Compuel is a huge valley…probably about 10,000 acres…above 3,000 meters in altitude. There are no trees. And a cold wind blows through the sage even in summer. This time of year, at least it is green.
The summer rains came late this year. A river runs through the center of the valley, wide and shallow…you can splash through it on horseback. For a few months of the year, it turns the center of the valley into wetlands. Later, in the winter months, it will be dry as Death Valley and as cold as a tax collector’s heart. But last week it was wet and marshy…with ducks flapping up suddenly wherever you go.
You can get to Compuel in a 4×4…but it is an almost impossible drive…not to mention dangerous. There are sections of the road that are hardly as wide as the wheelbase…with a 1,000 ft drop off the edge.
“It was probably an old Inca or pre-Inca trail,” explained Veronica. She was one of three archeologists who showed up at the house on Saturday. They asked if they could camp out and do some digging in the Indian ruins on the ranch.
“We won’t take anything. Besides, the law requires that anything we find belongs to the state,” she anticipated our questions.
“This area is very rich in archeological evidence,” Veronica continued. She was from Buenos Aires, a cheerful, talkative woman with a librarian’s air about her. With her was Paola…another archeologist from Buenos Aires …and Hector…an archeologist from Salta. They were trying to figure out dates.
“We don’t really know much about the Indians who were here before the Inca,” Veronica went on. “All we know is that they were brave and independent. This tribe resisted the Inca…and the Spanish. The Incas tried to subjugate them…forcing them to pay tribute. But they fought them off. I guess they figured that if they could beat the Incas they could also beat the Spanish. In fact, they were the last Indians in all of Argentina to surrender. And the story is that women took their babies up into what they call the ‘fortress’ – a natural stone formation – and threw them onto the rocks down below rather than see them enslaved by the conquistadors.
“But we don’t know much more than that. So we dig down to try to find bits of pottery…and seeds…and soil samples that will tell us what they ate and which groups of other tribes they were related to. Then, we put the pieces together and gradually develop a better picture of who they were and how they lived.
“That’s why we need to go to the ruins at Compuel.”
“How are you going to get there?” asked Jorge, the farm manager.
“We’re going to hike. What do you think…can we get there in 4 hours or so?”
“Ha…ha… it will take you at least 7 hours… depending on how strong you are. And of course, you will need a pack mule to carry your equipment.”
On horseback, you can get to Compuel from the ranch house in 4 hours. The trail is rugged…with the horses stepping from stone to stone in some areas. By the time we got there we were already tired and saddle- sore. When we arrived, the roundup had already begun. The vaqueros – our local cowboys – had already rounded up the cattle from the whole valley and driven them into a big stone corral. They were roping the calves and separating the bulls from the cows. Occasionally, a bull would charge…but the cowboys were fast, they dashed to the side and jumped up onto the stonewall. Their dogs stood on top of the stonewall watching attentively. This was a once-a-year spectacle they didn’t want to miss.
To be continued…
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