Before the Incas: Chavín

As I had needed to rush to Lima in order not to miss my boss, I had fallen short of time to go to Huaraz. But I had been told there were some wonderful excursions to do starting from that city, so I went back North for a few days, leaving some of my belongings at Edu’s place, as I needed to get back through Lima afterwards to make my way to Cusco. After all those months, I was still not the most efficient traveler. But I was a happy one and, in the end, that is what matters.

I still had Dorine’s recommendations in my notebook and I kept on following them. At least regarding the accomodation. She had been talking a lot about a one-day trekking, leading to one of the most beautiful places she had seen in her own 8 months’ travelling: the Lagoon 69. To reach it, you have to walk to the top of a 5000 meters high mountain. That is one “69” leading you… well, maybe not to seventh heaven, but still pretty high. Tempting. Though it is always recommended to be cautious with heighth. One should make one’s way up to the stars only gradually. So I opted for another plan: go a little less high and stay there for a little bit longer. I could choose whether I wanted to do the Santa Cruz trekking – 45 kilometers – either in 3 days or in 4. Being there, I could as well make the pleasure last a little longer, so I went for the 4 days option.

The group would only be leaving in two days though, so I still had time to do another one-day excursion before leaving. The Lagoon 69 is one you can do in one day but it’s too heavy and exhausting to do just before a 4 days’ trekking. A visit to the ruins of Chavin de Huántar, a Unesco World Heritage site, therefore seemed a more sensible choice. That is what I was thinking to myself as I was handing back the eggs I got served that morning for breakfast to the person who gave them to me. I was sick of eating eggs. I couldn’t see or taste any anymore. Having it next to my bread at breakfast was already more than I could take. Now that I think of it, I hadn’t particularly eaten a lot of eggs in the days and weeks previous to getting to Huaraz. But I think the dosis I got to eat in Colombia put me off them for at least a few months. Meanwhile, I got acquainted with Coralie, Charline and a young guy – whose name I forget. Coralie was a Belgian from Brussels, the two others, French, and the three of them had been volunteering at an orphanage in Peru for a few weeks, apparently in rather harsh conditions. Nevertheless, they were joyful company on the following day.

As for most excursions, the one which would lead us to Chavín required to rise very early in the morning, as it takes quite some time to get there. Not that the distances to cover are that important, but being in the mountains, with a lot of curvy roads, which are not always good, buses do not drive at full speed. Which, considering the steep abyss at the side of the road, you are thankful for.

We made one or two stops on our way to Chavín, amongst others at the Querococha lake, at 3980 meters above sea level – Huaraz and Chavín being at 3100 and 3200 meters asl respectively. And that sight alone made it worthwile to get out of bed that early. I isolated myself a little to take pictures and had to smile when I saw how Coralie was getting assaulted by Peruvians who wanted to have a picture taken with her. Seeing how they were standing in line with their cameras in their hands, waiting for their turn, she must have felt like a super star.

Querococha lake - 3980 meters asl
Querococha lake – 3980 meters asl

We continued to climb higher, up to 4700 meters if I remember well, and some of the people in our bus – mainly teenagers on a school trip – were starting to feel the effects: headaches, nose bleeds,… Coralie was traveling with a bag full of coca leaves and offered me some.

I have to admit I forgot a great deal of the explanations we were given that day. Actually, I am not sure I listened much. So I tried to reconstruct my scattered memory using the information I could find on the internet.

The Chavín were a pre-Inca civilization, which already started to decline a few centuries a.C. The archeological site of Chavín de Huántar is a temple, which served ritual purposes. Apparently, the site hasn’t revealed all of its mysteries yet. It is composed of a building, holding numerous galleries and a huge square in front of it, below which there are many other galleries to be found. The latter, it seems, were used to create a variety of sounds, probably meant to make the people taking part in the ceremonies believe in the presence of deities. One of the ways to make a noise was by the introduction of water in the tunnels. When water was flushing through with a certain intensity, the sound it produced could be very similar to the roar of a jaguar. Depending on the intensity with which it was flushing through, the roar it produced pretty much ressembled that of a puma. Together with the snake and the eagle, the puma is an important symbol in the Inca culture. They are representative of the three levels. The snake represents the lower or underworld. The middle world of humans is represented by the puma and the upper world of the Gods is represented by the condor.

During the rite, the priests also used a substance named San Pedro. Extracted from a cactus and still widely used as a visionary intoxicant in Peru today, it gives hallucinations and can bring those who take it into a transe. It also dilates the pupil, allowing the worshippers to enter the pitch-black labyrinth of the temple and find their way to the Lanzón, a carved monolyth which would bring the oracle.

El Lanzón
El Lanzón

Another important stone from Chavín is the Raimondi Stela. Although I am not sure whether it was of religious importance, it is a great example of Chavinistic art. It was discoverd at the end of the 19th century by an Italian historian, archeologist, adventurer, and author named Antonio Raimondi. He found it in a peasant’s hut, where it was used as a table. After the decline of the Chavín civilisation, around 200 a.C., people came to live where the ceremonial site stood and residents used the stones and materials of the temple to build the walls of their own houses.

Charline inside the temple
Charline inside the temple
The village of Chavín
The village of Chavín

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