The journey to Kuelap started at 5:30 AM. We were only two people -Andy, a guy from the UK and me- in a station wagon taxi cab. Weather was good. We went by a few small villages like this one, New Tingo built after the river took off “old” Tingo
There I noticed that while boys went to school with boots and thick rubber sole shoes most of the girls were using only flip-flops or similar shoes. Wondered if that was related to families expending -or “investing”- more in boys than in girls in the same family. Who knows.
Finally we arrived to Choctamal where we would have breakfast and pick up 2 more passengers.
Breakfast took forever -I only asked for a coca tea at first but requested scrambled eggs a little later. A funny detail was to notice they served us pop corn in a small dish as part of the breakfast. The two other passengers were a French speaking couple, although the guy was Peruvian as he could appropriately use “rapidito nomás”, “caaarajo”, “su yapita” and other of our expressions.
A few turns and ups and downs later we were arriving to the parking lot close to the ruins. A short path took us to the starting point.
The site consists of a series of platforms, each built as the city evolved. About 500 circular houses -more like huts- are found here and Archaeologists say that approximately 4000 people inhabited this city, all with different tasks and occupations. The ones having the rhomboid ornamentation are supposed to belong to the the higher ranking members as no utilitarian objects -like “batanes”- were found there.
This is an impressive place
And it is huge indeed.
Not all of this is yet cleaned up, some areas have trees and forest all around and some ruins are still covered in mud or heavy vegetation. A nice thing to find are the many wild orchids that grow among other trees and bushes.
This view is part of the way out -or in, who knows for sure?- of the site. Watching in person is more impressive as the sheer height of the walls and stonework make you feel small in comparison.
Chacha people seem to have had a sense of ornamentation that goes beyond rhomboid stones only, as shown by this carved figure, one of the many on the stone passage above.
We were the only people in the whole site. While walking around and listening to Edgar explanations I found out that the French couple was actually Pedro, a Peruvian guide who traveled all around Peru with the people who booked his services through the internet in trips customized to the traveler’s request.
I told him about my time climbing and traveling and later guiding. We got kind of a good connection as we knew places and had experienced many of the most wonderful places this country has to offer. Sadly, places unknown for most of the people living here.
After all was seen and done we were supposed to return to Choctamal to have lunch. But Pedro proposed to walk down to Tingo. There is a path that leaving Tingo reaches Kuelap in 5 hrs up and supposedly 3 hrs down. Checking with Edgar and Pedro the descent was supposed to be 800 m. that is the difference in altitude between Kuelap and Tingo, not the linear distance that we would walk. I made a wild guess, it’s been a long while since my last trek and in spite of the many treks, climbs and adventures I did in the past I had not really done anything like that recently. But I had been in the gym till last October, and swam pretty often after that. So I thought it should be OK.
We decided to walk down to Tingo and requested Edgar to have our lunch taken there.
Andean paths have usually two ways, a swervy one with a gentler slope, usually employed when taking cargo in animals, and another almost vertical that cuts through the turns of the first one, to descend as fast as possible.
For using this second one you need strong legs, good reflexes and also good sense of equilibrium as your feet will slide down due to the ground composition and you will bounce in the larger rocks in order to quickly switch directions and/or reduce your speed. Or perhaps step onto a small flat area and stop.
You don’t really descend, you control your fall.
A bit like skying.
And it’s great fun.
So I was having great fun while doing this and remembering times and places past. For 2/3 of the way until we reached a large stone slope. We had descended +900 m. and rain was coming as we could see in the hills up front. Soon. The Hi-Tech trekking boots I got in Lima were comfortable to travel but not really good for trekking as I could feel the small stones through the rubber sole.
That’s the point I stopped as I felt my legs weak. Had something to drink and then continued. But as I said, my legs were a bit shaky and i could not really continue as fast as I had been doing it. So I started to walk slowlier with a more rigid step -robocop like- as my muscles were sore. Rain started. More than raining it was pouring down and I got wet in no time. I mean, soaking wet. Went past the rocky area and the path continued over the hillside, a muddy path as water was running down through it. Never mind, I am used to rely on my boots and step into some streams like this and continue with dry feet, protected by the boots. For that the Hi-Techs worked Ok. But with the mud in the soles my boots felt like Frankenstein shoes.
Suffice to say that the last part of the way, enjoyable as it was along the riverside was a bit of a pain to me as I had stretched beyond my current capabilities. I was walking completely wet with the pace of an old man. It took me an hour more than Andy and Pedro, as both started running down the last part -which was gentler- as the rain started.
Me, I wanted to jump in the river as I felt I swam better than I could trek at that point. And float along until the Tingo village.
Finally I arrived to Tingo.
They thought something had happened to me as they saw me running down along with them and then disappeared from sight. I explained I got really tired legs in the last part so I slowed down. To my pride, I was the only one not falling and getting his pants -or back- soiled.
But I was reaaly tired.
Checking the GPS the vertical distance was +1300 m. A little more than I was told.
Do it if you can, the sights are nice, as the path goes aside people’s homes and you can have some nice sights of Andean life.
You will not regret it.
And you can then spend the next day lazing around the town.