Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Day: Caral

I arrived late in the evening on Monday, and after a couple welcoming beers and snacks with my cousins, Juancho and Diego, we all went to bed, being fairly tired - me from the trip and they from long days at work.

My uncle Willy and his partner, Elva, picked Diego and I up at eight yesterday morning for a day trip up the coast, to the Supe Valley and the ruins of the ancient city of Caral.  On a previous trip, an attempt to get to Caral was frustrated by the poor state of the roadway.  However, the declaration of Caral as a World Heritage Site spurred the construction of a better roadway to the site.

About 75 kms out of Lima we stopped at the diner at the Repsol gas station just past the Chancay River on the Pan-American Highway, in order to fuel up with a hearty breakfast of bread with the local sausage, cafe au lait, and chicken soup.

We'd need it, as we were not planning on lunching until we were on our way back in the very  late afternoon.  However, once we arrived in the Supe Valley, we did turn in turn in to the town of Supe, to buy some of that sausage.

The region is known for its sausages, the most well-known being those produced in the town of Huacho, a bit to the south of Supe.  Those sausages -salchichas huachanas- akin in texture to Mexican chorizo, are a favored breakfast item, served in bread rolls or mixed with eggs.   There is, naturally, a bit of a rivalry between  towns as to which makes the best sausages -collectively known as salchicas del norte- and the sellers in Supe were quick to laughingly point out that theirs were far superior to the stuff from Huacho.  Willy, however, confirms that as, he says, in Supe they employ less fat in their elaboration.

Hanging, L to R: Supe sausage, blood sausage;
On the counter, L to R: blood sausage, boiled pork tongues.

While there we took the opportunity to sample some boiled pork tongue with onion relish.  It was quite tender, but with the onion it had a flavor slightly reminiscent of the grated tunafish and onion mix we ate years ago while camping in Marcahuasi, and thus I found it slighly disconcerting.

A couple of miles futher up the Pan-American highway we turned eastward off the highway and up the Supe Valley, toward Caral.

Caral is currently an archaeological hotspot as excavations begun 15 years ago by Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís have uncovered the remains of a complex of seven ritual pyramids surrounding a large central plaza.   Each pyramid has an associated dwelling, probably for its priest or caretaker and a prominent hearth.  It is suspected that the hearths were used for rituals and were kept lit continuously as their construction included channels to conduct air to the fire within.

The pyramids themselves were built by bundling stones and dirt into bags woven from totora reeds and then piling them up, as one would adobes or bricks. The pyramids were then finished with facings of  stone held with mud mortar.

Ancient Caral's central plaza, with pyramids in background.

The "Small"Pyramid.

Standing stone, or huanca, and the Pyramid of the Huanca.

The main temple, with its sunken circular ritual courtyard.  This courtyard and temple
is the only location in Caral where musical instruments, condor and pelican bone flutes,
have been found.

Carbon dating of organic materials found at Caral led to the surprising finding that Caral was built 5000 years ago, making it the earliest known civilization in the Americas, and the third oldest in the world, behind Sumer and Egypt.   Other surprising finds have been the absence of weapons associated with Caral and surrounding sites, as well as the absence of any defensive wall from the period.   Caral was the ritual center at the heart of a cultural area and civilization that spanned some twenty sites up and down the Supe Valley, from the coastline to the Andean foothills.  That civilization was, apparently and surprisingly, one to which, through its 1000-year history, warfare was virtually unknown.  We should be so lucky.

The Supe Valley, with modern Caral in the background, at right,
and, in the foreground, post-Caral adobe ruins from the Moche culture.

The archaeological site was named "Caral" due to its proximity to the sleepy agricultural town of Caral, which lies at the heart of a tranquil valley filled with corn, aji pepper, and pumpkin fields.   It is not a particularly prosperous zone, and horses still provide much of the traction in transport and tillage.  There is a mine up the valley that provides some employment, but a lot of hopes are pinned on the development of ancient Caral as a tourist destination.

The archaeologists who run the site have ensured that  visits to the ruins are forbidden without a guide and that those jobs only go to locals.  Guides are provided training and certification by the archeological staff, and locals do not have to pay to visit the ruins (everyone else pays between s/. 4 and s/.11).

Modern Caral
After a long day, which also included visiting a plot of land my uncle is interesting in buying, we  headed back toward Lima, stopping for lunch in the town of Chancay, at 5:30 pm!  And got back to Lima at nearly 9 pm, too tired to do much else but sit and chat before going to bed.


Anonymous said...

Juancho, the way its formatted you can only see half of the picture commentaries. Thought you's want to know.

Juancho said...

What resolution are you using? I am viewing it at 1366 x 768 and have no trouble, and I have just tested it at 800x600 and it was fine.

Try reloading the page, see if that clears it up.

Anonymous said...

looks good in Baltimore, all pictures crystal clear. Sounds like a great trip.