After the extra day spent wandering round I can safely say that I have no real desire to spend any more time there – the supposed highlights of the city were disappointing (no witches in the witches market, only tacky tacky clothes and the usual fruit, pretty much; and the ‘musas’ on the paseo de la musas were covered with tarpaulins, unsure as to why) and in general the people of the city were a hundred times less pleasant than everywhere else I’ve been thus far; most of the men were downright leery. Not enjoyable. (And I realise I’m generalising but I was there for a day and a half so not much else I can do).
Luckily I’ve had a refreshingly enjoyable day in Chachapoyas, a beautiful city in a mountainous region (considering that I live in Cambridge I find I’m very quick to miss the mountains when comparing it to the heat and dust of the coast) to counteract any lingering bad feelings. The night bus from Chiclayo was fine (it even came with a brilliant aeroplane-style meal complete with plastic cutlery, hilariously difficult to eat when on a bus) although for 40 soles I was hoping for some air con – the way back I think I’ll save myself the extra 10 soles and forgo the meal. I arrived at probably 7 in the morning after just over a 10 hour journey (which is reportedly beautiful by day but pretty much all the buses are night ones; also I think it would likely be pretty terrifying to watch a massive ungainly tourist bus navigate those mountain roads, I’m probably quite glad I was asleep). As soon as I made it to the hostel (which nobody I asked along the way had heard of) I was shown to my room and asked if I wanted a tour by José, the owner. I think I assumed he meant a tour of the hostel because I shrugged and said yes – what he actually meant was a tour to the Kuélap ruins, leaving in half an hour.
So forty minutes later, unshowered and slightly bemused, I found myself on a minibus for the two hour ride further up the mountains, with a bunch of other people – mostly Spaniards, but also a nice Danish couple and a German guy from my hostel in the same situation as me, freshly off the night bus. It was an incredible, if slightly hairy, ride; beautiful scenery (how many times have I used or at least thought that phrase by now?) but very dodgy roads. Thankfully it wasn’t raining or I would have been much more on edge: even in its current state there were patches of slippery mud with next to no barrier protecting us from the long way down.
I paid 5 soles extra to have an English speaking tour guide, which I quickly discovered to be a mistake: I found I could pretty much understand the gist of what he said in Spanish and his English was nothing to shout about (he was a lovely guy, but really paying 5 soles more was a bit unfair). The ruins themselves were pretty awesome though – sort of like a slightly tamer Machu Picchu, and some of the stuff he talked about was pretty interesting. The Kuélap fortress was built by the Chachapoyans, who came before (and were conquered by) the Incas (who were then all killed by the diseases brought over by the Spanish, I believe). The Chachapoyans were a charming race who liked to marry their siblings, leading to a lot of deformities in their children, a mild annoyance which they dealt with by the sensible expedient of drilling holes in their heads to let the bad spirits out.
It was a nice history lesson, anyway, and I now have about a hundred variations of the same photo (some stones with hills in the background). And I got sunburnt. In patches, which is nice.
We got a meal as part of the trip (not included in the price, which I resented) but actually for 10 soles I got soup and tortilla (Spanish omelette) and rice and potatoes (so many carbs!) and veg and the strange puffed corn they always seem to have here and tea – not bad for £2.50 really. It was all round a pretty good trip (except I forgot my BLOODY student card, which I was grumbling about externally and via internal monologue for the whole time; entrance fee could’ve been half price dammit) and it was nice to have some company again (that is, in comparison to the night spent in the strange hostel/hotel in Chiclayo). So it’s been a good day today. Definitely perked me up.
I also met an English family who were just leaving the hostel today; two parents (from somewhere up North) travelling around with their two kids, how awesome?! It was a shame I didn’t get to speak to them much but potentially we might overlap when I get to Huanchaco which would be fortuitous but maybe is unlikely.
So yes. I guess that’s balance for you. Today has more than made up for the mild discomfort of the day before. It’s all swings and roundabouts and in the end I’m still travelling through South America by myself, which when you think about it is pretty AWESOME. Gotta have a bit of perspective here, eh?