A travel into the Peruvian north – off the gringo trail! Part I

From Huanchaco to Cajamarca – Leymebaba – Chachapoyas – Kuelap – Gocta – Tarapoto – Yurimaguas – Amazon river boat cruise to Iquitos and Leticia (Colombia).
This series is about a trip to the less travelled paths of northern Peru. It is about Pre Inca cultures, indigenous people, friendliness, new friends and encounters and slow travel on the amazon river till the border of Colombia.

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My time in Cusco and on the Salkantay trek has been a fantastic experience. But, Cusco is touristy and I graved for some unknown steps and rural areas!

From Lima I hopped on a night bus to Trujillo, chaotic city close to the Pacific Ocean. There is a better option to stay just 40 minutes by collectivo (minivan): Huanchaco. It is a small sleepy town, full of surfer „dudes“, ceviche, rough wind and grey waves. And the traditional „Caballitos de Tortora“, reed watercraft still used by the fishers. And some amazing basic street food in the afternoon along the malecon like vegetarian papas rellenas (stuffed fried potatoes). Even if you don’t surf, it is a very relaxing place to chill in a hammock, the beach or the rooftop terrace of your hostel. I stayed at Frogs Hostel, located at the end of the main road, overviewing the Ocean.

Collectivos between Huanchaco and Trujillo leave avery 10 minutes, just walk along the malecon and stop the next car. In between the way, you should not miss Chan Chan, the largest pre colombian city in South America until it was conquered by the Inca empire around 1470. It is perfectly camouflaged into the desert landscape, what perfectly explains the meaning of the name (Sun Sun).

The next morning I take an early colectivo back to Trujillo to catch the only day bus to Cajamarca for the next 8 hours. There is one option at night, but the scenery is spectacular (and the drive is safer during the day). It is hot, the guy next to me snores, the baby in the back is hitting a record in constant screaming and the little puppy on the lap next of this giant lady keeps groaning and staring at me. A typical Peruvian local bus ride. Only the chickens are missing :-) I don’t see any tourist so far… seems like a good direction for me!

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After some 1,5 hours waiting on the windy road for rain damages to open again (5 km away from our final destination), we arrive quite late in Cajamarca. A not so small as expected town with the typical business of thousands of moto taxis honking their way through the streets filled with sellers, donkeys and dogs!

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I got a recommendation for Casa Mirita, a real family stay, but the only 3 rooms are booked out, what she told me by email but I wouldn’t have connection during the day to check. Instead of sending me back into the dark city, she organizes a mattress and thanks to my sleeping bag I can stay in the living room.

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An offer I accept with a big grateful smile before going to have dinner with Quico, a spaniard also staying at Casa Mirita. Together we decide visiting the ruins of Cumbe Mayo the next day without taking an official tour. Can’t be that complicated, right?

Yes, it can :-)

The early morning sun is burning relentlessly as we are making our way up from St. Polonia (go to Plaza de Armas and climb the stairs to the church uphill) shortcutting the never ending windy road through fields, backyards and dusty hills.

One hour is enough under the sun and we stop the next car to take us 40 minutes on exactly this road we were shortcutting uphill till kilometer 16.

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From here the driver points towards some stone formations laying on a hill in a incredible lush green surrounding. We make our way through the fields, admiring the landscape, a smile on our faces.

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It is so calm, only thing we can hear is the birds when suddenly we find ourselves attacked by two very aggressive and loud dogs, circling around us, barking, snarling! Frightened to bones we pick up stones, scream even louder back at them than they bark at us. Circles are getting smaller, I see their saliva spitting around as they come closer. Suddenly there is this maybe 15 year old shy local girl, trying to get her 2 shepherd dogs under control with a shy but useful shshsh, perro, ven. Perro. Perro ven.

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She manages to keep one under control but the other one is still after us. From far other dogs join the barking and we happily follow her advise to climb through the undergrowth up to the official way (which we obviously missed) cause there would be more dogs taking care of the sheep. After my dog attack in Chile (5 vs 1 is not a fair deal, right?) I happily follow her advise and 30 dirty minutes later we a close to the official entrance of Cumbe Mayo.

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For the next 2 hours we climb through narrow tunnels in the hill, follow an ancient aqueduct, admire the traditional clothes of the women on the fields around and petroglyphs on the walls.

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Just when we arrive back at the entrance a sudden rain hits us and we enjoy the little straw roof to make some picnic with palta, queso y pan (avocado, cheese and bread).

Walking back 4km to the main road and some more until one of the spare colectivos picks us up and brings us back down to St. Polonia.

If you stay longer in Cajamarca, you can also visit the Ventanillas de Otuzco and the Baños del Inca, a natural hot spring. We decide for a good coffee at Cafe Yasminez, I get my bus ticket for the next morning (at 4am again…), we buy more palta, bread and veggies, walk home for dinner, packing and at least some hours of sleep.

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Sitting in the kitchen for some hours talking to Vicky does not give me a chance of many of those tho. But the next morning she comes with me to the bus station, which is highly appreciated at those hours in the dark city with all my belongings!!

With only one eye open I crawl into my seat direction Leymabamba!

Part II will be about Leymabamba and some ruins no one visits, cause hardly the village people know about them!

by: Isabel Gür