The world grows old and every choice we make in our tiny lives makes us. I say this because even if we are thrown in this current by those random strokes of waves, we always meet some sea horses and some other mermaids on our way to the end. They make our time here worth spending. They become a kind of salt to the whole beautiful cuisine of our blue rock.
It was that easy to get lost in the mesmerizing grassy mountains of Cordillera Blanca, the open skies being honored by the ever present moon, the fresh air rustling through the brown hair of the hills, the rivers running along in the valleys always tickling the mountain feet, and the night; oh the night, when you can see each and every star twinkling back at you, blinding you with their crystal clear awesomeness; the white dusty royal path of the heavens stretching from one horizon to the other really makes you wonder about life and little green men.
All this beauty would have been nothing if I did not have anyone amazing to share it with. Those sea horses and mermaids that made my weeks made this beauty, the lines carved on the rock of my psyche. Huari is a homely town of kind, courteous people, brave (and dumb) dogs and confused cocks with no time sense. It is a town where the young populations frolic between their schools, playgrounds, and the lively markets making the place young, hiding its 1500 year old culture with a cloak of evergreen high. It was here that Bebel Ibarra, a PhD candidate for University of Paris, and a local, started the archeological and bio-archeological project in 1997 focusing his research on the cultures of Chavin in Early Horizon (900 – 300 B.C), and Recuay in Period Early Intermediate (300 B.C – 600 A.D), the occupations during Middle Horizon (600 – 1200 A.D) which are not very well known yet; and which we were focusing our excavation research on. The Royal Inca Road goes through the territory giving an indication of its importance in the Late Horizon period.
Bebel, Margarita, his wife and Rohan, their baby son are the greatest hosts there can ever be; giving, guiding, caring, and in case of the latter, trying to bite into anything that makes itself visible. After a couple of days of hanging around in Huari with Carlos, Fernando – our guides during the actual excavations as well as everything else mundane, Lindsey, Lea, Hugo and another participant, Chris, who was there at the house from before because he attended the previous session at Marcajirca and showed all the signs of the usual dusty beardy wear and tear; waiting for Carlotta and Francesca who’s luggage was adamant on not wanting to leave Paris and for Fred, Linn who missed the sketchy bus-stop Rosario in Lima all together; me, Chris, Hugo, Fernando and Carlos were driven to a school in the village of Huamparan by Bebel, about two hours drive from Huari, in order to set up things before the girls arrived the next morning. We did that and Fernando, the super cook, made us noodle soup helped of course by Chris, the fire expert. With sweet Cuzquena Negras down our throats, we played Egyptian Rat Screw (Slap Cards!) into the night.
The next morning, the tents were up and ready to let us creep into them with some broken chains and a false promise to keep us dry. At around eleven we were taken to the actual excavation site to look around, set up the initial unit grids and clean the place of thorny vegetations and rocks. After tackling and killing a lot of troublesome shrubs with the awesome machetes, our bruised hands were taken to lunch prepared by a local woman. In the afternoon the cleaning continued till we had a clear view of the units we were supposed to dig after. The rare orange clouds in the setting sky gave us permission to eat our dinner early at around six in the evening. And then playing ‘Mow Ow’ with cards lit our night before we slid into our warm sleeping bags and apparently, my snoring and sleep-talking kept people ‘entertained’ for some time later. Ah, well. Heart snores when the heart snores.
And this is how it began; the different layers of excavations started calling us from under the cruel ground, and with trowels, pickaxes, axes ‘the killers’, buckets, gloved hands, sunglasses, some Indiana Jones hats, we started poking the earth trying to find remnants of history, to find those people who ate, played, slept, who had real hopes, wishes, fears, lusts, problems, miracles, who made children and told them stories about their ancestors in the mountains, sacrificed animals to please their gods and in that, made a culture of their lives. All the markers are etched on the pottery they made, on the lithics they used, and the kind of housing system they had as well as on their skeletal makeups which shout out the ways of life clearly. Every morning from eight o’clock till twelve in the afternoon, when we went down to have lunch, and again, from two to five, we worked together in groups to find any of these markers. Bebel had planned all the amazingly detailed lectures regarding the history and culture of the related civilizations interspersed with this actual work.
We found lots of pottery from that period as well as some pottery that dated way back to Recuays, and also lots of stone artifacts like arrow heads, grinding stones, axe heads. The architectural findings were less direct in pointing at the practices of those people because we had very less time to dig up everything. We were digging around a circular plaza at what was a series of structures. One of the structures was definitely bigger than the others; it had a defined large entrance. This is where Fred and Lindsey who were digging at the two units found a couple of tombs with some pottery as well as some human teeth in them, but no bones though. Well, time does work in mysterious ways.
28th of July is the Independence Day for Peru. Even though we were far away from the celebration of lights and colors in Lima and in other cities in Peru, Bebel and Margarita made this day really awesome for us at the school. We had an open air barbecue and an open air lunch with beers and coke (which Chris missiled on us sending Carlos into a laughing trip every time he looked at him after that for some days). We had a free afternoon that day. We set out for walking around the village. There is a site of Recuay tombs at about 15 minutes walk from the school. Crawling through the labyrinths, we spent the remaining day naming each other after characters from LOTR. I was Sam. Little things matter so much in life, it is true. Like Chris’ pancakes with Lindsey’s apple syrup. And the drunken Pisco night spent playing Mow. And those movie nights. And the second last night when it rained, nay poured and when our party tent failed us completely. Ah, the stories are always going to follow us, I am glad.
The last day at the school, 3rd of August was Chris’ 21stbirthday. Linn made us her Swedish pancakes brightening our day with her amazing cooking. We went to the excavation site and covered every unit with thorns, soil and stones again; the final rite in an archeological dig. The combi was there to pick us up at four in the evening. The Birthday night was celebrated with the tastiest Pollo a la Brasa I’ve ever had, some Cuzquena Negras, and a cake with a tiny candle on it and a knife in it. And the season was nearly at its end.
Next couple of days, we finished all the lab-work which involved cleaning and washing our finds at the house in Huari, labeling each and every piece, and drawing the borders of pottery into what the original pottery must have looked like. After that, we had a free day when Bebel had arranged a trip to Chavin de Huantar (to which I’d already been to on my trip to Huaraz). His trip was so much more detailed with talks with Dr. John Rick, from Department of Anthropology at Stanford who is also the Director of the archeological excavation at the Chavin ceremonial site. He walked us through the whole labyrinthine canal system the Chavin people are famous for, the result of interaction of Recuay and Chavin cultures at the site during different time periods, the mummified remains of a mother and her four children found near the Tello pyramid here collaborating the local legend of the poisoning of an army platoon by a local woman who said, when asked to eat the food prepared by her first before feeding the platoon, “Even my children will eat the food with me, if you have any doubts.” We saw many things and heard many stories normally not open for tourists. Ah, well, one of the perks for being an archeologist; or being with an archeologist.
The last week was spent saying a lot of good-byes and eating a lot international cuisine because each one of us was given a night when we had to cook something from our own cuisine; Chris, Lindsey, Fred and Linn left for going back home; then Lea and Hugo left for Lima; and finally Carlotta and Francesca left as well to go and tour around Peru; I was left alone with Carlos and Fernando at the house finishing the Autocad drawings for the whole site we worked on. On my last day in Huari, Bebel took us to a nearby lake called Purhuay, a beautiful place surrounded by pine and eucalyptus trees, nestled in a valley filled with archeological sites. After eating Trucha Frita for the lunch, at five in the evening, I had to be ready to say my final ‘adios’ there.
How can you thank such amazing people for giving you the experience of a lifetime? I guess, you can only keep their spirit alive in your hearts and live your life with that flame. Still, in the end, parting is sad. The music of El Condor Pasa in my ears told me harshly that it was time to stop being Peruvian. The sun was burning the last clouds orange in a desperate and yet passionate attempt to stay alive. And the earth was climbing sneakily under my feet. It was time, finally.
The program Parag worked with is called Huari-Ancash Archaeological and Bioarchaeological Project 2011.
Parag is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.