Thursday, April 10, 2008

Choquequirao 2

Once everyone had settled in at the campsite underneath Choquequirao and recovered from the brutal (brutal I say) hike up there, our group had lunch with Elizabeth and Sophia´s group and got ready for the final trek up to the site itself. It was another 1½ - 2 hours, the site at just over 3000 m elevation being only 250 vertical meters above the camp, but the trail winding up and down, trecherous as ever. The visible ruins are only a small percentage of the full city as it is still being excavated. There is a vista point from the trail with a splendid view of agricultural terraces. The Incas used such terraces a lot, as we had seen at Moray also. Some of the terraces at Choquequirao were clinging to a rock face that looked near vertical and it was quite beyond me how they could have reached them to do their farming, let alone build the terraces in the first place.

The entrance of the site is at the end of a series of larger terraces that eventually lead to the main square of the complex. I was imagining what it may have looked like when the Incas were still inhabiting the site. Arriving at the main square I received a partial answer, as I walked straight into a soccer game that was going on. There still are locals living in the village just below Choqueruirao. I did see five or six houses scattered along the mountainside, but I´m not sure if that was the village in question. Wherever it is that they live, there were enough villagers for some six-a-side soccer. Eber and I spotted a condor circling overhead as we waited for the others to arrive at the site.

Eat that, all of you with your wimpy Machu Picchu pictures!

Our guides Guido and Eber gave us a tour of the complex with background explanation. Adjoining the main square are some smaller structures that served as mausoleum for the most important Incas. We know this because the structures have double doorways (meaning a doorway within a doorway), only used by the higher social classes, and there were niches inside that served as resting place for mummified dignitaries. Doors and niches have trapezoidal shape, which is typical for Inca architecture. They also had niches above them where they would place solid gold icons.

Up above the structures is a round flat-top hill that was used for religious and sacrificial ceremonies. The Incas sacrified animals, mostly llamas, at this place. It was a glorious panoramic view of the valley and the river some 1700 meters below, the surrounding mountains -- some of them snow-capped -- and the entire Choqueruirao site itself.

The Incas used this site and a few others as a last refuge against the invasion of the Spaniards. Any army would indeed have a hard time even reaching the site, never mind conquering it. But apparently the Spaniards arrived just during a short civil was that was going on within the Inca empire at the time. Had they arrived two years earlier or two years later, they would likely not have been able to defeat the unified Incas.

Further parts of the tour included the houses of the religious elite, and the higher level structures. The Incas had a channel of water running all the way through the complex, used for drinking water and for irrigation of all the terraces. They worshipped the Sun primarily, but also the water, essential as it is for life.

Unfortunately it was starting to get dark as we were looking around the upper structures, so we had to get going. The trek back was quite challenging. Pitch-dark, just past New Moon, along a rocky path with steep climbing and descending sections. Fortunately my flashlight kicks royal ass. It´s a Pak-Lite, it´s tiny, clicks onto a regular 9 volt battery, and, as it turned out, delivers far more light than a regular flashlight. Worth every penny, folks.

Despite the total darkness Eber and I made it back to the camp site in an hour and 15 minutes. Eat that! We then spent the evening in the little hut at the campsite where we met up with another group of two hikers, Jennifer and Jenny from the US who were having their camp site dinner, and their guide Felix who offered me some beer in a mug. I don´t like beer and never drink it, but it all contributed "Everest base camp" atmosphere so I downed it. A static-y radio station was playing popular Inca music sung in Quechua, the language of the Incas that is still spoken by most locals today.

A day truly seized!

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