On the map, there was not any road from Celendín to Leymebamba, but I had decided to follow this alternative route despite the unknown. This was the first time I would cross the Andes mountain range by land, and the purpose was to travel all over the kingdom of the Chachapoyas culture (on my way back, I would take the recommended route Chachapoyas – Chiclayo passing by the warm Bagua).
Upon arrival in Cajamarca at 9:30am, I got to know that the latest buses bound to Celendín had departed at 9am. Fortunately, anyway! I walked around this quiet city for the third time in my life. Thus, I took a hot shower at the Baños del Inca, visited the Inca Atahualpa´s Cuarto del Rescate, and hiked the Santa Apolonia hill from where I had a great view of the city with her beautiful churches such as Recoleta, Belén, San Francisco and the cathedral. By the way, my stomach would remember all along the trip the dinner I ate that afternoon.
Once at Celendín, I found that there was an unpaved road to Leymebamba. But, the bus would depart in two days. And the worst: at 6pm. Eventually, I and six locals were lucky enough to catch a truck next morning at around 8am. After reaching the top of a tall mountain, I was able to watch the Marañon River at the bottom of the valley. On the other side, there was a wall of clouds and mist that signaled the entrance to the rain forest. Travelling on a truck until 10pm was an awesome experience.
Leymebamba was surrounded by the Utcubamba River and it had two highlights: the 3-day trek to the Laguna de los Muertos and the Museum at Centro Mallqui. This museum was worth the 3-km walk from town since it was modern and guarded, among other things, dozens of mummies that were found at the Laguna. I could not afford to pay the trek, though. My stomach got worse so I only ate some fruit.
All along this route, there were small archaeological sites where the Chachapoyas people used to bury their deads. Thus, I had the chance to sightsee La Congona and Óllape. They both featured diamond-shaped friezes that were also present at other sites. However, they also liked to build unique cemeteries on the edge of high hills. One of the most famous was Revash. Asking directions to locals, most of them told me the nearest town to that site was the town of San Bartolo, so I just headed for it.
San Bartolo was a very small town with only dozens of houses that surrounded her main square. There was not any inn or hostel, but fortunately I got shelter at one home. The owner Mr Rolando Calderon offered himself to be my guide the next morning. After having soup and bread as breakfast, we walked a narrow path toward a huge mountain. Little by little, I was able to see the sarcophagus almost hanging on the hill. I could not help feeling afraid on this cliff.
By then, my stomach was so sick that I had to look for medical assistance. So, instead of getting down at the town of Tingo in order to hike to the archaeological complex of Kuelap, I decided to go straight to Chachapoyas, the capital of the department of Amazonas. Most of this department is in the highlands region and only 20 or 30% belongs to the Amazon basin, but most people get confused as they think the Amazon River passes by here and that is incorrect.
I stayed in Chachapoyas four long days in order to recover my health. However, I could not help making short trips to the province of Rodrigo de Mendoza and to the town of Limabamba. Just the landscape was worth the effort, though I would only recommend these places for the real traveler.
Acknowledgement: I want to thank Lithuanian journalist Kristina Stalnionyte for her pictures. She was in Peru last year. I traveled around Chachapoyas in 2006.
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