Expedition to la Laguna de los Condores, Amazonia, Peru

August, 1998

S. Jay Smith, Atlanta, GA Jay H. Tolson, Philadelphia, PA


November, 1996:

Atop a 500' ridge in the remote Andean jungle, two Peruvian wranglers tend cattle scattered among the remains of many Chachapoyan round houses, hundreds of years old. To the south an astonishingly beautiful lake, la Laguna de los Condores [LLC] is bounded by high cliffs, to the north, a valley is contained by eleven thousand foot mountains.

"Juan, these cattle herding is muy hard work, long days, low pay, there must be a better life."

"Si, Hernando, but what? There is nothing here but cows to herd and horses to tend."

"I don't know, Juan, but let's keep our eyes open, at least we have friends in Leymebamba."

A little later:

"Juan, did you hear a noise from the other side of the beeg lake?"

"Si, Hernando, it came from those high cliffs, it must have been muy grande to cause that noise."

Juan scanned the cliffs on the other side of the lake, looking for a landslide or fallen tree. He squinted, thought he caught a glimpse of something artificial, man-made, with straight lines.

"Hernando, look at the clear spot beneath the overhang, do you see something red and white, perhaps a casa?"

"Juan, esta loco? How could a casa be on a cliff?"

"Non, Hernando, look carefully. I see a wall with a window. Look again, por favor."

Hernando fixed his gaze, squinting, he could just make out a rectangular shape beneath an overhang.

"Si, Juan, I see something now, very small, but I found it. What do you think it is? It must be muy old. It must be especial to be painted. Perhaps there is treasure."

"I have no idea, Hernando. Do you think we could reach it?"

"It would be muy difficult, but if there is gold, it's worth a try. Let's start manyana. OK?"


Thus begins an incredible saga, the discovery, looting, reporting, evacuation, and study of the mausoleum site containing the largest known number of preserved mummies {about 220} in the Andes. The discoverers became looters, making several visits to the site. They opened the mummies for gold, scattering them everywhere; they took ceramics, spears, and anything they felt valuable. When they attempted to remove the objects and sell them, the sole resident of the area, Julio, objected. Arguments ensued and the police were called. Within days, Dr. Peter Lerche of the Instituto de Nacionale de Cultura [INC] was called and visited the site beginning in April 1997. Because the site could not be protected, everything removable was cataloged and moved to Leymebamba using 120 horses. This was not an easy task because the route was over 11,000' mountains and swamps, taking at least 9 hours by foot and horseback.

This article reports the experiences of the first organized expedition of adventurers to the site. The journey was planned by Amazonia Expeditions [AE]. Nine men, one woman, Drs Peter Lerche {PL} and Paul Beaver {PB} and Spencer Beaver {SB} were on the expedition. Also Hugo from AE, our cook, Alfonso, nine wranglers, and a complement of 30 horses, mules, or donkeys and four chickens accompanied us [the latter did not survive the journey]. U.S. expedition members arrived from the Northeast [Jay Tolson, Jay Goldenberg], Midwest [David Rapp], Southeast [Jay Smith, Mark Whitley, Jay Pichard, Blake Svensen, A. Smith], Southwest [Paul Denany], and Northwest [Mike van Buskirk] areas. Jay Tolson {Explorer’s Club member carrying flag number 75}, Jay Goldenberg, Jay Smith, and A arrived in Lima early, staying at la Casa de los Sanchez in Miraflores and became acquainted. We visited the South American Explorer’s Club to check out the latest trip reports from northeast Peru. The description of the journey begins with our departure from la Casa toward the northern Andes of Peru.

Saturday, August 8th, Miraflores and beyond

At 09:00 we boarded our minibus for the airport, and along the way picked up Jay Pichard, Mark, and Blake. We met Paul Beaver [PB] at the airport and learned that three people had canceled the trip, one because of fear of the ongoing Ecuadorian excursions into Peru. However, PB pointed out that these would be far from our area. After obtaining tickets for our charter flight, we proceeded to gate ocho and waited for our TWA [T Doble A] Antonov turboprop aircraft, circa 1960. However, we could find no such plane. We waited and loaded up on crackers, candy bars, and empanados, for snacks. Keeping our vigilance, we spotted a plane by 13:00, and by 13:30 we departed Lima.

After retrieving our considerable supply of luggage and picking up Mike, Paul, and SB, we piled into our well-broken-in bus and proceeded down the dirt "superhighway" into Chachapoyas. There we had "steam-rolled chicken," described as "Pollo Milanesa." This consists of a chicken, which appears to have been flattened by a bus, breaded, baked, and served on china con arroz. We were to become well acquainted with this cooking style, whether applied to carne, pollo, or other available hoofed or unhoofed animals.

By 18:00 we were driving southward from Chachapoyas to Leymebamba via Tingo and the Chillo Lodge. We generally followed the Rio Utcabamba [in Quechua this means field of cotton] on a four-hour drive over a dirt road with a few potholes. We stopped at Chillo by about 20:00. It was dark, but we noted a black, elaborately carved gate at the roadside. This gate opened to steps that led up to a two-story building, a kitchen, and guestrooms. We stayed for a few minutes, chatted with Oscar the owner {brother-in-law of PL}. He told us that the lodge was 11 years old and rented for $30/night with 3 meals included. Leaving the lodge we drove on and on, following the river, passing small dark settlements, each with only a few houses. Sometimes we noted a lantern inside, frequently not. Occasionally, we passed a lone individual walking along the totally dark road. Many times, we approached trucks, flashing their headlights and sounding horns as a warning over the narrow unlit dirt road. By 22:20 we began to see a few lights of Leymebamba, a town of perhaps one to two thousand people. This is an old town, whose name indicates an area for the Inca sun festival [Raymipampa]. We crossed a bridge, climbed a bit, then passed the village square. Finally, we stopped at the venerable Diodrge Lodge. This lodge consists of a central square with bordering rooms at two levels. There is a shower, lavatory, and bano, which all of us shared. Everyone crashed promptly - a rooster was assigned the duty of awakening us early the next morning -- he was an overachiever -- beginning about 03:00!


Sunday, August 9th, Leymebamba

We were up about 06:30 and walked to El Caribe, a small restaurant, for breakfast of eggs and bread. At this restaurant, we first experienced "gringo shock," a condition afflicting certain natives in the region. The site of gringos brings on a striking syndrome of staring, disbelief, widely opened eyes, and general dismay. The level of the syndrome increases markedly and exponentially as the number of gringos sited rises. One Leymebamba resident was totally afflicted and dismayed at seeing one-dozen gringos including a blonde-headed woman; he continued staring for at least 30 minutes while we breakfasted.

After breakfast, we returned to the lodge, packed our bags, then walked to the town square which had with cedar trees and a central fountain. Shops were selling items such as clothes, grains in burlap sacks, hardware, even soccer gear. The mayor of the town arrived with the key for the museum on the square and opened it for us. Here, items recovered from the looters were on display: pottery, spears, and a mummy. Some pottery was Chachapoyan and some Inca -- there was even a colonial piece. PL gave an interesting lecture about the Chachapoyans. These people preceded and were conquered by the Incas in this area. The Incas and the high humidity destroyed most mummies. After visiting the museum, we went to the Centra Malqui [Bioanthropology Foundation Peru], a research station for archeologists studying the Laguna de los Condores (LLC) site. Here about 200 mummies are stored. Most of these were intact, yet to be opened. They also included a baby and a cat. Adriana von Hagen showed us a beautiful shirt with figures representing an unknown animal. The shirt had both Inca and Chachapoyan design elements with colors ranging from pink to red to blue. The looters had left this shirt at the site, not realizing its value.

Afterward, we returned to the cafe and had trucha [trout], pollo [chicken], arroz [rice], and papas fritas [french fries]. By 13:00 we had saddled up and were on our way to the LLC. We would not reach it that afternoon but we would go about one-third of the way and camp overnight. Leymebamba is about 6,700 feet altitude, our destination was about 9,000 feet.

We began riding out of the village on dirt roads past light-brown stucco houses and petite shops selling soft drinks. The trail consisted of a well-worn rock path through cultivated fields demarked by gray rock walls several feet high. It was wide at first, then narrowed quickly as we began a steep climb of switchbacks. High cliffs were passed, so steep that vegetation could not cling to the walls. We kept up our climb, horses sweating, pausing intermittently to rest. Occasionally we encountered muddy areas where the horses had problems with footing, as they also did on steep slopes with worn rocks. We passed 8800, 9,000, then 9,100 feet. At the peak the trail widened and became muddier. We began to descend, passed streams, and occasionally encountered corduroy trails of small logs in low, swampy areas. The trail meandered up and down. By 16:15 we stopped near a picturesque mountain stream, when it began to rain. We stopped for a few moments, then continued on past the stream over rough, grassy terrain. In about 15 minutes we reached a relatively flat area and dismounted in the rain. Everything was removed from the horses. Then we assembled our tents, climbed inside, and listened to the rain and hoped it would stop. But it began to rain harder. The cooks prepared dinner over a campfire under a tarpaulin. Finally, the rain stopped. We had sopa, arroz, and pollo for dinner. Our wranglers built a huge fire and assembled logs for our seating where we dried our clothes. By 20:30 everyone crashed!


August 10th, Monday, On the trail to LLC

We awoke to a damp, chilly morning at dawn, about 06:00. The next task was to stuff all that gear into our bags, which now seemed impossible - how had it been contained in those tiny bags? We had pancakes with apples, maple syrup, and ham for breakfast. By 08:00 we mounted our horses. The packhorses followed later. We then traveled through a stunning bright-green savanna with rolling hills - the Lajas Bamba. This area was interesting because of the innumerable rocks, each like the top of a pancake turned on its side. These were aligned in long rows, we weaved our way among them. Leaving this area, we noted a high mountain ahead, with a switchback trail of well-worn rocks leading to the top, which we would shortly learn was about 11,300 feet. The horses had a difficult time on the trail but eventually we made it to the top. We dismounted at La Fila pass. The view from the mountaintop was breath taking, the Lajas Bamba with its strange rock formations behind us, a valley ahead, and distant mountains with sheer cliffs beckoning. Now it was time to descend.

We dismounted, then PL warned us that it would be treacherous, very steep, and very muddy, too dangerous to ride our horses. The views were extraordinary, but we had to focus mostly on the "path." At one point we encountered a landslide and had to slide down on our butts and hands because it was so steep. We then descended some one thousand feet into the valley over a meandering up and down trail, and arrived at a hut where we rested. Afterwards we entered an alpine forest where the trees' branches were decorated by colorful air plants. Still losing altitude through the forest, and suffering from an increasingly hard rain, we finally sighted our base camp. This was a crude lodge resulting from the expansion of Julio’s dwelling. Julio, a swarthy, Latin man of medium build in his 50s and his extended family {one woman, two kids, assorted wranglers, and an unconfirmed number of guinea pigs sharing the accommodations} were the sole residents in this area. This lodge was enlarged to accommodate archeologists and historians who work intermittently at the mausoleum site. Pitching tents here is nearly impossible because of the steep terrain, muddy ground, and frequent rain.

The base camp at la Laguna de los Condores {LLC} had a half-dozen rooms for sleeping and a "kitchen." Each room consisted of a bamboo ledge with straw for sleeping several people – the floor was dirt. There was no microwave for cooking in the kitchen, only a fire on a ledge made of dirt and small logs under a tin cover. There was no electricidad or shower. A hollowed-out, upturned, two-foot-high log served as the bano. But, all importantly, one was protected against the rain and the sun. The other expedition members arrived intermittently from the trail and gathered by the cookfire to warm up and dry off. Our altitude was about 9,500'. After arriving at our base camp and having been assigned our suites, we noted that there was no name of this establishment to be seen anywhere. So, we christened the camp "La Lagunas Hilton" in honor of Conrad Hilton, that great hotel magnate. We would have gladly celebrated the naming, however, we were unable to discover the necessary hot tub and champagne. As mentioned before, though, it did have a necesito bano.


August 11th, Tuesday, LLC

Upon rising for breakfast we found it was cold so everyone put on warm clothes. We had boiled eggs, ham, and oatmeal. By 09:00 we started our trek up the ridge. This terrain was too severe for our four-legged transportation. The ridge continued beyond the camp, ascending several hundred feet, mountains on the left, la Laguna on the right. Clouds threatened rain as we hiked. Traversing the ridge over a muddy, rocky path, we began to note the remains of typical Chachapoyan roundhouses scattered on top. There are perhaps 200 or more of these, densely packed. This ridge is where the builders of the mausoleum lived, probably one thousand people. From the ridge, we could just sight by naked eye the mausoleum high up the other side of the lake on a cliff. We were thinking, "Gees, they expect us to reach that!" There appeared to be no way through the dense jungle, then up a sheer cliff. From the ridge, the mausoleum site appears as a tiny rectangular box with perhaps a window. We began our descent from the ridge toward the northeast end of the lake through an area with many roundhouses, fallen trees, and a muddy path. Further, as we leveled out, the conditions became extremely muddy; our knee-high rubber boots were sinking in by half a foot or more. We crossed the worst spots by leaping from log to log. Just at the end of the lake were several overgrown platforms of bamboo, apparently constructed when the site was excavated. As we circled around the end of the lake, we began our ascent through thick jungle. As our route became steeper, we had to pull ourselves up using trees, ropes, anything we could grab that appeared stable. In some places, wobbly ladders with loose rungs were placed. We navigated these ladders, one person at a time, spread out in small groups of three or four persons. We passed a beautiful 25-foot-high waterfall and stopped for photos. Then the terrain was nearly straight up. Would we make it? Up and up we climbed, we could see nothing ahead or above but dark, nearly impenetrable jungle.

At last, there stood a ledge with several structures, grayish-white tombs, [chullpus] about ten feet high on top. In front, a constant drip of water was present, but it was perhaps 15-20' from the walls of the tombs, which were dry. The structures had been placed beneath an overhang, protecting them from the rain and the jungle growth. The entire site was about 150’ long, 30' high, and 15’ wide. Several walls perpendicular to the cliff divided the tombs. The outer walls were of stone, covered by smooth painted stucco [white with a red horizontal stripe]. Each tomb had two levels on which mummies had been placed. According to the looters, the mummies had been attached to vertical poles – perhaps each pole was for a different family. Wooden platforms were on top of the highest tombs, some of these platforms had fallen into the tombs. There was one horizontal rock, about 8' long that also had fallen; we believed that artifacts, even mummies, were probably buried underneath. Windows were placed about ten feet apart, usually with small platforms jutting out from the walls beside them. One window had a nearby pair of antlers extending from the wall horizontally. Several red icons adorned the walls, representing snakes, monkeys, a fox, and perhaps people. A horizontal zigzag frieze decorated the top of one tomb. This design represented the cult of the serpent for the Chachapoyans.

As our group arrived intermittently, we walked on the ledge in front of the structures, and behind the dripping overhang. We noted scattered remains of tapestries, bones, strings, ropes, and pieces of leather. We collected what we found, arranged it for photography, then buried it. We tried to be as respectful as possible and not disturb anything.

PL arrived and explained that the looters, looking for gold, had dismembered the mummies and thrown them askew. This site may have been used as early as 800 AD by successive peoples, each destroying the previous contents and adding their own, as evidenced by the pottery and fabrics. The layout indicated some hierarchy of individuals with both Inca and Chachapoyan influence. After being conquered by the Incas, the Chachapoyans incorporated some of their designs into their work, particularly weaving, as we saw in the shirt at the Centra Mallqui in Leymebamba. It could be that the Inca also trashed some original Chachapoyan artifacts and mummies, replacing them with their own.

By 14:00, AS, MB, and JS began the treacherous descent to the lake. After reaching the waterfall, we noticed JT and JG in the portable canoe cruising across the lake. This canoe was made from green canvas and it had an aluminum frame. We called down to them and SB yelled to us about a direct path to a sandy area from which the canoe was launched. We made our way there and met SB and some of our wranglers. We intended to paddle to the other side of the lake, then surmount the ridge easily to reach our camp. This approach would save much time and effort.

As we waited, SB proposed that we swim to the other side. This rather extreme suggestion was encouraged by the knowledge that no foreigners had ever done that, according to our Peruvian wranglers. Therefore, we could take the honorable title of being first! SB stripped to his underwear to test the water. "Esta muy frio!" said SB, it’s no wonder that foreigners had not been foolish enough to try it! Are Peruvians crazier or just more adapted to cold water? We quickly decided not to go! But SB was proud to display his handsome physique and the considerable results of his weightlifting for everyone! Waiting for the canoe, we visited a picturesque waterfall nestled in a small dark niche practically obscured by jungle growth and took photos. We searched the shore for unusual rocks to take back as souvenirs of the Laguna, some of our best finds were discarded as too heavy for the canoe and our horses! Finally, AS, MB, and JS got in the canoe. Unfortunately, the two paddlers knew wrangling but not canoeing! So, we traversed the lake via a meandering path - yelling to them about how to paddle but this advice was not successful. On reaching the other side of the lake, we discovered it was extremely muddy, even on the grass our boots kept sinking as if we were walking through quicksand. We finally located a steep path and began our climb of several hundred feet. It was tough going, but after about 45 minutes, we climbed atop the now-familiar ridge, quite exhausted. After arriving at our camp, we warmed up by the cooking fire, crowding out the cook and the two kids! We had a dinner of sopa, pollo, and arroz. Everyone crawled into their sleeping bags for some much-needed rest.

August 12th, Wednesday, LLC

This was our day for reconnoitering and searching for possible yet undiscovered sites. We began with a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, and fried plantains. By 09:00 we set out on foot for the unknown, we had been told that Julio had reported ruins along the river that bordered the northeastern end of the lake, but there was no factual information. So, we planned to follow the river through the jungle and see what we could find and how far we could go. South of our location, the map was blank. There were apparently no human settlements, no paths or roads, nothing but jungle.

As we set out into the jungle, we scanned the area with our binoculars and a telescope. At a specific location, which we promised would remain undisclosed because of the likelihood of looting if known by the wrong people, we noted a dim rectangular structure, which probably had one or more windows. It seemed different from the looted site in that its lower third was red, its middle third was white, and its upper part was gray. The gray probably reflects a wooden platform, similar to the first discovered site. It was first seen using binoculars, then the 50X telescope was trained on it. PL was informed, he ran back very excited. We photographed the site with telescopic lens and at 24X with a video camera. Because 1) the site would have been extremely difficult to reach, 2) we did not wish to leave a path for looters, and 3) we had no governmental permission to visit the site, we did not attempt to gain close access. We felt comfortable with photography and observation, which consumed an hour or so of our time. We took pictures of our discovery with our group and the Explorer’s Club Flag # 75, in the foreground.

Finally, Julio, and several wranglers accompanied us through the dense jungle and mud following the river downstream. We forded it, began climbing up, and reached a huge gray rock cave with an overhang. We stopped for snacks and debated what we would do next. The wranglers seemed to believe that ruins were ahead further up the incline but at an unknown distance, or there were ruins down river. Uncertainty reigned. While Hugo made turkey sandwiches, we considered our options. A few of us decided to climb to the top of the giant rock, others decided to go downstream with Oscar.  But we made no new discoveries.

August 13th, Thursday, LLC to Leymebamba, then Chillo Lodge

This day was to test our endurance, as we were to make the nine-hour trek by foot and horse back to Leymebamba, then go via bus to Chillo Lodge via a two-hour drive. We wanted to reach this lodge because it was superior to the one in Leymebamba. Chillo even had individual bathrooms and a dining area! Wow! We rose at 06:00 and the first group started back at 07:00. The trip back was exhausting because it was muddier than before due to the rain! Just after 16:00, JT, MB, and JS arrived in Leymebamba -- barely able to stand up. The locals must have thought the three strange gringos were drunk! Actually, PL and Dave were the first to arrive in Leymebamba via foot! From time to time, others "drove in" on their horses and we gathered at the Diodgre lodge. By 18:00 we had packed our gear on the bus and were on the way to Chillo Lodge via the local I-95 substitute! We arrived by 20:00 and were greeted with a delicious Peruvian dinner of carne, arroz, and vegetables.

August 14th, Friday, Chillo Lodge to Chachapoyas

After breakfast, several of us, including PL, PB, SB, and we travelers engaged in a long discussion about the benefits of studying an unlooted site and securing it for preservation. We asked PL to put together a proposal to preserve the site -- we would try to raise the necessary funds. PL gave us an interesting talk about why such sites, unlooted, would be of great value. For one thing, scientists could learn about the social and family structure from the positions of the mummies; this information was completely lost at the looted site. The locations of textiles and [Inca] quipus would be important, giving more information about when various parts of the site were completed. The interaction of the Chachapoyans and the Incas could be studied.

Next, we visited the lodge’s hydro plant, which had a waterwheel that powered a generator for electricity, a sawmill, and a sugar cane mill. Vats of cane juice were fermenting there.

After a noon lunch of sopa, pollo, and arroz, we were on our way to Chachapoyas. On the way back, we stopped, forded a wide, swift, river, and then hiked several hundred feet up the side of a mountain to Macro [bent or twisted in Quechua language]. This site is beautifully ‘woven’ in a serpentine fashion into the mountainside and easy to overlook. The walls extend horizontally several hundred feet at one to three levels. They contain many Chachapoyan roundhouses. Macro has the most elaborately carved rocks of any Chachapoyan site we saw. The face of each yellow-hued stone is concave and they are positioned so tightly that nothing can be inserted between them. This mountain site overlooks the wide plain below with its meandering river – an artistic and pleasing view. PL believes this to be a religious center, due to its fine stone carving, its aesthetic appeal, and it non-defensive position.

We then began our drive over the spectacular mountains to Chachapoyas, confidant of leaving the next day. By 17:00 we had reached the paved streets of the town and were ready to check into the Gran Hotel Vilaya, owned by Gumer. This hotel has agua caliente! Coming through town, we noted a festive atmosphere with many well-dressed people. We had arrived during the festival of the patron saint of the town. A noisy parade was proceeding right down the street in front of our hotel. After unloading our gear and taking hot showers, we walked around the square, browsing the small shops and restaurants. At 20:00 we gathered at the Chacha Turista Restaurant for a dinner of steam-rolled pollo or carne, arroz, and vegetables.


August 15th, Saturday, Chachapoyas

We were scheduled to return to Lima. At 08:00 we went for breakfast. Afterwards, we walked to the Town Square to view the colorful "sawdust carpets" that had been laid down late last night for the festival of Virgen Asunta [day of the assention]. There were about 15 carpets laid around the square, each related to an organization, for example, the electrical power company made one. Usually, the carpets had themes of peace; some of them were quite detailed, containing elements similar to oriental rugs. By 11:00, a procession consisting of dignitaries, a priest, and a military band began to slowly walk over and destroy the carpets. Several people, including women, carried a large, elaborately carved wooden icon. SB remarked that this procession was similar to those conducted by the natives hundreds of years ago, before the Catholics came to the region. So, in a way the ceremony captured their old pre-Hispanic ways.

By 14:00 we loaded our luggage on the autobus and left for the airport, anticipating our flight to Lima. In the Chachapoyas airport, we meandered to the counter where our baggage was weighted. They claimed we were overweight, SB argued that their scale was inaccurate. Some of our luggage was then designated as carry-on, which presumably lightened the load on the plane. We paced the airport, waiting for the Antonov aircraft but saw nothing. Rumors abounded, the plane had left Lima at 13:30, the plane left but went to Iquitos, etc., etc. By 16:30 it became apparent that the plane was to be late, at least a day late, perhaps more! The issue was where would we stay tonight. Wasn't the Gran Vilaya full? Would we drive back to the Chillo lodge? Would we camp in el centro de ciudad, where everyone would stare at the gringos? No one knew for sure.

So, we retrieved our luggage, stored it on the bus, and returned to the GV hotel. They had rooms for everyone, fortunately. For dinner we avoided steam-rolled pollo and sampled Chinese arroz, Peruvian-style!

August 16th, Sunday, still in Chachapoyas

At 08:30 we had a breakfast of omelets and scrambled eggs. Afterwards, we wandered around the hotel, awaiting word about an aircraft coming from Lima. By 10:30 a rumor arose that a plane was scheduled to arrive. We loaded our luggage yet again, boarded the bus, and drove down the superhighway to the airport. Again, we roamed the terminal, on the lookout for information about the flight. By noon, we had sighted our venerable aircraft. By 13:45, we were off the ground. Our first stop was Mendoza, a small town at a lower altitude than Chachapoyas, which we reached in only 30 minutes. There, we picked up additional passengers, including a chicken, and an agitated, barking dog. The next leg of our flight was quite loud due to the barking dog and barking kids on the plane! After about an hour, we landed in Tarapoto, a lowland jungle town. From there, we flew southward over the western deserts of Peru towards Lima. By 16:30 we had landed and began to collect our luggage. We never saw the dog or the chickens again -- perhaps they were sacrificed by our flight attendants!

At the airport, Dolly, PB's Peruvian wife, met us with the good news that our airline tickets had been re-booked for the return home. Driving toward Miraflores, Stephanie, Dolly's 2-year-old daughter entertained us with a delightful mixture of English and Spanish phrases which kept everyone chuckling! By 19:00 everyone met at La Pacificia, a Chinese restaurant just above the Haiti restaurant towards the roundabout from our hotel, la Casa de los Sanchez. We had a large selection of dishes, and a pisco sour, the national drink of Peru, came with the meal. We had a lot of fun reviewing the trip, noting how we had been a compatible group, no arguments for an entire week - not all groups are so lucky. After dinner, we split up, to make the return trip back to the States.


Reflecting on this expedition, several things come to mind. We realized our main objective, to reach la Laguna de los Condores safely and return. This was a considerably difficult task that very few people would attempt, much less achieve. We located a new, hopefully unlooted site and discussed plans to secure it. Also, we met people with like interests, forming friendships, relating life's stories.

Perhaps our efforts to save at least some heritage of a proud warrior society that resisted Inca domination will come to fruition. The Chachapoyans were not only warriors - they were excellent artisans in stone and weaving. They appreciated the aesthetic nature of things - as demonstrated by the Macro site and the beautiful shirt we had seen in Leymebamba. Our hope is that the new site we found, as well as others yet unknown, may prove to be unlooted. Perhaps they can be secured, excavated by professionals, and described for future generations. Such work can help in understanding the achievements and culture of the pre-colonial peoples.

These natives were destroyed arrogantly by a brutal, uncaring society that yearned only for gold. They were willing to murder, subjugate, and enslave anyone who stood in the way of their desires, including those who did not accept and profess their version of religion. Obviously, the Spanish were quite successful, for their language, culture, and religion, reigns today over most of this continent. The indigenous peoples could not overcome the gun, the horse, and perhaps most importantly, the foreign diseases introduced by the Spaniards. So today, most pre-colonial cultures, including their languages, their beliefs, their intimate knowledge of the land and the forests are gone. Trying to understand and appreciate these pre-colonial cultures is a difficult task. It is, however, well worth the effort being made by PL, PB, and SB and others. Learning about the former indigenous peoples of Latin America teaches us important lessons about tolerance and humility, as well as enlightening us on the astonishing diversity of Homo Sapiens. The achievements of former civilizations are revealed today by sites such as la Laguna de los Condores.

About the authors:

Jay Smith is a biostatistician at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta, GA. He has traveled extensively in Latin America. He maintains a web page "Adventurer’s World" with narrative and photographs on his travels.

Jay Tolson is a retired business executive and has been a member of the Explorer’s Club since 1973. He has wide travel experience in many parts of the world for both business and adventure.

Click to Return to Main Page