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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Caral- A Trip to a 5000 Year Old Civilization

This Thursday, I embarked on another tour through, of course, Haku Tours.  This one was an all day tour and I was very excited,  even though I knew it would be a very long day, and I still hadn't quite caught up from my several nights of no sleep looking after a very sore kitty.
We started out at 7am, with 3 other women that I had never met and Daisy, the sweetest Haku tour guide.  Such a doll.  We had Amanda, an American/ Peruvian that spends the American winters in Lima running a volunteer program called Emerging Artists Lima which showcases art from people living in the Shanty Towns.  Turns out, we should have met each other by now, as we have been in several places at the same time, and in some groups together, but for some reason we never had.  Then there was Angela, a lovely Aussie gal who has been touring South America for about two months and is staying with her aunt and uncle in Miraflores, which also happens to be where Amanda lives.  Angela is now in Bolivia for a few weeks and then will be back here or the remainder of her trip.  And then we had Angela number 2, also an Aussie, but her and the other Angela didn't know each other.  She is touring South America for 2 months as well.
We were initially told that it would be a 3 hour drive out to our destination of Caral, but somehow it turned into close to 5 hours.  A very long drive for a day trip.  I couldn't sleep so I spent most of the time snapping pictures and visiting with the girls.  Here are some of my favorites.

A view of bustling Lima and the Andes foothills

A carnival set up in a grocery store parking lot.

street vendors

preparing vegetables in the middle of the city.


working in the fields.

Huge mining truck tires on the way North.

A thank you to the mayor on a hillside.

a slum town.

An abandoned house with a scarecrow like Jesus on the cross beside it.

Some chauched out Tuk-Tuks.

 A thatched home.

 Paprika peppers in the field.  I had never really thought about the fact that Paprika came from peppers before lol.

We had to stop to ask for directions.

Bagging up corn used for chicken feed.

After our very long drive, we arrived at Caral, the oldest civilization in the Americas.  1800 years older than the Olmeca's in Mexico, which until Caral was discovered, was thought to be the oldest.  It is actually around the same time period as the pyramids in Egypt, but actually older than them as well.   I guess I may as well give a bit more of a history lesson on it because it is so fascinating.  I have taken info from our tour as well as a few sites online and tried to lump them all together, so forgive me if they seem a little all over the place!

In 1994, Ruth Shady, an archaeologist made a discovery in the middle of the Peruvian desert, between the Pacific coast and the foothills of the Andes about 200 miles north of Lima in the Supe River valley.  She had noticed strange hills in the middle of the desert that seemed to be there for no reason so she decided to investigate.  She went out herself and started digging, only to find that under the hills were stone pyramids.  
Turns out, the pyramids, and the rest of the city of Caral had been started in 2627BC.  Several years before the pyramids in Egypt.  Caral would become known as the "Mother City" the start of all civilization in the Americas.  
Until Caral was discovered, the general theory in the world was that civilizations, or basically cities, were started because of warfare.  It was safer to have large communities that could fight against other large groups.  But, after several years of research at Caral, it was discovered that there were no signs of warfare, and these ancient people were peaceful.  After many discoveries of items from all over Peru, South America and even the world, such as cotton from the Andes over 200 miles away to make clothing and fishing nets, fish from the ocean, 20 miles away, flutes made of condor, deer and llama bones, also found only in the Andes and even food found in Equador.  There were also no fortresses, weapons, or signs of sacrifices as found in later civilizations like the Incas.  Caral was the start, and the trading center of the Americas for around 1000 years.  Since it is located on a river that comes from the Andes and Amazon, they were able to move around the country and South America, to create new settlements  and eventually go to Mexico, and then the rest of the Americas.  
The rivers were also used for irrigation so that they could start growing their own food.  There is evidence of trenches and complex irrigation systems located about 36 miles along the river valley about 36 sq. miles.  
After years of excavations, it has been discovered that the actual City of Caral is about 150 acres and at would have been home to about 3000 people.  There are 6 pyramids in Caral, with the main one being the size of a football field and about 60ft high.  The site contains a main plaza, an amphitheater, temples, houses and residential buildings.  There is still much more to discover, as the cemetery and other areas have not yet been discovered.  The surround 36 miles is home to a total 19 pyramids and countless other buildings and sites.  12 out of those 19 pyramids have been uncovered, but the site will not be totally uncovered for many many years.  There have been no evidence of a written language, and metal tools or even any pottery found, which is fairly normal for civilizations of this time.  
In 2009 UNESCO declared Caral a world heritage site, and not only that, the second most important historic discovery in the world, right behind Mesopotamia. 

Check out this hour long documentary by the BBC on the whole story of Caral.  It is totally worth it.  This link is to part 1 but the other 4 parts pop up on the side.

As usual I have included lots of pictures of this amazing place.  Our tour was around 2 hours long, and for the first time in my life, I ended up with some mild heat stroke.  Sick to my stomach and almost fainting.  I guess there is a reason this is the low tourist season!  haha

Spot the Heron

The women selling snacks when you pull into the parking lot.

Should have paid for the buggy ride instead of walking!

The girl crew on the mirador overlooking the site.  Angela, Daisy, Angela, Amanda and Tanya.

Crazy sand dune almost overtaking the parking lot.

There were vendors and bathrooms and a rest area all decorated with intricate bamboo.

Our guide Roosevelt and his son and tour guide in training, Christian.  

Archaeologists and volunteers from the surrounding villages working to clear away the sand and debris covering the site.

The mayoral Pyramid 

The mayoral Pyramid with 4 carved stone structures in a round hole.  They are still unsure what these were for.

The girls again, Tanya ( I felt like a giant with these girls!) Angela, Daisy, Amanda and Angela.

This woman was working away with a tiny brush, sweeping off sand.

A stone pillar in the middle of the site that they think acted as a sundial and compass like the one at Macchu Pichu.

Once our tour was done, and I sat and recovered for a while, we headed back to the van for more driving.  We stopped in the town of Huacho for a traditional Peruvian lunch (well, 4pm lunch) and got home around 8:30pm.  It was an amazing but very long day and I was excited to get back to the family.    

Desert with the coast in the background.  I am still in awe of this moonscape.

The start of the sunset over the coast.

Small coastal community outside Lima.

amazing sunset over a town outside of Lima.

Christ lives!


  1. I been in Caral few times I also read quite a lot about it, but never found a better explanation than this blog. Its very interesting and fun way to learn more about this so impressive Civilization

    Edwin Rojas

    1. Thanks Edwin, that means a lot! I had a great time as usual! Thanks for everything.

  2. Amazing! These are the things I feel like I am missing out on by not being there.. and of course time with you! This looks like an absolutely incredible day! And I love a good history lesson! Awesome! Miss you!

    1. I would have loved to have you here to do all of this with me, trust me! It was so interesting!