All Aboard the Inka Express!

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

We decided to splurge a little and take a tourist bus from La Paz to Cusco through a wonderful company called Inka Express ( to break up the drive a little and offer us some background on the Inca culture before our journey to Machu Picchu. Thankfully, we lucked out with a good group and even better guide named Hugo. We learned a lot from this journey, so we thought we'd share some tid bits with you.

Our first stop was in the town of Pukara. It was here that we learned about the Pre-Incan culture, which lasted from about 400 B.C. to 400 A.D., after which the Incas took over. The people of Pukara were known for their clay pottery and the Toritos de Pukara (or little bulls of Pukara).

Clay pots from Pukara. For the Quechua in Peru, just as it is with most cultures, the colcha, or the kitchen in quechua, is the most important room in the house. That is why the pots that the Pukara make are so valuable to the rest of Peru. Note also that in Peru there is little wood so most campasinos use dried cow manure to fuel the stoves.

People place the Toritos de Pukara on the roofs of their houses for good luck. What's strange about these cute ceramic symbols is that bulls are not indiginous to Peru.

Pukara is special in that it is the only town and group of people that adopted both the Quechua and Aymara traditions, bringing together both sides of the Andes.

This church (we couldn't help but notice the huge rock wall behind it!) was erected by Spanish conquistadors from the Pizarro era in the 1500's, but wasn't finished by the time San Martìn declared victory and independence over the Spanish. The people of Pukara never completed the building of the church as a symbol to the Spanish that conquered this area that while they believe in Catholicism, they didn't agree with the conquistadors' violence.

We next stopped briefly near the town of La Raya. Raya means line, and this town sits on the line between Puno and Cusco departments. La Raya is also where the Apu Chimbuya (apu means sacred mountain) lies. This mountain towers at about 5600 meters (18,372 feet) tall and its glacier is the source of the one of two main water sources in Cusco. This same river continues on to the Amazon, making it the longest tributary to the Amazon. It is also the source for Rio Ramis, the largest tributary for Lake Titicaca in Puno.  Leading up to this peak on the Puno department you have the high plains, where the main economic source is livestock. On the other side of the peak, the Cusco side, you have the Cusco valley, where agriculture predominates.

Unfortunately, the clouds obstructed our view of this massive peak, but you can look at Blaine, the finger puppet, and imagine it instead.

Ben keeping Lindsey entertained on the bus

Next we traveled to Sicuani. While there wasn't much to learn from regarding history here, we did get to see some llama and cuy, or guinnea pig, a delicacy in Peru. There are four cammeloid species in Peru: llama, alpaca, vicuña, and guanaco. The first two are domestic while the latter two are wild. The main thing that tells the llama from the alpaca is its size. Also, the llama have tails that are always pointed upward and curled down at the end whereas the alpaca's tails are downwards like deer.

Baby llama. Lindsey can't get enough of the baby llama.

Ben teaching the young llama a few lessons. The llama's only 25 days old; can't he get a break?

Ben feeding a llama some alphalpha. did Blaine get in there?!

Ben playing in the clay pot and cuy room (you can see one of the cuy, but the other thirty or so are hiding under the benches)

Lindsey wearing a llama fur hat (Sorry, Jon and Sara, I didn't have room in my pack to buy it so unless we can find another one in the states, there will be no borrowing this hat!). To clean the llama and alpaca fur (alpaca is finer and thus softer than llama), all they do is sheer the llama, wash the fur in water only, let it dry in the sun, then repeat with a second wash and dry. No harsh chemicals!

Our next stop was at Raqchi to the temple of Wiracocha. Wiracocha (sometimes written as Huiracocha, or in Quechua, it's Wiraqucha) was the eighth Inca king. His real name was Hatun Tupaq (no relation to Tupac Shakur), but he was named after the god, Virachocha, after having visions of the god.

Historians and archeologists know this site was a temple because of the Chacana, or the Andean cross, built into the walls.

These walls, once ten feet higher than today, have been restored and contain faint markings of the Andean cross.

These ruins had walls built around the perimiter to protect the storage silos. In these silos, they stored corn, wheat, potatoes, dried meat, and other foods to help the civilization survive during poor conditions.

Ben showing us into one of the silos

Our last stop was in the town of Andahuaylillas. This town is famous for its church that is called the Sistine Chapel of America due to the quality of its paintings.

Outter of the church. Unfortunately, they didn't allow us to take photos inside the church, which was both fascinating and beautiful!

Inside the church, the alter was made entirely of 24-karat gold and silver. The silver was brought over from the Potosí mines. Embedded within the alter were mirrors. These mirrors served two purposes. One to illuminate the church better by reflecting the sunlight. The other was believed to represent water because during this time period, the only other time campesinos saw their reflection was in the water.

There were huge paintings on the walls in the church. The initial paintings were from the Quechua, or Incan people, which were covered up by paintings from the Spanish. The Spanish paintings, both in this church and other famous churches like the one in Cusco, convey a level of intermixing of the Inca and Spanish conquistador cultures. For example, there was the coca plant in the bottom corner of one painting, which only exists in South America. There is also a famous painting of the Last Supper, in which the main course on the table was cuy, guinnea pig. These paintings made the Quechua tolerate the churches because they brought a bit of their culture to the scene, almost in a mocking way.

Behind the doors of the entrance to the church, there were two large paintings of particular note. They represent the election the man takes to go by the path to hell or the path of glory leading to heaven. They were used to educate the campesinos. In one, the path to heaven is covered with thorns, indicating that it is not an easy path to take. The man is poor because he gave all his money to the church, which is why the churches around the area were decorated in so much gold and silver. Pulling at the man's back is a string, which leads to the second painting, the way to hell. In this painting, the devil holds the other end of the string, indicating that there will always be temptations pulling you to lead a life sin. This path is lined with rose petals, indicating that it is an easier path to take. Here the man is dressed well and has clearly has money as he walks to the gates of hell. Quite a story!

We arrived in Cusco later that day to stay with a family on Couch Surfing. More to come on that.

As usual, here's a link to the rest of the photos from this experience on Flickr:

Enjoy and be looking forward to our Cusco and Machu Pichu trip next!
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drjillo on

Lovin' every llama minute of it
Good to see finger Blaine mingling with the local flora & fauna. Lindsey, you look like a Icelandic supermodel in that hat; what an AMAZING fashion accessory! Who needs a wedding veil when you're sporting a llama fur headpiece?! Ben: Go back & buy it for your lovely fiance! DO IT!

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