Chachas to Cajamarca

Trip Start Nov 10, 2007
Trip End Nov 15, 2009

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Where I stayed
Inca Hostal

Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My next stop on my circuit through northern Peru was Cajamarca.  Getting there, however, would not be easy.  I could take a collectivo back to Pedro Ruiz and from there a bus to Chiclayo where I would change to Cajamarca.  This is the main route and is mostly paved.  However, there is an alternate shorter route that would take 12 hours by car...crossing the 3678 meter pass called Abra de Barra Negro (Black Mud Pass), plunging down to the valley of the Rio Maraņon (which flows into the Amazon) and up again over a 3085 meter pass and on to Celendin and Cajamarca.  There is public transport on this route but not every day so it would take a few days that I didn't want to spend.  I asked Egnar, the very amiable owner of the tour agency that took me to Kuelap, if he could arrange a car for this trip.  Another reason to take this route was that it passes through the town of Leimebamba where there is a new museum displaying artifacts found at a burial site near there.  Near?  Well, it takes 8 hours on horseback to get there!
Egnar arranged for a van because he decided he'd like to take his wife and young son to Cajamarca as well.  We left at 6 a.m. and made it to Leimebamba  by 8:30.  There we ate some breakfast before heading to the museum.
In 1996, a group of farmers stumbled across 6 chullpas (ancient Andean burial grounds) on a ledge 100 meters above the forest floor.  This site contained over 200 mummies and 2000 other artifacts.  The museum is beautiful and we were guided through 4 rooms where we saw ceramics, textiles, woodwork, tool and musical instruments as well as the mummies.  Egnar demonstrated the use of the conch shell as a means of communicating from, for example, Kuelap and her military outposts.
It would have been easy to get this far by public transport but the stretch between Leimebamba and Balsas is traveled very infrequently.  Once we started out it was obvious why.  The narrow, muddy road carved into the mountainside climbed steadily and precariously up this amazing landscape.  This part of the road crosses the Black Mud Pass and then plunges (and I do mean plunges!) back down to the Rio Maraņon and the town of Balsas where we would eat lunch.  This valley reminded me very much of western Colorado: dry canyon and muddy river.  Totally different from the wet cloud forest we had some from!
At Balsas on the river, we had our lunch break.  There is not much here but we managed to find a funky place that served lunch.  I needed to use the bathroom which was in a narrow hallway next to the dining area.  As I entered through he curtain, I was startled by a chicken - equally startled - tied up in there.  Lunch?  I had the pork.
From Balsas the road climbs once again, but this time the landscape was much drier with a variety of cactus and a background of tan colored grasses.  There was more traffic on this stretch and we passed several buses and trucks.  Still no private cars though.  We came to the town of Celendin at about 3 o'clock.  We were dropped off at the plaza while the driver sought lunch.  We drank a few beers before we were picked up for the final stretch to Cajamarca.  I have to say this was the worst stretch of the trip.  Most o the road until this point was narrow and scary, but this stretch was pure potholes and my insides could barely take the constant slamming and bouncing.  Finally we saw the lights of Cajamarca and I knew it would be over soon...
Rough as it was, it was an absolutely amazing trip and I'm so glad I did it.  But I have to admit, I did not envy Egnar and his family who would make the trip back two days later...once was enough!
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