Monday, March 7, 2016

Cool, Cruel Cajamarca

In my last post I commented at length about the miserable Chiclayo heat. That wasn’t just me whining. In the past week eight infant deaths have been attributed to the heat in Piura, a city north of Chiclayo. The temperature there has averaged 102 for the past two weeks. Chiclayo can’t be much less.

I threatened to go up into the Andes to escape the heat and that’s what we did, only we didn’t stay at some quaint mountain village. Cajamarca is a city with a population of about 180,000. It is in a valley surrounded by mountains at an elevation of 9000 feet. Many of the tourist attractions are some distance from the city at elevations of over 10,000 feet. Chiclayo’s altitude is 89 feet. Do you see the problem shaping up?

When the taxi dropped us off at the hotel, Maribel told me my lips were blue. So were hers. So were our finger tips. We had experienced this one other time in Cusco. It is a symptom associated with high altitude pulmonary edema. Our color was back to normal in 30 minutes. Just walking the 200 feet from the taxi to the hotel carrying our luggage had us huffing and puffing like a couple of marathon drop-outs. And it was raining. Hard. The rain continued on and off for the next four days. As did our labored breathing and altitude induced headaches. The bottom line is that we got the cool we wanted. We wore jackets in the morning and late afternoon, and needed a blanket on the bed. The trade off was the constant rain, headaches, and pressure in our heads that prevented us from sleeping peacefully. We both agreed that as miserable as it is, we’ll take Chiclayo’s heat/humidity in preference to Cajamarca’s climate/altitude.

It’s a six hour bus ride from Chiclayo to Cajamarca. A one-way ticket costs $7.25. We left at 6:45 am and arrived at 1:00 pm. We could see clouds covering the mountain peaks long before we reached them. Visibility upon entering the clouds was very limited. Large stands of eucalyptus and pine trees that grow in these high altitudes looked like a procession of ghost trees in the half-light. The bus windows fogged up and all we could do was hope that the driver knew what he was doing on the hair-pin turns, and once you enter the Andes you are always in a hair-pin turn.

Suddenly you break through the clouds; drive over one last peak, and there in a valley is your destination. Cajamarca is an ancient community. It was here in 1532 that the invading Spaniards led by Pizarro with an army of 168 soldiers defeated an Inca army of 6,000 men and then captured and killed their leader Atahualpa, effectively bringing an end to the Inca empire.

In an effort to save his life Atahualpa, being held in what is known as the ransom room offered to fill the room twice with silver and once with gold if he was spared. Pizarro thought that was a good deal but after receiving the offering decided that a living Atahualpa was a threat so had him executed. The ransom room is the only remaining Inca structure in the city.

On the south-west edge of the city is Cerro Santa Apolonia, a high hill that offers a magnificent view of the city and features what is known as the “chair of the Inca”. It is said that Atahualpa would sit on this structure and gaze on his domain. There are stairs leading to the top of Cerro Santa Apolonia but it is not an easy climb. We noticed that even the locals walked at a snail’s pace while ascending. There is a chapel at the top that has a special significance to the religious.

Other attractions in the city include old churches and a hospital, all dating to the 17th century. Most of them are now museums worth visiting. At the entrance to each are guides offering their services. We found none that spoke English.

There are major attractions outside of the city that are best seen on a guided tour. Tours can be arranged at hotels (at inflated prices), or at one of the many tour offices across the street from the main square. The tour business is highly competitive and you can negotiate prices, especially at the last minute when the bus has empty seats. We took several tours. I’ll write about just two of them.

Granja Porcòn is an Evangelical cooperative community located 20 miles from Cajamarca. The community is self-contained and self-sustaining, even having its own cemetery. It is at an altitude of 10,300 feet. The mountains as far as the eye can see are covered with huge pine trees, which is but one of the industries of this community. Our guide told us that the trees are yellow pine, the seedlings originally brought from the United States. The sixty families who live here either harvest and sell the lumber, or manufacture furniture and other items in one of several wood working shops on site. Extensive herds of cattle are maintained for meat, milk and cheese…all processed on site. Wool from sheep is spun and made into clothing and other items, either for personal use or for sale. Tourists are invited to explore any of the facilities, and to purchase any of the products.

There are several restaurants operated by the cooperative. Menus feature locally grown/raised food. Maribel had trout. She said it was good. The fried alpaca I ate was tough and overcooked.

It is interesting to see the family members working at and producing all their products, but the biggest draw and probably the reason tour buses are constantly coming and going is the zoo. I think the only animals from the Americas the zoo did not have were polar bears, moose and elk. Everything else was there including an adult jaguar that loved being scratched and petted through the chain link fence by tourists. That’s not something you would see in a USA zoo. They also have birds of every variety, from pheasants to condors. All of the birds and animals except for the meat eaters eagerly accept pieces of bread from the tourists. The tour takes 4 hours from pick up to drop off at Cajamarca’s main square. The standard price seems to be around $5.00. It’s well worth it.

Another tour we took is called the ‘La Collpa tour’. La Collpa is a privately owned farm located 7 miles east of Cajamarca. The points of interest on the farm are an artificial lagoon, a chapel, and cow calling. Let me explain that last bit. The farm workers have trained the cows to come to a milk shed when their names are called. The cow’s mill about outside, and when their names are called by a guy with a bullhorn, they dutifully walk to their place in the shed. The guy periodically cracks a whip, but it serves no purpose other than to entertain the audience.  For me the La Collpa farm was a big thumbs down.

The second part of the La Collpa tour gets a thumbs up. The bus parks in the small village of Llacanora. From the bus tourists walk a considerable distance on a forest path to first one and then another waterfall. They’re not spectacular waterfalls but they are pretty, especially in the wooded setting. It takes some effort to climb to the falls but it’s not too difficult.
On our way to the highest waterfall an old woman in native dress carrying a heavy load of wood stepped out of the forest, crossing the path we were on. When she reentered the woods I hurried ahead a bit hoping to see where she was going. I was astounded to see her walking across this narrow aqueduct as if it were a six-lane highway. That gorge beneath her is 25 feet deep. This is my favorite photo from the trip. I love to take candid photos of people doing their thing, rather than the colorfully dressed women holding cute lambs and charging $1.00 to take their picture. The La Colpa tour takes three hours and costs $5.00.

There are other major attractions that for brevity’s sake I won’t write about. There is plenty of internet information and photos about them if interested. I strongly advise not missing Cumbe Mayo or Ventanillas de Otuzco. Others might mention Baños del Inca as a don’t miss but I was not impressed.

There are a half-dozen or so good hotels in Cajamarca. We stayed at the Hotel Sol de Belèn. It’s not fancy but it’s clean, quiet, spacious and the staff couldn’t be more helpful. The hotel is located on a pedestrian-only cobblestone street so there's no vehicle noise. The cost is $43 per night. They do not charge the 18% tax that Peruvians are charged at most middle to upper class hotels. Breakfast is included.

For a full meal the two Salas restaurants located near the main square are good choices. They have an extensive menu and service is good.

During the warmth of the afternoon (yes, it does get warm  (not hot) in Cajamarca from about 1:00 to 2:30 pm) drop by the Heladeria Holanda, a small ice cream shop that supposedly uses profits to help people in need. The ice cream is delicious and you can sample every flavor before buying.

Later in the evening if you’re looking for a light snack stop in at Q’illpu for coffee and a sandwich. The décor reminds me of a bistro, and they play smooth vocal jazz softly in the background. I enjoyed my coffee with egg croissant while listening to Diana Krall, one of my favorite jazz singers.

We returned yesterday. It’s hot and I didn’t sleep well last night and don’t expect to tonight but at least I can prowl the house in the wee hours without a headache and labored breathing. C’mon April!!

No comments:

Post a Comment