Huancavelica – Attractive Circuit in Peru’s Central Highlands

The sunny morning accompanied us to Lake Ñahuimpuquio, in the district of Ahuac, where the royal duck rules the roost with its orange, blue and cream-colored beak. They arrive in winter, together with black clouds, sea gulls, fish eagles and oil birds.

In common with the migratory birds, the local people are always on the move: to the traditional boat trips has been added modern kayaking, and for those who feel more comfortable on land there is the tour around the lake on horseback. From the La Sirena restaurant, the aroma of trout and guinea pig drew passersby to take a seat in this pleasant establishment.

Lake �ahuimpuquio

For just a few coins one can take an excursion around Lake Ñahuimpuquio in Chupaca.

Huanca History

That same morning we visited Arwaturo, an archaeological site at 3,460 meters above sea level, and an excellent viewing point from which to contemplate Mount Huaytapallana and a good part of the Mantaro Valley. According to the teacher and guide Hilarión Guzmán Alvarado, “At Arwaturo foodstuffs were stored, such as potato, olluco, oca, quinoa and charqui, which would be distributed in times of food shortage or war”.

Later we found ourselves at a fascinating spot: the Catalina Huanca Cultural Centre, a private museum established by husband and wife team Enrique Morales and Zoraida Alvarado after spending twenty years collecting all kinds of vestiges of the Huancas culture. In total, the museum boasts three thousand pieces (mortars, truncheons, axes and pottery). We also visited El Copón, built in 1532 and the oldest church in the Mantaro Valley, located in the district of Santiago León de Chongos Bajo.

Eladio Aquino

enlargeEladio Aquino gives flavor to the typical dishes of “La Sirena”, on the shores of Lake Ñahuinpuquio.

In the city of Concepción we toured the Casa Ugarte, a mansion sacked by the Chileans on July 11th 1882. It was the home of Benjamín Ugarte Patiño, one of the combatants in the battle of San Juan de Miraflores. In 1984, Jesús Chipana acquired the house and spent two years restoring it, eventually revealing to the public a vast collection of Andrés Avelino Cáceres’ clothing, a piano from 1800, bills and coins from 1879, stone stamps and seals, and Concepción’s oldest camera.

The Macho Train and Much More

Six in the morning, and the Rumbos team, led by its director Mariela Goyenechea, boarded the so-called Macho Train, huddled against the freezing wind that swept through the station, for the ride to Huancavelica. We warmed ourselves with a hot coca tea. With a snort, the steam train – with two hundred people aboard – began its journey along the narrow track laid down in 1926.

As we increased the distance between us and Huancayo, the landscape was painted with the yellow flowers of the broom that grows alongside the tracks, and the Mantaro River accompanied us as far as the village of La Mejorada, from where we followed the course of the Ichu River to Huancavelica.

The sun’s rays came through the window, and the local paper, El Correo, was distributed throughout the three carriages as the aroma of chicken broth rose from the kitchen. The train stopped at every station, and vendors boarded, among them Alejandro Yalli, a blind man who played Quechua tunes on his violin.

The famous nickname of this train comes from the fact that it has always “left when it wanted to and arrived when it could”. And also because the line goes through 38 tunnels and crosses 15 bridges on its 128 kilometer route. Few people know, however, that this line was originally planned to link Huancayo with Ayacucho, until the then Minister for Development, Celestino Manchego (1926), decided that the train would run to Huancavelica.

Old Rumichaca bridge

Old Rumichaca bridge over the Opamayo River in Lircay, Huancavelica.

An Underground City

At the station in Huancavelica we were welcomed by Alberto Rodríguez Espíritu, the director of the local Chamber of Commerce, who was accompanied by Lena Lucía Ayuque, “the countrywoman”; Ana Cecilia Curi, “the mestiza (woman of mixed race)”, and Paul Fernando Breña, “the old man”. As a group we climbed up to nearby Sacsamarca, a village whose walls and roofs are entirely made from stone. We continued up the hill and came to Chaccllatacana, a community where bulls are released to pursue the village drunks – a kind of Andean running of the bulls.

Scissor dancers

Scissor dancers of the community of Matipaccana, beneath Apu Pucara, Huancavelica.

Farther ahead, with less oxygen in the air, we came across one of the entrances to the Santa Barbara Mine. We were told that in its interior there are streets and squares and even an amphitheatre – an entire underground town still bearing the scars of the Indians who never saw the light of day, working and dying at an average age of thirty-five in its shafts. Santa Barbara was a mercury mine worked by the Spanish from 1570, and it is one of the region’s claims to the world cultural heritage status it is seeking from UNESCO.

The next day, after sunrise, we headed south as far as the last sections of track at the village of Lachocc, and on to the junction to Huaytará, Chincha and, finally, the coast. Mount Huamanrazu met us with its freezing breath (seven degrees below zero). By the side of the road, we passed the little village houses of Astobamba, and then Pucapampa, a community nestled at the foot of a red hill. Vizcachas and foxes crossed our path.

The cold, if indeed it was possible, seemed to intensify. We climbed to the Chontaccasa Pass at 4,780 meters above sea level, where we viewed the lakes of Pultocc Chico and Pultocc Grande, where trout is farmed and pairs of Andean geese flirt wildly. Suddenly we found ourselves at Lake Choclococha, a six kilometer long body of water from which a canal emerges that irrigates the dry plains of Ica.

Paul Breña

Paul Breña, “the old man”, at Lake Orcococha, Castrovirreyna.

Act of Purification

mixed race costume

Ana Curi Huamán, in typical mixed race costume, Huancavelica.

We returned to Huancavelica and headed northeast. Our objective was to scale Apu Pucará, in the community of Matipaccana, in order to witness the scissor dance of the group that calls itself Pucawayra and whose members are Manuel Gálvez, Nilson Molino and the brothers Pedro, Julio and Lidio Espinosa, who have demonstrated their art in Bolivia, France, Belgium and Spain.

Before we left the city of Huancavelica we treated ourselves to some candies and drinks known as ayrampo, which can only be found at “Caprichos”, the bar run by Emilio Ramírez, a tenacious defender of the region’s remaining vizcachas. We left town in search of the Los Libertadores highway, which we connected with at Kilometer 196, contemplating along the way isolated herds of vicuñas on the plains of Castrovirreyna. Almost immediately we arrived at the fortress of Inca Wasi and a stretch of Inca highway which points in the direction of Ayacucho and winds between streams and flowers.

We were now in Huaytará, where we also visited the museum with its textiles, mummies and pottery from the Wari, Nasca and Inca cultures. In this way, journeying through history, we left Huancavelica and entered the department of Ica via Tambo Colorado, a beautiful Inca palace built by Tupac Yupanqui.

In the quiet village of Humay we could not resist the temptation to enter the sanctuary where Luisa de la Torre is venerated, better known as the Beatita de Humay. Those who campaign for her beatification claim that she was resuscitated by Gregorio de Montoya, her friend. At the shrine people prayed for their soul, for their loved ones, and one could almost feel the air of piety – in the form of candles and tremulous litanies – in the church. Momentarily purified, we headed straight for Lima which, grey as it is, remains our city.

(Text: Iván Reyna Ramos – Photos: Luis Yupanqui Mesías)

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