From Pisco to Ayacucho

From Pisco to Ayacucho

This is a short section that links the route that we give which travels between Ayacucho and Huancayo with the main coastal highway. It follows a former high road of the Inca, a route which was both hard-won and of great importance to them. Almost all of the major archaeological sites which we describe in the area are a part of this highway.

The area is wild and affected only by the outside world through various mining operations. Ayacucho itself once the stronghold of the Sendero Luminoso movement, and was much affected by it. It is described as a part of the route which hase been mentioned above. Please click here to be taken to this.

There is an airport at Ayacucho, served by flights from most of the rest of Peru. However, the usual approach is by road from Lima, passing down the Panamericanan Sur to Pisco. This is described elsewhere.

Pisco is a pleasant town with excellent facilities, described elsewhere. The road to Ayacucho leads inland from it and Tambo Colorado, the closest item of interest, can easily be reached on a 20 km side trip from the town. The route goes through extensive irrigated cultivation, including vineyards and cotton. The tiny village of Humay is known as a focus of pilgrimage, due to the former presence of a saintly figure Luisa de la Torre Rojas, now known as the Beatita de Humay.

Tambo Colorado

Click here to see a series of images Entry to Tambo Colorado ("Red Inn") costs a small fee. The complex owes its name to the reddish stone from which it is constructed. It has few visitors, despite being one of the few Inca settlements built on the coast that still stands, and certainly the best preserved of them. It was built by Túpac Yupanqui at the beginning of the Fifteenth Century as a customs and entry point to the sierra heartland. The Inca high road that led from Tambo Colorado can still be followed through Huaytará, Vilcashuamán near Ayuacucho and on to Sechas.

"Puika Tampu", as the Inca knew the site, was also an administrative centre, with the usual additions of storage facilities, barracks and religious monuments. The state of preservation is extremely good, and the visitor can see the Temple of the Sun, with its high altar or Ushnu. A pyramid made up of three superimposed and rectangular platform layers extends this site, although some of it has been eroded away by the Pisco river. The Inca palace is, in fact, more of a suburb within which the senior administrators and their peers were quartered. There is a large building that could have been intended for the Inca as and when he passed through the valley, or perhaps for the acllas, the sacred virgins of the Sun. These were girls who has been selected when very young and raised sequestered to serve an initial religious function, before being passed out to important figures in the empire as concubines. Exceptional acllas would have been "promoted" to more important sites, perhaps attaining the precincts of Cusco, from where they would have been attached to extremely important households.

Huaytará and Incahuasi

Public transport for Ayacucho leaves Pisco from San Clemente, taking about six hours to complete the trip. It is possible to break the journey at the pleasing village of Huaytará (2500m), which is also a provincial capital. It is around 110 km from Pisco, and the trip takes around two hours. (It is a further four hours on to Ayacucho.) The village lies on a slope between two mountains, and is rich in archaeological remains from the tiny but ancient chocorbo culture, about which we know next to nothing except that they were absorbed by the Inca in the second half of the Fifteenth Century, after presenting ferocious resistance to them. They were allies of the chancas, then based around Andahuaylas, who themselves nearly toppled the Inca. The centre of the chocorbo culture was what is now the unlovely mining town of Castrovirreyna.

Click here to see a series of images The Plaza de Armas has the church of San Juan Baustista, built upon Inca foundations and from Inca-cut stones. Trapezoidal door frames and cornices, so beloved of the Inca, are still a part of the church's fabric. The original building was called the 'house of the two winds', and was a part of the Inca system of occupation of the region. The Inca Viracocha classified the people of the region as strong-minded and bellicose.

The Inca road that can still be detected in Huaytará runs up to notable remains at Incahuasi, 20 km distant. These ruins are grouped in five sectors, taking their line from a huge lump of volcanic stone that has been shaped with two seats. The larger one was thought to have been where the Inca received homage, and the smaller for his Ñusta, or wife. There is absolutely no evidence for this, however, but the site was evidently one of high status. There are two buildings with high walls, faced by a paved square, which are plainly linked both to the Inca military command and to royal residence.

The road forks at around 90km towards Ayacucho from Huaytará, one branch heading to Santa Inez and the other to Ayacucho. The former goes over a high (4853m) pass, and is called Los Libertadores because - astonishingly, given the altitude - it was the route followed by Simon de Bolivar's volunteer army during the liberation of Peru from Spain. The left branch to Ayacucho also goes over a high (4750m) pass before dropping to the city (2750m).

Vilcashuamán

Ayacucho is discussed elsewhere. Here, we treat one of the major places of interest around it. At risk of wrenching the reader off on a road before he or she has had a chance to settle in, therefore, here is a substantial side trip.

Vilcashuamán is the terminus of the Inca road that we have followed up from Pisco. It is located about 40 km along the road that goes from Ayacucho to Andahuaylas, where there is a turn which leads to Cangallo. Here, a further fork leads to Vilcashuamán, passing a variety of other points of interest on the way. Please note that though the overall distance is not great, the one-way trip may take up to four hours in good weather, both because the road begins well but does not end so, and also because it winds up and over points that may well reach 5000m. There is a combi-bus service that runs this route, but it leaves at around six the morning, given enough passengers. You can find it in the Ave. Ricardo Palma.

Click here to see a series of images After Cangallo the road passes the Condorqocha lake before reaching Vischongo, around 100km from Ayacucho. Just before the town lie the ruins of Intihuatana, and the road is paralleled by a 2km strip of restored Inca road.

These ruins are close to the Pomaccocha lake, and have a palace, a grand tower, a bathing site built around hot springs and a strange seventeen-sided stone. (Pomaccocha means 'puma lake', Condorqocha means - naturally - 'condor lake'. Both animals had shamanic significance reaching well back before the Incas, or indeed settled habitation in the area.)

The town of Vischongo has basic accommodation. There are guides who will take visitors around to various attractions.The area near to the town harbours the strange Puya raymondii plants, protected in the Titancayoc area. This plant is always encountered at high altitude, but in clusters which occupy a sharply defined area of land, usually on a steep, West-facing slope. Here, they cover around 450 hectares. Mature example measure two metres across and six metres high, but those in flower way spike to - it is said, although I have never seen one such - 20m high. The plant is of the yucca family, and like all of these, dies once it has flowered. The spiny leaves and stems persist in various forms, decorated with alpaca wool. The flowers are pollinated by humming birds that appear from nowhere. Quechua people use the flowers to sooth wounds and bruises.

Click here to see a series of images The trip on to Vilcashuamán is quite short, winding up a hillside to give an expansive view. Vilcashuamán (3470m) itself is a typical Andean village, with narrow winding earthen streets and little adobe houses with decorative woodwork in their balconies and doors. It is quite a busy place, acting as a regional market for agricultural produce. There are a handful of basic hotels and restaurants, and a simple public telephone service.

The church of San Juan Bautista has been built on an Incan foundation and follows Incan architecture quite closely. The Plaza de Armas has been the subject of much local investment, with a huge statue of Túpac Yupanqui, accompanied by a falcon with - oddly - a worm in its beak. (The word huamán in "Vilcashuamán" means 'falcon'.)

The attraction of the town is, however, the important ruins that sprawl behind it. This was plainly built by architects who had experience in Cusco, and it is one of the most important surviving Inca sites. The walls are made from precisely shaped stone blocks, scattered with niches for decorative objects and pierced by the characteristic Inca trapezoid door, with its single lintel stone. The site has separate temples of the sun and of the moon - the latter for lower status people - and a ceremonial pyramid. Many of the walls have carved relief, showing snakes and other animals.