CHAPTER VII. The Valley of the Huatanay

The valley of the Huatanay is one of many valleys tributary to the Urubamba. It differs from them in having more arable land located under climatic conditions favorable for the raising of the food crops of the ancient Peruvians. Containing an area estimated at less than 160 square miles, it was the heart of the greatest empire that South America has ever seen. It is still intensively cultivated, the home of a large percentage of the people of this part of Peru. The Huatanay itself sometimes meanders through the valley in a natural manner, but at other times is seen to be confined within carefully built stone walls constructed by prehistoric agriculturists anxious to save their fields from floods and erosion. The climate is temperate. Extreme cold is unknown. Water freezes in the lowlands during the dry winter season, in June and July, and frost may occur any night in the year above 13,000 feet, but in general the climate may be said to be neither warm nor cold.

This rich valley was apportioned by the Spanish conquerors to soldiers who were granted large estates as well as the labor of the Indians living on them. This method still prevails and one may occasionally meet on the road wealthy landholders on their way to and from town. Although mules are essentially the most reliable saddle animals for work in the Andes, these landholders usually prefer horses, which are larger and faster, as well as being more gentle and better gaited. The gentry of the Huatanay Valley prefer a deep-seated saddle, over which is laid a heavy sheepskin or thick fur mat. The fashionable stirrups are pyramidal in shape, made of wood decorated with silver bands. Owing to the steepness of the roads, a crupper is considered necessary and is usually decorated with a broad, embossed panel, from which hang little trappings reminiscent of medieval harness. The bridle is usually made of carefully braided leather, decorated with silver and frequently furnished with an embossed leather eye shade or blinder, to indicate that the horse is high-spirited. This eye shade, which may be pulled down so as to blind both eyes completely, is more useful than a hitching post in persuading the horse to stand still.

The valley of the Huatanay River is divided into three parts, the basins of Lucre, Oropesa, and Cuzco. The basaltic cliffs near Oropesa divide the Lucre Basin from the Oropesa Basin. The pass at Angostura, or "the narrows," is the natural gateway between the Oropesa Basin and the Cuzco Basin. Each basin contains interesting ruins. In the Lucre Basin the most interesting are those of Rumiccolca and Piquillacta.

At the extreme eastern end of the valley, on top of the pass which leads to the Vilcanota is an ancient gateway called Rumiccolca (Rumi = "stone"; ccolca = "granary"). It is commonly supposed that this was an Inca fortress, intended to separate the chiefs of Cuzco from those of Vilcanota. It is now locally referred to as a "fortaleza." The major part of the wall is well built of rough stones, laid in clay, while the sides of the gateway are faced with carefully cut andesite ashlars of an entirely different style. It is conceivable that some great chieftain built the rough wall in the days when the highlands were split up among many little independent rulers, and that later one of the Incas, no longer needing any fortifications between the Huatanay Valley and the Vilcanota Valley, tore down part of the wall and built a fine gateway. The faces of the ashlars are nicely finished except for several rough bosses or nubbins. They were probably used by the ancient masons in order to secure a better hold when finally adjusting the ashlars with small crowbars. It may have been the intention of the stone masons to remove these nubbins after the wall was completed. In one of the unfinished structures at Machu Picchu I noticed similar bosses. The name "Stone-granary" was probably originally applied to a neighboring edifice now in ruins.

On the rocky hillside above Rumiccolca are the ruins of many ancient terraces and some buildings. Not far from Rumiccolca, on the slopes of Mt. Piquillacta, are the ruins of an extensive city, also called Piquillacta. A large number of its houses have extraordinarily high walls. A high wall outside the city, and running north and south, was obviously built to protect it from enemies approaching from the Vilcanota Valley. In the other directions the slopes are so steep as to render a wall unnecessary. The walls are built of fragments of lava rock, with which the slopes of Mt. Piquillacta are covered. Cacti and thorny scrub are growing in the ruins, but the volcanic soil is rich enough to attract the attention of agriculturists, who come here from neighboring villages to cultivate their crops. The slopes above the city are still extensively cultivated, but without terraces. Wheat and barley are the principal crops.

As an illustration of the difficulty of identifying places in ancient Peru, it is worth noting that the gateway now called Rumiccolca is figured in Squier's "Peru" as "Piquillacta." On the other hand, the ruins of the large city, "covering thickly an area nearly a square mile," are called by Squier "the great Inca town of Muyna," a name also applied to the little lake which lies in the bottom of the Lucre Basin. As Squier came along the road from Racche he saw Mt. Piquillacta first, then the gateway, then Lake Muyna, then the ruins of the city. In each case the name of the most conspicuous, harmless, natural phenomenon seems to have been applied to ruins by those of whom he inquired. My own experience was different.