Friday 14 August

It is not a good night. I have a cold; my nose is running and I cannot stop tossing and turning. This and the narrow blanket makes it hard for Rachel to sleep.

We emerge in the morning quite bleary-eyed. We are up in time to say thank you and goodbye to Nelson and Andreas, who are about to begin the trek back home. Poor Paddington really is not sure whether to go with them or to stay with us. I discretely walk back round the corner and this seems to help him to make up his mind. Nelson improvises a lead from a piece of string to make sure. The last I see is him happily trotting alongside the mules.

We drive to Kuélap. I am not really quite with it and the walk from the car park up to the ridge feels like a bit of a slog. Our first glimpse of the outer wall in no way prepares us for the true scale of the ruins.

Left:
(magnify) Watch tower
Right:
(magnify) City wall

Alicia begins by leading us almost the full length of the structure, past the royal entrance and to the commoners’ entrance some distance beyond. The entrance is a long ramp up through a narrow gap in the thick outer wall. The passage narrows to a point just a single person wide. It would be quite impossible for an enemy to get up here uninvited.

Left:
Commoners’ entrance
Centre:
(magnify) Commoners’ entrance
Right:
(magnify) Stone walls

Inside the structure we slowly begin to get a feel of the immense scale. There are curved walls and platforms in all directions. The curved walls are the bases of round houses. Although this part of the site has been largely cleared there are still some trees left, festooned with moss and bromeliads.

There are superb views over the surrounding valleys on both sides and a watch tower guards each end of the fortress. Alicia guides us expertly through, giving lots of detail about the type of construction and occasional decorative motifs. I do get the distinct feeling though that some of the interpretation of the various symbols is little more than guesswork.

Left:
(magnify) View over the valley
Right:
(magnify) Inside Kuélap
Left:
(magnify) Round houses
Right:
(magnify) Reconstructed house
Left:
Diamond motif
Right:
(magnify) View from Kuélap

We almost have the place to ourselves. There are two, perhaps three, other groups to occasionally get in the way of our photographs!

Unlike Machu Picchu, of which something like eighty per cent is reconstructed, most of Kuélap is as it was when it was found, albeit much cleared of vegetation and with earth dug out to reveal some structures that had become buried. Recently archaeologists discovered that a wall leading from the main excavated site into undergrowth further along the ridge to the south is not in fact just a short unfinished spur, but may enclose a further area something like three times what has already been uncovered.

Left:
(magnify) Red bromeliads
Centre:
(magnify) Royal entrance
Right:
In the royal entrance

We return to the car and drive to the nearest town for lunch, but I do not manage to eat much. From there we return to the lodge to pick up our bags and then continue to Chachapoyas. On the way we stop several times to look at more sarcophaguses and a brick mausoleum perched high on the tall cliffs surrounding the valley we are driving along.

(magnify) Sarcophaguses near Chachapoyas

We reach Chacha mid-afternoon and check into the Casa Monsante Hotel. The room is rather dark and has a very high ceiling – Rachel does not like it at all, but we do not really have a choice.

There are occasional fire crackers being let off in the street outside. Apparently August 14 is a national holiday.

Alicia has recommended dinner at La Lushpa, where we opt for a grill for two. It is not the best quality but most delicious nevertheless. The owner works extremely hard, waiting on all of the tables by himself.

Back at the hotel, we are really not sure that we want to stay here for another four nights as booked. The bed is uncomfortable, the room is dark, and there is nowhere comfortable to sit and chill out. We start thinking of other plans.