October 20th - 21st cont'd 2003
Having wandered around in the park for a while we headed back to the Panamerican to take the road from Catac across the Cordillera to Chavín and the ruins there. It was going to be a complicated journey. There was only one route we could take and the park guard informed us that the tunnel along the road was currently undergoing work and was only open from 12:00 - 13:00 for vehicles heading to Chavín and only after 6:30 in the evening for vehicles heading from Chavín to Catac. We decided to take our chances for the route back - presumably we would be able to travel back early in the morning before the workmen started work again.
The road was paved all the way from Catac and gradually climbed ever steeper, passing the Lago Quericocha and affording great views of the surrounding peaks. The Cauish tunnel, cut through a rock face, is reached at a height of 4,550m. And sure enough, when we reached it, it was indeed closed. A sign indicated that it would open at 11:55am and would remain open until 12:25pm. We arrived at 11:30 and waited in line behind a few vehicles already queuing.
Unusually for South America, dead on 11:55, the sign was moved and the tunnel opened. As usual in South America everyone at the back of the queue tried to rush through before everyone at the front. The tunnel was single track and in a terrible state of repair - all through the tunnel were massive flooded potholes. As you emerge into daylight on the other side of the mountains you are met by a giant statue of Christ.
We had thought from what the guard had said that only the tunnel was being worked on. Unfortunately this was not the case and the remainder of the journey to Chavín was spent driving through roadworks, extreme dustclouds, stops and starts as work vehicles were turning, and a very narrow, potholed road. Some holes big enough to lose a landy in. It was basically a long building site with big drops over the edge. Added to this were the maniac tour buses from Huaraz who were overtaking everywhere and anywhere to get their cargo of tourists to the ruins. There were a few pale and worried faces peering out of the dust encrusted windows. The pictures don't really do it justice as the valley gets a lot steeper and narrower the further down you get until the single track road is just hanging on the edge of the cliff. Not the type of road we wanted to drive back on in the dark.
We reached Chavín at about 2pm and found a hotel straight away with parking on the main plaza. (We had intended on camping at the archeological site, as per the guidebook, but when we drove past it didn't look so easy with the landy). Then after a spot of lunch we walked to the archeological site, Chavín de Huantar, to look around.
The site, now a World Heritage Trust Site, is a fortress temple, believed to date back to 800 BC. After all the Moche pyramids and tombs we had seen around Trujillo, it was interesting to see the architecture of another culture, which was very different. It was built by the Chavín culture, the oldest major culture in Peru. Above ground is the Castillo and a huge central square, just below ground level, all fairly intact considering its age. But most of the site is underground and you can explore the labyrinth-like underground tunnels with their intricate system of ventilation channels. At the centre of the main underground chamber, where four passageways intersect, is the four metre high, dagger-like carved rock, the Lanzón de Chavín. The entire complex was believed to have been built around this rock. Also interesting were the carved stone heads, only one of which now remains in its original position on the wall of the Castillo.