The only way in and out of Chachapoyas is by bus and the taxi drivers will tell you that this is because in 2003 Trans Peru flight 222 crashed into a mountain on approach to Chachapoyas airport. Our next stop was Cajamarca and we assumed that we could take a fancy Cama Bus. We were wrong, the 323 km road to Cajamarca passes through treacherous mountain passes that could only be navigated by small buses. The ride takes 12 hours and in low season the only option is a night bus on Virgen de Carmen or Amazonas bus lines. We had been told that this is one of the most beautiful bus journeys in Peru but with a night bus we would not see anything. I was not happy about this and tried to find other options such as renting a car, hiring a driver, taking a different route, or splitting the trip up with a stop in Celandin. These “options” simply did not exist. There is no rental car agency in Chachapoyas, no driver would want to take us for less than an astronomical sum. Here was my Canadian sense of comfort and privilege bumping up against developing world reality. In Peru a 12 hour night bus is a comfortable option; the bus is safe, the seats recline and before the road was paved the journey could take 18 hours.
Eliot was more stoic about the whole thing and was able to negotiate a discount on our Virgen de Carmen bus tickets. If you are going to take a dangerous bus ride in South America, better to do it on a bus named after a virgin.
On January 23, we hiked up to Gocta falls, returned to town where we ate and washed up before walking with our packs to the station. We boarded at 7.30 pm. The bus was full except for the back row. Eliot gets stressed before long trips and he was worried that our bags may get stolen by other passengers. His fear was based on experience he had as a teenager on a bus from Medellin to Cali Colombia. On that trip Eliot and his sister Sandra placed their bags on their laps before they fell asleep. When they awoke everything had disappeared except for an old VCR.
Our big packs were tagged and placed under the bus and we brought small packs on board. I wore a money belt and put my pack in the overhead rack and the other passengers watched as I tried to clip it in place. These measures were insufficient for Eliot who waited for the bus to get dark before locking his pack to his body using a metal security strap and a padlock. It was like sitting next to a ninja turtle. I took out my iPhone and fell asleep to the audio book version of Cutting for Stone.
I awoke at about 11 pm to the sound of the motor labouring as the bus climbed a steep hill. Feeling confined, I got up and went to the back row and lay down. At around 1 am I woke up again and looked out. The bus was on a narrow road with a steep drop off. We were high up and the entire valley was lit up by a full moon. As the bus went up and down switch backs I was able to see river valleys and mountains. Tin roofs of houses would reflect the moon light as we passed and I also saw roadside cactus. In the light I could make out distance, depth relief but no colour or details. It was a beautiful moment. I thought about getting my camera but decided to just enjoy the moment. In the end I got both my cama, and a chance to see the countryside.
At 3 am we arrived in Celendin. We disembarked with our luggage and waited in a cold waiting room for the larger bus that would take us to Cajamarca. The waiting room had families and kids and the staff offered us coffee, tea and biscuits. The TV was showing an episode of a Peruvian Crime show about a woman who killed her best friend in a fight over a man. It was very dramatic you saw photos of the friends in better days, a re-creation of the crime, the killer in jail and the mothers crying and asking why did they do it. All eyes in the station were riveted on the screen. It was all a bit much for us at 3 am and we had to control our laughter as the others passengers scowled as us.
The larger bus arrived and we arrived in Cajamarca at 7.30 am. Eliot sat with the bags at the main square while I scouted out hotels. With information from Booking.com I negotiated four nights at the Cajamarca Costa del Sol hotel for 200 soles/night ($80). By North American standards the place was a nice hotel. For us it was pure luxury a big room with two beds, tons of towels, working wifi, and reliable hot water. The rate included a breakfast buffet and there was a rooftop gym that looked over the roofs of the city. We both realized that every now and then we needed a break. However, we were still acting like travellers and Eliot put up a clothing line in the bathroom and did laundry making our bathroom look a bit like a shanty town. The next four days were spent touring the town, the inca sites and the markets.