Huancavelica is home to an orchid known as inkill by the locals. It can be found in the cloud forest at Tayacaja in a province of Huancavelica in the upper jungle. We are talking of an area seldom visited even by the hardy inhabitants of the Andes and far away from modern Peru. That is why the forest is not protected - not part of a conservation area despite its rich flora and fauna
Among the species living in the forest are the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and grey deer (Hippocamelus antisensis) together with many birds and reptiles. Its flora includes the cedar (Cedrella sp.), "romreillo" (Podocarpus sp.) and numerous epiphytic species including many orchids some of which are truly fascinating. This foiest is the habitat of a species native to Peru: the lnkill or Sobralia altissima D.E. Bennett & Christensen sp., because of its characteristics, also known as the queen of the Sobralia genus.
The Inkill is the tallest orchid in the world, its name deriving from the Latin superlative "altus" referring to its long stem, which normally reaches forty four feet in length.
The remote and beautiful cloud forest of Tayacaja is located in the north east of the Department of Huancavelica. To get there you have to take the following route: seven hours by road from Huancayo, then a six-hour ascent on foot and a further two hours' walk on the level - just round the corner really. This journey will take you to the most varied habitats to be found in the Andes.
Another hard slog on foot lasting two days took us to the village of Huachocolpa (9537 feet above sea level). The first signs of the Inkill orchid can be found on the outskirts of the nearby village of Tauribamba, where it frequently appears alongside the clayey track. It is a large flower with an in tense fuchsia colour and solid to the touch.
Continuing towards the edge of the jungle the track crosses deep ravines. At a place called Purecyacu you start to see the local women at carnival time wearing hats adorned with the orchid. At the edge of Amaru forest we met a woman wearing a magnificent hat decorated with different types of orchid, including the inkill et the "triple Peruvian flag" (Maxillaria pyhala Bennett & Christensen sp.) named in honour of the Finnish Ambassador Mikko Pyhälä, a great conservationist who supported the scientific expedition to the area. Without knowing it the woman had decorated her hat with two orchids only recently discovered by science.
We now know that an exploration of the Amare forest (Amaru being a Ouechua word for snake) will introduce you to 39 genera of orchids. In this same area a new species of bird, the black-eyed thrush (Atlapetes melanops), has also been discovered at Huachocolpa. This is one of Peru's poorest regions, yet the womenfolk of Huachocolpa will continue to adorn their hats with orchids unknown to the rest of the world.