Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Death stalks the valley

One of my most treasured memories is of a winter night sat listening to Jesus' aunt Hayde telling tall tales in the garden of their old family homestead in the central Andean highlands. The two hundred year old house sits in a small village in the Mantaro Valley. At that altitude, at over three thousand metres above sea level, the air is pristine : the moonlight, the stars, the sounds of the valley drifting through the stillness of the night,  its a special kind of magic. 

This story describes a similar moonlit night. The place is Cuzco's Sacred Valley. The year 1942. Tello's Urubamba expedition has arrived for their first night at Huiñay Huayna. But the sounds Hernan hears coming out of the darkness turn the magic to fear.

Death stalks the valley 
In which our explorers get a nasty fright

It was the 25th of August 1942, a beautiful calm, starry night, and the first night that we stayed in the Huiñay Huayna expedition hut we had constructed close to the ruins on the edge of the forest.

We retired early as usual at seven o’clock. But for some reason, at ten o’clock, when all the others were sleeping peacefully, I was still awake. 

I was listening to the sound of the crickets and mulling over a thousand memories in my mind when a distant but clear shriek of anguish tore through the silence of the night:

 “Oh my God! God have mercy, Mercy!”

The scream echoed through the secluded valley. I froze in my bed. What on earth was happening?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The boy from Machu Picchu

Tello’s explorers were no strangers to hardship. Many of Tio Hernan’s stories tell of the constant challenges the expeditions faced in finding provisions and eating well on scant resources. On the 1942 expedition to the Urubamba valley (also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas) located close to Cusco and the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, they met a young boy who turned out to have a particular flair for making ends meet.

In this story Hernan describes the ingenuity, creativity, and drive for improvement that many Peruvians still pride themselves on today. 

But he also writes about a far less attractive social phenomenon, and the obstacles and harsh conditions that eventually blight the life of a resourceful young man.

The boy from Machu Picchu
In which we learn more about the expedition's young camp cook and his unfortunate fate.

There are some interesting ruins at Corihuayrachina, linked to Machu Picchu by a very well conserved granite paved Inca road. We had just set up camp there when we realized that we were running very low on provisions. So we sent a peon to buy more from the small town which is situated down in the valley near the famous ruins.

The next day climbing back up the hill, burdened with his purchases, came not the peon but a small boy of about fourteen years of age. He explained that his brother had been taken ill, and so he had come himself to bring us our provisions.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The bears of HuiñayHuayna

I had already heard Hernan’s name before I found his Anecdotes. Travelling by train from Cusco along the Urubamba valley on our first trip to Machu Picchu, Jesus pointed up at a grey smudge barely visible amidst the lush green valley covering:  “Look up there,” he said “Those are the ruins my uncle helped discover”.

These days the site is well known, one of the final stops on the Inca Trail before arriving at Machu Picchu. Clinging to a densely forested slope high above the river, the ruins are connected by a long staircase and a series of cisterns or baths.  Hernan gives us his own take on how they came to light, and contemplates their fate.

The bears of Huiñay Huayna
In which, on the trail of the Peruvian spectacled bear, an archaeoogist finds some exraordinary ruins, and how they are named after the orchids that bloom all over them.