ingapirca: ecuador’s major incan site

Friday, August 5: We left Cuenca this morning thinking we were on the PanAmerican Highway. Ha! It was slow going until Mike looked to the east and said, “What is that highway over there?” It was the actual PanAmerican Highway and we made our way there pronto. Sadly the highway didn’t last long and we soon found ourselves on a two-lane curvy mountain road. We followed a sign to Ingapirca on another mountain road which ended abruptly in a landslide. We had to backtrack and find another route. It took us a good deal of time to get to Ingapirca.

We arrived and checked in at Posada Ingapirca, lugging our suitcases to a building quite far from the main building. We had the suite with a sitting area, a fireplace and two queen beds. The staff told us there was no water because they’d had a large party of 40 the night before. Our room was rather chilly but a space heater, heavy blankets, and later a fire lit by the staff kept us tolerably warm in the room.

Posada Ingapirca is a 200-year-old hacienda built with some stones taken from the Ingapirca ruins. The posada was charming, but we didn’t linger and walked directly downhill to Ingapirca.

Ingapirca roughly translates to “Inca Wall.” Ecuador’s major Incan archeological site, it is beautifully situated in the windswept hills of the Southern Sierra region of Ecuador.

The area had long been settled by the Cañari indigenous people.  As the Incan Empire expanded into southern Ecuador, the Incan Túpac Yupanqui encountered the Cañari “Hatun Cañar” tribe. He was not successful in conquering them, so he used political strategies such as marrying the Cañari princess and improving the Cañari city of Guapondelig, calling it Tumebamba or Pumapungo (now Cuenca). The Inca and Cañari settled their differences and lived peaceably. The Inca renamed the city which they used as a military stronghold as “Ingapirca” and kept most of their distinctive customs separate from the Cañaris. Although the Inca were more numerous, they didn’t demand that the Cañari give up their autonomy.

Sadly, the Spanish absconded with most of the stone at the site to build nearby cities.

Our guide at the archeological complex was Inez. She was bilingual but most of the crowd was Spanish, so our tiny English-speaking group got shortened explanations.

Ingapirca was built in the late 15th century not long before the Spanish conquest.  It was likely a ceremonial center, as it is built on top of a much older complex of buildings originally constructed by the local Cañari tribe. The walls are of smooth stones assembled without mortar.  The walls surround the central building, the massive and elliptically-shaped Temple of the Sun, the only one of its kind in the Incan Empire, built on top of an ancient Cañari ceremonial rock.  As well as a site for rituals, the site was likely used for solar observation and to determine agricultural and religious calendars. Scientists have noted that altars inside the Temple of the Sun are directly illuminated only at certain times of the year, specifically the time of the New Year, or Inti Raymi; this is also known as the important Festival of the Sun and is still celebrated today.

The Sun Temple was used by the Incas, who worshiped the sun. Smaller ruins on the site belonged to the Cañaris, who worshiped the moon.

Next to the temple is the House of the Chosen, where the most beautiful girls from local villages lived as Virgins of the Sun. Matrons called Mama Cunas taught the girls to dance, embroider, weave and cook. The girls entertained Incan dignitaries, prepared ceremonial food, maintained a sacred fire and wove garments for rituals and for the emperor. They married high-ranking men such as Incas, soldiers and priests.

Trapezoidal niches seen in the stone work are identical to those found in other ruins such as Machu Picchu in Peru. Circular structures called Colleas were built to store tubers and Andean grains like corn, quinoa and amaranth. Qhapaq Nan is a segment of paved road, one of many the Incas built to connect religious and administrative centers.

After our official tour, we walked 45 minutes around the Sendero del Intihuayco o Que’ebradea del Sol (Path of Intihuayco or Sun Valley). We strolled through a eucalyptus forest and past archeological features and grazing cows. On the path we encountered Ingachirigana (The Inca Game), two forms of stylized snakes carved intertwined with each other, which made this a ritual site. We found La Tortuga (The Turtle), an outcrop of carved sandstone which resembles a turtle’s shell at one end of its head.  It belongs to pre-colonial times.

We came to a small café of sorts where a woman was selling Chicha de Jora, a corn beer prepared by germinating maize, extracting the malt sugars, boiling the wort, and fermenting it in large earthenware jars for several days. It was nice to enjoy a seat and a drink before climbing the steep hill to see Intiñahui, the face of the sun.  Also known as Cara del Inca, it is a cliff with a human face, most likely a natural phenomenon.

We chatted a bit with a German-Australian woman who was traveling the world alone, living in her van with her dog. She had encountered problems in Colombia getting her car through customs, so she didn’t start off on a good footing with Colombians. That was one brave soul.

Back at Posada Ingapirca, we wandered around the grounds, posing while wearing our Panama hats. We rested in our room, cuddling under heavy blankets. At dinner, the two guys running the posada scurried about and didn’t have time to tend to the sputtering fire in the dining room, so Mike took it upon himself to add wood and stoke the fire with the bellows.  Everyone in the chilly dining room appreciated Mike’s fire-tending. I enjoyed trout in delicious sauce, accompanied by rice, salad, French fries and a glass of wine.

Steps: 10,983. Miles: 4.65

Saturday, August 6: We woke to a freezing room, as the fire had gone out overnight and the space heater was too small to slice through the cold in our spacious room. In addition, there was no hot water in the shower, so we both took cold showers. At least the breakfast in the posada was good: fruits including watermelon, croissants, and scrambled eggs. We met and talked with some Germans and their Ecuadorian guide from Otavalo.

Before we left Ingapirca this morning I wanted to return to try to get some better pictures of the Sun Temple. We didn’t want to take the 45-minute tour again, so Inez, our guide from yesterday who happened to be there, allowed us to go into the complex through the exit gate. Mike got the best photos from outside the gate.

We left Ingapirca and were on our way to Riobamba.