First glimpse of Kuelap from the trail from Tingo
From Tingo I bought some water and had the woman in one of the two restaurants in town make some sandwiches for the hike up which was about 6 miles and was supposed to take 3 hours according to the guide book. The owner of the hospedaje showed me the way to the trail since he was going that way anyways. He told me that most of Tingo was destroyed in a big flood in the 90s and they have since rebuilt the town on the top of the hill nearby, well out of reach of the water. The trail to the fortress climbs up over the mountains which tower behind Tingo, about 4500 feet higher than the town. The alternative to hiking up to Kuelap is to take the 37 km road which winds through a few mountain towns before arriving at the other side of Kuelap. I was the only one on the trail and the scenery was really beautiful but the trail was quite steep, zig-zagging up the mountain side as it climbed up from the river valley.
The main entrance to Kuelap
There were a few small huts along the way and some animals grazing on hillsides, but other than the one farmer that I passed, I saw no one for the first 2 hours of the hike. I was rather lucky with the weather as it hadnÂ´t rained in several days so everything was totally dry, and even though it was hot, it was better than slogging through mud for 3 hours. After about 2 hours of walking I rounded the top of the lower mountain and began to come to the beginnings of a town that exists on the slopes below Kuelap. There a bunch of houses where people farm and live in the shadow of Kuelap without electricity, probably not much differently than the ancient people that inhabited Kuelap used to. After a half hour of hiking through the town I arrived at Kuelap.
Since I walked up, and it was Sunday as well, I was one of the few tourists there, as all the tours from Chachapoyas had yet to arrive for the day.
The walls of Kuelap amidst the cloud forest
That meant that I was able to walk around the site all alone for about an hour, which was incredibly nice. The fortress was really amazing, from the scale of it, to the setting high on the mountain top, to the surrounding cloud forest vegetation. Part of the structure was being restored or had been restored while other parts of it had been left as discovered and were still covered with vegetation. There are two entrances into the fortress and both are only about wide for one to two people to pass through at one time, giving the occupants of the fort and tremendous defensive advantage. Imagining the fortress in completion it was hard to see how it could be conquered with weapons from that time period. The walls are over 60 feet high and in some places almost 20 feet thick.
The ruins inside the fortress
Supposedly more stone was used to build Kuelap than in building the pyramids of Egypt, and seeing as Kuelap is located on a mountain top at 10,000 feet, that is pretty amazing.
After spending a few hours at the site and having lunch I decided to head back down to Tingo. The walk back was much easier as it was all downhill and I think I made it back in about 2 hours. There wasnÂ´t much to do in Tingo other than have dinner and since I was tired from waking up so early in Chachapoyas, escaping from my hotel, and hiking 12 miles, I went to sleep early. The next morning I woke up to rain, and it had been raining all night because everything was wet. I had planned to hike to these ruins up on a cliff side just north of Tingo and across the river. The rain, however, changed these plans a bit.
A ruined wall covered in vegetation
There were two ways to the ruins, one was to walk across the bridge south of Tingo and then walk through peopleÂ´s fields until the trail started or to walk up the road and take the metal basket on a rope across the river to where the trail started. I opted for the second option but after walking for 20 minutes in the rain I found the metal basket to be locked to the other side of the river. With all the rain the river had risen several feet and was a rushing brown mass of muddy water, totally uncrossable. So I had to settle for taking pictures through the rain and fog and walking back in the rain, soaking wet. Seeing how much the two rivers had risen, it isnÂ´t hard to believe that the town was destroyed in a flood as it sits at the confluence of two rivers flowing from the mountains.
The long way to Kuelap, part of the 37km road from Tingo
From back in Tingo I had to wait until the afternoon for transport to Leymabamba, the next town down the road. I passed the time having lunch and drinking some guarapo, some kind of fermented fruit beverage, with two local guys. The van arrived, only two hours late, and I had to sit crammed on the bench behind the driver and passenger, normally reserved for luggage, for two hours, but at least I arrived in Leymabamba.
Pictures to come...