Saturday, 20 February 2010

Chachapoyas and Levanto

Just a wee reminder that the spellcheck here is spanish... and therefor of little effect... so picky spellers beware!

Chachapoyas, also known as the city of the clouds. The chachapoyan people known as the people of the clouds. This area of Peru is part of the "eyebrow of the jungle", sits as the easternmost part of the Peruvian Andes, and is some of the most fertile land in the world. It sits in a unique microclimate, which keeps the area temperate and moist.

And green.. think irish moss on steroids. That incredible Andean green. Once covered with a dense rainforest, the mountains and valleys are now blanketed with a patchwork quilt of farm fields, interspersed with small areas of rainforest. Chachapoyas was first settled over a thousand years ago, but most ruins are from either the Chachapoyan culture, or the Incan empire that briefly conquered it.

The sleepy little town of Levanto was once a powerful central figure in those civilizations, and vast fortified mountaintop cities sat on mountaintops to the N.S.E. & W., Kuelep being the most recognized and excavated. This provided a clear line of sight for communication. There are ancient inca trails between Levanto & each of the cities, all still in use.

I thought I`d start my explorations out small with a visit to Levanto and a long walk back to the city. Lonely planet says "an easy 4 hour walk over ancient inca trails". That was the plan, but then a couple of girls from Lima joined the group and, well, the rest is history, so to speak.

The expanded tour now included a visit to Yalep, a stop in Levanto and that stroll back to town. Yaelep is one of the unexcavated hilltop cities, this one sitting above Levanto. I have photos. This was no hill. And that "easy 4 hour walk"? Ha. Five plus hours, most of which was downhill, even though Levanto sits only a little bit higher than Chacha. See there is this wee valley between the two...

So off we go, taking a collectivo up to the starting point for the walk up to the ruins. Once again I find myself breathing in oxygen thin Andean air. Stop and go, let the heart slow and breath return. Up we go through a recently ploughed farmers field and into the bush. Ignore the spiders scurrying across my boots. And the adventure begins...

We follow a threading pathway.

Just how generic is that? Let´s be specific. Pathway:
Through thigh high bright green grasses
Over elevated rickety fence
Over airborne jungle vegetation, nothing solid below.
Deep with twigs.
Through thorn ridden, vegetation tunnels
Along skinny ledges sided with deep drops
Pebbled with stone relics of ancient trail

Still ignoring the spiders scurrying past and over my feet.

We reach the first of 3 glimpses of the ruins and there they sit, unmoved for centuries. The overgrowth is substantial, and my first thought is that it must be murder to try and "uncover" these ruins, never mind find actually finding them in the first place.

There are interesting and mostly rounded rock walls, different from the huge, meticulously carved, squared and zig-zagged stone walls in Cusco. Kuelep is visible on the mountaintop across the river.

After a short break we head back down said pathway, and then followed the road into Levanto. Not a long walk, but pleasant. I was accompanied by our Guide´s son, Daniel, who kept me entertained. There were vistas, flowers, blackberries, cows, horses, dogs. We arrived at the main square, which was quite pretty, just as the sun came out full force and it got very hot, very quickly. There was a woman (slightly unbalanced by the way she was shouting out at nothing) tending gardens dedicated to flowers.

Sitting to the side was a lovely old couple, no doubt as they had many a time over the years. After a rather awkward request I was granted a photo. It speaks volumes.

A lovely church, closed, and an interesting hostal constructed in the round chachapoyan shape and covered by tall, thick, coned thatch roofing. Shame that was closed too, because I had to pee. Now this is not normally of great concern except when I asked to use a bathroom elsewhere I was shown into a plastic cloaked area with three small round holes in the cement flooring. One of the holes was slightly larger and had a 4 inch raised lip around it. Not being terribly sure about which hole to use, and in fact how to make sure my aim was true, I thanked the family profusely and made a hasty exit. So, no pee relief for me.

Now off to the Inca trail back to Chachas.

This trail was, like the path up to the ruins, a varied affair. The initial entrance was the neat, squared, precise stone used to great effect during last years trek. But then things got interesting. Suck your boots in muddy, grassy, rocky, even stoneways, heaved stoneways, slippery shale, deep sand, fossil filled rocks, all of which were pocked with huge piles of animal crap. Nasty stuff at that.
There was an attempt at water control in the small canals that disected the path from time to time, seemingly an ancient concept because it was worked in to the intact sections of the stone path.

Our little group is rather ragtag and my progress is varied, sometimes keeping up, othertimes going ahead, stopping for pictures, for breath. Unfortunately no real place to stop and pee.

Catching my attention were the farms. Such fertility. There is planting in almost every nook and cranny and pretty much up to the mountain tops, where nothing much can grow. Amazing. There is the odd forested area, must not be farmable or grazable, although to my view this seems not possible here.

Passed what I think was an ox tethered to what was obviously some kind of rudimentary plough. We are talking little house on the prairie here.

Now how to adequately relate height? Snap a picture showing the bottom of the mountain/ valley, take a turn and realize that is only one bottom, take another turn... you get the idea. Repeat for 5 hours.

Coming down we are almost always with a walled surface of some sort on at least one side. Definitely no consistency here though, with textures being grainy, shalelike, sandy, clay, flowing rock, squared rockfalls, sideways strata, each influencing the path it lines. Each change in texture was accompanied by a change in colour... rock of white, red, pink, black, yellow, gray. White sand. Pink sand. Red clay.

Many of these walled passageways were flora covered, and of particular note were the orchids... tiny and delicate. There were many types of ferns, one really neat one that pointed straight down like fingers.

I am mesmerized by the clouds and mists moving across the mountains and valleys. The rains finally reach us and we don our ponchos. To the wandering group of horses we encountered on the path we must have looked strange indeed. Probably why they ran off in such a fright...

So we had our rain, which was fun. Weather meter... Sun, very hot. Cloud. cool. Rain. cool. Mist. cool. Cloudy seems best for trekking.

Smells... in turns fresh, floral, fetid, horsey, shitty, old.

Sounds... Cows, horses, squish of feet in mud. Birds, frogs, insects. Daneil making little boy noises. The crackle of twigs underfoot. The rustle of grass. The ferocious buzz of the flys on the poo paddies on the trail. Yucky icky greenish ick.

At one point we entered one of the small forested areas, complete with stream bed and ancient watering hole. Idyllic, except trying to cross said stream / mud puddle.

Made an incredible bird sighting, hummingbird with long tailfeathers ending with little pompoms. Apparently very rare. No pictures unfortunately.

Cool thatched roof housing, both round and square. Adobe farmhouses. A variety of gates, usually guarding small snaking pathways heading up...

Yucca in full bloom, with a flowering stalk that must be at least 15 ft. high. Wide swaths of naturalized pampas grass. Also found: a praying mantis, a stuck hummingbird, and a cool fruit not on my current tropical fruit list. Lots of butterflies.

When we finally reached the end of the trail, I had gained an appreciation (rather inadequate, I imagine) of the hardships endured living the land here, and therein the short life expectancy for the natives. Walking up and down these paths to town with their goods? I freely admit I´d starve to death.

All in all an anticipated fabulous day... but a tiring one, so again with my repetitious refrain, a very quiet day called for tomorrow. Writing no doubt. Wish I had taken a notebook up with me, but then this missive would have been longer. :)

But first... a trip to the bathroom for the long awaited pee.


PS. chicken and butterflies are still hard to photograph.

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