Camped out at the foot of the Kuelap ruins, we awoke to find ourselves parked in the midst of a Sunday morning futbol match. Peeking out the camper windows at 6AM we saw toddlers, teenagers, and parents engaged in fierce competition. A middle aged man gently nudged his son out of the way and stole the ball, hollering in victory as he made his goal. Futbol is serious business in these parts.
Grateful for the unexpected wake up call we set the percolator on high and made an early start on the ruins. Once inhabited by the fierce warrior people known as the Chachapoyas (people of the cloud), their ruins are a testament to the ingenuity of an isolated people. Using nature to their advantage they made additions to a natural rock wall at 12,000′ making their fortress in the clouds accessible only by three narrow gated stairwells.
Historians speculate that if the Chachapoyas people had not sided with the Spanish, and the Incas had fought their last battle here, they may very well be here today. Having driven the 20km up and hiked the final two, we believe it. We dubbed the route “the Peruvian road of death” and were extra cautious with our photography. Scampering out of the truck, barely focusing the camera, and hoping one of the twelve shots snapped at random would come out. Nearly every turn is a blind curve staring down a crumbling 5,000′ drop.
The ruins of Kuelap are spectacular and well worth the heart thumping drive. Definitely a hands on experience, there seem to be no limits on visitor exploration. We tread carefully around the ancient site until we saw a large group of students climbing up the tower at the edge of the natural wall. With the Kuelap archaeologists in an ongoing race with local grave robbers, it may not be long before limitations are put in place here. For now, we are more than happy to get as close as possible to an incredible ancient past.