A five hour hike up to an ancient Citadel

Trip Start Oct 08, 2007
Trip End Mar 26, 2008

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Tingo is the tiniest town that I have spent a significant amount of time in so far.  It is on a bumpy dirt road about 2 hours from Chachapoyas.  The main road that goes through the town is home to two bodegas, a restaurant, and a family run hospedaje.  Like most small towns in the interior of Peru, the homes in Tingo are made mostly of adobe, which gives the scenery a very drab feel.
At any rate, we had gone to Tingo not for the town itself, but for the ruins called Kuelap, which lie 10 km away, and 1200 meters up- Kuelap rivals Machu Piccu in size and grandeur, but Machu Piccu wins hands down for convenience, as Kuelap can only be reached by foot from Tingo.
The first 3 hours of the climb were slightly demoralizing, as the scenery changes little, and the peak of the mountain seemed to get further away from us the more we walked.  The best part about that part of the trail was that as it zig zagged back and forth, someone who had come before us had carved out many shortcuts that went off the actual trail, and although they were much steeper in height, walking off the beaten path into the bushwhacked unknown made me feel like a real outlaw.
After three hours of the climb, I was extremely surprised to see a village appear, close to the highest point of the mountain.  The houses were far apart at first, but eventually became closer together, and there were lots of locals in sight, especially little kids playing together on the dirt path, and older kids leading around horses and livestock.  The residents of the village are indigenous people, and are descendants of the people who built Kuelap, long before the Incas came into power in Peru.  At any rate, the villagers appeared to be completely self sufficient, as there was no road leading up to their land, just the brutal path that ascended the whole way.  As isolated as they were, the residents of Kuelap were by far the nicest of people that I had met on our trip, and were clearly accustomed to seeing gringos, as everyone that we passed smiled and said hello to us.
The ruins themselves were fascinating and impressive, and it was difficult to imagine that up here on the mountain once lived a thriving community of over 3,600 people.  The ruins of Kuelap consisted of a North Town and a South Town, both of which could only be reached by entrance through a 3 story high stone wall that is wide enough to fit only one person at a time.  All of the houses were round in shape, and there was also a few kitchens, and a massive lookout tower.  I was pleased to find that all of the restoration of the ruins was being done by the locals, who seemed to have a sense of community around the treasure that their village possessed.
The other really cool thing about Kuelap was that it was built in a cloud forest, which means that there were ideal growing conditions for all kinds of really fantastic plants, including giant red orchards that covered all of the trees and grew out of holes in the ruins.
The down side of being in a cloud forest is that it rains all of the time, and it started raining especially hard just as we were getting ready to leave.  I didn't mind walking back down the mountain in the rain, but the rain made the ground more slippery than silk, and I tried my hardest to stay balanced until we got low enough to be out of the cloud forest, but because of all the mud I really just slid the whole way down until it got dry again.  There were a few falls, and a shed tear or two on my part, but it was totally worth it to see the ruins and the way that people live in seclusion from the rest of the world.
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