After yesterday's abortive attempt to visit Kuelap (see previous blog entry), today we succeed!
We arrive to a full car park at 09.15, despite the site only having been open for an hour and a quarter. To be fair the term car park may be over generous, but there are a number of private cars and tour minivans that have already disgorged their contents.
Rob notes that when he first came to Kuelap 20 odd years ago, the average visitor numbers each year were 9,000. Yesterday, Peruvian Independence Day, saw 964 visitors alone.
Today numbers look to be nudging yesterday's figure since as we leave at 1.30 pm there are hordes of visitors arriving, armed with deep fried snacks, selfie sticks and the mandatory SADGs (South American dictator glasses), fully intent on a good day out.
The site is glorious, and Rob is a fount of information. I think my favourite are the guinea pig runs in the circular houses - they were fed on household waste and then plucked from their enclosure to be cooked and eaten. These were thought to have been drainage channels, despite not exiting through the walls of the round houses or even sloping uniformly until another archaeologist familiar with Ecuadorean housing design recognised them for what they were.
The site's evolution is best seen ascending or descending the main access passage. Three distinct tiers are evident, suggesting a continual expansion and development of the site over the 700 years of its occupation. The 400 plus circular stone houses would have accommodated some 3,000 inhabitants meaning this was a focal point for religious and trading activities, sitting as the site does at the jntersection of Wari, Chimu and Chachapoyas peoples. However, the volume of stone, and sheer effort required to infill the volume created by the vertical but continuously and sinuously curving walls rising from the bedrock is enormous, plus having to rebuild the houses as your property was filled in to make the next tier. Add to this the estimate that only 2 months a year could be devoted to building and the scale of this achievement becomes evident.
The Templo Mayor was fascinating - a truncated inverted cone, meaning the circular walls expanded in diameter as they rose from ground level - pretty groovy architecting and engineering for the ?12th century! Even better is that the entrance was via the 5m high roof of the structure, down a 2.5m deep shaft of 90cm diameter that aligned with the centre star in Orion's Belt on the summer equinox. The shaft leads into a 2.5m high chamber which was looted but contained human bones and burnt offerings.
The only straight lines in the site are buildings from the Inca or Spanish occupation periods. The 2 most southerly houses were filled with 130 male bodies all laid out, each with a fatal axe blow to their heads. The houses were then burned down with the bodies inside - a brutal suppression of revolt or a ruthless demand of fealty?
The near-complete cable car is intended to put Kuelap firmly on the tourist trail, but at what price to the integrity of the site and the culture of the local population? Will it become northern Peru's Venice, where the average tourist time spent is but 3 hours, enriching only the tour operators and not the local residents?
Dinner at Hostal La Joya was unusual in that the next course arrived immediately after the previous one had been served. At one point Sarah and I were eating the starter (soup) while Jude was nudging the main (lomo saltado) around his plate as Mrs Overall brought pudding (quinoa rice pudding) toward us and our ever-filling table. Coffee, or tea, arrived as the mains were cleared. The portions were of such gargantuan quantities that nothing was returned to the kitchen cleared other than the beer bottle and 2 tea cups!