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Heading to the Highlands, PE


March 2nd, 2018

After spending the morning doing chores and using the internet, we “shut down” and began heading inland to the Andes. It was a long distance to our first “destination” so we broke up the drive by arriving at a rest stop/gas station in the lower mountains not near any villages about 50km/30m before Jaén. We hit some heavy fog for about a half hour and some light rain enroute.

Here they have a restaurant (where we had dinner), bathrooms and cold showers but no internet. Fran could get a weak signal on her cell phone but we gotta get used to not being connected as access will be limited in the Andes we understand, especially . There was a little church/school at this rest stop and we donated a bunch of coloured pencils and small pads of paper to the man in charge. They reciprocated by giving us fresh juice and animal crackers like the kids were getting at the time.

Friday morning, we drove into Jaén to get propane, gasoline and groceries before completing our drive to the tiny village of Gocta where the Gocta Waterfall is located – near the edge of the Peruvian Amazon. The drive was quite pretty and the road was good. We arrived in the midafternoon and were told that the last hike to the waterfalls is allowed at two and we were happy to spend the night here on their little square (with bathrooms and a cold shower if you are brave!) and go to the falls in the morning. We were able to walk to the beginning of the trail at the ticket booth, where there was amazing views of the 771m/2530′ high falls – formerly the third highest in the world after Angel Falls in Venezuela and Tugela Falls in South Africa (the latter of which we saw back in 1986!) but in 2007 they discovered here in Peru and not very far away, a higher waterfall that descends in four leaps. We looked into going to see that one but could not get enough information about whether you could actually get a view of the entire height of the falls, so we passed.

We also arranged to take horses on the hike in the morning instead of walking due to the fact we’d heard it was quite a muddy trail and slippery when it’s raining and it would be something different. We did get some short showers that evening but nothing overnight.

We had arranged for an 8am start time with a local woman with two horses, but when she did not show up (her husband did and said she’d be along soon) we found other horses (actually one was a donkey!) and we set off about 8:15. We also rented rubber boots as we were told that there was a section we had to walk near the end and it would save our shoes.

The trail had many stairs in the beginning section with a muddy side and then it was lots of muddy sections but did not seem as bad as we’d figured but with all the ups and downs of the trail, we were happy to be on horseback and not slipping our way along.

Turns out the horses only go just beyond the 3km/2m market and you walk to the rest of the way to the end, more less just over 2km. That section of the trail was not dry but also not super muddy.

You eventually reach the base of the falls and from there can actually only see the bottom section of them. They fall in two leaps, one of 221m and one of 550m. It’s pretty spectacular.

We met three people on the trail, a woman and two young men. She, Corina, is a tour guide in Cuzco and we chatted for a bit. They had not been told you could take horses or rent boots and they were disappointed.

We stayed at the base for about 15 minutes and walked back to our “rides”. We were back at Tigger before 11:30 and on the way back met lots of people heading down, about half on horseback and half walking.

We left Gocta and began the drive to Karajia – a site of ancient sarcophagi. At the turn off the highway the road was closed for about another hour for construction – even though today was Sunday.

We had lunch inside and as usual, men gathered around the spare tire of Tigger to touch it!  When  the road opened, we made our way to Karajia – it was only 34km/21 m but it was all dirt road and took an hour and a half. We found the visitor’s centre and registered to do the hike down to the site. That took about twenty minutes as it was all downhill, and then it took double that to come back up as Fran was really struggling with the altitude – we are now at 2700m/8850’.

It was an interesting site to see and still have a fair bit of the original colours on them. The seven sarcophagi stand up to 2.5 meters tall, are constructed of clay, sticks and grasses, with exaggerated jawlines. Their inaccessible location high above a river gorge has preserved them from destruction by looters. They have been radiocarbon dated to the 15th century, coincident with the Incan conquest of the Chachapoya people in the 1470s.

We got back to Tigger before four and decided to stay the night and relax parked on the two square.  The visitors centre had advised it was flat and safe (and obviously with no services). A bunch of kids were around and we gave out lots of little gifts and Doug made balloon animals (for which, as happens, lot of other kids kept appearing for). We could see how much joy the kids had for the balloons; genuine laughter, big smiles, they all said “gracias” and the little ones especially were so protectiveof their new possession.  We spent a quiet night and in the morning while making breakie a couple of kids returned and one had a pet parrot named Coco.  Two of the children we’d given gifts/made balloons for brought us bags with freshly dug potatoes as a thank you!  We’ll be eating potatoes for a few days…..

We began the 34 km drive back to the highway only to discover the road was closed again and we’d have to wait 2.5 hours for it to open! It seems they open it about four times a day for less than half an hour each time.  Doug went for a walk and Fran caught up on photos and blogging.

We are finding the people in the highlands much friendlier than on the coast and there is hardly any garbage around. We actually saw kids putting garbage into a receptacle! There are hardly any roadside garbage “dumps” and lots more bins for trash; this all makes the mountains much more enjoyable. There is still a lot of evidence of clearcutting from days gone by but we think that is changing too.

“If you don’t find a garbage can, keep your bag until you find one”

Once the road reopened we made our way to the small city of Chachapoyas about which we’d heard some nice things. There seemed to be one spot that allowed larger rigs to park and with all the road construction in the city and the narrow one way streets, we could not make it there. We decided to park and take a walk in El Centro anyway and after that (with the entire central square also under construction) we decided to leave and push on down the highway. Chachapoyas seems to be more of a jumping off point for many of the attractions in the area which we plan to drive to anyway.

So we made our way to Nuevo Tingo; a small, quiet, cute and clean village to spend a couple of nights and do a day trip to the Kuelap Ruins. The drive here was spectacular; river, mountains and lots of sun poking through a good amount of the time. It’s the PE-08B highway and it’s slightly wider than one lane but paved and not too pot holey – much better than the PanAm on the coast.

There are occasional pullouts to allow vehicles by you but there is not a lot of traffic. You pass through a few small villages and everyone is quick to return a smile and a wave. We handed out lots of pencils and little gifts to the children we encountered.

The hostel we were looking for did not seem to have any signage and the building we thought it was looked abandoned so we asked at the hotel across the street if we could park outside and use the amenities. Magna say certainly and she set us with a room to use the bathroom in (not the bed, she stressed!) and gave us the wifi password. Her husband is the town mayor and their hotel is the tallest building in town (four stories) with magnificent view on the top floor. They have a gym and are going to put in a rooftop pool and a disco!


We went for a walk and met a couple of backpackers, she from Spain and he from Colombia. We had a quiet night and the next morning we tried to get stuff done on the internet as we’d been “disconnected” for a few days. Around 11 we decided to see about getting to Kuelap and checked with Magna; she advised going in the early mornings was better as you had more time and the last cable car back was at 3. We decided to walk up the station anyway and discovered the last car is at 3:30 not 3 and that we could catch the next bus to the cable car in two minutes and we figured, since we are fast walkers we’d have enough time.

So you pay your S20 (about $7) and get on a small bus for a ten minute drive to the cable car station (this just opened a little over a year before) and then it’s a 22 minute cable car ride up to the ruins site.

It began to rain just before we got on the cable car and persisted for about 45 minutes. We got quite wet! When you disembark you purchase your tickets for the site and then have to walk  2.5km mostly uphill and it rained the whole way. There were a few covered spots where people were waiting out the rain but we already wet and our time was a bit limited due to our late start.

The Kuelap Ruins are pre-Incan and very impressive. They are located at 3000m/9843′  on the top of the mountain with magnificent views (if we could have seen far enough!). The fort walls here are up to 20m/70’ tall and there are lots of remains of homes, a couple of towers and a temple that had a bottle shaped centre into which the sun shone only four times a year. We were impressed.

It stopped raining after we’d been up there about fifteen minutes and it made it much more pleasant to walk around. There is a set path you follow to see the site and they are doing lots more excavations.

The most impressive and main access point was under restoration so we could only see it under scaffolding.

Photo of a billboard at the park entrance showing Access 1:
We walked back down after over an hour up there, had a snack at the café which has a nice view of the cable car and then went back on the 2:30ish ride. So we had enough time. When we got off the bus it was once again raining, and we saw another overlanding rig in the parking lot there with Oregon plates.  We left them our card in the window letting them know where we were.

KP and Taylor joined us at the hotel about ten minutes after we got back. We chatted with them over beers in Tigger and then agreed to travel together tomorrow.  They are a young couple in their early thirties and KP is super mechanical.  They have a Silverado 2500 like us – the same year, just a different engine.  Their camper is a slide in which KP has tweeked big time and they are living comfortably in it.  They fly home for a few months every summer to work some to continue this overlanding lifestyle.

This morning was not a quiet morning as there were a lot of heavy trucks arriving at the hotel for breakfast. After hot showers we hit the road with KP and Taylor and made our way to the small town of Leymebamba to see a mummy museum.

The four of us toured the museum where there are 219 Chachapoyas mummies (its own civilization in this region eventually conquered by the Incas) found in 1996 at the nearby Laguna de Los Condores. They are said to be over five hundred years old.

As it was still morning we decided to join KP & Taylor and push on further down the scenic road and get halfway the city of Cajamarca westward in the mountains. We got back in our rigs and continued on the very scenic road upon to over 3500m/11483′ and back down to 800m/2625′ before beginning to climb once again.

A few videos that better show the spectacular scenery:



This was a great decision as the ride was quite beautiful, the weather held and we made it to a new spot we could put on iOverlander with 360 views of the mountains around us. We called it the “720 view” as the spot we had intended to go to was lower down and we thought the views were twice as good up here.  We got out our chairs, some cold beer and stay in the shade of Tigger’s awning.  There were some tiny black bugs out but they disappeared at sunset and there were no mosquitoes (and of course, no services; not even a cell signal).

We joined in together making dinner; Taylor made pasta sauce with her ground beef and leftover onions and peppers to which we add two jars of sauce and some garlic. Fran made a huge pot of pasta; we contributed our bottle of Tequila from Barna to KP to make up some nice limey drinks. It was a beautiful starry night and we had some great company to share the location and swap stories with.

Thursday morning we made our way together to Cajamarca by early afternoon; the road continued to be quite scenic until Celendin where we topped up our gas tanks and they highway turned into a very good two lane paved road.  We found a parking lot in the city of Cajamarca to spend at least that night after hitting the mall for groceries.  Mari had bathrooms, with a hot shower and internet for about $3.15 per vehicle per night.

We had lunch and then made our way into El Centro to check out the three highlights of this city. Turned out two of them were closed until three so we made our way up the pedestrian street to the stairs on the top of the hill at Santa Apolonia where on top the rock that Atahualpa (last leader of the Incas) apparently sat to think.

Atahualpo’s thinking chair

This town has a lovely colonial El Centro and a beautifully landscaped and maintained Plaza de Armas. The city is clean and the people are friendly. The temperatures are spring like in the low 20C’s/70F’s and it cools off nicely at night. March is the end of the rainy season so many days there are showers but so far (knock wood) no full days of rain.

We walked back to the square and found the Cuarto de Rescarte (Ransom Room), got a Spanish guide inside (between the four of us, we managed to glean most of what he said) and learned about the final battle between the Incas and the Spanish here in Peru. In this room, legend has it that Atahualpa, one of the most powerful leaders of the Incas ever, was forced by the conquistadors to fill the room with gold and silver to save his life, although in reality it is probably just the room in which he was held captive for seven months and eight days in late 1532.

History Lesson – The end of the Incan Empire:

When the Spaniard, Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca on November 15, 1532, he sent a messenger to the Incan leader, Atahualpa, proposing they meet in the main plaza. Pizarro decided to send a friar, de Valverder, along with an interpreter to speak with Atahualpa. The next day, on November 16, 1532, Friar de Valverde presented himself to Atahualpa and explained through the interpreter the mysteries of Catholic religion, and that, on account of their heathenism, the pope had granted Atahualpa’s kingdom to the Spain. Atahualpa professed not to understand this and would not resign his kingdom, saying he would “be no man’s tributary.” Upon hearing this, the friar gave a Bible to Atahualpa, who, after merely observing it and turning a few pages, threw the book on the floor. Atahualpa then demanded a full account of the presence of the Spaniards in his land. At this point Pizarro and his forces decided to come out on horseback with guns, causing many of Atahualpa’s army to flee upon hearing the sounds of artillery and arquebus. Many natives died as they tried to fight against the better-armed Spaniards. Thereafter, Pizarro went on to look for Atahualpa himself, who was shielded by his faithful nobles who, in the end, were also captured by the Spaniards (legend has it that there were over 2000 Incas to 168 Spanish).

It was during this time that Atahualpa gave orders for the execution of his half-brother, Huascar, whom he believed was an obstacle to his ruling of the empire. Atahualpa gave these orders, hoping to prevent Pizarro from carrying out his threat to “determine which of the two had best title to the sceptre of the Incas.”

After the battle of Cajamarca, (according to legend) Pizarro had Atahualpa captured and offered him his freedom if he filled the room where he was kept prisoner with gold and the two following rooms with silver, up to the level of the reach of his arm. The room was 6.70 m (22 feet) long and 5.18 m wide (17 feet) long, while the red line marking the height of the Inca’s reach, was 2.75 m (9 feet) high. The total collection of the gold, after being melted down into standard ingots, and before division amongst the Spaniards, amounted to 1,326,539 pesos de oro, worth 15,500,000 in 1847 US dollars. The silver amounted to 51,610 marks. Some of the most beautiful articles were saved for the emperor’s royal fifth, which included vases, imitations of plants and animals, and a fountain.

The Inca now demanded to be set free. Diego de Almagro, demanded the leader’s death, claiming it was necessary for peace and in the interests of the Spanish crown, although Pizarro was reluctant. Pizarro finally conceded to a trial, acting as a judge alongside Almagro. The twelve charges included usurpation of the crown, assassination of his brother Huáscar, squandering public revenues, idolatry, adultery, and attempting to incite an insurrection. He was found guilty and sentenced to be burned alive that night. Friar de Valverde, signed the judgement stating, “in his opinion, the Inca, at all events, deserved death.”

Atahualpa turned to Pizarro and exclaimed, “What have I done, or my children, that I should meet such a fate? And from your hands, too, you, who have met with friendship and kindness from my people, with whom I have shared my treasures, who have received nothing but benefits from my hands!”

Two hours after sunset on 29 Aug. 1533, the Incan was prepared to be burned at the stake, when Friar de Valverde offered death by garrote, if Atahualpa would consent to be baptized. The prisoner agreed, assuming the name Juan de Atahualpa, in honor of John the Baptist. His last requests to Pizarro were that his remains be transported to Quito, and that he have compassion on his children.

After Atahualpa was executed, the end of the “Tahuantinsuyo” Inca Empire”  was near, with the Spanish conquest of Peru.

looking into the room – you can see the marker on the wall showing how high to fill the room with gold to

Now we wandered up the Belén Complex designed in the Baroque style which was both a church and a hospital back in the 18th century. Now the women’s hospital is a museum and the men’s part of the hospital is used for expositions of which there was a photo one going on today. The church is very well maintained and lavish but no photos are allowed. You could actually see the little alcoves where the patient beds were found.

(interior pics off the web)

KP & Taylor suggested an ice cream to which we could not object and then we walked back to Tigger while they went out for dinner.

Friday morning after breakie and showers, KP & Taylor left to continue to the coast; she has a flight home for a couple of weeks in early April so they have to make their way to Lima by then. We left the parking lot to move to another spot closer to the airport that is supposed to have fast Wi-Fi and enroute stopped to run a few errands; Tigger appeared to have a short in the left brake light so we stopped at an electrician and he fixed that up in quick order; we also stopped to try and find a new bulb for our passenger side daytime running light but had no luck that day (we came back a coupe of days later and they had them – they had to physically look at the light bulb); then Doug had noticed that maybe the left front wheel bearing was causing issues and KP had suggested it might just need lubrication so a local found at a lubrication shop took us to a place to have that done and Doug also had them look at the Gennie which was having slow starting issues again and probably needed the carb cleaned.

They told us that the wheel bearing looked good and tightened the tire and at this point said they could not lube it so we were taken to another place that could but wouldn’t look at doing it until the truck was washed…..that took ALL afternoon!

We arrived at Ricardo’s place in the late afternoon. He is not in town but his wife and daughters helped us get set up and yes, the internet was pretty fast.  There is a bathroom for our use, a washer AND dryer but no showers.

Doug decided it was time to replace the rear shocks but knew it would be difficult to find good shocks in Peru. After much research into options involving expensive shipping to Peru from the US, with the help of a friendly campsite host in Cajamarca (Ricardo) some Rancho 9000s were found in Lima, for only a little more than they cost in the US, but it was questionable whether they would fit, given all the mods to Tigger. As the vender offered our money back if they didn’t fit and the shipping cost was only the equivalent of 7$ he ordered them and they arrived the next day. He took them to a local garage we’d worked with days before. Doug was watching the work on both sides of the truck and before he knew it they’d started to modify one of the shocks (complicating our ability to return them), then they discovered there was no way they were going to fit. Time for some good old (but stressful) Latin American ingenuity. They proposed swapping the heads (both ends) of the old shocks with the new ones. So, a stressful few hours and subsequent days were spent firstly sawing and welding the shocks and then monitoring them over many miles of terrible roads, but lo and behold – they work!

measuring the shocks before ordering

Now it seems we have the back window leak figured out so Doug began working on removing Tigger’s molding, cleaning and resealing it before replacing the molding back at the campsite; that was an all day job!

Ricardo has a dump station here (not very often we found them since Mexico; once in Costa Rica and once in Cuenca) so Fran worked on that, some cleaning and odd jobs before working on this blog…..

We think we’ll stay another two nights here as the internet is good and we can get laundry done tomorrow.  Elsa let Fran use her washer (which was a little smaller than normal) and she did two loads including bedding and tried to dry them in her dryer but it never seemed to stay on all that long; she kept having to go back and turn it on and then hung out the half dry stuff from the second load to dry outside – that was pretty fast with the breeze.

Some shots from Cajamarca:


moto taxi here
lady sits on sidewalk selling stuff
the traditional hat around here
Not quite the Hard Rock…..
Pretty rainbow on our last night at this campground