Saturday, July 26, 2014

La Petaca

Meeting my guide for special trips is always important, but even more important is my first encounter with the lovely animal that will carry me up and down some steep trails for the next two days. 

Early on, Lázaro and I met up with another arriero (guide), delivering food to tourists camping in the high country. Fortunately, we had plenty of coca leaves to chew throughout the journey. The road is easy to navigate on horseback for the first four hours.

The most dramatic photos are those recorded in my personal memory, as the way was too rough to photograph. What a shame that I didn't have a video camera mounted on my head. I was completely focused on keeping my balance on a sure-footed (de buen pie) horse. We worked well together under challenging and dangerous conditions. After considerable effort we arrived at the scenic plateau of Tajotambo where there is a hut for sleeping and cooking. The site is an ancient Chachapoya/Inca resting place. The hut is built from salvaged stones from ancient cultures. 

This stone support has Inca inscriptions, ca. 1500 ad.
This is a roof support where I will sleep tonight.

At this elevation of about 9,000 feet above sea level my heart begins to race and it becomes difficult to take each step. We hike to get a closer view of the La Petaca cliff in the distance.

We get to a sunny spot close to the cliff, where we can view the chullpas or burial mausoleums. I rest on my back, looking up, and eventually see the burial tombs in the cliff (lower right in photo below).

On the walk back to the hut Lázaro collects firewood for our dinner and breakfast.

Ancient stones, first placed here 500 and more years ago.

Next day I survive the challenging ride down the canyon to meet with the road below. No photos means that it was a hair raising experience with no time for pictures.

Back on terra firma we meet up with the daily milk truck. The truck collects milk produced in the area every day, and that includes Sundays, holidays, and even soccer finals.

We return to our destination near Leymebamba, protected by the spirits from bad weather.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Jungle flowers in Moyobamba, Peru

Visiting for the first time to the mountains of northeastern Peru, I chose to approach the Chachapoyas region by flying to the jungle town of Tarapoto, on the Shilclayo River, tributary of the Río Mayo. At first light I was greeted by this lovely ginger lily (Alpinia zerumbet).

Later, on my return from the sierra, I enjoyed some tropical decompression at Moyobama, a regional capital city overlooking the Río Mayo.

Moyobamba is on a plateau with sweeping views of the Río Mayo and beyond. 
Ginger lily is abundant there.

This street (below) is closed to vehicle traffic, with carefully maintained gardens.

Below is an upscale residence.

A big attraction in Moyobamba is the Agro Oriente Viveros, a major orquid cultivator and exporter. I took a quick guided tour through the tightly packed nursery. This is not the orquid blooming season, but there was plenty to see and enjoy.

(Below) A spectacular Pico de loro (Parrot's beak) (Heliconia rostrata), commonly found in gardens in Moyobamba

Anthuriam in various shades of red to pink to white (below).

Anthuriam "Rex"

Here is a Staghorn Fern (Platycerium andinum)

All throughout my visit to the nursery there was a loud and screeching cry from above, where there were more than a few noisy guacamayo

The orquid nursery provides a rescue for reptiles.
Here are native caimán.

Red ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

Poolside with new friends.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

La Congona

One of the most impressive pre-Inca sites I visited in the Chachapoya area of the northeastern Andes Mountains is the mountaintop village of La Congona, named for the abundant congona plant that grows here. It has barely been studied or visited and is overgrown with thick vegetation. Experts say construction began around 1100 to 1350 a.d., then abandoned in the early Spanish colonial period in the 16th century. Today a farm is located close by with cows tramping through the underbrush, disturbing the area. There is no tourist infrastructure and it is physically challenging to arrive here.

My guide, Lázaro, provided a horse for me as he walked the entire 2-3 hours each way up and back on steep and rocky trails. We passed through the village of San Cristóbal and many cornfields. Most corn is left to dry in the fields. It's collected when dry, then soaked and boiled to provide delicious and nutritious food. The dry stalks provide sturdy poles for beans to grow. Squash plants cover the ground below.

At times the terrain is steep and rutted. People and animals regularly pass along such difficult places in the road. You can imagine what this is like in the rainy season.

After almost three hours of arduous climbing we arrive at a high ridge at about 9,300 feet elevation where the Chachapoya typically built their cities and fortresses. These locations were easier to defend from marauding hoards below.

In contrast to the Inca, who built rectangular structures, the Chachapoya houses are round, with rhomboid friezes. They even inserted large, flat stones that protrude from the structure and is thought they were exterior balconies.

Indiana Roger slashing through the jungle! This building has square corners, indicating Inca influence. The Inca conquered the Chachapoya in 1470, about 60 years before the Spanish arrived. So this structure is modern (!), probably erected in late 15th century.

After a tasty picnic lunch it's time to saddle up and head down the mountain.

This narrow ridge is only about 10 feet wide, with a steep drop off to several hundred feet below on both sides. The venerable Chachapoya ancestors and gods have blessed us with beautiful weather for many days now, with just a small amount of rain occasionally at night.

The final descent after about two grueling hours brings us to this panoramic view of Leymebamba. Even after riding on horseback my body feels battered but invigorated at the end of the trip.