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Starting the year at Ingapirca


 I had to get out of Cuenca.  The six days of entrance exams (prospective students at my language school must take an oral/written placement test prior to course registration) that I had just endured left me utterly dejected.  At my wits’ end, I just couldn’t bear anymore sitting nor tongue biting while self-proclaimed English experts griped about the results of their examinations.  Desperately searching for a sound mind, I set out that Saturday morning in early January with two goals: forget about my frustrating, Christmas vacation duties at CEDEI (Centros de Estudios Interamericanos) and make my first trip to the Cañar province (a tiny, mountainous region just south of the country’s bull’s-eye) to see Ecuador’s most notable set of ruins.
 
“We can only take you as far as El Tambo,” said the young fare collector as he grabbed my two dollars.

I glared him.

“But, I told you that I was going to Ingapirca before I got on,” I replied, quite annoyed.

“Yeah, I know,” the Ecuadorian sporting a crew cut acknowledged.  “Don’t worry; you can grab a bus in El Tambo, which will then take you to Ingapirca.”

“Okay,” I conceded, figuring it was pointless to argue already twenty minutes into the trip. 

Two hours, two begrimed boys (I could smell the farm they had come from) claiming my arm rest, and too many northbound stops along the withering Pan-American led to El Tambo, an inanimate transit point resting just 9 km downhill from my destination. 

“Wait here for the bus to Ingapirca,” advised the driver through the open door as he rumbled away from El Tambo’s central plaza.

“You’re going to Ingapirca too,” asked someone from behind.

The person’s accent sounded quite different from the melodious, Cuencan Spanish that I was used to hearing.  Curious, I spun around to find a bright-eyed, silver-haired gentleman approaching me.

“Yeah,” I answered.  “Where are you from?”

“Colombia,” he responded.  “You?”

“The United States, but I’ve lived in Cuenca for the past few months.  I teach English there,” I replied.  “So, how do we get to the ruins?” 

“A bus is supposed to come by soon.  The ride is about twenty minutes long and costs 50 cents,” the light-skinned man informed me.

Shortly after, a rickety blue bus pulled up to the decrepit curbside.  I followed my fellow tourist onboard and wedged my way into a pair of seats that were practically on top of the ones in front of them.  With my knees pressed against the backrest facing me, I tried my best to breathe as the vehicle violently shook.  I was amazed that the windows didn’t shatter because they viciously rattled as the decaying auto fought its way uphill.  Eventually, the exhausted bus slowly rolled into a dusty lot, parking alongside a couple of its teammates. 

“There they are,” said one of the Chilean girls seated in front of me.  (I overheard them tell the Colombian that they were from Santiago).

Following her pointed forefinger, I snapped my head around to see Ingapirca’s Temple of the Sun through the bus’s back window, proudly standing atop a small hill in the distance.  Excited to get an up-close view of the ruins, I quickly exited the vehicle.

While the midday sun played peek-a-boo behind the billowy clouds that dominated the Southern Sierra sky, I roamed around the tiny pre-Columbian site that occupied approximately a dozen acres of green hillside, which were nestled in a lush valley dotted with tiny white houses.  First, I wandered along the southern part of the grounds, passing by the Pilaloma group, originally a Cañari colony.  I also strolled by a neighboring reconstruction of an Incan house as well as colcas, which were ball-shaped indentations used to stock food.  Next, I proceeded down the remnants of an Incan road, known as the Ingañan, and was impressed by the drainage channel that accompanied it.  As I ambled down the ancient avenue, I also noticed the foundations of a handful of bodegas (used to stockpile food as well) lining the primal passageway.              

Veering off the Ingañan, I arrived at a large rock riddled with 28 impressions.  It is believed that rainwater filled the divots and reflected moonlight in different directions over the course of a month, making this stone a lunar calendar.  Apart from the dimpled boulder, I also happened upon a strange-looking, V-shaped rock.  In fact, one popular proposal suggests that this unique stone was used for llama beheadings.  Shaking off the chills that the decapitation theory had given me, I continued my tour. 

Finally, I reached the centerpiece of the Ingapirca ruins: the Temple of the Sun, also known as The Castle.  Rubbing my hand across the rounded blocks of the two-story formation, I couldn’t help but be fascinated with the precise cuts and extraordinary placement of the Incan carved stones.  I hadn’t seen anything like it before.  I subsequently ascended the steps of the impressive structure, exploring its second floor and the remains of the house-like edifice centered on the rooftop.   Moreover, I was able to absorb all-encompassing views of the archaeological site from this elevated position.  As the ever-increasing mountain winds gave me goose bumps, I gazed at the skeletons of what used to be 2-meter-high walls, zigzagging and snaking their way across the ancient grounds.  It was fun trying to imagine what the settlement looked like centuries ago, first under Cañari, then Inca, and, lastly, Spanish rule. 

After moseying around the area directly below The Castle, I retraced my steps across the grassy hillside, snapping pictures of what I had missed earlier.  I then soaked in a few last panoramas of the historic valley and headed for the exit.

However, as I approached the idling bus, I became queasy.  Despite going through a silo’s worth of sunflower seeds as I rambled across the archaic site, it wasn’t my lack of moderation that had my stomach in knots. 

 It suddenly hit me that I had another week of placement exams ahead.             

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