It was the kind of feeling that is supposed to make people reconsider what they are about to do, that preservation instinct kicking in, but five years of planning and ten years of dreams are hard to turn your back on. We ignored the signs as we stood there staring all around us at stones as old as the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt.
Hieroglyphic symbols and carved murals peered out from behind a dense layer of foliage, any paint long since faded. Though the stones were overgrown, the floor – soft with rotting leaves and a thick layer of moss – was as open and easy to walk on as any well tended street.
Our brains took a moment to catch up with reality, and then we were all scrambling to get out cameras and equipment. Patrick was fiddling with the satellite GPS to ensure we were accurately locating our position for future expeditions. Rodrigo had the 35mm camera out and was starting to snap photos in all directions while I used the digital for video.
James was too enthralled just looking at everything, running his hands over stones which even now were fit so tight not even a piece of paper could slip between them. He peeled back some vines, tracing his fingers across a carving of four figures before calling Rodrigo over to get a few shots of it. There was everything to see all at once, and the foreboding feeling was pushed aside for the thrill of discovery and long-sought reward.
There was no direction we could turn where we could not find increasingly splendid examples of what such ancient artisans had produced, and soon our initial excitement began to turn into a calmer appreciation. We were no longer calling one another to come see this! Did you notice that? Get the camera over here! In subdued awe, we pressed further into the city, walking down narrow stone valleys formed by the remains of walls. Our general aim was a wide avenue we had seen from above which ran east-west, dividing the city, and would have been used for grand processionals to the temple. If we had our bearings correct, we had entered the city from the north, and so kept our route to be generally southern.
Among the many remaining carvings and reliefs, one recurring theme began to emerge, that of the image of the four travelers. We discussed the possible meanings, touching on compass directions, the four winds, the seasons, to the later Inca regions, anything that ‘four’ might symbolize. Less direct correlations could be made to a priesthood or kings, and Rodrigo said they reminded him of the three magi from Biblical stories, as each carried a box.
This lead Patrick to suggest a celestial link, for one of the boxes was at times shown with rays of light emanating from it. Stars, planets, even gods may have been the subject, and as we neared the avenue and the theme became more prominent, we agreed that the latter were the most likely theories. Rodrigo took pictures every few scenes, capturing the evolution of the theme from simplistic figures at the edge of the city, to increasingly detailed and complex as we progressed inward.
The sun was beginning to dip toward west when we reached the avenue and agreed on this being a good place to rest and get some lunch before moving on toward the temple. We found a section of exposed stone floor, protected on two sides by a high wall, and set up camp while there was still ample light to work by.
It wasn’t until we were all eating and I found myself staring down at my boot that I realized I had not seen a single other living thing since we had entered the city. Not a snake nor a spider, not even a fly had bothered us. I found it unusual enough to say something, but James began to talk about the four figures again and soon the thought was driven from my mind.
He was noting that in all our research and what information we had gathered on the city, none of it had ever mentioned these depictions. Rodrigo pointed out that we have to consider they may have been an understood part of the history without ever being direction spoken of, or perhaps considered too sacred to relate to outsiders. We agreed it sounded plausible, and while James was unsatisfied with that answer he could hardly offer a better explanation. He conceded that their inclusion may have been lost over time if those relating the stories did not understand their significance. We looked at one another with an unspoken agreement that even we did not understand that. The unsettling feelings of earlier began to creep up on us once again.
After lunch we discussed where we should go, and while I still wanted to go on to the temple, the others convinced me that the sun would be behind the mountains soon and it would be better to go in full light. It was decided we would go to the temple first thing in the morning, choosing to stay closer to our camp for now; there was no shortage of things to see and discover as it was.