CHAPTER XV. The Pampa of Ghosts

Two days later we left Conservidayoc for Espiritu Pampa by the trail which Saavedra's son and our Pampaconas Indians had been clearing. We emerged from the thickets near a promontory where there was a fine view down the valley and particularly of a heavily wooded alluvial fan just below us. In it were two or three small clearings and the little oval huts of the savages of Espiritu Pampa, the "Pampa of Ghosts."

On top of the promontory was the ruin of a small, rectangular building of rough stone, once probably an Inca watch-tower. From here to Espiritu Pampa our trail followed an ancient stone stairway, about four feet in width and nearly a third of a mile long. It was built of uncut stones. Possibly it was the work of those soldiers whose chief duty it was to watch from the top of the promontory and who used their spare time making roads. We arrived at the principal clearing just as a heavy thunder-shower began. The huts were empty. Obviously their occupants had seen us coming and had disappeared in the jungle. We hesitated to enter the home of a savage without an invitation, but the terrific downpour overcame our scruples, if not our nervousness. The hut had a steeply pitched roof. Its sides were made of small logs driven endwise into the ground and fastened together with vines. A small fire had been burning on the ground. Near the embers were two old black ollas of Inca origin.

In the little chacra, cassava, coca, and sweet potatoes were growing in haphazard fashion among charred and fallen tree trunks; a typical milpa farm. In the clearing were the ruins of eighteen or twenty circular houses arranged in an irregular group. We wondered if this could be the "Inca city" which Lopez Torres had reported. Among the ruins we picked up several fragments of Inca pottery. There was nothing Incaic about the buildings. One was rectangular and one was spade-shaped, but all the rest were round. The buildings varied in diameter from fifteen to twenty feet. Each had but a single opening. The walls had tumbled down, but gave no evidence of careful construction. Not far away, in woods which had not yet been cleared by the savages, we found other circular walls. They were still standing to a height of about four feet. If the savages have extended their milpa clearings since our visit, the falling trees have probably spoiled these walls by now. The ancient village probably belonged to a tribe which acknowledged allegiance to the Incas, but the architecture of the buildings gave no indication of their having been constructed by the Incas themselves. We began to wonder whether the "Pampa of Ghosts" really had anything important in store for us. Undoubtedly this alluvial fan had been highly prized in this country of terribly steep hills. It must have been inhabited, off and on, for many centuries. Yet this was not an "Inca city."

While we were wondering whether the Incas themselves ever lived here, there suddenly appeared the naked figure of a sturdy young savage, armed with a stout bow and long arrows, and wearing a fillet of bamboo. He had been hunting and showed us a bird he had shot. Soon afterwards there came the two adult savages we had met at Saavedra's, accompanied by a cross-eyed friend, all wearing long tunics. They offered to guide us to other ruins. It was very difficult for us to follow their rapid pace. Half an hour's scramble through the jungle brought us to a pampa or natural terrace on the banks of a little tributary of the Pampaconas. They called it Eromboni. Here we found several old artificial terraces and the rough foundations of a long, rectangular building 192 feet by 24 feet. It might have had twenty-four doors, twelve in front and twelve in back, each three and a half feet wide. No lintels were in evidence. The walls were only a foot high. There was very little building material in sight. Apparently the structure had never been completed. Near by was a typical Inca fountain with three stone spouts, or conduits. Two hundred yards beyond the water-carrier's rendezvous, hidden behind a curtain of hanging vines and thickets so dense we could not see more than a few feet in any direction, the savages showed us the ruins of a group of stone houses whose walls were still standing in fine condition.

One of the buildings was rounded at one end. Another, standing by itself at the south end of a little pampa, had neither doors nor windows. It was rectangular. Its four or five niches were arranged with unique irregularity. Furthermore, they were two feet deep, an unusual dimension. Probably this was a storehouse. On the east side of the pampa was a structure, 120 feet long by 21 feet wide, divided into five rooms of unequal size. The walls were of rough stones laid in adobe. Like some of the Inca buildings at Ollantaytambo, the lintels of the doors were made of three or four narrow uncut ashlars. Some rooms had niches. On the north side of the pampa was another rectangular building. On the west side was the edge of a stone-faced terrace. Below it was a partly enclosed fountain or bathhouse, with a stone spout and a stone-lined basin. The shapes of the houses, their general arrangement, the niches, stone roof-pegs and lintels, all point to Inca builders. In the buildings we picked up several fragments of Inca pottery.

Equally interesting and very puzzling were half a dozen crude Spanish roofing tiles, baked red. All the pieces and fragments we could find would not have covered four square feet. They were of widely different sizes, as though some one had been experimenting. Perhaps an Inca who had seen the new red tiled roofs of Cuzco had tried to reproduce them here in the jungle, but without success.