Monday, June 23, 2008

Choquequirao, Another Lost City

Machu Picchu not being enough to satisfy our fondness of the Inca empire, we decided to do a real trek, and go to Choquequirao, another not so lost ancient city in the mountains. This city is only accessible by foot, although that does not stop wealthy tourists, who hire donkeys that carry them all the way up and down the 32 km trek. We decided to rough it and go on our own, with tent and all. Here is the courageous Renaud starting out the trek, with beautiful Cordiliera in the background:

Choquequirao has actually been known to our civilized world for much longer than Machu Picchu. Actually, Machu Picchu ´discoverer´, Hiram Bingham, was first sent to Choquequirao by the locals while on his quest for the lost city of the Incas. This city´s legend says that it was the last city to be inhabited by the real Incas after the Spanish took over their empire, for no less than forty years. As always in Peru, without written testimonies, much is left for the guessing.

Since 2002, a lot of archaeological work has been performed on the site, with the help from the French government. As the story goes, it´s Peru´s ex-president Toledo´s Belgian wife that has spoken about Choquequirao to Chirac, and as he was also well-read and interested in the project, mainly due to some French explorers that have visited and written about the city in the 19th century, it went underway. Some unique mural decorations of 23 lamas and a human figure have since been discovered on lower agricultural terraces. (We failed to see them as we learned the whole story at Marco´s hotel, see below for his website).

We stayed only a short afternoon at the sight, as it is much smaller than Machu Picchu. Below is the view of the ceremonial terrace, where Incas probably worshiped Inti, the sun god.

We actually trekked through a loop, starting at the village of Cachora, and ending at Huanipaca. Usual trekkers, monopolized by the Cachorian donkeys and their guides, are taken up and down the same trail from Cachora. When we asked our way to Tambobamba, several locals told us not to go that way, without really explaining why it was so peligroso. As we found out later, the trail is used by Peruvians only (women, children, donkeys), and is guarded as a strict secret for some reason (probably having to do with the Cachorians willing to keep their monopoly).

We enjoyed the Tambobamba return a lot, passing through a lavish ex-hacienda of San Ignacio, still growing oranges, tomatoes and coca plants. We did enjoy a couple of succulent oranges on the way too! To top the experience, we stayed at a very pleasant hotel run by an escaped italian Marco in the village of Tambobamba, please visit him if you are around. His website has further information about Choquequirao as well. We finished the trek with another 10km hike up to Huanipaca, where a 20 soles taxi took us to Abancay, and then back to the Cusquena base.

Before visiting Choquequirao, we also went on a day hike to Moray terraces and then Maras Salinas. We did got lost on that hike and did 2 hours of extra walking, but the views were not too bad. Here is a quechua woman with Nevado Salkantay in the background, near the Moray terraces:

And below are the Salinas, used since the pre-inca times to gather salt from the spring in the mountain. Great trail for mountain biking as well:

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