Day 2 — Hiking in the Countryside

Saturday — April 4

As busloads of tourists started pulling into Tambomachay, we headed across the road to Puca Pucara. The name of the site is translated as “Red Fortress.” It was long-assumed that Puca Pucara was built to defend the road leading into the Sacred Valley, but later studies have indicated that it was never a defensive stronghold. One school of thought says that it was a roadhouse where travelers were lodged and goods, animals, and the like were temporarily stored. Another theory, based on the writings of a Spanish chronicler, is that it was Puca Pucara and not Tambomachay that was the hunting lodge of the Inca Tupac Yupanqui. Since no dwellings were found at Tambomachay, this could well be the case. It could also be that back in those days, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara were part of the same settlement with the former being the religious sector and the latter forming the urban sector.

Puca Pucara — likely a wayside inn that provided lodging to travelers.

We did not spend much time at Puca Pucara. Not only was there little to see, but we were also anxious to start our hike to Qenqo — the first real test of our activity capabilities at altitude. It turns out that we did quite well. We took twice as long as the average person might, but that was due mostly to our penchant for wanting to capture images of just about anything that caught our eye, including a young girl shepherding her llamas from the grazing field back to the barn.

A young girl and her llamas.

The weather was perfect for our hike — warm enough to shed layers along the way, but with a nice breeze to keep us from becoming overheated. The best part of the hike — we had the trail virtually to ourselves. We encountered a few small groups that quickly left us eating their dust. Well, not really; it’s just that they were hiking at a much faster pace. That’s OK; we weren’t in a race.

The scenery was wonderful — verdant, rolling hills and valleys; pigs wallowing in mud, sheep grazing in the fields, burros calling out as we passed by; colorful flowers hosting butterflies and bumblebees; brilliant, blue-green hummingbirds gathering nectar; farmers tilling their land; young men collecting good soil for resale in markets; and a surprise find — a not-yet-announced excavation of an ancient site.

A yet-to-be-announced archeological find is one of the surprises on our hike.

We respected the place being an active excavation site and enjoyed it from a distance. I was especially intrigued by the face seemingly carved into the big rock ... perhaps a rendering of Viracocha (creator of all things and god of the sun and storms)? Or maybe it was just my active imagination. The site has not been given a name as yet and there's very little information about it that has been made public. When it is announced to the world, we'll be able to say, "Oh yeah; we know all about that place."

Next we came to Salumpuncu (aka Lajo or simply, the Temple of the Moon). As we approached the site, Vidal noted that the locals still come to this temple to make offerings — crops, coca leaves, sea shells, and the like. He pointed out small caves with obvious soot and ash residue from the burning of such offerings. Vidal also explained that the offerings tend to be made at night, which would be in keeping with the site being a place to worship the moon. In reality, however, the locals go at night for a more practical reason — so that they are not disturbed by the tourists who visit during the day.

Salumpuncu — Temple of the Moon.

When we reached the temple, we went into one of the caves where mummies would have been placed. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the cave, we were able to see the niche in which the mummy would have been put along with some personal belongings and the altar that was carved out of a rock in situ. I’ve read that on the full moon closest to the winter solstice, this altar is bathed by moonlight, which comes in through a fissure in the ceiling of the cave. On the way out, Vidal pointed out carved representations of a snake, puma, and condor — important elements of the Inca trilogy. The snake represented wisdom, the puma represented strength and power, and the condor represented freedom.

You have to use your imagination, but here’s a snake carved in relief on the wall leading to the entrance of the mummy cave.

From the Temple of the Moon, we continued to the last stop of our hike, Qenqo. As we made our way down to the site, we found puppets hanging from the trees. Vidal explained that these were effigies known as compadres and comadres, put up by young boys and girls during a fiesta in February. The way I understood it, the boys string up female puppets and the girls string up male puppets. Each then try to bring down the puppets of their own gender by sneaking around under the cover of darkness.

A compadre and a comadre swinging companionably in the tree.

Qenqo was a waca (shrine) dedicated to the worship of Pachamama. The name of the site means zig-zag or labyrinth, and is derived from the zig-zag channels that served as paths for the chicha or sacrificial llama blood used in ceremonies. I read on one website that the trail resulting from the chicha or blood would then be interpreted by priests — Inca-style fortune telling perhaps!

This waca is considered to be one of the best examples of something the Incas did really well — carving rocks in situ. In this case, they created an entire temple structure out of a single rock. The limestone rock that stands in the center of an amphitheater-like area has been eroded by time, but it used to cast a shadow that looked like a puma. Not realizing that the puma here was a shadow, the Spaniards apparently spent a considerable amount of time looking for the real thing. The caves scattered around the temple were used to store the mummies of priests and nobility. These mummies would be taken out and placed on altars around the site on days of religious importance.

Some say that this rock at Qenqo represents a sitting puma; others claim that it was a phallic symbol.

I don’t think we did Qenqo the justice it deserves. We certainly did not take the time to explore it's labyrinthine layout. Blame it on the hike; we were a little tired and as it was well past 1:00p, we were more than a little hungry. After taking a quick peek inside one of the mummy caves, we headed back to Cusco.

Next Up: Day 2 — An Afternoon in Cusco

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy this blog, it's like being there again. So many fantastic memories! :-)