Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Narrow Strip of Wilderness

In Mormon’s description of the terrain north of the city of Nephi and south of the city of Zarahemla, along that strip of wilderness Mormon identified as the narrow strip that separated the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla, little has been written. However, that particular area was such as to remain uninhabited and undeveloped throughout the 1000-year history of the Nephite Nation, and was the dividing line between the Nephites and Lamanites throughout their entire history until the final wars that began when Mormon was a youth.
Running through the area of what is known today as Machu Picchu, a mountain top retreat built by the Nephites, and down the Pongo de Mainque, or “Gully of the Bears,” named for the spectacled bears found in the surrounding forest and along the two-and-a-half-mile-long, one hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty feet wide canyon that was cut by the Urumamba River (Urubamba, actually Urupampa, means “Spider Plain”) in ages past, where thousand foot vertical, fern-and orchid clad rock towers above the tranquil dry-season waters. However, in the wet-season (December to March), this river becomes a torrential threat to any but the most hardy and experienced white-water enthusiasts.
Convection off these cliff faces result from morning clouds driven in from the lowland forests to the east, dropping their moisture to create valley walls that are clad in dripping foliage. Even today, only a very small amount of the terrain has been accessed and very little is known about the area. Macaws, parrots and other birds abound, including species such as the golden quetzal and the cock of the rock, with military macaws nesting in large numbers in holes in the cliff face, easily seen from the river below where monkeys scramble about on the rocks.
A water fall, today called the Tonkini, crashes directly into the main river from its discharged point several hundred feet higher up the sheer cliff faces, creating the Tonkini rapids in the main river, an area where the local Machiguenga people thought of this rapid as the entry point into the next life, where good souls were sprayed up to heaven and bad ones ground to the grit.
The Machiguenga (Matsigenka) are an indigenous people of a hunter-gatherer culture that also practice slash and burn agriculture further east near the border of Brazil, where they grow cassava, a yucca type plant with a starchy, tuberous root and their major source of carbohydrates that is called tapioca when dried to a powdery extract, along with hunting paca, a ground-dwelling rodent.
Today, the tiny township of Tintinienkato is built from wooden boards, where the road ends and river travel begins. Beyond, the river emerges abruptly into open land, covered with sparse forest, and today is called the Machiguenga Megantoni ("the place of the meganto," or Macaw) National Sanctuary, a part of the ceja de selva (“hot” or “high jungle”), an area of dense, rainy and cloudy mountain forests along the eastern slope of the Andes.
Here, immense vegetation mingles with gigantic trees, orchids, bromeliads (a short-stemmed rosette of stiff, spiny leaves), ferns, mosses and lichens, and numerous species of small animals, including the armadillo, pudú, weasel, vultures, toucans and guáchars (cave-swelling bird). Here, also, are extreme slopes, and narrow valleys where numerous streams and torrential rivers with water falls descend into lush green canyons. The intense mist coverage in the mornings means that species which are normally found far higher mix and mingle with lowland jungle plants, and a corresponding richness of their predators follows on from this.
    Between this area and Cuzco lies the Cordillera Urubamba mountain range, located along the north side of the Sacred Valley, and is covered by glaciers and snowcaps. A little to the west is the Cardillera Vilcabamba (“Sacred Plain”) mountain range, which rises along the Urubamba, Apurimac and Tambo-Ene rivers. The northern part of this range is rarely visited and most difficult to reach. Along a saddle in the southern part is home to Machu Picchu and the 20,574-foot high Salcantay (“wild, savage”) mountain.
There is the Choquecatarpo Pass and down very steep descent into the oppressive heat of the Apurimac canyon with breathtaking drops on either side and then to the Apurimac River, while crossing through high passes and over ridges in some of the most rugged and least visited areas, then drop down into the remote and challenging high jungles that are seldom visited even today.     
    This entire area is mountainous, with virgin woods and abundant diversity in plant and animals, with continuous up and down climbing in order to cross numerous ridges. There are also pajonales (wet tropical pastures of enormous grasses and endless scrubland), queñual forests (high elevation shrub and tree forests of “many layers”), and mixed low forest of small trees.
In this higher jungle is today located the city of Quillabamba (not to be confused with Quayllabamba in Ecuador) that rests in the clouds and surrounded by rivers and waterfalls dropping across polished rock faces—it is a place where foreigners (tourists) rarely visit, partly because of the oppressive heat, and partly because of its out-of-the-way location and difficulty to reach. In fact, the further down the valley one travels, the hotter it becomes.
    Along this narrow strip of wilderness, a combination of steep criss-crossing canyons, torrential rivers, high mountains and limited passes, an effective boundary existed between the Land of Zarahemla and other Nephite lands on the north, and the Land of Nephi and other Lamanites lands on the south. There appears to have been only two ways around this narrow strip and that was along the coastal plain of the Sea East and the coastal desert of the Sea West, which is probably why there was so much notice when a Lamanite army was on the march, heading into the Nephite lands (Alma 49:1).

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