The quechua say that before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, when the Inca ruled all the way from Northern Argentina – Salta and Tucuman and Jujuy – up until far above Cuzco in what is now Northern Peru, the heir to the throne of the Inca empire contracted a mysterious paralysis.
When all known cures had been exhausted the wise elders decreed that his only salvation could be found in the deep south, beyond the frontier of the Inca Empire, where a frothing river passes over healing rocks ripped from the centre of the Earth that shine orange like the evening sun.
The finest warriors of the Empire left from Cuzco carrying the heir and heading South. They climbed up into the spine of the Andes, skirting around the magical blue waters of Lake Titicaca where the air was as thin as the heir’s rasping breath and the sun burned but didn’t warm. Down through the snow-covered passes to Humahuaca, where rose a mountain draped in a rainbow. Then fighting through the hostile territory owned by the Aymaran-speaking Kolla people and past the blood-red soils of Cafayate to the endless plains.
Finally, after losing many men to the land and through skirmishes with hostile peoples, and after climbing once more into the bowels of the Andes where the peaks rise beyond the dome of the sky, the Inca warriors arrived at a deep ravine painted in all the colours the world then had to offer. Barring their way to the magical slope with its healing waters was a river frothing like a rabid puma.
The Inca warriors joined their bodies and formed a human bridge over the tempestuous bubbling. Over this bridge, the length of 50 men lying down, was carried the paralysed heir. Then he was dipped into the thermal waters while the colours of the slope swirled around him chanting incantations which only the mountains knew.
He was cured, and upon turning to thank his courageous escort he found them still, petrified, turned to stone by the sungod Inti so that the Inca might remember that in this place was completed a great feat of human courage and divine power. It still bears the name Bridge of the Inca.
The bridge is now deemed too dangerous to cross, so we stayed on our side and took photos. Under the bridge itself is a series of pillars and holes that one first assumes is an Inca ruin. In fact it’s the remains of a hotel built in 1925 for the rich and famous before it was gutted by the unruly river. Now it stands as a fitting monument to Argentina’s decadent past washed away by time, all that’s left is an empty but enduring skeleton.
(Note: I took a few liberties with the story!)