2 Months in Peru—May 3, 2015 Day 35.
03.05.2015 - 03.05.2015 62 °F
Cajamarca is perhaps the most important town in the Northern Highlands. The town has a long history, first as the Capital of the Cajamarca Kingdom, the “mountain kingdom”, one of three Pre-Inca civilizations. The other kingdoms being the Coastal (Mochi, Sican, Chimu), and the Jungle ( Chachapoyan Kingdom). The Incas conquered the Cajamarcans in about 1460, and it evolved into an important Incan city in the mountainous highlands, linking Quito and Cuzco.
Cajamarca is the place where Pizarro met, then captured the Incan ruler Atahualpa in 1532. Atahualpa filled his prison room once with gold and twice with silver as ransom to buy his release, but was eventually killed in the town square. This stands as perhaps one of the most significant and darkest moments of the Spanish colonial period.
We opted not to tour the ransom room and Spanish conquest sites, but rather focused on some of the earlier pre-Inca sites.
The first place we toured was Cumbe Mayo, which was 20 km southwest of the city. Cumbe Mayo was a sacred place to the pre-Incan Cajamarcans, and means (more or less “well-made water channel” in the Quechua language. Leaving Cajamarca on a tour bus, we climbed one of the hills/mountain that surround it. We passed many Campesinos (Quechuan people) and their dwellings as we headed toward Cumbe Mayo.
We also passed eucalyptus trees imported from Australia by the Spaniards, and a variety of conifers imported from North America, New Zealand, and South Africa in the ’60s or ’70s by the Military government in power then. The local people were ordered to plant the conifers, the intent being that they would be economically profitable to export. The people were reluctant to plant the conifers, but did so, and we passed by “tree-farm” looking stands of them!
We saw remnants of the old Inca road that passed through Cajamarca on its way from the coast to Chachapoyas. We travelled for a while on the Continental Divide at an elevation of 3550 meters (11,537 feet! ) above sea level. From here, water flowing west travels 150km to the Pacific Ocean, or 5500km to the Atlantic. The mountains are different from those in most of North America. Even at 11,000 ft of elevation, there is no snow, because of the nearness to the Equator. the mountains are not glaciated or deeply sculpted by ice and snow. They are more like rolling or gently sculpted hills.
Cumbe Mayo is located at one of the extrusions of volcanic igneous rock that dot the landscape. this rock was sculpted during the last ice age, when the climate was much cooler, and glacial ice covered most of the area. The forms are different from the rest of the landscape, and the ancient people imbued them with special meaning and significance.
There is a shallow cave that is called Terra Boca (mouth of the Earth). A sacred pool was built to hold the sacred water that collected there. Petroglyphs were visible decorating the cave. We followed a trail around the rocks, through a narrow tunnel and down a small valley. There were rock formations that looked like tall priests or friars, called Friarlones, and according to legend, were bad people that tried to steal gold and silver from the locals, so were turned into stone by Pachicama, their god.
Also on the tour were three other Gringos from the US who had been in Cajamarca for three months, associated with a Bible College there. It was fun to chat with them, Mario, Esther and Char!
We saw an ancient aqueduct built to carry the sacred water to priests who used it in religious ceremonies. The aqueduct was an amazing feat of engineering that dropped one meter per kilometer. it was absolutely straight, except where a series of right angles were incorporated, representing their symbol for the stairs to the afterlife. It is pretty amazing! We also saw the circular ceremonial alter (and were asked not to stand on it). It was used for religious rituals, including animal sacrifice (and perhaps occasional human sacrifice, too).
Back in time for a quick lunch, and taxi trip to buy tomorrow’s bus tickets to Chachapoyas. Wen we got to the small terminal the questionable agent made a couple of calls and said the bus did not run tomorrow! He referred us down the street to the Virgin del Carmen bus line, when he saw our panic-stricken faces. Virgin del Carmen was the bus line we were trying to find, so we were happy! The choice was a 0500 departure or a 3pm departure. We decided if we left at 3pm, we could stop in Celendin, two and a half hours away, for the night and catch the Chachapoyas bus at 8am the following morning.
In the afternoon we took a tour to Ventanillas de Otuzco, a collection of burial crypts carved into a soft volcanic cliff. They were interesting, but not at the same level as the Cumbe Mayo site. Most of the crypts had been opened and plundered by grave robbers.
Afterward we stopped at a large Hydrangea garden, then at a small cheesemaking shop on the way back to Cajamarca. Definitely a full day!