Peru VII-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas          

Wednesday, December 13, 2016

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Cusco & The Sacred Valley

Leaving Puno early in the morning, we had another long drive ahead of us. I should say that all our transportation was included during our travels in Peru. We rode in comfort in large tourist buses or in large tourist vans. All were comfortable, and with large windows we had unobstructed views. On the larger buses on the long hauls we had meals and beverages and (in the case of the 10 hour trip from Nasca to Arequipa, we also had onboard movies to watch). On that drive I think I watched 3 movies.

So, the drive from Puno to Cusco was also a long trip, but broken up with several stops along the way. Not far out of Puno we stopped in Pukara where an old church sat along the town square and nearby was a small museum that offered us a closer look of the Inca and much earlier histories to 11,000 years BC when the first civilizations existed in Peru. 

This little village boasted a large number of ceramic type bulls that adorned roof tops and pillars around the church. My understanding is that these were introduced by the Spanish and, in a way, idolized thereafter (perhaps from bullfights imported from Spain)? The presence of these miniature bulls on rooftops is a sign of good luck and prosperity for the homes. Thereafter we did notice the bulls (or crosses) attached to many home’s roofs.

As the day progressed we were treated to some of our first sites of Inca and pre-Inca buildings, temples, terraces, stonework, storage silos and Colonial Catholic Churches. 

What we were about to witness was amazing. 

The museum there in Pukara began opening up the pages of history for us with stone statues and other items on display that helped explain about the Inca beliefs, religion, culture and traditions. But, as I earlier relayed, we were presented with information that preceded the Inca Empire as far back as 11,000 BC! Even in the before Christ it was shown how quickly the civilizations advanced before the Inca influence. Century upon century, civilization upon civilization, each built upon the former achievements and advanced far more than I had imagined.

It was not only the buildings and tightly hewn and fitted stone work, but the irrigation systems, the terraces upon steep hillsides and understanding that at different levels certain crops grew best. And that the lowly potato originated in Peru. In fact, the Incas cultivated more than 4000 varieties of potatoes. That is incredible!

While this museum held many treasures and so much knowledge, our group had a long day and trip ahead, so an overview was all we were allowed in Pukara. But other incredibly impressive discoveries were yet ahead for us to experience.

As we continued on our upward ascent into the Andes Mountains, we reached 14,222 ft. at our highest point. Snow capped mountains spread out beyond wide valleys, picturesque towns whizzed by, and all along the way could be seen terracing upon the hills and mountainsides. The highest terraces, they believe, pre-date the time of the Incas. At several stops along the way, we could get off the bus and use the facilities and/or purchase more of the colorful items for sale. 

After another delicious lunch buffet and some time to rest, we continued on to Raqchi, an Inca site that really impressed me. What we were introduced to were the ruins of an Inca temple to the god Wiracocha that was mostly destroyed with only the central wall remaining. At the time of the Spanish conquest, this temple and the surrounding grounds were very active. 

A re-created picture of how this temple appeared before the Spanish interference and looting of the gold and silver shows how elaborate and precise the builders were. The grounds here abound in other buildings, living areas and rubble that once were buildings including numerous round stone storage silos. The Inca knew to store food and seeds for when hard times might befall them, whether that be droughts, wars or other calamities that could prevent bountiful harvests. They had perfected drying foods, including meats and were able to have these stores of foods available to their people when and if needed. All around were fields still planted and suppling food. Also present were the irrigation channels, that were so skillfully constructed to maintain their crops and for their personal use. In all these buildings, storage silos, fields, terraces, irrigation system, one has to marvel at the manpower, dedication, hard work, and accuracy required to build up such a society - all without use of mechanical means as we understand them.

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As we continued to Cusco, we passed through part of the Sacred Valley abundant with fertile crops, corn, potatoes, quinoa, other vegetables and grains, grown much as they have been for many centuries. Larger fields were using tractors but smaller plots were still being cultivated by hand, again much as they have done for over a thousand years. 

Our last stop before Cusco was to visit a the little Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in the small village of Andahuaylillas. Approaching the church through narrow streets, large and smaller tour buses arriving in masses, one would never expect to find what we were soon to see. 

From the outside this small church appeared as another quaint colonial style church, but it was much more. This is the description in the guide pamphlet: “little church named America’s Sistine Chapel, it shows an ostentatious decoration all of an incalculable value.” No photos were allowed. 

As we entered, beyond the doors the scene left me nearly awestruck. The walls and ceiling were lined in gold! Highly decorated, gleaming even in the dim light, and upon which were paintings depicting Christian saints and other religious scenes. The tour groups learned more about the paintings and other artwork in addition to the gold covered walls. Obviously, as you probably already surmised, the gold was pilfered from the Incas and “repurposed” for this church. It amazes me that this has survived for over 6 centuries and is preserved in this small otherwise non-descript village as a tourist destination. 

Outside on the cobblestone streets, vendors were busy selling the usual colorful Peruvian clothing and souvenirs as tour buses came and went with tourists. 

Our bus soon departed, the driver maneuvering through the narrow streets back onto the highway and then on to Cusco where our next guide, Julio, picked us up at the bus station, then taking us to our next hotel, Siete Vendanas (translation: 7 Windows). The location of the hotel was in the middle of the historic old town and near their Plaza de Armas.

This was a very, very busy location, traffic unbelievably thick, but somehow, as we saw all around Peru, the drivers and pedestrians managed to keep moving, though it would appear accidents were imminent at any moment. Our arrival in Cusco coincided with the soccer cup playoffs and Peru’s team playing that night. Walking several blocks to the Plaza de Armas we first saw the huge Catholic cathedral overlooking the park, another large church on another side and portico lined buildings surrounding all the other sides. On the plaza a huge crowd was cheering on the Peruvian soccer team as they watched the game on a large screen. We opted to escape the crowds and find a place to have dinner, which happened to be a sports bar on a side street. There a young American man, now living and working in Cusco, invited us to sit with him. We chatted with him and watched the soccer game, though I admit, I know very little about the game. However, in the atmosphere of enthusiastic fans, it was natural to feel the excitement and watch with anticipation along with all the other patrons in the restaurant.

We had covered a lot of territory this day and a good nights sleep was beckoning us before the next day’s dawning would reward us with even more wonderful and amazing discoveries of the ancient Incan culture.

Below are scenes from Raqchi, the temple complex and several of the storage silos.

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u © Donald E. Kline 2012