This is Elise. We are in a very remote area of Peru. It took us two days to drive here from southern Ecuador. Chachapoyas is a cute town that cateres to the tourists that have the time and patience to get here. I had heard it is a good base of operations to see the surrounding ruins like Kuelap. After two days of driving on hazardous roads so far from populated areas we had a hard time finding bathrooms and gas stations, we arrived to find the water will be off in the whole town for the next 10 days and the sights we want to see are two hours away. No running water! Two hours one way to see Kuelap! I had one of those, "Why the hell are we here moments?" and had a good cry.
Although they do only have sporadic hot water, I have found that the tap does have water most of the time even if they are doing major work on the water lines. Yes, it really was two hours to get to Kuelap. It was such a white knuckle ride that my hands and arms are sore from gripping the car seat so tightly. Mike has pictures in another blog post.
One of the sights around here is Gocta Falls. Some say it is the third highest in the world, others say it is the 15th. I guess it depends on how you measure it. We drove about 45 minutes to a village to pay the registration fee and hired some horses to take us part of the way. One of the things I really like about Peru is that they seem to have a lot of cooperative ventures. The whole village will get together to make a path and get everything set up for tourists. Each villager gets a chance to rent horses to tourists or be a guide so everyone gets a chance to benefit. It was only 30 soles ($10) each for a hour and a half ride there and back, plus they waited two hours for us while we walked the rest of the way to the waterfall. A guide was leading the horses the whole time so it was more like sitting on a horse that actually riding. I did have reins and I put them to good use as I steered my horse away from the edge of the cliff several times. The horses had no fear of heights and seem to enjoy walking as close to the precipice as possible. Mike's horse acted like it had recently been pulled off suicide watch. I was still very grateful for the ride back after the two hours it took to hike the last part of the trail to the falls and back. Up and down steep trails somewhere around 8,000 feet will take it out of you.
It was so quiet there. No sounds of cars or any other modern machinery. Only the sound of horse hooves and an occasional bird song. I felt like I was on a different planet than the one I inhabited back in Austin. The world these Peruvian villages are in is so different that the suburban American world. The quiet, the lack of traffic that plagues the average American life, absent is the endless variety of goods at our fingertips, no constant checking of email and texting. It is hard to describe just how different it is here.
So, after all the days of travel, we are rewarded by experiences in places few Americans ever get to go. This area is one of those travel gems that is in a sweet spot of tourism right now. Enough tourist infrastructure so that there are good places to stay, eat, and take tours. They are patient with my bad Spanish in tourist towns. In other places, I have had people laugh in my face. Yet there are few enough people here that the prices haven't gone up yet. In Cuenca, where there are a lot of gringo ex-pats, the locals take every opportunity to charge me way more than the Ecuadorians. I just went shopping here in the local market and I don't feel like I was charged gringo prices. The people are far friendlier here than in Ecuador.
Do not come here in the rainy season. We are lucky that it hasn't started raining yet this year. When it does the roads will wash out and cut this place off from the rest of the world. There is no airport yet, but there are plans to build one.