Unkown Destinations: Arequipa, the South also Exists
|The highway looks
like a serpent ready to be engulfed by the fine, small grains of sand which extend along
either side: fine grains that play with the wind, forming round hills which look like the
perfect bellies of various pregnant women cast by the side of the road. The image is
constant, emerging then disappearing again. Those hills of sand, dancing and twirling
tirelessly with the wind, would have kept on guarding their secret if it hadn't been for a
distinguished gentleman named Antonio Raimondi.
This site, near kilometer 541 of the Panamerican Highway, is known as Sacaco,and until 1874, the year in which Raimondi discovered it, it was only a vast landscape where nothing more than sand could be seen. That year, Raimondi decided to traverse these hills and before long he began to find evidence of remains which left him speechless: at that moment, he was standing in the world's largest cemetery of prehistoric whales.
Ten million years before our era, that mass of sand was a beautiful bay extending as far north as Pisco and as far south as Yauca inhabited by handsome whales, playful seals, penguins and a species of killer shark known as Cachardon Megalodon with a jaw so big it could eat an entire whale in just two bites.
But hidden in the bottom of the bay was the seed of its destruction: inside this primitive ecosystem, fine grains of sand began to cover and hide the remains of the fauna as it died. Without warning, the sand started to gain territory and at the end of a battle that lasted two million years, it claimed victory: the sand consumed the sea. But the crime did not go unpunished. The wind took it upon itself, in a struggle that took hundreds of years, to uncover the remains of what once lived there.
The first whale to be found was "Roque," which died lying on its back as it remains today. Its skeleton also remains intact, complete from head to tail.
It is estimated the whale measured ten metres in length and and weighed more than 20 tonnes. Luck has proteced this whale. In the 1940s, when millions of years had passed, a man named Roque Martin de Buey decided to protect it from its imminent disappearance, constructing a wall to prevent wind from entering and covering it again with sand. Years later in 1989, when people of the area had baptized the dead mammal as Roque the Whale in honour of its protector, another man who studied the whale cemetery named Hans Jakob Siber constructed an on-site museum which has staved off Roque's second death.
But Roque is not the only whale which is baring its bones around this place. All along that explanade of sand, the remains of others have also been discovered and now, Mario Urbina is conducting a solitary fight to stave off their extinction. Urbina is a paleontologist and with special glasses, shovels and brushes, he inches along, cleaning vertebra by vertebra, the skeletons of the whales which he finds in his path.
Sacaco and the sand bids you goodbye covering your whole body and wrapping you up in it. No one knows if it is a sign of affection or a threat. But it has already given warning that many years ago it conquered the sea and the whales, all of it to stay in this place.
Back on the Panamericana Sur, the hills of sand cover everything until, suddenly, as if destiny had decreed "from here on, this land shall be covered with olive trees," the landscape is filled with immense, bushy trees with thick trunks lined like a grandmother's face. This is a clear sign that one has arrived in Yauca, the Caraveli province of Arequipa department. The place is unmistakable because, not only the trees, but the people look as if they are just coming out of a fair.
The lifeblood of all this merriment is without a doubt the olive tree. In 1550 Spanish colonizer Don Antonio de Rivera brought the first olive trees from Sevilla. In reality, he brought them more out of curiosity than conviction, motivated by the secret desire that from one of these trees would burst forth a fruit with the marvelous flavor he had been eating since childhood: the olive. He planted the first trees in the Olivar in San Isidro and soon realized that the local climate and the olive tree got on well. One day it was discovered that that someone had stolen three olive plants and their whereabouts remained a mystery for a long time until one day one of them appeared in Camana, another in Ilo and another in Yauca.
In Yauca, the plant was such a success that the people began to build their houses and roads around it, harvesting this delicious product. The tree just kept on producing basket upon basket of huge, juicy olives. And no one would have known how many people milled around the blessed tree if it had not been for the fact that one day in 1596 the viceroy himself, who had learned of the fuss, sent one of his emissaries to verify if was true.
That day, 336 indians were found already living in Yauca and it was formally declared a town. Since then, the trees have multiplied and their fame has spread beyond Peru's frontiers. But the only reminder of those times gone by is the system for extracting olive oil. It consists of an immense stone dragged by a mule which mashes the harvested olives. Once they are crushed, they are placed in bags and on top of them are placed more stones which extract their juice until they are left without flavor. The juice of oil and water separate by itself and that oil is much celebrated olive oil of Yauca. Back again on the snakelike Panamerican Highway, a new road sign beckons us to stop and turn in search of more surprises: Puerto Inca. Hills and more hills of sand in front, to the side and behind. In 1905, explorer Max Uhle followed this same route convinced that such a labyrinth had to have some explanation.
He named this path "The Pass of the Cow," the reason for which is still unclear. What is certain is that he the further he went, the fresh sound of the sea came closer and closer, beckoning him. Five minutes from shore, he looked up and in the hills greeting him were signs that he was not the first person to step on to this land; there were enclaves in those mountains already divided into plots where the Indians used to hang their catch. Uhle thought that if this existed, there must also be an Incan trail which might join the sea with the mountains and even a village where the Indians rested along the way.
He found the Incan trail made of stone which can still be seen today, but although he looked and looked he saw no houses or huts. After reaching the sea, Uhle decided to take a walk along the shore of a beach which to this day is pristine and blue. For some reason, his feet directed him to the left and his mind was filled with thoughts of what had happened to those Indians who, centuries earlier, spent days and nights in these hills. Suddenly, he decided to turn his head so that the wind would not hit his face. In front of him, huge and imposing, was the largest Incan citadel ever discovered by the sea.
Here in Puerto Inca is the closest point between the Pacific Ocean and Cuzco.
From this place, in the times of the Incan Empire the Indians sent, by way of their chasquis or messengers, fresh fish for the Inca and his court. The fortress is divided clearly into two parts: to the right are the living quarters and to the left thecolcas or storage areas for food: huge holes covered with stone. There were huge corrals where llamas were kept and even a cemetery. In front of all this there were warehouses where they stored fish, cotton, potatoes, hot peppers, guinea pigs (to this day a delicacy of the Andean highlands) alpaca and vicuña wool.
Back on the north-south highway, the next destination is the district of Chala.
The first thing that attracts your attention on arriving are the wooden buildings with makeshift roofs, making it appear like a town out of the Wild West. But all this too has an explanation.
In the 19th century, Chala was a major port with bustling trade where products arrived on horseback from Ayacucho, Apurimac and Cuzco and from there the products were sent in steamships to England and Denmark. On the weekends when vaqueros arrived from these provinces with products and cattle, this town turned into a huge fair. In 1945, when the Panamerican Highway reached Chala, a Hotel de Turistas and a fishmeal factory were built.
No-one foresaw the tragedy that was going to occur, just three years later: a huge tidal wave. The dock was totally obliterated and with it, all of the town's prosperity. Today, Chala still remembers those times and the fishermen of the area have a story for everyone who arrives at the port.?
By Elsa Ursula
Volume I/Issue 3, Page 36
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