Cuzco

Cuzco was actually split over two free days, either side of the sacred valley tour and the trek, but both are described in this single entry so it’s all together.

Ever since we arrived in Arequipa Peru has grown on me exponentially, I completely love it here now. Cuzco is absolutely lovely and again a place you can see yourself staying for a long time, or living. It’s really weird leaving actually. Combined with the visits to Colca and the trek in between our days in Cuzco I might even go so far to say that Peru has edged ahead of Ecuador…. Shocker!

We arrived in Cuzco late, after a 12hour bus ride from Arequipa, via a town called something similar to Jualita, where the roads are terrible. Apparently this is due to a very bad mayor, who is spending money on a new elevated road way and not on general roads. This is also apparently the place where you get all the fake stuff, the reason we were told is that it is so close to Bolivia. This includes everything from electronics to clothing.
Cuzco is located at an altitude of 3459m. The name actually means belly button in Quechua and it was given this name as it was both the capitol city of the Incan empire and was thought of as the centre of the ‘Pacha mama’ or world as they saw it. The city was the centre of Incan empire, between 12-15AD, for around two centuries, before the Spanish arrived.
The city is also the fifth most populous city in Peru, with around 600k residents. Although around 9milliom Peruvians live in the Andean region of Peru.
It is a stunning city with lots of churches and alleyways to be explored on our free day after we return from the big hike…
Two main rivers flow through the city, the biggest of which is Rio Sipan, which interestingly is actually channelized under the two main roads, Sol and Sipan. Apparently they don’t have issues with flooding unless they have more than three consecutive days of very heavy rain. The city actually has bigger issues with earthquakes, which occur almost monthly, but are fairly low magnitude. Although there have also been a few large damaging ones in the past.
apparently the original city was set out to form the image of a puma… Although I’m not sure I could see this myself… Apparently coca leaves help with this though ;-).
Our first day started out with the usual orientation walk and we happened across some kind of army parade into the main square! They were all chanting loudly, although it seems the women don’t join in. They were actually checked out by senior officials too.
The main square is very beautiful and it’s also where the main cathedral and Jesuit church are located, along with the other historical treasures of KFC and Starbucks. I talk more about this below from my main free day in Cuzco.
I love all the beautiful carved wooden balconies and small cobbled streets… Lots of exploring to do!

Close to the main square is an original Incan wall, with huge interlocking blocks. The keystone actually has 12 sides, which is the largest number of sides seen in Incan construction. In colonial times the wall was built on by a rich family and you can still see their family crest above the doorway.

On the side of the wall by the keystone there is actually a guard to make sure you don’t touch it! He’s all dressed up like an Inca, it’s pretty cool but he does actually tell you off, as I experienced for getting too close!

We wandered around the artisans market which was nice, but filled with pretty much the same stuff you see everywhere else. I love all the bright colours of the stands, but not so much the pushy shop assistants. Courtney got a lovely alpaca jumper and I found a wedding present for my friend who got married at Christmas. There was lots of nice silver jewellery, lots of nice rings especially, however I have big fat man fingers so none fitted me properly, except for on the finger which I already have a ring for. But it doesn’t matter, it just saved me some money :-).

In the afternoon a group of us got a ‘Bolero Turistico’ I.e. a tourist ticket to enter four Incan sites located close to Cuzco.
The first site we visited was also the largest, Saqsayhuamán. The name is said a bit like sexy woman and apparently it means ‘satisfied falcon’, although it is also thought to be a mis-translation of saqsayhuama, which means jagged head.

The site overlooks the city with great views and appears at first to be some kind of fortress, but was actually originally intended as a religious, ceremonial site. There are two large stepped mounds which are built up with walls of huge interlocking blocks.

the key stone here is eleven sided and is connected with the bedrock. They know this as they excavated over five metres down to investigate the structures foundations. The main foundations consist of around six vertical metres of smaller blocks. Such huge foundations indicate a far larger structure was planned, but it was never finished due to the arrival of the Spanish.
The structures are thought to date from the fifteenth century. Organised by same man, Pacha Quetek, who potentially who built other important Incan centres such as Machu Picchu. Pacha Quetek (not spelled correctly I know) translates as ‘earth builder’ and there are thought to have been four man by this name during the Incan period, although the most prolific was alive during the 15th century.
The blocks which make up the large walls came from a quarry nearby and were transported along ramped roads using rolling balls of rocks and ropes. It’s likely they were cut into the blocks using a harder rock, such a haematite hammers and chisels.
It is thought that the almost circular shaped grooves that you can see along the bottom edges of the blocks indicate where they were levered up into position using wooden poles.
Some of the blocks go several metres up though so would be a mean engineered feat. It’s totally amazing construction when you consider the technology available and the largest block is over six metres tall and weighs 126 tonnes!

The structure was originally a religious centre and would have been used for ceremonial purposes. There is a flat, levelled area, between the two mounds with around five metres of fill known to have been placed I order to level it. This space is still used for shows today.
The main mound closest to the cliff edge has great views over the city. I love the views across all the terracotta roofs. The houses here are very Spanish in appearance.
On the top of the mound structure you can still see the stone foundations for three towers. These were built using adobe bricks, two were square and one circular. Unfortunately all the towers were demolished a long time ago. The circular tower is also thought to represent the eye of the puma of Cuzco.
The site is very important in both colonial and Incan history. The local king welcomed the Spanish thinking they were friendly. Soon the Andean properties were taken and redistributed to the Spanish. At this time about ninety Spanish were living and ruling over Cuzco. The king, upon realising the extent of the Spanish plans moved out of the city, up to saqsayhuaman and decided to fight the Spanish.
Over 300k indigenous people from the area gathered and held a long siege, but it was broken when they had to return to the harvest and the Spanish escaped.
This was also the site where a great Incan warrior died. He was hunted by the Spanish as he had damaged the eye of Huan Pizzaro and he hid in the circular tower, almost dying of hunger. In the end he threw himself out of the tower to his death rather than submit to the Spanish.
Over the years a large number of the blocks were removed from this site to be used by the Spanish in construction of their new buildings in the city. The buildings of the Andean nobility, located around the main square, were demolished and new Spanish religious buildings, such as the cathedral, write built over the top.
Nearby to Saqsayhuamán there is a large Jesus statue, which is a copy of the one in Brazil and sits at over six metres in height overlooking the city. It’s lit up at night and looks very nice. It apparently created a ‘perfect’ triangle with the one in Brazil and another one in Bolivia… As any three points can make a triangle I assume this means an equilateral triangle? Although even with my appalling knowledge of geography this doesn’t seem quite right… But again everything here is completely unverified 🙂

View of the statue of Jesus.

It is also said that the stones are energy giving and local people actually pray whit home hand to the rock. You should apparently stand with your hands on the rock for between 3-5minutes to get the most benefit from this energy… Although I’m not sure how they determined this time frame!

As usually there were lots of local ladies trying to sell their handicrafts to you. I was struck by just how fluffy this alpaca is! I love it! Although the handler doesn’t look too happy!

Q’enqo was the second site we visited. It’s essentially a series of large rocks, with a cave underneath. The top of the rock mound is covered in carvings, however these are becoming pretty badly eroded.
On elf the cravings looks like a large bowl and it is connected to a two metre long zig zag, or lightening shaped channel, which splits into two branches at the edge of the mound. Traditionally the bowl was filled with alpaca blood and the shaman would watch to see which direction the blood it flowed in along the channel where it splits. If the blood flowed to the right then it would be a good year, if left then bad!

It was very cold inside the cave areas and this is thought to have been a place of mummification as the shamans could keep bodies fresh for a while there.

Outside the front of the cave is a large rock, which was thought to have been carved as a puma or frog, but which was defaced by the Spanish. Stone inset seats were used for storage of peoples mummified remains. The Spanish stole and held ransom Incan mummies and threatened to burn them unless the indigenous people converted to Catholicism. This was thought to be the worst thing possible as people had no proof of social standing without their mummified ancestors and were considered commoners.
Pukapukara was the third stop, this was both a stone fortress and administrative centre, very important in the Cuzco valley. The nobility used system of coloured strands and beads as administrative tools in place of a written language.
They know the site was a fortress as it has a false entrance on the one side.
There are great views of the valley and across to Cuzco city from here too.
Tambomachay was the final stop and here we saw several water features, where water flows out of interlocking in an walls, as seen as Saqsayhuamán. This place is also guarded by the fortress nearby, they are only a two minute walk from one another.
There are two fountains, water from the right is drunk for fertility and on the left for eternity.
The water here comes from high level lagoons and is filtered by the bedrock and is therefore fairly pure by the time it reaches this location and can be drunk by the locals.
It was nice to see the public spaces being so well used by the locals and loads of families were out playing games of football and volleyball.
On the way back to the city we stopped at nice alpaca factory. We were shown how to determine the different wool types of alpaca, baby alpaca and vicuña. We also got to stroke a vicuña rug, which felt totally amazing. They also had great jewellery but again there is my fat fingers issue.
I loved all the designs on the cardigans, very Kaffe Fasset-esque.
It was also quite amusing that our guide when asking our names asked Jerry is he was named after the fruit…. So now we’re all calling him cherry :-).
Our guide also told us that apparently llamas were first domesticated and then cross bread with vicunas to get alpacas, around 3-5k BC. It was thought that llamas were created by the gods as the friends of humans and that they were created as men and women were together at the same time.
Local indigenous belief is not that there was a great creator who created everything but that here is the Mother Earth, Pacha mama and then that the creator made mankind.
They also believe that upon death you go into the ground and re-join nature with Pacha mama and that you re-enter the world as water.
This is also represented in their three tier system, water, land and sky. These are them further presented by the snake, puma and condor.
The Andean cross is four sided, with each side having three steps. Two of these sides represent the above: water, land and sky then snake, puma and condor. The other two represent more administrative sides of the culture, firstly to family, state and the gods and then to the land, the people and the state. The four points of the cross represent the four regions of the empire and the hole in the centre represents Cuzco, or the belly button, the centre of Pacha mama.
That night we had a really nice dinner in a restaurant where 10% of the bill goes to community projects supported by Intrepid. I really like the fact that the company is focused on assistant with local grass roots movements.
Our second day in Cuzco was after return from the trek and Machu Picchu, therefore everyone was fairly exhausted. We had a free day to do our own thing.
I wandered around the town, I was too early to be allowed into the cathedral, so I visited the Machu Picchu museum. It was a nicely done museum, not too much information. It was also good to put things into context compared to what we saw there and also to see some of the items which were discovered there. I won’t dwell on this though as most of the fact I picked up here are included in my Machu Picchu post.
I had a nice brunch with the girls and had great coffee hurrah! French toast om nom nom… I then did some shopping and picked up a funky pair of shoes.

View of the cathedral in the main square.


In the afternoon I visited the Temple of the Sun with Michelle and we ended up having a really great chat about our religious beliefs. In the same way as the buildings of the main square the temple of e sun was demolished and a catholic temple built in its place. The original Incan wall is still present along the base and partly inside too. Apparently when the Spanish found the temple it contained a huge quantity of silver and gold, which they took and melted down. The chronicles go so far as to say that even in the temple gardens flowers and animal sculptures were made out of precious metals.

I then found an awesome coffee shop to just chill out for a bit. Tomorrow we head off to Lake Titicaca.
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