Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Thu 16 Oct 2014 17:11
The 4 hour journey from Aguas Calientes to Cuzco took us back up in altitude by over 1000 metres.  And our B&B was on a street with no car access - so we had to climb 54 steps with our luggage in the dark!  We arrived breathless from the lack of oxygen but the hillside house where we stayed was special both for the views and great hospitality.

The steps didn't look bad in the morning, without baggage

Rested, and after a sumptious breakfast sitting on a sunny terrace overlooking the city, we were ready for some more sight-seeing.  The walk down from San Blas through the narrow streets to the main square is enchanting on a bright morning.  Colonial archictecture dominates but the signs of Inca engineering are everywhere.  The main square is spendid, though with too much traffic to be really magnificent.

A typical Cuzco alley, except for being step-free

Part of Plaza de Armas - the main square

Of course there's a cathedral

Everywhere you dig a hole there's more Inca stonework

Keen to learn more about the Incas we visited the Qorikancha, an temple that was handed on to the Dominicans after the conquistadores had done their worst.  Fortunately a recent earthquake exposed much of what remains of the temple after it was looted and built over.  Here one can see some of the most exquisitely carved and aligned Inca stonework.  We also saw examples of stones showing the slots on the inner sides - precisely carved to provide earthquake resistence.

Qoricancha - originally the most important Inca temple, but the conquistadores just built around and over it

Inside, the Dominicans made it their own

But some fine Inca masonry survives, the quality surpassing anything at Machu Picchu and elsewhere

In damaged areas one can see that the fine jointing extends well beyond the face

Interlocks were formed within the masonry, to provide evidently successful earthquake resistance

After a brief visit to the underground Qorikancha site museum - which was not at all impressive - we slowly made our way back to the main square and into the nearby Inka Museum - which was far better and actually covers a much wider timespan than just the Incas, complementing what we'd seen in the Museum of Archaelogy, etc. in Lima.  By the end of the day we were exhausted, still adjusting to the altitude.

The Inka Museum (Inka with a k because that's how it is in Qechua)

The next day was a Sunday so we for an out of town adventure.  Cuzco having been the Inca capital there are plenty of archeological sites within easy reach.  And, it's easy to hire a taxi for a few hours to go round them.  Our driver kept the best to last, starting at Tambomachay where the Incas built structures to channel spring water, creating fountains, in a peaceful rural setting that is pleasant to walk around.  The Incan hydraulics engineers' had an easy task, with all these hills, but failed to achieve the sophistication the Romans had managed a millenium or so earlier.

At Tambomachay

More impressive is the nearby fortress-like structure called Pukapukara, in a strategic position with lovely views of the Cuzco valley.  However, we were not at all sure what to make of Q'enqo, where a large rock on a hillside overlooking Cuzco has been channelled and carved, showing signs of religious and ceremonial functions.

Pukapukara has a prime location and some rougher Incan walls

At Q'engo the (presumably senior) people took their mummified ancestors to pray in this cave

Finally we reached the massive ruins of Sacsaywaman.  Apparently only about 20% of the original structure remains.  Since the conquistadors took over many of the structures have been torn down, the stone blocks being carted away by builders.  Only recently has this been halted, but the site remains impressive.  Wandering around, admiring the remaining walls made of massive stones it's easy to imagine what an incredible place it must have been.

Paul inspecting the masonry at Sacsaywaman

Amidst the ruins a festival was in full swing - there was a competition going on

I don't know if these modern Incas on the ropeway should have weapons or if they just stare each other out

It was raining when we returned to San Blas later in the day.  Very quickly our 54 steps turned into a rushing torrent of water and debris.  We managed to pick our way through it - finding stepping stones here and there - and returned to our B&B with wet shoes and clothing, glad it had been fine on the night we arrived with all our luggage!