Posted by: davesnewadventure | June 1, 2007

The Expedition to the City of Gold, Choque’Qirao – Part 3: The Holy City

Dave’s New Adventure: Adventures from the South American Continent: 04-2007
The Expedition to the City of Gold: Choque’Qirao
Part 3: The Holy City

Map of the Location of Choque'Qirao.

We followed Marco into the jungle armed with our knives, canteens, wits, and curiousity. Newly energized by both the lack of weight and an eagerness to see the city, we marched at a rapid pace. Clouds obscurred the sun, and the jungle took on a muted, but vibrant green tone. Brilliant blue and yellow butterflies fluttered into the openings where the sun once shined. A breeze filtered through the canopy, as we slipped on the mud. Suddenly, Marco pulled out his knife, and cut some brush, before disappearing up a small, shrub covered hill. He then emerged from behind the bushes, and said,

This way, I’m taking you off the tourist trail. We’re going to follow my trail now.

We followed Marco up an ancient staircase, overgrown with ferns and grasses and onto an outcropping. The outcropping was a building covered in shrubs and detritus. Becareful where you step, he said as he pointed to a group of bushes, because if you fall, we won’t find you until we reach the river. Curious, I parted the bushes with my sticks. It was a cliff.

An ancient reservoir.

Crap that’s a steep drop, I said. Yeah, you wouldn’t know it because the jungle covers everything, replied Marco. I peered over the edge, and moved back to the trail. We continued down the staircase into a dense forest, where the trail disappeared. Vegetation covered everything. We pulled out our knives, and started cutting away as we followed Marco.

Stop! Marco moved to the right, and started cutting away the thick brush. Looks like we found something, he grunted as he moved several branches aside. It was an ancient water reservoir, full of water and mosquito larvae. Canes and grass hung over it as we walked onto its edge. After thousands of years, it still collected, and fed the aqueduct system. I crouched on the edge to look at the depth of the pond, when suddenly,

Stop! I looked and saw Marco pointing to a clump of long grass.

What? I asked.

Black widows. He replied.

The fine, gossamer threads of the deadly spider were next to my face. I looked around. There were many black widow webs. All around me were their webs, and they glistened in the sunlight.

Crap. I said.

Marco examined the webs, and said, Oh crap, where are they?
On hearing that, the rest of the team got out of the reservoir, and moved back to the trail.

If I remember correctly, these are south american black widows, and they can kill a man. Am I right? I asked, as I held perfectly still.

Uh huh, replied Marco, and we are far from a hospital.

I stilled my breath, and carefully checked my head and clothing. Then I got out of there with Marco.

I saw a few of them lowering themselves from their webs. Said Marco.

Thanks for warning me. I replied.

No problem. I can’t carry anymore weight.

Like a dead body. I grinned sardonically.

Ancient Temples.

Spots for Idols. Not the American kind.

Temple Walls.

We continued our march further into the dense jungle, hacking away at bushes and canes in our way. As we cut away the shrubs, occaisionally we exposed parts of a wall, or a temple. Marco pointed us to a pile of stones, and as we cut away the brush, we revealed a structure. It could’ve been a temple, house, or a mummy storage room. It was full of earth and plants, and all we could expose was the wall. We continued our trek, and after cutting our way through , we emerged into a clearing. Beyond it were stone temples, excavated and reconstructed by the INC. We explored the temple ruins, and asked Marco questions, as we marvelled and imagined what the place was like when it was alive.

This place is much bigger than Macchu Picchu, remarked Manuel.

It doesn’t have the enormous stones or intricate stone work though. Said Dante.

That’s why it’s pre-incan. You have to remember, the Incas were the last of many dynastys and empires. They simply built on what was already there. Said Marco.

I wandered the rooms, and examined the cubby holes in the walls. Idols of gods, made of gold, silver, or stone were placed in the holes.

Marco, you said this was a holy city?

Yes, typically the temples of worship were build on the mountain tops.

What about residences, agricultural zones, and community areas?

They were built further away.

Choque’Qirao’s excavated section occupied a small area. It wasn’t as spectacular as Macchu Picchu, but what was cleared and restored was impressive. Large terrace walls, three and a half meters high, lay on one side of the city. From a distance away, ripples on the mountain side indicated extensive terrace networks and other buildings, which filled an area 2 to 3 times larger than Macchu Picchu.

The author next to a large rock.

Hey guys! Someone yelled at us, as we exited the temple.

Michael! I yelled.

Hey hey!

How are you feeling?

A lot better. My stomach isn’t as queasy.

So where did you go? Asked Dante.

The tourist trail. And you guys? How did you get here? I thought there was only one trail.

We smiled.

You should have waited, said Manuel, we followed the Incan reincarnate.

Marco, why didn’t you tell me?

How can I? If you got lost, you’d be lost forever.

So are you going to join us? I asked.

No, no, I have to get to Santa Rosa tonight, I’m leaving now.

Well, don’t forget to leave the food and the rope. I said.

Sure. Said Michael as he ran back down the tourist trail.

A live mummy occupies the hole.

The courtyard.

We continued wandering the roofless buildings, and entered a strange complex with doorholes that didn’t go through the walls. The holes were perfectly sized for an average, modern day, human being.

That’s strange, I said, they’re doorways but they’re not.

That’s because these are for mummies. Said Marco

We then followed a staircase and aqueduct up to a high plateau, which was re-carved to form the shape of a giant tear drop. Interestingly, the aqueduct terminated into the mesa, and on top, the area was perfectly flat, and full of grass. There was no reservoir, but this plateau started the aqueduct system. I then realized that we stood on top of a giant rain water catch, carved from the top of the mountain, surrounded by a rock wall, attached to an aqueduct, and formed in the shape of a rain drop. The vegetation and soil formed a filter, and inside the plateau, a channel funneled water into the aqueduct. It was form, aesthetics, and functionality all put in one.

Dante observes the mountain side.

Marco demonstrates the height of the wall.

Walking along the wall.

As we stood there and admired the engineering, a condor swooped in front of us.He’s exactly on time, remarked Manuel, as he looked at his watch. It was 4:30 PM. It was the first time I’d seen the giant, andean condor in flight. It was a master of the air, and even with the strong gusts of wind blowing down from the peak, it remained in one spot. Dante estimated its wingspan to be two meters. Dark clouds rumbled above us, as we watched the bird. It was time to head back to camp.

Back at the camp, we rested and chatted about the ruins.

That’s amazing how they collected water for the aqueducts. I said.

Yes, very impressive, said Dante, and we definitely must spend the next day in the unexplored areas.

Well you guys can, but not me. Said Manuel.

What, why not? Asked Marco, surprised.

Because I’m tired. Tomorrow, I’m taking a mule back.
During lunch, Manuel talked to the INC workers about when the next mule train to Cachora would leave.

I’ve seen enough. You guys can stay, but I’m going tomorrow.

OK, replied Marco, but at least cook tonight. I’m hungry.


So, we’re going to stay a day, follow the unexplored track, and we’ll leave Thursday. Said Dante.

That sounds like a good plan. It’s a good thing I brought extra food. I said.

Speaking of that, let me get it out. Said Marco.

Marco dove into his tent, and sifted through his bags – for 10 minutes.

He’s taking a long time to get the food. Said Dante.

Marco finally came out of the tent with a distraught look.

Why does this always happen to me? He said.

What happened? I asked.

The food. Michael forgot to leave the food.

What?! We said in unison.

Wait, what do you mean? We had a lot of food, I even brought extra noodles, protein, spices… I said.

It’s not here. Said Marco.

Hold on, I replied, as I dove into my tent. Manuel’s bag was there.

Manuel, can I look at the food bag?

Of course, he replied.

I opened the bag, and searched for the extra packs of food I brought.

They weren’t there.



I put the extra food with the team’s supply.

I know. We left it in Santa Rosa to save weight.

You… to save weight?

Yeah. Said a glum Marco.

I blinked – and restrained the urge to strangle him.

So, how much food did Michael have with him?

Enough for a day.

Do we have any food? Asked Dante.

I have some with me, let’s see what we have altogether. I said.
I pulled out my personal stash, and Manuel pulled out the food bag. Marco and Dante also added what they had to the pile. We had enough for dinner, and breakfast the next morning. We looked at the supply, and did a reality check. It wasn’t enough for a day.
Marco sighed, and said, OK, then we leave tomorrow with Manuel. Manuel smiled. Dante and I were grim. Let’s do this, Marco added, let’s go find the quartz llamas. I already got permission from the INC guys to enter the forbidden zone, and follow one of the lost trails. But we have to leave by 12 PM for Cachora.

Then let’s use the mules, so we don’t have to carry packs, said Dante.

Don’t forget one for me! Said Manuel.

So it’s settled than. I sighed. I looked at Marco and said, “Dude, the lesson from this, for our next expedition, each man carries his own food.”

“Yeah, I know.” Said Marco.

“As for Michael.”

“Please don’t tell me. I want to kill him.”

I was disappointed. I really wanted an extra day, but the lack of food was the latest and most critical mishap to happen. “Well, we at least get a half day.” I finally said.

We cooked sphagetti for dinner. Marco, Dante, and I then took turns with the pump, filtering water for our bottles. We didn’t want to lose any time. We also set our goal to make it to Cachora by nightfall the next day, which gave us exactly seven hours to cover all 30 kilometers. The trip to get to Choque’Qirao took 18 hours in total; however, this time we would be unloaded.

Early the next morning, we left camp, and headed up the trail. We were going to see and verify the rumors of the mysterious quartz llamas.

On the edge of the staircase. The strip up to the right is the Apurimac river.

An ancient staircase to yet another lost city. But no one's bothered to follow it.

Our guide appeared out of the brush, and carried a machete in one hand, and a dirty cotton bag in the other. Everyone, this is Jorge. Marco said as he introduced our guide. Jorge was a slight, brown man, and he marched up the muddy trail in rain boots. He and Marco conversed as we followed them back up the terrace wall, through the temple ruins, and up a narrow wooden plank which teetered dangerously close to the cliff’s edge. On the cliff was a sign which read, “Forbidden Zone.” We followed them over the edge, and down an ancient stair carved into the mountain wall. The stairs were in excellent condition.

Hey Marco, did they reconstruct this stairway?

No, it is original. They only cleaned it.

Amazing, it’s still in great shape!

Yes, that is the amazing thing about incan and pre-incan technology. Thousands of years later, the aqueducts and the water works still work. This stair case is still here. What do you think of modern day technology and buildings? Will it still be here after thousands of years?

Like New York City? I doubt it.

We continued down the stair case through the jungle. The fresh, morning air felt like an early May morning. After descending the equivalent of 10 stories, we arrived on a clear ledge. The vantage point gave a clear view of the mountainside, and below us were rows of steep terraces, carved into a mountain wall which seemed almost vertical. A kilometer and a half below us roared the mighty Apurimac.

David! I heard Marco yell. I looked down and saw him wave to me. “The quartz llamas are here!” I skipped down the stairs and landed next to him. The stair case ran alongside an aqueduct, which was perpendicular to the terraces. The terraces were about two meters high, and two meters wide. Constructed out of long, flat, stones, the stones were curiously placed in the wall; they were completely vertical in the mid section, until the wall reached the edges, where the stones were horizontal.

The Quartz Llama.

White, Quartz Llamas wind down the terrace walls.

Only the edges have horizontally placed rocks, but in the middle out, they're all vertical.

This is how we know it’s not Inca, said Marco, because the wall stones are vertical, and they’re not precisely cut.

Look at them sparkle! I replied.
All the stones contained pyrite.

And here are the quartz llamas, said Marco, as he pointed to a shape in the wall.

White, cut, quartz stones, outlined a sideways view of a llama. I looked up into the sky, where the terrace seemed to climb up the mountain like a giant staircase. There were white quartz llamas in every wall. Arranged in a descending fashion, they moved down the mountainside in a diagonal. When I took a second look, it reminded me of a mathematical progression like a Fibonacci series.

Inside the terraces grew cultivated plants, some of which descended from the original crops. There were rows full of species of potatoes, tubers, and herbs, which Jorge continued to nurture. We spent 45 minutes at the terrace, and admired the ancient structure.

How much time do we have?

Not much.

Then let’s go follow your lost trail.
It was 9:30AM, and we had until 11:30 AM. I at least wanted to track down the lost trail, and hopefully find something unusual.

Choque'Qirao from the other side.

An aqueduct feeds the water fountains in the city in a forgotten age.

We quickly ran up the stairs, re-entered the holy city, and left Dante and Manuel to rest there. We then followed an aqueduct up the mountain, until we entered the jungle. From there, the aqueduct disappeared, and based on Marco’s instincts, we hiked through the forest, hacking away at the thick brush. Sometimes we’d see stone work on the path, indicating the lost trail, and other times it was pure jungle.

We continued hacking and marking our way, until we finally came to a clearing on a ledge – but it wasn’t a ledge. It was the top of a building. We looked down and saw a rock wall beneath our feet.

It’s a shame Michael also took the rope.

Oh God, don’t tell me. I’m going to strangle him when we get back. Replied Marco.

We continued up the trail until Marco stopped in front of a pile of brush and ferns. His eyes were wide open and he grinned. Oh, you’re going to love this, he said.

He immediately dove into the pile, and furiously hacked away the vegetation. At first, I couldn’t make out what he was in, until he exposed a rock wall. I entered in behind the wall, and we hacked away more brush, until we found a window in the wall. We were in a temple, and based on its elevation, it was even more sacred. The rocks were dark gray with age, and the window had ferns hanging out of it. It felt ancient and worn.

“You are the first gringo to see this.” Said Marco.

“I think we’re the first people to see this, in thousands of years.”

The author bushwacks his way into an ancient temple...

And then we find something!

It would be among many firsts of my journey – but I’d have to survive the return to Cachora to claim it.

The author hard at work, bushwacking through a lost trail
The Author, hard at work bushwacking his way to… lunch.

Please listen to David being interviewed on the radio show “Cashflow with James Martinez” about his new book, Jackfruit: A Bicycle Quest Through Latin America, and to learn more about David’s adventures and observations in Latin America.

And now you can see part two of the Expedition series, The Expedition to the Cradle of Gold, Choq’e Kiraw.


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