Friday, December 23, 2011

Caral and Other Ancient Ruins: Day 4

Yesterday (Thursday, December 22nd) was a very, very long day.

Unfortunately we discovered when we got up at 5:30am that Erik had spent the night up sick and there was simply no way he was going to be able to go on the trip with us. Jim still wasn't feeling great, but well enough to go. We felt bad leaving Erik, but there really wasn't an alternative since the trip was already booked and prepaid. So Jim, Steph, and I got ready and were out the door by 6:30 to meet the taxi to drop us off in front of the tour office.

We packed into the tour van with the other passengers for the day... a couple from Germany (though the woman was originally from Peru) and an elderly mother and her two daughters from Barcelona, Spain (pronounced Barrthelohna, thank you very much). We filled 8 out of the 9 passenger seats... Erik would have been the ninth. It was a long, grueling 3.5 hour ride to Caral. I get carsick easily, and since the traffic in Lima is stop-and-go in a way I can't even describe, the roads for part of the ride were very bumpy, and we were in the back with little air flow... I felt pretty awful. Jim was in the same boat since he still wasn't feeling well from the day before. We picked up some crackers at the one rest stop in the middle, which helped a little, but we were so very grateful when we finally arrived at Caral after the last 23km of bumpy dirt road off the main highway.

Caral is in the middle of a desert area. It's no wonder that this massive complex of ancient ruins (the oldest known civilization in the Americas by my understanding, about 5,000 years old) went undiscovered until 1994... it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It is next to a river, which is where the ancient people farmed and got their water. There are older ruins in the Americas, but this is the oldest full civilization. Tourism of this area is still pretty new and not very well known, so the buildings there for tickets, restrooms, and lunch tables are pretty new. There were only two other small groups there aside from our group, so it felt like we had the place practically to ourselves.

The tour of the ruins lasted about an hour and a half. The tour guide that works full time at Caral led the tour in Spanish for the other tourists with us, and then our tour guide Enrique (that brought us to the site) translated it into English for the three of us, which was very nice of him. Unfortunately, that meant that our little pack of three was behind the rest of the group the entire time, but oh well. There were several step pyramids, temples, round kiva-like ceremonial sites, and living areas for the priests. Caral was a holy area, so only priests and the upper class lived there (middle/lower class lived in nearby settlements).

The paths around the ruins are all lined with a local desert plant called Achupalla (ah-choo-pay-uh) which I find absolutely fascinating. It's an air plant of sorts, in that it has no root system and gathers its water from the air. You can literally just pick these up and put them back down wherever you want.

Lunch was provided after the tour. Since Caral is in the middle of nowhere, that is literally the only choice for sustenance. They gave us chicken with some unidentified delicious green sauce, a full potato, a full sweet potato, and Incan corn (which has large kernels and generally not much taste, I prefer good ol' sweet corn). They also gave us chicha morada, the purple corn drink. It was delicious but a lot of starch, so I wasn't able to finish the corn/sweet potato but still felt hungry not long after lunch. Good thing we packed some snacks to eat in the van. We weren't the only ones that would be snacking on the drive.

Unbeknownst to us we were also to visit two more places that day (we thought we'd go to Caral and then come back). We drove about half an hour to a small museum in Vegueta, which was mildly interesting but so small I'm not sure it was worth the extra time to get there, then back north to Bandurria, another set of ruins/temples next to the ocean. They were also neat, but by 4:30 when we finally got in the van to leave we were getting antsy to get back to Erik and still had a 3.5 hour drive back to Miraflores.

The drive back wasn't any better than the drive to Caral... in fact, the traffic once in Lima was even worse, it was late, I was super hungry by the time 7:00 rolled around (and we were still stuck in traffic), and the car sickness had returned. The driving in Lima... well, imagine accelerating as much as possible for five feet, then slamming on the brakes, and repeating every 3 seconds for two hours. Bleh. It felt rather unnecessary. When they finally dropped us back off by the tour office, we happily grabbed a cab. (Jim addition for humor: imagine 3,000 people doing a powdery substance popular in the 80's, hopping in their cars and all trying to get through a 6-way intersection in East Boston - words simply fail to describe just how inconceivably psychotic it is. Also, at one point, we literally "hung" with about 5 police over an 8 block area and derived one simple question: what is it that a) traffic police actually do here, b) what, honestly, could they possibly do?)
Jessie had amazingly ordered some pizza for us (since it was so late and we didn't have the energy to go anywhere) that arrived just as we did. She became my favorite person in the whole wide world in that moment... I was so happy to be still and have food. We also ordered what ended up being a ton of miso soup and rice (to meet the order minimum) for Erik since he was recovering from being sick and hadn't eaten anything that day, which we all also helped eat.

All in all it was worth enduring the car sickness and the drive to see the ruins, but we all agreed that it would be best to lay low the next day. Erik was recovering, Jim was recovering, and we were all simply exhausted and sore.

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