Pachacamac ruins, 30km south of Peru’s capital, Lima
Three men huddled together whispering in hushed voices as they sneaked furtive glances at me.
— She’s going to Pachacamac?
— I’m not sure, I can’t understand what she said.
They turned to face me, their faces grave as they strained to understand my intended destination.
— No, it’s not Pachacamac town that I want to go to. I’m looking for the ancient ruins three kilometres from there.
Then men resumed their hushed huddle position.
— What are ‘rueenas’?
— I don’t know. She has a strange accent.
— Maybe someone will know what they are at Pachacamac.
The bus engine growled as though putting forth its opinion. I piped up, too.
— Erm, the ruins. I want to go to the ruins. They’re 1000s of years old, older than Machu Picchu. Lots of Peruvian tourists go.
— Near Pachacamac?
— Are they from the Wari period?
— I have no idea! They’re really old though and definitely near Pachacamac. This bus does go to Pachacamac, doesn’t it?
Twenty pairs of eyes from the back of the bus watched intently. It was quite possibly the most exciting part of their day – a ‘lost’ gringa on a clapped out bus.
The engine spluttered again as a pot-bellied policeman pulled the vehicle over on a routine document check. An old man grumbled loudly, annoyed at the inconvenience.The driver poked his head out of the window and tried to soften the sergeant. The young conductor hopped off the bus and attempted to sweeten the female officer rounding the other side of the jalopy.
It was evident that the driver didn’t have up-to-date papers. The old man continued to rattle off obscenities. Eyes flickered between him and the happy-go-lucky conductor who was using his youthful charm to persuade the police woman to allow the bus to continue. It failed, she shook her head vigorously, enjoying her momentary position of power before it was snatched away by the male sergeant.
The driver, like the enraged passenger, was in no mood for waiting around – he was losing out on potential passengers. He slipped money to the male officer and the engine coughed again, as though displaying its distaste, as we pulled out onto the road.
The old man was still shouting his displeasure at being held up for 10 minutes. The conductor had by now lost his patience.
— We wasted 10 minutes there. I need to get home.
— Where are you gong anyway?
— A bit further.
–You said that 30 minutes ago. You need to pay more money, señor.
— No! I’m getting off soon.
— You’re not. You’re getting off here. STOP THE BUS! Get off!
— This isn’t my stop!
— GET OFF!
The driver dutifully stopped, glad to be rid of the cacophony behind him. The old doors flung open and the man, grumbling irately, held his head up high as stepped out onto the dirt path.
We were still in Lima in some unsavoury area and I didn’t fancy my chances if I was to be deposited there.
As if reading my thoughts, the driver, his father and the 19-year-old money collector resumed their discussion about where I wanted to go.
— Where’s she from?
— Ah… Where do you think she wants to go?
— I’m not sure. What do you think?
— What did she say?
— Las ‘rueenas’
— Hmmm. Las rueenas… Ah ha! Las ruinas!
They turned to face me, their faces jubilant that at last they had finally cracked the code.
— Las ruinas, no?
— Yes, that’s what I said.
— No, you said las rueenas. That’s different. Repeat after me – ruinas.
— Yes! Can you hear the difference?
— No. But does the bus there?
— But you can take a taxi for five soles from Pachacamac.
— OK, that’s fine…
— What’s your number?
— What’s your phone number?
— I don’t have one.
— Ah, your phone is in England?
— Um, yes.
— Oh. Um. Chat?
— MSN Chat. Do you use it?
— Erm, no.
— Oh. Facebook?
— Oh… How can I contact you?
— You can’t.
The conductor saw my expression.
— You have to be careful in Lima.
— I know. Is this Pachacamac?
He gazed out at life in his home city then turned to me.
— Do you prefer England or Peru?
— They’re very different countries. I can’t compare them.
— Peru is much poorer, no?
— Yes, it is.
— And Europeans are much taller! I have family in Germany and over there they are really tall. In England, too?
— Compared to Peruvians, yes!
The bus turned into a dirt yard and everyone emptied out. Everyone except me. I peered around and waited for instructions from my newly found friend.
— We’ll take you to the main road. It’s safer to get a taxi from there.
— I’ll stop one for you, to make sure you’re OK.
— Thank you. Are the ruins safe?
— Yes. Lots of tourists go. There’s a restaurant there as well.
A taxi pulled up alongside us and my new acquaintance bent down and negotiated the price for my journey. Getting a local to do it always reduces the cost, unless of course, the driver suddenly spots that there’s a foreigner lurking in the background.
— He’ll take you for six soles… What? Oh, no, he said it’s 10 soles now.
— Ha ha! Gringa price. I’ll speak to him. … Señor, it’s six soles and no more. Thank you.
— Do you want me to accompany you to the ruins so you’ll be OK?
— Thank you but I think I’ll be fine.
The taxi passed through the brown moonscape desert and towering embankments covered in rickety houses.
Dirt-coloured sand makes up Lima’s outer rim forming ‘poverty hills’ where the impoverished areas are built. Walls surround the areas possibly to make the area’s poverty look less visible to outsiders.
Beyond the walls stood some unremarkable ruins. These, I figured, must be Pachacamac’s 1,400-year-old archeological site. But on closer inspection they looked to be less than a couple of decades in age. And that’s being generous. The adobe plastered replicas were not what I was expecting.
Pachacamac made news several years ago when an ancient burial site was discovered with mummified bodies from several different centuries, making it a unique find. The original buildings, including several small-scale pyramids, were built by the Wari people between 600-800 AD and after the collapse of their empire the site remained an important religious area for Ychsma lords. It contiuned to grow and by 1400, before the arrival of the Incas, over 17 pyramids were believed to have existed here.
Today, however, it’s not so impressive. The small museum contains some decent artifacts and information in both Spanish and English but the site itself isn’t much to shout about.
If you could see the ruins from the air maybe it’d be more dramatic but as most of the places I saw were crumbling walls with new plaster on top, I’m not going to rave about it. Plus you can only glance beyond the ‘do not enter’ signs into what were, presumably, the main chambers of the city.
Once I’d wandered around the four-kilometre route a car pulled up and a woman spoke to me in English.
— Do you want a lift?
I thought about it for a minute. I could go in a comfortable car back to Lima or endure a crazy bus journey.
— You’re from England, right?
— Yeah. You?
— Colombia but I studied in Scotland for four years. I spent my very first day there going round in circles. I couldn’t understand anything they said and they couldn’t understand me, either.
— Ha ha! That sounds like my journey getting here today… How do you pronounce ruins in Spanish.
— Las ruinas.
— Hmmm, that’s what I said.
— Oh, on the bus coming here…
A South American country home to archeological sites spanning multiple epochs
Has the region’s famed Machu Picchu, a high-altitude city built by the Incas in the 15th century
The people of the Andes region still speak Quechua, the native language of Peru
The name is derived from Quechua and means God of the Earth
It’s 30km from Lima and accessible by bus (if you dare)
It was built from 600-1400
The entrance fee is seven soles (US$2.50)
You can drive around the four-kilometre route or walk it, it’s not very strenuous
How to get from Lima to Pachacamac
These directions are from Miraflores.
Go down the full length of Av. Benavides on any bus
Ask to get off at Universidad de Ricardo Palma
Walk in the same direction as the bus was going and you’ll see a bridge going over a main road
Stay on the same side as the university and go down the ramp until you are under the bridge. From here take a bus labelled ‘Pachacamac‘ and check that it goes past the ruins
The bus I took didn’t go past them but if that happens you can hop off at Pachacamac town and get a taxi from there to the ruins (three kilometres away) for six soles