Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pululahua and Pucara Rumicucho

Driving Down into Pululahua

Pululahua is Quichua for 'Smoke of Water' or 'Cloud of Water', which refers to the clouds that roll in to fill the crater every afternoon. The fog provides water for this very fertile oasis surrounded by arid hills and mountains. I am terrified of the drive down to the bottom of the crater, so for thirty minutes I am sure that I am going to die. I am afraid to look over the side of the dirt road, but when I do there are only clouds and some glimpses of the green crater floor far below. Once on 'terra firma' we are drenched in green, with orchids and bromeliads and moss covering the trees. There is more than one microclimate in the crater, with cloud forest along the edges and very fertile agricultural land across the bottom. The volcano last erupted about 500 BC and is currently inactive. Most craters have lakes covering the caldera, but somehow there was a route for the lava to exit, so fertile soil was left instead.

Green and Fertile in the Caldera

We were told that the Incas settled the crater, and later Dominican priests, but most impressive are the Yumbo tunnels, which are deeply eroded steep pathways embraced by thick underbrush. We rode horses through the tunnels running throughout the crater. Eric informed me that when riding horses, he spends every moment anticipating the end of the ride, so he worked on his computer in the groom' s house while Maya and I took our three hour ride. It was supposed to be four or five hours, but we trotted and cantered and galloped whenever it was possible and were back far too early. The day started hot and sunny and by the time we returned around 2 PM, the fog had rolled in and the temperature plummeted.

Maya on her Horse 'Brea'

Maya and Eric both decided that they wanted to buy a place and settle in this entrancing place, so close yet so far from the bustle of Quito. But driving in and out on the treacherous road ( the only way to drive) is too stressful for me. There is a walking path that local people take in and out of the crater, but it is incredibly steep and exhausting to climb, so it is not a reasonable option. Inhabitants are truly isolated in this magical escape from the world outside. Our guide lives in the crater, an hour or so by horse to and from work every day. She finds it peaceful and perfect for her at this point in her life, except that it feels a little creepy when the electricity is cut off for hours at a time.

Riding Home

Crater Floor

More Clouds as we Leave Pululahua

'Cloud of Water'

Since we finished so early, we had time to visit Pucara Rumicucho, a massive Inca Fortress nearby in San Juan de Pichincha. I had seen it about six years ago, when it was difficult to find and poorly preserved. We struggled again to find it this time, but I have no problems asking for directions, so we found ourselves battling battering winds at the top of the fortress, with a commanding view to the north and the south.

'Pucara' means fortress, 'rumi' means stone and 'cucho' means corner in Quichua, so all together it means Stone Fortress. It was built by the Inca invaders over a pre Incan structure. It was mostly a military outpost serving as an offensive and defensive guard post in their struggle to subjugate the resistant tribes of the north.

View From Rumicucho
Dry Hills

Rumicucho is built of five stone terraces in a pyramid shape, so there is a suggestion that it was also a gathering place to worship. The buildings align with the mountains in such a way that the sun crosses during the equinox, and of course the Incans were very much in tune with astronomy, so most of the places they chose to build were high with access to the stars and aligned in a way to capture the sun during the equinoxes and the solstices. My impression was that work had been done on the ruins since the last time I had visited. We did not stay for long because the wind threatened to carry us away. Most remarkable was the incredible views both north and south, and how incredibly dry the landscape was, so much in contrast to what we had seen at Pululahua.

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