The Mummies of Chachapoya

The Maranon river is one of the principle sources of the Amazon river, flowing east from the Andes. To traverse this catchment (heading north) means an exhilarating downhill of 2400m followed by an intimidating 2800m of climbing. The town of Balsas, beside the Rio Maranon, is at a hot, dry 850m.

We crested the ridge 500m above Celendin on a cool, cloudy morning. Through the many layers of cloud we could just see the river 2400m below. The road is single lane and paved, so it was a fast & fun descent into banana and mango land. It was pretty warm down in Balsas and we had a healthy lunch of chicken, chips and Coca Cola, saving our avocado and tomato sandwiches for dinner.

Of course as soon as we started uphill the sun came out and sweat ran freely. I picked up a dozen goatheads in my tyres somewhere along the way and if we had been running tubes inside our tyres I would have needed a new inner tube. With sealant inside our tyres we could remove the spiky wee beasts and see the beads of sealant sealing the tiny holes, our most graphic example to date of how good a tubeless system is.

We ascended 1100m and with a rainstorm on us decided to camp at a wee roadside quarry. We had each carried 3 litres of water as we figured there would be none on the lower part of the climb.
Next morning we started up the remaining 1700m, topping out at 3pm. The road is well graded (and paved) so although a long climb it is more arduous than strenuous. Nevertheless we were pretty satisfied to top out and revel in the 1300m descent to Leymebamba, a tidy wee town that has been put on the map because of the discovery of mummies in the cliffs above Laguna de los Cóndores (20km away as the condor flies).

The Chachapoya peoples lived in this region from 800 AD -1450AD (well before the Incas). In 1997 a rancher discovered the chulpas (cave tombs) with the hundreds of mummified corpses, and sadly until the intervention by archeologists a year later many artefacts and mummies were destroyed or stolen.

Despite that, the amazing museum (partially funded by Austria) in Leymebamba has 200 mummies in storage and excellent displays and interpretation of the Chachapoya era which still has a lot of mystery sorrounding it…