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in the jungles of PERU
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By Peter LerchePhotographs by Gordon Wiltsie

An expert team searches the Andean cloud forest for the last unlooted tombs of an ancient warrior people.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

The van would go no farther. From here on was horse country. Early the next morning, accompanied by seven horsemen from the Siccha farm, our group inched upward another thousand feet to the jalca grasslands. A wet mist shrouded the ancient trail, nearly invisible to outsiders but familiar as Main Street to the horsemen.

Their guidance was essential. At times the mist was so thick visibility dropped to two or three yards. The heavy air absorbed the sound of the horses’ hooves, muffling the soft brush of tall grass against their legs. Our group rode until dark, then set up camp.

Day three dawned beautiful. The trail was clear even to flatlanders. . . . Suddenly a wall of rainforest blocked the path, and the sound of the horsemen’s flying machetes filtered through the trees. The trail was still there, they insisted. It was merely overgrown.

Thick vines snapped against our faces. Newly sliced branches tore at our clothing. We soon gave up trying to swat away the insects that buzzed incessantly around our sweaty faces.

Then the horses started to disappear.

One moment I was stumbling along, staring ahead at the rump of a lumbering horse, and then it was gone. . . . Then came the sickening sound of a wild tumble, the clatter of hooves, a terrified wail.

No one had noticed that the earth dropped off on that side of the path. The vegetation obscured it. Obviously the horse had no clue either. Yet there it was, looking up from more than a hundred feet below, confused but miraculously unhurt.

The horsemen were unfazed. With a sigh and a shrug they clambered down the embankment and set to work unloading our camping and rappelling equipment from the horse. Then they gingerly led the creature back up the steep hill.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

Gordon Wiltsie talks about the challenges of expedition photography and the thrill of discovering an ancient city.

Video1: The background
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Video 2: A tomb sighted
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Video 3: Gearing up
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Video 4: Thrill of discovery
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Video 5: Expedition photography
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We offer this forum board in Spanish and English. Share your thoughts on the price of preservation.

Únase a nuestro grupo de discusión en inglés y espanõl sobre el Precio de la preservación

In More to Explore the National Geographic Magazine team shares some of their best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

South America’s Andes mountains—stronghold of the Chachapoya in their ridgetop citadels—is the longest mountain range in the world above sea level, stretching some 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers) from Venezuela to Chile’s Tierra del Fuego. After the Himalaya, this mighty chain boasts Earth’s second tallest peaks, topped by Argentina’s Aconcagua at 22,835 feet (6,960 meters). Occupying one small corner of the Andes in northeastern Peru, the Chachapoya covered the mountains’ eastern flanks up to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) with miles of terraced fields for potatoes and beans.

Travel to Peru
Discover regional attractions in Peru's highlands, along the coast, and along the Amazon.

Embassy of Peru
Explore the embassy’s comprehensive information on tourism and culture.

Dra. Inge Schjellerup
Inge Schjellerup, one of the foremost experts on the Chachapoya, presents descriptions (in Spanish) and photos of several important Chachapoyan sites including the mountaintop fortress of Cuelap and El Gran Pajaten.

Inka Natura Directory
Visit the Land of the Cloud People at this picturesque site, which includes information on the author, Peter Lerche, and his organization, the Camayoc Foundation.

Lerche, Peter. “A Grave Case of Robbery,” Geographical, May 1999.

Muscutt, Keith. Warriors of the Clouds. University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Schjellerup, Inge R. Incas and Spaniards in the Conquest of the Chachapoyas: Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Research in the North-eastern Andes of Peru. Goteborg University, Department of Archaeology, 1997.

Howells, Robert Earle. “Discoveries Above the Clouds.” National Geographic Adventure, May/June 2000, 32-34, 36.

McCarry, John. “Peru Begins Again.” National Geographic, May 1996, 2-35.

“Mummies: Heralds From the Distant Past.” National Geographic Explorer Film, June 1996.

Alva, Walter. “New Tomb of Royal Splendor.” National Geographic, June 1990, 2-15.

“Peru’s Treasure Tomb.” National Geographic Educational film/video, 1989.

Alva, Walter. “Discovering the New World’s Richest Unlooted Tomb.” National Geographic, Oct. 1998.


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