The pyramids lay before me, scattered across the stark beauty of the desert plain. I pulled my camera up and snapped a couple of quick photos. It’s hard to describe the feelings that surged through my mind as I took in the sight before my eyes. Here I stood, a mere disciple of archaeology, at the entrance to one of the oldest cities on Earth, Caral. Awe, amazement, reverence, humility, wonder and respect are a few feeble words I could use. Here on this spot, men and women from the surrounding valleys came together to build this center for commerce and ritual purposes. Why? I leave that question to the experts. Although, I can say they know it was not for mutual protection. There are no walls, no weapons have been found, nor any signs of war. It was a place of peace.
I had heard about Caral through articles in several archaeological publications and knew that I wanted to visit this remarkable site. A few friends and I decided to make the trip north of Lima using Mirabus Tours. They have a booth in Parque Kennedy in Miraflores. The cost is S/.150 Soles or about $49.00 at today exchange rate. Having checked into other tours, this seemed to be the easiest and least expensive. The price included transportation, a guide on the bus, lunch, entrance to the site, another guide in Caral and a stop in the town of Huaura, where San Martin first declared Peru’s independence from Spain.
The drive north took us through areas of Lima experiencing rapid growth and after an hour or so of cityscape; we were on the Pan Americana Norte. This road hugs the desert cliffs along the Pacific. The views of the ocean are desolate and stunning. You try to ignore the deep plunge the bus would take over the edge if the driver were not an expert.
After the cliffs, we entered verdant valleys. They were green with crops and small towns surrounded by farms dotted the landscape. We stopped in a small town called Huancho for breakfast. Ten Soles (S/.10) got you a buffet of salchicha, tamals, blood sausage, juice, coffee and bread. We re-boarded the bus and headed north for a few more miles before turning inland to head to Caral. A long, unpaved, bumpy, dusty ride through fields containing strawberries, maracuya, corn and other vegetables as well as a couple of very large chicken farms kept us bouncing around in our seats. The heavy clouds that hug this part of the coast of Peru in the winter parted and the sun came blazing through just as we pulled into the parking lot of the archaeological complex.
We spent the next two hours following the Spanish speaking guide across plazas from pyramid to pyramid. I’m sure his lectures were interesting and full of amazing facts about the site. Unfortunately, my Spanish isn’t up to prolonged lectures in scientific fields. I’m glad I read up on the site before coming and our personal guide Renaldo answered any questions I had in English. This site is older than the pyramids in Egypt, dating back to 2700 BC. It amazes me that a civilization this advanced existed on the other side of the world during the same time period as those in Mesopotamia and other areas of the Middle East. So far, researches do not think they had developed a written language, metallurgy or the ability to create ceramics but the investigation continues.
The pyramids are all in various stages of renovation and exploration. Workers take photos, number and remove the stones, then place them back and mortar them with a mix that is exactly like the one used by the ancients. Black flags perched over the buildings flutter in the constant wind that courses across this beautiful yet alien desert landscape. They’re there to frighten away the birds. Their excrement can damage the buildings. On the edge of this apparent wasteland lies a river lined with greens fields and trees. Across it in the far distance you can see another pyramid in the process of being renovated. The guide tells the group there are a dozen such places stretched up and down the valley.
Walking through the plazas and taking my photos of these amazing structures, I was humbled by man’s constant strive to uplift his life to a higher plane. What were these people like? What Gods did they worship? What language did they speak? We know they loved music. Flutes carved from pelican bones with figures of monkeys and birds engraved on them have been found during excavations. Objects from the jungle, highlands and the coast show how far people traveled to come to this center of commerce. It is a truly wonderful site. A place anyone traveling to Peru needs to experience.