Sunday, November 1, 2009

Return to Ingapirca

'El Castillo' Ingapirca

The last time I visited Ingapirca was about five years ago, on a cold and wet January day. The bus ride was terrifying, I thought we would fly off the road any moment, and when we finally arrived at the site, the guides were on strike and we were told we could not enter. After milling about for a while, we were invited in through the back way (everything is possible in Ecuador), for a quick and surreptitious peek at the ruins and then for a walk around the back of the gated area to see a few ancient structures and a face carved into the rock. I was excited to see what we could, and I remember that the guide, although he spoke Spanish and my grasp of the language was extremely limited, told us a fascinating story.

Llamas Guarding Ingapirca

I was eager to return, and this time we traveled in a van with our friends Kenneth and Anne and left early in the morning. It took almost two hours to arrive at our destination, and although we were at a high altitude, the mountains were softer and less harsh than I remember, and the road was much better than I imagined it would be. There was a section that was under construction, with only one lane usable, but maintenance workers controlled the movement of traffic and I never felt at risk. I am convinced that this time there was in fact room for two cars to pass each other, and although there were potholes everywhere, I did not feel we were in danger of careering off the road. The van did not have seat belts except for the driver. I thought I ought to say something but no one else seemed bothered, so I was quiet.

Canari and Inca Foundations

It was good that we arrived so early and avoided the crowds which came a few hours later. The sun was shining and the 'castillo' was sparkling. Our guide spoke English (had lived in New York for a while). He told us that Ingapirca was both a Canari and an Inca site, shaped as a puma, with the Incas (who he claimed were smarter) occupying the head of the puma and the Canari (who were stronger) occupying the legs of the puma. The Canaris reigned for a hundred years or so before the Inca came, but were able to continue worshiping the moon in their part of the site, while the Incas, who worshiped the sun, erected their temple higher up. I remember from our last visit, that we were told that the Inca demanded that the Canari worship the sun, but let them worship their gods as well. Today's guide described a far more tolerant and respectful relationship between the Canari and the Incas which did not ring true, because I recall that the Canari first supported Huascar in the bloody civil war against his brother Atahualpa, and later helped the Spaniards conquer the Incas.

Plant Used as Poison, Drugs, and Medicine

Round Canari Storerooms

The Canari in their section, built round rooms and used river rocks and a kind of cement. They had their own baths to cleanse themselves before worship, and worked with the Incas in the central 'cancha' to make pottery and textiles for the community. Ingapirca appears to have been a religious site (although there is controversy about its function). There is an Incan road with drainage gutters alongside it, there are storerooms and workshops and kitchens and an area for the young women who were chosen to serve the Inca at age 8 to 12. After several years of training, the women moved to another part of the palace. The most remarkable structure is 'El Castillo', which was reserved for the Inca, who performed ceremonies on the west side in the morning and the east side in the afternoon. The structure is designed so that at the equinoxes and solstices the sun is directed precisely to a specific and significant spot. In the inner sanctum there is a place for idols. The Incans worshiped the condor (ruled the sky), the puma (ruled the earth) and the snake (ruled the underworld). 'El Castillo' is an elliptical structure with the wonderful Inca stones, which are volcanic and have no cement to hold them together. The stones are shaped so that they are flush against each other so that nothing can fit between the rocks. The heights of the rocks are all the same, but the widths vary, perhaps the reason why Incan walls can withstand earthquakes.

Canari River Stones with Cement

Inca Volcanic Stones Without Cement

We walked away from the castillo to the outcropping of rocks where the Inca bathed himself (the stones were carved into the shape of a bath and irrigation system), down a hill to find a huge stone shaped as a tortoise, one part of the Inca's bath which had fallen from its place far above on the hill, and to the face of the Inca, which may have been shaped by man or simply a natural phenomenon. As we climbed up the hill back to the 'castillo' we saw more and more buses disgorging scores of tourists, and felt relieved that we arrived when we did. We ate traditional Ecuadorian food at the 'Posada Ingapirca', which is an old farmhouse converted to a hostel and a restaurant.

Face of the Inca

Our original plan was to drive to some market towns south of Cuenca, each famous for a particular craft. I wanted to visit Canar first, which was close to Ingapirca. It was market day and the narrow streets were crowded with brightly dressed women shopping and selling their goods. They wear bright colored pleated skirts, embroidered blouses, beautifully woven or embroidered shawls, white felt hats and their long black hair in two braids down their backs. I had read that the prisoners at the jail were accustomed to selling crafts! When we arrived it was impossible to find a place to park and almost everyone in the car was asleep, so the driver and I decided to drive on.

Our next stop was Chordeleg which is famous for gold and silver jewelry. I chose a lovely piece for my daughter Tara, whose birthday is in a few days, but when Eric and I took a few minutes to get money from a cash machine, we returned to find the shop closed. We waited and waited for the owner to return. I looked for the item at all the other stores close by and was unsuccessful in finding another like item. Finally I felt we were holding the group up far too long, so I left the jewelry shop behind. In Guacaleo, I was hoping to find textiles. There is a certain woven shawl I have wanted since my first visit to Cuenca, but it is not sold in Quito or Otavalo, so I was determined to buy it this trip. However, Eric and I walked through the town searching for the textile market without success. I asked several people for directions, and we left the fruit and vegetable market and found another food market with lots of cuy roasting, but no clothes or textiles. Again our fellow travelers were waiting for us, so I finally gave up finding my shawls. Everyone was exhausted. Perhaps we tried to accomplish too much today. We will have to make tomorrow a shopping day!

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