Leimebamba, Peru – The landslide

On a Friday, the 13th, you ask yourself when getting up what they day will bring. It’s raining cats and dogs, that’s just not a good feeling in the Peruvian Andes. But the 38 km back to PE 08 and the following 54 gravel kilometres to Leimebamba are uneventful. South of town the Austrian Archaeological Society built an astonishing museum (S 06°43’27.1’’ W 77°47’53.9’’). Architecture and the lavish roof with many gables are award-winning, the exhibitions are professional and multilingual.
Exhibits include everyday items like pottery, combs and jewellery from the Chachapoyas culture as well as the unique Quipus. These are mathematical knotted cords that served to record figures, dates, and statistics. Variously dyed and differently long secondary cords hang along a thicker main cord and symbolized stocks of llamas, yields, precious metals, or taxes. Different knots and their location along the cord characterized units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. The Spaniards who possibly didn’t see through the system forbid the Quipus and destroyed their stock. There are only 800 specimens left worldwide. Some Quipus can be seen in Leimebamba, but highlight are the mummies that were found at nearby Laguna de los Condores. The bodies were wrapped in cloth, but the archaeologists unpacked some of them for viewers to become completely horrified. Admission to this wonderful museum is 10 PEN.
The road again becomes narrower and worse as we continue, leave the river valley where the stretch of water already breaks its banks, and get ready to cross the first pass. We meet two oncoming busses at a bottleneck. We have to back up to give way, but interpret it as a good sign that the road is still open. Although it is clear to us that this might change in minutes, even in seconds.
15 minutes later: We have crossed the first mountain range as a fresh landslide blocks our way. Nobody has passed it yet, and it’s not possible. What to do? Most probably some workers would come – but when? – and shovel the road free. So Joerg takes our spade and gets down to work. But it’s not easy with a fresh landslide. On one hand it is soft and muddy, but it contains many rocks and is difficult to move. For two shovelled loads another one slides down.
Two passer-byes, wrapped in blue plastic foil, the local version of a rain poncho, arrive: two men, coming from somewhere, going anywhere. “Do you want to cross?” they ask. We shrug our shoulders; we didn’t make up our mind yet. Immediately the men offer help and start to shovel. They skilfully fix the edge of roadway along the slope with big boulders. After a while the mud slide doesn’t appear so frighteningly crooked any more, just like a giant hill of mud and stones.
There are still two problems: Such a fresh landslide is extremely fragile, movable, and liquid. It didn’t settle down and we sink in when just walking over. Will it carry Arminius or will it slide more to the side? There is the second problem: On the right side of the one-lane road lurks a 500 m deep slope. Joerg bravely enters out truck and sets off. Slowly in the beginning, but then he sinks more in at the slope side as expected. He accelerates and the two men and I jump away to get ourselves to safety. And then everything is over. Arminius stands on firm ground. Just the hearts pound for a while.
What to do with our helpers? They want to get to the next hamlet five kilometres away. We only have to seats, but we want to return the favour. The two men are dirty and the last shower is quite a while ago. I squeeze both of them onto the passenger seat and climb into the camper cabin. During the drive they can hardly get over their astonishment. The GPS that obviously knows this tiny mountain road is fascinating: A small blue car moves and marks the way it’s already gone. “Oh, those Germans” they say with a shake of their head, not understanding what they saw.

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