Archive for August, 2011
What is it?
Sacred Mt Pachatusan, whose name is quechua for “He Who Sustains the Earth”, has the honor of being a preferred site for traditional pre-Columbian rites- such as offerings to the Apu (Mountain Deity) or Pachamama (Earth Mother), purifications, and Ayahuasca ceremonies- as well as the site of one of Peru’s largest pilgrimages, the Lord of Huanca. The Huanca shrine is nestled in a spot of great natural beauty along the flank of Pachatusan almost at the Río Vilcanota River shore near Chinchero.
On September 14th each year Peruvians and foreign devotees undertake the cold 4-6hr hike to the Lord of Huanca, to be greeted by the wounded Christ painted on the shrine’s rock walls centuries ago and make their petitions, cleanse themselves in the curative waters of its spring, and leave with renewed optimism for the year ahead. About halfway along the route up to the Sanctuary, you’ll come across vendors selling religious items and miniature representations of desires (houses, cars, legal papers) to leave at the base of the image. Prized items like the car at right are brought to be blessed. The 14th is the central day, but festivities are ongoing for a week. San Salvador, 2km from the village, puts on an artisan handicrafts fair during the Lord of Huanca feast.
Much like the Q’ollur Rit’i pilgrimage, the site began as a sacred stone cluster, like many pre-Columbian huacas, or natural shrines, and then the painted Christ appeared, providing the veneer of Christianity, and finally a traditional temple built around it. Like Q’ollur Rit’i, its origin legend shows Christ appearing to a humble Quechua from the countryside, in the case of Huanca, showing the wounds that showed his solidarity with the maltreated and Quechua population.
Under Spanish dominance, conditions in Cusco and the Sacred Valley declined rapidly. Mining was a prominent activity, and the Viceroy imposed forced labor to extract the resources. The origin legend of Lord of Huanca says that in 1675, when the Marquis of Valleumbroso discovered a rich vein, Yasos mine was created and among the forced laborers was Diego Quispe, from Chinchero. After defending a fellow indigenous worker being whipped by the foreman, he was imprisoned for a severe punishment the following day. Fearing the next day’s pain, Diego opted for escape, taking the path to Chinchero across the mountains of Huanca. When daylight came he took refuge in a cavern of rocks piled together, praying throughout the day as he listened to the steps of passing Spaniards. During the moonless night he was dazzled by an apparition of Jesus Christ, wounds from his final whipping still fresh. Christ said to him to depart in the morning for Chinchero and present himself to the priest for communion and then return. Beaten by fatigue, hunger, and a cluster of emotions, Diego slept until being awoken by Christ’s voice “Diego…arise…” Leaving a humble silver cross at Christ’s feet, Diego did as told. When he returned later, it was with a small group including the local priest, the only people he trusted to give away his unauthorized presence in Chinchero. In the presence of these other witnesses, there appeared Christ again, and the first pilgrimage to the Lord of Huanca was undertaken.
How to Get There?
Mt Pachatusan is located in Calca Province, about 48km from Cusco, and is accessible from Cusco’s San Jerónimo district or San Salvador (from Cusco it’s 20 minutes by car to Pisaq and an additional 10 minutes from Pisaq to San Salvador). From San Salvador one begins the hike to the Sanctuary on Pachatusan. If you begin the hike from San Jerónimo you can expect about a 4-6 hour hike.
Remember that Pirwa Travel Service has information desks in all Pirwa Hostels and B&Bs (of which Cusco has four!) The friendly staff at Pirwa Travel is always ready to help you organize your travel plans or help arrange transport or tours.
If you’re not sure you want to undertake the hike due to the altitude or cold, you can watch the festivities in Cusco´s Plaza de Armas, where costumed dancers are hardly ever in short supply. (Yes, that’s Cusco’s main square at left.) Grab a set at a balcony table in Pirwa Corregidor´s in-house restaurant Plus Café and you can watch the show without jostling with the crowds.
Sanctuary Garden is an area of privately-owned property within the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu zone. It boasts recently discovered archeological sites including Inca terraces, irrigation canals, shrines, storehouses, towers, tunnels, and more, in an area that still has not been fully explored. Part of the Inca Trail Network crosses this area as well. Not many agencies are permitted to operate within the Sanctuary Garden, and Pirwa Travel´s 3-day route is exclusive! Here, in an area bordered by sacred peaks, you´ll traverse mountainous terrain and lowland tropical rainforest in an uncommon experience, finding mysterious Inca ruins nestled in lush surroundings. In this trek through time you´ll come to know the mystery, nature and history of the Andes as you journey to the Lost City of the Incas.
On the first day we´ll travel to Piscacucho (2720m above sea level) at Km 82 along the railroad tracks. From here we´ll begin the trek along the Urubamba Riverside, following it downstream to the Salapunku ruins (Reception Gate; 2623m), whose walls of massive stone resembling those of Sacsayhuamán defended the entrance to the Sacred Valley. We´ll also stop by the Q´anabamba (Green Meadow) enclosures and Q´oriwayrachina (Where the Wind Refines Gold; 2520m), where a massive rock extending into the Vilcanota River and sustains the remains of a circular watch- or communication-tower and stone stair. After crossing the river we´ll arrive at our Q´ente campsite for lunch and a rest, having traveled about 7km in 4hrs with a “light to moderate” degree of difficulty.
After resting we´ll walk along the Vilcanota and cross the Cusichaca River to the community of Chamana (Shaman´s Land). We´ll follow an original Inca Trail to the Inca Trail of Willkaraqay, (Sacred Storehouse;2790m), a possible military base as well as rest stop and trading post. Inside the egg-shaped outer wall you´ll find more than 30 rooms and a semicircular watchtower overlooking the western Cusichaca River Valley. From here it´s downhill to Patallaqta (Village in the Heights), also called Q’entemarka (Place of the Hummingbird), a daunting complex of more than 100 buildings organized into blocks complete with streets and alleys. Along the eastern strip of Patallaqta we´ll continue in the direction of our final stop of the day, Pulpitutyoq (2500m), an Inca shrine which we´ll reach through a round stair. Then it´s back to our Q´ente campsite for dinner, having traveled around 4.5km over 4hrs. The degree of difficulty is slight, with a short arduous stretch which is the ascent to Willka Rakay.
The abundant flora and fauna of the 2nd day´s route will astound you as we follow the left riverbank, passing the extensive Andean terraces whose layout in the shape of a hummingbird earned it the name Machuq´ente, “Old Hummingbird”. Continuing in the direction of the Vilcanota River, we´ll find one of the Sanctuary Garden´s most stunning archeological complexes “Young Hummingbird”, Waynaq´ente, whose master stonework, best represented in its finely carved double-jammed gate, suggests that the site had a ceremonial purpose. The grade of difficulty until Waynaq´ente is high, with a 300m ascent, but from there the trail levels and the degree of difficulty is light.
On the 3rd and final day we´ll have an early breakfast and catch a train, switching to bus at Machu Picchu Pueblo (colloquially known as Aguas Calientes) before arriving to Machu Picchu Archeological Complex, the legendary Lost City of the Incas. The guide will explain what is known and what is theorized about the site´s purpose, construction, and abandonment as well as give you some basic insight into the Inca civiliazation. Some of the key areas that the guide will highlight are the main plaza, circular tower, cemeteries, royal rooms, and the Temple of the Three Window. The tour will culminate at the spiritual center of every Inca city: the Intihuatana, the shrine to the sun god, which aligns with the sun during the equinoxes and the winter solstice, appearing to temporarily hitch the sun. After a 2 hour tour of the site, there´ll be free time to explore independently and take photos before returning to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) for lunch and the return trip to Cusco.
Guinea Pigs À La Mode
Cuys, or guinea pigs, are famously a delicacy throughout the Andes, but only in Huacho during the big Cuy Festival do the little guys go all out. Cuy against cuy compete to be the largest, the fastest, the best-dressed…and the tastiest. Some guinea pigs appear in fanciful costumes, as peasants or miners, and others appear fried, grilled, or baked.
Pisco the Surfing Alpaca
Pisco the Alpaca, a llama-like animal indigenous to the Andean highlands, became an international superstar last year as a video of one of his surfing lessons was circulated online and on television. Outfitted in a stylish flotation vest, he hit the waves with his owner and surfing guru Domingo Pianezzi and practiced standing up on the board. Unfortunately, at the time he still had a case of the nerves, but by this year we expect that everyone´s favorite alpaca has gotten the hang of hanging ten.
In Huancayo in the Montaro Valley, during the Festival of Santiago (the Apostle James), the patron saint of farm animals, both Santiago and the Apu mountain divinities are honored in a festival that seeks to ensure the fertility of the land and animals in the coming year. It is during this festival that you can watch owners and livestock bound in holy matrimony- owners in their Sunday best sitting atop cows with flower garlands while the rite is performed. (In other areas the festival also includes marriages, but only among the livestock.)
The cattle ears are pierced and adorned with multicolored ribbon earrings, flower garlands, and other adornments in a musical ceremony known as the Cintachicuy (The Signal), in which only single men and women participate (women for the bulls, men for the cows). This tradition of decorating livestock to mark ownership dates to pre-Columbian times (prettied-up llamas at right). The main event is the mischievous Casaracuy (Matrimony) between the youths and animals, after which the the women throw flower and the youths receive long necklaces with known as Wallqas with skewered rolls of streamers, bags of hard candies, cakes, fruits, small liquor bottles. Celebrants of all species then hit the cane liquor and the dance floor!
The Andean town of Andamarca in Peru’s Ayacucho region receives 1000s of visitors during Qatun Yaku Raymi (Big Water Festival) on August 20th-26th. Andamarca was the historic capital of the Rucanas (Working People) from 700AD up to their conquest by Incas. In this dry climate, the pre-Inca agricultural terraces rely on an underground irrigating system and water is not only precious but still revered as a deity in pre-Columbian rituals.
The Water Festival begins after the annual cleaning of the water canals in preparation for the coming of the rains. It kicks off the September`s agricultural activities and brings communities together in a celebration of the fertility of the soil. Throughout the celebrations there will be artisan and food fairs as well as dance contests, though the central day of the festivities is August 24th, when the traditional Water Festival is held and a famous execution is reenacted. During the ancient rite of Pagapu, which never fell from practice, offerings are given to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and other natural deities such as the Apu mountain divinities. It all unfolds amid the sights and sounds of qarawi songs and Technicolor scissor dancers.
Reenacting the Death of an Inca
More than 160 students and artists recreat the capture and death of Inca Huàscar, who vied for the Inca throne against his brother Atalhualpa for 5 years, only to be captured in Andamarca in 1532, the same year Atahualpa himself was captured by the newly arrived Spanish conquistadors. Atahualpa ordered Huáscar´s execution from captivity to avoid an alliance between Huáscar and his Spanish captors.
The Blessing the New Water
In August communities unite in a colorful jubilee to celebrate the blessing of the water, which in fertilizing the Pachamama and renews life in the staggered Andean terraces and the community itself. During the Water Festival the image of San Isidro Labrador is processed along the Negro Mayo and Vizca Rivers and the water canals until reaching Tortora Pond for the blessing of the water. At the same time, Pagapu ceremonies are carried out to honor and ask the natural pre-Inca and Inca deities for strength and fortune. Offerings are rendered and symbolic dances performed by an innumerable cast of traditional characters.
In its enthusiastic attempt to highlight and protect endangered aspects of the world´s cultural heritage, UNESCO surprised many the week it declared, along with French Cuisine, the importance of Croatian Throat-Warbling and the Peruvian Scissor Dance. To the doubters out there: get yourself to northern Peru and see something you´ll never forget!
The Scissor Dance (Danza de las Tijeras or Galas) originated deep in the Peruvian highlands and is marked by the enthusiastic acrobatics of dancers who, snapping scissors in hand, move to music of violins and harps. The movements and steps honor natural deities such as apus or wamanis and the pachamama and were originally danced by the holy men of the day, the “Tusuq Laylas”, whom the Spaniards considered the devil`s spawn, forcing them to flee into the mountains to escape persecution. Their reintegration into their villages was dependent on the condition that their dances honor Catholic deities.
Legend says that their skill and ability to engage in dance competitions of 10, 12 hours where they dance intermittently with their competitors, comes from a pact with the devil. (They must pass the devil´s tests in the related Atipanacuy ritual which takes place in December. In Atipanacuy, along with the scissor dances come spectacles in which these “sons of the devil” spill their own blood in the name of Christ, running metal spikes through their bodies and engaging in other bloody feats until reaching masochistic ecstasis.)
Unforgettable Adventures in Arequipa!
Arequipa is famed for many things, for the stunningly elaborate mestizo-baroque façades of its pearl-like volcanic sillar rock buildings, for its native son Nobel Prize-winning Mario Vargas Llosa, and for the resilience and hauteur of a people whose city has weathered various earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and great fires. One of its greatest claims to fame, however, are the 3 volcanoes which dominate Arequipa´s skyline are the white Chachani (Beloved), Picchu Picchu (Top Top), and the central, perfectly conical El Misti (The Gentleman). It’s the beautiful El Misti which has been adopted by Arequipeños as a symbol of the city, its people and its culture. It´s only erupted 4 times in 500 years, registering emissions in 1985 and a minor eruption 1948, but no major eruption since the 1400s. Although the city has been evacuated before due to eruption, Arequipa continues to develop even along its volcano-side and its routes are popular with hikers.
El Misti Volcano: Symbol of a People
The symmetrical shape of El Misti, forming a perfect cone, is typical of its type, a stratovolcano of lava, sand and ash in alternating layers. It rises more than 19,000ft, throwing its shade over sunny Arequipa, which places 1 million people in its sphere of influence. A sacred site in pre-Columbian times, a 1998 expedition discovered 6 mummies of sacrificed Inca youth near the inner of its 3 concentric craters along with other precious ritual offerings.
Going Up….Climbing El Misti Volcano!
Climbing El Misti Volcano is a 2 day/ 1 night affair. The adventure begins at the volcano´s base, 3,300 meters above sea level, and passes through various altitudinal zones with shifting plant life on the first day, stopping to set up camp at 4,700. During dinner you´ll learn about the history of El Misti, where a 1998 expedition unconvered 6 Inca mummies, as well as local legends- all against the backdrop of a crown of stars over nighttime Arequipa, the White City. The second day is a very early morning, and after a replenishing breakfast the journey to the summit continues. The surrounding landscape will come more into view through the approximately 6hr hike. The view from the peak is majestic: you´ll be able to gaze upon Chachani and Picchu Picchu volcanoes from a position of height and proximity, looking down over Aguada Blanca Dam, Salinas Lake, and the White City of Arequipa under the conic shadow of El Misti. On a clear summer day you can see as far as the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The real prize for your effort, however, will be the crater of El Misti.
Going Down…Downhill Biking along El Misti Volcano
If you want to experience the magic of El Misti and the wonder of its surrounding landscape but aren´t up for hiking, or just crave a more adrenaline-filled adventure, then a downhill biking trip may be the choice for you! The hurried will appreciate that El Misti Downhill is only a half-day tour, beginning around 8am and finishing around 1pm. It´s about a 1½hr trip from the city of Arequipa to our starting point along the slope of El Misti Volcano, and from there it’s a thrilling 2½hr descent along Chiguata Route, taking you across a distance of 12km and a fall of 1,200m.
The Icy Peaks of Chachani
Once you´ve properly acclimated to the altitude, you´ll be ready to conquer the three snow-covered peaks of Chachani Volcano; it´ll require some stamina, a good attitude, and perhaps an ice ax, but will be an adventure you´ll never forget. It´ll also win you some bragging rights back at the hostel bar!
Going Up….Climbing Chachani
The first day is only a 300m/2½hr climb to base camp, with some exploration around the level of base camp in order to adjust to the altitude and prepare for the main effort on the 2nd day. The ice and snow cap of Chachani has been disappearing through the years, so that it no longer has permanent glaciers of ice caps. This means that whether you´ll be breaking out the crampons and ice axe depends on the time of year. The 2nd day begins early, we´ll warm ourselves with breakfast and coca tea at 2:30am and tackle icy Angel Peak (5,825m) first, from where the city of Arequipa will come into view. From there it’s a zigzag along another snowy stretch to Fatima Peak (5,900m), from where we´ll be able to see the ultimate goal. The final stretch is a 5-6hr ascent to Chachani Summit (6080m), where the pastoral countryside and towns of the region of Arequipa will unfold beneath our eyes, along with the Arequipa City, and El Misti Volcano. The rest of the snowy mountain range, Coropuna, Hualca Hualca, Sabancaya, and Ubinas will appear in a whole new perspective. The descent will be quick, about 2 to 3 hours, so we´ll make it back to Arequipa by 2:00-3:00pm.
Going down….Biking Chachani
Chachani Downhill tour stops in some places of interest in the Cabrerias Zone between El Misti and Chachani before reaching the starting point, Azufrero (5,000 meters above sea level). The route is traditionally broken into 3 parts. The 1st part covers 10km of sand and stone, descending 1,000m, and winds such that riders with less experience are advised not to exceed 10-15km along curves. Caballo Muerto (Dead Horse), the 2nd part, is a 200m ascent over 16km along solid ground. The final and largest part, descending 2,000m along paved roads at up to 45km/hr, brings us to Arequipa City, finishing at Carmen Alto Lookout where transportation will be waiting. All in all, over a 5hr ride you´ll have dropped 2,700m over 60km.
Pirwa Can Get You There!
Aside from offering quality hostels and B&Bs throughout Peru and Arequipa, Pirwa also has its own travel service! Click here to learn more about Pirwa Travel´s tours in Arequipa, including El Misti and Chachani but also including Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons, the city and countryside of Arequipa, and a lot more! If you´re not sure about your travel schedule, it´s never to late to arrange a tour or transport- Pirwa Hostels and B&Bs all have travel desks where you can get answers to your travel questions or receive assistance in arranging an excursion.