I think to sum up today's events, if one was able to diverge from the itinerary recommended by Lonely Planet, dared to take 2 buses there and 2 buses and a taxi back, negotiated with a guide to have a private showing of the ruins and spent about half an hour chasing llamas, one can officially be crowned a South American Explorer in Training.
Cuenca has numerous day trips that are available for an avid traveler and those tours can certainly be arranged complete with a comfortable bus, a guide, about 30 other noisy tourists and a sense of a cultural treasure that you have missed by running around in a herd as oppose to taking time to explore on your own (of course, we have a bunch of tours planned in Peru and soon I will take on a role of a blind follower, but until then let me brag), those usually run around $40. I decided to take an adventurous option of the same itinerary and ended up spending $6 on transportation and $5 on the guide.
Ingapirca (which means Wall of the Inca)is famous not only as the most important Inca site in Ecuador but also because on its premises lived Cañari who until this day remain one of the oldest cultures that managed to survive both Inca and Spanish conquests.
So, my day began with bus #1. Diana was very kind to give me a ride to the bus station and I perched at the window seat ready to soak in the scenery and hoping that this will be the first day this week when the stunning turqoise of the ecuadorian sky will actually shine through the clouds.
In Ecuador buses are the main mode of transportation and they go pretty much everywhere. While it looks like a western tourist bus ( bus #1 even had a flat screen tv), it is different in that in it you will see such things as chickens, street vendors rushing in to sell sweets (this country runs on sugar), beggars avidly displaying every deformity mother nature gave them to receive a few cents and, of course, mothers changing diapers and cockroaches who thrive in this social environment. But the most stunning part is the bus-boy. Driver only drives and the bus-boy is responsible for diving in and out of the moving bus, collecting payment, remembering how much change he owes to EVERY person and occasionally hanging out from the side of the bus advertising its destination.
The bus was pretty comfortable and as we made our way through the streets of Cuenca, then out into the provinces of Azuay and Cañar, then up the steep mountain sides, higher and higher until we entered the thick mist of clouds, I could not peal myself away from the window. The contrast between the heavenly beauty of nature and misery of people who work it and live on it was heartbreaking. People of the bus came and went, and as the peasants piled in, the gradual difference in their traditional dress was stunning. If it was pitch black outside you could still tell where the bus was passing simply by looking at the change in the skirt pattern, the shawl, and the hat type of women.
As we passed Azogues, Biblian, and Cañar, the bus terminals were getting smaller, the houses fewer and the indigenous population more abundant, until we came to a final stop at the tiny plaza of a tiny town El Tambo. As I descended into the plaza and waited for the bus that will take me to the town of Ingapirca, I noticed a small market on a side street. Despite the light-headedness that I felt from climbing from 2530m to 3230m, I stumbled over to see my first very non-touristy local market. Bananas and other fruit were piled in the middle of the street and peasants were piling huge loads onto their backs, securing it with a shawl.
Bus #2 was not as fancy as its predecessor. The bus slowly made its way even higher, up another steep hill with stunning views. As I disembarked at the village of Ingapirca, I was shown the direction in which to look for the ruins. A 5 minute walk later (5 minute walk at the elevation of 3230 is more like a mile of running), I entered the archaeological site and got acquainted with the guide. As she led me through what remained of the windy streets of the ancient settlement I could not help but stare at her condor-like profile, trying to guess if in her too flowed the blood of the incas. After walking through the foundation of the temple of the moon, I examined the ancient calendar which was more like a boulder with 28 holes, which , when filled with water, would reflect the moon light and thus give incas the clues on when to adhere to agricultural practices. Until this day in the Andes no seed is planted in the full moon in the fear of bad harvest.
As we approached the temple of the sun, even before I was able to run my fingers through the smoothness of the stones and testify that not even a pin could fit in between them, I saw the herd of llamas. I am pretty sure my guide rolled her almond-shaped eyes quite a few times as she watched me chase something that looks like a shorter and fluffier version of the giraffe or a camel (which are llamas closest relatives). After the tour was over I spent some time simply sitting on the ancient stones, enjoying the company of these incredible animals.
Afterwards I hiked along the top of the hill and then off to the other side to see the stone formation called the Face of the Inca. Take a look, this is what I imagine a wise inca would look like as he concentrates on running a huge empire that span through modern-day Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
As I descended down a muddy path I came across a small adobe (built out of mud brick and straw) house that looked uninhabited. I walked to what should probably be called, its back yard, that overlooked a mountain river and a waterfall. As I was getting ready to head back, I heard shuffling and what sounded like a squial coming from the inner patio. As I turned around I saw two tiny creatures slowly emerging from the shadows of the patio, their bare feet silently moving, as their hands were holding onto the walls. I think people possess sixth sense that allows them to feel the history of other humans they encounter. In the two figures, not taller than 4ft and wearing traditional costumes, I felt a wave of centuries approaching. I can't explain it but I knew that these were the most ancient human beings I have ever met. Their faces were deformed by the age, they barely moved and their eyes were hidden in the myriad of wrinkles. As the creatures approached (I think about 50 years ago it became undescifirable if they were male or female), I greeted them and asked if I could take a picture. The one that looked so white and ancient that a gust of air could turn it to dust, shook its bony finger, saying no, and when I politely bowed and wished them a good day, it smiled a hundred-year-old smile and made a gesture that I interpreted as a blessing.
The ride of busses #3 and 4 was uneventful, and as we descended into the mist and then into the on and off rain I couldn't help but smile at the day that seemed like a wild ride into the heart of the Andes and left me yearning to learn as much as I can about their mysterious culture.