Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Just a quick post to keep you updated!! Josh and I spent four amazing days in Cusco (except for the fevery afternoon he spent in bed). With our student discounted tourist ticket we saw many ruins to make up for our absense at Machupichu and even hired guides at two sights so that the beautiful ruins could be more than just a pile of rocks or what is sometimes a blown up pile of rocks. We learned that the Spanish suck for destroying so many amazing architectural feats, but even what remains is a beautiful and impressive reminder oh how incredibly advanced the Incan empire had become in such a short time without even the help of the wheel. Their most impressive monuments were built with stones quarried from 4 to 5 k away brought by men pulling the stones over logs. The heaviest stone we saw was at Saqsayhuaman was pulled from 5 k away and weighs 125 tons. In the same place they also carved the stones so that their arrangement would form the shape of a guinea pig (a national dish) or a llama. This sight also has ntural tunnels under it that were formed when the ancient lake that once filled the valley drained into the ground that are still being discovered. A while back twenty or so students went in to explore and the rope they were using as a guide back to the begining was cut (supposedly by a spirit of the Inca) and only the last two made it out alive.
They conquored most of South America in their short one hundred year rein often with out blood shead, and were so advanced that they could perform brain surgery. They also did crazy stuff like sacrifice children to keep volcanos from errupting and they manipulated the skulls of noble children so that their heads were cone shaped. This was said to make them more intelligent and obedient. They were opressive but allowed local governments to continue their governing if they gave in to conquest without battle and brought technilogical advancements with them everywhere they went. Besides the side of worship that involved sacrifice, I found myself being very impressed with the Incan religion all over again, just as I had six or so years before when I visited with my parents. Their ying and yang attitude towards the earth makes so much sense, and their worship of nature ensured that they respected it even if they used advanced technologies to bend it to their will. They brought water where there had been none (my favorite is the story of when Nasca was conquered - the son of the Inca was sent to take over the place when he fell in love with the cheif´s daughter. She told of them of their troubles with how limited the water supply was and so he had his soldiers build an aquaduct in a matter of a few days...the things men will do for a little action...), they made fountains in the middle of a mountains so they could be pure when entering the temples built nearby, they terraced the mountainside to make farming easier, and they cut steps into the highest of peaks. For them gold had value only in its beauty and its resemblance to the sun. The greed of the Spaniards that was to be their downfall was so foreign to them that they filled rooms with gold to ransom the Inca as if it was nothing. To them a specific kind of shell, or woven cloth had much more value than any amount of gold which they used to decorate their temples and not as currency. They knew that in order to take from the earth you had to give to the earth, and to give to the earth you had to take from the earth and everything revolved around this give and take. Its something I would like to emulate in my own life minus all the child sacrifice...and farm labor of course...
We also had an amazing experience in Ollantaytambo, a town our friend and Cusco expert Alex recommended we visit. The town is where the Inka made his last stand against the Spanish to keep them from getting to Machupiccu. The natives were slaughtered but Machupiccu was never discovered and its inhabitants were able to escape into the junlge and never heard of again. This has given way to the legand of the lost Incans...there is even a Tintin about it!.
We spent the morning exploring the ruins with a guide. The site is dividied into three parts: architecture, religious, and living spaces for the people. One of the coolest parts is that the town never stopped existing and the buildings haven´t changed since the Spanish arrived except for the addition of some fancy colonial buildings. All the buildings belong to the government and only the families who have lived in these houses since the Spanish arrived can live there and they cannot alter the houses (they have electricity and running water, but besides that they looked to be about the same). The religious part does not look the same since the Spanish pushed the lintel of the Temple to the sun off its posts and it now resides at the bottom of the mountain and they demolished all but the flat wall of the semi-curcular stucture which at one point was the temple. The decorative terracing is also now only covered in grass but our guide told us at one point it was all covered in flowers and medicinal plants...I can only imagine how that all looked...
The agricultural section is also unchanged and in use and we followed Alex´s directions to some secret ruins in someone´s feilds by the river. It was really cool to be the only people enjoying them...thanks Alex!
After we looked for lunch away from the plaza and found ourselves one crazy culinary adventure. When we ordered fresh guinea pig we argued about just how fresh it was going to be. Turns out it was fresh...real fresh.
Josh wanted to check out the pen with guinea pigs in the yard of the restaurant, and as we headed down some stairs we saw the two young male chefs walking out of the kitchen with a basket and boyish grins on their faces. We headed to the cuy (guinea pig in Spanish) pen and watched them pick and then break the neck of our lunch. The picture I got of the cuy as we approached is priceless...let´s just say he knew. We then hung out with them in the kitchen as they de-haired, gutted, dressed and then cooked our cuy in a pan with hot rocks and chatted up the two guys. By the time we ate we were so hungry that we didn´t care how recognizable our cuy still was. We avoided the head and held it by its paws and worked hard to get at the healthy meat. It was also served with the most amazing potatoes ever, and we got apple water on the house which is made by boiling apples and cinnamon in water, draining it and drinking the result! Delish with cuy by the way. With our bellies full of one of North American´s favorite pets we headed back to Cusco to catch a bus to Lima.
I promise to upload photos to facebook this week!!!

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