Monday — April 6It was nearing noon when we left Andahuaylillas for Pisac. Taking a turn-off before the town of Oropesa, we drove on a paved road that follows Rio Vilcanota. The drive winded through a valley surrounded by high mountains clad in lush green vegetation. The pinks and reds of kiwicha and quinoa fields added splashes of color to the landscape. The scenery invited us to dally, but we resisted the temptation.
Kiwicha, a grain that was cultivated by the Andean people for more than 4,000 years,
is making a resurgence due to its high nutritional value.
Mui makes friends with the baker in Pisac.Our brief stop to pick up water on our way out of town took a bit longer when Vidal asked if he could take a few minutes to help the store-owner restore her newly-poured concrete step. In no time, he had erased the graffiti the woman’s son had carved into the wet concrete while her back was turned. “Now my husband won’t get mad at me,” she said with heartfelt gratitude and a big grin. A warm hug and an enthusiastic handshake, and we were off to the ruins.
Vidal gives a helping hand.As we drove up the mountainside, the scenery kept getting better and better. I just couldn’t get over the spectacular beauty all around us; Mui was equally impressed. We were ready to give up on the ruins, find a quiet spot (which would have been easy to do as there was no one else on the road), and spend the afternoon communing with Mother Nature.
Scenery en route to the Pisac Ruins.When we reached the Pisac Ruins, Joaquin, our driver, dropped us off at the entrance near Qanchisracay, the highest part of the ruins. I won’t easily forget our first view of the terraces from an overlook just inside the entrance. Yes, we had seen such terraces before, but these looked particularly impressive, perhaps because of the setting in which we were seeing them. From what I understand, such terraces were used primarily to cultivate maize. The crop was “highly esteemed” — in other words, it was very important in the Inca culture. At sacred sites, maize was grown for the purpose of brewing chicha, a beer-like drink used liberally during rituals.
The agricultural terraces with the ruins of the urban center in the distance.Pisac is said to have been the largest fortress-cum-urban center-cum-temple complex in the Inca Empire. Perched high on the mountainside, it was visible to anyone entering the Sacred Valley. It seems surprising that not only is there no evidence of the Inca having ever made a stand against the Spanish at Pisac, but the early chronicles make no mention of Pisac at all. A second theory claims that the site was built on the orders of Inca Pachacuteq as a royal estate or a ceremonial center. So, which theory is correct? Was it a fortress or was it a ceremonial center? Perhaps a bit of both. There is a strong likelihood that it was initially built as a fortress to which people could retreat in the event of an attack, and later, when it was determined that Pisac was not needed for defensive purposes, it was converted to a ceremonial center. We took the upper trail from the entrance and walked in the direction of the ruins of Qanchisracay, one of the three urban sectors at Pisac. Since our time was limited, we opted to bypass exploring this area.
The urban ruins of Qanchisracay are perched high on a mountain, making them very defensible in the event of an enemy attack.The ridge trail gained elevation slowly and was relatively easy to walk. We went up and down stairs, followed level paths, went downhill and then uphill again, walked through a well-preserved Inca gate, and squeezed through a tunnel, all the while making frequent stops to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Eventually we arrived at an overlook that afforded a view of the religious sector set against the expansive landscape of the Sacred Valley.
The trapezoidal shape is a clear indication that the gate was built by the Incas.
(photo by Vidal)
Our first view of the religious sector.When we arrived in the religious sector, we explored the temple buildings, admiring the smooth surfaces the Inca masons managed to create with the few rough tools they had available to them. Sitting on a rock in front of the oval structure containing the Intiwatana (hitching post of the sun), a large rock with a stone pillar that was used to track the movements of the sun, we rested for a bit. (Having noted from a higher vantage point that the pillar atop the Intiwatana is a mere stub, we did not go up for a closer look. The pillar was apparently chopped off by thieves.) The sound of water trickling down from a nearby ritual fountain combined with the chirps from birds unseen in the brush to create a soothing symphony that added to our pleasure in being at the Pisac ruins.
A ritual fountain near the Intiwatana.We completed our explorations by taking the lower trail back to the parking lot. As we neared the gate, the ever-present vendors were lying in wait. These ladies didn’t want to take “no” for an answer. True to form, Mui chatted and laughed with them without breaking stride. In the end, even though we did not purchase anything from them, they saw us off with smiles and waves.
Mui socializing with the ladies selling goods at the exit to the Pisac Ruins.I am truly glad we made a special effort to see these most impressive ruins. The weather was perfect for our exploration, the setting was fantastic, and the best part — there were few others visiting while we were there. Next Up: Day 4 — Señor de Los Temblores