in Peru

Crossing into Peru was very easy and everyone was extremely friendly. We've continued to be impressed with how hard everyone tries to give us a great welcome and a good first impression of their countries, and Peru is no exception. We were wished a happy New Year as we pulled away from the border offices and began our day of riding in the hot, dry, and desolate northwestern part of the country.

While riding down the PanAmerican Highway for an hour or so, we get an unfortunate next impression of Peru. The sides of the road are extremely dirty with garbage, moreso than we saw in Central America. We're hoping that as we ride into the mountains, into the less populated areas, this will change. Aside from that, the people are very friendly when we stopped for lunch, happy to chat and help out with advice. The scenery is beautiful, and the road conditions are good.

Our first destination in Peru would be the town of Chachapoyas, which is a fun word to say, and also is a great area to explore with all its famous ruins. On the way, we turn off into Olmos. It's a small town, and most of the streets outside of the main square are unpaved and very dusty. We find a hostel on the outskirts of town with a very friendly owner who was getting ready to throw a big party for New Year's that night.

One tradition that we learned about while in Southern Ecuador, and apparently is also practiced in Peru, is the burning of a muñeca or life-sized, firework-stuffed effigy at the stroke of midnight to get rid of all the evil from the previous year. I couldn't wait to see this! Around 11:30 at night in the dirt streets of Olmos, everyone started hauling their muñecas out into the street and hanging them up on wooden stakes. We felt very out of place standing in front of their houses watching the tradition, but everyone was welcoming and didn't mind sharing with us. At the stroke of midnight, the neighborhood sounded like a warzone with all the fireworks being lit off. The muñecas were all doused with gasoline, lit, and quickly turned into very big fires with bottle rockets and other fireworks shooting out of them in random and often dangerous directions. It was awesome.

The next day, we decided to ride all the way into the mountains and rainforest of eastern Peru to the town of Chachapoyas. Chachapoyas is a beautiful Spanish colonial town from the mid-1500's and a great base for exploring many Chachapoyan (pre-Incan) ruins and sites. The ride from Olmos to Chachapoyas started out in the desert on ordinary roads, but once it climbed into the mountains, turned into one of the best roads we've ridden so far in the trip. The beautiful, paved road followed every twist and turn of the river and snuck under many rock overhangs. We were in awe the entire time, and as we had hoped, there wasn't nearly as much pollution and litter as on the PanAmericana.

"Don't use explosives to fish."  We asked and yes, this is an issue in the rivers.
One thing we were warned about was people on the roads posing as police, holding up cars for bribes. We hadn't seen this so far in the trip, but sure enough on our way up to Chachapoyas, we came upon two armed men in plain clothes who had set up a "checkpoint" in the road. Quickly assessing the situation, seeing no uniforms or official vehicles, I called out to Brayde on the intercom to pin it, and we sped around the checkpoint with the two men yelling after us. Many miles later, we came across another one. This time with one of the men holding a shotgun, and an oncoming car stopped, handing him some money. We blasted through that stop at speed also. We didn't know if they were official or what exactly was going on but didn't feel like finding out at the time.

A saddle made entirely out of a Goodyear tire
We arrived in Chachapoyas just in time for a huge downpour and spent some time running around in the rain looking for a hostel. After getting situated in our room for a couple of nights, we do a bit of research on tours of the nearby Kuelap ruins. The tours are so cheap running out of Chachapoyas and some of the sites are so remote and far away, that it makes sense to take a break from the bikes for a day and go with one of the guides in a van. We lucked out on a great last-minute deal up to Kuelap from one of the guides in the square for the next day.

The next mission for the night was a beer and dinner. Chachapoyas has a few "touristy" bars and restaurants that we avoid and head straight into a divey little place filled with locals. After finding out they did not serve food, we decide to just have a quick beer then find somewhere else. They were playing good music anyway. After ordering a beer, I notice that everyone else in the place is drinking the same purple liquid from a carafe in the middle of their table out of little shot glasses. We couldn't for the life of us figure out what it was, so I got up the courage to ask one of the guys at the next table what they were drinking. One thing led to another and pretty soon we were sitting with a group of Chachapoyans who bought us drinks all night. These are the kind of random experiences we love, and even though they spoke no English, and we have limited Spanish skills, we had great conversations and learned a lot about the area. We asked them about the armed men in the road at the checkpoints and if it was legit. They explained to us that they were volunteers that patrol sections of the road to keep the robbers away and ask for donations for their services. It was totally safe and normal. Oops...

The purple drink was a local specialty, liqueur made from blackberries and aguardiente, by the way. (I don't remember what it was called).

The next morning, we took a van up the long and twisty road to the ruins of Kuelap. The ruins are located at 3,000 meters high on top of a ridgeline, and even though they are not far from Chachapoyas, the road is so steep, narrow, and curvy that it takes about 3 hours to get there. Because of all the rain, the upper part of the road was deep with thick, clay mud. We were secretly glad we didn't ride the bikes. It would have been a mess, and all the hiking at elevation would have been tough in riding gear. The road passed through quite a few nice, small villages, one of which we stopped for a lunch break at.

Kuelap is an ancient pre-Incan walled city on top of the hills built by the Chachapoyan civilization. It was eventually conquered by the Incas, but due to the remoteness of the city, was never found by the Spanish conquest. The walls are tall, and the hill is steep. It is a prime location for protection against attacks and has beautiful views. The hike up is steep and strenuous, our first real experience getting a workout at high elevation. We can definitely tell the difference, but other than being a bit out of breath, we do alright.

We met a few friends in the tour van, so all meet up for a drink and a walk up to a city viewpoint after we arrive back into town. The next day, we'll keep heading south towards the city of Cajamarca for even more Incan history.

No comments:

Post a Comment