2 Months in Peru—May 4 & 5, 2015—Day 36 and 37.
04.05.2015 - 05.05.2015 58 °F
The day started at 0600 - showers for the both of us, breakfast, then drop laundry off by 08:30 and back to the room to blog and write for awhile to catch up on our travels. It is really hard to remember all the stuff when there are so many different experiences and places coming at you so quickly.
We got packed up for the trip north and went out for a last walkabout in Cajamarca. This city is the first time since Lima we have seen some evidence of a strongish middle class even though there are campesinos everywhere. It’s quite a country of contrasts, this Peru.
We managed to find Silvia’s (whom we met at the hotel in Chiclayo) brother Frank at his salon on the square and chatted a bit with him. He was happy to see us and greeted us with hugs and smiles.
Then it was off to the streets again. There was a mobile health clinic in the square with a government soldier band playing and booths set up to educate people on different diseases and cancers. I guess they are trying hard to educate the people about improving their health. They even had girls with painted faces passing out balloons and directing people to the booths. Fascinating.
When it was time to leave, we said good-by to Tanny’s 1&2, and took a taxi in the rain to the bus depot.
And then it was off on the scary road, which, it turns out, wasn’t!!
It was very winding and tortuous with many switchbacks. The highest pass today was around 10,500 ft according to the GPS. We descended into Celendin at around 5:30 pm. It is a largish town (though not as big as Cajamarca) and decidedly less upscale.
After tagging our bags for Chachapoyas, the bus driver walked us down the block to catch a moto taxi to the plaza. There we looked at a couple of hostels and chose a homey looking place, the Mi Posado about one block off the square. It was neat and clean, with just enough room for a double bed, and bench, and a teenie shower, and only 35 soles a night, with breakfast - about $11.50.
We spent an hour looking for a handmade straw hat (to replace the one Rick lost) which Celendin is famous for. After visiting several shops, we found the perfect fit - one with a less wide brim than most. It looked great and could be worn with a backpack. Then off to dinner where the waitress was rather surly and the drinks arrived after the meal - no cervezas at all, pisco sours! Then off to bed!
Day 37 - The scary bus ride!
After the bus ride yesterday, Rick was convinced this whole “second most dangerous road in the world” designation was over-hyped. Boy was he wrong. Karen wisely took an anti-nausea pill prior to embarking. The bus we boarded was smaller than the bus from Cajamarca. It turns out this was necessary as the larger bus would not have been able to maneuver the route at all.
The road absolutely lived up to its billing. It started out steeply from Celendin, quickly became one lane with many switchbacks and steep grades - but at least it was paved - only recently.
Two years ago this was still a dirt road in many places. The views were astounding, the slope of the mountains varied from 45-60 degrees, and you could see all the way to the bottom. The shoulders were virtually non-existent and guard rails were few and far between. The driver honked the horn before entering each corner, and if another vehicle was encountered, one or the other had to back up to a wider place in the road.
The day before we had been seated on the less frightening side looking at the upside of the mountain rather than the downside. Today when Rick saw the back row seats were empty he moved there so he could slide from side to side to take pictures. A true tourista gringo. Everyone in the bus noticed of course. In fact after a stop between passes, the drivers invited Rick to sit in the shotgun seat in front to take photos from that vantage.
The first pass was 12,320 ft high (GPS info) and we then descended to the town of Balsa at 2,855 feet.
It was noticeably warmer there! Then back up to the second pass where we would top out at 10, 200 ft. Partway up the mountain, the bus came to a stop just before a switchback turn. The passengers were asked to leave the bus and start walking.
As we turned the corner, we saw a relatively small landslide that was blocking the road. The highway dept was working hard to clear it with one man on a shovel and the other four watching. As the bus came around the corner with the second driver guiding the first, they decided they needed to widen the track and put stones in the ruts to give the bus better traction. Interestingly, the highway workers watched as the bus drivers prepared the road to their own satisfaction using a borrowed pick. The bus made it through and we all cheered.
Back on the bus for the harrowing ride to Chachapoyas.
We arrived safe and sound and in our hurry to get off the bus, Rick left his new hat behind, a gift to some lucky Peruana (Peruvian). We began chatting with Edgardo and Pamela, a couple from Chile we had seen on the Ventanillas tour the day before. They had been on the bus with us today. They invited us to share their taxi to the hostel they had booked as a good value place. Naturally, we got a room there and joined them for dinner - the beginning of a lovely friendship. After cervezas and good food we all booked a tour to Kuelap together for the following day. We all retired for a good nights rest.