Cajamarca the Death of a Continent

Cajamarca Picture 1

Cajamarca merits a one line entry in a chapter preface in the Rough Guide to South America, an astounding piece of understatement for the city where arguably the most pivotal event in the modern history of the continent occurred. Try reading chapter 3 of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” for an excellent summary (even if you don’t agree with the overall conclusions of the book). It was here that the conquistador Pizarro, with a small band of about 170 soldiers and cavalry, took prisoner the Inca emperor Atahualpa, despite the presence of an Inca army of tens of thousands of men. This unlikely outcome was as a result of a number of factors, including Atahualpa’s complacency and the military advantage held by the Spanish courtesy of their cavalry and steel weapons. Atahualpa offered a ransom of a vast quantity of gold and silver for his life but, on delivery of the bounty, Pizarro reneged on his word and the Inca emperor was executed. Already decimated by European-introduced diseases, and in disarray due to the recent civil war between Atahualpa and his brother, the death of Atahualpa was the final blow for the Inca empire, though it would take another 40 years for resistance to be brought to an end.

Cajamarca Picture 2

The Inca empire was the largest and strongest of the pre-Columbian empires hence it could be argued that its defeat was a harbinger for the overthrow of native power in the whole of the continent. Spain and Portugal gradually took control of the rest of South America and it wasn’t until the early 1800s that independence fervour began to erode the hold of European countries on the continent. It hardly needs stating that the indigenous peoples of South America are still struggling today to deal with the aftermath of these events of nearly 500 years ago.

Cajamarca is well-known for its dairy products, as could be seen from the many cheese shops around the town, and the rainfall pretty much every afternoon no doubt contributed to the fertility of the surrounding countryside’s soil.

Unfortunately it wasn’t only the sky that was streaming. I picked up the most debilitating cold I can remember having in my life, which kept me in bed for 4 days while I ate aspirin and waited with irritation for it to pass. The nasal component of it was impressive in its grimness. Apart from the usual green/yellow mess that you might expect, there was a further element with a colour and consistency much like honey. I was worried that maybe I’d punctured my cerebral membrane with all the blowing and that the fluid had chosen my nostrils as its escape route, but common sense said that such an event would have had greater implications than simply producing a bog roll’s worth of gunk every day.

Cajamarca Picture 3

Cajamarca is often considered as the northern Cusco, though it has neither the profusion of tourist attractions nor tourists that Cusco does – no bad thing. There are few architectural reminders of its Inca heritage, with the most well-known being the Ransom Room, which – depending on who you believe – was where Atahualpa was held captive, or where he showed how much gold and silver he would pay as ransom for his life, or neither. There are as many interesting examples of intricate stonework as in Arequipa, and as few trainer insoles as in Lima. It’s a good town for pottering, however after my days in bed I was itching for a change of scene, and started heading north with a new country on my radar.

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