Hamilton in the (Southern) Hemisphere: Voyage to Vilcas Huaman

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May 29, 2013 by jiejie768

This Catholic Church in Vilcas Huaman used to be an Incan Temple. Vilcas is located about three hours from Ayacucho and was once something of a vacation destination for Incan rulers.

This Catholic Church in Vilcas Huaman used to be an Incan Temple. Vilcas is located about three hours from Ayacucho and was once something of a vacation destination for Incan rulers.

Saturday, May 11, marked the third day of Keegan’s visit and the start of his only weekend in town. Originally, Meg and I had hoped to take him on the Big Yellow Bus to tour the Wari ruins, the artisan town of Quinua and visit the Pampa de Ayacucho, site of the famed battle of Ayacucho on Dec. 9, 1824, which secured independence from Spain for all of South America. Alas, the Lima-based owners of the BYB decided that the first year of the endeavor was not sufficiently profitable and terminated the service as of the first of May.

This left us with a rather sizable hole in our agenda, but GeGe was on point with the suggestion that we use the time to visit the Vilcas Huaman Incan ruins about three hours outside of Ayacucho. Since Meg and I had already been on the Wari-Quinoa-Pampa tour (Meg actually went twice, once with famous people), we were onboard. After informing Keegan of this plan via Skype, he did some Internet research and quickly agreed that it looked interesting.

Instead of booking with a generic tour company, our trip to Vilcas Huaman was organized and executed by local celebrity Alejandro de la Cruz (far left, his wife HIlda is to Meg's right).

Instead of booking with a generic tour company, our trip to Vilcas Huaman was organized and executed by local celebrity Alejandro de la Cruz (far left, his wife Hilda is to Meg’s right).

The four gringos pose for a photo under the statue in Vilcas Huaman's main plaza.

The four gringos pose for a photo under the statue in Vilcas Huaman’s main plaza.

To get to the ruins, one generally has to book passage with one of several tour groups that operate out of downtown Ayacucho. GeGe, who was to accompany us on this excursion, had a better idea: Ask Alejandro (erstwhile captain of the BYB) if he’d be able to arrange a van and accompany/drive us. He happily agreed — because he’s one of the nicest men in all of Peru — and our agenda was set. In addition to his excellent driving, Alejandro proved to be a knowledgeable companion at our various stops along the way.

The day started early, with a departure time of 7:30 a.m. (as Keegan and I were a little, eh, rusty from the night before, we took advantage of the Hora Peruana and arrived for take-off at about 7:45). The first quarter of the drive to Vilcas follows a well-paved national highway that, after 20 or so hours, eventually leads to Cusco. We turned of after only 45 minutes and followed a gravel road for the remaining 74 kilometers to the ruins.

This view is from the Inca's Palace at Vilcas Huaman, but the vista was of similar beauty for most of the drive.

This view is from the Inca’s Palace at Vilcas Huaman, but the vista was of similar beauty for most of the drive.

It was a gorgeous day and the drive took us deep into Andean valleys before rising again along a mountainside offering sweeping views of the Ayacuchan countryside. The part of Ayacucho (state, not city) that we were driving through was a relatively well-to-do agricultural region teeming with cattle, sheep and countless chickens (not a rich area by any means, but better off than many areas of the campo). About 15 minutes after leaving the highway, we pulled into a crossroads village of sorts. There was a gas station, a surprisingly nice looking hotel and a handful of what amounts to Peruvian roadside diners.

The horsebound campesion wasn't sure what to make of four gringos walking along the road while Alejandro grabbed a bowl of soup.

This horsebound campesino wasn’t sure what to make of four gringos walking along the road while Alejandro grabbed a bowl of soup.

This sign indicates we were only 59 kilometers from Vilcas Huaman. Maybe so, but it was a long 59 kilometers along a bumpy gravel road.

This sign indicates we were only 59 kilometers from Vilcas Huaman. Maybe so, but it was a long 59 kilometers along a bumpy, gravel road.

Alejandro, who was feeling a bit under the weather, decided to get some caldo de gallina (chicken soup). He was joined by his wife, Hilda, and the four Americans decided to wander on down the road and have him pick us up when he was done. It was a nice little walk, and Keegan especially voiced relief over the break from the van — apparently the bumpy gravel road was not agreeing with his slightly-hungover stomach.

We probably got about a mile or so down the road before a pack of dogs up ahead barred our progress, and we stopped to wait for Alejandro. He came along in no time and we were back on the road toward Vilcas.

On our way to Vilcas Huaman, we visited a grove of century trees. For most of their lifespan, the trees look like ground-level palm trees. Then, they bloom into to tall-skinny flowers. A dead, post-bloom flower can be seen at left.

On our way to Vilcas Huaman, we visited a grove of century trees. For most of their lifespan, the trees look like ground-level palm trees. Then, they bloom into to tall, skinny flowers. A dead, post-bloom flower can be seen at left.

Another 30 minutes or so later, we made another side-trip to view century trees (see photo). These trees look like ground-level palm trees for around 100 years before blossoming spectacularly into massive, tall, skinny flowers. Unfortunately, none of the trees were in full blossom. Some had already blossomed and died, and most were in their nascent palm-bush form. But it was still pretty cool to see as these trees are nothing like anything I’ve seen back home.

Here is the view of Vilcas Huaman's main plaza from the steps of the Incan Temple turned Catholic church.

Here is the view of Vilcas Huaman’s main plaza from the steps of the Incan temple turned Catholic church.

Keegan takes a load off in a stone chair in front of the temple/church in Vilcas Huaman

Keegan takes a load off in a stone chair in front of the temple/church in Vilcas Huaman

That was the last stop before we got to Vilcas Huaman, and I have to admit, the trip took a bit longer than I was expecting. We didn’t pull into the city center at Vilcas until about noon, more than four hours after we’d left Ayacucho. It was a beautiful drive, but we were all ready to get out and stretch our legs.

Vilcas Huaman served as a vacation spot for the rulers during the reign of the Incan Empire. Currently, visitors can see a handful of interesting sites that include the Inca’s palace (Inca actually was the word that denoted the ruler of the Quechua people), and an Incan temple off the city center that has been converted to, you guessed it, a Catholic Church.

This Incan Temple turned Catholic church is one of two main points of interest in Vilcas Huaman. At one point during our visit, Keegan climbed the bell tower and a gave it a ring.

This Incan Temple turned Catholic church is one of two main points of interest in Vilcas Huaman. At one point during our visit, Keegan climbed the bell tower and a gave it a ring.

This pyramid structure is called the Mirador del Inca (Inca's Viewpoint) and offers a panoramic view of the town and valley. Behind the pyramid are the ruins the Inca's Vilcas Huaman palace.

This pyramid structure is called the Mirador del Inca (Inca’s Viewpoint) and offers a panoramic view of the town and valley. Behind the pyramid are the ruins the Inca’s Vilcas Huaman palace.

Meg and I sit in the King and Queen's throne atop the Mirador del Inca in Vilcas Huaman.

Meg and I sit in the King and Queen’s throne atop the Mirador del Inca in Vilcas Huaman.

According to Alejandro, the Inca’s actual “country estate” was a few miles back up the road, and Vilcas Huaman was more of a stop off en route. They would usually have a big celebration for a couple of days before the Inca moved on to Intihuatana for a stretch of rest and relaxation.

Interestingly, in modern times, the people of Vilcas Humana stage an annual re-enactment of these festivities during IntiRaymi (in late June) in which a massive Sun and Moon banner is draped in front of the Catholic Church, completely blocking it from view.

Keegan pokes his head through the back of the "Incan TV." That was what the informational pamphlet called this rock used for sacrifices.

Keegan pokes his head through the back of the “Incan TV.” That was what the informational pamphlet called this rock used for sacrifices.

Alejandro prepares the Piedra Vaticinio as we ask it to predict our fortunes in the year to come.

Alejandro prepares the Piedra Vaticinio as we ask it to predict our fortunes in the year to come.

In addition to the palace and cathedral, there are a handful of other points of interest dotting the town. The most interesting of these was the piedra del vaticinio. This was a carved stone that featured a pool at the top with two zig-zagging channels running out from it.

The Incas used it to predict the coming agricultural year and on the occasion of a wedding to determine whether the coupling would be a success. Water was poured into the pool and let run down toward the channels. If the water running in the left-hand channel arrived at the bottom first, the year (or marriage) would be a success; if the water on the right side reached the end first, it was an ill omen. If both channels of water arrived simultaneously, it was deemed to be a wash, meaning an average year (or marriage) was to come.

We did our own experiment and came up with mixed results. On our first try, we received bad news, but our second attempt saw the left-hand channel win. We took that to mean the agricultural year ahead was to be of average yield (which for me, means a crop of absolutely nothing).

We passed this woman leading her donkeys up the hill during our tour around the town of Vilcas Huaman. (Photo by Keegan Hamilton)

We passed this woman leading her donkeys up the hill during our tour around the town of Vilcas Huaman. (Photo by Keegan Hamilton)

Keegan gets ready to take a bite out of a guinea pig during our lunch in Vilcas Huaman.

Keegan gets ready to take a bite out of a guinea pig during our lunch in Vilcas Huaman.

After our tour of the ruins, we had worked up quite the hunger, and Alejandro directed us toward a restaurant that he’d known on previous visits. Unfortunately, the business was under new ownership, and the food didn’t quite live up to his expectations, but it wasn’t a bad meal. If nothing else, Keegan got the chance to try fried cuy (guinea pig) for the first, and only, time. I had my first taste of it as well (off of his plate), and I think we both agreed that it wasn’t terrible, but we’d opt for the chicken or lomo saltado the next time around. Hilda and Alejandro also tried the cuy, and determined it wasn’t very well-prepared. I’m sure Hilda, who raises cuy in her back yard, and is an excellent cook, could do much better.

Keegan stands in the Sun Gate at the Inca's Palace in Vilcas Huaman.

Keegan stands in the Sun Gate at the Inca’s Palace in Vilcas Huaman.

With lunch in our bellies and the sun high in the sky, there was only one thing to be done: eat ice cream! We spent a good 20 minutes traversing nearly all of Vilcas Huaman before finally finding a vendor offering Donofrio, our preferred brand. The selection left something to be desired, but even subpar ice cream on a hot day is better than none. After ice cream, it was time to hop back in the van and head toward Ayacucho.

Before returning home though, we had one more stop to make: Intihuatana — the Inca’s country estate. Intihuatana was only about 20 or 30 minutes from Vilcas, but even so, Meg, Keegan and I were all out cold by the time we pulled into the parking lot. Unlike Vilcas, Inithuatana is not located in a town, it is an isolated locale over looking small lake (or large pond, hard to say, really).

It wasn't hard to figure out why the Incas liked to visit the idyllic and picturesque Intihuatana for a little R&R.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why the Incas liked to visit the idyllic and picturesque Intihuatana for a little R&R.

Alejandro posited that this fountain at Intihuatana featured a hot spout and a cold spout. Further research discovered that to be untrue.

Alejandro posited that this fountain at Intihuatana featured a hot spout and a cold spout. Further research determined that such was not the case.

Can you see the llama in this rock? (See below for answer)

Can you see the llama in this rock? (See below for answer)

The ruins are set back in the hills overlooking an impressive collection of Andean peaks. The area featured several pockets of ruins and about 4 billion mosquitoes. The most interesting part of the tour featured a series of Incan walls that had various designs in them. One of the walls had a rock pattern that formed a llama (much like at Sacsayhuaman outside Cusco) and another wall had several animals carved in relief into the stone.

I’m definitely glad I saw it, but I was also pretty glad to get back on the road toward home; it had been several long days and early mornings in a row, and I think all three of us (Keegan, Meg and I) were beat.

Meg puts her arms out to maintain her balance while crossing a makeshift bridge at Intihuatana.

Meg puts her arms out to maintain her balance while crossing a makeshift bridge at Intihuatana.

Before setting out, we enjoyed a second lunch of carrots, cookies and avocado with (Tillamook!) cheddar cheese on French bread. I wouldn’t say I NEEDED that meal, but I wouldn’t turn it down if offered it again.

If the trip to Vilcas felt like a long one, the way back, felt nearly twice as long. We made a couple of quick stops along the way so GeGe could investigate cheese purchase (I think she ended up buying some in the town where Alejandro got his soup earlier that day), but mostly I read while Keegan and Meg conked out. By the time we reached the main highway that evening, we had spent about five or so hours driving on the bumpy, gravel road and we all let out a cheer when the tires found smooth pavement and the road noise dropped by 90 percent.

I enjoyed getting to see Vilcas Huaman, but I don't think I'll attempt the trip again until the government makes good on this promise to pave the road (a dubious proposition at best).

I enjoyed getting to see Vilcas Huaman, but I don’t think I’ll attempt the trip again until the government makes good on this promise to pave the road (a dubious proposition at best).

There's the llama from the photo quiz above.

There’s the llama from the photo quiz above.

Alejandro was kind enough to drive the three of us to our place in Santa Ana (across town from his house — where GeGe also lives) before returning home. We went upstairs and made a quick meal before determining that all of us were too tired to go out. Keegan and I had planned on making a return trip to the Taberna Magica Negra, but we didn’t have the energy. It was a good day, with some wonderful sights, but we were bone tired, and I’m pretty sure all of us were asleep before 10:30 that night.

The next couple of days featured a sick Keegan, a soccer game and an eviction, but you know all that already, dedicated reader that you are. We’ll pick up the thread tomorrow when Keegan, Meg and I board an early morning flight headed for Lima on Wednesday, May 15.

Catch up on all of Keegan’s visit:

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