Manco Cápac is a household name around Cusco. The way some locals speak about him gives the impression they went for a beer with the man last week.
I’ve been calling him Manco, thinking it was his Christian name when in fact ‘manco cápac’ means ‘the royal founder’ in Quechua and according to Wikipedia, it isn’t even certain he ever existed!
The story goes that he founded Cusco in the early 13th century and became its first governor. He was also, it would seem, the first Inca spin-doctor, as he certainly knew how to keep his name in the news, even today he is the main character in the two best known legends about the origin of the Incas.
The most common story claims that Manco Cápac was a son of the sun god Inti who sent his 8 children to earth with instructions to build a temple in his honour. They emerged out of a cave and Manco Cápac travelled to Cusco where he carried out his duty. Another legend claims that he got rid of his three brothers by turning them into stone, and married his sister Mama Occlo - a bit dodgy if you ask me.
Some historians believe that the location of the ‘birth’ cave, was flooded by the rising waters of Lake Titicaca.
Somehow I’d heard that on 5th November, Manco Cápac would emerge out of the waters of Lake Titicaca. During our month in Chucuito, I asked many people if they knew anything about this, nobody did. Maybe I was getting confused with Guy Fawkes and gun powder.
Anyway, I decided that I would be in Puno on 5th November ... just in case, you know, for a date with Manco. Franco, despite my total lack of information or evidence, indulged me and we arrived Saturday afternoon around 4pm.
Dancing in the main square
In the window of the tourist information office was a colourful poster:
“Manco Cápac in the main stadium Sunday 9:30am.”
The well informed lady behind the counter told us:
“Manco Cápac will spend the night at the Uros Islands, travel to Puno on a reed raft and swim to shore, arriving at the port at 8am. From there he will make his way to the stadium.” So much for the emerging out of the waters then!
The next morning, we were at the port at 7:30. It was business as usual, not an inkling that an Inca god was about to materialise.
“Trip to the Uros?” “Overnight stays on the islands.” “Departure imminent to the Uros.” Shouted the touts.
We wandered around a bit and returned at 7:58. Still nothing. At eight on the dot, two policemen on motorbikes arrived and looked around, they didn’t seem too surprised nothing was happening. We went for a coffee and they followed us in.
We made our drinks last, then returned to the port.
“Trip to the Uros?”
“No thanks, but do you know when Manco Cápac will arrive?”
“Around 10am. He’ll land there.” Said the man pointing at a small shingle beach.
Surely he must be wrong. We asked someone else.
“He won’t be here before 11am. You can wait if you like.”
We found a good spot to sit, the ground dropped away guaranteeing a good view. A guy with a hat settled down nearby, he was impatient and kept asking the boatmen when it would all start.
The two policemen returned and hung around. Spectators were trickling in; families, couples with selfie sticks, elderly ladies in their skirts and bowler hats, a few pale skinned tourists. The sunshade and ice-cream sellers were doing good business. Despite the hot sun, the ice-creams never melted, is there such a thing as the opposite of anti-freeze?
The growing crowd
At 10am a platoon of policemen were being briefed. Then a couple of women in suits arrived, they were annoyed that we were all sitting in the way. They were the organisers and decided to organise the increasingly impatient crowd that had been waiting for over an hour. We protested loudly. The police decided to clear a corridor so that Manco and his entourage could pass through. Nobody moved. (Peruvians have no respect for the police.)
The police had to plead to get us to begrudgingly move over. More spectators were arriving and much to everyone’s annoyance the police let them sit in the cleared gap.
Highland Peruvians are very reserved but once established, friendships are solid. Two hours spent shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, being leaned on by kids or holding our neighbours’ sunshades while they poured themselves drinks had made us family.
Still Manco Cápac was nowhere in sight.
Some kind of disturbance was happening on the water. A large ugly Peruvian Coastguard boat was blocking the port, a crew member was taking photos with his phone and a loud hailer was broadcasting an intelligible message. All morning fishing boats had been ferrying paying passengers out to the islands, hoping to catch a glimpse of Manco Cápac and his wife (sister). The Coastguard had suddenly decided to enforce the wearing of lifejackets. Their action seemed to be fairly hazardous in itself and the rabble were shouting at them to back off.
Coastguard boat stopping a small craft
In the distance, we could discern four large yellow reed rafts escorted by a horde of canoes. Slowly they were approaching.
Manco’s flotilla in the distance
The welcoming committee arrived
“Down on your knees!” Shouted the woman behind us at a police officer, she was concerned he would block her view. “Bow down in front of our great leader Manco,” she added, laughing.
Manco Cápac’s boat was now close by, in less than a foot of water. Instead of stepping off boldly and wading to shore, a raft was brought alongside so that he wouldn’t wet his feet. What a sissy Mary.
The royal couple
The royal jump!
“Manco-Manco-Manco-Manco,” the people chanted. “Over here, come over here,” screamed the mob.
He turned towards us and then was gone, engulfed by the expectant crowd. It was 11:30, it had been worth the wait.
Manco looked at me!
The procession to the stadium
Guard of honour
Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo
Feathered dancers in the field opposite our hostel