Monday, 8 July 2013

Gran Vilaya - day 4 - Kuelap

And work its magic it did. I woke up feeling great. And the guide was behaving himself. We joined another group to travel the two hours to Kuélap, the final destination of this hike.

If I had been forgetting momentarily about the fact that Peru is a developing country and a large amount of the population lives under the poverty line, the words painted on the houses served to remind me: "en Longuita estamos alfabetizando" - which more or less means in Longuita we are eradicating illiteracy. My guide had told me that, in his opinion, the poorest people are not the people living in the countryside because they own land, can cultivate their own food, and have a place to live, and that the poorest people are the professionals trying to make a living in cities where there are not enough jobs to go round, but I don't know what to make of this. With signs that imply that many people are still illiterate in some communes, it's hard to accept that these people are not poor, at the very least in terms of education. And that is certainly what's lacking in some parts.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Kuélap is considered to be the Machu Picchu of the North and has very few tourists. It's much smaller than I imagine Machu Picchu to be but has been well excavated and from its position high up on a mountain overlooking the valley of Utcubamba, you can see for miles around. This would have been strategic, firstly for detecting the arrival of any enemies, but also for communication. It facilitated signalling a message to the next village on the next hill, who would then send it to the next and so forth.

Kuélap was built around 900 by the Chachapoyas in this isolated area at an altitude of 3100 m, and was occupied until the beginning of the Spanish conquest. Since its discovery, this fortress has been the primary source of information for archaeologists and historians in their quest to discover more about this enigmatic civilisation. Kuélap is 600m long and 110m wide, built on three platforms, and contains around 400 constructions that are once again circular or have a snake-type form. Some of the houses have diamond-shaped patterns on them, depicting the eyes of the sacred animal, the snake. The few constructions that are rectangular were built by the Incas once they started to occupy this fortress. At the top of the fortress is an inverted-cone-shaped building, which was thought to have served religious or ceremonial purposes or to have been used as a solar calendar. The fortress is surrounded by a wall of between 6 m and 12 m high, with only three very narrow entrances so that attackers would only be able to enter one by one, if they got that far. I feel quite privileged to have entered here myself and to have been able to absorb some of the atmosphere still present in this old fortress of the people of the clouds.

Back in Chachapoyas, I went for dinner and tried Chicharrón, one of the dishes on the list given to me by the Peruvian couple at the waterfall. I don't think it's going to be one of my favourites. But my stay in Chacahapoyas might well turn out to be my favourite stop in Peru. The rest certainly has a high standard to match now.

fortress wall

one of three entrances

rectangular construction built by the Incas

circular houses and entrance

snake's eyes

spot the llama?

giant pestle and mortar type utensil found in house

 the protruding set of stones was a guinea pig run

replica of an original house


carvings in wall of fortress

typical road cut into cliff on which we travelled back

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