Oh Just the Incan Empire Capital...

Trip Start Aug 15, 2006
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Friday, October 13, 2006

After a 3 and a half hour flight from Santiago Peru's capital, Lima, our group flew into Cusco, in the east of Peru on Friday. Cusco was once the capital of the Incan empire, and I was extremely impressed with it. It had a distinctly European flair yet maintained its indigenous feel at the same time. Peru was so much more third world than I expected, or at least what I saw of it. Little kids were merchants on the street, always imploring me to buy their wares. They called me "lady" or "madame" or "amiga" and made me feel bad for not buying their handmade finger puppets.

My favorite part of Cusco was touring the beautiful cathedrals in the main square on Sunday. They were erected by the Spanish after they conquered the Incans. I especially enjoyed seeing inside the main Catedral (pronounced Cat-tee-dral) It was massive inside! The multiple altar pieces alone were spectacular. Intricate carvings in cedar wood were overlaid with 22 karat gold or pure silver or a combination of the precious metals. There was a painting I especially enjoyed, an interpretation of DaVinci's "The Last Supper" done by a local Incan artist. However, on the table, there was roast guinea pig (called cuy) and South American fruits and vegetables (instead of the bread and wine in DaVinci's). Another cool aspect of the church was the "black Jesus." A figurine (statute? icon?) of Jesus in one of the chapels had turned black from candle smoke over a 300 year period. Apparently in a bad earthquake in 1630 or so, he was paraded outside and "prevented" the earthquake from being any worse. The people of Cusco do not want to clean/restore him because now he is dubbed "Lord of Earthquakes" and helps the people through them.

On Saturday, we visited the Oyantantambo ruins, the last "standing" Incan city in Peru. We climbed a big terraced structure, which used to house their temples and religious centers. It was a stopping point and resting place for the Incan messenger service. I was impressed by the perfectly cut, granite rocks that fit together flawlessly. The people who built it lugged these massive boulders from a quarry 6 to 7 miles away up a huge mountain. Why? I suppose in the name of religion. Anyway, the terrace system was used for farming into the sides of mountains and was very effective for the Incans. I was amazed (and slightly confused by the location) at the grain storehouses they built way up on the sides of the mountains. they had to save one-third of their crops for paying taxes to the Empire, one-third for the dry season, and one-third for consuming. That is a lot of farming!
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