Today I arrived in Chachapoyas at 06.30 having taken the overnight bus from Chiclayo. I wandered down to the hostel I’d booked into fully expecting to leave my bag until lunchtime and have a wander round the town and some coffee whilst waiting to check in. I also needed to check out the tours and get myself organised for the next few days.
None of this actually happened. I got to the hostel, got my room sorted out straight away, and got sent straight off to Kuelap with 20 minutes to have a quick shower then 10 minutes for a quick coffee. It seems that there’s not a moment to waste around here! Luckily I’d managed to snooze on the bus so I’ve made it through the day without any difficulties.
Kuelap was astounding. It’s the site of a town where the elite of the Chachapoyas culture lived from around 500AD. They did finally get conquered by the Incas, but not until 1470 (Kuelap is quite a way north so it took the Incas a while to get there). Life continued alongside the Incas and later the Spanish until 1572 when the Spanish Inquisition came to town. Those who converted went off to live elsewhere; the rest were massacred and Kuelap was abandoned…..
Anyway, the site is on top of a mountain, around 3000m above sea level. Massive stone walls up to 20m high were built to give a flat top covering around 7 hectares to build the town on. At it’s peak around 3000 people are estimated to have lived there.
The site contains the remains of over 400 houses. The best bit is that they’re all round! It’s quite atmospheric up there; it’s cloud forest so the vegetation is quite lush, there were wisps of mist everywhere when we arrived (although this was starting to burn off by the time we left), and lots of bromeliads.
Only a small section has been cleared of vegetation and excavated. In that area they’ve reconstructed the roof of one of the houses – very cute. I’ve always wanted to live in Windy Miller’s windmill, but I could settle for a little Chachapoyan round house instead (with a modern interior of course).
The Chachapoyas people seem to have had nicer ideas than some of the other cultures. They didn’t do any human sacrifices (a llama or a guinea pig being quite sufficient) and they venerated the dead, so much so that it was quite normal to keep your relatives in the house after they’d died.
When granny passed on, she’d be put into a crouching position (chin on knees) then wrapped up in textiles into a little bundle. They’d then put her into a specially prepared hole in the ground in the house and cover it with a large stone (which could be dual-purpose, serving as a table whilst stopping granny smelling the place out as she decomposed…..).
All in all, Kuelap was fabulous. I’m off to see some more goodies tomorrow.