(We find ourselves, suddenly and surprisingly, back in Pennsylvania. But we still have stories to tell from Peru.)
Vilcashuaman is a small town that used to be 4 or 5 hours from Ayacucho and soon will be two and a half hours from Ayacucho. Right now it’s about three, as they are paving the road as we speak. Vilcashuaman (‘Sacred Falcon’ in Quechua) was an administrative center for the Incas and a crossroads of the Inca road system. It boasts a temple of the sun with a Catholic church built right on top of it and an ushnu, a 5-platform pyramid.
With the coming of the paved road, Vilcashuaman is readying itself for tourism – they have a glossy brochure for tourists, and the guy in the town office on the plaza says people come from all over the world. Still, when we walked around town, people would stare at us and often say “gringo!” – not an insult, just a statement of surprise. We found a place to stay that rented us two rooms at 25 and 20 soles (that’s about $8 and $6) – the more expensive one had a TV (neither had a bathroom).
Off the gringo trail, one needs to get used to eating lots of soup and lots of rice. We ate at the market for breakfasts, bought bread, cheese, and avocado for lunches, and had suppers at a chifa (a chinese place). It was easy to go under budget in Vilcashuaman.
We took one of our best long walks of the trip from Vilcashuaman. When we told the guy at the tourism office we liked to walk in the countryside, he took us at our word and told us of a place 10 or 12 kilometers away – Pillucho, where there are some chullpas (burial towers) left by the Chankas, historical enemies of the Incas. We couldn’t get much more information than a general gesture toward a nearby (totally impressive) mountain. And so we set off the next morning, armed with sandwiches, lots of water, and a little chocolate. We asked someone which road out of town to take, asked directions of folks along the way, walked a U in a great deep valley, and eventually found ourselves on the edge of the town, accompanied for a while by a guy who said he was the mayor (and he did know a lot about the town) and asked for a little donation for the work they had done clearing the site (later reading confirmed that it is the locals who cleared the path, and there is no admission charged).
We were told that the road to Pillucho has been accessible by car for less than ten years – before that, it was on the backs of burros, llamas, and people.
We walked through a pasture with cattle and sheep to the base of the mountain. Zeke decided to stay put and I went around the side to scout, finding only incredible views in various directions.
When I came back Anna had headed up the steep part of the mountain, and so I followed. This got steep, but only scary for about 20 feet, getting past the rocky outcrop just before the top. On top, the mountain was flat and about 50 feet wide, with steep drops on either side, burned trees along the way, and a path going (thankfully) along the middle of the top.
Then, at the far end of the mountain, the chullpas.
This was one of those places that have a palpable energy to them, like the air itself carries meaning. It made us talk in near-whispers and move slowly and respectfully. Even without the towers, it would have been clear that this was special ground. There were stunning views in every direction. Despite the exposure there was no wind, but instead an intense feeling of calm. If there had been a guy there selling funeral plots, I would have bought one on the spot.
And so we headed back to find Leticia and Zeke and start the walk back. We passed several herds of cattle being driven (or in some cases, just seeming to walk on their own) one way or the other along the road back to Vilcashuaman. By the time we reached town we had walked somewhere between 13 and 15 miles and were ready to attack another big pile of rice.