Thursday, May 12, 2016

Magical Kuelap

We thought the spot we camped in last night was relatively hidden until dozens of locals walk to and from the main road over the steep path behind our bikes while we are making coffee. Farmers walk their cows and horses to their fields over the same path . The horses freak out when they see the bikes. "That wasn't here before" A light encouragement with a stick gets them going again. We make breakfast and all five of us decide that yesterday’s road to the border was one of the most beautiful any of us have ever ridden. That's one hell of a start for Peru. We make it to the city of Jaen where we have lunch and get compulsory insurance for the bikes. 
A little bit of TLC for the Twin in the burning sun.
My bike had been playing up again on the way down here and after getting insured he did not want to start at all. In the burning sun I pull the fairing off and check the electrics. The starter relay connections are corroded and what is left of the cables is somehow disconnected. That's an easy fix! Twenty minutes later I am completely dehydrated but the bike is running again. Azure makes me sit down and forces water down my throat. I feel weak and it takes a while before I feel good enough to ride out of town. We stock up on water and get on our way to Kuelap, a fortress associated with the Pre-Incan Chachapoyas culture.

"It will be dry and dusty once you get into Peru". Nope! Green and rice paddies!
See for yourselves! Pothole filled, slow going dirt roads... ;)
Someone is having fun!
The pavement completely surpasses our expectations. There are sections of roadworks but most of it is just perfect winding tarmac. We have an absolute joy of a ride and on the way up pick up a Belgian couple on another Transalp. They had just bought it in Ecuador and started a whole new adventure with it. Life on the side of the road is a bit more simple than in the last country but people seem, somehow, happier. Animals roam everywhere and kids run around covered in dirt from playing outside. Nature at their doorstep, no traffic (unless you call four pigs crossing the road traffic), lungs full of clean air and best of all, no TV. People wave in every small town we ride through. Tim's GPS misses a sign  just before our turn-off and we all have to make a u-turn. I make a mental note not to become to dependent on the GPS. We do on the other hand safe a lot of time not asking for directions.

Who needs a guard rail anyway!
A beautiful road next to a river leads us to a dirt road. The last stretch up to the fortress climbs and climbs. The drop offs to the left get deeper every second and the surroundings are breathtaking. 

The cloud forest people had built their fortress at 10,000 feet. After getting strange looks in the villages we "parade" through, we conclude that the fact that the original inhabitants of this area were called "cloud forest people" should have rung a bell and we should have camped at a lower elevation.

The road turns into slick mud as the clouds open up and before long the first bike goes down. Azure leads the way confidently as her Sahara's from Colombia still have plenty of tread and she patiently waits as we pick up fallen bikes behind her. I'm extra happy I changed my tires back in Quito. The Tourances also crawl through the mud without any problems. We crawl up the last stretch and finally make it to our destination. Azure asks the night guard at the parking lot/museum if we can camp on the covered porch which is out of the wind. He is not entirely happy about this request but says something to the effect of: "I will allow you to camp there because I hope I would receive the same kind of hospitality in your countries." What a blessing! The Unknown Road guys cook up a feast of a meal. Then we discover that the Belgians are not really prepared for camping. They have no cooking gear and... no tent. Not our style but it shows again that the hardest step of getting on a journey is to leave. They did just that, bought a bike and got on the road. All the rest will work out. The guys filled their bellies and we gave them a tarp to keep some more of their body heat trapped in their sleeping bags and had them sleep out of the wind behind our tent. It's good to be part of a big bike family up here.

The bikers taking over once more.
What a nice view to wake up to!
The clouds give it an extra mysterious feel...
But we are thrilled when the sun breaks through and lights up the impressive ruins.
In the morning we climb the ruins and are blown away by it's size and strategic design. Kuelap is the largest ancient stone structure in South America. Within it's 60 foot high walls it consisted of buildings of civil, religious, and military purposes as well as 420 circular stone dwellings, which contained geometric friezes, mural iconography, and high relief carvings. Aside from being impressive it was absolutely magical to walk around in these ruins all by ourselves. Nature had been taking over for centuries and the vines and trees gave it a mysterious feel. Strategically, it was a masterpiece. You could see the enemy coming from anywhere and they would have a hard time getting up there anyway. The fortress had never been conquered by the Inca but the Chachapoya civilization collapsed in the mid-16th century due to the Spanish conquest, and Kuelap was abandoned.

The 60 foot high wall. Good luck climbing that.
The entrance.

90s Band Photo. Note the steep narrowing entry into the citadel. Very clever.
The guard, armed with spit.
The entrance from above.
What the houses would have looked like back then.
The monkey? in the wall.
Nature has taken over but ancient art is visible everywhere.

We are all alone up here and having an amazing experience... but views like this make you want to get on the bike again.
This was our first day in Peru with our new friends. If this experience is indicative of what's about to come, we are in for an amazing experience, both on and off the bikes. We ride down the same road and enjoy the views of the deep valleys from the other direction. 

The remnants of last nights downpour.
Thanks Tim!

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