Awake early again today and yet between showering, tidying the room, beginning to pack for the trek and blog writing I only had 15 minutes for breakfast. Assuming it would be the usual buffet I didn’t think this would be a problem, unfortunately it was not a buffet and the staff were not in the best of sorts. I only wanted a bit of bread and some coffee but you’d think I’d asked for a full English breakfast wrapped in gold leaf and served in the head of her eldest child. 14 minutes later having asked for the 5th time I finally got a cup (the coffee was already on the table) and a basket of bread rolls, just in time to spread some jam on and run out to meet the group for our first tour of the day – as Jorge would say, ‘vamoose!’
Jorge was taking us to Sacsaywaman (if you’re reading it ‘sexy woman’ in the style of Franc from Father of the Bride you’re not wrong!) Inca ruins which stand at the head of Cuzco. In Inca times the city was shaped like a puma, with Sacsaywaman standing at the head; there are even two circular towers which represent the eyes. The town then makes up the body of the puma and the sun temple (where we’re heading later) is quite literally where the testicles would be, representing fertility of the town and people who worship there.
Huge rocks make up the first layer of Sacsaywaman which showed the power and greatness of the Inca people. Some were at least 5 meters high and 2 wide, with around 7 meters buried into the foundations. Many of the rocks were from the local mountain side so had not travelled far, but others were from the quarry we past yesterday and so had travelled around 5km to be there. When they first came upon the city of Cuzco the Spanish thought Sacsaywaman was a fort and made plans to storm it (I learned later it was used as a fort at some point). Since then they have used many of the stones to create the churches and cathedrals of the town below. From the head of Sacsaywaman we could see the giant snow-topped mountain we past yesterday. Jorge told us his people never point at the mountain but always gesture to it with an open palm as a sign of respect.
The Incas were first formed in the 12th century from 2 tribes from separate sides of a huge valley who merged to become a great people. Mancco Capac was the first Inca king but it wasn’t until the 15th century when King Pacha Cuti led them to be the strongest/most successful dynasty in South American history. Pacha Cuti’s son and grandson ruled for over 130 years and it was during this time that the cities and temples we have visited, and those along the trail that we have yet to see were created. The more Jorge tells us the more recent this time seems. I always saw the Incas as similar to the Egyptions and Romans, but when you think that there are houses in the UK which are older than Machu Picchu…I know I have discovered this fact before but it still fascinates me.
There’s a real mix of religion here but Christianity plays a huge part. Apparently when the Pope visited Cuzco and Sacsaywaman in 1985 people travelled from all over South America to see him. Jorge remembers all the people gathering in the large space at the foot of the temple just like they would have done at the height of the Inca Dynasty. But on the flip side the summer solstice in June will see the sacrifice of a black llama. There’s a constellation in the sky in the shape of a llama which appears at this time (apparently it’s in the milky way and also part of the southern cross) so this ceremony is to appease the gods. We’re also really lucky to be here for the festival of Corpus Christi (the body of Christ), Jorge’s favourite festival. But I feel this blog is going to be long enough so I’ll save the explanation of that for next week! There’s a festival here almost every day (because of all the different religions) so it’s not unusual to be woken up by fireworks – as we discovered this morning! I also learned the 4 corners of the Inca symbol I mentioned previously actually represent the 4 corners of the Inca empire, with the hole in the middle as Cuzco – the heart.
From Sacsaywaman we drove up to a view point and our first glimpse at the sacred valley of the Incas with its lush green and winding river coasting through the middle. In the background we could see mountains once again – Jorge is always telling us the heights of things so today we were at 3,800m and the mountain is something like 5,600m…give or take a bit. At our highest point on the trail we will be at 4,200, after Dead Woman pass which I hope doesn’t live up to its name!!! We waved a group off this morning who were all in their 60’s though so there’s a lot of ‘well if they can do it!’ amongst us today.
Now we’re heading back to Cuzco after yet another market filled with items made from baby alpaca and llama wool. We visited a store which was selling scarves and jumpers for $150+ – the one I tried on was $700 and very cruella! Dollars and Soles sound very similar in a strong Peruvian accent and I think many of the group thought 150 was a bargain till Jorge pointed out it was the former, easy to get caught out!! The market however was cheaper and involved bartering which I love. Iain and I came away with some alpaca socks, a tshirt for me and a scarf for him. On our way back to the bus I spotted a painting I liked and on closer inspection realised it had my name on it!! We’d stumbled across Art Gallery Katy – how cool!!! So of course that picture is coming home with us too. It’s a good job I bought a compression sack – am going to need it for all this shopping!
Our final stop of the day was Qoricancha; the temple of the sun (as mentioned earlier). Apparently this temple once held so much gold and silver that it took the Spanish 3 months to melt it down. Jorge spent some time showing us how the great Inca stones slot together using a ‘male and female’ method. When you see how solidly they fit together you can’t help but be impressed. Most sun temples are built facing east so the sun hits the alter at the time of the summer and winter solstices. This temple however was about worshiping the sun god and so was built facing west, making it unique. Every little detail of the temple seems to mean something; from the perfectly aligned windows to the random bits of rock sticking out of the wall which look like shoddy stonemasonry but are in fact a calendar!!!
Jorge left us to our own devices this afternoon and after showing Lindsey how to put her photos on cd (the wonders of modern technology!! The first shop we went to was totally perplexed by a memory cardless camera but the second one got it) we headed to CBC bakery for ‘the best chocolate croissant in Peru’. This bakery teaches street children how to bake, giving them a trade and employment; seemed like a good excuse to eat pastry to me! We sat there for quite a while sharing our top 3 moments of the holiday so far after a coffee which was mua mua caliante (finally). For me the highlights were meeting Rosalinda, seeing the condor (though being spat at by a llama wasn’t so fun!) and meeting Katy today; though this was all about to change!
Having free time this afternoon gave Iain and I an opportunity to have a wonder and explore Cuzco in my favourite way – by getting lost. There’s so much to see here as almost every doorway opens onto a courtyard or Aladdin’s cave; one such entrance enticed us in to an open square with shops around the outside. As I still don’t have a sunhat and the trek is tomorrow we headed into look. Iain spotted a DELIGHTFUL hat which he said would make his day, and probably spur him on the trail were I to wear it. Joker!! I’m trying to think of how best to describe it to you but think this requires a group effort. Here’s what they came up with…
Iain: muppet animal
Lynne: playdough spaghetti
In the middle of our joking an old man came out of the shop and said ‘if you’ll wear it, I’ll buy it!’ Well sir, that sounds like a challenge! 5 minutes later the delight was mine, thank you Mr Boaz!! What a random random day.
We continued to stroll around poking in shops and looking at fake North Face gear until it seemed like a sensible time to visit the pisco museum…which turned out to be more of a bar with a muriel which kind of told the history of the grape, if you could read Spanish. We kind of ish guessed that the grape brandy was created after the Spanish invasion in 1535 and since then has been influenced by the different areas of Peru in which it was made. Either way it’s good! There a loads of varieties you can try, and then once you’ve chosen your base pisco you can choose to have it infused with 1 of about 30 flavours and that’s before you’ve decided what to have it mixed with! Iain and I did the sensible thing and left it to the bar man, meaning I ended up with a fruity strawberry type thing with flower petals on top and Iain had a ginger and mint concoction. Both were scrummy!!
Meanwhile Jorge (Horhey remember!) had delivered our bevvie bags for the trek. Coming back to the hotel it all suddenly seems very real as we’re trying to fit everything we might possibly need for the next 4 days into a small holdall which needs to weigh less than 7kilos; especially when my sleeping bag takes up half of mine!! I made the right choice in leaving the other one at home though as it would have taken up the whole bag. As it is I’ve had to leave my fleece liner and down jacket out – let’s hope I don’t freeze I’m really looking forward to the trek though, especially with our group who are just so much fun. Sometimes they go into self made ‘mam’ mode which is quite funny in itself, but the rest of the time they have my sides aching from laughing so much. I was a little worried about letting the side down and being the last in line all through the trek but I don’t think anyone here would let anyone get left behind and we’ll all be good at raising each others spirits and spurring one another on. Just to think this time tomorrow we’ll be camped on the Inca trail, in the light of the lunar eclipse which was the main reason for booking this trip at this time. From a random conversation in Bali last summer to it being tomorrow…time goes SO fast.
Wish us luck!