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The Ventanillas: A View to Die For - Twice!

These ruins bring a smile to my face!
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Just imagine that, when you die, people will weep, bring flowers, have a ceremony, and bury you, but how would you like it if they were to then...DIG YOU UP AGAIN? Well, overlooking the Valley of Otuzco, I saw a burial site called the Ventanillas that you wouldn't believe. Archeologists are still unsure as to which culture created this site, but they think it was utilized as early as 600 B.C. The people entombed in the ventanillas were being entombed for the second time!

Map
Otuzco is less than five miles away from Cajamarca, and I had to take a bumpy, unpaved road to get there. As I entered the valley, I noticed the usual signs of rural life: cornfields, trees, grazing cows, running chickens and people carrying baskets of food. The valley was surrounded by enormous grassy hills and was divided only by the Chonta River, all of which could best be seen from the ventanillas.

In this ancient civilization of Otuzco, one thing was for certain: as in all other civilizations, at the end of your life, you would eventually...die. The only uncertainty was where they would put you after you died. Well, if you were just a common person, perhaps a farmer like most people, then you would be buried near your home, probably in the corner of your backyard as an reminder to your family of how close to them you were, and should always remain. But if you were a person of nobility, then you would first be buried deep within the low-lying valley, either near your home or in a cemetery. But you'd better not get too comfortable there, because they would eventually dig you up again.

That's me preparing to enter the darkness within
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Of course, the villagers were kind enough to wait about two or three years until most of your flesh had rotted away before disturbing your remains and carrying you all the way up the hill to your new resting place, in the ventanillas. Ventanillas is a Spanish term from the word "ventana," or "window," which is exactly what the ventanillas looked like carved out of the rocks high above the valley. None of them were much larger than about one square-foot and they're not carved very deep into the rock. In fact, they didn't really look large enough to fit a whole person into them, and certainly not an entire skeleton. That's because, when they put your skeleton into the little ventanilla, they would fold you up into a squatting position with your legs in front of you as if you were holding them close to your chest with your arms. It certainly looked less comfortable than being stretched out flat on your back, but you were dead anyway and didn't really care.

The entrance to the amzing maze of tunnels
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The villagers were sure to include your favorite gold or silver jewelry and any other precious stones or pottery you owned as they stuffed you into your ventanilla. In fact, if you were lucky, your entire family may have even had it's own tunnel, where you would all be entombed together. Some of these tunnels were over 12 feet deep and contained up to 13 different ventanillas for you and your relatives. Another advantage of being put in a tunnel is that you were more likely to remain protected from the rain. Although you were crammed into this window, your privacy was kept, since the front of each ventanilla was covered with a large rock. There, you would stay safely closed up for hundreds of years until grave-robbers or archeologists eventually got to your ventanilla.

These ventanillas looked pretty strange high up on the side of a hill overseeing the Otuzco Valley. There were actually hundreds of them still left, despite the fact that so many of them have already eroded away due to weather and time. I found it strange to see a house nestled among the ventanillas with what was certainly the best view in the area. Imagine walking outside of your home each day and seeing this extraordinary archeological site, and the entire valley and village below. Actually, with a view that spectacular, I myself felt fortunate enough that I didn't have to be a twice-buried nobleman to enjoy it!

Kevin

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