Sunday, March 18, 2012

pre-inca ruins,, waterfalls and a jungle border crossing

how to start with the last week? there's been a couple more hikes, 2 night buses plus 3 days of day travel (so in total about 36 hours of bus travel), a fair few hours spent bumping my way along muddy roads in rickety cars, and days at a stretch without a shower, but at the same time I was rewarded with great conversations, visits to 3 pre-inca ruins, a variety of landscapes from tall mountains to the dry dusty desert to the muddy lusciously green jungle, the worlds third tallest waterfall, colonial tinged amazonas towns and finally, a border crossing to Ecuador.
A nice change of altitude - 600m now
The 'ranchero' bus truck to take me through the jungle. Sort of theme park no?
Bye bye Peru - their side of the crossing
I am now sitting out of the mud and with the bugs under a tin roof next to a gurgling river. I'll be here 3 hours waiting for a bus. Welcome to the border crossing, Las Balsas - Zumbo from Peru - Ecuador. I left the nearest town, San Ignacio around 6am, and 1.5 hours later I arrived to have a relaxing breakfast with the immigration officer in Las Balzas. It's now 9.30am, and I'm waiting for the 'Ranchero', a sort of truck with bench seats with a canopy where the flat back is, to take me 1.5 hours to the closest Ecuadorian town. From there it will be another 6 hours to Vilcabamba where I will meet our couchsurfing host from New Orleans who is traveling there too. Amazing how you can, for the most part, relax and let so many hours pass (and update one's blog!).

Dirt roads wind their way precariously alongside rivers
sometimes getting lost in the process
My moto-taxi getting a little stuck in the mud -by the way - the kid on the left is my 12y/o driver
The drive here reminded me how much I really respect (and I guess trust) the drivers here. The roads are muddy and slippery, and even with 6 passengers fogging up visibility they manage to navigate their way around landslides, rocks, a truck or so that's on its side after falling in a ditch, little 3 wheeler tuk tuks and narrow lanes with sheer drops to the side - all while whistling along to the inevitable LOUD strains of some local music. That is impressive actually - no matter how run down the car, it will always have a pretty new and awesome sound system.

I had to stop writing as a guy came over trying to reason with me that the police wanted me to buy him a coffee:) but then the Aduana (customs) guy also came over so his little attempt at a free coffee faltered. I really haven't experienced much bribery at all during my travels - literally it's been once on the Peruvian side of the Bolivia border crossing, and now this time here in Ecuador. And both attempts were not very hard played.

But back to the last week - the highlight were visits to 3 pre-inca ruins - the first still in the high mountains near Huaraz - the Chavin ruins, then in the dry sandy desert of Trujillo to see some ruins from the Moche culture, and then nearby here in the cloud forest jungle, the ruins from the Chachapoyas culture - Kuelap.

The site of Chavin de Huantar started being habitated from 3000BC but the construction dates back to 1200BC. It's one of the oldest sites I've visited, and although it's still being uncovered, there are some beautiful elements to it too. The highlights here were the many tunnels that ran underground the site.

The mark of the main deity in the Chavin culture

The artefacts from Huacas de la Luna y Sol (the temple of the moon and sun) of the Moche culture (100-700AD) were incredibly well preserved, and plentiful. Beautiful ceramics, wall paintings, and what was interesting that the Huaca de la Luna was actually a temple that was filled in and rebuilt 5 times. (once each century roughly)

VIew from Huaca de la Luna (religious) to Huaca del Sol (administrative) over the urban (living) area
Walking up alongside Huaca de la Luna to Cerro Blanco 
Beautiful painting/mouldings on the outisde of the 5th incarnation of the temple

The Kuelap ruins are quite different - think Machu Picchu on a less impressive scale, however somehow the siting of the ruins sitting abreast the ridge in the lush green valleys, and beautiful circular ruins of houses and the basic, more crude approach to building, oh and being one of 7 tourists visiting that day, made for a very impressive and tranquil experience. Construction started 6th century AD, and it was used mainly as a pilgrimage site as well as a city. It is much less refined that Machu Pichu - for instance, women and children carried the water from some 100m below at the river, and there is less fine detailing in for instance the roof / wall joints.

Chachapoyas was also a pretty town - a lot of wooden detailing and colonial finishes, and it was also just a nice place to relax. Sort of in the jungle, but high enough not to be too sweltering.

Finally, yesterday morning I left Peru for the last time this trip began said journey to the border. I am glad I got to see more of the North, and hopefully one day I can return to see more of the stunning mountains near Huaraz, but I'm sort of ready to move onto Ecuador - and as I have 1 month left of traveling here in South America - I better get on to it!

ps. I forgot the waterfall - here it is!

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