I woke up very early today (about 05:00), so I went down to get breakfast in the cafe here in the hotel almost as soon as they opened. The breakfast was great: fruit salad, bread, jam, coffee, orange juice and scrambled eggs. They seem very keen on eggs here in Peru: quite a few meals and drinks contain eggs or egg whites. On the taste of the scrambled eggs here I can see why: they were fantastic and reminded me when a friend of my girlfriend had chickens and let us have some eggs. They were so fresh tasting and a deep yellow colour and they went great with the fresh bread. I also took the first of my malaria tablets this morning: the course lasts from when I arrive in Peru until a week after I get home.
I had a half day Cusco city tour this afternoon. Typically 10 minutes before I got picked up to go it started raining: The end of September is the cusp of the move from the dry to the rainy season (no extravagant 4 seasons here), some there is always a chance of rain. As I felt the rain I went back to my room for my raincoat and boy was I thankful for that as the day progressed!
As I have mentioned before the weather is very changeable here and it actually turned out that the early part of the tour was nice and dry. We started the tour on foot in the Plaza De Armas, the main square I had already visited. I am now referring to the tour group as we – throughout my holiday I will be placed in groups for particular activities. Often there are enough people choosing the same dates to have a single group from start to finish, but in my case I believe I was the only one doing my itinerary with Journey Latin America on these dates. So, if I switch from “I” to “We” that will be the most likely reason.
We went inside the Sagrada Familia cathedral that dominates the Plaza De Armas. On the outside it is ornate and very grand and that theme continues and increases inside. The other great thing here is that it is a working cathedral – I feel a bit for the people in there worshipping while we traipse through, but it is good to know that this is still a place of worship and not only for tourists to gawp at.
Not only is the inside of the cathedral large and very grand with many ornate carvings, gold, silver and paintings, there were also some great subversive touches from the Inca craftsmen who created it all. The brief back story is that when the Spanish set about conquering Peru, they also set about converting them to Catholicism. And during that time they were also discovering what master craftsmen the Incas were and we all know how the Catholics love a bit of ostentatious decoration for their places of worship. So, they also got the Incas involved in building and decorating the numerous cathedrals that were springing up everywhere. Now the Incas whilst seemingly receptive to Catholicism did not want to give up their own belief system either, so they started incorporating some of that into the work that they did on the cathedrals. The Spanish tried to stamp it out until a Spanish priest declared that actually it was ok if they wanted to do that and they really went to town:
I can’t possibly remember everything I saw, but it ranged from angels with Condor or Macaw wings, Jesus in traditional Inca costume, references to the holy mountain and the solar system and Llamas present in street scenes right through to the ultimate: a depiction of the last supper with Cuy (Guinea Pig) in the centre of the table. It was entertaining, but also poignant as it illustrated only too graphically how the Incas were suppressed by the Spanish.
Next we walked along a street that led from the square that had, still remaining, Inca walls lining both sides. Amazingly the walls looked almost new.
Cusco had a major earthquake in 1950 that caused almost all of the colonial architecture to fall – the Inca structures remained standing. To be fair to the Spanish the Incas probably had to deal with more earthquakes than them over the years, so they had more opportunity to hone their construction theories. The Incas, like most civilisations, had different styles of construction according to, what I can only describe as, class or status. The highest class construction, for royalty and religious sites, stood up best against earthquakes: the Incas created bricks that interlocked (think dovetail joints and you’re pretty close) and were also angled to enable the overall wall (if viewed as a cross-section) form a trapezoid, i.e.
This helped to make them almost earthquake proof. Clever stuff.
Further examples of this could be seen in our next destination: the Golden Temple in not only the centre of Cusco, but the centre of the Inca universe (Cusco means navel in the Quechua language). The mythology goes that when the Inca god sent his son and daughter to earth to spring forth from Lake Titicaca. They were given a golden staff and told to keep walking until they could push that staff into the ground all the way up to the hilt. This would mean fertile land and that is where they could start the civilisation. That point is regarded as the belly button of the Inca kingdom and it is also situated in the centre of what remains of the golden temple. Given the ferocious looting of the Incas, it was no surprise to find that the temple was no longer golden (the Spanish supposedly commented that they had found their El Dorado upon reaching the temple). Much of it had actually been destroyed with a convent built on and around it. Thankfully some remains and a scale model also shows how vast and golden it would have been back in the day. The detail and the symmetry of the bricks was amazing, especially as it had been done by hand. Considering much of this was done 600+ years ago using techniques that other civilisations could not match is awe inspiring. The belly button itself still remains and it has 4 distinctive lines leading from it: not north, south, etc – this represents lines that point to the 4 corners of the Inca empire – they called the empire Tawantinsuyu which means 4 regions of 4 provinces.
The more I see and learn about the Incas the more self aware and spiritual they seem to be. Their philosophy behind construction so often seems to be part of a bigger picture, one that incorporates their known universe and each person’s part in that. Fascinating stuff that made me think about my own place in the world and its history and future – pretty big themes.
Cusco was also originally designed to bear the shape of a Puma. The Puma is a significant symbol representing the earth as we know it in the Incan religion’s 3 realms (which I will try to cover properly separately). From our next vantage point, high up on the hills overlooking Cusco, I tried to see if that rang true, but even way up there was not high enough to see any shape of the city. Besides, the city has changed a lot since its original construction, so I doubt that even from space it resembles anything like a Puma.
Sacsayhuaman (jokingly recited as “sexy woman”) is a significant Inca site high up on the hills overlooking Cusco. It is a huge construction of numerous fitted boulders and shaped rocks that formed a temple and an auditorium. The place is vast and when I say huge boulders, think almost 200 tonnes of a single rock placed in alignment to create the overall structure. And the rock was used was not necessarily sourced from the same place. The Incas didn’t choose the site and have the bonus that there were rocks available to construct. They chose the site and then had to manoeuvre rocks up there before shaping them and making them fit together. I think if you had a modern construction company trying to emulate it now it would take years. Apparently, the Incas used a scale model to map out how they wanted it to be before construction. It’s estimated that it took a little over 10 years to complete. The weather wasn’t great while we were here: light rain, but strong winds and pretty cold. All part of the experience and added to the dramatic views. Good job I picked up my raincoat though!
Quenko is not a Peruvian board game (sounds like it could be though!). It’s the next stop on our tour. I must admit, it looked like a load of rocks to me when we got there and it was only once we were amongst them that we realised they had been shaped and manipulated by the Incas to suit their needs. Unfortunately, their needs in this case were a bit gruesome. It had what appeared to be a small amphitheatre and an alter and some channels through the rocks that were supposedly used to channel blood from cadavers. It was not apparent that ritual killing took place here (although the Incas did make human sacrifices); the thoughts of the guide were that it was used to conduct surgery. There is some evidence that the Incas tried to pioneer brain surgery, although their success rate doesn’t sound too good. More intriguing was that the place may have been used to embalm corpses of the Inca aristocracy and that the channels of blood would flow differently for a good or a bad man. No one volunteered to try that out! It was interesting to see how they had seemingly used an existing rock formation to create something for them, so they are clearly not all about constructing afresh every time.
We drove past PucaPucara in driving rain. PucPacara is a Tambo with a distinctive redbrick look. Tambos were strategical military watch towers of which there are many. Also, as we drove past small villages I noticed that many of them had ornate carvings of Pumas, snakes and Condors in their walls, so the Inca religious symbols are still actively used.
Tambomachay was our final destination (apart from a stop off at a tourist shop on the way back). It is a fresh water spring that the Incas had channelled to use as both a sacred place and as an important point for agriculture. As well as construction the Incas were superb with agriculture and they used their construction skills to good effect not only for the agricultural terracing they are famous for, but also the channelling of water to help actually make things grow. It was pretty much chucking it down when we got there and we were also warned that this was pretty high above sea level, so we should take it steady. I felt no adverse affects to this altitude (higher than Cusco) which was encouraging for my trek.
I got back to my hotel in time for my briefing about the Inca trail which is now only the day after tomorrow! Tomorrow is a full day tour of the sacred valley. One thing I am pleased about is that I bought a huge memory card (or should that be a memory card with a huge memory?) for my phone – think I’m gonna need it!