South America Part 2: Inca Country – Peru

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South America

Part 2 – Inca Country – Peru

February 26, 2009

Dateline: Cusco, Peru

Latitude at Cusco 13.30 South, Longitude 71.58 West

A Little Tidying Up in Puno - the Party City

A Little Tidying Up in Puno – the Party City

Today we left Canyon Country on The Inka Express, a luxury tour bus which was to take us to Cusco, allowing us to take in several sights along the way. Our journey started at the bus station at downtown Puno. The whole town is perched, rather precariously it seems, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and appears very monochromatic due to the ubiquitous adobe buildings that make up the town. It is all very brown- roofs, walls, streets – sort of a South American Naples without the laundry flapping in the breeze.

Our journey covered about 240 miles and we had commentary

The Church at Pukara

The Church at Pukara

en route from our guide, Rodrigo. Our first stop was the village of Pukara, most famous for its pre-Inca ruins from around the time of the birth of Christ and a Spanish era church from the 16th Century. We were greeted by the usual assortment of vendors on our way to visit a small museum to see the artifacts that have been excavated to date. Of special note is their devotion to frogs, which they believed had magical powers, and if you could make them sing, it would bring rain. There was some confusion over exactly what would make them sing – either praying to the frogs captured in a jug or sacrificing them by putting them in a jug and burning them – I’m not sure which, but there was a jug involved – maybe they just experimented until they got the desired results. At the museum we also learned about Pachamama (earth mother) who was worshiped from ancient times as the source of all goodness(rain and crops), but she could sometimes get disgruntled and deliver hail, earthquakes and volcanoes, so it was necessary to make nice with Pachamama with offerings of corn, grain and the occasional sacrifice. If all goes well, she will look favorably upon the supplicants and grant a big harvest.

Dos Toros on a Pukara Roof

Dos Toros on a Pukara Roof

Pukara is also known as the place of origin for the Dos Toros, the good luck, evil spirit banning  home adornment. The Dos Toros consist of two bulls made of clay facing in opposite directions. They are to be mounted on top of the house on the center beam and will bring good luck, protect those that dwell within, etc. Bill bought one and we look forward to seeing it atop their home in suburban Washington, DC. We stopped briefly at the church which was “interesting” to say the least.  It was in need of serious repair, the wooden floor spongy and rotted through in spots. The roof had several leaks and several of the niches had Baby Jesus and/or the Virgin Mary wrapped in plastic to keep the rain off. (We thought they may want to hold off on those frog sacrifices for the time being). The main oddity was the altar which featured flashing red and green lights – not sure what was up with that. Hopefully they can get a few pesos together for the church before Pachamama sends the next big earthquake. Our guides tells us that in Incan times, the word Inca referred only to the emperor of the people, in modern times it has come to describe the Quechuan people so we can use the term either way correctly, which is a relief because Quechuan doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

The Market at La Raya Pass

The Market at La Raya Pass

Our second stop was a high pass of approximately 13,000 feet called La Raya, where multitudes of Peruvian women were selling multitudes of tourist stuff, much of it made from alpaca, and surprisingly, of apparent good quality, although we are told by our guides that if the price seems to good to be true, it may be more polyester than alpaca. At La Raya we saw the beginnings of the Urubamba River which is given various names, and which we will more or less follow all the way to Cusco. La Raya is on the continental divide where the east and west ranges of the Andes meet. The temperatures here are cold to freezing cold and it is too dry for crops. The main form of sustenance here is herding and selling stuff to tourists. Herds are often mixed sheep and llamas (shlamas we have come to call them) with the occasional alpaca mixed in. The herders try to keep the flock out of the paths of pumas and tour buses, but only the former is the endangered species here. The local people here are also very short, but like those at Titicaca, can haul loads that would bring the average hulky Caucasian to his knees. We are told that their hearts are typically 20% larger than us lowlanders and they have an extra half gallon more blood. Their short limbs and stocky trunks (compared to ours) are believed to be an evolutionary adaptation so the heart doesn’t have to work so hard to get blood to the extremities and hypothermia is much less likely. The local dress we were told is the genuine article, although the hats they wore bear a distinct resemblance to the one sported by Charlie Chaplin in The Little Tramp.

Once we went over the pass, we were in the inter-mountain valley which is very lush and fertile. The Andes ranges keep all the moisture over the valleys and the rain forest, leaving the Pacific Coast very dry. We started to see trees, mostly eucalyptus which were imported for timber from Australia in the 19th Century and have done well here. This is a big area for crops and the hillside terraces are as green those in the Colca region. The landscape is also dotted with blue metal outhouses, another useful contribution we supposed, from the leading nations of the world. They are a little incongruous with the adobe houses, and although singularly lacking in charm, they are apparently functional for those brave enough to use them.

New Alpaca Hats

New Alpaca Hats

Our third stop was is Sicuani where we had lunch and the ladies made a great hat purchase  – pure Baby Alpaca for only $20.00. We pronounced ourselves as stunning as movie stars, fresh off the set. We continue to be impressed by the fresh produce here, all locally grown and picked ripe, particularly the delicious avocados.

Our fourth stop was the ruins at Raqchi  (pronounced Ratch-ee) which had a temple to honor the god Wiracocha, who was believed by the Tiwanaku culture in pre-Incan times to have

The Ruins of Raqchi

The Ruins of Raqchi

emerged from the waters to create heaven and earth. I’m not sure how that worked since if he emerged from the water, then the water must have already been there, but logic tends to get lost where the gods are involved. Wiricocha  had a side-kick, a magical bird called Inti, who was worshiped as an all-knowing, all seeing god who represented the Sun. Wiracocha himself was invisible, but was sometimes portrayed with the head of a puma. Also the blue collar people couldn’t worship him – that was reserved for the ruling class. We saw the remnants of a huge Inca temple (300 feet  long and over 40 feet high) with astronomical alignment to the equinoxes. This was a very large tambo (an Incan word for resting place) with houses, and stone grain storage facilities by the acre. The village was surrounded in Incan times by a wall built on the high ridges around the city, along the lines of the Great Wall of China, but on a much smaller scale.

A Treasured Dagger Complete with Llama Teeth

A  Dagger Complete with Llama Teeth

There was a small open-air market in the town square where Gary bought a “treasure” for our collection of treasures at home. It was a knife with the handle made of sheep’s horn, and a scary sort of warrior face with seeds for eyes and a mouth with llama teeth, upper and lower. When you pull the knife out of the sheath, the teeth separate as if the scary face is opening wide for the dentist. It’s a marvel to behold.

Our last stop before Cusco was the village of Andahuallilas, which is pretty much a one horse town, but with a multi-horse church with lots of gold, gilt and an altar that stretches from floor to ceiling. It is called St. Peter’s Church and was built in 1650 by the Jesuits on the foundation of an Inca temple. It is so elaborately frescoed, that it is referred to as Peru’s Sistine Chapel. You can’t really see much of the Jesuit art since the Franciscans and Dominicans came in later and kept painting over each other’s stuff. At the exit, there is a fresco of heaven on one side (narrow, steep path) and hell on the other (big wide inviting path) – one last, not so subtle, reminder on your way out of church to behave yourself. They have a statue of their patron saint, a copy of the original in Cusco, which they call the Black Jesus. His skin looks quite dark, but it didn’t start out that way.  The smoke from candles over the centuries, like the one in Cusco, has discolored the paint. The statue is also called Our Lord of the Earthquakes, a.k.a. Christ of the Tremors.  It is believed that while Cusco was experiencing a serious earthquake in 1650, some of the church faithful had the idea that they would take the statue on a processional through the streets and maybe God would stop it . As they did so, the earthquake did indeed stop, and they attributed it to a miracle and built the church to to commemorate the event. In a subsequent earthquake the statue here fell over and the whole altar fell off in the floor, but the belief in the power of the miracle remains unshaken (no pun intended).

We arrived in Cusco, (whose name means the Navel of the World per the Incan culture) in the late afternoon and had a nice meal in the hotel. It is a boutique hotel called the Casa San Blas, located in the heart of the old city  We plan to explore said “bellybutton” for several days.  The altitude is around 11,000 feet so we move slowly and breathe deeply as best we can. We have gotten very good at moving slowly. We hope to be able to pick up the pace once we return to lower altitudes, but slow is good for now.

February 27, 2009

Dateline: Cusco, Peru

A Typical Cusco Street

A Typical Cusco Street

We continued to be at high altitude with its side effects quite apparent (i.e. if you wake up from a dead sleep panting for breath in the middle of the night, there’s your sign) so we were popping our Diamox pills and drinking our coca tea at breakfast before setting out on our city tour.   Cusco is a charming old city with narrow cobblestone streets, every bit as steep as San Francisco’s Market Street, but without the cable cars to haul you up and down. It was the capital of the Inca Empire, which peaked in the 15th and 16th Centuries and only lasted around a hundred years. Their empire was done in by Civil War, as much as conquest by the Spaniards, who were able to do so with amazingly few troops. Superstition and ignorance were also on their side. The Incas thought horse and rider were one entity, having never seen a horse before. They also thought gunfire was thunder, having had no experience with that either it. They were also were exposed to smallpox to which they had no immunity, and believed it was sent by God via the Spaniards as a sign they were to submit  to the new rulers. So when Pizarro arrived from Spain with his own version of a “shock and awe” campaign, things went downhill for the Incas from there. And then the missionaries arrived very shortly thereafter to another bonanza. They found thousands of willing converts, whose descendants are still overwhelmingly and devoutly Catholic.

Today we toured Cusco and its immediate surroundings. Legend has it that the city was founded by the children of the sun and moon (named Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo respectively) who had set out on a quest to find a place to establish their kingdom. They picked Cusco when a staff made of gold was driven into the ground disappeared (apparently that was their sign that here indeed is the world’s bellybutton).

Koricancha - cusco

The site of Koricancha – Cusco

Our first stop on our tour was the main square, today called the Plaza de las Armas today so named by the Spanish, but it predates the conquest and the natives called it Huacayapata, which translates as Warriors Square. The Incas had built temples here and after the Conquest, the Spaniards simply used them as foundations for their own buildings. The Incan structures were far superior in terms of earthquakes, the largest in 1650, which brought cathedrals, monasteries, and palaces built by the Spanish crumbling to the ground, but the Incan foundations remained solidly in place. We first visited Koricancha (which means golden enclosure), an Inca temple built to honor Inti, the Sun God. It originally had gold plated walls studded with precious stones and a garden filled with silver and gold sculptures. Of course the

Inca Stone Masonry - Too Tight even for a Credit Card

Inca Stone Masonry – Too Tight even for a Credit Card

Spaniards made short work of these and made off with everything that had a shine to it. What remains today is some of the walls from the temple, which were only revealed after the 1650 earthquake.  It is really amazing to think that they used no mortar. Instead they fitted stones together like a  jigsaw puzzle, not an easy one either. The sides were all polygonal, some with as many as 12 or 14 sides. They built trapezoidal walls, bigger on bottom and angled toward top, which proved to be optimal for withstanding earthquakes.

The walls themselves contained niches which held statues, but also served as repositories for mummies of dead Incas. Mummies were placed in the fetal position and their tombs were filled with food and drink for the afterlife and little statues of servants – very much like Egyptians. We were told that for special celebrations, they would bring out mummies, (We envisioned them maybe propped up in the corner, sort of like an Irish wake, but with really old corpses). After the party, then it was back to the niches until the next big event when they would get dusted off again and brought out for the festivities.  Incas did perform animal, as well as human sacrifice so many of the celebrations were more fun for some than for others.  The good news for the working families was that humans chosen for sacrifice had to be high born.

Also on the good news front, the locals made chichi, which is corn beer, and drank it from decorated cups called keros. The biggest party date was the winter solstice (June in the Southern Hemisphere), called the Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun. It is still celebrated today, but the sacrifice is just a llama. They also worshipped the moon, the mountains, the sky, certain animals as well as the earth. An Incan symbol is a three leveled cross, with the levels representing the condor, as the sky, the puma as the earth, and the snake as the underground.

The Cusco Cathedral

The Cusco Cathedral

From there we walked over to the Cusco Cathedral (La Catedral) which is actually a complex of churches built on ruins of the Inca Palace and armory, over a period of 100 years. The main cathedral is also called the Holy Family, (Familia Sagrada in Spanish). It is attached to two smaller chapels called Capilla del Triunfo (the Triumph) which was the first Spanish Church built in Cusco and the Capilla  Jesus, Maria y Jose . All of them, while having modest facades, are just mind bogglingly ornate with silver and gold altars stretching to the ceiling, frescos, a magnificent choir carved in cedar with figures of saints and popes, granite columns and marble floors – the works. But my very favorite part was a painting, (amateurish by Old Masters standards) of The Last Supper, done by a local artist, Marcos Zapata, who apparently was striving for a little local color, when he painted Jesus and the Disciples drinking chichi (corn beer) out of Incan mugs, with cuy chactado (roast guinea pig) prominently featured on a platter in the foreground right in front of Jesus. Our guide suggested that the artist needed to illustrate food in some way and didn’t realize that guinea pig was not universally revered as it is in Peru. The expression he gave to Jesus has Him rolling his eyes heavenward as if to say “Yuck, I thought we were having fish”.  Zapata, also gave Judas the face of Francisco Pizarro, and thus getting in a subtle jab at the conquering Spaniards that probably no one noticed for centuries. They also have here the actual Crucifix that was carried into the streets in the 1650 earthquake that is credited with stopping said earth quake. It is called El Senor de los Temblores (which translates as the Mister of the Earthquake, but more commonly called Jesus of the Earthquake or the Lord of the Earthquake. The figure on the cross is called El Negrito, supposedly because he has dark skin, which like the one in Andahuailillas, was discolored by centuries of candle smoke.

Our guide pointed out to us that both local sculptors and painters from that era seemed to have trouble with perspective and proportion in their artwork. They typically have the heads too big for the bodies, and arms and legs  too long or too short, etc. It appears in later years they  gave up on bodies and just put big robes on everyone. El Negrito illustrates the problem. His head is as wide as his shoulders and his arms are very long and would no doubt touch the ground since his legs and torso are so short in comparison. They have a fancy shawl draped over the lower half of his body, not so much for modesty we thought, as to disguise the lack of skill of the carver – but then if it can stop earthquakes, that’s got to be way more important that good art.

Above Cusco

Above Cusco

We left the city to visit nearby Inca sites and en route learned a few more facts.  The Incan empire ran from Quito down into Chile – almost entire length of Andes, covering more than one-third of South America. Being smart people, they didn’t venture much into Amazon and we know why – more on that later. They were great engineers and architects with building design, terracing, drainage and irrigation, but apparently the idea of wheel never occurred to them. It certainly would have made that temple building a lot easier, but then the ancient Egyptians, as smart as they were,  never caught on to that concept either.  They were also great astronomers, and were very good at lining up structures so the sun’s rays at the solstices would hit just the right spots.

The Inca Empire at its peak lasted barely 100 years although there were supposedly 13 Incas going back several centuries to 1197; however six of those Incas were legendary, versus the flesh and blood variety Legend has it that the first Inca  emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca. The Inca in the flesh and blood category who gets the most credit for empire building is Pachacutec, who ruled from 1438 to 1471 and started the massive expansion of Incan influence. This was achieved through a combination of conquering, assimilation and moving entire communities when it suited them. One of Pachacutec’s most ambitious projects was the Capac Nan (Royal Road), which was actually a network of stone roads 3 feet wide used to reach the far corners of their empire. There was a total of 2,500 miles of road, some of it as high as 16,000 feet stretching from Quito to Santiago – sort of like the Romans, but in this case all roads led to Cusco.

Tupac Inca took over from 1471 to 1493m and then,  Huayana Capac succeeded Tupac and became known as the Inca with the children who screwed things up for everyone. Everything was cool until his death in 1525. Things fell apart when his sons, two half brothers Huascar and Atahualpa, started squabbling over who would become Inca now that dad was gone. Huascar was considered the legitimate son and he chose to stay in Cusco. Atahualpa was the illegitimate son and he set up his court in Quito. They engaged in a brutal civil was which Atahualpa won, but then the Spanish Invaders captured him in 1532. He was reportedly very naïve about what the Spaniards were up to, not realizing the value of gold in the “civilized world”. Incas called gold the “sweat of the sun” and all gold belonged to the Inca. The Spaniards begged to differ.

Atahaulpa tried to buy them off with about 11 tons of gold, but they weren’t having any of that when they realized they could just take as much as they wanted. The Spanish actually thought Cusco was the fabled El Dorado and totally sacked the city collecting every speck of gold they could find. What they didn’t put in local churches or their own pockets, they shipped back to Spain, ironically, losing much of it in shipwrecks such as the Atocha. The Spaniards executed Atahualpa in 1533 and continued to defeat further Incan resistance. There was a brief and unsuccessful indigenous uprising in 1781 led by Tupac Amaru II, but that was quelled rather abruptly with his beheading in the Plaza de las Armas. What is modern day Peru remained a Spanish Colony until 1821.

Polygonal Stones at Sacsayhuaman

Polygonal Stones at Sacsayhuaman

Our next stop was Sacsayhuaman ( pronounced Sock Sigh Wah Man, accent on the “sock”, in case you want to drop that name into a casual conversation) and it translates as Resting Head or Contented Falcon, take your pick. It was used as a military stronghold made up of 3 terraced ramparts built of gigantic stone blocks using the Incan polygonal interlocking design. The ramparts are almost a thousand feet long, built in a zig-zag pattern, and as high as 17 feet in some places. Many of the individual stones weigh as much as 350 tons.  Legend has it that as many as 20,000 men were required to heft the big stones into place. That sounds like an exaggeration if you try to do the math and figure how could 20,000 people pull on something (anything) attached to a stone the size of say, an SUV? Another story says that one of these monster stones toppled and crushed thousands of workers. It sounds like exploring these legends would be a good topic for the Myth Busters on the cable channel. I think not all Inca legends are intended be analyzed in any great detail.

The zig zag pattern of the walls was adopted so that any one trying to scale the wall, would be vulnerable to attach from the sides. Here too, as in the temple walls in Cusco, the stones fit so tightly a knife blade cannot be inserted between them, and again these are dry stacked, no mortar involved.  Over the centuries some of the stones have developed space between them due to earthquakes, but only small ones. Far more devastating were the Spaniards who used Sacsayhuaman as a quarry to build churches and other structures in Cusco.

The only battle fought here was between the indigenous people and the Spaniards in 1536, once the people figured out the Spanish were (A) not God’s messengers, (B) not harmless as assumed and (C) not going away any time soon. It was extremely lopsided battle with the Spaniards coming out on top and slaughtering the locals, but their leader, Manco Inca escaped and lived to fight another day, but that didn’t go as planned either, although indigenous resistance lasted another 40 years.

We had a good soaking from a sudden cloud burst, but then when the skies cleared, we had a beautiful view of the city of Cusco on the valley floor below us. It was supposedly designed by the Incas of to resemble the shape of a puma, with Sacsayhuaman as the head (thus the “resting head”, but apparently the suburbs that evolved in the ensuing years have made it hard to visualize).

The Sacrificial Altar at Quenko

The Sacrificial Altar at Quenko

Our last stop of the day was another Inca ruin just outside the city called Quenko, pronounced something like when-koh, but with a lot more guttural sounds than the average English speaker can muster. It means “labyrinth” in the Quechuan language and it is a labyrinth of sorts, but not so complex that you would get lost in it.  Quenko is believed to be a religious site or shrine (called a huaca), where sacrifices were made to worship various gods. It is comprised of a jumble of boulders and rock formations, many natural, others carved or hewn by hand with underground passages, small rooms, and stairs. There is an altar with channels carved in the rock where historians presume the sacrifices were made, with the channels serving to drain away the blood. No one seems to be quite sure what was done with the blood afterward, but we speculated it was probably something unsavory from our perspective. They also used chicha, the corn beer during their ceremonies, but hopefully they drank it instead of “sacrificing” it. There is a large rock at the entrance which is said to resemble a puma and many drawings of pumas as well inside the caves, lending more evidence to the supposition that this was a religious site. I did see the likeness to a puma, crudely drawn, but still a likeness, on the inside of the caves, but as for the big rock at the entrance that is supposed to look like a puma, I couldn’t quite see it. I suspect too much chicha may have made the Incas see a profusion of pumas where there are none.

A Tourist Attraction at the Crafts Shop - Cusco

A Tourist Attraction at the Crafts Shop – Cusco

On our way back, we stopped at a small factory that specialized in high quality alpaca goods where we made a few purchases and made friends with a few alpacas. On the way back to the hotel we stopped in to Paddy O’Flaherty’s pub for a pint or two. The beer drinkers in our group reported it as authentic, despite the distance from Dublin.

We had an early dinner with soup at the restaurant next to our hotel. It was an interesting Mexican restaurant with a surprising absence of actual Mexican food, but what they did have was very good, especially the tortilla soup, hold the tortillas.  They had an interesting inventory management system. The patrons would order, the waiter would dash down the street to a market or two and return with the items required to prepare the order.  This also applied to any beer ordered –  sort of a “Just In Time” program. We did see a restaurant called the Inca Chifa across the street, but learned that Chifa is actually Chinese food and Peruvian Chinese just seemed too much of a stretch for us as this point. We retired early since this 11,000 foot altitude really sapped the energy and the appetite.  We learned earlier this afternoon of a farmer’s strike scheduled for March 2 that affected our plans to go to Machu Picchu because transportation workers are striking as a demonstration of solidarity. And thus our train trip to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu was rescheduled for early tomorrow, so we can be there and back before the strike. The issue seems to be a tax on water used for irrigation. You have to love a country where workers schedule and advertise strikes in advance like that so everyone can work around them.

February 28, 2009

Dateline:  Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, Peru

Latitude at Machu Picchu 13 .09 South, 72.32 West

A Rail Car on the Train to Machu Picchu

A Rail Car on the Train to Machu Picchu

We had a 2 hour van trip to Ollantaytambo (pronounced Ah-lan-tay- tahm-bo with accents on “lan” and “tahm”) and then took the train which followed the course of the Urubamba River through the Sacred Valley to the small town of Aguas Calientes (translation is Hot Water) where our guide Alberto was to meet us at the train station for the short walk to our hotel, the Inkaterra Lodge.  The scenery en route was fabulous, the river roaring along like chocolate milk in a blender. Machu Picchu is 72 air miles from Cusco, situated on the eastern slope of Andes, at about 8,000 feet in elevation which is actually lower than Cusco’s

 

The Urubamba River

The Urubamba River

11,000 feet. As you can imagine a 3,000 foot drop in elevation in 72 miles makes for a very rambunctious river. We followed along the Urubamba  with ancient Incan terraces carved out of the precipitous mountainsides above us. We were in the cloud forest (as opposed to the rain forest of the Amazon) where there is a constant blending of cloud, mist and rain, with occasional sunshine so brilliant it calls for sunglasses and rain ponchos within the same five minutes. We were surrounded by the jungle, but it is a highland jungle, wet and cool, versus the wet and hot of the rain forest.

A Yale professor, Hiram Bingham is credited with the discovery of Marchu Picchu in 1911 and it became known as “The Lost City of the Incas”. However, it wasn’t lost as far as the locals were concerned, particular the farmers who were still using some of the terraces there for their own crops. Bingham was actually shown the ruins by the son of one of the farmers in the area. The ruins of course had been overtaken by the jungle, but enough remained to cause Bingham to declare it “breathtaking”.

Construction on Machu Picchu was started in the 1400’s by Inca Pachacutec and was still under construction a hundred years later when it was abandoned due, it is believed to the war that broke out between the two brothers, Huascar and Atahualpa. It is believed also that its purpose more or less evolved over the years. It was originally more of a way station than a destination since the Inca Trail clearly continues far beyond it. The Inca himself would have been carried over the Inca Trail from Cusco, but everyone else had to hoof it – 72 miles over very demanding terrain It was originally more of a spiritual retreat than a temple – sort of a Camp David. Today  itis a UNESCO World Heritage site and is treated very reverentially as the most religious and iconic Inca site. However historians are of the opinion that today, we attach much more significance to it than the Inca and his people ever did.

Main Street Aguas Calientes

Main Street Aguas Calientes

We arrived around noon and walked just a few hundred yards to our hotel, the Inkaterra. The hotel was a rustic lodge, very big on charm and warmth, with luxurious rooms surrounded by luxuriant foliage. We had lunch there and then walked to the bus depot to catch the bus to Machu Picchu for an afternoon tour. The bus depot is something of a misnomer. It is more like a bus stop. The only way to get to Aguas Calientes is by rail or a four day hike on the Inca Trail which starts near Ollantaytambo. The only way to get to Machu Pichhu is by bus or on foot. We traveled over a dirt road that climbed through the clouds for several thousand feet with a series of hairpin turns.  As we drove higher, the views were increasingly more ethereal with only brief glimpses of waterfalls, the valley below and the jagged peaks above us as the mist swirled around our small bus.

The Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

The Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

We got off the bus at the Visitor’s Center and had a steep trek to the much anticipated entrance of the sanctuary of Machu Picchu. Our first view of it did not disappoint. It was absolutely mesmerizing and breathtaking (or it would be if you had any breath left after the trek.) Because the clouds and mist were so low, the scenery seemed even more other-worldly, appearing out of the mist and vanishing like Brigadoon. We all agreed Machu Picchu easily makes the top ten list of the most beautiful places we have ever seen.

Of course we immediately started taking pictures. We learned that Machu Picchu means Big Peak but it is not the one seen in all the photos. While snapping pictures of the classic panorama of the ruins, the photographer actually has his back to Machu Picchu which is looming (often behind the clouds) behind him.  The peak  seen rising behind the ruins is Huayna Picchu which means Young Peak. There is also the seldom seen from here (due to the clouds), Wayan Picchu which means Old Peak. The ruins before us are remarkably intact after having been abandoned for over 500 years, with just the roofs missing

Ruins in the Royal Sector

Ruins in the Royal Sector

(understandably so since they were thatch). The city is clearly divided into two neighborhoods, roughly the Haves and the Have-Nots. The Haves part of the city is called the Royal Sector and housed the Inca and his court and contained all the important religious sites. The same incredible stonework we saw in Cusco – polygonal stone blocks fitted perfectly together with no mortar were also here. We did notice than in the Have Not sector, the workmanship wasn’t this precise, but still was impressive. There was also a series of fountains providing fresh water from a nearby spring to the whole complex.

A Double Rainbow at Machu Picchu

A Double Rainbow at Machu Picchu

We made our way past what is termed the Caretaker’s Hut, which really served more as a watchtower since it commands a view of the whole site. It is one of the few buildings whose roof has been restored to allow us to see what it would have looked like 500 years ago. From there we rambled along through the ruins visiting the Funerary Rock, believed by some to be used as a sacrificial rock to offer up llamas to whatever deity was being honored or bribed. Other scholars believe it was more of a mortuary where Incas and other nobles would be laid out to mummify. We also visited two temples (1) the Temple of the

 

The Mountains Surrounding Machu PIcchu

The Mountains Surrounding Machu PIcchu

Three Windows which during the winter solstice the first rays from the sun would come through 3 trapezoidal windows filling the room with light and illuminating a column now missing.  (2) The Temple of the Sun was our last stop today. It is the only building in the complex with curved walls, and complex entrances. It has a special window for astronomy including exact alignment for the summer and winter solstices. We had a special treat here with a double rainbow appearing after a brief rain shower. Our guide, Berto says rainbows here are rare in that he has only seen 5 in 18 years of guiding and he had never before seen a double. We take this as a sign the gods are as pleased as we are to have the privilege of seeing  Machu Picchu.

Pisco Sour Room Service at the Inkaterra

Pisco Sour Room Service at the Inkaterra

We retraced our serpentine journey on the bus and trekked back to the hotel in a serious rain. We had dinner and spent a great night at hotel, windows open to a cool night, drumming rain, fireplace lit, scented candles, bed warmed with hot water bottles, fluffy duvets – it was fabulous (although when comparing notes with our friends the next day we did learn that some fireplaces were drawing better than others). Smoky or not, everyone agreed it was great.

March 1, 2009

Dateline: Cusco, Peru

The Terraces of Machu Picchue

The Terraces of Machu Picchue

We had a late afternoon departure on the train back to Ollantaytambo and the van to Cusco, so we were able to spend the morning at to Machu Picchu. The weather had changed dramatically overnight and it was a brilliant sunny day, so of course this called for more pictures because it seemed even more stunning than the day before and we were once again totally wowed. Today we hiked to the Inca Bridge, which was part of the original Inca Trail. The trail to the bridge actually winds part way around the peak of Macchu Picchu and leads away from the ruins. Since it was cut into the mountain, it was not

 

The Inca Bridge and Trail

The Inca Bridge and Trail

particularly steep: however it did have some death defying aspects to it, particularly, the drop-off into dense jungle foliage if you should happen to lose you footing and plunge over the side. To ensure we were cautious (as if we needed any encouragement to be so) Berto told us of a lone hiker-tourist who set out on this same trail never to be seen again. Searchers combed the trail for over a week and peered over the side every few feet, but never saw any sign of him. Needless to say we were hugging the hillside with every step. The bridge was quite simple in design, but not at all simple to construct. It is around 50 yards long built of hand hewn stones that bridge a crevasse of several hundred feet between two solid sheets of granite mountainside. The approaches to the bridge were made in the same fashion.  Each stone (and most were big boulder-size stones) had to be carried or dragged here over the same trail we were tiptoeing along. It made us wonder how many workers might have suffered the same fate as the missing tourist. As we were walking back we heard a distant rumble that Alberto told us was a rockslide, so then we were looking both up and down as we trod ever so gingerly along the precipice.

Back at Machu Picchu

Back at Machu Picchu

We returned to Machu Picchu proper to see things we missed the day before, which included the Temple of the Condor. The Temple gets its name from two slabs of rock which look like two giant bird wings (if you’ve had enough chicha I suppose) and a slab of rock on the floor which has the head of a condor carved into it. It is speculated that the many niches here are where they set out mummies during special celebrations. No one is quite sure what the dungeon-like areas below the temple were for. Hiram Bingham thought they were prisons. Modern scholars think not, but offer no other theories.

The Hitching Post to the Sun

The Hitching Post to the Sun

Our next stop was the Sacred Plaza which is an open area surrounded by the various temples, including the allegedly most-polygonal of all polygonal stones. It has 32 angles and still fits as tightly with its neighbors as ever. From there we went up a short stairway to seen the Intihuatana Stone. A word on stairs here – it’s a mystery. These people were very, very short. Why did they make their steps so very, very tall? Anyway back to the Intihatana – Inti is the bird/sun god and hatana means hitching post in Quechuan and thus the name of this place is the Hitching Post to the Sun. The stone served as a calendar of sort – its pillar positioned to indicate the precise dates of the solstices and equinoxes. For example, on the winter solstice, there is no shadow on the pillar. Marks on the stone indicate where shadows will fall on other key dates.

We also visited the Sacred Rock which is a carved rock used as altar to worship Apus, the gods of the Mountain, Water and Fertitlity. This was our last stop in the Royal Sector and we then explored the Common District, where the workers lived. Here we saw the relatively inferior construction (stones not so tightly fitted together), but still it was by no means shoddy and still standing after all the centuries. We bid a reluctant goodbye to Machu Picchu and boarded our bus to go back to Aguas Calientes.

A Mountain Stream near Inkaterra

A Mountain Stream near Inkaterra

After lunch at a small restaurant near the hotel we had a tour of the gardens of Inkaterra with an orchid specialist who showed us some odd specimens found in the Cloud Forest and gave us the low down on the high drama of orchid collecting. We also had the concurrent hummingbird tour, which was a little more lively. With our curiosity about orchids and hummingbirds sated (and rather quickly so), we were ready for our naps by the fire and some reading until departure time.  We found ourselves really tired really often, with brain and muscles getting a lot less oxygen than they are used to, so napping is essential.

We had an uneventful train ride to Ollytaytambo on which we met Monica, a young lady from California traveling by herself whom as it turned out we would see later on our Amazon  Adventure. It was well after midnight when we fell into bed in Cusco back at the Casa San Blas.

March 2, 2009

Cusco, Peru

We had the luxury of sleeping late today since we had a free day due to the farmers strike  scheduled for today with the tour operators honoring the strike as well.  We learned this morning that there was a rock slide last night on train tracks between Aguas Calientes and Ollytaytambo that caused the train after ours a 6 hour delay while the tracks were cleared. There was some speculation that the striking farmers had caused the slide and were thus sending a message on the eve of the actual strike, but those who may know weren’t talking.

Packing our Box at the Fed Ex Store

Packing our Box at the Fed Ex Store

After ten days of touring, it became obvious to us that we had way too much stuff in our luggage and we had acquired way too many treasures to haul around South America for the next 34 days. We decided to seek out a shipping company, UPS,  Fed Ex, DHL or whomever we found first, and what an adventure this proved to be. We set out on foot from the hotel, rather surprised (not out last surprise by any means) to find that once we left the tourist area, very little English was spoken. I was able to dust off some high school/college Spanish enough to ask for a few directions and even understood a sentence or two once I got them. We did find, after several blocks of walking, a FedEx office with a very helpful gentleman (or maybe not so much a gentleman – we’ll never know for sure) at the counter.  Our idea was to ship the box to our neighbors and we piled in extra clothes, shoes, souvenirs and so forth – the so forth including Gary’s noise canceling Bose headphones. Gary and Stu hopped behind the counter to pack the box and securely tape it (very securely tape it) shut. Then we figured out we needed to list the contents and their value on the manifest, and we sort of guessed at both since the box was sealed. Then they wanted the neighbors’ phone number which I guessed at since I didn’t have it with me. Then the “gentleman” told us it was 260 we thought it was in sol (around $85.) but we had another surprise since it was in US dollars. And then the surprises kept on coming via email and phone calls. I had the phone number wrong, the numbers on the manifest did not add up, and the whole FedEx box would be shipped back to Peru if we didn’t clear up matters in 5 days. We are eternally grateful to our neighbors for getting everything straightened out and taking delivery of the box.

To skip ahead briefly, our final surprise was when we opened the box once we were home. It was still (or should I say again?) securely taped with FedEx Peru tape, but not only were the Bose headphones missing, so were a pair of Sharon’s shoes, a plastic poncho and a nylon raincoat belonging to Gary. Our only consolation is that shipment was insured and that poncho and raincoat are going to be way huge on any of those short little people. We figure they are big enough to shelter a family of 4 Peruvians from the rain – just our small way of giving back to the country which has given us so much. As for Sharon’s shoes, we decided some little Peruvian lady is going to be wearing those to mass every Sunday. We have to wonder if the irony of wearing stolen shoes to church will be lost on her.

The Most Adorable Thing at the Museum

The Most Adorable Thing at the Inca Museum

We walked back to the Plaza de las Armas and decide to visit the Irish pub, Paddy O’Flaherty’s and try their burgers. It was not exactly like Five Guys – a lot more meat loaf than all beef patty, but the Guinness was good. Since it was now early afternoon and we had yet to see a single “touristic” place (as the local tour guides term the points of interest)  we decided to visit the Inca Museum, which proved to be quite interesting. It occupies a Spanish era building called the Admiral’s Palace, which was built on top of Inca foundations. It is devoted to artifacts from a wide range of indigenous people of Peru. There were mummies (those party animals) ceramics, jewelry and textiles, as well as a big collection of keros (the wooden drinking cups – featured in the Last Supper Painting in the cathedral.)We also saw portraits of the 9 Incas. Each had the same face, but different clothes. We suspect the artist only had one face down pat and couldn’t get too creative beyond that. We found that art here can best be appreciated as more representative than realistic.

All of this “touristic” business made us quite thirsty so we stopped for cocktails at another Cusco landmark, the Hotel Monasterio, which as the name would suggest, is an old monastery remodeled into a luxury hotel – heavy emphasis on the word luxury. Wine and cocktails with bar brands were a relatively modest $8.00. Martinis were advertised at $13, but our party decided to splurge and order one and specified Gray Goose. When the drinks came the martinis were surprisingly small and even more surprisingly expensive. As if $13 wasn’t stiff enough for a not so stiff drink, the premium brand martinis were $26.00 a piece. After much inquiry as to the

Trying to Break Even at the Monasterio Hotel

Trying to Break Even at the Monasterio Hotel

nature of what must surely be an error, the waiter came back with a reduced tab of $106 for one round of drinks for 6 people. We suspect it may have been as much to get us out of their bar as to satisfy us, plus Gary was threatening to take the candelabra from our table so we could sell it to help offset the cost of our cocktails which was most likely would have caused a stir. We finished the day of expensive surprises with a modest meal and agreed that we need to get back to an organized tour. This disorganized tour we had today when left to our own devices cost us a fortune.

 

March 3

Cusco, Peru

The strike is over so today so we resumed our power touring full speed ahead. Today went to several places of interest in and around the Sacred Valley, which is bisected by the Urubamba River which eventually leads to Machu Picchu, the Amazon, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.. We had our excellent guide with us once again, as well as my own D&K Eyewitness Travel Guide. However, we also had the very colorful Cusco Mystic Touristic Map and Guide which we bought on the Inca Express en route to Cusco, and  whose “Spanglish” requires some further translation. For example, a church near our hotel has a famous carved pulpit, but in the Inka Express Guide it says “it is ignored the author of this work.” Translation: “artist unknown”. Then there is this one describing the Cusco Cathedral: “the altar is covered exquisitely with silver irons . . . and there is a large custody of gold” Translation: the altar is  made of silver and there are many gold artifacts”  And my personal favorite is the phrase which described the Last Supper painting we saw in the Cathedral which read: “Marcos Zapata, the author of the linen, The Last Dinner in which the figure of the guinea pig detach.”  Translation: (I think).”Marcos Zapata, the artist of the painting (canvas), The Last Supper, which depicts a guinea pig. We can only imagine that the Peruvians had as many laughs over our Spanish as we did with the “Spanglish” in the guide book.

The Crop Lab at Moray

The Crop Lab at Moray

Our first stop was at Moray, believed to be an agricultural lab of the Inca where scientists experimented with various soils, crops, irrigation and altitude. It is built in a oval (like a small amphitheater) in a natural depression with a series concentric terraces called muyus at various levels. They were built on retaining walls and had a complex irrigation system that brought water in from the surrounding mountains. The terraces vary in height, some as shallow as 7 feet, and the bottom terrace is approximately 240 feet deep.  Archaeologists have found traces of as many as 250 different species of cereal and vegetable plants here. They also found that there is one degree centigrade difference for every level, thus permitting them to determine the optimal growing conditions.

The Flocks at the Village of Maras

The Flocks at the Village of Maras

We then went to Maras, a charming little colonial town where farm animals were kept inside courtyards at night and let out by “herdschildren” during the day so the streets were teeming with photo ops at every turn.  The best shot I never got, was a donkey with clay jars instead of saddle bags full of grass (for the guinea pigs presumably) ambling down the street on the town square.  We are in potato country –as evidenced by the profusion of purple and white flowers for mile after mile, interspersed with yellow fields of mustard plants. There were all sorts of wild flowers, yellow white orange and purple, lining the roads and mixing in with the crops.   Our guide asked if we had noticed how few Peruvians had gray hair, even those very advanced in years. She says they attribute that fact to the chewing of coca leaves, and we did notice that many those raven-haired locals did indeed have a “chaw” working between teeth and gum.

The Salineras at Maras

The Salineras at Maras

We then went to the Salinas de Maras which are salt works, created in pre-Columbian  times, but still producing today and worked by hundreds of miners. A natural salt spring was channeled into around 3,000 man-made ponds (salinerias) where the water is left standing to evaporate in the sun. The ponds are terraced into steep hillsides, each with its own little gravity fed channels to allow water in and out. We walked around a few of the ponds and dabbled our fingers in the spring where the water was surprisingly hot and clear.

From Maras we stopped for lunch at a very nice restaurant, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, which had been built to resemble a country home of a well-to do family, more Spanish in style than Peruvian. From there were went back to Ollantaytambo, where we had been before en route to Machu Pichhu, but we had never toured there. It is actually a large architectural park at an altitude of just under 9,000 feet, with ruins much more extensive and intact than Machu Picchu, although the setting is not nearly as dramatic. It is named for an Incan General Ollanta, with the “tambo” part meaning resting place. The city itself is still has many intact Inca- era constructions, including a working water system.  Most of the ancient structures in town are the canchas, which are blocks of stone houses built around a courtyard with a single entrance. However, all we toured this afternoon was the fortress, called Araqam Ayllu. which was still under construction when the Spaniards arrived, and thus many of the requisite temples and astronomical sites were not completed.

An Incan Fortress

An Incan Fortress

The Incas, led by Manco Inca, did manage a victory here against Ferdinand (a.k.a. Pedro) Pizarro (the younger and more inept brother of Franscisco) and actually defeated the gun-toting Spaniards in 1536. Again, I must quote directly from the Inka Express Guidebook on this event. This is priceless, particularly in how  the translator tends to play fast and loose with the pronouns. Here it is, straight from the Cusco Mystic Touristic Map and Guidebook: “the conquering Pizarro . . . arrived to Ollantaytambo before the dawn to surprise the enemy sleeping, but it was big the surprise when thousands of arrows of all color rushed on the by the archers’ squads . . . Such was the scene that Manco Inca sat down on its horse observed and it directs its army. Pedro Pizarro wrote we found the place so preserved that it culminated in a horrible scene. Manco Inca, foreseeing the return of a new contingent of Spaniards moved to Vilcabamba, up to where the Spaniards arrived and captured Coya Cura Oqllo  (wife and sister of Manco Inca) who was used to negotiate Manco Inca’s rendition.” (Nope, wife and sister were not two separate people –  just like in Appalachia. But there’s more from the guidebook: “Francisco Pizarro when not getting his purpose ordered to whip the Coya naked, then he give her death and throw her body in a raft to the river so that she was discovered by Manco Inca’s men”. No word on how that worked out for Francisco P. and the Spaniards, but in any event, the Cusco Mystic Touristic Map and Guidebook account was hugely entertaining.

Giant Steps of Ollantaytambo

Giant Steps of Ollantaytambo

Okay, back to the fortress. It was truly amazing in size and structure, with the same monster boulder-size interlocking building blocks we had seen in other places, but the amazing part is how far they were moved (on ramps they believe)  to build here. Our guide pointed to a mountain across the valley and across the river where they came from. It makes you wonder what was wrong with the stones around Ollantaytambo, but I suppose no one asked at the time and lived to tell about it. One of the most impressive of their endeavors here was a huge Mt. Rushmore size carving of the Inca in a mountain on the other side of the city. It is in profile and was left in very rough form, but it does bear more than a passing resemblance to a human head, one with a quite beaky nose I might add. This was really a worthwhile stop and we needed more time. To quote the Cusco Mystic, it is a “trek that should not get lost”.

The Springs of Tam

The Springs of Tambomachay

Our next stop was Tambomachay (pronounced Tahm-bo-mah-chay with the accents on Tahm and chay) which according the Cusco Mystic Touristic Map and Guidebook is the “well-known place as bathrooms of the Inka” and “a cult place of the water”. I think the Cusco Mystic must have meant that there are water fountains here, as opposed to latrines. Our guide described it (probably more accurately) as a temple to the water deity.  It is composed of a series of platforms, niches and fountains, but more along the lines of little springs and spillways than the Bellagio of Las Vegas. I did have an American tourist at the entrance speak to me in Spanish, so feel like I may be starting to blend. Maybe I could get a job here, proofreading for the publishers of the Cusco Mystic Guidebook.

Our last stop of a really exhausting day (everything seems to be uphill both ways) was at the town of Pisac where there is a large crafts market. It too has impressive ruins including a fortress, but they are up on top of the mountain above the town and we decided we were fortressed out, plus it was getting dark and besides the air was still thin. We strolled and shopped at the market and headed back to Cusco where we met Donovan, (the gentleman who arranged our tour for us) and his wife. We walked to dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Baco and got acquainted. We were scheduled the next day to head to the Amazon for four days. We were looking forward to flatter land, lower altitude and warmer weather. Little did we know, this only proves you have to be careful what you wish for.