(June 30 – written by Dave)
We rode the last of the Utcubamaba River today. We’ve been riding uphill beside it for more than three days now. It started so wide that building a bridge across it was very difficult. By the end of the day today, it looked like you could almost walk across it in places. It is almost clear some 150k upstream as well. No more mines, farm runoff, gravel pits and landslides. While we were going up, the grade was mostly gentle as well – gone is the steep gorge of the lower river.
Even though we rode up river all day, we ended up at a lower elevation than when we started. That’s all because we started 3.5k up the steep side hill in the town of Nuevo TIngo. We learned yesterday that the town was built in the 1990s after Tingo, the village down on the river, was wiped out by the flooding Utcubamba River. Nuevo Tingo isn’t getting flooded anytime soon, moving some 1,000 feet uphill and away from the river. As almost always happens as well, Tingo pretty much rebuilt itself as well. So now they compete with each other for resources, until the next flood and Tingo is wiped out again.
Today’s ride was not overly exciting in terms of views but the road was smooth and we made good progress. We reached Leymebamba pretty early at 11:30. We had toyed with taking a day off here to see the famous mummy museum but we managed to get a hospedaje – Virgen del Carmen – and we checked in early. The hotel is new and right on the main square where there are a number of hotels, meaning the owners are ready to give you extras if you pick their hotel. Tonight we are paying all of $12 for a nice room, with hot shower, WiFi and a small balcony on the square.
With the early check-in, we had time to shoot up to the mummy museum this afternoon. It has only been open since 2000 but it’s a pretty interesting story actually as they really only discovered and recovered mummies in 1997. They were buried in caves and cliff buildings in a very remote area where a farmer was keeping cattle. Some of his ranch hands discovered the caves but didn’t tell anyone because they were basically trying to loot them.
Eventually the ranch hands started to fight over the more prized artefacts and word got out of the find. The farmer let the authorities know and they subsequently tried blocking access to the site. Except by now, the tombs had been disturbed and there was no way that they would survive the upcoming rainy season. So in 1997 archaeologists from all over the world joined up to recover as much as they could from the site, literally handing mummies one by one to each other in a human relay.
The ranch hands and the rushed excavation left a lot of the historical questions unanswered but they were able to determine that it had been 500 years since the tombs were last entered. Overall they recovered about 200 mummies. They determined that the mummies were not embalmed but rather only had their stomachs drained and then were wrapped. Unlike mummies in Egypt, they were placed in foetal position and were literally stacked on top of each other. The climate in their tombs worked out to be perfect for many of the mummies to be in pretty good nick when they were discovered – pretty good nick for a 500-year-old mummy I guess.
The museum has so many mummies that they have a special room where they are just stacked up on shelves. As you approach the room, the lights are off. Turn on the lights and you get a whole bunch of bagged mummies, and a few scary, almost contorted faces staring back at you – kind of creepy. Anyway, the museum was interesting and now that we’ve seen it today, we don’t need to take another day off here in Leymebamba – it’s a pretty small town.
The next two days of riding are pretty challenging. We have to cover 145k and there are two very long climbs. The first climb is 29k and the second climb is 40k. There is no flat, meaning that we have a bunch of downhill as well. Our first downhill is reported to be 60k long and the second one is 26k long, for a total of 4,250 meters (or about 14,000 feet). We will have to wild camp in the middle as there is not much in the way of services. Plus tomorrow, we’ll go over a pass that is 3,700 meters, our highest point on the trip so far. We are (or at least I am) looking forward to the challenge.
I’m not sure if we’ll have signal, or the energy to write a blog tomorrow but we’ll at least get a report out at the end of the second day once we’ve made to Celendin.