Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Coca leaves, waterfalls and Inca ruins on the Vilcashuaman Circuit

The reality for English speaking tourists in Ayacucho, is that you better get your Spanish up to speed. Understandably, since there are few Western tourists here, the availability of English guides is almost non-existent. We spent a few hours on our second day in town visiting iPeru, the Peruvian tourist organization, that had an office in the Plaza de Armas, as well as several tourist agencies that they directed us to visit. We realized very quickly that while there were several options for interesting organized tours at really reasonable prices, none had guides that spoke any English.

From our initial research we knew we could manage the route north of Ayacucho on our own (Quinua and Wari), but the tour south of Ayacuchu, seemed worthwhile, even without understanding our guide, so we signed up for the Friday full day trip from Ayacucho to the Vilcashuaman Archeological Complex, with some interesting stops along the way.

At 5:30 am sharp, a mini bus arrived at our Hostal as promised. After a drive around town to pick up the remaining participants (two Brazilians, one Portuguese, one man no one knew quite where he was from and couple of families from Lima), we were off on a 12 hour tour that was so stimulating to the senses that it really didn’t matter that we understood only about 2% of what our very informative (we think) guide had to say!

You will excuse me if this post is mostly photos. I do have the names of most of the places we visited and some information, but I thought, hey, we were on a primarily visual journey, so you can be on one too!

From the moment we left the city, the scenery was breathtaking. Throughout the day we were climbing from approximately 10,000 ft to 14,800 ft.

After about an hour of driving, we stopped at a local restaurant for breakfast. Once again, we were at a loss for what we were ordering as the menu was in Spanish and up until this point, we had been having very Western breakfasts. We were in farm country now and the potato farmers were coming in for their traditional breakfast: caldo de gallina. This is a rich chicken broth with rice or noodles and vegetables with a whole egg thrown in, to par-cook (in the shell) before being served. A dish of corn kernels was the side dish with lime quarters and hot sauce for condiments. Mugs of chicha were passed around after the soup was devoured. I let Marc take care of most of the soup and I had café con leche (warm milk with nescafé).

Our very kind guide Anjel, (pronounced Anhel) pulled a plastic bag out of his knapsack when we reached our first stop. He handed us each a handful of coca leaves and demonstrated by putting one in his mouth and beginning to chew. From his hand movements it was clear we would need the coca leaves to help us with the altitude. So we each took a few leaves and followed suit as we began the climb to a beautiful waterfall (whose name, I am afraid, I have no clue).

Our group consisted of at least four generations and the climb was a bit treacherous, but everyone from the (very cute but not very happy) four year old to the probably 70 year old grandma managed to get to the top of the hill, through the potato fields to the waterfall. It was worth the climb.

We climbed back down, and from here we continued our drive through farmland and into the Puyas Raymondi Forest, home to the amazing cactus like plant known as the titanka. Luckily we had a brochure in English that explained its significance. This plant has one of the largest flowers in the plant kingdom, reaching heights of four to six meters. The plant itself, including the bloom, can reach 14 meters in height. The most amazing fact about this plant is that it only blooms after reaching the age of 80. After blooming, they have reached the end of their biological cycle and go into decline. The thorns of this magnificent plant keep it safe from being eaten. The thorns carry a potent poison that is deadly to even large animals.

Back in our minibus, we headed for the Pumacocha Archeological Complex. These ruins are thought to have been a vacation spot for the Inca elite. There is a beautiful lagoon and some impressive ruins. There was something about pumas and the shape of the lake looking like one. I tried to find some more information online but came up empty. I will leave that with you. Let me know what you come up with!

We stopped in a small town for lunch and then headed for the Vilcashuaman Archeological Complex. Here is a description I found online: An Inca city dating from the 15th Century, considered one of the most important administrative centers in Tahuantinsuyo. Vilcashuamán, which translates as “Sacred Hawk” was built at a strategic point on the Qapac Ñan road (a royal Inca trail), and reveals a fine architectural design and well preserved remains. The integrated architectural elements that make up the site are: the Trapezoidal Plaza, the Ceremonial Pyramid or Ushno and the Temple of the Sun.

Anjel described in great detail all of the ruins we were visiting. Marc tried to get the gist of it all, but it became very exhausting so we tried to figure things out from the one brochure we had in English about the region, and then kind of gave up.

This was the last stop on the tour, and I think we had all reached saturation point. We piled back into the mini bus and headed back to Ayacucho. It began to rain just as we headed back, so we all felt we had permission to close our eyes and sleep through the return journey. It was easier that way anyways. With our eyes closed, we would not have to worry about the dangerous switchbacks on the now muddy and slippery mountain road!

We made it back safely to a wet and chilly Ayacucho at sunset. We headed back to our Hostal to pack. We had bus tickets out of Ayacucho the next morning at 8:00 am to Pisco and yet another adventure.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! Here's the good news: in the absence of English-based information your photos are more than enough to still give us all the feeling of walking beside you on this adventure (only without an altitude headache that I always seem to get). Those carved stone building-blocks and the simple beauty of the land & people are so compelling. Having sampled a mouth full of coca leaves (did you have to add fire ashes or Tums or something to the wad in your mouth to get the full effect?) you can now go on to your next destination and sample their Pisco Sours!