So you find yourself in Cuzco, Peru, and for whatever reason you are not going to traverse the famed Inca Trail, be it because you didnâ€™t reserve your space far enough in advance or you simply donâ€™t want to battle the throngs that are already on it. Rest assured, there are alternatives, and great ones at that.
Maukallacta is a relatively newer find that is located close enough to Cuzco that it makes for an ideal day trip. Travel to the base of the site is about two hours in automobile along a dirt road most of the way, though they are in the process of paving it. From the base it is roughly a 1-2 hour intermediate hike through the rich red and green Andean countryside.
Mario Canessa and Rudi Winsberg, owners of Andean Origins, make it their job to be experts on the road less traveled, and they were kind enough to show me this marvelous and virtually untouched gem of Quechua history. One of the beauties of this excursion is that you will, most likely, be the only people there besides the locals. There is a sort of caretaker that works near a makeshift entrance that will most likely ask you to sign the guest book. He will not, however, ask you for any sort of entrance fee. Maukallacta at this point is free to any who visit, and those, according to the caretaker, number about 2-5 a week (unlike the 500 daily spaces allotted for entrance to the Inca Trail).
A visit to Maukallacta involves two parts: exploring the ruins themselves and also exploring Puma Orqo (Puma Mount in the regional Quechua dialect) which served as a place of ritual and worship and houses various caves, altars, and pumas carved into the stone. And if you are as lucky as we were, you may even catch the locals who still reside in the area on break from working the cornfields drinking their homemade chicha (a fermented type of corn beer), which they undoubtedly will be more than generous in offering you some. We drank ours out of a bullâ€™s horn and then washed it down with some Anis that they distill themselves.
From Puma Orqo the ruins of Maukallacta are about a one-mile walk. As Puma Orqo was considered a sacred place the dwellings were constructed across the way on a separate hill facing it, an act demonstrating the great importance this geographic formation held. The ruins were constructed in a mixture of the imperial or ashlar style (rocks ground and shaped to fit together with each other perfectly without mortar) and the regular style where rocks were placed together and the cracks were filled with mortar. Many of the â€˜regular styleâ€™ walls were then covered with a layer of mud a few inches thick, though very little of this mud covering still remains.
Maukallacta was unearthed in recent years and excavation efforts are still in the works, though funding has been cut so an enormous portion of this site still remains mostly covered. You may even see where archeologists have closed off certain sections and covered their work with blue tarps to keep it protected from the elements, while other sections, completely open to exploration, contain some magnificent relics of ceramic works painted in the local style. These sections have been left in a natural state, but thatched roofs have been built to keep the rain out.
According to the caretaker it is thought that Maukallacta was home to some 5,000-10,000 inhabitants, which would qualify it as one of the largest sites of Quechua civilization found to date. As it was built on the side of a mountain, climbing up to a higher vantage point, sitting back and imagining how life was here when it was a thriving community can be quite entertaining. Where did the children play? Where, besides the areas already discovered, was work done? Besides ceramics, what other products were created here? Where were the sleeping quarters? There are endless questions for a community that itself came to an end. Possibly though, those that still live and work in the area are direct descendants of those children who once ran through the fields of Maukallacta.
So put on your hiking boots, pack a lunch (or if you happen to befriend the locals they will most likely invite you to join them for their almuerzo), prepare to save money, avoid the hordes, and go visit history being exhumed.
Photos courtesy of Rudi Winsberg.