Carrying roof support
At breakfast I met Steve, one of my traveling companions for 3 of the 4 day Gran Vilaya trek. The others were a group of 10 French-Canadians from Quebec and Montreal with their two guides, Roberto and Pierre-Luc. Roberto is Peruvian, living in Canada for the last 8 years. Steve is a seasoned traveler and has been to many places in the world that I’ve only dreamed about �" Thailand, Nepal, India, South Africa, and several times in South America. I think this is his third trip to Peru and the reason he wasn’t staying for the last day to tour the site of Kuelap was that he had already seen it four years previously.
The first day was mostly in bus and car. The Canadians had a micro-bus and Steve and I were in a car with John, another assistant guide, and Assunta, the girl who was going to cook for us the first night.
Our first destination was the sarcophagi at Karajia, not too far from Chachapoyas
. Karajia is a site reached by a short hike down to a ledge under a sheer cliff face where the sarcophagi were discovered only fifteen years ago in seemingly unreachable niches. Dating from 773 BC, they are composed of stone or wood and adobe and each contain a mummy in their hollowed-out interior. They would construct the anthropomorphic statue base and hollow it out and then carve or mold the head (which looked very much like those of Easter Island) and place it on top after putting the body inside and then somehow from the top of the cliff with ropes, or from the bottom ledge with ladders, place them in the cliff face.
They have discovered eight on one ledge and a few others scattered on the cliff. The archeologists believe that there were many of these but that many have fallen over the course of time. They were probably intended to be seen from the valley floor for many miles, as a reminder of the deceased. It was very impressive!
On our way back up to the top we encountered the Canadians behind us, and by the time we ate lunch in a nearby village and drove to near the campsite where we walked a short half hour and waited, the Canadians were nearly two and a half hours behind us. Steve and I couldn’t understand why it took so long but by the third day when we saw some of them struggling to walk up the hill, we realized that the two of us, having been seasoned on walks and hikes and climbs, were much faster than the group of newbies.
Natural red rock
So we waited and talked quite a bit. Steve used to work for the Bureau of Land Management in the US and he had quite a few stories of life in the western U.S. and of his travels. At 52, he’s really gotten around. But also after a whole day, I wanted to relax and I put on my headphones and ate some of the hot popcorn Assunta had started to make. Finally the group arrived and pitched their tents and the guides started a campfire, since it had turned overcast and chilly. The hot vegetable soup warmed us up and then Carlos brought out the guitar and started to sing. He had entertained the Canadians the night before at the hotel along with a group of young folkloric dancers and tonight was no different. His mellow voice, with beautiful vibrato, was the only sound heard in the quiet valley and we were mesmerized by it, particularly the ladies I noticed.
It started to rain a bit more and we took shelter in the room where Steve, Carlos the guide, and I were going to sleep in rough wooden bunks. The sweet Borgona wine (made from Concord grapes which I explained are grown around my city of Cleveland too!) was poured around and then when that ran out, some blackberry liquor. Carlos started in with “Ojos Azules” (Blue Eyes), a traditional Andean song, and halfway through we heard the sound of a band echoing from nearby. Carlos stopped and the band continued and everyone made their way through the dark, past the campfire, to the other outbuilding where a local band had set up and was playing the song! We were completely overwhelmed and Carlos explained that they had walked for three hours to come to us to play.
The cliff face
Another tune was struck up and the dancing began, with Carlos taking the lead with one of the Canadian ladies, the only one who spoke some Spanish as we were to find out. I grabbed another lady and soon everyone was dancing. The young guys from Quebec took turns trying to dance the steps with Assunta and the fruit liquor kept flowing. It was followed by a rum and coke mixture and the dancing kept going and going until Steve and I called it quits. Apparently the fiesta went until one in the morning. The band had some rough bunks in the room where they played and they sacked out for the night there too. I awoke in the middle of the night with terrible rumblings in my stomach and eventually had to get up and go out to vomit. Something was wrong and the only thing it could have been was the soup. I think Assunta used local running water from the pipe and didn’t boil it enough. I was finally able to fall asleep but with a pain in my stomach.