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.

To whom do we owe the discovery of the beautiful ruins of Huiñay Huayna? In my opinion it is to the black spectacled bears that are found there – the ‘ucucos’.

During the time that we were working on the deforestation and cleaning of Huiñay Huayna, Tello took pains to find out exactly who had been the first person to come across the ruins.

He reached the conclusion that its existence had never been a secret amongst the locals, and certainly not amongst the native woodmen who also knew of many other, as yet ‘undiscovered’, ruins in the vicinity of Machu Picchu. The question was who had been the first to bring it to the attention of archaeologists and the world. We heard different stories.

Leoncio Quispe, a native of Huarocondo and a labourer on our expedition to the Upper Urubamba, had also been part of the 1941 Wenner Gren Expedition. This was his account.
One day, hoping to earn some extra cash, he and a friend had gone looking for palm branches to sell to the crowd in Cusco on Palm Sunday. They hadn’t found any but during their search had stumbled upon the site, and suspecting that there may be hidden treasures there, broke the news to two local mining prospectors, the Acurio brothers.

It was these brothers who then passed the news on to interested parties in Cusco, in exchange for a deal that assured them fifty percent of all treasure found at the ruins. And that was how the information came to be in the hands of the Swedish expedition.

This could easily have been true, but more likely is the version of events given to us by Juan de la Cruz Tapia. He was only fourteen, but he had had to make his own way in life from an early age and possessed an unusually sharp intelligence. He was sensible and hardworking, and knew the region like the back of his hand having been raised in the town of Machu Picchu.

The boy had worked for the Wenner Gren expedition as a mess attendant, and the originality of his story along with his candid nature, meant that Tello was more inclined to believe him.

Contrary to Quispe’s version, the boy maintained that it was a Doctor Lowder, the Swiss expedition’s topographer, who had in fact discovered the ruins of Huiñay Huayna.  The Wenner Gren expedition employed two local explorers who were familiar with the region. One day the expedition leader, Paul Fejos, was absent, replaced by doctor Lowder, and whilst Lowder was busy with the deforestation and cleaning of the ruins of Yuncapata - near Huiñay Huayna - he sent these two local explorers off to investigate the Choquesuysuy gorge.

The explorers were lazy that day and never went as far as the gorge. Instead they walked a little way into the nearby forest and stayed there, counting the hours until such time as it would be prudent to return.

If they had gone just a little further they would’ve come across the ruins, but after waiting for what they thought was a reasonable time, they returned to camp with a story that, as you will see, did not exactly have the result they had hoped for. They told Lowder that they hadn’t found any traces of archaeological remains, and to ensure that no one else should be tempted to go further into the forest (and discover their idleness) they claimed to have sighted some large fierce looking bears.

They hadn’t counted on the fact that Doctor Lowder was a keen hunter. This was wonderful news for him. He couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to find the elusive spectacled bear that this region was famous for. What’s more the bears were known to be very gentle, unless provoked.

So, as it turned out, the first free Saturday that he had, Lowder ventured into the forest with his hunting equipment, branching off from the track that the expedition had made for the pack animals to bring their provisions to camp. He hadn’t gone more than a hundred metres before … my God! Instead of the ‘ucuco’ – the spectacled bear - that he was expecting, he was face to face with a magnificent scene. 

The lie that the explorers had told was spectacularly exposed. For here were ruins that, judging by the precision and beauty of the Incaica style stone working, were evidence of some of the most important archeological remains yet to be uncovered.

He took some initial photographs of the little that he could see amongst the dense foliage, and made a brief plan of the main building and some of the surroundings. This plan was later given to Tello, along with a short report by the Cuzco based folklorist José B Farfán, when the Viking Fund of New York supported his subsequent expedition to uncover the ruins.

Until that point, Huiñay Huayna had been known as Casallajta – the city of the gorge. It had been named thus purely because of its location. We had no way of knowing its original native name and this was not an uncommon problem.

Corihuayrachina and Runcurácay were locations known to Hiram Bingham by their original native names. But for example in Cedrobamba, the Wenner Gren Expedition had no idea of the original names by which the sites were known and took no pains to find out.

They simply decided themselves to call them Sayacmarca, Puyupatamarca and Sayacpunco. So many recent archaeological findings in our country have suffered the same fate, and you can’t really blame the foreign archeologists who are, after all, grappling with the serious difficulty of two unknown languages.

Anyway Tello judged the name Casallajta to be inadequate, and when after exhaustive enquiries amongst the local woodmen and our sixty or so labourers, we were no closer to discovering an aboriginal name, he asked the expedition members to think about what we could call the place. The site was neither a city nor a town but a temple complex housing a type of citadel and a number of cisterns apparently for washing metals.

It was the archaeologist Julio Espejo Núñez who suggested the name Huiñay Huayna after the orchids that grew abundantly in the area and which he had fallen in love with. And that is how the name came to be.

Tello thought the name had a melodious native ring to it, but that was not the only reason for the choice.

On 23rd August 1942, doctor Tello, Mejía Xesspe and I left the Yuncapata camp and started to penetrate the dense forest, machete in hand.

What we found was truly astonishing. The ruins were hidden under almost impenetrable thick, dark foliage. Their walls were of a clear green colour, totally covered by a heavy layer of moss, which gave a melancholic feeling to the place. But the pink huiñay huaynas blooming all over the shadowy walls, alleviated the gloom with a fascinating enchantment all their own.

Later, when the site was cleaned in its entirety as far as the perimeter, it looked like a castle straight out of legend, built there on the steep spur. Close by was a beautiful waterfall. Down below you could see the Corihuayrachina stream, and further down the famous Vilcanota, the sacred river of the Incas.

Tello was delighted. To have battled the gigantic trees that had advanced on the ruins over the years, to have rescued them from destruction and neglect some four hundred years or so after their days of original glory.

Curiously, we had found traces of carbon on the walls, which gave the impression that the complex had at sometime been set afire. But now there was Huiñay Huayna, raised up in spite of the centuries and of the flames that may have at some time consumed it. Fanned to life again, the smouldering embers would regain their former splendour if their champion Tello, their amauta, could make their voice heard. The event warranted a suitably poetic name.

The temple was pristine now and indeed… eternally young. There was no question about it. There could be no other name.  Huiñay Huayna, “forever young” – the meaning of the name of the orchids that had flowered over it.

After almost two months of intense work on the site, when finally we set out for Machu Picchu, we were able to see it from below, from the rail line, and it was enchanting. The effect was captivating. The brightness of the walls gave it the appearance of a fairytale castle, caught forever, suspended in that steep rocky place.

What a magnificent tourist attraction it would make, standing in contrast to the ruins in Machu Picchu, and perhaps even superior to it with the harmony and beauty of its lines.

But… there it stayed. Apart from the Wenner Gren expedition report and Tello’s studies, no one seemed to give a damn about it. It pains me so much to say, but the truth is that Huiñay Huayna was swallowed up again by the forest. Tello did his best. He maintained a laborer there for several months, battling the weeds. But eventually, in spite of Tello’s enthusiasm, and his struggle against the indifference of the authorities, the funding that he fought to obtain dried up.

Now anyone who wishes to contemplate the splendours of Huiñay Huayna will find once again a dense forest blocking their way. Who knows if our descendants will ever be able to properly appreciate the magnificence of the wonderful ruins spread throughout our land?

Or maybe it will be them who fight to save them. Maybe it will be them who finally understand these striking monuments to our culture and our nation.

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