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Day 6 – Karajia and Quiocta

July 26, 2012

The day started out with breakfast in the peace and quiet of the Gocta Lodge followed by an early start to go to Chachapoyas via (although they are not really on the way!) the sarcophagi at Karajia and the cavern of Quiocta. To get to these places we had to leave the tarmacked road, cross the river and then climb to around 3000 meters to a small village called Lamud. In Lamud we (The driver, his friend who had never been to see those ruins, and me) met our guide. He had a very thick regional accent which I found difficult to understand when he spoke quickly and he gave me a leaflet about the area.  Besides telling me how many tourists from different countries came there in the last month he didn’t really give me any more information besides what was already in the leaflet.  I suppose it’s possible that so little is known about the remains that what was in the leaflet is all there was. Or possible he was a terrible guide. My suspicions about his poorness were first aroused when we got to the first site, Karajia, and all he did was walk to a spot, say ‘this is where you get a great pictue of this’, then walk somewhere else and say ‘ take a picture of this’. ‘Stand here – I’ll take a photo – it makes a great picture’ As if photos are the be all and end all. If I didn’t look immediately (for example if I was busy looking at something else) he got agitated and repeated himself again and again until I did as I was told. It was VERY annoying and really spoiled what was a beautiful place! I know very little about Karajia. What I do know (mostly from the tourism booklet) is that about 1000 years ago some people, who were probably important, were mummified and their mummies were placed in sarcophagi made of a mixture of hair and clay then they painted them and somehow placed them on ledges cut into a cliff above a 500 m drop, These ones are still in situ, facing the rising sun. They were discovered by Italians. I’m not sure if they took some of the mummies that were there away or not. Neither do I know anything at all about the other 2 types of mummy or the wall that had been built on one of the ledges, or the small pile of bones neatly laid out on the rocks underneath. That’s because about half way along the trail we met a pair of Hungarian tourists and,  for some reason, the guide then ignored me completely and showed them round. He also started with the ‘ stand there – it makes a great photo’ routine again, with them. They didn’t seem any fonder of it than I was. I took the opportunity to get my binoculars out and look at the mummies in more detail. The guide asked to borrow them, showed me a mummy that is well hidden in the rocks that he hadn’t mentioned before because ‘you need a telescopic zoom to take a photo of it’ then passed the binoculars to the Hungarians without asking me. They looked at me a bit sheepishly.

It was a beautiful location and the remoteness of it and the work that must have gone in to get the mummies there is staggering. The nearest village, which now has a visitor’s centre (consisting of a table with the visitors’ log book and a toilet) is another small Peruvian village suddenly learning the value of horses. The guide seemed quite surprised that I was prepared to walk. I checked the distance again – 1 km – and repeated that I’d walk. His reply was ‘maybe you can get one on the way back’. I didn’t get one, but I didn’t realise that of the 1 km to the remains about 700 m were more or less vertical (well steep switchbacks). I didn’t really notice it going down, but on the way back up my lungs reminded me that I’m not very fit anyway and a 700 m climb at 3000 meters is a LOT harder than the same walk would be in the Pennines! I ignored the guide trying to hurry me along on the way back and stopped to take the pictures I wanted to take! We drove from Karajia back to Lamud where we went to register for the caves, order the correct sized boots (‘really, 41? For you?’) and looked at the small museum (well – took photos of the things the the guide told me to take photos of!) and stopped for lunch. I wasn’t expecting much. To my surprise there was a restaurant the driver knew that actually looked like a restaurant, with wooden furniture and the tables set before we sat down! The decor was odd, but nice – the owner gets diners to write on the walls before they go (which I did). The food was really good and HUGE portions. I had duck, with some kind of turmericy potatoes and (of course – it is Peru after all!) rice.  Thank you David from El Batan de Don Mario for an Excellent lunch.  I highly recommend the place to any one else that happens to be in the area! Before we’d finished the guide came in looking for us to hurry us along. He had bumped into the Hungarian tourists and, without asking me, he had offered to take them with us to the caves and show them round too.

To get to the entrance to the cave we had to drive for about an hour out of Lamud, through stunning scenery, and then walk about 5 minutes to get to the entrance to the cave. There are reconstructed Chachapoyan huts just at the entrance too.  I’m still not really sure who the ancient remains in the caves belonged to or how long they have been there – there are obvious signs of fires inside and also what the guide said were alters – now little more than mudy mounds with skeletons on (although it is hard to tell if they were buried at one point and just being washed out each time the caves flood) and the remains of cocoa leaves.  Much more interesting than the skeletons were the bats – under each roost was a pile of dung, in which weird little beetles were living out their lives. The guide didn’t even mention the beetles… neither did he tell us anything about how the caves formed, how long they’ve been there, how long the stalagmites and stalactites would have taken to form. Again he just rushed us from one point to the next making us take photos, really irritatingly he would make sure the Hungarian had nice photos then move on whether I had taken mine or not. The thing that annoyed me the most, and really spoiled my day, was that he kept trying to get us to climb over the ropes, that have been put there to protect the formations,  so that we could have are photos taken next to them. He kept going on and on about it, even though we all said, very clearly, that we weren’t interested. The fact that an official guide, who is supposed to be protecting the natural heritage site for future generations, was not only encouraging us to break the rules, but getting quite cross with us when we wouldn’t, makes me very sad. This total disregard for other people and the ‘what I want now’ attitude that is prevalent in Peru is ruining their tourist destinations. The cave was about 500 m deep and consists of 8 ‘rooms’ connected by wide corridors, the roof in the corridors is about the height of a normal ceiling and was considerably higher in most of the ‘ rooms’ there a a number of really interesting formations, including some HUGE stalagmites and some lovely ‘church organ’ style stalactites. The guide had only brought 3 torches for 5 people (which I thought was particularly irresponsible) but I had my head torch with me; In the lower corridors the ceiling looked like it was covered in something glittering. At first I thought it was some kind of pyrites but I realised after a while that they were all individual droplets of water catching the light. It was fascinating! The floor of the caves was covered in sticky mud for which the best word would be clarty.  We didn’t go into the final room because the guide said it was a bit muddy – given that we all had wellies on, and had driven for 2 hours up a mountian to see the place, I think he could have asked, rather than just decided we weren’t going.

The guide began to rush us out, then stopped, made us all stand in a circle holding hands and turn all the lights off. It was pitch black. Far FAR darker than the night solo in Tambopata! It would have been nice to stand there for 5 minutes or so, but the guide yabbered on about how being in the dark gave you a chance to reflect and think about your life… It probably would have, if we’d been able to enjoy some silence! When the guide finally shut up the only sounds we could hear were the dripping of water and the chittering of bats. The rest was short lived and we were soon off again being rushed back out of the cave. I’d quite like to go back and have a proper look but it’s so far out of the way that I doubt I’ll ever get the chance! We dropped the guide back in Lamud and continued on to Chachapoyas.

We stopped to pick up people at one point – the driver obviously deciding that he couldn’t, in good conscience, leave a mother with a baby and a toddler in the middle of nowhere when we had many empty seats. However there was not good reason not to bring the other 5 people waiting too, so there was a car full when we got to Chachapoyas. The driver dropped everyone else in a square near the top of the town before asking for directions and dropping me at my hostal. He even carried my bags in for me. The hostal seems nice enough – the shower was hot, the towels and bedding are clean, the internet seems to work (occasionally). We’re a bit higher up here than we were in Gocta so I’m hoping the altitude isn’t going to stop me sleeping – it always seems to give me weird dreams. After my super high altitude exploits today I’m really tired so I think I’ll find food, find something ‘light’ to do tomorrow and then go to bed.

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