Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Puerto Inca, Peru

Between Camana and Chala, Highway 1 or as the Peruvians call it, the Panamericana Sur winds its way up, over and around the steep coastal range, which actually resembles massive and I do mean massive sand dunes. Driving, it is easy to forget given the condition of the road, that this is the main artery for goods going from Bolivia to Lima. Until you see the inordinately high number of trucks that use this road daily. Although the drive is only a little more than 140 miles, it actually took us almost five hours. Invariably, we would find ourselves behind four or five slow moving, heavily laden trucks going up the steep grades and around tight curves where passing would literally be taking your life in your hands as there are just as many vehicles headed in the other direction. But the scenery is far from boring and the coastal landscapes with sand dunes just emptying into the ocean give us plenty to look at and talk about. Our destination for the night is actually about 10 mile north of the town of Chala, Puerto Inca. Turning off Highway 1 onto a dirt track, which we followed for about 2 miles towards the ocean, we can begin to see the trail of the old Inca road which went from here to Cuzco. There are certain rewards for the intrepid traveler who ventures down paths not regularly travelled and traveling in a motorhome definitely qualifies as intrepid. One such place is Puerto Inca—a beachside ruins which was a principal port of the Inca Empire. But first know there is a slice of civilization here. Located on an inlet beach and the only other man-made thing at Puerto Inca that’s not a ruin is the Hotel Puerto Inca and its restaurant/bar. The hotel is very basic but its lack of unfettered amenities is wholly made up for by the sound of crashing waves carried across the bay by the cool ocean breeze. There’s not usually many people staying here and the crowd ranges from locals taking a weekend trip to other adventure seekers from around the globe. The night we spent here there was only a Peruvian family and another couple from Lima. The hotel quickly welcomed us and showed us the campground where we could park the motorhome. We easily found a spot close to the cliff which gave great views of the bay. They also told us that it was very quiet and safe for Winston to run off lead. The hotel has a restaurant but we are in the mood to cook ourselves. We do however ask if they have fish for sale. We are shown some very nice fillets of what looks like a cod, so we buy a couple, with rice and some asparagus we have dinner established. That taken care of it is time to explore. Tom is tired but with the Pacific rolling in, seabirds diving for fish and the sun low over the hills I go off on my own with Winston. There are two beaches right next to each other split by a rocky outcrop. The one by the hotel is a golden yellow and the other which is closer to the ruins, is totally black. A 10 minute walk south along the coast leads to the kind of breathtaking sight that no photo does justice. The Pacific coast line cuts a 100 foot cliff down to the water where rocky outcrops out at sea are like icebergs due to being covered in white bird droppings from the myriad of sea birds overhead. Paths switchback through monstrous outcroppings of dusty red rocks and there are valleys as far as the eye can see. The next morning Tom did not want to go and see more ruins, so Winston and I set out by ourselves again, this time in the opposite direction to explore the old Incan port. Cutting across a dry river bed seemed like the only access, so I am not sure how you access the ruins through the rainy season. This entire area was only discovered in the 1950's and at first was misunderstood and neglected. Now it is recognized as an important archaeological site being the main Inca port that served Cuzco. It is in excellent condition and drying and storing houses can be seen as holes in the ground. There is a cemetery revealing human bones and ancient Inca steps along the craggy coast. The Inca road which ran from the coast to Cuzco is clearly visible. It was reckoned to be 240 km long and had a staging post every 7 km. Changing runners at every post ensured that fresh fish and messages for the Incans could be sent to Cuzco in 24 hrs. To be sure, the ruins here aren’t Machu Picchu. And unless you’ve got a big thing for Inca history, they’re really just a nice place to visit and watch the sea lions and dolphins play in the water or the sun as it sets over the Pacific. The real reason to come here is to go beyond the weathered ruins. Walking back to the hotel, at any point you can look towards the horizon and you’ll realize that you’re standing on a series of cliffs that peak into the solitude of an undulating coast line of ensconced coves completely void of human life. Now, I really am the intrepid traveler and this is my planet.

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