If there isn't light when no one sees.....
Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
45Trip End Jan 20, 2008
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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....