Yesterday evening I found a tour agency (not hard, it seems that every other shop offers tours!) who suggested that I went to see Huancas (pronounced, more or less, like a Geordie saying wankers) – a small village about 10 km North of here where there are a couple of viewpoints of a pretty valley and some handicrafts. Rather than try and sell me a tour for this he told me that you could get a shared taxi from a stop just round the corner for 3 soles, then you have to pay 1 sol to get into the viewing area itself. This seemed like a cheap and ‘light’ day out so this morning, after getting up relatively late (0830) and having a long breakfast in the hostel’s adjoining cafe (really good breakfast actually – fruit juice, coffee, fruit salad, fresh bread, jam , butter, eggs) I wandered out in the general direction of where I thought the collectivo stop was.
For people that have never used collectivos, they work a bit like this; Someone with a car/mini bus and some spare time on their hands writes a sign on a bit of cardboard with a destination on it. He then sits somewhere, known to locals, until the car is full (usually 5 people) of people wanting to go to that destination. Then they go. They do the same on the return journey (unless they KNOW there will be more people waiting at the starting point in which case they will go back empty or half empty). They cost less than taxis and go places that are too far for combis to go to.
On my way I was hailed by two young men who tried to talk to me in English, but quickly reverted to Spanish when they realised that my Spanish was much better than their English. They informed me that they were studying tourism and administration in a university here and as part of their basic English course they had to have an oral exam, with a native English speaker, in front of their teacher, and wondered if I’d help them. As I had the feeling that the trip to Huancas wouldn’t take all day I decided that I might as well. They apologetically informed me that their teacher wouldn’t be there for about 20 minutes and that if I’d wait they’d buy me a coffee. Agreed and they walked me over to the plaza to pick op the 3rd member of their little band. There were other students there too, with their own foreigners, all looking a little bemused. My little band took me off to a coffee shop on the plaza and then as we were chatting, shyly asked me if I’d look over their questions, check their pronunciation and practice with them, which, of course, I did. We also had a nice chat in Spanish about where I’d been in Peru, why I was here, football (Newcastle – yes the Urracas, Yes Solano) and why I hadn’t been to Kuelap yet. As we lwft to go to their English school they bought me a bag of Fair trade, organis locally produced coffee to say thank you.
The chatting turned out to be very useful later on when the teacher threw random questions at me to check their understanding. Most of the things we’d been talking about came up so they already knew, more or less, what I was going to say! The only problem they had was with numbers. They were fine with small numbers but anything over about 10 they just seemed to guess at! The teacher picked up on this and kept asking me questions about the ages of my siblings, how long I’d been teaching, when I left secondary school, the population of my home town (like I know that!?), the lowest temperature that it got to there and other such things. I tried to keep the numbers simple, but I felt a bit sorry for them! They did all pass though!
They then walked me to the collectivo stop, paid my fare for me, and told the driver to make sure I knew where to get off etc. They then went off. They were really lovely, nice to talk to and very keen to promote Peru. They couldn’t see why it amused me that two of them were called Lenin and Franco though. Once I’d explained why I found it odd they told me that have a friend called Stalin too, only he wasn’t there today as he was at work. I’m not really sure where this fashion for naming children after foreign dictators came from, but I have seen both here and in Huaraz, signs on walls asking you to vote for Hitler for mayor. I am assured that it has absolutely nothing to do with people’s personal philosophy – they just heard the names on foreign radio and liked the sound… I suppose I’m not really one to talk about getting named after things your parents heard on the media…
I sat and waited for about 20 minutes until the collectivo had enough people to go to Huancas. I was the only foreigner out of 8 (it was a people carrier, not a normal car) and got some funny looks. Unbeknown to me the driver decided to to an abnormal route – I was expecting to be dropped off in the Plaza in Huancas so I sat looking out of the window at more beautiful scenery as we went off through the streets of Chachpoyas, climed steeply along a road that was being resurfaced (with mud and stones) and arrived about 15 minutes later to a village I assumed was Huancas. We didn’t stop or pass through a square so I thought maybe there was another village. We then carried on to the Prison where everybody but me got off. He then turned around and I thought that we’d go to the square on the way back and he’d drop me off then. About 10 mins later, when we’d been round a lot of houses to pick up people I was completely disorientated. A couple of minutes later on I realised we were on the road back down to Chachapoyas and had just passed the 5km marker. I felt very silly! When we got back to Chachapoyas the driver looked at me very surprised and said ‘why didn’t you get off in Huancas?’ I replied ‘We didn’t stop – I didn’t know where to get off’ to which he said – ‘get back in then – I’ll take you back!’. I had nothing better to do so I said I would, but that I had to go to the toilet first (an hour of bouncing about on dirt roads after 3 cups of coffee is not the best thing for either kidneys or bladder!). I then waited another 20 mins for enough people to go. This time the car was full of school kids who had finished secondary school for the day (they only go for half days for some reason – they do 8 until 12.30). The other drivers refuse to take them as by law they only pay half fare, My driver would take them, but they had to sit suqished up; 1.5ish to a seat. One little boy, sick of being squashed by his sister, shouted out – ‘ If I give you 3 soles can I have a seat to myself?’ which made me laugh. This time we went to the square where myself, the one other tourist and 4 remaining school kids (the rest had been dropped off on the way) got out. It is an odd place. It has quite a large plaza, when you consider the size of the town, and a very well kept Municipal building; everything else seems a little dilapidated. There were a couple of shops on the plaza, but they were closed. So much for the handycrafts! I walked in the direction of an odd looking look out tower and on the way found one shop with a vast array of different textiles. I promised to go in on my way back. The tower is at the top of a flight of steps. At the bottom are a number of half built buildings. I have no idea whether it is supposed to be a holiday resort or if it will be more shops… there is also a little woman with the visitor’s log. She took my 1 sol and told me to fill the book in on my way back down.
They valley is incredible, deep and narrow. You can see waterfalls, cliffs and streams stretching off in both directions. Later the driver told me that it is 1000m deep. It was also VERY windy and I soon got ear ache and had to put my hood up. I had my binoculars with me and spent about half an our wandering along the path, looking at stuff and taking photos. I say some Viscacha (or similar) poo, but didn’t see any live mammals. There were a handful of other people up there (5 to be exact) but the place still managed to feel completely desolate and isolated.
On the way back I went into the shop as promised, was informed by the man working there that the work was all done by 6 single mothers who used the money to send their kids to secondary school. I bought a bag. I think I like it. He also offered me a taste of an orange liqueur they make with the famous last words ‘just a little taste, it’s not very strong!’ It was nice, but reminded me a lot of cough mixture!
I had been thinking of doing a walk to another, less known, viewpoint 3 km further along the valley where there are the remains of a couple of round houses. However it was a lot later than I’d planned and looking like rain so I decided to go back to Chachapoyas. I only had to wait about 5 mins in the square for the collective man to get there – I was quite lucky really.
I got back to the hotel room feeling a little worse for wear and decided that an early tea, and early night would be a good idea. Jose arrives tomorrow so I’ll be off to see some more impressive sites over the next few days (an probably will have better things to do than sit on my own in cafes writing my blog! We’ll see…