Locating the Original Moyobamba Route

Over the Sierra

This page traces the path of the Moyobamba Route over the Sierra from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas and then to Moyobamba.

Cajamarca to Chachapoyas

From Cajamarca the trail ran through Baños del Inca and then over the mountain to Polloc. The area is heavily populated and it's impossible to identify where the old trail may have been here. Polloc and the nearby town of Encañada are on the map, as are the towns of Sucre and José Gálvez, and Celendín further on. Father Zahm stayed just beyond Polloc at Tambo Mayo (-7.09347853, -78.3105659). It's also difficult to judge where the old trail went after Polloc, however as it passed through Sucre it must have taken a more southerly route than the new road. That would also fit Father Zahm's overnight stay in Tambo Mayo. Between Sucre and Celendín is one of the few stretches where the modern road follows the same path as the old mule trails and it is even possible to see it on Google Street View.

From Celendín to Balsas the modern highway makes numerous long switchbacks which no mule trail would have ever done. The satellite pictures show several small trails in the area and surely some combination of those would have been used by the old arrieros. The only mid-point location mentioned by any of the travelers here is (Hacienda) Limon at (-6.871435, -78.088961).

I crossed the Marañón at the Puente de Chacanto (-6.844856, -78.029656) at the little village of Chacanto just upstream from Balsas. The new bridge that I saw being built was about two hundred meters upstream (south). (After the images get updated, the new bridge will show up and maybe the old bridge will be gone.) At Chacanto the modern road turns south to follow the river for a short distance before climbing the mountain. The town of Balsas, where the historic travelers crossed, is about 1.5 kilometers further downstream (north). I actually did not pass through Balsas, only through the new village of Chacanto.

Although the next part of the route is very remote, it is described very consistently by the travelers and is surprisingly easy to locate. From Balsas, the trail followed the Marañón north for a short distance and before turning northeast to follow a small stream into the mountains. Google Street View shows where the still-in-use trail leaves modern day Balsas at (-6.834871, -78.017690).

The best way to trace this next part of the trail is by using 3D view on Google maps and turning the view so that north is pointing about 45 degrees to the left. The base of the stream that the trail followed is at (-6.829225, -78.011318) and it's easy to see how it provided an entry into the mountains. A 1906 Peruvian geography book by Federico Villareal describes the route here as being three leagues between Balsas and Carrizal, four leagues from there to Tambo Viejo, then five leagues to Llully, and four more leagues to Leymebamba. So the next step is to locate each of those points.

The first one is the hardest. Antonio Raimondi and George Dyott both wrote of passing through Carrizal in this part of the trail but I can't find any more modern mentions of it. However, Christopher Sandeman stayed at a farm named "Huilco" at this stage of the journey and the deperu website lists a Huilca at (-6.804447530, -77.98501015), up on the mountain side and away from the visible trails. The MTC maps also show a Huilca in this vicinity. Satellite imagery shows a house along the visible trail at (-6.813915, -77.997696) in a wide area of the valley just below the location given on deperu and at about the right distance from Balsas (per Villareal). I believe that Huilca and Carrizal (if it was a different place and not just an older name for Huilca) were located in this wider part of the valley.

The next location give by Villareal is Tambo Viejo, which was also the most often mentioned place mentioned by the travelers in this stretch of the road. It can't be found at either deperu or on the MTC maps, but three other geographic websites give the location at about (-6.77722, -77.9436). Satellite imagery shows a few scattered buildings here just off a side road that goes to the village of Collonce. George Dyott also mentions passing a tambo named Chanchillo just before coming to Tambo Viejo. Online sources list Chanchillo at (-6.78944, -77.9439) and Google shows a location named "Abra Chanchillo" at this location.

So how did the mules get from the little mountain valley to Tambo Viejo? They would have followed the little valley as far up as practical, which probably would have been to about (-6.802992, -77.975385), where the stream veers off to the north. Sure enough, there is a trail on the ridge just above that place at (-6.800716, -77.967051). It appears that the way the arrieros got there was by circling around the ridge to (-6.806802, -77.971849) to another valley and then climbing a barely visible trail at (-6.801690, -77.964380) to the top of the ridge. The trail then follows the ridgetop for about a kilometer before veering off to the side at (-6.795052, -77.961983) and going directly for Chanchillo. From Chanchillo it was a short distance on mostly flat ground to Tambo Viejo.

While it's possible that the old trail followed the road to Collonce for a short distance, it makes more sense that it took the straighter route, likely on the visible trail at (-6.775590, -77.939662). The trail then veers east along the stream (-6.770301, -77.922285) and then along a trail east of there from (-6.766601, -77.908306) to (-6.762236, -77.908854) to (-6.759334, -77.902391), where it divides with one branch leading to the modern highway and another heading up the mountain (and with some confusing connections to Collonce). The trail can be followed up to the peak of Calla-Calla at (-6.742831, -77.897931) and (-6.740401, -77.896125) and (-6.737657, -77.894364). (There are some other trails that lead towards the summit of Calla-Calla, but they appear to originate further north at Collonce or the village of Maria. There is no indication in the written record that the trail ever went that far north. It certainly would not have made sense after leaving Tambo Viejo.)

What appears to be the trail meets the new highway at (-6.735698, -77.892882) and even if that isn't the right trail (I'm not 100% convinced), the right one would have crossed the crest of Calla Calla someplace near there. The next named point is Llully and there is some confusion as to its location. The MTC maps show a Lluy on the cold heights near the highway at about (-6.727063, -77.891051) while the gazetteer lists it as being about six kilometers away down in the green valley at 06 44 S, 77 50 W. George Dyott wrote that Luy (as he spelled it) was "on the upper limit of the forest growth, on a boggy slope, where one of the main forks of the Pomococha river rises . . . the most cheerless spot imaginable." Dyott's description matches the MTC location, so the gazetteer must be wrong.

There are visible trail remnants after crossing the peak of the Calla-Calla, but given the terrain, the logical thing to do would have been to immediately descend to the headwaters of the Pomococha that Dyott mentioned (-6.731451, -77.885006) and follow that downstream. That also makes sense as the travelers described a rapid descent after crossing the peak (or ascent before it if coming from the other direction). The only other place mentioned prior to Leymebamba was a clearing named Pomococha where George Dyott spent the night (it "looked inviting"). The MTC maps place it at (-6.726855, -77.828157). From there a small road or trail parallels the new road and then joins it a bit further on. Both follow the river, as the travelers described.

Near Leymebamba the modern road makes a long loop to the south so as to slowly descend into town along the slope of the mountain. However, what is likely the original trail diverges from the road at (-6.714669, -77.818426) to take a more direct path to the old town of Leymebamba. On the opposite side of town at (-6.706923, -77.802863) is a little footpath leading down to the footbridge that I crossed. Both the bridge and the path (now a set of cement steps) can be seen on Google Street View. It would have made no sense for mules to make the long hair-pin turn that the modern road makes, so the mules would have walked down the footpath to the little bridge.

From Leymebamba the trail followed the river downstream just as the modern highway does. De Büren and Dyott mentioned passing through Suta (Maw called it Sootah). The MTC maps show a place named Shutuj at (-6.532010, -77.826975). Further north, Father Zahm and George Dyott stayed at Chillo, which must be the Estancia Chillo (-6.406921, -77.876972), now a hotel. This is just south of Magdalena (-6.373316, -77.900270), which Maw mentions, and is directly across the river from the entrance to the Kuelap ruins. At Magdalena (don't confuse with Magdalena near Cajamarca), the new highway continues along the river but the old trail took a more direct route over the mountain. Zahm and Dyott both mention going through Condechaca, which the MTC maps show at about (-6.354533, -77.897420), and Maw passed through the large town of Levanto to the north. Various historical sources indicate that the old route went through Levanto, but it's hard to say by which of the various trails in the region.

Reference Links

first listing - Tambo Viejo
second listing - Tambo Viejo
third listing - Tambo Viejo
listing for Abra Chanchillo
deperu - Tambo Mayo
deperu - Huilca

Chachapoyas to Moyobamba

Chachapoyas is the capital of Amazonas department. Chachapoyas Backpackers Hostel is a block away from the SE corner of the plaza, on Jirón Dos de Mayo between Amazonas and Triunfo. The Casona de las Rosas is a block further up Amazonas on the NE corner of the intersection with La Merced. The cemetery is at (-6.235490, -77.868996). The airport is on the north side of town and using 3D satellite view it's easy to see that the runway starts at a cliffside. The nearby sites of Kuelap and Gocta are marked on the satellite maps.

I went to Moyobamba via the modern highway that runs north along the Utcubamba River. One of the places where the cliff overhangs the road can be seen on Google Street View at (-6.168031, -77.902322) and a place where a small stream runs over the road is at (-6.142258, -77.902142). At Pedro Ruiz Gallo, my combi went north and east through Pomocochas, Naranjos, Nueva Cajamarca, and Rioja.

The historic travelers, of course, went east on the old trail towards Molinopampa. The travelers spoke of following a trail along a stream, so I believe the old trail more or less followed the same route as the paved road does today, although probably lower down so as to be closer to the stream and water for the animals. George Dyott stayed in a town he called Daguas and which must be San Francisco de Daguas at (-6.22918127, -77.73302152). Father Zahm's arriero took a detour south of the trail to his home village of Soloco at ( -6.251316, -77.744006).

Molinopampa is marked on the satellite maps. The plaza is in the center of town and Betto's is across the street on the east corner of the intersection of Independencia and Amazonas and next to the church. The old village of Taulia is the lane of houses to the east at (-6.205506, -77.646756). In 3D view one can see that the line of trees in between the two towns is a ridge and that there is a trail between them around the south side of ridge. This is the original trail. I started at (-6.211018, -77.665558) where the trail leaves the road and walked east along the north side of the river for about a kilometer before coming to too much mud to go on. The trail is named Colpar Calle on the map and it's just a wide dirt lane that could be carefully driven on by a car in dry weather and by a 4WD vehicle in rainy times. Pedro Sopla lives on the south side of the river in one of the houses along the road to Rodriguez de Mendoza.

The next portion of the trail goes through very remote country but it followed a very organized string of named tambos at Ventilla, Bagazán, Almirante, Pucatambo, and Vistador (Punto de la Ventana). One of the maps in the 1865 Peruvian atlas produced by Mariano Paz Soldan even shows all five locations. In addition there was the Piscohuanuna, just after Ventilla, and the telegraph station at Uscho, between Almirante and Pucatambo.

At (-6.203076, -77.646390) the trail through Taulia turns east to go uphill (as seen on 3D) through some woods and patches of barren land. At (-6.195319, -77.629342) it passes a small marshy lake that must be the one Sandeman mentioned passing by in this area. The first stop after Taulia was the tambo at Ventilla (Ventija). Between Sandeman's lake and Ventanilla, there are only a few visible traces of what might be trails. Based on the 3D topography, the trail probably went east over a few visible low ridges and down into the valley at (-6.185171, -77.573972) and then gone upstream to about (-6.148888, -77.553787) where they would have turned up towards Ventanilla. The gazetteer lists Ventanilla at (06 09 S, 77 31 W), which places it on the barren mountain just north of Lake Cochaconga. Llewelyn Williams describes the site as being by a grassy area, which makes sense as there would have been water and feed for the mules, so the actual location was probably in the green ravines just to the east of where the gazetteer locates it. Nevertheless, it is roughly just north of the lake.

Bagazán can be found on Google Maps by searching for "Bagazan, Amazonas, Peru" and the location matches the coordinates (06 08 S, 77 26 W) given by the gazetteer (which could share the same data source). Unfortunately, the resolution of the satellite imagery here is very poor so it's impossible to guess where the trail went. Piscohuanuna would be the high barren mountains between Ventanilla and Bagazán. After Bagazán the countryside is heavily forested and it's impossible to see any signs of trails, if they even still exist.

The trails may not be visible but the tambos can still be searched for. The only thing exact information I have found on Almirante is the coordinates in the gazetteer (06 08 S, 77 20 W), and those must be reasonably close as the location falls between Bagazán and Pucatambo. As to Uscho, the coordinates given in the gazetteer place it way to the east of Pucatambo and so must be wrong as several travelers wrote of Uscho as being between Pucatambo and Almirante. The next stop, Pucatambo, is now named Vista Alegre and has turned into a sizable little village. It can be seen in decent resolution on both Google and Bing Maps at (-6.150273, -77.303305). Someone has even uploaded photos of the village to Google.

The next stop was the overlook of Ventana, also called Vistador and Punto de la Ventana. The gazetteer gives the coordinates of Ventana as (06 04 S, 77 14 W), which places it on a ridge in the valley east of Rioja (again, 3D view helps here). The trail from Pucatambo likely would have roughly followed the same path as the road does through the dip between the hills until coming out in the valley a few kilometers distant. From there the most direct route to Rioja would have been over the ridge of the Ventana.

The towns of Rioja, Calzada, and Moyobamba can all be found on the maps. In Calzada, Hagda the hatmaker lived by this intersection (-6.032200, -77.062396) and the Morro de Calzada is at (-6.017425, -77.042546). The hummingbird feeding station at Waqanki is at (-6.075372, -76.977242).

Reference Links

deperu - Daguas

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Copyright 2019 Don Moore