Thursday, 29 May 2014

All roads lead to Casma

The river Marañon, a tributary of the Amazon, rises to the north of Lima and flows along the eastern flank of the Andes before turning inland, carving through the mountains and continuing on through the rainforest on the other side.

In 1937 Tello got funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to explore the upper Marañon river basin and in June of that year the team set off north from the capital out onto the coastal desert plain, where they were to begin by exploring the river valleys

Some unexpected discoveries  led  to an unscheduled and highly successful three months stay excavating in the Casma valley, and the expedition was to eventually last an extraordinary six months and take them as far north as Cochabamba and Chachapoyas.

This little adventure occurs early on in their travels. Money, as always, is tight, and Hernan is just beginning to get used to life on the road and Tello´s robust temper.

All roads lead to Casma
In which our young adventurer's heroic undertakings take a wrong turn

When we left to explore the Marañón river basin, there were so many of us that we set out in two cars. Doctor Tello led the group. Then there was Mejía Xesspe, our assistant director at the National Anthropology Museum, and the one who was in charge of logistics and budget, the illustrator Pedro Rojas Ponce, the North American anthropologist Donald Collier and his two fellow students Honour McCreary and Barbara Loomis. As usual I went along as illustrator and Tello’s campaign secretary. 

We started off at Huaral and continued on beyond Sayán, stopping off and excavating wherever we found cemeteries and pre-Columbian ruins. we stayed for several days studying tombs in Lachay and then went on through Vilcahuara, San Nicholas and the port of Supe

At that time what served as a highway was little more than a collection of tracks that changed according to the whim of the dunes and the winds that erased them.  It meant that the drivers had to be very skillful. Ours were good on the tarmac streets of Lima, but they were hard pressed to negotiate such an uneven expanse of shifting desert dunes.

We were making our way toward Casma, descending the long incline just past Las Zorras, when we started sliding all over the place in the sand, struggling to keep the cars on the track. The engines began to rattle worryingly and we decided to get down and push.