In the canyon of the Apurimac River, in the Peruvian region of Cusco, the resurrection of a six-century-old work is underway. At a height of 28 meters, a group of copper-skinned men braids the last sections of the last remaining Inca rope bridge in the world.
Every June, the Quechua Indians celebrate a conservation ritual at the site of the ancient Inca empire.
The Q’eswachaka bridge, designated an Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2013, is a monumental rope structure made from q’oya, a plant fiber obtained from an Andean plant.
For weeks, four villages in the province of Canas in Cusco prepare the materials to rebuild this bridge, 29 meters long and 1.20 meters wide, which in the past connected their ancestors and is currently used mainly for tourism purposes.
“More than a thousand people, the whole village,” have contributed to the construction of this bridge, says Gregorio Huayhua, a 49-year-old member of the Huinchiri community.
After the pandemic, the indigenous people are trying to regain the interest of visitors in one of the most outstanding traditions of Cusco, known worldwide for the citadel of Machu Picchu.
The women, dressed in colorful skirts, cut the q’oya with sickles and then soaked it in a well before crushing it with stones to form bundles. This process results in thick snakes of q’oya, which the men carry on their shoulders up roads and stairs to the place where the ancient Q’eswachaka is about to fall.
Alex Huilca, a 30-year-old civil engineer who guides the weavers, takes pride in passing down this tradition from generation to generation, dating back to pre-Inca times.
Next to the rope bridge, there is another metal bridge that the communities use for trade and transportation.
As part of the ceremony, a shaman from one of the communities performs a sacrifice of a lamb as an offering to the gods of the earth and mountains to ensure that no accidents occur during reconstruction.
The men tear down the old structure and lay the thickest ropes to serve as a base for the new bridge. Two ropes serve as handrails, completing the skeleton of the structure. The worn and blackened braids fall into the Apurímac River as the reconstruction ceremony begins.
For three days, the men, their heads covered with chullos and woolen caps with earflaps, braided and tightened the ropes without showing vertigo. Some chew coca leaves to regain energy.
Seven Indians barely stagger as they secure the last ropes with their bare hands.
The women, although they play a vital role in the elaboration of the raw materials, are excluded from the final execution of the work.