Waking up as early as we can manage, we grab a satisfying breakfast, then a shared taxi to the trailhead that would lead us from the river’s edge at the town of Tingo all the way up a 9k, 1300m climb to the ancient city of Kuelap that rests on top of the mountain. The guidebook says the hike is “hard” but “very rewarding”.
Rewarding? There better be ice cream and massage booths up there.
The path is steep, and the sun is hot with little-to-no shade around. Thankfully, they’ve built covered bungalow huts as resting places every two kilometers. We take our time.
Eventually it begins to rain, and the ground is turned to slippery mud. We feel refreshed by the change in temperature, but we’re taking two steps forward and sliding one step backward. We trudge on.
Nearing the top, Léa finds our first reward.
We arrive at the entrance to the ancient city at four in the afternoon. The site’s caretakers seem surprised to see us arrive from this path, which makes us feel badass. They inform us we have one hour until the site closes for the day, and they usher us to the entrance.
We are COMPLETELY ALONE in this ancient city. Even the caretakers remain outside its walls. This is our reward.
Léa and I walk among several levels of stone buildings, each remarkably well-preserved. No excavation was needed here on top of the mountain – it is practically as they left it long ago. Up here in the clouds.
From this height we look out at other mountainsides being cultivated for farmland. Amazing view.
Kuelap had around three thousand inhabitants and the combination of its location, its big walls, and the skillful warriors that lived there made it one of the most successful fortresses in resisting the Incan conquest. And it’s so beautiful.
Each of these round houses had a raised level where they would breed guinea pigs for food.
We continue walking through the town, imagining what it would be like to sleep up here under the stars, among the clouds, gnawing on tiny rodents. Magical.
Making our way to the other end of the site, we spot something in the distance.
“Holy shit, is that a Llama?”
I guess we weren’t completely alone.
An hour was just enough time for us to explore the city. We take about a hundred pictures of ourselves with the ruins and the llamas, and then head back out.
Now, we needed to ask the caretaker how we get a ride back to town.
“You have to hike back down to Tingo and catch a ride from there.”
Uhhh…….Really? Deep sigh.
Léa and I bid farewell to our reward, and get back to work, hiking down the trail, doing our best not to slip on the steep and muddy slope. We actually develop a new style of hiking that we call extreme downhill hand-holding. It’s legit.
The sun set and we walked by the light of the moon until we arrive in Tingo. There is no obvious place to catch a ride, so we start to get a bit worried we may spend the night here. Luckily, a family was passing through this tiny town, and they agree to take us back to Chachapoyas in their van.
They had a good laugh interrogating us foreigners about our travels and whether we knew about chewing on coca leaves, and the like. We had smiles on our faces too. It was a cheerful ride back. That night we slept like stones.
Despite our exhaustion, DAY 3>> would be a hike to waterfall.
Categories: Posts in English