Our mentor, an experienced traveler and I, arranged a journey to visit the ‘enchanted islands’ – otherwise known as the Galapagos. A group of artists – sculptors, ballet dancers, singers, writers and painters – flew to Miami in early May, 1969 and from there to Cali, Colombia where we spent a few days. I arranged for a bus to get us to the coastal town of Guyaquil, the port of embarkation, in Equador.
'Was able to hire a brand new Mercedes bus, along with a husky, moustached Colombian at the wheel. Everyone was in good spirits. Both of us sat next to the driver since I spoke Spanish. We reached the border of Colombia and Equador and went through customs and immigration. This went smoothly and our passports were all duly stamped.
But what was not expected was our Colombian bus – our beautiful Mercedes – would not be allowed into Equador. There had been a recent soccer match between the two countries which led to an uproar and the Equadorians were not on a good footing with their neighbours.
Meanwhile, we had paid for the bus and driver all the way to Guayaquil, and had a heck of a time getting (some) of the money back. That settled, we now continued on our journey, but this time in a dilapidated Equadorian bus with metal seats.
Nevertheless, everyone was in a good mood and were singing popular Beatle’s songs of the times such as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “All You Need is Love”, “Yellow Submarine” or “Octopus Garden in the Shade”, and Bob Dylan’s “The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind”.
Always on the lookout for something creative or new, we suggested we all go to Ingapirca, a little-known place I’d read about.
“Es muy pequeno”, our driver said. “It’s very small”, the site of Ingapirca. We asked about the location. The first three places we enquired said they’d never heard of it. Finally at a local post office, there was one person who knew about Inca Pirca but laughed when we said we wanted to visit the site.
He pointed to a postage stamp and said in Spanish, “That’s how small it is!” And that we’d need jeeps or horses to get there.
We assembled five Jeeps.
That took some time but we did corral them, each with a driver. After negotiating the fare, we were on our way.
Ingapirca was, in those days, not your everyday tourist attraction like the more famous ruins of Mexico and Peru. Only one of the drivers knew where Ingapirca was located.
Torrential rains had put an obstacle in our path – a washed-out bridge. The jeeps could go no farther. We continued our journey towards Ingapirca on foot, criss-crossing ice-cold Andean creeks. The rains did not let up.
Maybe I could find some horses? Off I went, into nowhere. Amazingly, I encountered two gauchos on horseback. I told them our dilemma. They were able to get us eight or nine horses. I negotiated a deal, including two guides. This was what I came to call Miracle Number One.
Some had to carry on by foot, there weren’t enough horses for all of us. The day was getting on by this time and every minute counted if we wanted to get back before dark.
After some time, we asked the horsemen if it was far to go to reach Ingapirca.
“This is it”, they replied. We were, literally on top of the ruins of Ingapirca. Drenched but happy. We made it! The site was basically a rubble of unremarkable stones, and without the guides, we would have ridden right over it.
“That’s all?” we asked in disbelief. “Si Senor, es todo”. Yes, Sir, that’s all.”
Ingapirca today - much more developed than in 1969
We spent no more than half an hour altogether at Ingapirca. And back we went to rejoin the jeeps where a few had stayed behind. So they were not joking back at the post office, about the size of Ingapirca. Nevertheless, it felt like high adventure in the high Andes of Equador.
The scenery was magnificent. In the distance there was a snow-capped volcano, nearby waving tall grasses and grains – with once in awhile the sun peeking through the rainclouds complete with rainbows.
We made it back to the jeeps by dusk. One of the gaucho’s exchanged his whip (I still have it) for my sunglasses – yes, sunglasses in the pouring rain!
The drive through the Equadorian Andes was unforgettable, and when we finally descended in Guyaquil on the coast, the temperature had changed gradually from 5 degrees to 32 degrees Celcius, plus high humidity.
Next episode (to come) - Galapagos, here we come!