Chachapoyas + Kuélap, Peru – Gentle giants

We pick up the car insurance contract and the sticker for the windshield in a small shop at the river bridge where we asked the collectivo driver to leave it. It is really there! In Chachapoyas, an old colonial town and famous with backpackers, we ask for the way to Kuélap. “You can’t get there in this car” I get to know. “Why?” I ask. “Only small cars go there, sedans and microbuses.” Sure. Is there a road microbuses can master where a Unimog can’t go? The boy I asked works for an agency and wants to sell trips. Realizing my unimpressed reaction he says: “Well, you can try”, handing me a useful map. From Chachapoyas we head back to the junction where Leimebamba is marked. A local there assures me the road to Kuélap is wide and good enough (Peruvians have another reception of “wide” and “good” roads, be aware).
From that junction PE 08 isn’t paved any more. We follow a river 20 km through the valley until signs point the trail to Kuélap out (S 06°22’09.0’’ W 77°55’08.6’’). We turn right and follow the one-lane gravel road (there are turn-outs) for 38 km to the end. If you like ruins or not: this road is fantastic. Mountains of exceptional beauty tower 3,000 m high into the sky. Despite their massive height they appear gentle, they are grown over with lush green grass, and interrupted only by break offs where sheer rock looks out. The valleys in between are frighteningly deep. They carved their way 2,000 m deep down between the giants. The road squeezes somewhere in the middle between mountain and slope, ascending bit by bit. People with fear of height should sit on the right side.
That’s how dramatic I imagined Peru to be. After some mountain villages we reach the already closed pay station of Kuélap, a lonely snack and souvenir stand and a terribly unlevelled grass field where levelling becomes a real task. Camping here is free (without services), and very quiet when all people are gone: S 06°25’37.3’’ W 77°55’36.3’’.

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