Streetview Cameras Spotted In Chachapoyas

Google Streetview Camera CarThere were two rival Streetview camera systems spotted in Chachapoyas recently. One was Google’s latest daring raid into the Andes – the other was us, Earthcircuit Streetview. The former was parked up on a back street, the sleek, modern car ticking down in the shade, its camera tree in position, the operator messing around with a rack of computers. The latter slowly trundled past – a converted bus with Dunia sitting up occasionally and taking a shot with an old Canon.

We were just reading about some inhabitants of a Thai village attacking a Google Streetview camera-car and wondered how things were shaping up for them up here in the highlands of Peru, along the spine of South America. We could commiserate with any difficulties since we’d had a couple of our own: A couple of times recently we’ve caught, in the course of capturing the road, a pedestrian by the side gesticulating with dismay at the camera lens. In the short clip below – a section of our Pan-Am Streetview – we omitted those pictures.

Elsewhere in Chachapoyas, we observed a couple of events held during a Chachapoyas Regional Culture Week – otherwise known as Raymillacta which possibly means “town party” in the Quechua language.


Another Streetview: here

Rideshare Round The World

Rideshare Round The World

OK, so you’re driving round the world – just the two of you, your offspring, maybe a dog –

usually in a vehicle that might look like it’s from a different planet compared to some of the jalopies sharing the road.







And if your rig is big enough

to look like it could have a spare seat or two, bigger than the micro-bus, crammed full of people, that just over-took you – you’re gonna see plenty of people waiting by the roadside, look up with expectation, establish eye contact, wondering for the split-second if you’ll stop for them…  Do you ever pick them up?Most people seem to have an opinion about hitchhiking in the western world – it’s dangerous, fun, easy, difficult, cheap or just not worth it compared to the low price of bus and air tickets we enjoy. Many summers ago hitchhiking was my preferred mode of inter-city travel and I never really had a problem. People would stop for all kinds of reasons; for the company, for help in map-reading or for help with actually driving the car – but so often the first thing they would say, as you threw your bag in the back and climbed in the front, was something like, “we used to hitchhike years ago and now it’s my turn to offer the ride”. This karmic feeling of keeping the spirit alive, of helping strangers when once they helped me, is what I have most in mind when I see them ahead, by the side of the road, thumb out, hoping to get where they are going.Hitchhiker in EcuadorComing out of Ulan Ude

In Europe, for whatever reasons,

you just don’t see many of them there any more however. In North America, with its long, long roads and lack of public transit, they are still there, of course – although thousands more organize their rides through websites like craigslist, couchsurfing or facebook. The ride-share has become a noble thing, a way of sharing resources and reaffirming your love for the human race.

Future bus passenger in EcuadorOutside of these privileged places, however, there is a subtle difference in the contract between driver and passenger – in some countries, every vehicle on the road is a potential ride home on condition that you contribute financially. Sometimes you see a crowd of people at the edge of a town waiting for a pick-up, van or bus to take them on and you know that there’ll be one along soon. Sometimes you’ll be on a much quieter road and the traveller is all alone or weighed down with a sack of corn from their fields – sometimes they are old, left to find their own way to a far-away hospital or social centre, and it’s these people we stop the most for. Not so much thinking of the past when I used to hitchhike myself – maybe more thinking of the future when I’ll once again be dependent on others…

My first experience of this was pretty much a dive into the deep end. We were two friends driving a Ford Transit van (something like a Mercedes Sprinter) from Turkey to India. The journey over had been fast across the deserts but, once in our destination country, we relaxed and slowed down. A couple of weeks in and we were heading south from the Himalayas; we stopped at a roadside dhaba, wandering if we could afford to eat (yes, we were broke), parking next to a bus with its hood up and steam coming out of places it shouldn’t. The occupants were a family of nearly twenty on their way back from a wedding and they were stranded but had the fortune to have one member thinking hard on how to solve their problem – he came up to us and offered us the diesel money to drive them all the couple of hundred kilometres home. That’s how it started – we woke up the next day, thinking, hey we just travelled half a state for free, let’s do it again! And for the next few weeks, we stopped on the edge of every town and village, banging the doors and shouting out the name of the next place on our route. As I said we were very poor but we made the effort to charge less than the buses – one rupee a mile, as I recall – making enough to buy a few meals on top of the diesel.  That really was the way to travel; a manic dream-time of dusty village after dusty village; all kinds of passengers and their kids, their chickens, their smelly fish and their gratitude for getting to ride in a fast, modern vehicle with brakes that worked and drivers that knew how to use them.

A couple of decades on and here we are on the Pan-American Highway on a mission to get to Lima, Peru so that we can start work looking after a Bed-and-Breakfast that needs our help. Times have changed though and we’re not exactly desperate to cram in as many people as we can. There seems to be plenty of local vehicles doing just that and we can afford to stop when we want. Of course, we’re not charging them either – we’re doing this for our benefit as much as it is a random act of kindness; to break the standard contract between local and tourist and learn something of the culture as we speed through…

Here are a few more of the people who joined us, sometimes just for an hour or two, on our earthcircuit: Americans in Costa Rica

Peruvian pensioner on the way back from hospital.

Late for a school meeting

Rideshare to a Rainbow Gathering

P.S. We are always up for taking people with us wherever we go and we are, in fact, the only moving couch on couchsurfing! At the moment, we’re thinking about our journey back to Europe from Peru which will begin in a few months – get in contact!

Driving To Kuelap

Driving up to Kuelap

Driving to Kuelap takes us three hours from Tingo on the main road. The way up is in a pretty bad state and in a couple of places we had to stop, get out and seriously consider turning round. In the time we were there, though, we saw all manner of vehicles bringing tourists, locals and their supplies – plus there is a new visitor’s center that is almost finished which is all part of trying to bring more tourists there. Well, next on the list is improving the road, I guess.

The Cloud People of Kuelap

Driving to Kuelap


Hill-top fortress Who were the Cloud People who built Kuelap? No one really knows. Where are the cloud people who run this gaff now? No one knows that either. After three hours climbing the contours from the main road 2000 meters below, through mud and rain and hanging off crumbling tracks, we had arrived at Kuelap. Into a thick, damp cloud and there was hardly anyone around – a few shadows in the fog. None of whom admitted to being in control or knowing the deal on parking for the night. Mysterious. We could certainly feel the energy of this place, this Kuelap, this ancient stone fortress-type citadel on top of a remote mountain in Northern Peru. A questioning energy – one big massive question mark, in fact.

Although it is the largest monument of its kind in South America, predating the Incas’  Machu Pichu by 500 years and “rediscovered” a hundred years before Machu Pichu was – Kuelap remains an enigma: Not so unusual because no one knows what they built it for (surely a characteristic of most ancient monuments around the world), but definitely strange that such an impressive site is so off the main tourist circuit that we are the only ones here –  and will remain so until late the next morning when the first of the daily visitors put in an appearance.

Chachapoyas round house at Kuelap

The town and the surrounding region of Chachapoyas is named after the culture that lived here before the Inca Empire took over. This was just a  hundred years before the Spanish arrived. So, like in a game of Chinese whispers, the Chachpoyans original name for themselves has been lost. Or so we are told repeatedly. Maybe they spoke the same language – no one knows that either. In Quechua or Aymara language, Chachapoya means the cloud or forest people – probably a reflection of their cloud forest home or their proximity to the Amazon rain forest – possibly because they were a whiter-skinned people. And the fact that they are assumed to have built Kuelap has two problems:  Firstly, this is the only such fortress/citadel in Chachapoyas and the preferred method of civilization in these parts seems to have been small kinship groups living in small villages of round, stone houses. It is said that the Kuelap was their defense against the Huari people who lived further lower down the mountain range and by the coast. The second problem stems from the fact that neither the Incas nor Spanish mentioned Kuelap at all – neither in the chronicles of the Inca conquering army of the 15th Century, nor in the writings of Spanish explorers.

Which , for me, represents something of a third problem: Isn’t this a bit strange? These people who don’t live in cities have, nevertheless, built the most massive and impregnable one the whole continent ‘ with more stone in it than an Eqyptian pyramid. And they did this to defend against invading tribes but then failed to use it, hundreds of years later, to repell the Inca invasion – who the Chachapoyans resisted for generations – to such a degree that the Incas didn’t even know about it…  Doesn’t make sense I’m afraid.

Artist impression of Kuelap


The Chachapoyans seem to have died out as a political entity by the eighteenth century although genetic and memetic lines permeate present-day Peru as the Inca forced their dispersal around the empire. They must have had one of the most enduring civilizations of anywhere in the Americas, however. Keulap was built from 600 – 800 AD (no one is sure) while the Inca conquest happened 700 – 900 years later. Their home region was isolated between a wide river and the Amazon jungle, a mountainous terrain that was a kind of micro-climate crossroads between the rain forest and the cloud forest.

Infamously, a couple of remarks by their conquerors have led to a theory that these white-skinned people were the ancestors of Celts or Phoenicians sailing from Europe thousands of years before Columbus. Both the Inca rulers and Catholic priests commented on the tall, fair, white, beautiful physique of the Chachapoyans. But this is a fanciful idea born of some misinterpretations; namely that “white-skinned” just means “more white-skinned than anyone else we’ve met recently”. Possibly even, they could have been more “white-skinned” than the Spanish since Spain was much more multiracial than most places. The idea of European descent has also been kinda refuted by science – a comparison of DNA here and a dental/skeletal survey there. But since there are no Chachapoyans around to really prove it one way or the other…  And, to further muddy the position you’re trying to get straight in your head about all of this, you see pictures of Andean families with a white, blond, blue-eyed kid – there’s even one at the local history museum in Leymebamba. Who are they? Albinos? Gringita of Peru

This story fascinates me. Not simply because of the nerd-pro ancient conspiracy angle but, moreover, because it shows that the experts truly have little idea what was going on in Chachopoyas, what Kuelap was all about, who built it and what bloody color they even were?