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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Itching for Ingapirca

Written by Tyrel Nelson
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I had to get out of Cuenca. The six days of entrance exams (prospective students at my language school had to take an oral/written placement test prior to course registration) that I had just endured left me exhausted. I couldn’t bear to look at another language book or study guide – I needed a break. In my desperate search for a sound mind, I set out that Saturday morning in early January with two goals set before me: leave behind the frustrating Christmas vacation duties at Centros de Estudios Interamericanos (CEDEI) and make my first trip to the Cañar province. Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel NelsonThe Cañar province was a tiny, mountainous region just north of Cuenca. It held Ecuador’s most notable set of ruins, Ingapirca, and I was more than ready to make the trip.

"We can only take you as far as El Tambo," said the young driver. He had dark features and sported a crew cut and had a street sense beyond his years.

"But, I told you I was going to Ingapirca before I got on," I replied with growing annoyance.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't worry; you can grab a bus in El Tambo It’ll take you to Ingapirca."

I felt my temper getting the better of me but instead gave up my losing battle. It was pointless to argue about the destination or the two dollar fare already twenty minutes into the trip. This expedition was about relaxation and I would try to make the most of it.

Two hours, two smelly boys claiming my arm rests, and too many northbound stops later, the rundown Pan-American Highway finally arrived at El Tambo. The inanimate transit stop was just 9 km from my destination. 

"Wait here for the bus to Ingapirca," advised the driver as he rumbled away from El Tambo's central plaza. Despite my sense of abandonment I was still happy to see my nemesis drive away.

"You're going to Ingapirca too?" asked someone from behind.

The stranger’s accent sounded quite different from the melodious, Cuencan Spanish that I was now accustomed to hearing. I turned to find a bright-eyed, silver-haired gentleman with an honest face and a pleasant smile.

"Yes," I answered. "Where are you from?"

"Colombia," he responded exchanging pleasantries, "And you?"


"The United States, but I’ve lived in Cuenca for a few months now. I teach English there. So, how do we get to the ruins from here?"

"A bus is supposed to come by soon. The ride is about twenty minutes long and costs 50 cents.”

Shortly after, a rickety blue bus pulled up to the curbside before us.  I followed my fellow tourist onboard and wedged my way between 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 get comfortable as the vehicle sputtered to life.  As the bus moved along I soon realized that comfort was the least of my worries – living through the ride becoming a more pressing concern. The vehicle coughed and choked its way up the road on the brink of death. And by the way the windows rattled the entire trip, I was surprised they hadn’t shattered all over me by the time the exhausted bus rolled into a dusty lot.

Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel Nelson"There they are," pointed a Chilean girl on the bus. She mentioned she was from Santiago and seemed as excited to tour Ingapirca as I was.

I snapped my head around to see Ingapirca's Temple of the Sun through the bus's back window. The temple stood atop a small hill in the distance and even through the crusty window, it was breathtaking.  Excited to get an up-close view of the ruins, I squeezed my way out of the cramped vehicle as quick as I could.

While the midday sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds that dominated the Southern Sierra sky, I wandered the tiny pre-Columbian site. Tiny white houses, sporadically dotted the lush green valley like fluffy dandelion seeds randomly pop up from a healthy lawn.  I walked along the southern part of the grounds, passing through the city of Pilaloma, 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.  Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel NelsonDown the remnants of an Incan road, known as the Ingañan, I was impressed by the ancient, yet intact drainage channel that accompanied it. Their architectural knowhow surprised me – that they actually constructed drainage channels so long ago. I 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 which was riddled with 28 impressions along the surface. It was believed that rainwater filled the divots and reflected moonlight in different directions over the course of a month, making the stone a makeshift lunar calendar. Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel NelsonI also happened upon another strange-looking, V-shaped rock structure along my walk.  One popular theory, as I came to find, suggested that the unique stone was used for llama beheadings.


Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel NelsonFinally, 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 had never seen anything like it and was amazed to be in the very presence of something so timeless.  I ascended the steps of the impressive structure, exploring its second floor and the remains of the house-like edifice centered on the rooftop.  The all-encompassing view atop the archaeological site was one I was sure would stay with me forever.  Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel NelsonAs the ever-increasing mountain winds continued to give 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. 

Itching for Ingapirca, Ingapirca ruins, Ecuador, travel Ecuador, living in Ecuador, Pilaloma, Temple of the Sun, The Castle, Cañar province, Ingañan, Cañari ruins, Inca ruins, El Tambo, Cuencan Spanish, Centros de Estudios Interamericanos, Tyrel NelsonBelow ‘The Castle’, I retraced my steps across the grassy hillside, snapping pictures of what I had missed earlier. I soaked in a few last panoramas of the historic valley and headed for the exit, breathing a gratifying sigh of content, happy I had decided to make the trip.

Despite the pleasure my trip to Ingapirca brought me, as I approached the idling bus, I became queasy. I went through a silo's worth of sunflower seeds on my trip away from the archaic site and knew it wasn’t my lack of moderation that had my stomach tied in knots.

With my short escape behind me, only one thought lay heavy on my mind: another week of placement exams waiting for me back at the school.

©Tyrel Nelson

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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