The people of Chachapoyas spent about 1,000 years building a totally bitchin’ fortress to protect their crops and peeps from all the other groups who were constantly hating on them. Originally this was the Huari people (head shrinkers) and then later the Incas.
They actually did not call themselves Chachapoyans, that name which basically means “cloud people”, was created by the Incans (possibly a variation of Sacha Poya, in Quechua). But for lack of something better they are still known as Chachapoyans. The name is quite fitting as they built their cities, monuments, and massive stone fortresses on the summits of mountains.
Though Kuelap, their city, was remote, high up and heavily defended they were subjugated by the Inca sometime around 1475. The Chachapoyan population was pretty much decimated during the Inca civil war. What was left of the Chachapoyan people banded together with the Spanish to fight the Incans in the mid 1500’s. They were rewarded for their help with smallpox and other European diseases and so were completely wiped out by the end of the 1500’s.
Since there is so little known about the Chachapoyans and the ruins of their cities show them as one of South America’s most populous and progressive civilizations, there are all kinds of cock-a-mammy stories surrounding them. Kuelap has only been “discovered” and excavations begun in the last 20 years. That along with the descriptions of the Chachapoyans as “the whitest and most handsome of all the people in the Indies” -Pedro Cieza de León a Spanish conquistador and chronicler of Peru, has caused people to claim they were aliens, or Vikings. In actuality they were probably just a little taller and paler than other people in the area.
There is a lot of interesting history there and it’s amazing to see ruins of that size that aren’t very heavily visited and are still being excavated.
Up until 20 years ago there also weren’t any roads to the ruins, making it a pretty long trek on foot or on the back of a donkey. The one road that does snake around the mountains to get there now can still use some work, but it sure beats scaling mountains bareback on a burro!
The ruins are surrounded by trees drenched in bromeliads. With the sun shining through them it looks as though the trees are spontaneously bursting into flames along their trunks and branches.
Definitely a great last day in Chachapoyas- followed by our first taste of the luxury that is bus travel in Peru! Goodbye cramped, freezing cold rickety old buses and hello double decker beauties with roomy cama (bed) seats and meals served by attentive staff. Yeah- Peruvian busses are luxury.