Note: We’ve (or really I’ve) fallen quite behind in the blogging aspect of life recently, but will attempt to make up for it with a veritable modern-day literary blitzkrieg over the next few days. Stay tuned (or if I was you, don’t)!
At the start of this trip, I knew very little of pre-Columbia societies (as they are often referred to). We learn about the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas in grade school, and also occasionally in the news when one of their calendars runs out, thereby inadvertently fulfilling many a doomsday prophecies. That’s about it though, the rest of the lands & history prior to 1492 is a large blank space deemed not worthy of fourth-grade American history textbooks.
Given this limited educational background, we did not expect to see too many ruins outside of the vaunted Machu Picchu. Part of the fun of traveling though, is to finding out what things 4th grade history books teach in other countries (the other part being to avoid the reality of a daily commute to an office-based environment as long as possible). (oh, and the other part is the food – as made clear here and here). (actually, there are probably other parts as well, such as discovering new dinosaurs, but I can’t name them all right now).
Rightly or wrongly, past civilizations are immortalized in the ruins of the structures they build, especially for societies that did not develop a writing system to record their history (even doubly so for those that did not have ability to edit their own Wikipedia pages). Thus we did not focus as much on pre-Columbian societies in the southern cone, simply because there did not exist much of anything to look at (we are that shallow). But by the time we rounded Bolivia and entered Peru, that completely changed. Peru in particular serves as a veritable cradle of civilization on the level of Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, future Mars, and the like – just about every city has ruins in the vicinity that would otherwise be considered legendary if Machu Picchu did not exist, stemming from all sorts of different societies from all sorts of different time periods, extending back thousands of years.
The diversity of structures is staggering, even in societies located just kilometers from each other, ostensibly operating under the same environmental influences and limitations. Such was the case in the northern Peruvian deserts around Trujillo, where the Moches built two large pyramid structures or worship, while the Chan Chan just a few kilometers away (so close its just a 30 minute drive these days) constructed the largest adobe city known to man (or platypuses for that matter as well).
The crazy part is that so much is still being uncovered! Chooquequirao is a five-day treacherous hike that serves as an intrepid-man’s alternative to Machu Picchu – something we considered before wussing out once we heard that it will be a 15-minute cable car ride away within a few years time. The prospect of future discovery is so high that we met an Italian student who specifically came to Peru to pursue his Master’s degree in archaeology, given the high likelihood that he might be able to completely discover or study new aspects of the myriad of ancient civilizations that flourished here. A sort of archaeological wild west prospecting scene, if you will (please do).
Anyways, we were surprised by the abundance and quickly realized we couldn’t visit them all. A few of the more stunning non-Incan ones we were able to hit on the Bolivia to Colombia route, with the majority located in Peru, include:
- These northern Peruvians had such friendly decorated paintings (in addition to two large pyramids) that I’ve already inquired about copyrighting a new “Meet the Moches” sitcom, which will debut on ESPN 14.5 in the year 2023.
- Did you know the Incan Empire only lasted 100 years until the Spanish obliterated it with their Manchego cheese and siesta time? Kind of amazing that so much was built from Middle Chile all the way up to southern Colombia in such short a time span, but clearly the Incans also evolved from the success of others. The Waris were one of those, preceding the Incans in around 1100AD. The Incan Empire drew from Wari knowledge and building techniques, allowing the Wari to enjoy the unfortunate reality of being a mere footnote to the Incans in even the best of history books.
- These guys loved mud so much that they built an entire city out of it! Just a few kilometers down from the Moches, they Chan Chan are sure to have a recurring cameo in the ‘Meet the Moches’ sitcom.
- On the highest lake in the world shared between Peru & Bolivia, many a cultures lived. The Incas were everywhere, including there and built some stuff on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).
- These people built a pyramid right in downtown Lima! Or rather, other people built a city right around the ruins of the Huaca Pucllana pyramid, dating back1,500 years ago.
- One of the more “fun” civilizations (I keep a detailed ranking list, with the Mongols being both simultaneously at the very bottom and top), these mysterious guys built tons of statues scattered around the verdant hills of southern Colombia in early AD’s and even BC’s. More tomb guardians are still being discovered, although no one really knows what happened to the people who made them – not even this bird man guy would talk.
Of course, there are plenty of other seemingly amazing sights from hitherto unknown civilizations that we couldn’t visit – such as Ciudad Perida in Colombia and Kuelap in Peru (for some reason Ecuador was left off the non-Inca ruins-building surge found in its neighbors – but hey, that’s why they get the Galapagos). Always something for next time!