Arrival in Arequipa
Today marks the beginning of an extraordinary archaeological adventure in the
Cordillera mountains of Peru. As we fly over the landscape we try to pinpoint
Mt. Sara Sara, our ultimate destination and home for the next month. We're
arriving from points around the globe to join Dr. Johan Reinhard and his team
of Peruvian archaeologists in a search for 500-year old sacrificial sites where
Inca children may have been sacrificed.
If brown were your favourite color, this would be the most beautiful place on
earth. Alluvial fans, or dried-up runoff stream beds, creep down the parched
mountain sides like fingers reaching toward the brown earth beneath the snow
clad peaks. Long dark shadows and the blue sky offer the only contrast to this
brown expanse called the Cordillera Occidental, "the Western Range."
Ampato, Misti, and Hualca Hualca are the names of the sacred mountains—indeed they are gods themselves—which surround Arequipa, the second
largest city in Peru.
We come in for landing and are met by our Expedition Manager, Matt Wells, and
BBC HORIZON Producer Tim Haines. I am travelling with the film crew: cameraman
Edgar Boyles, sound recordist James Brundige, and assistant cameraman Kent
Harvey. It's been an all- night journey from our respective homes in the
United States to this mountain city at 8,000 feet.
The search for sacrificial sites will take place where few people have been:
18,000 feet and higher, on the tops of Andean peaks. Mt. Sara Sara is 18,070
feet above sea level and by Reinhard's estimations "is, according to local
legend, the second most sacred peak in the region." He believes this to be the
case because of the number of people who live near Sara Sara, which sits alone
in the Ayacucho Department north of Arequipa. In its relation to nearby
villages, Sara Sara is the only peak that dominates its region. It provides
melt-off streams that feed the local rivers, and is believed to influence the
Before heading to Sara Sara, a 12-18 hour dusty bus ride, we have a day to buy
local produce and cooking equipment for the expedition. Zoilo and Genero, our
cooks and camp coordinators, head directly for the city's main market where one
can buy anything from quinoa, a grain grown at high altitude, to dried frogs
for frog soup. Dried llama fetuses, "used by priests as sacred offerings" says
Zoilo, sit in a booth next to a vendor selling every kind of hat imaginable.
Fruits in all colours and forms gleam in the shafts of sun that poke through
the partially covered roof. To buy coca leaves for tea we have to go to
another market that several people inform us is "very dangerous—they will
slash your backpacks with knives for what's inside." Zoilo and Genero, who are
from Cuzco, heed the warnings and decide that Genero, wearing an expensive
backpack, should stay with us, and Zoilo should go to the market alone,
carrying nothing to entice the thieves. Coca, which in a tea has a very
soothing effect on the stomach, is also a stimulant that some people chew with
the mineral lime.