We’re not happy unless we are zigzagging across the Andes, so on Friday Sept. 22nd, we headed to the east side of the Cordillera Blanca.
To get to a road that cuts through the southern end of the Cordillera Blanca, we drove south from Huaraz to Catac to take Hwy. 110 across. Of course, Google maps had us turn too soon and tried to get us to drive across a footbridge.
I kid you not!
But I found an alternative bridge to cross the Rio Santa. The further south we headed and then east, we entered vast stretches of rolling grasslands with the white-capped Cordillera Blanca forming the backdrop. Gorgeous!
We followed a good paved road that just had been re-done so it was an easy drive up to the pass at 14,800’+ through the new Tunnel Kahuish. Immediately after the tunnel, the road turned to graded gravel sections interspersed with the old pavement on the eastern downslope. And filled with transportation workers upgrading that section. With only a few waits for construction areas’ one-way delays, the drive down was uneventful other than extremely dusty and dirty. We were coated with dust by the time we arrived at our destination – Chauvin de Huantar.
We pulled into the tiny Plaza de Armas (it seems to be a requirement in Peru that their main squares all be called Plaza de Armas), parked for the night and found us a lunch spot. After dining on sandwiches, the dueña (owner) requested that Dave stick a pin in on a world map to show her where we were from.
We wandered the town for awhile trying to locate a tour company to take us to the Chauvin Archeological site. We thought we had made arrangements with a taxi driver to pick us up the next morning at 8 am.
So on Saturday, we waited but no taxi driver. We ended up walking up to the site that turned out to be only 1/2 mile out of town. But it didn’t open until 9 – contrary to the advice of the taxi drivers from the day before. So we walked back to a nearby restaurant, had a Coke and waited.
The reason for our visit to Chauvin is because it’s an ancient site dating to 1200 bc and it is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
“While the fairly large population was based on an agricultural economy, the city’s location at the headwaters of the Marañón River, between the coast and the jungle, made it an ideal location for the dissemination and collection of both ideas and material goods. This archeological site is a large ceremonial center that has revealed a great deal about the Chavín culture. Chavín de Huántar served as a gathering place for people of the region to come together and worship.”
One climbs down and up ladders to explore the still structurally-sound tunnels.
One of the most interesting rooms was the Lanzón Gallery, located at the very center, which contains a sculpture of the Lanzón, which is assumed to be a supreme deity of Chavín de Huántar. The figure is anthropomorphic, with a feline head and human body.
Editor's note: The only artifact in the entire complex where photos were prohibited.
The sculpture is 4.53 meter (14.8′) high and is behind glass and the guards made sure no photos were allowed. Here is a photo of a replica found in Peru’s Museum of the Nation.
After walking back into town and having a delicious lunch of Trucha (trout) with a garlic sauce, we headed back to the truck with the idea we would drive further north to a scenic Mirador (lookout) to spend the night. However when we turned east at San Marcos, the road became increasingly rockier and narrower; so when we found a spot, we turned around and headed back down to valley, back through Chauvin, back through the road construction areas til we arrived at the Tunnel Kahuish where we decided to boondock for the night.
After the tunnel intermittent traffic died down around 9-10pm, it was so quiet. Only the wind at this 14,816′ pass. We didn’t do any hiking I can tell you. And that night, it got a little chilly with temperatures down to 43degrees and with the wind chill, I’m sure it was close to freezing. At one point during the night, I thought I heard the rain turn to sleet.
Woke up cold to a beautiful day. Stunningly beautiful.
After driving down the western slope of the Andes and returning to Catac, we headed south again until we could take Hwy. 16 at Lake Conococha west. After leaving the grasslands at Conococha, the drive down the Rio Chancay valley led through high cliffs of interesting rock formations but by the time we arrived back at the PanAmerican at Chilcal, we had returned to the beige (some would say boring) sand dunes that seem to line the northern Peruvian coast.
We pulled into Barranca and drove straight to the cliffs overlooking Chorrillos Beach. Felt right at home in the cool foggy environment with cliffs overlooking sandy beaches.
We knew from our iOverlander app this was a safe spot to boondock because well-lit with frequent police drive-bys. After a walk down the cliffs to the beach to buy our ice cream, we retired for the evening. After the local mototaxi drivers left around 9:30, we only heard the surf all night long.
On Sept 25th, we headed into the Plaza de Armas (there is that name again) to find breakfast and locate a tour company to take us to Caral, a nearby Archeological site.
Lonely Planet’s tour company recommendation address was in a closed hotel under construction. The google search for a tourist office led us to a closed store with no indication of when it might be open. So after breakfast we flagged down a taxi. Not so easy because gillons of mototaxi, but this site is 20 miles out of town and we wanted a bigger vehicle to travel that far. Finally, with the help of the casino’s security guard we were standing in front of, we caught a taxi.
It took us one hour over bad roads and even worse 2.5 mile driveway (fording a semi-dry river) to get to this site. Once again we’re glad it was their vehicle taking the beating.
Caral is the OLDEST civilization site in the Americas. Carbon-dating puts it over 5,000 years old. This is the same time as the building of Egypt’s pyramids.
It is in the Rio Supe valley and except for 1000′ along the river banks, it is extremely dry, sandy and barren.
The site was discovered in the 1940’s but because no precious metals were found it wasn’t excavated until the 1970’s by Stanford woman archeologist Ruth Shady.
The complex has centers all over the valley extending for miles. The site we visited contains six temples surrounding several large plazas. Because no warlike artifacts and weapons were found (no tombs) and musical instruments and woven objects were found, it is believed this civilization, and specifically, this site was for a cultural and religious people.
“Among the artifacts found at Caral was a knotted textile piece that the excavators have labelled a quipu. They argue that the artifact is evidence that the quipu record keeping system, a method involving knots tied in rope that was brought to perfection by the Inca Empire, was older than any archaeologist had previously guessed. Evidence has emerged that the quipu may also have recorded logographic information in the same way writing does. Gary Urtonhas suggested that the quipus used a binary system which could record phonological or logographic data.”
After our guided tour, we headed back to Barranca to a well-reviewed seafood restaurant on the Playa Chorrillos – Tato’s.
After lunch when we started walking back to the far end of the Playa and up the hill to the Green Hornet, the restaurant’s owner became very alarmed about us walking back on the deserted weekday streets at 3:00pm for security reasons. So he called his son and had his son walk us back to the hill’s staircase. Evidently on weekdays on the Playa when not busy, armed robbery of tourists happens. Once up the hill, we had been parked outside of a busy school with lots of people, mototaxis and frequent police drive-bys. We made it back with no problems and none all evening and night.
Our next planned stop was Lima but because of limited parking/camping selections in Lima, I had reservations for a site. But when I emailed asking if we could come in a day early, we were told “no room for truck”.
So instead, on Tuesday Sept 26th, we drove 20 miles south from Barranca to a coastal lagoon and bird migration flyover stop and preserve to Albuferas de Medio Mundo Bird Sanctuary.
There was no one there except the caretaker and one handyman. We had a miles-long lagoon surrounded by reeds and at the outer ring, sandy desert, to ourselves.
Talk about quiet. In the distance were rows of farmed chicken houses. After a walk to scope out the birds, we retired for the evening to the sound of water lapping against reeds.
For comments on our trip into Lima the next day, see our upcoming blog.