Puncuyoc, Sacred Inca Sanctuary
The sun settles silently behind the glistening snow peaks of the western Vilcabamba range as I study my mud stained notes from the day's exploration. We have just completed four intensive days of investigating the high puna summits and cloud forested slopes of the Puncuyoc range.
Arelio Huaman, our veteran expedition cook, mixes another round of Absolut martinis as Joan Harrell and Hugh Thomson sort through stacks of maps and papers littering the kitchen tent table. Hugh, a documentary film producer from the UK, and Joan from Colorado, are both experienced Andean explorers.
Hugh has worked with British archaeologist Ann Kendell and is a friend of conquest historian John Hemming. Joan, a marathon runner and art historian, has been on two previous Vilcabamba expeditions. An avid researcher, she pulls details out of her head that elude my cluttered memory.
Outside, the mountain mist rolls in as the arierros, (wranglers) all members of the famous Cobos family tend to our pack mules and stir a large pot of caldo (Andean stew) over a hissing primus. Juvenal and Jose have worked many expeditions with Gene Savoy and Vince Lee. We are traveling with the best.
The Vilcabamba is an immense area of high peaks, cold uplands and moist cloud forest beginning some thirty miles northwest of Cusco. Bounded by two great river gorges, the Urubamba and Apurimac, this rugged, poorly mapped region remains sparsely inhabited and seldom visited.
Only a few primitive roads penetrate its perimeter. Travel is by mule, machete and foot along steep, often treacherous, muddy paths descending thousands of feet into tropical, steamy lowlands, then climbing steeply to precipitous highs over snow-covered passes.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication