Cabeza clava - © Keith Muscutt Warriors of the Clouds

Chapter Three:  Exploring Chachapoya Ruins

We had ridden, yanked, and prodded recalcitrant mules up the trail that leaves Leimembamba, the closest town accessible by road, and follows the Utcubamba upstream.... In places, our mules wallowed in mud up to their bellies while thorny uña de gato brambles clawed at our saturated clothing.  Resplendent blue morpho butterflies swoopeed nonchalantly across our path, as if to mock our bedraggled appearance and labored progress. 

Millstone - © Keith Muscutt

Cabez clava - © Keith Muscutt

When I emerged, I saw that we were camped below an almost vertical 1,500-foot cliff.  I recognized it as La Petaca, the site of extraordinary cliff tombs first reported by Henry and Paule Reichlen in 1950 and expertly photographed in the 1960s by Gene Savoy.  Exercising a modicum of journalistic license, Savoy had described La Petaca as a "necropolis," a city of the dead, and grandiloquently dubbed the ruins of the vicinity "The Cities of the condors."  As if to confirm the identification, several condors soared obligingly overhead.