So, the 11 hour bus ride from hell?….not so bad.
I went to the bus station at 5:15, and it turned out they hired a driver to take us to a town 3-4 hours a way where the bus was actually leaving from. This ride?…sucked. It wasn´t the driver´s fault, or the road condition…the road just constantly weaved around mountains so often that it made ME car sick. That takes effort. By the time we finally got to the bus station I was ready to puke. Luckily, we got there with 30 minutes before the bus left.
There were only seven people on the bus. It was EMPTY. But that´s much better than a full and stinky bus, so I wasn´t arguing. Now, the bus ride was nine hours. Nine hours with no real food, water, or bathrooms (one break). Worst of all, they didn´t play a SINGLE movie. Now, I had my IPOD, but nine hours in a bus without anyone to talk to is EXTREMELY boring. Luckily, I had the view. Now, this road was more like what I was expecting when it comes to south american roads- not the worst I´ve been on (nothing so far has toped Costa Rica or Honduras), but still. The road quality itself wasn´t so bad, it was the rest of it. The road, which went both ways, was actually only the width of the bus. I´m not joking, there was maybe an inch or two on each side between the sides of the road. And this was in the Andean mountain, so of course where was mountains on one side, and a sheer drop on the other. Of course, with no guard rail, and with the bus constantly riding the edge of the cliff. This made the constant sharp mountain turns…nerve-wracking, to say the least. There were a few times I thought we were going down. Especially, when there was a truck or car coming from the opposite direction and we would have to stop, back up, and try to let it pass while staying on the road. There were times when I was like…DON´T BACK UP AROUND THE CORNER, PLEASE!!!!!!. But I lived, it was amusing…andit wasn´t NEARLY as bad as the guide-book made it out to be. But getting to Chachapoyas was a relief. Chachapoyas is a very significant area archaeologically, dotted with ruins everywhere (and they continue to be found). Unfortunately, they´re all out of the way. There´s not a lot of tourist infrastructure, so most of the sites can only be reached by treking three days into the jungle or mountains with a guide. It´s also several hours from ANYTHING else. It´s a really nice, isolated city in the highlands.
I ended up staying in a rather nice, colonial hostal with a tour agency underneath it. So, I got a tour to Kuenap the next day.
Kuenap is a pre-Incan fortress built by the Chachapoyan indians over the course of 1,200 years. Other than Machu Pichu, it is considered to be the most significant archaeological site in Peru. It was great. It was a four-hour drive from Chachapoyas each way, which is a lot…but worth it. Unfortunately, the road is awful. They´re working on it, so we constantly had to stop and wait for workers. Also, these workers work in these 3-5 feet deep gaps in the road. So, to pass over the gaps, they put down two 2-by-6 boards, and help guide the vehicle over. I got it on video, it´s nerve-wracking. Especially when the alternative is to fall off the mountain. The cool thing about the ride, is that you get to see old settlements in the mountains that remain undisturbed because they´re so hard to get to. They´re just kind of…sprinkled around.
When you get to Kuelap, you´re looking up at this incredibly huge fortress. Some of which has been reconstructed, some not. Then, you have to walk up a path 35 minutes to get to it. The walls of the fortress are enormous. When taking a picture of the full wall and there´s a person on top, they come out as this little dot. It´s hilarious. The entrance into the fortress contains all sorts of petroglyphs of various people and gods (one of which is upside-down because the archaeologist put it back wrong…ha!). Inside, there are all these ruins of temples and homes. Even though it takes imagination, it´s still cool. You can walk through almost the entire fortress, but only 15% has actually been excavated. So, for the most part, the jungle is growing within it. The curious thing is that within the fortress are the only jungleesque plants in the area. But it was fun to watch parrots fight. In addition to birds and plants, there are Llamas…and lots of them. They mostly just roam around, but one had kicked a German tourist the week before, and the locals had tied him up.
So, the fortress was awesome. The Chachapoyans there had buried their mummies within their homes, so you could only see the excavated holes. But it was interesting to think that there were still mummies in the un-excavated homes, all around us. Even cooler. One of the main defensive walls of the fortress was also a mausoleum. The center of the wall was filled with the bones of captives and warriors. You could look into the wall and SEE the bones: skulls, femurs, etc….so. freakin. awesome…and a little creepy.
The next day, I went to the Sarcophagi of Karajía and some caves. To get to the sarcophagi, you drive two hours, then hike down another hour. They are these really unique-looking sarcophagi with mummies inside. They are the only sarcophagi crafted in that particular way anywhere in the world, it´s bizarre. Although they belong to the Chachapoyas people, who were all over the region, there are no other sarcophagi like it. They are perched high in a cliff (there used to be more, but they were destroyed by grave-robbers. You can still find the bones from broken sarcophagi in the valley). The ones that are left are the ones which are hardest to get to…which makes one wonder how people got up there in the first place. The climb back up though…reminded me how terrified I am of heights.
The caves though, were even better. Sacred caves used for both fertility rituals and human sacrifices, the hall after the first room was lined with bones. Don´t know why they´re still there, but still really cool and eery to see. The cave system was MASSIVE. Each room was a goot 20-25 meters high and wide, filled with all sorts of incredible natural formations. Of course, it was filled with water and mud, so it was slippery (which comes into play later), so I had a lot of trouble walking. Also, we only came in with six flashlights, and over time two ran out of batteries. So, it was dark and hard to see where you stepped.One of the men on the tour was indigenous, and at the back to the cave before leaving, he insisted on doing a purification offering to the spirits of the cave to prevent any bad spirits coming with us, and to honor the good spirits. This was great thing to witness and take part of, because I hadn´t seen any indigenous rituals before. He piled some different types of herbs and grasses, put us in a circle, then lit them (eventually, it took a while) on fire. Then, he slowly prayed to the spirits of each element (earth, wind, water, etc), each prayer with it´s own movement. Then, he asked people to say their own prayer. At one point, I think he asked me, but I had no idea what was going on, so we kind of all stood there awkwardly until someone else started talking, and then I realized that it was supposed to be me…oops. Then, he asked us to cleanse ourselves with rose oil. After this, the fumes from the fire really got at me. It was basically incense, which I´m kind of allergic to…so I started coughing. I felt really bad about disrupting and not being able to participate as fully, but I couldn´t breath. I hope I didn´t insult him too bad.
Afterwards, we headed out of the cave. This is where the problem started for me, from the mud. Coming down, I slipped and fell. I just laughed, and got back up because it wasn´t bad, and kept going. Unfortunately, two of the lanterns had gone out, and I really could see. Eventually, I slipped again…worse. I made a wrong step, causing my feet to go out from under me, I slammed to the ground and ended up sliding a good 20-25 feet, only stopping because I ended up feet-first in a mud puddle. With all the boulders everywhere, I felt incredibly lucky that I hadn´t hit my head or seriously injured myself (remember, it was 30 mins left to leave the cave, and hour hike back uphill, and 2-3 hour drive to the city. If I´d been hurt, I would´ve been screwed). So, I took the bruises. However, I did need help getting back up, and ended up with one the men helping me out of the cave the rest of the way (I just would´ve kept falling, and he was being nice and chivalrous). Then, we all got a good laugh about just how muddy I was. At least the day was great fun. Then, back to Chachapoyas.
Unfortunately, I didn´t have time to change for my bus, so I ended up muddy for the 10 hour horrendous night bus-ride to Chiclayo, and the 3 hour bus ride to Piura (no break in between). And, I gotta tell you, after sweaty and muddy and in a stinky bus for 13 hours…even the cold shower in Piura felt good. Incredibly sore from the cave, I spent almost the entire day in bed in the hotel because I didn´t want to walk around.
The next day, I caught a bus back to Ecuador. This time, I went through Macará, which is a much more relaxed border crossing. Also, the border stations are right across the bridge from one another, rather than two kilometers from the border like it Tumbes, so it´s a much better border crossing. The only scary moment was when the bus almost left without me. That freaked me out a bit.
Then, off to Loja. Where…I got a cold, and ended up with no energy to do much more than walk around a little. I saw a park and the center, but again I watched a lot of TV. I think my body rebelled against so much constant travelling. Bored of Loja, I took off to Cuenca. Which, I was there for two minutes and remembered why I loved it so much. I´ve already seen all the tourist stuff, so I´m just busy enjoying the city for a few days before heading back to Quito to finish things up before returning to the states Feb. 1. I got to have lunch with Jim from TESOL, which was nice to catch up.
So, I am enjoying my last jaunt before I have to reintegrate back into the real world.
See everyone soon!