Assunta cleaning dishes
Day Two dawned overcast as well, but not as chilly and another Canadian lady was suffering from stomach problems too. It was severe enough that she declined to continue ahead with us, but instead returned with Pierre-Luc, the other guide, to rest and get better. We weren’t sure if we’d see her again on the trek. We crossed the Belen valley, fording a small icy stream, and mounted a hill to get an excellent view of the broad valley with a small tributary snaking through it. The picturesque view of the horses and cows grazing in the grass with the hills rising above them was very nice. Continuing on, Steve and I, with John as our guide, left the Canadians behind with Roberto and started our climb into higher ground. The vegetation began to change as we climbed higher and higher until we emerged on the other side of the hills in the middle of a cloud forest.
The views were astounding as well as the flora and climate. It was warm, but humid, and the clouds massed and then faded to reveal stunning landscapes and panoramas. We spied a high waterfall in the distance and butterflies flitted all around us. I couldn’t help pausing to take pictures of flowers that were new to me, with brilliant colors and arrangements of individual blooms. I couldn’t count the varieties of butterflies I saw, nor orchids and flowers. It was astonishing and Steve and I slowed down to enjoy what was revealed with every few steps. John was excellent at explaining everything to us and we really enjoyed having him along.
When we paused for lunch, the Canadians were right behind us.
Canadian trekker and Alfredo on right
Carlos had tried to play a trick, putting a moss beard on his face and removing his shirt and hiding behind some rocks to frighten them, but in the end, he stumbled as he rushed out and everyone had a good laugh. Lunch was empanadas and a coconut cookie with juice and fruit and chocolate and by then I was famished, despite the faint rumblings in my stomach. I had to eat because I was really low in energy and I was worried about getting dehydrated and weak on the hike. Soon after we finished lunch, Carlos led us off the path into the dense vegetation, even needing to hack away at vines and plants in order to clear a way. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie as we passed the ruins of many stone circular houses of the Chachapoyan people.
They were overgrown and split by trees growing up through them and it gave me goose-bumps to realize that we were in an unspoiled archeological site deep in the high jungle. The Chachapoyan people had come to the surrounding hills some 1,700 years ago and built their mountaintop cities of stone, with characteristic circular houses above stone platforms and with thatched conical roofs. The strategic high placement and their reputation as great warriors kept them from being conquered and they flourished until finally conquered by the Incas in 1476. The Incas respected their culture and even used their fortress cities as was the case with Kuelap, but by the late 1500s the Chachapoyans had almost ceased to exist. It’s thought that a pest was introduced by the Spanish that decimated a population of up to a million people to a remaining 10,000 by 1610.
The cities were abandoned (possibly burned by order of the Spanish Viceroy to eliminate any trace of the contagion) and the jungle grew around them. Only in the last 40 years has excavation been carried out, but even still, it’s thought there are up to 100 cities with as many as 25,000 stone houses to be discovered. The Gran Vilaya site that we were passing piqued the interest of two Spaniards two years ago and they returned with financing to excavate it and maintain it. Tourism in this area is only just beginning and it’s hard to imagine that even in the case of the well-excavated Kuelap, only about 12,000 visitors come to the site every year as opposed to the several thousand that visit Macchu Picchu every day! But that now was to our advantage as we had the site to ourselves, and that we were some of the first to see it.
That fact in itself was thrilling.
A long hike down a path that showed deep rivulets that must be a rushing stream during wet season brought us to the village of Congon, down by the Congon river. We were lodged in a house of a family in the hamlet and happily set down our packs to enjoy a beer, although it didn’t agree with me and I gave mine to Steve. We were introduced to a lovely girl from Belgium who had taken the trek a week earlier and was so impressed by the area that she decided to come back and spend a few days in peace and quiet before having to return to Lima
and then Belgium. Ashley spoke French of course and she talked with the Canadians, but she enjoyed talking to Steve and I more.
Wading the creek...cold!
She is from the Flemish part of Belgium and there is minor cultural war there so she was happy to speak English with us. Carlos’ dog Bijoux loved the attention and nuzzled up to everyone. I left the terrace to explore and walk around. John showed me the coffee bushes that were growing right there and I couldn’t believe that they grew coffee right there in their backyard! They harvest the beans and dry them, then de-shell them with a machine. After that they are roasted and ground and the coffee is brewed. It was the first time in my life I had seen a coffee plant. All those years of drinking coffee and here it was right in front of me. The lady of the house prepared coffee for us but no one drank it because of both the beer and the caffeine.
Digging footholds to climb up
We wanted to sleep heartily after a long day. I talked to some of the enchanting kids and the one girl was adorable. I told her I lived a long way away and she said, “In Chachapoyas?”. For her this was really really far. The chickens climbed into a tree to roost and soon we had hot soup made from a hen freshly killed. That was followed by a very bland plate of rice and lentils and a cold potato. I wasn’t that hungry and it wasn’t appetizing so I left most of it. The chicken was tough too. I assume it was an old hen.
Some of us stayed up longer to talk and enjoy the evening and watch the stars and full moon. Carlos sang, and I sang, but Carlos woke a baby downstairs when he hit the high notes very loud.
I sang much more quietly! I really enjoyed talking to Ashley and the quiet and peace of the evening. You could just hear the sounds of the rushing river, the chirp of the crickets, and an occasional bark of a dog and other country night sounds.