The "pyramids city" is not Paititi (2003-2005)

I spend an important part of the year of 2003 and the beginning of the year of 2004 in Lima, to peel again the photographic archives of the Air Force of Peru. And I discover a day, thanks to the assistant of a serviceman, a series of pictures in black and white with very good quality, realized a few years before in the Madre de Dios for the needs of the national cartography.

Aerial photo of the pyramids
On this aerial photo, realized by the FAP in 1985, Thierry Jamin locates several series of curious white and grey rectangles not far from the "pyramids". Is it about terraces of cultures, about vestiges of a forgotten civilization, either about a natural phenomenon ?
(Photo: air forces of Peru, 1985)

Some of these pictures had almost upright been taken by my zone of search of this time. On the sides of a mountain, situated not far from the "pyramids", succeeded one another strange small white and grey rectangles clear, orderly as in staircases. I counted several tens. For me, there is no doubt : it was about terraces of culture, or andenes, and maybe of constructions, as to Machu Picchu ! The city which I looked for near the "pyramids" thus seemed to appear there, under my eyes ; and it was maybe about Paititi.


The expedition of 2004 in Paratoari. On the road of the mysterious "terraces".
(Photo : Florence Dugowson / the Magazine Figaro, July, 2004)

At this beginning of the year 2004, I had accumulated enough tangible elements to dash again into the adventure. I organize then, with Herbert Cartagena and with a team of the French channel M6, for the broadcast "Zone Interdite", an expedition the ambition of which was less nothing than to go to discover this famous city, of which I thought of knowing now the exact place. I swallow in the passage all my savings there !

In July, 2004, our team penetrates again in the forest of Manú, but we meet rather quickly a significant number of obstacles which it will be necessary to us every day to surmount to advance. They are at first particularly bad climatic conditions this year, where the rain and the cold were omnipresent. But it is especially the operations of a Peruvian trafficker of archaeological objects, intended to compromise the success of this operation, that will finally have the most bothered our progress. Learning my next arrival in the region, this one takes up a local community against us, which, a few days later, blocks us the access to its territory. We shall then be brought to by-pass all this zone. This expedition was the object of the documentary of "Zone Interdite" (emission broadcasted on M6 in August, 2004 and regularly rerun on this channel or on W9), during whom we made wreck in a river, and where we finally lost in full jungle. We shall finally have to turn back, exhausted, in one or two kilometers of the sector that we have to investigate, namely these famous terraces.

A few days later, on returning to Cusco, we are the object of threats of death on behalf of these huaqueros and the local authorities and the embassy of France worry about it to the point that they will want to place me under police protection !

We shall then have to wait several months, to allow to pass the rainy season and to make us forget a few these traffickers before taking back our searches there where we had left them a few months earlier.

And so in June, 2005, Herbert Cartagena and I we can start again on the tracks of the lost city, accompanied this time of a team of television of the ZDF, the German public channel, and the National Geographic.

We arrest along the way on a site which we had already visited repeatedly, during our previous expeditions, and connected, as it is thought, to the city which we look for. It is about petroglyphs (figures engraved on the rock) rather mysterious, situated in approximately ten kilometers, in the North of the "pyramids", on the banks of the Rio Palotoa : the petroglyphs of Pusharo. Indicated for the first time in 1921 by a Dominican missionary, Vicente de Cenitagoya, they have no equivalent in Peru. Strangers of most of the archaeologists, they had, before us, never studied in a scientific way. They are nevertheless unique.

DAfter the stage to Pusharo, a helicopter LAMA deposits our team in the heart of the jungle.
(Photo : Jean-Claude Coutausse/National Geographic Magazine, June, 2005)

In June, 2005, we stay in Pusharo during several days, then a helicopter comes to look for us and takes us towards the zone of the famous "terraces".

The objective of this operation was to land closer possible of the site, to verify if there were many vestiges and to make public as soon as possible a possible discovery. But, in a jungle so dense, an helicopter winching is not without danger, so much for the equipage to lower that for the helicopter and his pilot. The device succeeds finally in depositing us in full forest and we establish after our base camp. But we are five kilometers at least of our objective. This distance worries me from the beginning. Because five kilometers, in such an environment, represent several days of march. It is a very closed forest, with mixed bamboo (paca), which constituted real walls. We have approximately one week before the return programmed of the helicopter.

Our progress remained slow and painful, considerably slowed down by the film unit, what increased every day our fear. We ceaselessly had to by-pass every day of new obstacles or to surmount them.

In the heart of the jungle of Manú
In the heart of the jungle of Manú, Thierry and his group try to reach the zone of "terraces".
(Photo : Jean-Claude Coutausse/National Geographic Magazine, June, 2005)

After several days of a difficult march, we reach at the top of a crest, in front of which I perceive finally my zone of investigation. I think while the site is there ! I believe to perceive a part. Some lengthened and rectangular forms indicate me it seems its presence. One and a half kilometer separates me from it, no advantage. But, to reach there, it was again necessary to us to go down the abrupt five hundred meters of the formation which we were, through this difficult jungle, then to climb another crest so redoubtable.

It was necessary not to waste time. Every hour counted. But Herbert Cartagena and some of my companions warn me : this crossing, in a relief so chaotic, will require more than two days than it still stays in us, before the helicopter.

I could risk my life and tempt the adventure, but I could not risk that of my companions. Then, with a heavy heart, I decide to turn back and to return to Cusco.

To have arrived so near the purpose, to have mobilized so much energy and equipment to have to leave without having been able even to reach the purpose of my searches seems to me then absurd as much as inconceivable.


A Santa Cruz
At the post of attentiveness of the Park of Manú, to Santa Cruz, our team gets again ready to leave towards the famous "terraces".
(Photo : Thierry Jamin, August, 2005)

That is why I decide some weeks later to put immediately a new expedition on foot, constituted by a number limited of the participants, namely an archaeologist, two servicemen, among whom a specialist in rescue in high mountain, a representative of Peru, two carriers and myself. It is in this time when I get acquainted with Hermogenes Figueroa Lucana. He will become, over the years, a faithful friend and my right hand. An effective and very professional man.

I cross a little bit weird conditions by which it was necessary to pass to finance this operation which was not planned : it is some friends who clubbed together for me, as well as a Parisian lawyer and some Internet users ! Incredible !

In the beginning of August, 2005, we leave again Cusco in 4X4, in the direction of the North of the "pyramids". From the last pueblo, we leave the vehicle and go back up rivers on boat, before ending our progress on foot, during several days. Even there, I cross many details, but know that we shall reach finally up to the zone of the mysterious terraces two weeks later.

By arriving on the site, it is the big disappointment : we notice that it is not regrettably about constructions. There was no ruin.

But it was not a total defeat because it was about sorts of "platforms" which gave the impression of a ancient zone of cultivated ground. The place had apparently been run in the last period of the Incas (after the conquest). This site thus proved, one more time, the presence of the Incas in this sector and, consequently, the nearness of a permanent Inca establishment.

Material archeogolico
From this expedition, our explorers will bring back several objects of inca origin, met in the zone of Paratoari. They prove the existence of a permanent site, hidden somewhere, in the shade of "pyramids".
(Photo : Thierry Jamin, August, 2005)

Besides, during this new campaign of exploration, we meet a significant number of stones apparently cut fashionably Inca. The one of them would have been able to serve as girder for a door ! It had at least the proportions of it. And we discover especially a kind of very curious "pond", of 70 m of length, with walls of "concentration" which gave the impression to want to protect this place of any risk of collapse. And then we discover another important quantity of archaeological material : a magnificent agricultural axe, Q'asuna, in very good state, then the other axes, in military usage.

In brief, so many confirmations as there was indeed an Inca city in this zone. And we have even had the impression that we had just had to pass by... maybe unless a kilometer.

This year of 2005 is going to mark a bend in my searches because I am going to acquire the conviction that the city which I look for all these years near the "pyramids" could not be the big city of Paititi. At the same time, the studies which I realize on the site of the petroglyphs of Pusharo, in ten kilometers in the North, are going to upset all my works.

For more details : Thierry Jamin, Pierre-Albert Ruquier, « L’Eldorado inca. A la recherche de Païtiti », éditions Hugo & Cie, Paris, novembre 2006. Buy the book on-line : click here.

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