We awoke in Chachapoyas on January 20, 2016 in the hostel. It was quiet and cold and we had a mission- pack, move our bags to new hotel, eat and join the tour at 8.30 am. By 7.45 we were eating breakfast at a cafe on Amazonas pedestrian mall.
Before I dug into my humita (sweet corn and cheese tamale) a tiny shoeless old woman with hobbit feet walked in from the street straight over to me. Rather than shoo her away, the café owner said she is looking for food not money. We ordered a breakfast for her (coffee and tamale). I invited her to eat with us as a gesture of fraternity. She accepted the food but asked to sit at another table. I was a bit taken aback until the cafe owner explained that she was embarrassed to eat with us because she has no teeth. I recalled the advice from Angela (the woman we met in Pasto – see her travel blog So Much More to See ) that you should wait before you react because what may seem like an affront may just be a misunderstanding.
In this case my invitation to sit with us put this woman in the difficult situation of having to refuse a request from someone who had bought her breakfast. Though well intentioned, I should have known better. According to Jewish tradition, there are different levels of charity and one of the highest is to give anonymously and without expectation of recognition. I need to remember that lesson and also to remember that there is a huge economic gulf between us travellers and some of the people we meet and that I must be mindful of treating people with dignity and honour especially when extending charity.
The old woman was the only person that asked for anything of us the whole time we were in Chachapoyas. From what we saw the people in Chachapoyas appeared to be well off. We did not see fancy cars or iPhones, but people were nicely dressed and seemed very relaxed and friendly with each other and with us. They greeted each other with either a hug, a hand shake, or a kiss.
Chachapoyas are also known as “the warriors of the clouds” because they lived in the cloud forest between the high sierra and the valleys. The Chachapoyas people we met were mostly shy at first and generally did not talk loud amongst themselves. Even the touts selling tours were gentle and easy going. One day on the main square we saw a crowded gathered around a man with microphone and whiteboard. His product was a math learning dvd and he was doing a math demonstration. For me that was a great example of the kind of place Chachapoyas is. Can you imagine a math demo attracting attention among north american kids? I do not think so.
Our favourite restaurant was La Tushpa where we had excellent grilled meats with fries and beer. For 50 soles ($20) you get a huge mixed grill served on a mini hibachi. Tushpa is the name of a traditional Chachapoyas fire pit, in Quebec it is what you say to a hyper kid like me in a candy shop or to an older gentleman in a strip bar before a lap dance.
The owner’s wife owns a souvenir shop on Amazonas and she will sew your wallet or bag for you while you wait. She can also sell you a live Cuy (she raises them in the back for the restaurant). After eating at Tushpa we saw the owner at the market a couple of times and in the street- small town.
Note that the town is difficult to get to. Your options are overnight bus rides from Trujillo, Chicklayo or Cajamarca. They stopped commercial flights to Chachapoyas in 2006 after an airplane crashed into a hillside killing all 55 people aboard. They are building a new airport 3 hours away from Chachapoyas.
Also there are no fancy hotels or restaurants, a 3 star is the best you will get. We recommend staying at La Casona Monsante, which is under new management and has great service.
For us the isolation and lack of development is part of the charm. Also from the town you can access some amazing sites which will be covered in future blogs. This is an area that given its archeological sites including Kuelap has the potential of becoming the next Cusco, but still under developed.
Here are some photos
Dentist of the town
Kids throwing water balloons pre carnival. Most communities are getting ready to celebrate the Virgen de La Candelaria Festival. This is a festival across Peru and one that will likely be more beautiful in small towns like this. We even saw a procession demonstration with a band on the day we were leaving Chachapoyas
This is a building exclusive for unwed ladies