If there isn't light when no one sees.....

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jan 20, 2008

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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, September 13, 2007

"On a small world, west of wonder, somwhere, nowhere all, there's a rainbow that will shimmer when the summer falls. If an echo doesn't answer when it hears a certain song, then the beast is free to wander but never is seen around". Thus spake Black Sabbath, those great philosophers, when telling us it was the Sign of the Southern Cross. Personally, I have never noted such phenomena, but possibly I haven't been looking hard enough. See their classic album "Mob Rules" (1982) - the last good album they did before releasing "Dehumanizer" in 1990-something (I could google it to be exact, but where's the fun in that? I could have googled to check that "Part-time Lover" was in fact by Stevie Wonder and not Billy Ocean. Or that "Let's talk about sex" was 1990, not the 80s -although, to be fair, the 90s hadn't begun in earnest back then, and it was more of an 80s sound. But let's not get caught up in mere detail, here). Between those two albums, they released one with Ian Gillan (big mistake), several with second-rate Dio impersonaters singing, and the absolutely appalling "Seventh Star". Which had, for some reason, Glenn Hughes (played bass on Deep Purple's Stormbringer and Burn albums) singing.
Anyway, I digress. The various signs spotted by Black Sabbath may have been noted earlier, by the Incas, for whom the Southern Cross was an important part of their mythology). Do you see what I did, there? Neat segue, or what?
I am, as you can see from the map, the heading, and so on, in Cusco. Inca-tastic. Cusco, of course, was the original capital of what became the Inca Empire. So what is there to see here? Well Cusco is a very pleasant city. Its main square surrounded by Colonial style buildings, as well as an impressive looking cathedral and another, baroque-facaded church, has a large fountain in the middle. Surrounded by mountains, it is also in the vicinity of several Inca ruins of archeological interest, and so, naturally, I took a tour or two around them. Last Wednesday, for example, I visited Coricancha, Sacsayhuamán, Qenko, Puco Pucara and Tambo Machay. All in one day...
Coricancha is now the foundations of the Colonial era Santo Domingo church. An interesting looking building that has been rebuilt several times, owing to the earthquakes that have destroyed large parts of it - indeed the only parts that survived them intact were the remaining Inca-built walls. Very intelligent, you see, the Incas. Althought to forestall the expected criticism, no, they didn't invent the internal combustion engine. And neither was Einstein an Inca (but then he wasn't that good at maths, was he?). But they did have a complex and sophisticated astronomical system, albeit one confused by superstition. But a tendency to ascribe cause and effect where none exists is a problem which still afflicts humans today - having evolved as pattern matching creatures, we tend to ascribe causality where none exists. Hence the popularity of so much pseudo-scientific nonsense. The Incas also built hugely impressive buildings, using a technique of creating stone blocks with protrusions and holes which fitted perfectly into each other - the strength of the meshing indicated by the auperior ability of the buildings to withstand seismic movements than those of the Spanish, which used mortar and so on.
The remaining Inca buildings in Coricancha surround a Colonial courtyard. Temples to gods represented by thunder, rainbows, stars, moon and, of course, the sun - the main Incan deity. There is also an open room containing a table with grooves in it, which may or may not have been used for human sacrifice. Quien sabe? An exhibition of Colonial era religious art provides some interesting examples of assimilation of the local belief system by the Spanish - a painting by a second-generation Christian convert shows Santa Maria with a moon halo and Santo Juan with a sun halo - the incorporation of Inca symbolism into Catholic mythology. The figures also looked distinctly South American, but that is no more unreasonable than their usual depiction as European - as a Palestinian, Jesus would have looked nothing like the traditional paintings, and far more like Yasser Arrafat. Except without the chequered headscarf. More of examples of this can be seen in the Cathedral, apparently. Unfortunately, I have not been in, as, after buying a "Boleto Turistico" for 70 soles, I was told that this doesn't grant entrance to the churches, and I need to buy another ticket. Sod that. What if I want to go in to pray? After all, they seem to be trying to prey on me...
Outside the remains of the Sun Temple, there is the Solar Garden, with the remains of walls. Apparently this once contained gold statues, but these were looted and melted down by the Spanish.
Onwards, to Sacsayhuamán. This is often (see, for example, Lonely Planet) refered to as a fort. In fact, its real purpose was as a temple to the lightning god - hence the zig-zag walls, representing lightning. Its only use as a fort was during a battle with the Spanish. The walls may also represent the teeth of a puma - Cusco was supposedly designed to have the shape of a puma, with Sacsayhuamán as its head. Opposite these walls, terracing used for agriculture is visible - one half of this has been restored, the other half still in its original condition. At the top, the remains of a complicated system of canals and aqueducts is visible.
Thence to Puca Pucara - a small town probably mostly devoted to agriculture. The red tint to it is down to the iron ore in the earth. Tambo Machay was a temple to the water god, with another complicated civil engineering project bringing water down from the hills and showering, in waterfall fashion, over the front of the temple. Finally, Qenko seemed to have some sort of sacrificial nature, with a large slab engraved with channels, dominating the site. Below this, a cave structure houses a stone slab on which nobles were mummified after their death. Probably after their death. If it wasn't, they'd be dead shortly after, anyway.
All of which made for a full day. The following day was spent largely battling with HSBC, who didn't seem to realise that when I told them I was in South America it was so they wouldn't treat withdrawals from South American cash points as suspicious, and not simply so they could try to sell me an upgraded bank account. Having no cards for a while was suitably stressful. Thankfully I got one reactivated.
Friday, I took a trip around the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The valley houses the River Urubamba, and the Inca sites of Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. Pisac has a pleasant enough market selling touristy things - tapestries, coats with llamas on them, t-shirts with Che Guevara and so on. Why has Che become such a t-shirt phenomenon? And why the same photo? He must be better looking than Simon Bolivar, whose legacy seems to have survived with more dignity - statues of him on horseback, looking liberatorial. Anyway, those sorts of things. No hairy pigs or fierce sheep here. Then, on to the ruins. A connected set of dwellings, the first housing the farmers who worked the land here. Then a series of gates - the so called Gates Of The Serpent - to divide this area from that of the priesthood and gentry. Trapezoidal, like all important Inca doorways.
Ollantaymbo was built partly as a fort, to protect the Inca Empire from the occasional incursions of the forest peoples. It was also one of the few places in which the Incas inflicted a military defeat on the Conquistadors. A short lived victory, after which the Incas were forced to retreat, amid in-fighting, to the holding of Vilcabamba. At which point the Sun Temple at Ollantaymbo was destroyed, but whether by the Spanish or the Incas themselves is not known. The streets surrounding this fort are still laid out in the style they have been since the 13th century, and have been continually inhabited since then.
Finally, Chinchero houses a rather pleasant small church, once again built on Inca ruins.
So, what then? Well, Machu Picchu, obviously. And what can we say that hasn't already been said? Well, quite a lot. For instance, I could take a load of random words and string them together, in William Burroughs Naked Lunch fashion. But that would be silly. And I want to write something meaningful. So I could say "amazing". Which doesn't really capture it. Or I could say "breathtaking", which could also apply to the mountain walks around there.
In any event, after a stupidly early train journey, for which I bought a coffee and an overpriced, unappetising sandwich (well, you have to when travelling by train, don't you? It's a tradition, or ancient charter, or something), I arrived at Aguas Calientes, got a hostel, bought a ticket and went up.
Surrounded, once again, by mountains, and built in a humid cloud forest, Machu Picchu really is a fantastic sight. I started walking up Machu Picchu mountain (since the opposite mountain, Huayna Picchu, is only accesible by 400 people a day, and I wasn't one of them). The views are superb, from only part way up. And I only went part way up - after a couple of hours, the forest prevented you from seeing the ruins, and the path grew less pathlike, and more, erm, unpathlike. So, deciding that scrambling over rocks for a few more hours was less fun than visiting the actual ruins, I went back down. Past the Hut of the Caretaker - I expected a man in a brown jacket and peaked cap to come running out, waving a broom, shouting "Bloody kids, get out of it!" But he didn't. Probably because it was the Hut Of The Caretaker Of The Funery Rock. An altogether different role. On to the Inca drawbridge, and then back, down through the terracing to the Royal Dwelling, numerous temples, a remarkably well preserved Intihuatana (with a chip missing, which was knocked out by a crane filming a beer advert - well, if you're going to destroy ancient monuments, you might as well do it for a good purpose...) and on to the "Sacred Stone" at the gates (locked) to Huayna Picchu. Then back the other side. Through the residential and industrial sectors, through the prison blocks, to the Temple of the Condor. About five or six hours. After which I needed some water (I had a bottle, which apparently I wasn't really allowed to take in, but they didn't check) - outside was a stall, selling water for 7 soles. Seven Effin Soles! Monopolies, you see. That is strength. That is power. The strenth and power of monopoly. For what is water, without the company that sells it...? Sorry - I seem to be having a James Earl Jones moment.
Back to Aguas Calientes for the night. A pleasant enough town, large statue of Inca Pachatuc in the main square, used primarily as a pigeon perch, dominates the main square. Why didn't an Inca king call his son Hoots? That would be good. Then he could be Inca Hoots. Although he may not be able to do it alone.
Nonetheless. Aguas Calientes has rather changed in the past few years, it seems. More and more hotels springing up. A street seemingly wholey dedicated to "Pizzaria Restaurantes". I walked the length of it, past seemingly identical restaurant-bars, all doing the same deals on pizza and pisco sour. Where's the USP, boys? Just lots of touts outside, like Brick lane - which gives me a business idea. Why doesn't someone open a curry house? That'd be different, and I'm sure backpackers, fresh from the Inca Trail, would welcome an Alpacca Vindaloo. I ate what I thought was an expensive meal. I'd been used to the Menu Ejectuvio in Cusco, where I could pay 10-15 soles for a three course meal, and eat like a king. Albeit a kning who eats only from set menus. Which is probably a fairly small subset of the set of kings. Nonetheless, I paid 35 soles (approximately $11) for a meal and a beer. Very good, it was too. Hot chilli peppers stuffed with meat and veg. In a soufflé. And a cerveza negra - a dark beer, with a sweet taste, akin to a porter, but with a more lager-like consistency (since the death of Michael Jackson, there's an opening for a beer writer. It should be me). I have to say that Peru has the edge over Ecuador in terms of beer.
See that? Quality travel writing, those paragraphs. Informative, elegant, entertaining. And comments about Black Sabbath, to boot. Got to like that. Everyone loves Black Sabbath. People who don't think that Sabotage is one of the finest albums ever know nothing about music. Shame about the lyrics - meaningless, banal nonsense. For example, "Symptom of the universe": "Take me through the centuries, to supersonic years. Electrifying enemy is drowning in his tears". They might as well have just written down a lot of random words. Maybe they did. Like William Burroughs. It's art, you see. And you can't argue with art.
OK, photos. I'll post them, too. Marvellous. What more do you want? Although, admittedly, not all of them. I'll post the rest in Puno. I wouldn't want to ruin my run of posting photos at the town I visited after they occured....
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