Arrived in Chachapoyas at 5am- amazingly, the bus was early. It would be of course, when it means I arrive in the dark, something I try to avoid. Still there's a tourist tout, who proposes walking me the hundred yards to one of the hotels I was interested in anyway and coming back to collect me for a tour to Keulap at 0830. Keulap, which the call the Machu Picchu of the north, is pretty remote and the only bus I know of that goes there leaves at 0430- tomorrow. So it seems like this will save me a lot of time and hassle. I check into the (lovely comfy) hotel and crash out for a few hours.
When he arrives, with the taxi and the three other people who want to go to Keulap today, the story has changed. The price has gone down, but the taxi won't bring me back because the other people want to walk the 8km from Keulap to the village of Tingo and catch the bus back. Fine with me, I could do with a stroll. En route, it turns out that the others didn't actually ask to return under their own steam, they were told they had no choice. Lie number one doesn't seem like a big deal. Like I said, I could do with a stroll.
Lie number two comes when we arrive Keulap two hours of dirt roads later. We were supposed to have paid for a guide, instead the driver hands me 10 sols and tells me to pay the guide with that. 10 sols is about 3 dollars, far too little. Ho hum, it's only money, we'll pay the guide ourselves. And we do, cos he's worth it. He, Rigoberto Jose he's called, spends two hours walking us around the site and telling us all about it, and though not a great deal is known, he's pretty well informed, having worked with the archaeologists investigating the site. It's a huge oval fort perched on the top of a mountain, with earthquake resistant walls twelve metres high. Inside are over 400 round houses, along with other structres like calendars and watchtowers. There are also three or four rectangular buildings, built by the Incas after they conquered the place, probably by seige cos it'd be almost impossible to take it by force. The Inca conquest came only shortly before the Spanish one, when the local people backed the Spanish against the Incas. If they hadn't, and both peoples had fought the Spaniards, history might have been very different.
Like I say, they call it the Machu Picchu of the north, and though it isn't quite as impressive as MP, in some ways it's much nicer. For starters, it's almost deserted. While MP has hundreds of visitors every day, at Kuelap there were the four of us, four German hikers and a party of Peruvian students. And it hasn't been cleaned up like MP, so the cloud forest, with its trees dripping with bromeliads, which has moved in since the city was abandonded -noone knows why- a few hundred years ago, is still there. It all makes for a much nicer atmosphere.
By the time we've looked around, it's mid afternoon and time to go. But one of our party, a Peruvian woman, doesn't want to walk. The Germans's aren't keen either, having hiked all the way up there already. But the chap leading the Peruvian group says we can probably fit into their lorry, so we all troop down about a kilometre to where it is parked, to be turned down by the lorry driver. In the end he agrees to take one of the hikers, who is sick. But the rest of us have to go back up over the crest of the mountain to reach the path to Tingo.
This waste of time means it's 4.20 when we set off and it'll be dark about 6.30, so we have to move. Unfortunately, the trail, though beautiful, is pretty rough, and the Peruvian woman and a young German girl just aren't making the pace. We stop for them time and again but in the end the hikers say they can't wait any more and given that they know the way and I don't I'm not sticking around to get lost on a mountainside in the dark. Normally out walking I would carry a torch, but when I left the hotel this morning, I thought we were going to be driven there and back so I didn't bring one. I comfort myself that the guide said he was coming down that way himself later, so he'll probably catch them up soon.
We give up on the zig-zag trail, too slow, and head down narrower paths which lead more steeply down. It's a good thing. We make it off the mountain and to the flat(tish) road to Tingo just as darkness falls. There are no lights of course and it's cloudy tonight, so no moon. As we arrive at the village at 7pm I see a sign to Kuelap, 9.8km. So that was lie no 3, our 8km walk turned out to be a 10km hike. Damned good thing it didn't rain.
On the edge of the village is a police post and we tell them about the girls, but they just say, they're in no danger. I agree, it won't be that cold at night and even if they haven't got the guide with them and haven't taken refuge in one of the huts we saw higher up, they won't die of exposure. Still, we wait, none of us wants to just go back to Chachapoyas without them. Finally, about an hour later, a local brings them in, footsore and tearstained. Thye got lost in the dark and screamed for help until he and his wife came across the river and rescued them.
So all reunited, our only problem is how to get from Tingo back to Chacha. There might have been transport earlier, though given the amoount of BS we've been fed today, it's anyone's guess. The bottom line though, is that now there ain't none and the girls' rescuers steps into the breach again and agrees to drive us back to Chacha, two hours away. We finally get back at about 10.20 and we go find Carlos, the guy in charge of the tour and read him the riot act, not that he gives a damn. Then the girls limp off, leaving the rest of us, who, apart from being a bit worried about them, have had a thoroughly good day, to go for steak and chips and a coupe of nice big glasses of rum.