When most people think of Peru, they immediately think of Machu Picchu not knowing there are so many other amazingly preserved ruins to see. Not to mention, many of these ruins were not constructed by the Incas — the ancient culture that was in power when the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
Well last week I took a day trip to one of those said amazingly preserved, non-Incan ruins called Kuelap built by the Chachapoya culture some time in the 1500s. Just as an FYI, the Chachapoya, meaning Warriors of the Clouds, were the Andean people living in the cloud forests in Amazonas (the region where I live). The Chachapoya were one of many nations under the control of the Inca Empire. In fact, Chachapoya is the Incan name for this culture and the name they had for themselves is still unknown.
Anywho, the next thing you guys should know is that Kuelap is breathtakingly (literally & figuratively) 3000 meters above sea level. Just like in Ancash, your girl couldn’t walk 10 steps without gasping for precious, precious air. Of course the people who live around the ruins know that there are North American lungs afoot just begging for some small mercy. Turns out they had the answer in the form of horses for 10 soles ($3). And thank God for them, because without it I would have never made the walk up.
When you get to the summit, there is a GINORMOUS fortress wall with a skinny little sliver of an entry way with a skinny staircase. And to be clear, by staircase I mean a random collection of slippery rocks. Apparently, some scholars say the skinny portal was for defense purposes and others say it symbolized a gigantic vulva. Me, personally, I like to think its the latter cause it makes me giggle. So after you make it up through the pseudo staircase in the vulva portal, you’re in archaeological heaven. Scenic views with misty clouds, dramatic cliff drop offs, and really really old stuff all over that place!
We kind of ditched our tour guide which was cool A.) because we got to explore on our own and B.) because the guide was going to be in Spanish and some days you just don’t want to speak or listen to Spanish. Additionally, like a lot of other ruins (including Machu Picchu) there isn’t much concrete information regarding the specific uses of the structures or the lives of the people who inhabited the area. I prefer to just wander on my own and read the signs.
I would also like to note for the record (cause its that important) that as I
was exploring the ruins, I found that for the other tourists (most of them Peruvian) I was also a part of the attraction. Kids and grown folks kept asking me to be in their pictures. They basically ignored my friend Sandra who could pass for a Peruvian so I know that it was probably because of my skin color. Which okay cool, you’re curious, but I’m not always trying to feel like a prop or novelty item so I drew the line and just started to say no more pictures – I can’t be everybody’s exotic Nubian Queen, ya know?
All in all, the day at Kuelap was great. I got to escape the heat of Bagua and the reality of speaking Spanish or what is supposed to be Spanish 24/7 while still learning more about Peruvian culture and history.