29 Jun 2012

Lost and Found: Iruya

The mythic city of Iruya hangs at the end of my imagination, thanks to a handful of travelers I've met southward bound. "Are you going to Iruya?" they'd ask hopefully. And then the inevitable ecstatic sigh ensues, "Ahhh Iruya" they repeat.

Needless to say, Iruya was number one on my list to the north. A tiny little colonial town squished onto an unlikely hilltop, walking up and down Iruya's streets is like training for a marathon, part based on their steepness and part on the town's altitude.

Besides Iruya, there was "Ahhhh" San Isidrio, a town seven kilometers up the river bed only accessible on foot or on horseback and then the "Ahhhh" untouched ruins from the town's pre-colombian predecessors, "Ahhh" just another five kilometers from there.

Every instant of this spelled adventure and brother and I, upon arriving in tiny Iruya are raring to go. We leave our cumbersome belongings with a gentle hostel owner and set out along the moutain crevice up towards San Isidrio (population 280 No: internet, phone service). Its narrow cobbled streets are only passable on foot seeing as you have to climb thin and tall stone staircase out of the surrounding gorge in order to arrive at the town above. We climb the steps in handfuls of five or six before stopping for air or water.

Our hospedaje is a white concrete structure teetering on the precipice of the gorge. It's named after Laura, the fifteen year-old daughter of the owner who beams softness and enthusiasm as she shows me how to plug in the plastic receptacle above the shower in order to heat water for a much needed bath. I ask her about the ruins. She has no idea.

At dinner, we ask again inquire about the ruins to no avail.

In the morning the school next door blasts an invigorating province anthem over loudspeakers. On the far wall of our hospedaje, the owner and her sister thin out strands of llama wool between nails, making yarn.

We retrace our steps along the riverbed and then continue down in search of a sign of a path towards the ruins. Each of the few people we pass gives us a new set of conflicting instructions. Down the river to the right, up the river to the left. After an hour or so of wandering aimlessly, we give up and return to Iruya, dejected. At the tourist office we are told there are actually two sets of ruins, the one we were looking for is far away but impassable because of the river, and the other near San Isidrio is perfectly reachable just has a different name and thats why no one had directed us to it.

Some boundaries are thicker than language, and some places are perhaps best left untouched.


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