Head north out of Lima to the town of Huaral, in the valley of the river Chancay. Turn east and follow the river valley through the desert plains and into the foothills of the mighty Andes, passing the irrigated fields and orchards that help to feed the mega-city. Drive by ancient mud-brick temples crumbling back into dust, by rural villages nestled into bends in the river…
Three hours out of the city, turn off the main road and onto the bumpy track to the village of La Florida, where you pay the community a small fee to enter their lands and continue up the steep switch-back dirt track that leads to the ghost-town of Pampas, abandoned as people moved down the valley to towns with electricity and running water, though people from La Florida still tend crops on the ancient agricultural terraces that surround the over-grown buildings.
Here you meet the man with the donkeys who will carry your packs up the steep trail ahead, leaving you only to worry about food, water and cameras as you make the climb up to 3 400 mASL through the misty clouds, stopping to spot birds and identify pretty wild-flowers, or just to catch your breath and admire the view as the green hills give way to the coastal desert.
First you reach the ruins of the outpost , most likely a guard post on the original trail climbing up from the valley below, and get your first glimpse of the distinctive stone buildings first constructed about a thousand years ago and still standing. Climb a little higher and the hidden citadel of Rúpac comes into view, just as the rains arrive. Shelter, shivering, in the ancient ceremonial porticoes while you await for the man with the donkeys to arrive, carrying the tents and warm clothes.
Pitch your tents quickly in the last showery light of the afternoon, finishing just in time for a break in the weather where a huge double rainbow appears, arcing over the ruins of Pampas and the trail that brought you here. Be treated to a spectacular sunset silhouetting the ruins that in the morning you will explore. Meanwhile there’s a light supper and sleep for tired bodies, disturbed by the villager’s cows in who’s overnight pasture you’re inconsiderately camped.
Wake when the sun makes it’s way over the mountains and set out to explore this unrestored treasure of the Atavillo culture, who built these windowless square stone building 2 and 3 stories high. With nothing but stone and clay they’ve made stairs, storerooms, courtyards and chimneys, they’ve built walls that are perfectly square. With their protective stone roofs and solid construction they’ve withstood the Andean weather and frequent earth tremors. Perhaps the protective ring of tombs, or chullpas, home to the bones of their ancestors, kept the walls strong long after the fall of this ancient culture.
The Altavillos occupied the highlands of the western Andes, on the desert’s edge from the 900s to the 1500s AD, building their distinctive cullpi houses long before the rise of the Incas and never being conquered by them. An offshoot of the Huari culture, they grew maize and raised guinea-pigs and Andean camelids, worshipping their ancestors, the sun (huillca), and the moon (pasac) until the Spanish came. Around 1600 the Atavillos of Rúpac and the surrounding area were relocated forcibly to the new town of Pampas by the Spanish conquerors, their cullpi and chullpas abandoned to the elements and to memory.
Explore the fascinating ruins until the sun grows hot, then it’s time to de-camp and make the trek back down – donkey-less – to Pampas, where the minibus waits to shuttle you back to the city, via a late lunch of BBQ pork – the local speciality – and some well-earnt cold drinks in the town of Huaral. By nightfall you’re caught in the crawling traffic and fantasising about a good shower and much-needed sleep. At long last make it home, put your tired body to bed and dream of near-forgotten cultures who built such resilient towns on the tops of mountains for hundreds of years until the Spaniards came and the world changed, irrevocably.
Dream of Peru…
* Reference for information about the Atavillo culture, their constrution and archaelogical sites (in Spanish): http://huayopampa.com/turismo/informe-sobre-los-atavillos.html