After a day and a night on buses I arrived at Chachapoyas at about 5am so spent the rest of the day enjoying doing not a lot. Chachapoyas is only a small town and there isn´t really much to do in the actual town itself, but there a lot of pre-Incan ruins to see in the surrounding cloud forest. So I arranged a 4 day trip starting the next day. THe first day we mainly spent in a taxi. We did have a stop off at a burial site where the bodies were buried in a cliff to void flooding and they placed wooden figures at the entrances to the caves containing the bodies. From there the road was just a muddy track, I think the taxi driver was soon regretting agreeing to the job as after getting stuck a few times his car was covered in mud both inside and out. When we left the taxi (with doubts that he would ever make it back up the road without anyone to push) we had a short walk to our 1st nights accommodation in the Valle de Belen. We were staying in a house in the middle of the valley 3hours walk from the closest village. It was an amazing place, so quiet and relaxing with just us and a lot of cows. In the evening we had a fire outside and sat looking at the stars and finding out more about the area from the guy from the village who was staying to look after the cows.
The 2nd day was the main day of trekking. Initially we had to cross the river in the valley and then we followed a pre-Incan path up the other side of the valley to the top. Then we started descending into the next valley and the scenery just completely changed as we entered the cloud forest, which was also surprisingly cloudy after the clear skies on the other side of the hill. After stopping for lunch we reached an area of ruins where a pre-Incan village of more than 3000 round houses made of stone. The government is spending a lot of money excavating at Kuelap, a similar site nearby, so no work has been done at this place, so it was really interesting to see the place in its wild state where the forest has just taken over. Anywhere where you just walked a short way from the main path into the forest you could find more buildings. The area the site covers is huge and in the dense forest difficult to access, so there must still be a lot there which remains undiscovered. The rest of the afternoon was sent walking down through the forest to the village of Congon. As we got closer to the village we saw areas of the forest being burnt and cleared, according to our guide this is illegal, and done because they want more space for coffee plantations.
We stayed in a really nice house in the village and had a nice evening there. We had a good dinner and finally found some half decent coffee in South America. But then we were sat on the balcony watching the owners sort, process and dry coffee beans, so it shouldn´t have been so surprising. In the evening we went to the village shop which also just seemed to be a general meeting place for everyone and had the only TV in the village. Here we tried the local alcohol, some kind of sugar cane rum, as with all the locally made alcoholic drinks I have tried on this tip, it was disgusting but you have to drink it anyway. We also spent a long time playing a game that is popular here that involves throwing metal discs at a board with various different holes in it, worth different values, obviously without much success on my part.
The following day was a long day of horse riding. We set off at 7am, riding up the valley through spectacular scenery. My horse took a bit of getting used to, but after fighting off all the other horses it made it to the front of the group and then calmed down. It was a really steep climb out of the valley on a muddy track that must have been very difficult for the horses. We arrived at the top and went for a walk through the forest to another area of unexcavated houses and a viewpoint looking back over the valley. We had lunch here, at the only house for miles around. Then we had another few hours of difficult horse riding before reaching the top of the pass. Here we left the horses and had a nice 3 hour walk down to the village of Choctamal where we stayed the night.
The following day we went to see the pre-Incan fortress at Kuelap. In a way it has been likened to Macchu Pichu as it is situated at the top of a hill overlooking al the surrounding valleys and is a large complex of houses, temples and other buildings. In some ways I found it more impressive than Macchu Pichu We spent a long time being shown around the site. It was nice to have seen similar unexcavated sites in the previous few days to see what a difference the archaeologists make. Even though only a small part of the site has been restored, the rest of it looked very different from what we had seen before. It was also interesting to see how the site and buildings had been modified first when the Incas took over the area and then later when the Spanish arrived. We ended spending nearly 5 hours there before driving back to Chachapoyas late in the afternoon.
Unfortunatly when we arrived back at the hotel we found that our luggage and things that had apparently been left in the safe had been gone through and some things had been taken, although most of it was of little value. Its a long story and I have written too much already but by about 2am, most of our missing belongings had been returned and a temporary member of staff had been taken to the police, so things turned out OK in the end.