Wednesday 12 August

(magnify) Nelson

As predicted I am woken by a cockerel at four in the morning and toss and turn a few times before getting back to sleep. I wake again at a more reasonable hour with a sore throat and a stiff back.

After our usual breakfast we begin walking. Alicia is anxious that since today is a hard trekking day we should ride the mules for at least part of the time. But we begin on foot. The small black dog that adopted us yesterday is still with us as we climb gradually out of the village, and we have decided to christen him Paddington.

The sunshine is bright this morning and it is hot. A narrow path takes us around the edge of the valley. When it starts to climb steeply we finally get on the mules, I think much to Alicia’s relief. I am quite happy to do so because I feel quite tired, but Rachel finds the saddle rather uncomfortable. They certainly are impressive beasts the way that they scramble up the steep slope but it pays to hold on tightly.

(magnify) Cacahuasha

Nelson stops us somewhere at the base of a hill and here we leave the mules, continuing on foot. The path is quite narrow and overgrown but we have a few excellent (though fleeting) views of the valley.

Presently we reach a small shack. Alicia explains that the guardian of the ruins used to live here, but now that he is in his eighties he has decided to move down into the town. No one seems to have jumped at the opportunity to take up the vacancy…

(magnify) Wall at Cacahuasha

The path from here on up is incredibly steep and Nelson has to clear the way with his machete. Near the top of the densely-wooded pyramidal peak we reach the first wall of the city, Cacahuasha. There are fewer houses here than at most other sites – experts think that it was more likely to have been a ceremonial site than a village.

We climb up between walls to the highest house, where there are two large rocks that could have been used for grinding corn. The undergrowth is thick around us and there are no views as such. The ruins themselves are slowly deteriorating; as we descend we pass under a very unsteady section of wall and there is a fallen tree that Nelson tells us was not there a couple of months ago.

(magnify) Cacahuasha

We have lunch back where we left the mules – chicken and rice much like the rice of Rachel’s Arroz con Pato a few days ago in Chiclayo. Paddington does an Oscar-winning performance of ‘poor faithful dog; nobody feeds me’ and gains the leftovers as his reward.

Guardian’s shack

We part walk and part ride to tonight’s campsite high in the hills above the valley. The mules are simply amazing. It is a slightly surreal experience being carried almost smoothly along a path with transverse ruts so deep that the mules’ bellies barely clear the ground as they carefully pick their footsteps from rut to rut. The only problem is that my stirrups keep grounding and I have difficulty keeping my feet in place.

The steep parts are a bit uncomfortable, and the mules tend to go for the edges of the path, which means being brushed by branches at regular intervals.

But it is with great alarm that I notice my mule is heading directly for a tunnel of overhanging bamboo. I realise that I cannot stop or turn her and so I hang on grimly as we plunge underneath.

It rapidly becomes clear to me that I am not going to remain in-saddle and I attempt as dignified an exit as is possible under the circumstances by hanging onto a bunch of branches while the mule continues from under me. This does not entirely have the desired effect, in that I am left hanging upside down in the mud, completely disoriented and quite unable to get up. I cannot say that either Rachel or Alicia are any help at this point, though in their case incapacity seems to be brought upon by uncontrollable laughter.

When I finally do struggle to my feet I realise that my glasses have been knocked from my head, but by a small miracle I find them in the mud right next to me. Fortunately the only damage is to my dignity.

It is not much further to the campsite, and I manage to get back in the saddle for the last bit.

(magnify) View from the campsite

We are at a beautiful house with well-tended gardens set high up on a ridge surrounded by cloud forest. It is a quite stunning location, and here I have my first proper wash of the expedition in a bowl of cold water on a wooden table overlooking the valley, cloud mingling with the tree-tops and the first orange rays of dusk lighting the horizon.

There are two local dogs here – Chester, light beige and of similar size to Paddington, and Princessa, a small rat-like creature. Chester gets very jealous of the attention that we give to Paddington.