13:31.19S 71:58.30W Cusco the 11,000 ft high Inca Capital

Wed 27 Apr 2016 00:58

Up hill from our friendly hotel we found the main square, Plaza de Armas, a comfy walk away in bright sunshine in this city of a half million people. The open sunny square was filled with lovely flower beds, a central statue and fountains, many happy relaxed people all surrounded and watched over by the Andes. The buildings around the square were hispanic in style. Pedestrians could walk in the shade underneath the first floor and look onto the square through arches. Wooden balconies, richly carved, protruded infront of the first floor (Galician style) and it was in one of these that we esconsed ourselves, backs against the wall and feet on the wooden base of the balustrade for a little beer supping and people watching.

Through this essential bit of research we noticed many were in traditional dress of bright colours, thick full knee length skirts and bright tops, with different style shapely hats depending on which department of Peru they came from. They seemed to be gathering for some event so we went exploring.

A parade was coming down a road called Plateros into the Plaza, dancing was energetic in the hot sun but progress was slow so we had plenty of time to absorb the scene.

A little girl grabbed my camera, fortunately still looped around my wrist, otherwise I think it would have smashed on the road. I showed her the photo I had taken of her with her mom so she decided to get her own back and clicked away a few random pics of Rob and me and in the process found screens on the camera I had not seen before. After a while her mother said a few assertive words in Quechua and her interest went back to the parade.

The next day, in equally fine weather we were taken on a tour by Gladys, a well spoken and engaging lady who would draw us close and away from any sound distraction so she did not have to raise her voice. At Sacsayhuaman we learned great battles had been fought between the Incas and Spanish from the fine Inca fortress. The stones laid not necessarily in straight lines but without mortar or a gap wide enough for a human hair. Inside the limestone blocks a system of nodes and recesses locked into eachother for strength and walls were sloped and doorways trapezoid in shape to prevent earthquake damage.

The vast central area was for military activities and in the temple the sun was worshipped by his son the Inca and all his people.

The incas loved threes and their deities were in threes. The condor, the anaconda and the puma being one and thunder, electricity and lightening bolts was another. The original town was developed in the shape of a puma and at the sacred sight of Tambo Machay the three springs of water were channeled over dressed stone as a place of worship as water was essential to them.

The inca empire extended north almost as far as Bahia, south into Chile and from the coast across the Andes and into the Amazonian jungle. To move goods from these areas to other areas runners were used who knew their area and would meet the next runner at the foot of the Andes since the demands of the terrain were best undertaken by a local runner. Many rest areas or puca pucaras were established so they could recover. Now these areas are used by families for recreation and picnics and we saw plenty enjoying themselves.

Our last stop was at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in town. It was built over an Inca Temple reduced to ruins by the Spanish. The difference in quality of the stonework reflected the time and skilled care taken by the Incas compared to the rush job of the interlopers.

In the evening we had a chica pizza, the smallest, with a bowl of soup with cheese while a talented group played typical Andean music on panpipes, guitar and drums. The restaurant was rustic beyond rustic, a real old adobe terraced room with a pizza oven at the front and kitchen at the back. Walls adorned with farming implements, flat irons and old radiograms and record players, just like in rural England.

25th April Machu Picchu minus two!

Our full day excursion the next day started with a bang, literally. Just half an hour out onto the road to Chincheros village through the Sacred Valley and approaching a bend `Bang!` a red car sped around the bend overtaking a bus and collided with our offside. Fortunately it was a right bend, a left one and we may have not been able to pull up before meeting the edge of the road. As it was we were tucked half off the road against a protective hillside.

The police arrived, followed by a replacement van and off we went again unscathed. Our tour company in the UK and the agents out here both contacted us to see we were ok.

At Chincheros village we admired the wide agricultural terraces of the Incas which we could see in some places extended right to the top of the mountains and then had the pleasure of being entertained in a ladies workshop where the entire process of washing and dyeing, spinning and weaving wool into a vast colourful array of items took place. Guinea pigs (cuy) are kept by the fire in a run in readiness for the pot. Sorry to the sensitive amongst you but I did keep it short.

There is a beautiful plateau nearby covered in a patchwork quilt of different coloured fields which have just been bought by the government as the site has been designated for the new airport. Gladys explained that the present airport was built on what was once agricultural land and is now surrounded by buildings and modern Cusco. We wondered how much of the work would be given to the locals and just how much such a major activity will threaten the traditional way of life.

There is a living Inca Town called Ollantaytambo which is close to the railway station from which folk can take the train to Machu Picchu up one valley. There are two other valley entrances here so it was a major strategic point for the Incas. We SLOWLY scaled the precise and tidy terraces to the incomplete sun temple at the top. This is as far as the Spanish reached before they were led away down one of the other valleys and so never discovered MP. Standing, gasping at the top we could see the grain stores much higher than us and clinging on to the mountain side, where the cool, dry atmosphere would preserve the grain for many years .

On another hillside the quarry they used was still visible and the final ramp up to the temple floor was at our feet. The massive blocks of stone were moved using ramps and on tree trunk rollers pulled using rope made from alpaca hide. Incredible. On the way down my hat decided to take flight and I was just about to gatevault up onto the shoulder high terrace to retrieve it when not only a tourist but a guide volunteered to save me the bother. It pays to be old sometimes.

Along the final part of our journey we drove parallel with the brown and fast moving Urubamba River which also flows into the Amazon. Then we stopped at a beautiful hotel where the emphasis was on an outdoor life. Amidst lush gardens full of flowers, there were even flowers in the fountains! Guests lounged on the garden terraces in plump easy chairs readin papers and drinking. Around the back was a vast covered dining area with a buffet laid along three sides on tables and a family of llama nonchalently grazing. That is until a young lady tried to sneak up on the baby for a pat and photo. 

Well he was having none of it, he didn`t like having his lunchtime drink interrupted, so he started chasing her and butting whatever part he could reach as she beat a hasty retreat, while screaming quite unnecessarily. Very funny.

That evening I could not resist trying the Urubamba River trout and very tasty it was too. Rob had alpaca "Just like beef" and the couple next door received a dish of cuy (guinea pig) which looked as if it had strayed into the kitchen only to get a roasting while trying to run away. The young lady was busy taking pics while her poor sensitive, small furry animal loving boyfriend looked as if he could either throw up or faint, or both. The dish was returned to the kitchen untouched.

Today, 26th April, MP day minus 1. Update on the tummy situation, Rob is back on the tablets and I`m staying on them at least until MP is conquered, such confidence!

At the Museo of the Qoricancha site, which we visited the day before yesterday with Gladys, we learned that the Incas were talented surgeons and 65% of brain operations were successful. Some of the skulls we saw showed considerable re-growth around the holes. We were also pleased to see that over the past few weeks we have tasted many of the historical and present day foods.

The Museo Historico Regional, in the home of half Inca half Spanish Garcilaso de la Vega Gomez Suarez de Figueroa (phew) starts with a salutary warning about climate change and our part in it. They warned of the terminal effect of over exploitation of natural resources, pollution, deforestation and destruction of ecosystems. We see this awareness in many of the places we visit and on the news all the time.

It is a beautiful house, bigger but not untypical of the colonial Spanish homes with their open air courtyard surrounded by a gallery above a lower corridor. I tiptoed through one room so as not to wake the attendant.

Remember the deity of the puma etc? Well the word for Puma comes from the Peruvian Quechua word pumayna meaning powerful as a lion and its image is used through their artwork.

Metals were of religious, military and domestic importance, not monetary. They must have cried when the Spanish melted down 580,000 pesos of good gold into 215,000 marks using solid gold objects of the finest quality and greatest religious importance. 12 perfect, life-size figures of women cast in solid gold and dressed in fine clothes were not only worshipped but spoken to as if they were living friends. Well they went back to the Spanish coffers.

Remember also the legend of St James, patron saint of Spain and buried at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia? Well he had a terrible temper didn`t he, which antagonised Herod who had him beheaded for it. Well as far as the Incas were concerned he was the perfect human incarnation of thunder in their thunder/electricity/lightening bolt trilogy, so they adopted him. Trouble was he was also very important to the Spanish and as the latter was set on destroying the former they couldn`t both have him.

At one battle he is said to have intervened amongst the troops of Francis Pizarro and spurred them to victory and at another battle St James appeared (possibly represented by a spaniard on a white horse festooned with decorations) to the inca soldiers and frightened them to the degree they all fled and escaped the Spanish.

In that fascinating museum I also learned that the chica beer we had drunk with the Kitchwa natives in Ecuador was invented by the Incas and Pisco, a wine made from the Quebranta grape and is utterly yummy when made into pisco sour, a bit like mojito, actually came from the Canaries in the 16th century.

Contrary to my thinking that the Inca empire ended in 1535, a rebellion against the Spanish started in 1780 when the Chief Justice was murdered and the inca Tupaq Amaru planned a siege of the Spanish in Cusco, a spy betrayed him and he was executed with his wife and family and warleaders in the main square, Plaza de Armas. Now known as the Square of Tears.

The martyrdom of course fuelled the rebellion which spread throughout South America and called for the final expulsion of the Spanish. They also called for the restoration of the Inca Empire with the descendants of the aristocracy its leaders and a complete overhaul of the economic structure. The new institution called for the abolition of `mita`, compulsory work, elimination of large farms, returning them to family units as they are today and the abolition of custom and land taxes and the introduction of free trade. All sounds familiar doesn`it!

After another forty years of Spanish aggression Inca Tupac Amaru proclaimed national independancies and Spanish rule finally ended.

Well what has happened since then I am not sure but I know a man who knows, our MP guide and some time over the next four days of walking I will ask him.

Watch this space!