In 2008 we traveled as a family by car to see Chachapoyas and the Uctubamba Valley. We fell in love with this higher area in the north of Peru. A mountainous climate but with pristine vegetation, typical of the cloud forest, makes the place magical. As if it was not enough, the enigmatic nature of its archaeological remains, partially disseminated and revealed, makes tourism in the area mysterious and adventurous.
We toured the entire valley through its towns and attractions to end up arriving at Leymebamba and its magnificent mummy museum. We stayed several nights in town, from where we went to visit by foot the innumerable sets of archaeological remains that surround the area. By crossing forests covered by clouds, rich flora and fauna through the interior of the forest, we reached smaller citadels hidden behind the vast vegetation. This is how the Chachapoyas legacy has been preserved until today.
On the way back to Lima, we used the Leymebamba – Celendín – Cajamarca route, a thin trail surrounding mountains covered with forest and waterfalls. From their steep cliffs you can see the Marañón River at the distance, carving the entrails of these mountains. It was during this journey that a comment emerged: “How nice would it be to have a little house in this area of Peru.”
Good friends made in Leymebamba called us after a couple months and told us there was a plot for sale, which led to a new trip the following year. Then, we bought the plot. It was located on the outskirts of town, in the annex of San Miguel. The residents used to call the plot area “La rangra” (stony area). Set on the side of a hill and with an average inclination of 35 degrees, a land overexploited with crops and fertilizers sat right next to the road. There was only one or another native bush and no access to water or electricity, but it had a magnificent view of the Valley and the surrounding towns.
We left the field as it was for about a year. During that time we prioritized thinking about what could be done with what we counted on. Thus, in July 2011 we returned again. Back then we hired two workers and began to clean the land by removing all weeds, moving the soil and saving the occasional natural bush. That same year we built our greenhouse and bought 1,000 native trees (alders, cedars, putiqueros, motuy, elderberry, strawberries), all in small bags that we carefully located around the plot.
After a couple months of collecting seeds and making our own seedlings, we successfully developed new trees. Simultaneously, we opened up way around the plot and continued cleaning. It was necessary to create paths in order to get across the work areas easier. As the project continued, we saw the need to create platforms. These flat areas were essential to build habitable areas and gardens. Thus, beginning the construction of RANGRA WASI.
We continued cleaning the land through time and little by little, large rock formations that delimited potentially developable sectors appeared. Once we observed the rain falling over the plot, the formation of water courses indicated that we had to channel and respect their nature. For this reason, zones, paths and natural areas to be preserved were drawn. Soon after that, we recognized the need to have a place to store our building material as well as guardianship. For this reason, our first step was to build our garage on a rock cliff at the foot of the road. There we would receive our materials and underneath it, we would store the tools in a small warehouse.
The longer we spent on the project, the broader our imagination flew with ideas for this magic place. We began to dream of the endless possible creations we could set for different needs. This is how the first large-scale platform was born. It took us more than six months to make it since the stone, although abundant at the beginning, required work to move it, square it and install it. Similarly, the slope of the land and the dimension of the wall created the need to incorporate an internal structure with columns and tie beams for safe containment. The wall grew in width and height, generating a void in relation to the natural slope. This space had to be filled and leveled. This forced us to further level upper areas and thus obtain surplus material to fill the void on the lower deck. This became a mandatory method throughout the construction process of RANGRA WASI.
Although it is true we did not have a set budget for the project, we progressed with our own resources month by month and without deadlines for each stage. Great enthusiasm and harmony with the environment pushed our desire to complete it.
At some point, we had to delimit the perimeter due to the widening of the road that passes through the top part of the land. Around this time, we thought about building the guardhouse in the highest place possible. We began cutting and stabilizing the slope with reinforced retaining walls. We continued cementing the area to build guardianship spot and as it advanced, we could not ignore the beautiful view appreciated from its height. At that point we changed our mind. The former guardianship area became the base for bungalows 1 and 2.
The design and architecture of RANGRA WASI was molded according to what the terrain allowed through levels and the many bedrock formations that emerged in each excavation. All of this forced us to vary designs throughout the construction process by surrounding the rocks or incorporating them into the design.
The copious rain was a companion that played a preponderant role in the designs. It made us see that we had to channel and store it. This way, all the roofs were designed to collect rainwater for future pre-filtering it and storage in tanks that are distributed throughout the land. Later, the rainwater is distributed for irrigation and human consumption after a second filtering process. The installation of this system allowed us to be self-sustainable in this resource.
The making of a platform generates a lot of loose material (earth and stones). For organization purposes, you must carry the said material and deposit it in a place where it does not affect. Usually, it is used to fill up the slopes behind the walls in execution, but what if it is already full? It means it is time to start generating a new platform. This is where the need for new platforms arises, which in this case led to the start of bungalows 3 and 4. The decided area was occupied by a large bedrock. We absurdly spent time and resources trying to break down the edges that invaded the area we wanted to use. Reality showed us that it was foolish, so we had to adapt to the terrain once again. This is the main reason why in bungalow 4 we incorporated the perpendicularity of the rock and made it part of both the bathroom shower and the room’s back wall. On the Rock we had to create anchors by drilling, inserting iron rods with epoxy material, and holding them through dowels. This structure held the foundation beams to form walls for our new platform, where all the excess material from the upper platform would arrive. A very special case presented itself in Bungalow 3 as there lived one of the few native trees of the plot called Mora. We had to tie the tree to the structure of the upper bungalow to support it while we dug around it to generate the retaining wall. We considered this a very well accomplished task as today that tree is much bigger and healthier.
Once the bungalows were finished, we returned to the area that we had glimpsed at some to point to be destined for the Main House. Back in Lima, the plans started on the base of my grandparents’ house; a Miraflores building with English Tudor style. From there, we were able to rescue doors, windows, beams and decking. We carefully processed them and sent to Leymebamba. It was with these materials that the character of the house was forged. Piece by piece we started assembling the environments that today are its essence. The stone, the wood, the clay stucco walls the make up its amusing simplicity.
Now, let’s not forget about the roof that would cover it. I had to sit down and think about the challenge that its design would imply. I reflected it would encompass my experience as an Architect and as a specialist in woodworking. This led to my good friend Oscar constantly joking about: “which version of the ceiling is this? 7.5 or 8.2?“, and finally reaffirming that I should do what I really wanted to do when he said: ”This work is your life thesis. ” This impelled me to develop a 1.30 meters high x 24 meters long truss-type diagonal beam supported only by two intermediate columns, on which the entire roof would rest. The challenge was tough, but I managed to make the whole area open and only delimited by the different heights in the rooms. This allowed us to have windows on three of its four fronts, using the ones from my grandparents’ house and complementing the view by allowing the forest as part of our home.
Throughout the years of the construction process, gardening was always a constant. It went hand in hand with each working area. We transferred the trees that had already been adapted in the nursery to the areas where we sought to create gardens. This helped generate shade and shelter for new gardens. With effort and patience, we created a protected area where we reproduce plants of various flowers for hummingbirds to feast. Thanks to the good care and appropriate climate, after only 6 months these plants had filled their area. Therefore, we had to transplant them, but not before leaving a portion for their continuous reproduction.
Over the years of hard work, the good management of organic waste helped us form our own compost. Thankfully it has blessed us with the beauty of enjoying vast gardens, riddled by hummingbirds and other species that dazzle us with their colors.
To finish off the character of RANGRA WASI, we worked on our facade with a stone wall at the base and wooden bars recovered from the Miraflores house. On it we placed a gabled roof with Aliso rods planted and recovered through the years. In addition, to achieve the character of Leymebamba, we seeked to buy old disused tiles with their aged patina, which we placed as a hat on a fence that is more than 100 years old.