With the crossing of the Maranon River negotiated via the good ship ‘Not Very Good’ I decided to head off on a circuitous route to the south-east into the Amazonas region.
Chachapoyas, the capital of the Amazonas Region is a charming highland town with a lovely central square. There are many tour operators offering to take you to various ruins and natural phenomena (waterfalls and valleys etc) but I opt for spending a day riding the local mini-bus on a white-knuckle ride up to see six Sarcophagi perched on a cliff. After all of this bike riding I am now a very bad passenger.
What was supposed to be an easy day of a mere 38km to Tingo and a bus ride up to the ruins at Kuelap somehow turned into a night riding test of endurance. There are two ways up to Kuelap; one is a gentle climb of 1,300m over 35km. The other is a steep walking track of 10km. With no mini-buses to be had I decided to leave the bags in Tingo and do the 35km ride up to the fortress. This was all well and good and the time at the top was successfully spent photographing llama and deepening my appreciation of pre-Incan architecture. The pivotal moment for the day came when I decided to return via the 10km foot-track. Little did I know that this track, with the addition of a little rain-water, would become a quagmire of mud that was more clay like glue than mud. Before very long the bike was completely encased in the goo and the wheels absolutely refused to budge as the glue set hard around them. The afternoon drifted into night and the likelihood of being stranded on the hillside started to become a very real possibility. On this descent I also managed to chalk up my third crash of the trip (Mexico; truck avoidance, Honduras; steamroller avoidance. Peru; face plant in a bush). The major damage was to my legs in terms of fatigue in that lugging a reluctant bike down the steep hillside for 10km pretty well did for the old legs. The next day’s ‘easy’ ride of 48km gently rising along the river valley to Leymebamba therefore became a bit of a test as the legs were utterly toasted.
The valley between Leymebamba and Celendin (AKA ‘The Valley of Instant Death’) is two days of wonderful scenic riding. 29km from the very friendly town of Laymebamba (at 2,200m), the dirt road goes up and over the lip into the valley followed by a long rollicking plummet into the valley was an awe inspiring valley ride. At the pass at ‘Calla Calla’ (which means ‘Instant Death’ in the local dialect) at 3,600 metres, the rain and cloud are tearing across the road (refer photo and video), so the Cyberman/sun god mask is put to good use (refer photo). Some small kids see the mask and run which is odd given that there must have been Dr Who contact at some point in history as many people here still say, “Good Tardis”. From there it is just stunning scenery down to the river crossing at Chalas (870metres). The ride out of the Valley of Instant Death was truly stunning. Zig zagging for 2,200 metres up the valley slope where you can easily look down on the town below after 43km of riding.