El boleto turistico

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

El boleto turistico is a magical, slightly expensive ticket that gets you into 16 points of interest in and around Cuzco.  Half are museums and half are archaeological sites (Inca ruins).  It just so happens that four of those sites are one after the other on the same road up to 8 km out of Cuzco.  Now that's walkable.  So we walked.

The guidebook recommended that we take a public bus from town up to the farthest site and then walk your way down.  This is a good idea, and this particular morning we had no trouble finding the bus running toward Pisac.  (We had a couple trekking friends who started at the bottom and walked up and took the bus back, but that sounded much more challenging.)  Team bus even told we the gringos where to get off.  It's nice when everyone on the bus decides to help you.  Then you don't end up in the middle of the desert.

As we stepped off the bus only 8 km out of Cuzco we were awed by the surrounding beauty of the countryside.  It's not even technically in the Sacred Valley.  I think you just can't help loving the landscape of Peru.  And we weren't even facing the ruin we were trying to get to. 

Tambomachay is an Inca ceremonial bath made of beautiful Inca stonework (stone on stone without mortar because it was a sacred place) tucked in between two mini-mountains.  The fountains of the bath have never stopped running, even in times of drought.  Supposedly there's a spring inside the mountain, but there's absolutely no way to see it.  It is believed that the site was used by the cult of water-worshiping Inca, and, considering that water is the representation of life in this world, it is not improbable.  This particular water is thought to bring youth and fertility to those who wash with it.  It was rather fun to watch all the middle-aged tourists get their faces wet, because, you know, the locals can drink the water, but it's not recommended for the tourists.  We decided we didn't need the extra help. 

It's not large, but we couldn't help but be impressed by the Inca use of aqueducts and perfect stonemasonry.  They even used the mountain and built around it, so parts of the bath walls are actually original mountian outcroppings.  Absolutely lovely and wonderous. 

Pretty much across the street is Puka Pukara, which means "red fort."  Sitting atop a sort of strategic bluff, the site was ideal for watching the roads into and out of Cuzco.  Pretty much all Inca buildings are strategic.  Puka Pukara was probably also used as a stopping point for travellers.  The build is more rustic, with roughly hewn stones and mortar of mud holding the entire thing together.  But considering that the thing has been around for around at least 600 years and the Spanish had a go at it, it's holding up pretty well.  Travis had a grand time clambering all over the place.  He thought he might get stuck on a stone wall that started with stairs but ended with a wall of rock, but he hopped down alright.  I sat in cockleburs. 

There's a small town next to these sites, so there are zillions of women and men selling all kinds of handicrafts.  You can buy wall hangings or whistles or sweaters.  Or nearly anything else.  Also, because of the wide expanse of countryside, from higher points you can see herds of sheep and llamas grazing sedately while tourist buses zoom noisily by.

Then we started walking.  I was very glad it was downhill, but I didn't have my hat and it was sunny and the morning had been chilly so I was wearing long sleeves, so it was a rather hot walk.  There were some houses along the beginning part of the walk, but soon we progressed into the country and had a glimpse into the farming lives in Peru.  Fences are not so common, so people actually go out with their animals and sit in the grass while they graze the day away.  It all seems old-fashioned, but it's not.  It's just the way life here works.  I was particularly delighted by a group of five piglets that were crossing the road.  If I could have caught one I totally would have, but they're quick little squirts.  Because it's spring down here there are all kinds of baby animals, and the people take advantage of people like me, who can't resist cuddling a little baby.  (See me and the teeny tiny lamb.)

Maybe halfway through the walk there was a sign that said Saqsaywaman, and we were a little confused, cause that's supposed to be the last site.  Turns out that on either side of the road at that signpoint there are two other sites not included on the ticket.  We didn't explore, but they may have been nothing or small and free or just not included with the boleto.  It's a mystery.  We had an agenda. 

The walk to Q'enqo was actually shorter than I expected, but that isn't to say that it was short.  We ended up at the exit, but apparently that only matters for buses.  We just walked down the hill till we saw a big rock.  Q'enqo means "zigzag," but this isn't an entirely accurate name.  The giant rock is almost more like a bunch of rocks, but there are niches and lines and holes and steps everywhere.  Our guidebook said that if you climbed on top of the boulder (no idea where exactly that was, because, as I said, there wasn't just one piece) you could see a flat surface used for ceremonies and etchings of animals.  We technically weren't allowed to go on top-top, but Travis really wanted to, which made me want to, then Travis wouldn't break the rules, so I did it by myself.  And I understood why it was roped off.  Even though there were cool flat surfaces (note the plural), there was mostly nothing exciting and lots of treacherous holes. 

The main pieces of rock make a sort of cave, and inside the cave there are two big stone altars carved into the rock.  Travis eavesdropped on a school group and learned that these were used for animal sacrifices (not human).  It was a really spiffy tunnel, but there were so many school children running around that lingering was not an option.  Why do they all take a field trip on the same day? 

Part of the site was also a stone-on-stone amphitheater, so it must have been an important site for whatever rituals the Incas performed there.  Also there was a giant pointy stone set upon a platform.  Why it was there we do not know.  I think it might be wise to take a guide along when you see these places, but not a bus tour.  There were a lot of those and they were just big and loud and they make it impossible to take a decent photo. 

After another relaxing 2 km walk (by this point I had bought a hat - it was a good choice), we arrived at Saqsaywaman.  Yes, it is pronounced almost exactly like "sexy woman," and when you know that you can't get it out of your head.  Really, the name means "satisfied falcon" and the site was meant to represent the head of the puma that was the Inca capital of Cuzco.  Why a bird is a puma head I do not understand, even after I asked about it. 

Let me start over.  The three sacred Inca animals were the condor, the puma, and the snake.  They represented the heavens, the earth, and the underworld, respectively.  Thus, since Cuzco was the capital of the Inca world, it was built in the shape of the puma, with the fortress-holy site of Saqsaywaman as the head.  There are squares on top of the structure that represent the ears, but the most awesome, spiffy, fun thing is that the zigzag of the fortress represents the puma's teeth.  Puma's got some serious chompers.  Even more amazing is that we only see 20% of the site because, as usual, the Spanish got to it and took apart what they could to build houses for themselves in Cuzco.  Of the four sites on the road, this one is most definitely the largest, and possibly the most impressive.  The stones that were used to build this thing are enormous.  One of our friends from Puno tried to convince his group that the Inca moved the stones using their minds, because the thought of a person or group of people moving such massive blocks of granite is rather outside the abilities of the imagination. 

In 1536 this site saw a terrible, horrible battle in which the Spanish obliterated their Inca competition.  The scores of dead littering the site attracted scores of condors.  Ergo, there are now 8 condors in Cuzco's coat of arms.  When I was climbing on the fortifications I couldn't help thinking about the battle and how it would have gone.  I couldn't see how it would have gone well because the fortifications were so low, but then I remembered that most of the stones had been torn down.  Really, it must have been a spectacular fortress, and from the top you can see all of Cuzco, so its strategic location is unquestionable.  The Inca just couldn't stand up to the Spanish. 

Also, if you get a guide to show you around the site you can see the animals carved into the stones and the caves on the side of the fortress opposite the puma teeth.  We only climbed on top of this part so we could have a pretty view.  It was really a long day.  Next time I think we'll get a guide. 

The stone path directly from Saqsaywaman into central Cuzco was super easy to find and we enjoyed a pleasant walk, complete with waterfalls, back into town. 

The day wasn't terribly exciting, but we both had a great time walking around, seeing the sites and the countryside.  And we even got back into town the same way that the Incas did.  Neat. 

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