But alongside Peru's challenges come great rewards, and we firmly believe that despite the obstacles, this country and its incredible people are worth it. And the perfect example of that has been the sites and cultures we've seen here in the north, or as I like to call it, the Land of the Dead, for reasons which I will explain later.
Once crossing the border, we noticed that the music started to have a folkish rhythm to it that sounds more indigenous than latin, and the people have a gorgeously stoic look to them, as many of the Andean locals are finely dressed in alpaca ponchos and wide-brimmed hats.
There is also something majestic, ancient, and mysterious about the mountains and terraced fields of this country, as if every stone were placed there long ago by someone with a particular intention. And sometimes while riding around, I can smell incense burning in the villages, and I will forever associate that smell with the mystic aura of this place.
Most tourists don't come to the north of Peru. But if they do, they don't come without visiting Kuélap since it's considered to be Peru's “second Machu Picchu". Both are mountaintop pre-hispanic ruins, but really, the two cities are unrelated.
Stopping for construction is normal in Latin America, and as the woman held up a finger to show us to wait a moment, we patiently did so, as it usually only takes a few minutes before we're let through. But as the minutes dragged on, Tim turned to me and said, “Can you go ask that lady how long it will be? I just want to be sure she meant one minute as opposed to one hour."
So I did just that, but after conversing with the woman for quite some time, I came back to tell Tim the bad news. “She said the road is closed until 1:00 pm." It was 9:30.
So Tim and I got out our camping chairs and made ourselves comfortable just as a busload of sixth graders on a field trip pulled up, also having to wait more than three hours for the workers to go on lunch break. This impromptu delay actually turned into an incredible experience in disguise, because as the children disembarked from their bus, they found that Tim and I were the most interesting thing around, and decided to interview us for three hours. It was the closest I've ever felt to a celebrity. They took hundreds of selfies with us and the bike, and filmed our answers to their questions on their phones. I'm sure their teachers are going to give them a test on our lives once they get back to school.
The Pueblo de los Muertos is made up of several cliffside walled structures built by the Chachapoya people between 1100 and 1350 A.D. It gets its name because it's where mummies and human bones have been found. This is also the reason why there are keys to get in, because looters have ransacked the site over the years, and so gates have been put up to keep people out. Despite the looters, there are still quite a few human remains to be seen there.
Luckily, neither of us fell, and no new bones were added to the village's collection. We camped at the trail head with a gorgeous view of the Gocta Waterfall in the distance and slept under the stars (and rain) trying not to think about the dead people just down the trail from us.
And if the person was important, such as those at Karajía, they were placed in an elaborately-painted sarcophagus, some as large as 2.5 meters tall (over 8 feet), and placed on a cliff with an eternal view of the beautiful countryside.
Tomorrow we will slowly make our way south, out of this archeologically-rich region, and into the high-altitude Andes where we will hopefully come across glaciers. Though we are in no way leaving the Land of the Dead yet, we will be setting our sights on more natural wonders as opposed to cultural ones in the coming weeks. As always, stay tuned, and we'll keep you posted.