I decided to stretch what was planned to be a quick trip up to shoot some photos at the ruins of Puka Pukara and Tambomachay before the tourists arrived turned into a long morning’s hike back down to Cusco.
Along the way I visited four Inca sites including a couple that are rarely visited by tourists. I also made the mistake of climbing up a very steep mountainside in the hope of exploring what was possibly an Inca cemetery and ceremonial caves. More on that later…
After a quick bus trip up the mountains, I hopped off at Puka Pukara only to find that even the gate attendant/guard was not there yet, much less any tourists. That left the entire complex open for a little exploring.
I’m not a big fan of the site. It actually looks a lot more interesting from a distance because it doesn’t really have much in the way of unique features. As you approach the ruins, especially from the east, it actually looks like a big fort built on a promontory overlooking the valley below. In reality, it was likely just a stopping place near the ceremonial baths of Tambomachay or possibly even a kind of hunting lodge for the Inca.
I’ve been to Tambomachay many, many times. It’s a very small, but very beautiful site with some incredible Inca stonework and still functioning fountains.
I almost beat all the tourists, but had to walk quickly to get ahead of a small group who arrived before me so I could get some good photos.
Tambomachay is on the usual city tour of the four major Inca sites above Cusco and is worth the visit, though you’ll likely only spend a few minutes there when with a tour.
The Hike Down to Chuspiyoq
I had planned on catching a bus back home after visiting Puka Pukara and Tambomachay, but I decided that I needed to get a little more exercise so I instead headed down the trail behind the village of Huayllarcocha.
I’ve gone this way a few times before and have never seen a single tourists or any foreigner. What I do like is the chance to see campesinos going about their daily work as shepherds. Sometimes they’re too far away, but sometimes it’s fun to stop and talk with them for a bit as they tend to their livestock. Always a way and a friendly “buenos dias” is appreciated.
Dark clouds and a cold wind was beginning to blow in from the north so I began to walk a little faster knowing that I could find shelter down the valley at Chuspiyoq is necessary.
On the way, I happened to look up and saw what appeared to be a couple of large caves and some small holes that might indicate an Inca cemetery was on the mountainside to my right.
As many times before, curiosity and my sense of adventure in exploring new places sent me up the steep mountainside. What I thought would be a relatively easy hike up turned out to be a lot more.
First of all, it was a lot steeper than I expected and the ground was softer and more slippery, too. Quickly I realized it would be a mistake to go back down as I would likely not be able to stay on my feet.
Making it worse was the abundance of a certain kind of bush that was certainly sent to the Andes by the devil himself because of the multitude of sharp, stiff spines that seemed obliged to insert themselves in any exposed piece of skin. They grab at your clothing and, because they are everywhere, make it dangerous to use your hands for balance. Heaven help you if you should fall!
What I thought would be a 10 minute climb turned out to be a 30-minute ordeal. I was committed to going up and had not safe option except to hope there was a safe way off the mountain above.
There was not. Once I reached the top, I did find a couple of shallow caves, but nothing special except the prospect of being stuck on the mountainside.
I finally decided my only option was to move along the cliff and hope I could make my way up and around to a safe place above. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was going one step at a time, searching sometimes for a long time for a safe spot to place my foot in the next step. Falling down the mountain would not have turned out well…
After a long time and repeated retracing of my steps to find a seemingly better spot to go up, I thought I’d found a slightly less steep section and I was about to commit to making a quick climb up regardless of where it would take me.
I was just about to go when all of a sudden a rider on a mountain bike zipped past no more than 20 feet above me. Just a few meters above was a well used trail that meant I had climbed up to safety. I can’t tell you how relieved I was because, to be honest, it was a stupid decision to climb up alone.
The dark clouds were seemingly getting closer, so I quickly made me way down the valley to get a few photos of the ruins of Chuspiyoq. This was obviously a small ceremonial site — probably a stopping place on the way to Tambomachay.
Unfortunately, I’ve found almost nothing in the historical literature that gives any indication of it’s purpose. The large huaca (“sacred stone”) and the presence of water made it fit the Inca requirements for a very special place, though.
On Down the Valley Towards Home
Thankfully, the impending rain that was chasing me down the valley passed to the west thankfully leaving my dry the rest of the way home.
The rest of the hike down to the Temple de la Luna was a bit mushy as it’s a bog the rest of the way. There is one small unnamed site along the way that is worth a look.
It consists of a large huaca with a significant cave underneath and some badly decayed building beside. I would love to know about this site as it appears to be of some importance based on carvings.
The rest of hike was a long, walk down the old Camino del Inca al Antisuyo road into Cusco. I was, needless to say, a little stressed and tired, but still glad for another adventure in the Andes!
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