Unexpectedly & at short notice, my buddy Grant from Edmonton found time to return to Peru to surprise his girlfriend Chantelle who is working 2-years in Chachapoyas, a lovely but distant northern Peruvian Provincial capital.
We travelled 23 hours by bus & collective taxi from Lima (not as the condor flies, not the direct route shown on the map!)
Map generated by LonelyPlanet.com free personal travel website service.
A delay when our luxury Volvo sleeper came to a washout. The bus ahead ripped its rear bumper in half! Our driver pre-emptively removed our bumper using rocks & the few tools he had on hand.
Which has worse roads? Himalayas or Andes? I am guessing the Andes because they get more rain.
Passengers unloaded, our bus made the crossing with no damage. A relatively uneventful journey for a trans-Andean crossing, actually the lowest pass in Peru.
Chachapoyas (pop. 25,000) is home to a few expats & sees only a trickle of tourists. If you know the town as Chacha, you are a real insider.
But this is a bustling town of many government offices. Business-attired beurocrats keep the good restaurants hopping. It is far more cosmopolitan than I expected. Girls can show midrif!
I just arrived in town. Fadel found me. He runs the largest English language school and is quick to hit on any native English speaker who finds his way here.
Carmen was faster. Despite having no common language, I was invited to the disco within 3 minutes of her spotting me. I’m thinking she is a gringo hunter who dreams to leave Peru for a richer land.
Chantelle gave us a tour of the sewer project her water organization is building here. A Canadian NGO is paying for about a third of the cost.
I was impressed. It is very difficult to get anything done in Peru, never mind an undertaking this complex. Local people, many of them squatters, do the unskilled labour as their contribution. Paid labour starts at US$7 a day.
Grant took me up to the dairy, an operation started a year ago, which is partly supported by a Spanish NGO. Fresh milk goes daily to children at 42 local schools.
ex-milkman appraising the milk
Gringos can get only UHT boxed milk here. Or unpasteurized fresh milk. And no Diet Coke! This is the boonies.
On the other hand, Chacha is the first town with a market offering fruit, fish & produce from the Amazon.
This is Flor, seemingly one of the many hundreds of ladies sitting patiently in the central market, hocking a few seasonal items. Turns out Flor is a wonder woman work-a-holic putting her 16-year-old son through engineering prep school in Lima.
Flor invited us for a meal. She bought property 3 years ago for about US$150. It has increased in value by 6 times since. She plans to build a house soon of hand-made adobe mud bricks.
vista from Flor’s property
Peru is desceptive. Tourist all have the wrong impression on arrival. Hovels on the outside can be very comfortable homes within.
Restaurants you assume to be unhygienic, without customers for weeks at a time, are extended family kitchens busy all day providing reasonable grub.
Good Catholic campesinos like Flor should have a dozen children. She has only 2.
Urbanization & education of women = birth control.
Chacha was an eye-opener for me.
Finally, my first earthquake — 5:11 AM April 29th, 2005. (I had slept through a bigger tremor once in Trinidad.) This one felt like a train passing by the hostel.
I insisted to join Grant in the long journey north because I had to see Kuelep, the second best ancient city after Machu Picchu.
For 11 days last year, Grant & I trekked Huayhuash, likely the best high alpine tramp in the world. It was good to be back on the trail with him.
We hiked to Kuelep, 4 hours straight up, 2 hours down. A challenging day.
On a Sunday, 4 of us including Luz, a career woman, still unmarried at age 31, recently moved to the Provinces from Lima, hired a car to take us to the seldom seen cliff tombs of Revash. It was an excellent long day. We were the only visitors.
Hasta la vista,